Tale of hero who helped Dunkirk evacuation effort unearthed
- Credit: Archant
It was the culmination of what Winston Churchill called a 'colossal military disaster.'
But despite the catastrophic events that led to 300,000 troops being surrounded in Dunkirk, the evacuation itself tells a story of heroism and quintessentially British determination, as has recently been encapsulated by Christopher Nolan's Hollywood blockbuster.
And now, 77 years after the retrieval of allied soldiers from the beaches of northern France, it seems that an individual with links closer to home had an important part to play in the rescue mission.
John 'Dobby' Dobson, who lived on Denmark Road in Lowestoft, served with the Royal and Merchant Navy during the Second World War.
During his three days at Dunkirk, Mr Dobson helped transport hundreds of troops from the beaches out to larger ships anchored off the coast and ultimately saved their lives, a herculean effort which was rewarded in 1972 in the form of the Dunkirk Medal.
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His role in the operation was unearthed by battlefield guide Marc Hope who, by remarkable coincidence, lived in Lowestoft for 25 years and also had a relative who aided the evacuation.
Earlier this year, Mr Hope purchased Mr Dobson's medal alongside various paperwork in an online auction, at the time completely unaware of their mutual connection to both Dunkirk and Suffolk.
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'I wanted a Dunkirk medal with provenance as my great uncle was killed there whilst trying to slow the Germans down and protecting the men trying to escape,' said Mr Hope.
'I soon discovered Mr Dobson was from Lowestoft and went to Dunkirk to rescue men from the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) who were stranded along the beaches.
'He's one of the war's unsung heroes and I thought it would be nice to get him some recognition.'
Mr Dobson's contribution came during the campaign code-named Operation Dynamo, which saw the mass evacuation of the BEF, French Army and soldiers from the Dutch and Belgian Armies.
328,226 troops were extracted between May 26 and June 4, 1940, all the while under fire from the deadly German Luftwaffe attempting to stifle the procedure and sink British vessels.
239,446 men were lifted from the harbour and the mole (a wooden breakwater protecting the harbour), whilst 98,780 were rescued from the beaches themselves.
Mr Hope has been visiting Dunkirk for a number of years as part of his job and says Mr Dobson, amongst hundreds of others, was paramount in the operation and should be celebrated.
'It's a great time for the few surviving Dunkirk veterans because they've been brought to the fore on the back of the new Dunkirk movie.
'They deserve to be recognised for what they did before they all pass away; we will never get that chance again.'
Notably, after finally receiving his medal in 1972, an article was written about Mr Dobson in which he discussed his Dunkirk experience.
He was quoted as saying: 'They came wading through the surf to us, we picked up as many as the boat could hold, took them out and came back for more.
'There were hundreds of us there doing the same thing. I didn't do any more than anyone else.'
Once war ended in 1945, Mr Dobson became a press photographer and, in addition to covering royal events at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, was present when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Lowestoft-based shipbuilding firm Brooke Marine in 1967.
He was also a member of the Dunkirk Veterans' Association and went back to the beaches to film for television on several occasions.
But perhaps the feather in Mr Dobson's cap was once possessing a British record-breaking moustache, stretching 27 inches.
Mr Dobson sadly passed away in 1994 aged 73, but Mr Hope has now made it his mission to honour the Dunkirk hero's memory.
'John was entitled to a number of Second World War medals, which have all unfortunately been previously sold.
'I intend to get replacements and, along with his Dunkirk medal, his photo and any other information, get them all framed up in memory of this great man.'