4th Gordon Highlanders (MG). Help needed please?

Discussion in '1940' started by jack wright, Dec 22, 2009.

  1. jack wright

    jack wright Junior Member

    Hi, I am a new poster to the forum and am trying to find out more information about the whereabouts etc of my father-in-law - Alfred (Alf) Williams (Army No: 6137959) from Sept 1939 to May 1940.

    Alf passed away in 1988, but I now have a copy of his army record and also remember him telling me a number of stories about his army service.

    He originally joined the East Surrey Regiment in 1929 and spent 7 years with the second battalion in India. He was discharged back to the UK in 1936, but as a reservist was mobilised on 1/9/1939 at Kingston upon Thames.

    His army record shows he was posted to the Gordon Highlanders 4th batt 4/40 pretty soon afterwards and shipped out to France with the BEF late in Oct 1939. His 'trade' with the East Surreys was described as 'machine gunner'. I remember him telling me that he was manning a machine gun in a defensive position in some woods when he was shot in the arm. He lost a lot of blood and was taken to a hospital. The hospital was subsequently evacuated as the Germans continued to advance and as he was judged incapable of walking he was left behind and did not get any closer to Dunkirk. From his army record I think this must have been on 18 May 1940. The ironic bit is that when the germans arrived he was forced to walk anyway and remained a POW until 1945. I've read many of the other postings on this site and can see many others experienced the same treatment.

    I'm trying to build up a better overall understanding of where Alf was and other background issues and would be very grateful for any answers that anyone can provide or any pointers at sources I can read that might in turn lead to more answers. My specific questions are listed below but I'd appreciate any further information that others think might be useful also:

    1. 4th Gordon Highlanders 4/40 (MG). Other records for the Gordon Highlander's tell me that the 4th battalion Gordons were not with the BEF (I think they were in the Far East), so I wondered why this MG unit were serving with the BEF. Also what sort of size they would have been (how many men?) and where I might get any more information about them?

    2. I assume Alf was transferred to this unit on mobilisation because he was an experienced machine gunner. Was this common at the time that men like Alf would be be posted to another regiment like the Gordons?

    3. I do have pictures of Alf in a uniform of the East Surreys but wondered how different the uniform would have been for the Gordon Highlanders unit he transferred to?

    4. Can anyone tell me where in France he would have been posted from Oct 1939 to April 1940 (i.e. before moving into Belgium?). I have seen information in 'the war in France and Flanders 1939-40' that lists his unit as part of II Corps, but I can't find anything that tells me where II Corps would have been based in France during this period?

    5. From the book mentioned above I believe his unit were part of the divisional reserve on the left flank of the BEF when they started moving into Belgium on 10th May and I think they may have become directly involved in the fighting on the Dyle Front around 15th May. Again, can anyone possibly provide me with any further information on this or about the specific towns that his unit may have been near and any thoughts on whereabouts he could have been on 18th which I understand was the day he was wounded?

    My apologies for so many questions but I'd be very grateful for any thoughts or clues from others that could help.

    my thanks jack wright
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Welcome to the forum.
    4th Gordons were under command of II Corps, commanded by Lt-Gen Alan Brooke.
    see here

    I suggest a trip to TNA at Kew & look the war diary up.
    Detecting your browser settings

    WO 167/745
    4 Gordon Highlanders
    Covering dates1939 Sept.-1940 June
  3. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Pte Alfred Williams is listed in Prisoners of War British Army 1939-45
    Camp 20 B PoW Number 19765 Regimental No Confirmed as 6137959 Regt or Corps G`dn H

  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hello Jack and welcome to the forum.

    Firstly you may find the book 'Dunkirk-The Men They Left Behind'. right up your street.

    From what liitle I know most men were called back to their own colours. I wonder in the East Surreys didn't have a MG Batt at that time?
  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  6. jack wright

    jack wright Junior Member

    Thank you for the information supplied. I'm hoping to visit Kew again in a couple on months and will follow up the leads suggested. I wil also get hold of a copy of the recommended book.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Jack, the following may help you identify what happened to your father in law.

    On the 16th May 4th Div was tasked to hold the reserve line of the Brussels Canals and the Senne River until 3 Div and Corps Troops had withdrew to the River Dendre. The 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and 15th/19th Hussars were deployed as the rear guard under 2nd Armoured Recce Brigade were supported by the 4th Gordons MG Battalion.

    At midday on the 17th May the Germans were on the canal and unsuccessfully attempted to cross it and for most of the day small arms fire was excanged across the canals along the divisional front. At midnight the division started to withdraw to the Dendre and the rear guard consisted of the 4th Gordons amongst other units.

    On the 18th May the 4th was withdrawing from the Dendre to the Escaut River with the 4th Gordons acting as the rear guard again with 15th/19th Hussars and the 14th Anti-Tank Regiment. The Divisions left flank was supposed to be manned by the Belgians but they had withdrew without telling the division which resulted in allowing the Germans to cross the canal during the night and by dawn had advanced beyond the rear guards left flank. When the rear guard finally retreated to the River Dendre positions they found them already occupied by the Germans who had cut in behind them from the open left flank. With most of the bridges already blown after a series of firefights most of the 15th/19th Hussars, a Company of the 4th Gordons and one Anti-Tank Battery from the 14th A/T Regt, RA were lost. Some men managed to escape by swimming across the river.

