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Roll of Honour, 1914-1918

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World War Two

Dunkirk - Churchillís 'miracle'

Sudbury had a strong Territorial Army presence at the outbreak of World War Two and these part-time soldiers were immediately mobilised for military service.

Brothers Jim and Joe Johnson were called up to serve in the the Royal Artillery. Their father Alfred still suffered from a WWI injury and made paper flowers to feed his family of 12 living in Gregory Street.

The Johnson brothers went to France together as part of the British Expeditionary Force sent to help the French repel German invaders. But the speed and ferocity of the German attack in May 1940 overwhelmed the defenders, forcing a retreat to Dunkirk on the Channel coast as Calais and Boulogne were already in enemy hands.

Ships sent to rescue the surrounded army waited offshore in sight of the exhausted troops being bombed and machine gunned on the beaches, but out of reach. What happened next is what Prime Minister Winston Churchill called Ďa miracle of deliveranceí. Against great odds, 338,000 troops were rescued.

Their salvation was an armada of little boats - fishing smacks, paddle steamers, lifeboats and private pleasure craft - that crossed the Channel to ferry the trapped men to the ships lying offshore.

The troops waded out as far as they could in the shallow water, waiting patiently to be picked up but many died in the struggle against wind, strong tides, cold, exhaustion, injury and attacks by the Luftwaffe. Jim Johnson saved his brotherís life by holding him above water for 5 hours until rescue came.

Later in the war the brothers manned the same gun while fighting with the 8th Army in North Africa. In May 1943 a gun jammed and exploded killing 30-year-old Bombardier Jim Johnson. His wife at home in School Street was a month away from giving birth to their third daughter.

His brother Joe survived the explosion, and the war, but three others with them were killed, among them Sergeant Thomas Johnson, another Territorial but not related to the Gregory Street family. He had married his sweetheart Phyllis three months after the outbreak of war.

Suffolk batallionsPrivate Billy NunnFlyingFortLillieLancastriaDunkirk1Dunkirk2Dunkirk3