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Heroes of WWII recall Dunkirk rescue at new show

By Valle Aviles Pinedo

LONDON (Reuters) - Some of the veterans who took part in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation of British and French forces reunited in London this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War Two's biggest rescue operation.

Described as a "miracle of deliverance" by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the 1940 evacuation of British troops from the shores of France is considered one of several key events which determined the outcome of World War Two.

Now London's Imperial War Museum brings "Operation Dynamo" alive with a new public space where anyone can drop in for free and access a selection of the Museums vast digitized collections -- including 50,000 images, 10,000 sound files and a total of 600,000 items on database, documents and books.

Operation Dynamo saw some 338,000 British and French soldiers rescued between May 27 and June 3, 1940 by warships and a flotilla of pleasure boats and other small craft. Despite suffering heavy losses, the operation was very successful and the majority of the British Expeditionary Force on the run from Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's Wehrmacht returned to British soil.

The space also includes Sapper Alexander Graham King's accordion -- which he played in Dunkirk to boost troop morale -- letters from survivors, a camera belonging to Captain Edward Malindine, one of the few official photographers to capture the evacuation and the Tamzine, probably the smallest boat used in Operation Dynamo.

Director of Collections Mark Whitmore told Reuters that the museum has been preparing the exhibition over the last 12 months but all told the show required five or six years of work.

"We wanted to bring the experiences of people," Roger Tolson, Head of the Department of Art, told Reuters. "Maybe you can find out something here about your family history -- about Uncle George or his colleagues during the war."

Nine veterans met at the museum this week wearing their medals to talk about their remarkable adventure.

Michael Weller Bentall from Canada told Reuters how the war had changed his life when he was only 18 and joined the British Army with other 300 Canadian volunteers.

"I wasn't very strong because I was a kid," said Bentall.

"We were picking up people from the water and from the beaches nearby," he added.

Bentall, who served with the 4th Royal Berkshires, cannot remember in which ship he came back to England because he was "completely exhausted."

Another British veteran, 91-year-old Romeo Jenkins, shared his memories at the Imperial War Museum.

Jenkins was in the 91st Field Regimen Royal Artillery in northern France, when he was ordered to retreat to Dunkirk for evacuation and in the chaos he was separated from his unit.

When he reached Dunkirk the operation had already taken place and he was left alone, sitting down smoking his last cigarette and expecting the Germans to arrive.

Luckily he heard a voice coming from a little boat which was picking up stragglers and he went aboard. He had not slept for several days and the next thing he remembers was waking up in Britain, just on the outskirts of Dover.

All five branches of the Imperial War Museum will commemorate the 70th anniversary of 1940, the year that also saw the introduction of rationing, Winston Churchill's rise to power, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.

The Explore History Center will open to the public permanently from May 21. Admission is free.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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