  8. jack wright

    jack wright Junior Member

    Andy, firstly my thanks for you taking the trouble to provide me with this update and as things have turned out your explanation may well have thrown some additional light on exactly where and how Alf was injured.

    Since my original posting I have spent a fair amount of time at the nataional archives and have viewed both the 4th Gordons war dairy and I also managed to find Alf's original POW questionaire complted on his release in 1945. In this Alf wrote that he was captured at Krombeke in Belgium on 30 May.

    From further research since then I confirmed that Krombeke had a large CCS and was about 10 miles from Dunkirk. Also on the 30th, the Germans took 700 POWs from the CCS no doubt with Alf as one of them. Given the date, I also understand that the evacuation at Dunkirk was either underway or about to start so this also tallies with Alf saying he was left behind as one of the injured.

    The final piece of information I am missing is exactly where and when Alf got injured. Your explanation may well be correct and Alf may well have been continually shifted from one CCS to the next as part of the general retreat. Alternatively he may not have been injured until later on and been a fairly recent casualty on 30th May. If you have any suggestions how I may follow this up with any chance of success I'd be very grateful. In the meantime please accept my thanks once again.

    best regards jack wright
  9. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Jack....As my usual routine I trawl back through old threads every now and then to see if I can add any further info to them as my collection of documentation grows.

    Have you considered checking the Gordon's Missing Men file at Kew?

    WO 361/76 The Gordon Highlanders; missing men
  10. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Here is a brief summary of the service of the battalion in 1939-40

    4th (City of Aberdeen) Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders (T.A.) M-G

    51st (Highland) Infantry Division – Attached – 3 September 1939 to Early October 1939
    The battalion was embodied on September 1st, 1939 at Aberdeen. It trained at Blackdog and Westburn Park and was the machine-gun battalion of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division at the outbreak of war. It was warned for service overseas on September 25th and moved to Aldershot at the start of October 1939.

    WO Office Control – Early October 1939 to 28 October 1939
    It left the division on arrival in Aldershot and was destined to be the first Territorial Army battalion sent to France. It left Aldershot on October 27th for Southampton and Cherbourg, where it arrived on October 28th.

    GHQ Troops, BEF – Attached 4th Infantry Division – 4 November 1939 to 26 May 1940
    The battalion moved to Vermelles by November 4th and came under the command of the 4th Infantry Division under II Corps. It moved to Roubaix in December 1939 and was there until May 10th, 1940. By May 14th, 1940 it had advanced into Belgium with the division to Brusseghem. It withdrew to Heldergem on the Dendre on May 17th and then to Renaix by May 18th with the division. It moved to the divisional reserve on May 22nd and then to Marey-en-Baroeuil the following day.

    GHQ Troops, BEF – Attached 5th Infantry Division – 26 May 1940 to 29 May 1940
    By May 26th, it joined the 13th and the 143rd Infantry Brigades under the 5th Infantry Division.

    GHQ Troops, BEF – Attached 50th Infantry Division – 29 May 1940 to 2 June 1940
    It left the 5th Infantry Division for the 50th Infantry Division on May 29th. The battalion arrived at Malo les Bains on May 31st and left Dunkirk on June 2nd, 1940.

    It landed at Dover in early June 1940 and was sent to a reception camp in southeast England. It gradually assembled at Willsworth camp to reorganize. It moved to Sheffield in June.
  11. JollyD

    JollyD Junior Member

    Jack, Dryan67,
    Interesting posts.
    My father George Jolly was in the 4th Gordons in the BEF in 1940.
    He told me he was a Bren Gunner and fought in the rear guard in Belgium and then France escaping Dunkirk late on June 2nd. At times they used Bren carriers and indeed there are photos(mirror pics) of Gordons with Bren carriers in France.

    My father talked little of his experences unti his later days. He talked about fighting in and around the canals and of swimming a river, he was a 1st class swimmer, to escape being captured. An amusing tale he told was of helping his mate BIlly Robinson get to the beaches and out to a ship when he thought he had been hit by shrapnel from mortar fire. Once back in the UK and with a medic it was discovered he had been kicked by a frightened cow and had no more than severe bruising.

    On his return my father was billeted in Chipping Campden where he met my mother. He spent time as an anti tank gunner with the 92 anti tank Btln RA before joining the CMP and being posted to India and Burma just in time to go to Kohema! To his death in 1996 he had a bullet in his leg and many small pices of shrapnel over his back,neck and upper arms which he always promised to have removed and sent back to Japan.

    His brother Robert (Bert) was not so lucky he was 5th Bt GH and was captured at St Valarie.

    I would love to hear from any ex 4th Bt Gordons from the time and any stories.
  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Welcome to the forum and thanks for sharing your fathers stories.
  13. phil rich

    phil rich Junior Member

    My uncle was in the KOYLI before WW2 but recalled into the Gordon Highlanders at the outbreak of WW2.
    He was a machine gunner and that is why he was sent to the Gordon Highlanders where he was wounded at Dunkirk.
    He managed to get back to England and when well went to the Northumberland Fusiliers and then finished the war in the Cheshire Regt. in Italy.
    His name was Brindley.
    Drew5233 likes this.

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