ADMIRAL Sir William Tennant, a famous son of Worcestershire and a great naval hero, played a key role in the Dunkirk evacuation of exactly 60 years ago.

He was Beachmaster at Dunkirk, spearheading the operation which resulted in the "miracle" rescue of 378,829 servicemen from the French shores.

It was in May, 1940, that "Bill" Tennant received the order to take charge of the evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk. He was at the head of a naval beach and pier party of 12 officers and 160 men aboard the destroyer HMS Wolfhound.

They arrived off Dunkirk, on May 26, and the following day, Captain Tennant signalled to Dover "for every available craft," setting in motion the famous armada of little ships to accomplish "a miracle" - the rescue of more than a-third-of-million troops, 120,000 of them French.

Years later, a colleague wrote: "Bill Tennant's tall athletic figure in blue strode fearlessly over the beaches giving orders to largely demoralised 'brown jobs' and being obeyed'."

At 11.30 pm on June 2, 1940, Capt. Tennant was able to report "Operation completed. Returning to Dover," but first he patrolled the waterfront calling out through the darkeness: "Are there any British soldiers still ashore?"

Another senior colleague was to declare: "Without Tennant and his men, the troops would have been like lost sheep."

For his actions at Dunkirk, Capt. Tennant was awarded the CB (Companion of the Bath), the French Legion of Honour and the Croix de Guerre with Palms.

He later commanded the equally mammoth operation and large armada of tugs and ships which towed the two vast "Mulberry" floating harbours across the Channel for the 1944 D-Day landings. He was in charge too of the laying of the cross-Channel "Pluto" fuel pipeline for the same Normandy landings.

William "Bill" Tennant was born in 1890, the son of Lt. Col. and Mrs Edmund Tennant of The Eades, Monsell Lane, Upton-upon-Severn. He went off for naval training at just 15 and served at sea during the First World War, seeing action at Heligoland, Dogger Bank, off the Dardanelles and taking part in the evacuation of troops from Gallipoli. He survived the sinking of his ship, HMS Nottingham, by a German U-boat during the Battle of Jutland, and was later aboard HMS Concord, helping safeguard the passage of troops to and from Flanders.

Between the wars, he served for a time on Royal yachts, and was promoted to Commander and awarded the MVO (Member of the Victorian Order) while on board HMS Repulse, when it took the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, on his tour of Africa and South America.

He was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1944 and awarded a knighthood in 1945 for "distinguished war service."

From 1946 until 1949, he was Commander-in-Chief of the America and East Indies Station with its HQ in Bermuda and was promoted to Admiral in 1948, but retired the following year at the age of 59.

Sir William and his wife, Lady Catherine Mary Tennant, returned to the family home at Upton-upon-Severn, and in 1950 he was appoined by George VI as Lord Lieutentant of Worcesteshire. The Freedom of Worcester was bestowed on him in 1958, but he died in 1963, at the age of 73.

In 1987, Upton-upon-Severn honoured its famous son by commissioning a bronze bust. It was sculpted by Martley artist Leslie Punter and was unveiled in October 1988.

The bust stands in the towns old churhyard, alongside its landmark Pepperpot.

One last pilgrimage

THE good wishes of readers go, I am sure, with surviving members of Worcester's Dunkirk Veterans Association, about to make their final annual "pilgrimage" to the scenes of the remarkable troop evacuations of 1940.

Led by Major Tom Averill, a coachload is off in a few days time to stay in the coastal resort of De Panne, just a few miles from Dunkirk. They have been going to the same hotel annually for the past 25 years or so but, alas, this is to be their last visit, appropriately for the 60th anniversary of Dunkirk.

Major Averill explains that the remaining few local Dunkirk Veterans are now all in their 80s or 90s which is why their association is reluctantly to be wound up at the end of June. Their standard will be laid-up in Worcester Cathedral the following month.

Only some of the final coach carrying people to De Panne will be Dunkirk Veterans.