Dunkirk hero from Sheffield given fitting send-off

One of the last-surviving Dunkirk veterans, who lived in Sheffield, has been given a hero's send-off.

Friday, 4th January 2019, 3:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 1:46 pm
The funeral of WWII veteran Louise Jennings has been held at Beauchief Abbey. Picture Scott Merrylees

Louise Jennings was one of nearly 340,000 Allied soldiers rescued from the beaches and harbour of the town in northern France, after becoming cut off and surrounded by German troops, between May 26 and June 4 in 1940.

She sadly died shortly before Christmas, aged 99, and her funeral was held at Beauchief Abbey today, Friday, January 4.

Standard bearers at the funeral of WWII veteran Louise Jennings

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Fellow veterans and cadets were among those who gathered to pay their last respects to Louise, who was originally from Heeley but lived for most of her years in Beauchief, at the service.

The Last Post was played during the service and the Reveille was sounded as her coffin was carried to the hearse.

Pat Davey, chairman of Frecheville Branch Royal British Legion, said: 'She served her country very well and was entitled to a good funeral, which I think we gave her. There were a few tears shed as it was quite a poignant service.

The funeral of WWII veteran Louise Jennings at Beauchief Abbey

'She was a sergeant and I think she had a pretty rough Dunkirk but she managed to commandeer a rowing boat and get herself and 12 of her comrades to safety while bombs were dropping around them and machine guns were firing.'

Louise was known as Robert when she was evacuated from Dunkirk along with 12 other members of the 10th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry during the Second World War.

She lived as a man for the first 70 years of her life and was happily married to wartime sweetheart Edith for more than four decades.

Mourners follow the coffin into Beauchief Abbey

But she said she always knew something was not quite right inside and underwent gender reassignment surgery following Edith's death in 1989.

Louise was 20 when she was called up to the Army in 1939 but had only just arrived in France, having previously been stationed at Walworth Castle near Darlington, when she was told to turn around and march back to the Dunkirk coastline to be ferried home the following year.

Speaking to The Star in 2017, she recalled how she had collapsed in exhaustion against a huge concrete boulder at the harbour before having to row out to a British warship which was waiting to pick up the troops.

Louise Jennings with a photo of herself as a young sergeant named Robert

"There was no use being scared," she said.

"I was very lucky - I could have been involved in all sorts of things, but I wasn't."

Louise spent the rest of the war back at Walworth Castle and it was while serving there that she met Edith when waiting for a bus into town.

She worked with concrete but had a passion for art, which she eventually turned into a career, exhibiting her work as far afield as San Francisco.

One of her pieces is a painting of the Dunkirk evacuation, which was presented to Museums Sheffield and hung in Graves Gallery.