EMOTIONAL tributes have followed the death of the ‘last Royal Navy veteran of Dunkirk’ aged 102.
Lawrence Churcher passed away peacefully in a care home in Fareham and will be remembered as a “remarkable man”.
The hero joined the Royal Navy at 18 with hopes of traveling the world and “having a little fun”.
He was subsequently awarded France’s highest decoration for bravery, the Legion of Honour, for his role in Operation Neptune.
During World War II he was stationed in France in May 1940, having arrived on HMS Eagle to reinforce the front line with ammunition.
Lawrence was one of many sent to a railway station just outside Dunkirk as the troops retreated to the beach.
This sparked Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from the port city of Dunkirk.
On the first day, the beleaguered British fleet was only able to save 7,669 soldiers.
However, appealing for a smaller civilian ship to join the rescue mission proved a complete success – by May 31 brave Britons had contributed nearly 400 “small ships” to the effort.
At the height of the daring evacuation, over 180,000 Allied troops were brought back from France in three days.
By the end of Operation Dynamo on June 4, a total of 338,226 British and French soldiers had been rescued from Dunkirk.
Warm honors have now been bestowed on Lawrence, who is believed to have been the last Royal Navy veteran at Dunkirk.
A spokesman for Project 71, which supports World War II veterans, said: “To our knowledge, Lawrence was the last Royal Navy veteran at Dunkirk.”
“A truly remarkable man, loved and respected by all who knew him.
“Hold back, Lawrence, your duty is done. It was an honor to have known you.”
The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) wrote: “It is with great sadness that the ADLS has just learned that Lawrence Churcher crossed the bar this afternoon (10 August).”
“Lawrence was the last Royal Navy veteran at Dunkirk known to the ADLS.
“Our Veterans Cruise in early September will be particularly poignant as we remember a generation now lost.
“They may be gone, but they will not be forgotten as long as one small ship sails on.”
“Good wind, calm seas, keep calm, mate, your watch is over.”
Lawrence himself has told stories about the war in the past and how his brothers fought alongside him.
“When my brothers found me, I was just relieved,” he said.
“There were so many soldiers there and planes were constantly bombing and shooting at us, I had so many things on my mind until I got on board our ship.”
“A guy leaned on my shoulder and sighed with relief and said, ‘Thank God we have a Navy,’ and that kind of made me boil.
“We knew we had to get those soldiers back from Dunkirk.”
The war hero was also instrumental in D-Day operations, helping clear mines in the North Sea.
After retiring from the Navy, Lawrence had five children and was married to his wife, Freda, for 52 years.
He is succeeded by his daughters Joan, Valerie and Moira and sons Peter and Colin as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.