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Navy veteran salutes lost brother

Eyes distant, thoughts given over to old memories, navy veteran Vic Viner saluted his lost brother as he unveiled a plaque for those who died on the MV Crested Eagle during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Albert Viner was one of 300 men on the Thames paddle steamer when it was bombed by German planes after rescuing troops from the French port town during the Second World War rescue mission in 1940.

His younger brother Vic was on the beach when it was hit, directing the rescue of soldiers from sand dunes, and watched in anguish as flames tore through the stricken vessel, killing all on board. It was only later that he discovered his brother was one of them, having already escaped from another bombed ship.

Seventy five years on, Mr Viner, 98, was the guest of honour at a service to remember those who lost their lives, the commemoration taking place on the sands of Zuydcoote beach, not far from the rusted wreck of the ship.

Encircled by members of the Royal Navy, the French navy and representatives of veterans' associations, Prince Michael of Kent, the honorary admiral of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, drew back a flag bearing the Zuydcoote village crest to reveal the simple metal plaque.

Mr Viner approached, laid a wreath at its foot and saluted, bowing his head before those gathered paid a respectful silence.

After the ceremony he wandered down the beach to catch a glimpse of the shipwreck, his son and grandson by his side as he gazed at the metal hulk resting in the sand.

Mr Viner, from Dorking, had been a navy man. During the evacuations he was a "beach master", ordered to make "order out of chaos", and spent six days and nights on the beaches north of Dunkirk helping get the soldiers off the beaches to the little ships.

His brother Albert, two years older at 25, was also in the navy and was serving on the destroyer HMS Grenade, which was then at Dunkirk harbour.

Mr Viner said: "I had seen his destroyer come in and I was going to leave the beach and go round to see him, as there was a lull. I thought with a bit of luck I might find him, but just as I was going towards the harbour, down came 12 Stukas, straight on to the Grenade and blew her.

"The Grenade was sunk in the harbour and I learned later that brother Bert had got off the Grenade and on to the Crested Eagle.

"I was further up the beach and then we saw her being bombed. They set light to her fuel tanks so she became a blazing inferno, so the 300-odd on board were all burned to death, including brother Bert. He survived one ship, only to be killed on the next one."

Mr Viner still has vivid memories of that day. "It stays with me until people ask me, and then I tell them," he said. "I didn't know he had got on the Crested Eagle you see. It was one of those things."

But he has come to terms with his harrowing memories, and has not found the return to Dunkirk too emotionally difficult. And he said the tribute to his brother and all those lost on the MV Crested Eagle was "wonderful".

He said: "It's a great honour to be here, and I am very proud. I have only got a year and 303 days to go before I am 100. "Bert, up there he is probably looking down saying, 'Go on brother, keep going'."


From Belfast Telegraph