D-Day veteran recalls rats ‘eating his toenails’ as he slept on Dunkirk beach

Ninty-five-year-old Ted Owens was one of the 300,000 plus Allied soldiers on Dunkirk beach in France. He was at the liberation there in 1944.

As part of a new television series airing on ITV Wales, Ted travelled back to Dunkirk with two children, Evan and Caoimhe, to recall how he found himself stranded on the beach with thousands of other soldiers.

Ted visited the beach he was stranded on with Evan and Caoimhe

Across three programmes, D-Day veteran Ted Owens travels through France, the Netherlands, and visits Germany for the first time, while telling two children, Evan and Caoimhe, his story.

In 1940 British, French, Canadian, and Belgian troops were forced back to Dunkirk by the German army as nearly all the escape routes to the English Channel were cut off.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were stranded in 1940 Credit: PA Archive

Ted was part of the liberation of Dunkirk four years later. He and his fellow soldiers slept in an old barn where he recalls the moment they took their boots off for the first time in three weeks.

‘’One of the boys said to the medical officer, my feet are very very sore, can you check them. As soon as the doctor looked, he said you’ve got no toenails. We were all the same, the rats had come in and eaten our toenails as we slept. We never felt them because you had your boots on for three weeks and your nails were soft. So they were very wise rats.’’

While he looks back at his memories and victories fondly, there’s many things he wished he could have done - like travel.

‘’I feel very sad at the moment, when I look back at all the men who lost their lives, it was for a good cause, we got to respect them. I’m living, I’ve been spared why, I don’t know.

"I’ve enjoyed my life so far. There’s lots of things I would have liked to have done, that I haven’t been able to. I’d love to have travelled, see the world, see how the people live, how they stay happy. I’d love to go to Canada, watch the wildlife and watch the bears catching salmon. But I don’t suppose that will ever happen.’’

Ted and the children attended the 75th anniversary D-Day celebrations
  • Lest We Forget continues on Wednesday, September 25, at 8pm on ITV Wales.