TRIBUTES have been paid to a Dunkirk veteran who died with a smile on his face after a life devoted to serving his country.

At the age of 97, retired police officer and former soldier Les Maw died suddenly but peacefully in hospital on Tuesday, February 13.

He leaves behind treasured memories of a patriot and a family man who was proud to have lived his life “for Queen and country”.

Mr Maw was also a survivor of the Battle of Dunkirk and just a young man when he was forced to evacuate France via boat, sheltering for a day in a wine warehouse from bombing raids and digging holes in the ground for cover as he attempted to make his way with a small group of comrades from the Royal Signals regiment to the shores at Dunkirk.

Unable to swim, he eventually waded out to meet the Destroyer HMS Impulsive and - after getting one leg stuck clambering onto the deck - was hauled aboard, an exhausted and hungry 20-year-old.

The memories of his harrowing wartime experiences would stay with Mr Maw forever but were rarely spoken of until later life, when he began to socialise with other veterans in Hartlepool, where he lived for many years after retiring from public life.

From Dunkirk, the Army took Mr Maw to the Middle East and Germany, where he helped after the war, giving his own rations to starving children on the streets.

After he left the military, he became a police officer for Durham Constabulary and later, Cleveland Police, greatly enjoying his time as a village bobby around Wingate and Jarrow.

He shared four children and five great-grandchildren with his beloved wife Nancy, who died shortly after their 57th anniversary.

His daughters Elizabeth Bowes and Susan Mathias remember a man who was strict but fair and who ensured they had a happy childhood.

They said he would insist he had a “whale of a time” during the war and that it was only as adults they came to realise what it was he had survived.

Ms Mathias said, if her father could leave a message for future generations it would be to “stop whingeing and just get on with it”.

Her sister added: “He lived a sober life and was an honest man, probably the most honest you could ever meet – he was an old school gentleman.

“He had a great sense of humour and the evening before he died, we were cracking jokes with him and he had a smile on his face just before he slipped away.”

Durham Constabulary issued a statement paying tribute to Mr Maw, saying: “We are very sorry to hear the loss of Leslie Maw, a dedicated and committed Durham Constabulary officer who served with us until 1975.

“Our thoughts are with the family at this sad time.”

  • Mr Maw’s funeral will take place on Monday, February 26 from 1.30pm at Stranton Grange Crematorium, Hartlepool. Family flowers only, with donations in lieu to be made to The Friends of HMS Trincomalee.