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Monday, 06 July 2015

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One of last remaining Dunkirk veterans dies

ONE of the last remaining Dunkirk veterans, John Lowrey, has died, aged 92.

A miner at Haig for most of his working life, Mr Lowrey, started at William Pit in 1934 aged just 14.

He worked as a coal cutter for around 35 years.

And before his retirement at 62 he had worked for several years at Marchon and latterly, until he was 70, as a British Legion parking attendant.

For over 30 years he was secretary of the West Cumbria branch of the Dunkirk Veterans’ Association, whose Standard was laid up in the year 2000 when a memorial casket and some Dunkirk sand was placed in St Nicholas’ Church tower.

His friend, Joseph Ritson, said: “I was saddened to hear of John’s death, he will be a big miss.’’

Mr Ritson recalled the occasion of the veterans’ march past at the Whitehaven Festival, when Copeland Council gave the Freedom of the Borough to the Armed Forces.

“John was towards the back of the group of the veterans linked by his daughter Yvonne and, as they passed by, all the people in the seated area stood up and gave them what I’m sure was the biggest cheer of the day. It was a very touching moment and a well-deserved tribute to a fine soldier, a proud member of the Border Regiment, survivor of Dunkirk, a family man and a good friend to many.’’

Mr Lowery served with the 5th Battalion Border Regiment (Territorials) and at the outbreak of World War II was called to the front.

At just 20 he was one of the youngest and also among the last of the Allied soldiers to be evacuated at Dunkirk in June 1940.

He was in the water a long time and, as he later told his family, if it wasn’t for a soldier holding out the butt of his rifle to enable him to grasp it and climb aboard, there may have been a very different outcome.

Before evacuation, Mr Lowrey had carried his wounded friend and fellow soldier, Private Billy Lee MM, to a First Aid truck to take him to hospital at Dunkirk and, in a sad coincidence some years later, was a member of the rescue team from Haig Pit who placed Billy’s body on a coal bogie to bring him out of William Pit after the 1947 explosion.

Billy had survived severe war wounds, German imprisonment and escape, only to die, aged 27, in the bowels of the earth in the town’s second worst mining disaster which killed 104 men. The two men had been boyhood classmates at Crosthwaite School.

In 2007 Mr Lowrey was interviewed on BBC Radio Cumbria about these experiences, in a programme marking the 60th anniversary of the tragedy.

The Dunkirk evacuation, commonly known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of thousands of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between May 26 and the early hours of June 3, 1940, ordered because the British, French and Belgian troops were cut off by the German Army.

Many had to wade from the beaches towards the ships, waiting for hours to board, shoulder-deep in water.

Born in Mark Lane, one of eight children to William and Sarah Lowrey, John was married by special licence at St Peter’s Church on November 11, 1939 to Annie Hall before heading off to the front.

The couple lived at Newtown prior to moving to Esk Avenue where they raised their family of five: William, John, Leonard (who lives in Toronto), Yvonne and Pauline (who lives in Bristol). Mrs Lowrey died 10 years ago. John senior and his four brothers, William, Lenny, David and Joe, all fought in the war, John at the Albert Canal bridges (Belgium) and Lenny at El Alamein, Egypt, where he was killed.

John was also an associate member of the Normandy Vets.

He returned to mining after the war but was off work for several months when, while in his 30s, a fall of coal broke both his legs.

Mr Lowrey, who had latterly lived at Monkwray Court, is survived by his five children, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Peter’s Church, Kells on Monday, March 26 at 12.30pm.

Have your say

A kind wonderful man who worked hard all his life to support his family and would help anyone.If there is a Heaven and i am sure there is,that is where he is now,looking down on all his friends.

Posted by William Lowrey on 22 March 2012 at 22:53

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