Navy officer defied Nazis to see Paris
TRIBUTES have been paid to an Exeter war hero who took part in the Dunkirk evacuation and was stranded in occupied France.
Michael Pollard, who died aged 91 in hospital on August 28, was a member of the well-known Exeter family behind printers William Pollard & Co which had been operating in the city since 1781.
A former pupil of Exeter School and lifelong city resident, he was born in Exeter in 1921 and lived with his father Herbert and mother Elizabeth in Wonford Road.
Because of the family business he went off to the London School of Printing but he always had a love of sailing, inspired by his father who kept a boat at Topsham.
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He attended evening classes in navigation and when the British Expeditionary Force had to be evacuated from France via Dunkirk in 1940, he signed up for three days and took part in the evacuation of Allied troops.
He was allocated an old ship's lifeboats which were put into strings of about six, and then a tug towed them to Ramsgate from Chatham. By the time they reached the French coast they had drawn a lot of water and they went aground quite a way from the beach.
Mr Pollard was given his discharge papers, went back to printing college and finished off the term's studies.
Then he went along to Castle Street in Exeter and signed up.
Originally he was sent up to serve on the 45ft converted fishing boat, Chameleon, on the Humber, spotting mines.
From there he went off to do an officer training course and got his commission.
He spent about 18 months going from one boat to another.
He joined Motor Gun Boat 318, based in Kingsbridge.
They came under the authority of naval intelligence and Mr Pollard's job was originally to form a ferry service, ferrying agents and their stores and equipment to Brittany and then bring them back.
MGB 318 was 112ft long and would have to dock a mile or so offshore, while Mr Pollard and his colleagues would then take smaller rowing boats in to shore.
The operations were thoroughly organised, but because there was no ship-to-shore radio, the plans would had to be made before they set off, and there was no way of getting in touch if arrangements changed or cancelled.
It was on one of these runs that Mr Pollard became stranded in France.
He recalled later: "I remember that the water wasn't too bad when we started out. We got over there all right. There were two MGBs involved because of the sheer numbers.
"We had rowed ashore, but as the evening rolled on the winds got up and freshened enormously and they had a gale warning at that point, but it was too late, we were committed.
"By the time we were rowing back to the ship there was a terrible wind blowing, maybe not a full gale, but very nearly.
"It was raining buckets and you couldn't see a damned thing. The sea was getting up, it was a really horrible evening – and it was very difficult to make any headway. In fact, we found it impossible after a while. It was too rough." By that time Mr Pollard had six airmen and a young French agent in the boat and he had lost contact with the other two rowing boats.
He decided to pull into an island, leave the airmen, and headed ashore with the agent, who could help him to ensure everybody got out of France somehow.
They got ashore at 7am and quickly explained their situation to some fishermen, who arranged a horse and cart to take them back inland. There was a safe house just inland and there they found one of the other crews that they had lost sight of at the beginning of the evening.
Michael was taken to Paris, as he was originally due to be flown out by Lysander aircraft.
He said of the experience: "There were an awful lot of Germans on leave, sightseeing, as well as those in uniform, and also an awful lot of US and English airmen doing much the same thing as us."
He was given false French identity papers, which made him out to be deaf and dumb.
"We actually did go sightseeing.
£I certainly remember the Eiffel Tower. We didn't go up it, but we went to the complex – the Resistance greatly enjoyed taking risks and I enjoyed it up to a point."
He eventually did make it home – on Christmas Day – but had to change jobs.
He was later involved in the D-Day landings and other operations, but nothing as interesting as his time serving with naval intelligence.
Following the war, he came back to Exeter, married his now late wife, Anne, with whom he had two sons, Andrew and William, and a daughter, Jane.
He went into the family business as had been originally planned.
Mr Pollard's funeral was held at St David's Church on September 11 at 2pm.