Calais - 1940

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by handtohand22, Oct 21, 2007.

  1. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

    After Boulogne, 17 year old Royal Marine Bill Balmer was sent to Calais, this is what he told me.

    Calais – Friday 24 to Sunday 26 May 1940
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    The rumour of the next operation was the fact that we were going to Calais and would not return. Before we left for Calais we knew we were on a lost cause. A young Geordie in our squad had been talking to a Brigadiers daughter and she said, ‘You will be going to Calais and you will not be coming back’.
    Calais was a lost cause and the main reason we were sent there was to destroy the Calais harbour installations and reinforce the troops already in position. That was designed to allow the retreat of the Allied forces to continue.
    That Friday ninety-six Royal Marines and four officers headed for Calais on a Royal Naval destroyer. The officers were Captain Curtis, the Machine Gun officer was Lieutenant Scott, Lieutenant Bruce and Lieutenant Hunter. The Senior NCOs were Colour Sergeant Reid and Sergeant Mitchell. The Junior NCO Corporal Harper and Lance Corporal O’Farran.
    There were supposed to be some troops from the Royal Ulster Rifles with us but their trip was cancelled.
    While we were crossing the Channel to Calais, Lieutenant Scott moved around the ship talking to everyone. He came and sat down beside me and started to talk. He said, ’You’re Irish, aren’t you?’ I said I was. He then asked me if I was superstitious and I replied that I wasn’t really. He told me that he was superstitious about some things. When I asked him what superstitions he had he related how a single magpie had flew across the road on the way to the destroyer and then bit his lip. I told him the Irish also believed that superstition. He finished off by saying, ‘Just keeping you going.’ Before the weekend was up I would mistakenly pronounce him dead.
    Our first action took place on the way into the harbour. Two mortar shells exploded harmlessly above the destroyer on the jetty. Because the jetty was well above us there were no casualties. It did not take us long to disembark from the destroyer after that hot reception. As we were disembarking other troops were boarding. For the next three days there was a constant run of small ships evacuating the Allied troops. The ships never brought in fresh troops after we landed.
    The Royal Marines were supposed to meet up with French Marines but we never met them. When we eventually found them on Sunday morning before we were captured. They were all at the railway station, all drunk with their weapons piled up. Despite that setback a British officer was able to direct us, the machine gun team, to the building allocated to us. The building had been severely damaged in the fighting which made ideal for fighting from. It was full of rubbish and the Colour Sergeant Reid accompanying us thought this was ideal, just as long as we didn’t look up or move when the German aircraft flew over our position.
    I myself had a Vickers machine gun and had a very busy seventy-two hours at Calais before we surrendered to the Germans. No sleep, hardly anything to eat or drink. There were many horrible sights, of men being blown to bits by Stuka bombs, artillery fire and mortar fire. The worst scene I saw was when No.2 machine gun crew and a rifle section were blown to bits by a Stuka bomb; twelve young men or should I say boys.
    There were stories circulating that German snipers had infiltrated close to our positions. Because of that I was tasked to go to the railway station and locate Sergeant Mitchell. He was in charge of a rifle section there was tasked to use his rifle section to search the ground before the machine gun teams moved forward.
    When we delivered the message Sergeant Mitchell said, “I want the organ grinder not the monkeys”. We had a few choice words with him and returned to the officer with the message.
    Sergeant Mitchell shifted his position and we never met up with him again to re-task him. He was later observed helping to re-float a stranded destroyer. Bombs had exploded in the water close to the destroyer and forced it onto the banking. He was also observed helping people to get on board the hospital ship. He escaped and we were captured.
    At one time on the railway platform we watched two soldiers coming along the track towards us. Then we heard mortar shell being fired in our direction. We flattened ourselves to the platform and when we looked up the two soldiers were gone, just bits of uniform lying where they had been.
    Later on two stretcher-bearers came to us and asked us to identify a dead Royal Marine officer. We went with them and identified the officer as Lieutenant Scott. We took his dog tags and pay book and then returned to the Sergeant of our section.
    But Lieutenant Scott was not dead. The German stretcher-bearers came across him later on and got him into hospital where he recovered. In 1943 he came into our POW camp as part of a travelling show that visited the POW camps. We did not get a chance to talk to him.
    The last stand by the Marines was on a sand hill overlooking the town. We had moved from our gun positions up close to the beach on the Dunkirk side of the town. Across the channel lay the town of Dover; freedom so near and yet so far. We had nothing but a very uncertain future, not really comprehending what lay ahead. We believed that our defence of Calais had engaged the Germans troops and helped to prolong the Dunkirk evacuation. Later when we were on the march the German guards talked about the good fight we put up. An officer from the German Grenadier Division who had attacked Calais stated that the resistance was so strong they thought that many extra troops had moved in to reinforce the defence.
    Chris C, Roy Martin and Paul Bradford like this.
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Thanks Ronnie.
    Look forward to the planned website.
  3. The Aviator

    The Aviator Discharged

    Great story old mate. I read it all. Thanks,
  4. Paul Bradford

    Paul Bradford Active Member

    Thank you Bill. My Granddad was there with The Rifle Brigade.

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