2 RUR Activity Around Dunkirk in May 1940 From Regimental Diary (November 1944)

Discussion in 'British Army Units - Others' started by Quis Separabit, Jan 22, 2020.

  1. Quis Separabit

    Quis Separabit Junior Member

    Following a PM query from http://ww2talk.com/index.php?members/jan-van-liedekerke.66877/ about 2 RUR activity around may 1940, I am in the midst of transcribing the November 1944 Regimental Diary but thought I would include extracts relating to Dunkirk now as not sure when I will finish it (and extract won't fit in a PM!)...

    Some other/similar information relating to Dunkirm is also contained at: 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles in WW2: Dunkirk


    Quis Separabit


    THE BATTALION moved into Belgium on 10th May, 1940. under command of Lieut.-Col. F. Y. C. Knox, who had taken over a few weeks previously from Lieut.-Col G.H.P. Whitfeld. Contact was made with the enemy at Louvain on 15th May, and the Battalion was involved in heavy fighting, particularly in the area of the Railway Station, from which No. 7 PL was forced out, but later re-occupied. For this action 2nd Lieut. Garstin received the M.C.

    At one period when the position appeared desperate and the Boche had worked round the left flank and was actually engaging some of our positions from the front and rear, the S.O.S. was given to the 7th Field Regiment R.A. who engaged the enemy with remarkably concentrated and accurate fire driving him out of the positions he was holding. In many instances the range was only 30/40 yards in front of our own slit trenches.

    The Battalion was ordered to withdraw some days later which was carried out by night without much interference from the enemy who had quietened down a lot since his encounter with the Stickies. Lieut.-Col. Knox was awarded the D.S.O. by General Montgomery some days later for the action fought in Louvain. Same day Sgt. Henderson of the Regimental Police was awarded the M.M.

    The Battalion withdrew to a number of places, always ordered but never forced out. This was due to our Allies on either flank giving ground.

    A very unpleasant daylight withdrawal at close range to the enemy was carried out at Woeston, near Dawson's Corner, Ypres which some veterans of the last war may remember. As may be expected the Battalion suffered a number of casualties. The next stand was made in the Dunkirk perimeter at Furnes, and the Battalion was evacuated from the beaches and the port itself on the 1st June.


    "H.Q." COMPANY

    THE 3RD SEPTEMBER, 1939 found H.Q. Coy. in Parkhurst Barracks, I.O.W. , partially mobilised and under command of Major G. H. K. Ryland. Soon afterwards we moved to the concentration area at Long Burton in Hampshire for three weeks.

    During this time we were inspected by H.M. the King and left for the B.E.F. in France on 3rd October. After landing at Cherbourg and travelling for several days the Company went into billets just outside Lille. We stayed there for about six months until the Battalion crossed the frontier and moved into Belgium. We took up positions in Louvain and then withdrew by successive stages to Dunkirk. We re-formed at __________________ and since then we have been in many places in Britain.

    Successive Company Commanders have been Majors Campbell, Allman, and Cummins, followed by Captains Watson, Mathews. Perona-Wright and Ryan.



    The Coy moved forward into Belgium on 10th May, 1940, under command of Major W. B. A. Reid, with Lieut. Bredin, M.C., as 2 i/c and C.S.M. Attridge as C.S.M. The Coy. held the Railway Station and the line to the left of it in the University town of Louvain. The Bosche arrived on the evening of the 15th May.

    He appeared to be in high fettle after his rapid advance and confident that his appearance would be sufficient to put any opposition to flight. He came on in a very foolhardy manner but recoiled with a bloody nose after a two hour battle. He then got down to it in all seriousness and, at 10am. the next morning, he put in a determined attack. The Coy. had a very unpleasant time as the enemy was able to close the range to the width of the railway lines we were holding.

    A three storey railway building gave him a position from which he could shoot down into our trenches at point-blank range. A large gap, held at one time by the Belgians, between ourselves and the Guards on our left, allowed the enemy to infiltrate behind our positions, so that at one time one platoon was getting it hot from both front and rear. The Bosche then tried to assault and the whistles and shouting of German officers and NCOs were heard above the din of battle. However determined fire held them off although some good men were killed and wounded.

    Cpl. Gibbons, with complete disregard of his own safety, got right out of his trench unto the parapet, doing great execution with his bren gun. He was repeatedly hit but carried on firing until he was killed. On the previous evening he had gone out to bring in a wounded man under heavy fire. At one time it was so intense that he fell in the open, feigning death, until the fire slackened, when he made a dash, getting his casualty into the trench with the bullets hitting all round him.

