PEERING out of a broken window in a French farmhouse, John Allen spied German soldiers getting closer.

“There must have been 100 of them,” recalls John. “That was it - we ran off, quick sharp.”

For John and the six other British soldiers taking refuge in the farmhouse, it was a lucky escape. Any later, they’d have been captured, or shot, never to reach Dunkirk beach and the fishing boat that took them to safety.

John, who recently turned 100, is one of the few surviving veterans of the Dunkirk evacuation. Now living in Shelf with his little dog, Dusty, John grew up in Dudley Hill and was 20 when he was called up in 1939. “I was a printer at Lewis Hodgson in Dudley Hill. I started at 16, I hadn’t been there long when I lost a finger in the machinery. Back then you just got patched up and carried on, or you lost wages” says John.

Remarkably, he went on to survive the Second World War - serving at Dunkirk and the Battle of Monte Cassino - with barely a scratch.

Joining the 13th Infantry Division (Anti-tank), John trained at Catterick before being sent to France. “Not long afterwards we got orders to go to Dunkirk. It was a long journey on Shanks’s Pony,” he says.

The evacuation of Allied soldiers from Dunkirk port in northern France, between May 26 and June 4, 1940, came after hundreds of thousands of British, French and Belgian troops were surrounded by Germans. A sudden halt, ordered by Hitler, gave the British time to organise Operation Dynamo, and over eight days more than 300,000 men were rescued by a hastily-assembled fleet of hundreds of boats. By the time John was wading out to sea in shoulder-deep water, he had endured a long, gruelling walk to Dunkirk, then days of Luftwaffe shelling.

"We walked for miles to reach Dunkirk. We kept passing abandoned army vehicles on the roadsides. We went through French villages that were destroyed and abandoned. I remember walking into an empty shop and picking up a bottle of whisky - that helped us on our way!" he smiles. "When we got to Dunkirk the officers put us into groups of 50. With all the air raids going on, they wanted us in small groups so if one got hit they wouldn't take so many men out. There were lots of German planes, they came so low I could see the pilots. We were dodging shellfire all the time."

John is dismissive of how the evacuation is depicted in 2017 film Dunkirk."All those Spitfires in the film - that wasn't how it was. I only saw one English 'plane," he says. "We waited in the town for four days then we were sent to the beach. We didn't know what was going to happen to us, I don't mind saying I was scared."

To the men shivering on the beach and in the water, the flotilla of vessels, including Naval boats, merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure cruisers and lifeboats heading across the Channel was a welcome sight.

"We could see boats coming in and leaving but we didn't know if we'd make it. Eventually we were told to get in line then we waded out in the water for about 50 yards. A little fishing boat picked us up, I was so glad to get on it. They really looked after us, those fishermen," says John. "Before we climbed on board we had to throw our kit and weapons into the sea. We were stood up all the way. German planes were following the boats, we thought it was the end. I saw a Stuka drop a bomb onto a bigger boat, it went straight down the funnel."

When John's boat reached British shores, it was greeted by friendly faces."The Sally Army was there, with cups of tea," says John. "I was glad to be on English soil. I was one of the lucky ones; only 40 from our battery got back."

After being re-kitted - "We were sent to Halifax, down the road from where I grew up," says John - the men went to the east coast, to re-group and train. "There were six of us, one had a gun, the rest of us had pickaxe handles," he recalls. "We were there about three months. At the time there was fear of a German invasion; Operation Sea Lion (Germany's code name for the planned invasion of the UK). I was put on a boat to India - it took three months to get there but I was glad to get to another country!"

John trained with the 10th Indian Division before serving in Iraq, Libya and Egypt. He later served in Italy, fighting in the Battle of Monte Cassino, one of the longest, bloodiest battles of the war. "I didn't know if I'd live to see another day," says John. "I consider myself a lucky man; I once woke up to find shrapnel all over my groundsheet. Others around me weren't so lucky."

John was in northern Italy when the war ended. He came home through Italy, Germany and France. After the war he resumed his apprenticeship in Dudley Hill, then worked at Brocklehurst print firm at Church Bank. He met his late wife, Marian, at the Ideal dance hall in Bankfoot and they had three children, Barbara, Pat and Geoffrey, eight grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

Gazing at his medals, John is modest about his war service. "I didn't have a choice, I just got on with it," he says "I was glad when it was over, but I've never forgotten those lads, and how we kept each others' spirits up on that long road to Dunkirk."