Tributes made as last known Royal Navy Dunkirk veteran dies

Lawrence Churcher died just days before his 103rd birthday

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Tributes have been made to a former sailor who is thought to be the last Royal Navy veteran from Dunkirk after he died at the age of 102.

Portsmouth born Lawrence Churcher died just days before his 103rd birthday at a care home in Fareham, states Project 71, a charity that supports World War Two veterans.

His original intention behind signing up to the Navy on his 18th birthday was ‘to see the world and have a bit of fun’, but as he noted, ‘Hitler ruined that’.

After returning from serving on HMS Eagle in the Far East in May 1940, Mr Churcher was quickly recruited into an improvised naval party which was sent to France to provide ammunition to the front line.

He was later awarded the legion d’honneur, France’s highest gallantry award, for his work during Operation Neptune.

Read also: Former PM and Line Renaud among those awarded French Legion of Honour

The Project 71 charity announced the news of Mr Churcher’s death via its Facebook page. The post was accompanied by photos of the veteran throughout his life and read: "Stand down Lawrence, your duty is done. It has been an honour to have known you."

When troops were ordered to pull back to the beaches towards the end of the war, Mr Churcher managed to reunite with his brothers who were serving in the Hampshire Regiment. They all sailed back to the UK on the same ship.

In the same Facebook post, Project 71 quoted Mr Churcher’s memories of finding his brothers: “When my brothers found me, I just felt relief. There were so many soldiers there and continuous aircraft dropping bombs and strafing us, I had so many things on my mind until I got on board our ship.

Read also: Black US D-Day veteran awarded France’s highest honour aged 100

“One fella leaned on my shoulder, gave a sigh of relief and said, ‘thank God we’ve got a navy’ and that sort of churned up inside of me. We knew we had to get those soldiers back from Dunkirk.”

Mr Churcher remained in the navy after the war until 1960, working as a leading patrolman.

He married his wife, Freda Coles, in 1941, and was father to five children, who survive him.

In a statement, his children said: ‘Dad was short on words but we knew he loved us all very much, we are so proud of him and he will be eternally missed.’

Following his retirement from the forces, Mr Churcher worked as an ice cream man in his hometown of Portsmouth.

His love of football led to him becoming a football referee and Portsmouth FC’s oldest fan, having attended matches since 1928.

Operation Dragoon

Today (August 15) marks 79 years since the start of another World War Two invasion (perhaps lesser known) when Allied troops landed on the Var coast in the south of France.

Known as 'Operation Dragoon' the landing in Provence began on August 15, 1944. Its aim was to liberate the ports of Marseille and Toulon to allow supplies to be transported, to seize the RN7 - a strategic route to the Rhone valley - and to link up with the forces of Operation Overlord, which had landed in Normandy. The soldiers came from Italy, Sicily, Corsica and North Africa and were French, American, Canadian and British.

The Allied advance was particularly rapid and the south of France was liberated within weeks.

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