    A very effective and timely concentration, put down by the Gunners in front of our positions, improved the situation.

    For two days things were comparatively quiet until we were ordered to withdraw by night, which operation we carried out with slight interference from the enemy.

    A forced march of twenty miles back through Brussels followed with everyone very tired after the strenuous time we had been through. Several more lines were held the Coy. losing a man here and there, but one bloody action was fought near Ypres where a daylight withdrawal followed a flank guard. Two sections were completely lost and a number of men were hit crawling back through the green corn. On 1st June, the Coy was evacuated in dribs and drabs from Dunkirk and the surrounding beaches.

    It had suffered a total of over sixty casualties - more than half its original strength. 2nd Lieut. Garstin received the M.C. L/Cpl. Martin the M.M. , Major Reid and C.S.M. Attridge were mentioned in despatches. The C.S.M had worked tirelessly with his usual energy although he had had both his hands badly burnt by a rocket in the early days of the fighting.



    After a long and rather merry time in Lezennes news came that the "balloon was really up” - Germany had invaded Holland and Belgium on the 10th May, 1940. The Battalion moved by road to the Bois de Gemeente, a wood west of Louvain. Captain R.A. Davis was commanding the company. In this wood the Battalion stayed for the night and the following morning it took up position in Louvain – A and D Coys. forward, B and C Coys in reserve on the high ground to the west. There we made use of defences already prepared by the Belgians but after a night of shelling we were moved into the town, still in reserve.

    During the night of the withdrawal we marched a distance of thirty-one miles to a place west of Brussels where we halted for a refresher in the shape of meal, a wash and a sleep. Here we were reinforced by returning leave parties, including the Coy. Cmd., Capt. E D. D. Wilson. Our next stop was a place called Denderleeuw and B and Coys. were now forward on the line of the River Dendre. It was here that the company saw the enemy at short range for the first time. There was considerable exchange of small arms fire across the river and along the railway as the enemy employed his “feeling” tactics along the front.

    Our next position was on the Yser canal. No. 12 platoon occupied a Fish Glue Factory and were in contact with the enemy, especially snipers. During darkness, the Coy. Commander was visiting the forward posts and, as he moved around in the dark, had the misfortune to fall into a large and odious ditch, after which there was a decidedly fishy air about him !

    On the line of the Bossuyt canal, the company was in reserve and had little to report. We next moved across the front to Tourcoing, where we occupied an old flour mill in a forward position. It was at Tourcoing that the Divisional Commander General Montgomery, decorated members of the Battalion for gallantry and distinguished service in action, the enemy being as near as Roubaix with forward elements within a mile of the parade.

    Again we withdrew, this time to the Ypres canal. Here considerable enemy activity was observed in the evening and their “fire and movement” showed a high standard of training, as they moved forward to force the canal. Our small arms fire checked them, for no attack had been launched by dawn the following morning, when our rearguards withdrew shortly after daylight. During this action Rfn. Kerr and Thompson were killed and Rfn. Middleton received wounds from which be afterwards died. Rfn. Ryan was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry.

    The withdrawal took place in the early hours of the morning to the village of Woeston where we took up positions on the forward slopes among the young corn. From here we had to withdraw in daylight in full view of the enemy.

    The nature of this withdrawal may be judged from the fact that two rifle sections and a section of carriers were left behind for three-quarters of an hour to deny the position, but they were unable to retire for a further three-quarters of an hour being involved with the enemy. Smoke would have helped ; but they only suffered three casualties.

    Our withdrawal was harassed by artillery fire-shells falling along our route for miles. In the early hours of the morning we took up a position east of Fournes.

    Here, apart from considerable noise of battle near the town and some mortar fire on and around our position, we had a fairly peaceful time.

    News of the evacuation had seeped through and eventually it was our turn to move towards the sea. This we did under cover of darkness and to the tune of much shelling, especially when passing through La Panne. Daylight showed us the sea dotted with a variety of craft from destroyers and channel steamers to rowing boats. With daylight, enemy air activity increased. The beaches were machine gunned by low flying aircraft, and throughout the day, bombers attacked ships and shore, doing a great amount of damage. On the beach, parties of varying size were taken on a wide assortment of craft to different parts of the British Isles.



