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Sailors wish Dunkirk veteran happy 100th birthday.

Published: 27 Jun 2020

Sailors from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose were delighted to wish Dunkirk veteran Eric Taylor a happy 100th birthday.  

A small group from the air station made the short journey into Helston to stand in the street outside Mr Taylor’s home.

They presented him with an aerial photograph of sailors marking out the number 100 while four members of the HMS Seahawk Band played Happy Birthday.

Another sailor, Chief Petty Officer Maitland played The Heroes of St Valery on the bagpipes, a tribute to Mr Taylor’s service with the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the 51st Highland Division in the defence of Dunkirk in June 1940.

A pair of Hawk jets, on their way back to Culdrose from a training exercise, then flew over the street as an additional treat for Mr Taylor and his family.

Commander Martin Barlow said: “On behalf of everyone at RNAS Culdrose, I’d like to wish Mr Taylor a very happy 100th birthday and I hope he has enjoyed this special day with his family and friends.

“In this year, as we remember the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it is truly remarkable to think that Mr Taylor was 25 years old on VE Day. He is a direct link back to a time in our history that should never be forgotten.

“While his war-time story is one of survival as a prisoner in impossibly difficult circumstances, he did come through that ordeal and enjoyed a long and happy life here in Cornwall with his wife Florrie, his children, grand-children and great grand-children.”

“As he used to play the bugle while in captivity and was heavily involved with St Keverne Band in later years, I was extremely pleased that members of our own HMS Seahawk Band were able to play happy birthday for him. 

“It was also a real poignant moment when CPO Maitland played The Heroes of St Valery to mark the debt we owe to him and his comrades for their bravery defending the evacuation at Dunkirk.”

Mr Taylor served as a private with the Royal Norfolk Regiment in the early days of the Second World War. Falling back on Dunkirk in June 1940, his unit held off the enemy for as long as possible but were captured a week later on the beaches.

Along with 10,000 French and British prisoners of war, Mr Taylor, aged then 19, was marched to Germany where they were loaded into cattle wagons and transported to Nazi-occupied Poland.

He spent the rest of the war in a number of labour camps, doing manual labour such as repairing railway lines. Mr Taylor spoke of seeing trainloads of prisoners passing on the tracks - many which would have been transports of Jews – not realising at the time that they were bound for the Nazi’s death camps.

In the bitter winter of 1944, he joined thousands of other prisoners on the march back into Germany, ahead of the advancing Russian Army. Many died in the freezing temperatures as they trudged with little food, adequate clothing or shelter.

Near Hamburg, he was liberated by the Americans and brought back to Britain shortly before the end of the war.

Afterwards, Mr Taylor travelled to London to meet his close friend, a man he had helped on the march back to Germany, where he chanced to meet a girl from Cornwall.

He married Florrie May Peters at St Keverne Church and the couple moved to Porthallow, on the Lizard peninsula, Cornwall. Inspired by his love of music, Mr Taylor joined St Keverne Brass Band in the 1950s and has spent 70 years associated with the band. In 1982, they moved to nearby Helston. Mrs Taylor passed away in 2003.


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