A Kettering woman was stunned to find out her dad was the only soldier to survive a torpedo attack in the evacuation of Dunkirk – after watching a TV documentary.
Lesley Lewis was watching Dunkirk: The New Evidence on Channel 4 with husband Geoff when the documentary turned to an attack on HMS Wakeful.
Lesley knew her father Stanley Patrick was on board and had survived the incident – but neither she or Stanley knew that the other 639 soldiers all died.
Lesley said: “We have watched lots of things to do with Dunkirk but we had absolutely no idea that he was the only survivor.
“He was put on duty while all the rest were below and he was having a cigarette.
“They were 12 miles up the coast when the torpedo attack went through the ship and cut it in half.
“It sank in 15 seconds and all the soldiers below had no chance and drowned.
“But my dad slid down the boat and managed to tread water for half an hour.”
Twenty-five ship crew also managed to survive the attack on May 29, 1940.
Stanley was just 20 years old at the time of the attack and was picked up by HMS Calcutta – only to be taken back to Dunkirk to pick up more soldiers before being taken home.
Lesley added: “He knew there was a big loss of life but he didn’t know how many died.
“He probably thought he got the short straw when he was put on duty but it ended up saving his life.
“It’s bittersweet for me because if he didn’t survive it then I wouldn’t be here and it was only fortune which meant he did, but there were so many who didn’t.”
When Stanley returned home he went to Aldershot but was deemed unfit for practice.
His wife Peggy contracted TB so Stanley stayed local and worked as a cook in the Drill Hall in Northampton Road, Kettering, during the rest of the war.
Stanley’s son-in-law Geoff said: “We put the TV programme on just out of curiosity but when they said Stanley was the only one to survive we just went cold.
“It was really quite a shock.”
Geoff added that when Stanley returned he would have recurring nightmares and would wake up hearing ‘the bombs hitting the sand’.
After the war Stanley worked as a constructional engineer before passing away in 1991.
The evacuation of Dunkirk, also known as Operation Dynamo, has been back in the news recently with a film based on its events set to hit cinemas on Friday (July 21).
It will star Kenneth Branagh and Harry Styles.
Geoff added that there is a scene in the trailer which appears similar to Stanley’s ordeal and they were looking forward to watching it.