    During the period the following officers have commanded the company:

    Capts. Ward and Garrett, Major Burke-Murphy, M.C., Lieut. Sweeney, M.C., Capt. Wilson and Major de Longueuil the last since April, 1942. In the same period there have been C.S.M.s, Conkey, Boyt, Mitchell, and Kelly. The 3rd September 1939 found the company mobilizing and a month later we went to France-crossing from Southampton to Cherbourg. We went into billets in Lezennes, near Lille, and spent the winter preparing against the possibility of a German invasion through the Low Countries. During this time each platoon frequented its own café. Several good company concerts were held and we produced a most successful concert party. Rfn. McCamley won the individual prize for the best single act show in the Battalion. No. 13 platoon won the Battalion Inter-platoon knock-out football competition, beating the Carrier platoon after two re-plays. Our work consisted chiefly of digging defensive positions and going on Divisional exercises - all in bitterly cold weather. There were one or two cases of frost bite.

    At last the great day came on 10th May when we moved into Belgium to meet the Boche. On 12th May we took up a position in reserve behind A. Coy. in Louvain. After the German attack on 15th May the enemy managed to get into some houses on the left flank and C Coy. was ordered to counter-attack. Capt. Ward was wounded during the reconnaissance and Lieut. Garrett took command. The operation was successfully carried out. A few days later C Coy. was ordered to relieve A, who had borne the brunt of the fighting so far, but this did not take place as the Battalion was ordered to withdraw that night. There followed a series of ordered withdrawals and hastily dug defensive positions. The most notable withdrawal was that carried out in daylight from Woeston.

    13 platoon was cut off during this operation and two sections of 14 platoon counter-attacked under Cpl. McDaid, who won the M.M. Eventually we were ordered to the beaches at La Panne to be taken off. Owing to daylight bombing, machine gunning, and shelling, organised movement was impossible and we were split into small parties. These parties made their way along the shore towards Dunkirk and were embarked for England on 1st June.



    The battle in Belgium started, as far as D Coy. was concerned, at Louvain, where the Battalion was holding the line of the railway - A and D companies up. On the company front a deep cutting divided us from the Germans, spanned by a bridge which formed the main entrance to the town. This bridge was demolished and with this obstacle in front of us, none of the enemy, apart from fifth columnists penetrated the company front.

    These latter were a real trouble during the five days stay in Louvain, and succeeded in making C.S.M. Gray and Rfn. Cree, the runner, prisoners of war, as they were moving between the platoon positions. The noise of shots and grenades during this incident was heard by 18 platoon and Sgt. (now Capt.) Baudains very skilfully led a patrol which managed to contact the Lincolns on the right and the carrier section to the front and reported to Coy. H.Q. For this he was awarded the M.M.

    After five days of severe shelling and mortaring the Battalion withdrew by a night march through Brussels and, after eleven hours of continuous marching, were picked up by M.T. and ferried to a position on the River Dendre where the company was in reserve.

    Within twenty-four hours another withdrawal was made to the Yser canal, and then to Tourcoing where Lieut. Bredin took over the company from Major Ryland. Here, at a parade held by General Montgomery, Sgt. Baudains and L/Sgt. Kealy of D Company were decorated with the M.M.

    From Tourcoing the Battalion was transferred across the front to Boesinghe, where a position was taken over from the Belgians on the canal bank. Here 16 platoon had a section almost wiped out by shellfire in a house they were occupying overlooking the lock gates - only L/C. Lecky and Rfn. Beckett emerged unscathed. Whilst in this position the company was again under heavy shell and mortar fire, but the Germans, who were clearly massing on the far bank for an attack were prevented from launching it by the fire of the Battalion.

    Another withdrawal was soon made to Woeston, where a position was occupied on a forward slope with D Company in the centre of the Battalion. A daylight withdrawal was ordered which was most unpleasant, being carried out in full view of the enemy. However, only two men were wounded, though they had to be left behind as every attempt to reach them only resulted in their having more fire directed at them.

    At this stage. Rfn Grant, the company cook. was killed by a shell which destroyed the cook's lorry. A further withdrawal made to Fournes, where the first rumours of evacuation were heard, and then to Dunkirk, passing through La Panne.


    The Mortar Platoon has had an interesting, though not very chequered, career since the early days of the war. Perhaps its most creditable achievement has been the winning over of Company Commanders and others to a fondness to our “tubes” in contrast to the apprehension which they were wont to show in no uncertain fashion in those early days in France, if those tubes were sited anywhere near Coy. H.Q. At the outbreak of war the platoon was a small one, being equipped with two three-inch mortars and commanded by a Platoon Sergeant-Major, P.S.M. Lyons, who was its commander in France and Belgium. He was unfortunately wounded on the ship coming back from Dunkirk.
    Tricky Dicky likes this.

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