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Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man [Paperback]

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Review

A searing story . . . both meticulous military history and a deeply moving testimony to the extraordinary personal bravery of individual soldiers (Tim Gardam The Times)

Sebag-Montefiore tells [the story] with gusto, a remarkable attention to detail and an inexhaustible appetite for tracking down the evidence (Richard Ovary Telegraph)

About the Author

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore was a barrister before becoming a journalist and then an author. He wrote the best-selling Enigma: The Battle for the Code. One of his ancestors was evacuated from Dunkirk.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Extracts from ‘Dunkirk’:
Surrounded at Le Paradis
Back at Duriez’s Farm, the state of the front-line battalions was monitored from messages received in the ‘signal office’ in the cellar under the farmhouse kitchen. A similar pattern of signals emanated from each company. First, messages came through to say they were holding. Then a more desperate voice, which could barely be heard above the firing in the background, informed the commanding officer that they were involved in hand-to-hand fighting. Sometimes the signalman at the other end of the wire had a personal chat with his mate in the battalion signal office. When B Company was about to be overrun, their signalman Alf Blake confided to Bob Brown, the nineteen-year-old telegraphist at the battalion: ‘I’m afraid we’re for it. Don’t forget me. We’ve had some good times together. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be seeing you again.’ It was the last message from B Company, and the last time Bob Brown ever heard Alf Blake speak. He must have been killed shortly afterwards, among the many who did not survive long enough to surrender. There was no time for Brown to be sentimental: as soon as the line went dead, he shouted up the stairs to the officers in the kitchen, ‘The line to B Company’s been cut.’

As the German attacks strengthened, everyone who could be spared was ordered to take their place around the perimeter, and that included Bob Brown. Once all contact with the front-line companies had been lost, he could do no more as a signalman. He was glad to come out of the suffocatingly hot cellar. Apart from anything else, it gave him the chance to see for himself what he and his comrades were up against. He would never forget what he saw. The British soldier is often at his best when, against overwhelming odds, he has to go on fighting with his back against the wall, and that is what Brown witnessed when he joined his friends on the farm’s perimeter. He could not but be impressed at the way Corporal Tom Warren, one of the men near him, carried on laughing and cracking jokes until the very end. Warren was mad keen on films about the Wild West, and rather than being terrified of the approaching Germans, like some others, he had decided to act as if this was his opportunity to play a starring role. Each time Warren thought he had brought down a German, he exclaimed, ‘Another redskin bites the dust!’ Then Brown would say, ‘I hope you are still notching it up on your rifle,’ to which Warren would respond, ‘Yes, I am. There’s not much left of it now.’ And so he continued, inspiring all those around him to ‘keep their peckers up’ and carry on fighting.
The Sinking of the Lancastria
While the men on the top decks were peering through the smoke, trying to find their bearings, some of those in the corridors and companionways inside the ship were picking themselves up after being knocked off their feet by the blast. Sergeant Tom Payne, one of the RAF ground crew on board, has described how he was thrown the entire length of the passage where he had been standing: ‘I struggled up, in a daze. My head felt numb…I stumbled forward to find myself gazing into the dining room. Everything was strangely quiet. A couple of chaps were standing beside me staring at what appeared to be a large gaping hole in the centre of the dining room floor…Clouds of smoke began to fill the room…Only then did I realize the stark reality: that we were hit.’

Gallantly rushing down to on of the holds where he hoped to find his friend ‘Pikey’, he came across what he referred to as ‘a a terrible sight’: ‘The only way out from the hold, a temporary wooden staircase, had collapsed in the first rush of the men to get out, and now there was no exit. Ropes were being thrown down [to the men trapped inside]…but the struggling mass of men trying [unsuccessfully] to reach [these lifelines] was sickening to watch. [Then] the ship lurched to one side, and…[in a] panic, I rushed upstairs to the top deck.’ --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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