Syd Hall witnessed The Battle of Dunkirk in 1940.

He was an 18-year-old Royal Artillery gunner stationed on the White Cliffs of Dover.

Tonight, 77 years later, the 95-year-old will speak at the first two screenings of the war film Dunkirk at the Regent Theatre.

The Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation of British and Allied forces in Europe from May 26 to June 4, 1940.


"It was an incredible moment in history," Mr Hall says.

"I am now probably just one of only a few who can say I was there."

He vividly remembers the enemy bombers setting fire to the oil tanks at Dunkirk.

"From the Cliffs of Dover we could see the huge cloud of smoke from the fires burning across the channel of the French coast.

"It was such an incredible sight from our position high on those cliffs - so many ships, so many shapes, so many colours, so many sizes.

"It must have been absolute chaos and terror over on those Dunkirk beaches.

"I well remember one huge old French three-masted sailing barge with its great brown canvas sails proudly flying one of the biggest French tri-colour flags ever seen.

"She was loaded with troops and towing three other open barges full of exhausted men.


"It gave you a lump in the throat just to see it coming in.

"It's a thing you never forget - the huge fleet of ships, the sky filled with fighters and bombers."

On July 15, 1940 Mr Hall was hit with a bomb splinter and sent to hospital with a paralysed arm.

After months of treatment he carried on as a civilian with more war service in England and the Middle East. He has lived in Te Awamutu for the last 25 years.

Mr Hall will watch Dunkirk tonight and speak at Regent Theatre's first two screenings.

"The film will show me more about what was happening at the time and the different perspectives," he says.


"It will be a strange and emotional experience."

Dunkirk portrays the military operation that took place in Dunkirk, France, during World War II.

It was written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan.

It stars Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance.

Nolan wrote the script, told from three perspectives - the land, sea, and air - to contain little dialogue and yield suspense through the visuals and music.

Dunkirk screens at the Regent Theatre tonight at 5.25pm and 7.40pm. Syd Hall will speak prior to both screenings.