Dunkirk survivor, 97: Evacuation amid bullets and bombs was 'hell on earth'

One of the last surviving Dunkirk veterans has described how the spirit of the evacuation was "like a phoenix rising from the ashes".

Garth Wright, 97, from Plymouth, Devon, was just 20 when he was sent to northern France within weeks of war being declared in 1939.

He was serving with the Royal Artillery in Lille, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, when they were pushed back to Dunkirk.

More than 300,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the beaches as they fled the German advance from late May to early June 1940.

Next week, Prince Harry will attend the world premiere of Christopher Nolan's movie Dunkirk, which tells the story of the rescue.

The film's cast includes Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and One Direction star Harry Styles.

Speaking ahead of the premiere, Mr Wright described the evacuation, in which thousands died, as "hell on earth".

"There were times during those attacks I buried my face in the blessed sand and almost prayed the next one would be mine," Mr Wright, who served as a gunner, said.

"I went up into the dunes and dug myself a little trench with my tin hat, just scooped out the sand.

"It was so unnerving, them damn things used to come over every half-hour machine gunning and ... you could see the sand beside you spurting up with the machine gun bullets and bombs, you know, just yards away from yourself.

"Stuck like that for damn near 48 hours I suppose it must have been, I don't know."

Hundreds of private boats had set sail from Ramsgate, Kent, to rescue the Allied troops who had retreated from Hitler's forces.

These "little ships", fishing boats, pleasure yachts and lifeboats, evacuated hundreds of thousands of British, French and Belgium troops.

The film will tell the story of the rescue from the viewpoint of those in the sea, soldiers on the beach and the planes in the air.

During the nine days of Operation Dynamo, the Royal Air Force flew 2,739 fighter deployments, 651 bombing raids and 171 reconnaissance flights.

Mr Wright, speaking in association with the Vintage Air Rally, was rescued after going to the aid of a badly wounded man and taking him to the destroyer HMS Codrington.

"Another cry went out for volunteer stretcher bearers, so I thought, well anything rather than sit here," he said.

"Then me and another fella picked up what was left of this lad on a stretcher, managed to get out to a destroyer.

"Took this lad aboard, put him down. I went to go back again and I can't believe my luck and the captain told me to stay on board as well.

"When I first went back I could still smell death and every time I've smelt that since, it takes me back to Dunkirk.

"We were at our lowest end then and completely alone. But by God we bounced back again... the Dunkirk spirit. It's a phoenix rising from the ashes."

Dunkirk is released in the UK on July 21.