Express & Star

Navy sailors provide guard of honour for funeral of their last Dunkirk veteran

Lawrence Churcher, 102, is believed to have been the last Royal Navy veteran from the Second World War evacuation.

Lawrence Churcher, centre, laying a wreath in 2020

Royal Navy sailors provided a guard of honour at the funeral of 102-year-old Lawrence Churcher, who is believed to have been the last naval Dunkirk veteran.

Mr Churcher, who was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, died earlier this month at a care home in nearby Fareham just days short of his 103rd birthday, said the Project 71 charity, which supports Second World War veterans.

Amid pouring rain, the veteran’s coffin, draped in a Union Jack with his Navy cap on top, was carried by pallbearers from the Royal Navy into Portchester Crematorium for a private funeral service attended by family and friends.

Two lines of Royal Navy sailors stood as guard as the hearse arrived.

Project 71, which said Mr Churcher is thought to have been the last known naval veteran of the evacuation, previously posted on Facebook: “A truly remarkable man, loved and respected by all who knew him.

Veteran commemorates Dunkirk eighty years on
Mr Churcher, then 99, and his daughter Moira at a ceremony in 2020 to commemorate the evacuation from Dunkirk (Ministry of Defence/PA)

“Stand down Lawrence, your duty is done. It has been an honour to have known you.”

Mr Churcher, who was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, was posted to HMS Eagle at the start of the war and landed in France in May 1940 to help supply ammunition to the frontlines and was posted to a railhead outside Dunkirk.

The charity said: “When he, together with thousands of others of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) was ordered to pull back to the beaches, he began looking for the Hampshire Regiment in the hope of finding his two brothers, Edward and George.

“Amazingly they met each other and managed to sail back to the UK on the same ship.”

Mr Churcher is reported to have said: “When my brothers found me, I just felt relief.

“There were so many soldiers there and continuous aircraft dropping bombs and strafing us. I had so many things on my mind until I got on board of our ship.

“One fella leaned on my shoulder, gave a sigh of relief and said, ‘Thank God we’ve got a Navy’, and that sort of churned it up inside of me.

“We knew we had to get those soldiers back from Dunkirk.”

Mr Churcher went on to serve in the Mediterranean, at D-Day and ended the war in the Far East.

He later became a football referee and became Portsmouth FC’s oldest fan.

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