Stevenage Dunkirk veteran George Clark, 98, gets standing ovation after screening of blockbuster war movie
- Credit: Archant
One of the few remaining veterans of the Second World War Dunkirk evacuation received a standing ovation when he was invited to watch the new film Dunkirk at Cineworld in Stevenage.
George Edward Clark, 98, who served with the Royal Army Service Corps’ 7th Field Dressing Station as an ambulance driver throughout the 1939-to-1945 conflict, was given an emotional standing ovation as the lights went up at the end of the film and staff introduced him over the tannoy.
The Cineworld team gave him a free ticket to the blockbuster directed by Christopher Nolan, along with other members of the Stevenage branch of the Royal British Legion who regularly collect for the Poppy Appeal in the cinema’s foyer.
Speaking to the Comet afterwards in his Stevenage flat, George said he didn’t think much of film as it was very loud and fast – but that he was delighted to meet lots of families who spoke to him, kissed and hugged him, showing their appreciation for one of North Herts’ few remaining Dunkirk veterans.
George is still lucid enough to talk about what happened more than 75 years ago.
He remembers sitting on a crowded beach at Dunkirk watching lines of soldiers on the beaches, waiting to be evacuated as the planes of the German Luftwaffe loomed ominously overhead.
He said: “All the soldiers were milling around on the beach and we were sat at the back watching.
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“Some of the soldiers were trying to climb up the anchor lines of the boats.
“I remember Jerry coming overhead and everybody running for cover.
“We saw this rowing boat coming towards the shore.
“I said ‘it’s s*** or bust’, so we started wading towards the rowing boat and it picked us up.
“It took us to another boat and eventually onto HMS Gallant.
“If it hadn’t been for that rowing boat we never would have got out of there.”
After getting back to England, George was posted to Yorkshire and then Wales before being drafted into the 11th Armoured Division and sent back to France just days after the D-Day landings in 1944.
He then began an epic journey through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and eventually Germany with the Allied advance throughout 1944 and 1945.
He said: “I remember crossing this bridge and we had to wait for each shell burst to go off and then we could cross.
“When we got to Holland we organised a Christmas party for the children there because they were all hungry then.”
He even recalls being given a weekend off in Brussels as a reward for his hard work – in which he says he got up to things that would be expected of most red-blooded young men, and slept in his ambulance after a particularly drunken night out on the town.
At the end of the war he was posted at the German region of Schleswig-Holstein, and recalls Germans and Allies alike queuing up to get help from the ambulance corps.
George was awarded the Dunkirk Medal, the France and Germany Star, the 1939–1945 Star and the War Medal 1939–1945.
After being de-mobbed he returned to England and made a success of civilian life, becoming a bus driver in London and later a lorry driver.
Eventually he met and married Violet – who passed away 16 years ago – and the couple retired to Stevenage.
George is now quite a private person, but still enjoys a few pints at the pub and watching the cricket.
He has one surviving daughter, Julie Page, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren for company.
But what’s George’s verdict on the war in which he sacrificed so much?
He said: “We all celebrated at the end of course, but for me it was six years taken away from me.
“I never wanted to be in the army and never wanted to fight. It was a choice between going to war or going down the mines, so I chose to go to war. I just wanted to get through it and get home unscathed.”
Despite his modesty, George’s survival against the odds and his determination to carry on and live a normal life have earned him the respect of everyone he meets.
His presence at the screening of Dunkirk helped the Royal British Legion collect an amazing £1,120 for the Stevenage Poppy Appeal – a total they would not have reached without him.
So if you’re going to see Dunkirk or reading about the war, spare a thought for George. He doesn’t see himself as a war hero and he seeks no fanfare, but he is typical of his generation of modest working-class men and women who did incredible things so we get to shout about our lives on Facebook today.