For Alfred memories of the three days he spent in Dunkirk in May 1940 will never fade. He was among 340,000 British servicemen at the time, but today stands as one of the few survivors of the British Expeditionary Force who were sent to France. He was called up in September 1939, joining the Royal Army Service Corps as a lorry driver – a mundane job if he wasn’t an easy target for German warplanes.
His first experience of combat came on a beautiful day – blue skies and little white clouds, like any other – but it has remained with him ever since. ‘I walked across the square, lorries were parked under trees for camouflage, and a German plane machine gunned me as I walked across the square. It was my 21st birthday,’ he says. Fortunately, Alfred was unharmed (‘he was a bad shot’).
On his way to a village in France to drop off supplies, just a few days later, the 21-year old soldier encountered a demolished bridge and a British Army officer – one he initially mistook for a German soldier. ‘I saw somebody come up from the grass verge with a revolver in his hand. I grabbed my rifle, but realised it was a British officer.’ The officer enquired as to his destination before quickly warning him of the little village a couple of miles up the road. ‘Luckily for you, the bridge is down and the road blocked – the Germans are still in charge of that village… You’re encircled, in case you don’t know,’ the officer warned grimly. ‘I would have driven straight into them.’