Evacuation to Harwich - Help

Discussion in '1940' started by a well camel, Mar 21, 2018.

  1. With Mel Senior in his ninety-eighth year now, supported by multiple tablets and the odd tot of rum, I am trying to tidy-up his war service memories originally posted on the Signals part of the Forum. I thought I had Dunkirk time-lined until he threw a spanner in the works when I showed him a picture of Margate Pier.

    According to him he was picked up by the paddle steamer ‘Golden Eagle’ off Bray Dunes and landed at Harwich, climbed the gangway, crossed the quay over some wooden planking and boarded a train which took them to Wigston Barracks in Leicester. All ok except the ‘Golden Eagle’ was evacuating to Margate, with a pier and a good two mile journey to the railway station.

    Can anyone help?

    I have the following details that may be of assistance as well as the original recollections posted on A Short History Of 50 Division Signals.

    • 50 Div Sigs War Diary 28 May 1940 “Lieut Waugh......with 90 O.R’s proceeded to La Panne for embarkation”

    • This party set off at 2000 hrs and they were perhaps a dozen miles from the beaches.

    • When he and his group arrived at La Panne “We went down a field to a wall by some cottages that looked out to sea and a slipway down to the sand. There was a big hole with a tree growing out of it and lots of men were sheltering in it, French and Belgian troops as well as British.

    • He believes that they spent the night here by the cottages or just to one side.

    • Lieut Waugh was here with a larger contingent and his Sergeant (Olsen) was sending the men in small parties along toward Dunkirk.

    • Dad and some others carried Bofors ammunition boxes to the top of the beach before moving toward Dunkirk.

    • Somewhere near the Mole he joined a line but after being shot up by enemy planes said goodbye and started off back to La Panne on his own.

    • He stopped by a half buried boat where he got rid of some of his kit and tried to dig the boat out. Even though it was rotten he had the idea he could use it to get out into deeper water.

    • While here he has a clear memory of two ships boats landing some Guardsmen. They formed up and marched off the beach with their Officer. He says they were the smartest soldiers he saw all the time he was on the beach.

    • He saw “Gracie Fields” get hit and start to turn but did not see her sinking. Most of 50 Div Signals casualties were a result of this vessel sinking. The file at Kew has dates for her being hit ranging from 28 May to 30 May, with an official letter deciding on the 29 May as the date she was bombed. (How he knew it was Gracie Fields I don’t know)

    • When he saw the small rowing boat close in to the shore he made a dash for it and was holding on to it up to his chest when Lieut Waugh, Sgt Olsen and four other Signalmen arrived. They plus a few soldiers from other units then moved out toward the paddle steamer. He has always said he was rescued by “The Golden Eagle” and I have never questioned this until now. (The paddle steamer made three trips of which the first and third can be ruled out for obvious reasons, leaving the 31 May 1940 as the pick-up date – but this suggests he spent another night on the beach, and even so the boat then docked at Margate on 1 June.)

    • Other small boats were about but they were the nearest and apart from the crew shouting to hurry as they were grounding on sand the Captain through a megaphone, was warning off all but their boat as they had to leave now. The men moved from one side of the ship to the other to move her off the sands.

    • They headed up the coast and he heard they were on a new route heading for a buoy where they were to turn.

    • He also recalls being told there were many nurses below decks but he never saw any.
    Any advice will be appreciated.

    Mel Junior
  2. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    There is a book out last year 'The Royal Navy at Dunkirk - Commanding Officers' Reports of British Warships in action during Operation Dynamo'. It covers the Golden Eagle (P216). Preview here:
    The Royal Navy at Dunkirk
    Unfortunately the pages you really want are not covered in the preview but it may be another Forum member has a copy and could look it up for you or you could try your local library.
    CL1 likes this.
  3. Many thanks Tim,
    Yes the three trips included the first (visible in your link) landing at Margate on Wednesday 29 May plus a third when she returned from Dunkirk harbour with one evacuee on the 3 June. This leaves Friday 31 May when she is reported as having two boats working the beaches at Bray, later moving into the harbour and picking up around 1,000 troops before returning home to Margate on 1 June.

    No mention of Harwich.

    As Ken Waugh was with him when he was rescued this rules out all but the 31 May as a pick up date for the Golden Eagle.

    Best regards

  4. lambretta

    lambretta Junior Member

    Sorry for being late to this one. All the ferries that docked at Harwich and went to Dunkirk would have docked right beside a train track. Not saying this vessel did though.
  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Golden Eagle
    Used during World War I as a transport ship on the English Channel
    Returned to its regular London run to the North Kent resorts of Margate and Ramsgate
    Reboilered in 1934, converted to oil fuel
    Based at Sheerness at the beginning of World War II and made several crossings to Dunkirk for the evacuations at the end of May 1940

    Seems she was a North Kent gal - so Margate seems right

    Requisitioned Auxiliary - Golden Eagle
    January 1941 based at Harwich with Lieutenant G T Blake RNR as Commanding Officer


  6. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    Margate Pier was originally called the Jetty to distinguish it from Margate Pier Harbour Wall.. I don't know what the harbour's relationship is with the railway but it's not unusual for a spur to be laid to a harbour. Is it possible that his ship discharged onto the Harbour Wall which I believe was a sort of stone pier?
  7. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    http://www.dunkirk-revisited.co.uk/Dunkirk Revisited - Chapter III.pdf
    Near the North Goodwin Light Ship, the
    massive Golden Eagle paddled past on her way
    to Margate
    . She had 1,250 aboard. Following
    after her went the Fleet Minesweeper, Saltash,
    crowded with 400 troops – the first of her two
    deliveries this Saturday.

