IWM Recollections of Private Robert Brown, 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment

Discussion in '1940' started by Drew5233, Apr 22, 2018.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I'll be the first to admit I've been quiet on here of late and I can't take the moaning from Rich any longer so I thought I'd share something I transcribed for my Facebook Page the other day. I hope you find it of interest:

    The Germans were more ruthless than we were. Whatever they wanted to do, they did it, no matter who was in the way. We were still fighting a kid-glove war. For example, we wouldn’t lay a telephone wire through a churchyard; we would go around it. But the Germans used the church as a defensive position, or for observation.

    We were told to take up positions on La Bassee canal outside Bethune. We were told that we were fighting the Germans that had broken through the Ardennes and were coming round behind us. We had to hold them up as long as possible to stop them closing the gap and cutting the BEF from the coast.

    All four companies were involved. We were so depleted in numbers that we had to put everybody in defence, and we held them back until the early morning of 27 May, when we were encountering our first tanks. There were also heavy mortars and artillery fire. Major Ryder – who was commanding officer by this time – ordered all surplus personnel out to be in defence of battalion headquarters. So I handed over the switchboard to the wireless operator, and I went out and I was told to go forward to a row of trees, to let Captain Long know if I saw any Germans coming. I was there for some time, and there was no sign of anybody. I withdrew about 100 yards to a farm, where myself and a lance corporal kept watch. Suddenly we saw a German motorcycle combination with a machine gun mounted on it coming from behind us. So we dashed across the road, crawled along the ditch, and gave the information that we had.

    I then took up a position in a barn. We knocked holes through the walls which were, by this time, heavily riddled with shrapnel. Mortar bombs were dropping over the barn, behind us. I was with a chap, John Hagan, who said, ‘We’ll find somewhere a bit more safe,’ and we went to the end of the barn, and saw a small brick outhouse. We went in and knocked bricks out for loopholes, and that’s where we continued our defence for the remainder of the day. The other side of the farm was stables and cowsheds and barns, and the men there had done the same as us inside, and knocked bricks out for loopholes – so we were more or less an all-round defence.

    Towards the end of the afternoon, Major Ryder came round to us, and said there was no way we could get away from where we were, and that ammunition was running very low, and he was taking our opinions as to whether we should surrender or carry on fighting. Some said fight on, others said surrender. I said, ‘Let’s carry on as we are!’ Because the morale was high. I had no thought of being taken prisoner, or being killed or wounded. We were just firing and making a joke out of it, really. But eventually Major Ryder said that there was no point wasting human life, that we’d held them up for three days which was a very good effort, that we couldn’t hold them indefinitely, and that we should have to cease firing. But he said that if anybody thought they could get away, then we were entitled to do our own thing. We wouldn’t be running away from the battalion – we would be trying to save ourselves.

    Myself and two pals decided that we would go out of the door on to the road in the opposite direction to the other men. The smoke from the burning house was going that way, and we thought if we used the smoke as cover, we had more chance of getting away. We jumped into a ditch at the side of the road, and in it was an adjutant lying wounded with the medical officer. When we looked over the top we could see German patrols were coming up from the village of Le Paradis. So we couldn’t get across the road. They saw us and shouted to us to put our hands up – and that was that. We stood there with our hands up until they came up to us.

    They had the SS flash, and the ‘Death’s Head’ badge on their helmets. They seemed far superior to the British troops at that time. They had equipment that we’d never seen, and they were all armed with automatic weapons. But they treated us as reasonable as you’d treat an enemy – just the normal knocks, pushes and shouts. When we go to their headquarters, the wounded adjutant and the medical officer were taken into the officer’s mess where they were under cover, and we were left outside. That night, there was a terrific thunderstorm, and we were soaked through half of the night.

    In the meantime, the men in the outbuildings and stables had gone out into the field – but they were fired on, so they came back. Then they went out again, waving a dirty white towel on a rifle. They surrendered, and they were the ones that were marched away – and massacred.

    The selection of images I’ve added are as follows in order.

    1.The ‘Loop Holes’ today in the barn that Robert Brown mentions. I took that picture last year on a visit to the area.
    2.Aerial view of the massacre site.
    3.Fritz Knoechlein found guilty and hanged in 1949
    4.Thought to be POWs from 2 Norfolks shortly before they were executed.
    5.As the previous picture. The chap with his arms folded I think is the Battalion CO Major Ryder.
    6+7.Then and Now of the massacre site.
    8+9. Then and Now of the 97.

    Lest We Forget.

    4jonboy, dbf, BFBSM and 5 others like this.

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