War medals at last for Devon veteran of Dunkirk and D-Day landings
A reluctant Westcountry war hero and veteran of the Dunkirk evacuation, Northern Ireland and the D-Day landings has finally received his campaign medals.
James May, 93, who lives in Dunkeswell, in Devon, missed the last boat as the troops retreated in 1940, eventually returning home six days later after evading the Nazis in France.
Four years later he re-crossed the channel as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France at Juno beach, driving one of the DUKW amphibious landing vehicles, known by the troops as ducks.
He had never bothered to claim his medals until a neighbour asked to see his war trophies and begun the process of applying on his behalf.
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But now Mr May, who is known as Jim, admits he is proud to have the reminder of his lucky escape from two of the 20th century's most historic events mounted on his wall.
"I was just 20 years old in 1940, young free and single and I didn't worry – I wasn't interested in medals but I'm proud now that I have got them," he said.
"It was just luck I suppose surviving the war – I was a duck driver on D-Day and when they fired the big gun on the back – the thing nearly went over."
Jim was born in London in 1919 and joined the Royal Army Service Corps in 1940 as a driver with the British Expeditionary force to defend France.
He retreated to Dunkirk in June but went on the run in a stolen car with six comrades after they failed to catch a ship back to England.
Six days later the group found a port and a skipper who agreed to sail them back home. The young soldiers endured a nerve-wracking voyage, shadowed by a German U-boat before finally arriving somewhere on the English east coast.
After two years in Northern Ireland, he returned for the Normandy landings in June 1944 and remained in the Army, until he was demobbed in 1946.
In civilian life, Jim became a salesman, married wife Elsie, with whom he still lives, and retired to Devon more than 30 years ago.
Next-door neighbour of 15 years Jim Greenshields helped obtain six campaign medals, starting around six months ago after a chat revealed Jim had nothing to show for his six years in the Armed Forces.
"I used to chat to him about the war – he has been through quite a lot but doesn't really want to talk about it," said Mr Greenshields, a flying instructor at Dunkeswell aerodrome.
"It is amazing that he was at D-day and Dunkirk – not many can say that, as I would imagine the odds of surviving both are pretty slim.
"He doesn't want any publicity but I think it is important that people in the village know who he was.
"He is part of that generation who are not likely to start jumping around the room over a shiny bit of metal but I could see what it meant to him from his face."
The MoD issued Jim with the 1939-45 star, the War Medal, the Defence Medal and the France and Germany star.
The Normandy Veterans Association issued the Normandy Medal and the people of Dunkirk issued the Dunkirk medal.