    Maybe you can work out the date of this Saturday and then relate it to your relatives history ?

    There is also a map on the page showing the routes and notably Harwich doesnt come into it as I guess it was too long a trip so the shorter the route the quicker and more men evacuated

  8. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Is it possible that he has the right port, but the wrong ship? A number landed their troops at Harwich; but I will need to got through the lists to find out which ones. I will do that tomorrow, as I can hear the red wine bottle singing to me now - what a sweet song!
    Tricky Dicky and CL1 like this.
  9. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Before the wine takes over completely:

    There were a total of seven arrivals at Harwich during Dynamo, landing a total of 3,668 troops. So far I can only find five. The three ships involved were all Naval Paddlers:
    Glen Gower, 31st, 880 landed; 2/6, 435 landed. Oriole (ex Eagle III) 30th, 567 landed. Snaefell (ex Waverley) 31st, 520 landed and 2nd 461 landed. I can't work out which was the remaining ship.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
  10. Thanks all for the input - here is what I have found additionally;

    That he made a mistake on a name is quite possible, there were two additional ‘Eagle’ steamers working the beaches from the Thames fleets; Crested Eagle, and Royal Eagle. The Crested Eagle went down on the 29 May, and even so all three ’Eagles’ were working into Margate where troops were taken the mile and three quarter to Margate Railway Station by bus.

    What of the remaining side-wheelers involved in the Dunkirk evacuation? There were twenty-three of them; From the Clyde, Duchess of Fife, Marmion, Oriole and Waverley. From P & A Campbell- Bristol, Brighton Belle, Brighton Queen, Devonia, Glen Avon, Glen Gower, Plinlimmon ex Cambria, and Snaefell ex Waverley and Westward Ho! From the Thames fleets Crested Eagle, Essex Queen, Golden Eagle, Laguna Belle, Medway Queen, Queen of Kent, Royal Eagle and Thames Queen.

    Six were sunk; the Brighton Belle on Tuesday 28th May Crested Eagle and the Clyde Waverley on Wednesday 29th May, Devonia and Gracie Fields, on Thursday 30th May, and Brighton Queen on Friday 31st May.

    The Clyde paddle steamers with their shallow draft were put on minesweeping duties and based at Harwich. The Oriole had been re-named – her former title being ‘Eagle III’. She made five return trips to Dunkirk including one where her captain deliberately ran her aground to re-float later using the lorry-piers to reach deeper draft vessels at her stern.

    HMS Glen Gower Paddle Minesweeper - J.1630/5/1940 left Harwich with Snaefell and Glen Avon for Dunkirk. Picking up 530 troops from La Panne beach by boat she was ordered to go alongside the ‘Mole’, having to be towed off the beach by Snaefell as she had grounded. Beside the ‘Mole’ she came under continuous shellfire waiting to embark troops and took some casualties before returning to Harwich.

    An intriguing passage in “Steaming To Victory – How Britain’s Railways Won The War “by Michael Williams (Random House) suggests that some trains did leave Harwich; “Not all the ships involved in the evacuation operated out of the south coast ports. Some were based at Harwich in Essex, where eight trains were laid on at short notice from LNER’s terminal at Parkeston Quay to reception centres in the Midlands”

    In “Tigers at Dunkirk; The Leicester Regt and The Fall of France” by Matthew Richardson is an account given by Pte ‘Moe’ Harper which deals with his escape. Harper and his small group of artillerymen were late in reaching La Panne, tried several time to board a boat but suffered from Stuka attacks all day. Retreating to the relative safety of the dunes they spent the night ready to try again next day.

    “….my small group eventually made it to the front of the queue, loaded into a boat and (were) taken a short trip and transferred to a paddle steamer which had got quite close in, the Royal Eagle. The boat was packed, I managed to find a small space alongside the funnel….alas we were left high and dry on the beach.”

    As the tide had turned the boat had become grounded. The Captain asked for volunteers to scrounge any ammunition for her guns and Moe made a number of trips back up the beach.

    He continues “…by this time the tide had turned and was well on the way in again. After waiting about another hour, orders came over the tanoy for organised rocking of the boat, under instruction, port side then starboard to try to free the keel. After about a dozen rocks we were free, a big cheer went up, and we were on our way to Blighty.”

    There are other accounts of grounded vessels being rocked free but Harper ends his recollections with this;

    “We eventually arrived at Harwich, caught the train and finished up in our own regimental barracks at Glen Parva.”

    Glen Parva was an alternative name for Wigston Barracks, Leicester.

    All very well, but according to the narrative this took place on the second or third of June 1940, which begs the question how long was spent on the beaches…….


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