The funeral of a Peterborough war hero who defied the Nazis during the miracle of Dunkirk was aptly held just 30 minutes after the nation fell silent on Armistice Day.
While tributes were paid up and down the country to veterans and current servicemen and women, the family of George Johnson were at Peterborough Crematorium to pay their final respects to a man who served his country with distinction during the Second World War.
Mr Johnson was just 20 years old when as a gunner he fought a rear-guard action at Dunkirk to hold back the rapidly advancing German army.
And his actions helped as thousands of soldiers escaped the French coast before his commanding officer told him and two fellow young soldiers to make a dash for the beach.
To escape the bullets of the Luftwaffe Mr Johnson had to crawl through dead bodies on the sand and in the water to get onto a small fishing boat before he then moved on to a larger vessel and was eventually taken to safety.
But he was one of the lucky ones as the two soldiers he had been fighting alongside were killed on the beach and a nearby ship was blown up with hundreds of people on board whose screams echoed across the water.
Mr Johnson’s nephew Phil, reflecting on his uncle’s service, found it hard to comprehend how a 20-year-old could have responded to such a tough experience.
“How he coped with that I will never know,” he said. “Maybe you can say he was on borrowed time since 1940.”
But the Dunkirk escape did not stop Mr Johnson from serving for the remainder of the war, and having escaped the Luftwaffe once he was determined that it would never get the better of him.
On one occasion while sharing a bedroom in Lincoln Road with his brother Ron, a Royal Marine Commando, air raids were carried out on Peterborough.
But a defiant Mr Johnson proclaimed that: “They did not get me on the beach and they won’t get me now.”
Mr Johnson later served in the war in the Signals Corps and his ability to speak fluent German saw him parachuted behind enemy lines and given the task of asking German towns whether they wanted to surrender to the allies.
Phil said: “He was sent in ahead to speak to the mayor and ask ‘are you going to fight or surrender’? He would re-assure them they would not be treated badly.”
The mayors are reported to have said: “If you’re not the Russians then we will surrender.”
Mr Johnson was singled out after his fluent German saw him catch out Nazi soldiers trying to escape while dressed in American uniform. He was then interviewed by famous poet Jacob Bronowski before being sent to Germany where he helped bring war criminals to justice.
After the war he worked as a draftsman for the London Brick Company before moving to Stilton with wife Margaret. He passed away a fortnight ago from cancer at the Sue Ryder Hospice.
A modest man, Mr Johnson was a reluctant to talk about his heroics, but Phil added: “He was a great man, always smiling and always happy. It’s poignant his funeral was held on Armistice Day.”