Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips


Last man out of Calais

Leicester World War Two veteran, Robert Watt, 91, managed to catch the last boat out of Calais in 1940 before it fell to the advancing Germans. In the years that followed his lucky escape he rose rapidly through the ranks to become the youngest Regimental Sergeant Major in the British Army

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill after the battle of El Alamein

“I managed to squeeze myself onto the very last boat out of the harbour in Calais in 1940,” says Robert Watt. “It was crowded with hundreds of soldiers like myself so as you can imagine it was desperately chaotic – I was pleased to be a skinny lad.

“Even now, I still end up asking myself how I managed to survive and why I’m still here today.”

Robert had enlisted with the Royal Tank Regiment’s third battalion back in 1937 at the age of 18 and he was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940.

‘Jock’, as he was known to his comrades, was later sent to defend the northern borders of Greece, before rejoining his regiment in Egypt.

As a tank commander, he went on to take part in some of the toughest battles of the Desert War, including El Alamein.

It was to North Africa that Robert returned, with funding from Heroes Return 2, where he attended commemorative ceremonies, laid wreaths and travelled back to the desert.

“Returning to North Africa was something that I had to do and now I feel that I’ve finally laid a ghost to rest.

“Both Egypt and Libya have changed immeasurably since I was there, but being there brought back very strong memories of the three years that I served in those countries.

“I remembered the sometimes awful conditions we had to endure and the terrible battles that we had to fight.

“Every moment of my service was frightening and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Only 17 men from my regiment returned and before war was declared we were roughly 500-strong.

“All soldiers are professional and carry out the orders that are given to them – I trusted my commander.

“The desert would shimmer with heat and there would often be nothing to see except the distant horizon, many miles away.

“With only two or three hours sleep each night, we were all too tired to be depressed.

“To get myself through the long missions, I’d imagine that over the next sandy ridge I’d find something that I’d wanted all my life.

“I never knew quite what it was but the thought kept me going.”


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