June 1940 rescue of WT Section

Discussion in 'Royal Signals' started by Roy Martin, Feb 9, 2020.

  1. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    At the outbreak of war the City of Derby had been taken up as a MT ship. By June 1940 she was tasked with landing a replacement W/T (Wireless Telegraphy) Section of about twenty five men, and their equipment, for Sedan, in Northern France. The Germans overran the area so quickly that the change-over could not take place. The group in Sedan were unable to reach Dunkirk, so the City of Derby made her way to St Valery to pick up the signallers who were attempting to reach Abbeville, just inland. When this too proved to be impossible, the ship followed the group to Cherbourg and then on to Brest, where the rescue was carried out.

    At first the City of Derby was ordered to go to a neutral Spanish port, a destination that filled both the signallers and the ship's crew with foreboding. The signallers asked that they be allowed a swim to cool off and enjoy what they thought might be their last taste of freedom. The Master anchored the ship off the lighthouse of Penfret on the Iles de Glénan where three of the signallers swam ashore, to the surprise of the lighthouse keepers who were expecting the Germans. The keepers maintained that their radio was too weak to send a message to London, so one of the party swam back to the ship and returned in the jolly boat, with their own wireless set. And, to help with obtaining permission to use it from the lighthouse crew, a loaded revolver. After being reprimanded by London for breaking shipboard radio silence, which they hadn't, they received permission to return to Liverpool.

    As supplies were running very low the Master decided to first call in to Brest. When they reached Brest Roads they were forbidden to land as the Germans were ' knocking at the door.' At the time those on the City of Derby were unaware of all the other ships rescuing troops from ports in the Bay of Biscay.

    When making for St George's Channel they sighted a submarine periscope, so they diverted west of Ireland, finally reaching Belfast on 27 June. For some reason they were told to say that they were from Liverpool, not from France.

    The information is from Jack Mount's most interesting unpublished book about his First Ninety Years and from replies that he has kindly sent me. He went on to spend many months behind enemy lines in Italy.
    Tricky Dicky likes this.

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