France, Britain mark 70th anniversary of Dunkirk evacuation

29th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

France and Britain on Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation, a pivotal rescue of Allied troops by a ragtag band of boats, but a veteran's death marred the events.

Some 50 surviving veterans of the some 338,000 troops plucked to safety from the beaches, from Britain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and France, paid tribute to their fallen comrades at the commemoration in the northern French seaport.

One French veteran of the operation, Andre Carlier, 91, suffered a heart attack while attending the ceremony and later died, the city's mayor said.

His death was a reminder of the dwindling number of those remaining who lived through the Dunkirk evacuation, which followed the Allies' devastating defeat by invading German forces.

A French military band played as the commemoration attended by senior civilian and military officials took place on the beach that was the site of the 1940 rescue and where a monument now stands.

About 60 of the boats -- known as the "little ships" -- that participated in the evacuation were just off the coast during the ceremony after having re-enacted their journey from southern England to Dunkirk on Thursday.

The evacuation "represents an example of courage and professionalism," said Admiral Pierre-Francois Forissier, current head of the French navy.

"It is an example that shows to young people that even when all seems lost, anything is possible," he said.

The hastily arranged fleet of about 700 vessels, ranging from pleasure craft to fishing boats and paddle steamers and lifeboats, worked under a hail of German bombs between May 27 and June 4, 1940 to take the troops off the beaches and ferry them to larger ships or back to Britain.

Operation Dynamo enabled the British to fight another day and provided their country with a source of pride in the face of extreme adversity. For Britons, the phrase "Dunkirk spirit" still sums up defiant courage.

Wartime prime minister Winston Churchill called it a "miracle of deliverance" and the evacuation, followed a few months later by the Battle of Britain, is seen as one of the events that determined the outcome of the war.

On Friday, a commemoration was held for victims of the La Plaine au Bois massacre, when about 100 British soldiers who had run out of ammunition and surrendered were locked in a barn.

More than 80 Welsh and other British troops, along with one French soldier, were killed by German SS forces either by grenades thrown into the barn or by machine gun fire.

The barn has been rebuilt by two survivors of the massacre, which took place some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Dunhkirk.

© 2010 AFP

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