AS A World War II veteran who lived through Dunkirk and endured unimaginable conditions while serving in Asia, 100-year-old Albert Johnson has made a habit of surviving.
Believed to be one of the last remaining veterans of the Dunkirk evacuation, Albert celebrated the milestone with his wife Mary, family and friends on February 23, over 80 years after he enlisted.
The English expat was conscripted in 1938 at the age of 19 and called up for military service the following year.
“You aren’t scared when you’re 19 years old, we just took it in our stride,” he said.
“We never got a taste of war until we went to France. That’s when we found out what war was like.”
After completing his training and being sent to France, he was ultimately transferred to the 6th Battalion.
He was just 21 when the Germans attacked from the Belgium border in 1940. The battalion was sent to help, but were cut off and forced back to Dunkirk.
"We reached the last canal before Dunkirk and were there for five days being constantly attacked by the German planes and shells," he said.
"We were left to guard this canal and stop the Germans advancing, to give the troops at Dunkirk time to get away."
The battalion then marched onto Dunkirk at dusk. "We passed a soldier guarding a stack of bully beef as I passed I bent down and grabbed one. I was so hungry and thirsty…
"We got to the beach and were told to dig in. The only tool I had to dig with was my bayonet."
They dug trenches before being told to wade out chest high into the water later that night, only to be told there would be no more boats and ordered to return to their trenches dripping wet.
The next morning, Albert’s trench was caved in after being bombed and he and a fellow soldier had to scramble up while under heavy shellfire.
Albert and his fellow soldiers eventually managed to make their escape by boarding destroyer ship the HMS Venomous on the last day of evacuations.
"We all ran up the jetty, threw our rifles onto the ship and jumped on board. I climbed up to the crow's nest and on the way across the channel the ship's pom-poms [anti-aircraft gun] opened fire and nearly deafened and blinded me," Albert recalled.
We never got a taste of war until we went to France. That’s when we found out what war was like.
But this was far from the last he would see of battle.
After Japan entered the war, the battalion was sent to India and was then being transferred to Myanmar – then known as Burma.
The battalion had to endure horrendous conditions during its Asian deployment, dealing with poor sanitation, sickness and the constant threat from Japanese forces.
“I had Malaria five times and dysentery a number of times. Sometimes they would send you back in before you were ready and you’d get sick again," said Albert.
He caught Malaria once while stuck behind enemy lines, while on another occasion, he had to help a soldier who had been shot in the back as they both ran from heavy machine gun fire.
After four years the battalion was sent back to India and during a period of leave, the Hiroshima bomb was dropped and the war ended and after a four month sea journey, he arrived in Liverpool in 1945.
After arriving back in England, he worked on a farm for a number of years, where he met Mary, before starting a business as a coal merchant, then moving to Australia.
He claimed the pension for ex-servicemen and retired when he turned 60 and he and Mary then spent 30 years traveling around Australia in a caravan.
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