A VETERAN who found himself trapped on the beaches of northern France during the rescue efforts at Dunkirk has recalled his fight for survival 80 years on.

Raymond Whitwell, from Malton, was 20 years old when he joined the army in September 1939 before being sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and later to Belgium when the German advance began.

He was told to make his way to Dunkirk in France where more than 300,000 Allied soldiers were rescued from the beaches and harbour between May 26 and June 4, 1940.

Code-named Operation Dynamo, the evacuation commenced after large numbers of Belgian, British and French troops were cut off and surrounded by German soldiers during the six-week Battle of France.

Now 101 years old, Mr Whitwell recalled seeing the desperate and chaotic situation unfolding.

“I looked out and thought ‘this is not for me, I’m not going to get away’,” he said. “We were told it was every man for himself.

“We were waiting to be safely brought back to England, but nobody knew what was happening.”

In a bold move for survival, Mr Whitwell decided to travel to Lille, where he met with another British officer and about 18 English nurses who were also desperately trying to get home.

They made a “long and slow” train journey to Cherbourg in north-western France, some 300 miles away, where the group found a Dutch fishing boat on the harbour that was making its way to Southampton around mid-June, nearly three weeks after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Mr Whitwell, who also fought in North Africa and then the Battle of Arnhem, said he has visited Dunkirk numerous times since.

“I would stroll around the town, it’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “A feeling of relief that I got away.What we saw was so vivid in those days that you don’t forget.”

Mr Whitwell said: “We were totally in the dark and we didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I was always going to survive, I had that in mind.

“It was a very sad time, nobody knew where we were going, everything was in chaos.”

A planned trip to Dunkirk organised by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, has been cancelled due to Covid-19.

Dick Goodwin, vice-president of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, said: “Raymond is a fabulous examples of the bravery shown by our armed forces during the Second World War.