The Last Of The WW2 Dunkirk Evacuation “Beachmasters” Dies Aged 99

Dunkirk 26-29 May 1940 British troops line up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation.
Dunkirk 26-29 May 1940 British troops line up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation.

Captain William Tennant, busy overseeing the Dunkirk evacuations, gave his subordinate Vic Viner clear instructions, go back to the beach at Dunkirk and make “order out of chaos.”

Vic Viner recalled the horror of the six days and nights spent arranging the evacuation of thousands of soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk when he spoke with Hollywood director Chris Nolan.

Nolan is currently directing the motion picture, ‘Dunkirk,’ starring ex-One Direction member Harry Styles, and was thrilled to be able to speak to the last surviving beach master from those terrifying days at the end of May in 1940.

Literature can certainly give all the facts required for the film but the atmosphere, the sights, the sounds, the smells are all vital for the creation of an authentic experience, and those can only be gained from someone who was there, who saw it all, who smelled it all, who felt the constant fear.

Nolan was fortunate to get a chance to speak personally with this illustrious veteran as Vic Viner’s family reported that this grand old gentleman passed away peacefully on Thursday 29th September.

Vic Viner served in the Royal Navy from 1933 till 1947. His most rewarding and difficult task was acting as a beach master for the evacuation from Dunkirk.

As a beach master, this 23-year-old was given the responsibility to marshal troops onto the sand and then into the myriad of big and small vessels that had arrived to carry them back across the Channel to England.

The day before Operation Dynamo, the official name of the rescue mission, which resulted in over 190,000 soldiers saved from capture by the advancing German forces, started Vic had been ordered to take a small boat from a destroyer and go to the beach to collect soldiers.

He recalls that after his fourth trip one of his colleagues mentioned that he had blood on his hands. Looking down he saw he was covered in blood. Next day, 27th May, he was sent back to Bray-Dunes, north of Dunkirk, to ‘make order from chaos.’

He spent the next six days and nights doing exactly that.

Destroyers filled with evacuated British troops berthing at Dover, 31 May 1940.
Destroyers filled with evacuated British troops berthing at Dover, 31 May 1940.

“It was terrible, course it was – being bombed every day, no food, no water, stinking like mad,” he said.

“You can’t tell anybody what it was like, you had to have been there.”

Not only did Vic have to deal with the constant stress of trying to transport thousands of soldiers, both fit and wounded, but he also had to come to terms with the fact that his older brother, Albert, had been killed when he was blown up aboard the MV Crested Eagle paddle steamer.

This was one of the crafts that came to the aid of the stranded soldiers, and Vic watched as it was bombed by the Germans on the 29th of May, resulting in over 300 deaths. He later learned that his 25-year-old brother was aboard at the time, Mirror reported.

Vic attended a memorial service for the men that died on that day. At the service, he said,

It’s a great honor to be here, and I am very proud.

“I have only got a year and 303 days to go before I am 100.

“Bert, up there, he is probably looking down saying, ‘Go on brother, keep going!’”

Tribute was paid to Vic by Ian Gilbert, the former Commodore of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS), “He was very significant for us as he was the last survivor of what was known as the Royal Naval beach masters.

“They landed with the Royal Navy on the beaches of Dunkirk, and their job was to marshal the troops in an orderly fashion to get them onto the boats.

“He is certainly the last Royal Navy veteran that I know that took part in Operation Dynamo.”

Vic is survived by his two children and two grandchildren.

Patrick Viner, 43, said his grandfather, whose stock phrase was “all’s well” – believed the secret to his long life was “a glass of wine and chocolate.”

I think he decided he had done everything he wanted to do,” added Patrick.

“His wife, Winnie, passed a few years before, and I think he was ready and happy to go and see her.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE