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Veteran leads Dunkirk parade

Published 23/05/2015

Dunkirk veteran Arthur Taylor leads a military parade through Dunkirk accompanied by his grandson
Dunkirk veteran Arthur Taylor leads a military parade through Dunkirk accompanied by his grandson

Veteran Arthur Taylor channelled the spirit of Dunkirk when he led a parade of marching bands and Second World War vehicles through the French port town.

Despite his years - all 94 of them - Mr Taylor refused to use his wheelchair, instead walking proudly with his military grandsons on the mile-long route as part of the commemorations of the anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations.

Thousands of people lined the streets to pay their thanks to the Dunkirk veterans, waving flags and cheering from windows and balconies as they went past.

As Mr Taylor marched proudly through the town - his fellow veterans enjoying the view from the comfort of 1940s cars - women came out to plant kisses on his cheeks while men shook his hand, eternally grateful for all he and his generation did 75 years ago.

The parade began not far from Dunkirk's main harbour, winding through the streets and past the famous "little ships" before ending in the town centre.

Along its way it passed an old church, its white facade still riddled with bullet holes, a sobering reminder of what the town suffered at the hands of the Germans.

Speaking after the parade - after he had finally decided to take a seat - Mr Taylor, from Bournemouth, said: "I feel highly honoured being the only Dunkirk veteran that was able to walk the distance today.

"The crowd was silent until I said, 'If you clap, I'll clap back to you', and several of the ladies came out and kissed me and thanked me."

Mr Taylor, who served in the RAF with 13 Squadron Lysanders, said his return to Dunkirk had been "really emotional" and made him feel "very proud".

He said: "You haven't seen me in tears but I was nearly in tears, especially when I had to lay the wreath on behalf of all the Dunkirk veterans and the crowd clapped me, and it was the only wreath that was clapped during the ceremony."

Before the parade began, onlookers mingled around a collection of old military vehicles from the 1940s, peering at old army trucks and admiring the shiny chrome bumpers of old classic cars.

A 1940s historical re-enactment company, the Bird Dog Group, entertained the crowd by dancing to music from the era, and some of the older ladies tried in vain to teach the steps to giggling young girls of the Olvo Band from Ostend in Belgium.

Other bands in the parade included marching bands from France, a French army band and the Brentwood Imperial Youth Band, resplendent in their red and black British military uniform.

Among its number were musicians as young as nine, and founder John Wyndham said their experiences in Dunkirk had given them an understanding of what had happened 75 years ago.

He said: "We took them down to the harbour and they saw the little ships. I don't think a lot of them realised what actually happened back then, but now they have this experience."

It seems the memory of the sacrifices made by Mr Taylor's generation may be secure for some time to come.

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