WATOU, BELGIUM 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by John West, Sep 15, 2020.

  1. John West

    John West Member

    The Belgian frontier village of Watou is about 10 miles to the East of Cassel and straddles one the main evacuation routes towards Dunkirk. In the Great War, Watou was behind the lines of the British-held Ypres Salient for the duration of the conflict and many British soldiers were billeted here.

    During May 1940, Watou was in British control, until the night of the 29th May. It appears that the 145 Brigade's (Somerforce) Breakout from Cassel on the early morning of 30th May 1940 was heading towards Watou in the mistaken belief that it was in still in British hands.

    Watou was subjected to two German air-raids on 27th and 28th May 1940, which inflicted civilian and military casualties, some of whom were buried in nearby front gardens. During the Cassel breakout on 30th May there were additional British casualties that also needed burial and so a burial ground was purchased by the Mayor of Watou on land just outside the town on the Houtkerkestraat Road. It was used to re-bury the air-raid victims, as well as providing graves for BEF casualties near to where they had been killed.

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    Many British casualties were buried here, the majority being soldiers participating in the Breakout from Cassel on 29th-30th May 1940 including the victims of the column lead by Major Ronald Cartland MP of the 53rd Worcester Yeomanry.



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    The Burial Ground at Watou, an unmarked clump of overgrown trees


    The site has never been developed, although all the victims have since been re-interred to other graveyards. It has now become a copse of overgrown trees, obvious on the approach into Watou from the North, that has been left undisturbed by the people of Watou to this day.

    Most of the BEF casualties were re-interred by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on 22nd February 1948 to the CWG Cemetery at Hotton. I have listed the men buried here by Regiment below.


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    Graves Concentration Report Form showing some of the burials recorded at Watou


    East Riding Yeomanry, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Major Geoffrey RADCLIFFE

    Captain Thomas SISSONS

    Captain Donald HALL

    2nd Lt. Leonard BRABROOK 124411

    2nd Lt. John COCKIN

    2nd Lt. Lt Richard HUDSON

    Corporal Robert SMITH

    Lance Corporal Basil BALL

    Trooper William OSTLER 7887355

    Trooper Arthur TODD, 7893113

    Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Private Oscar ADAMS

    Private Harold SHILCOCK 5387125

    Private Denis COMLEY

    Gloucester Regiment, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Private Hugh POWELL

    4th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, now buried at CWG Hotton

    2nd Lt Francis GOLLAND 90570

    Warrant Officer Robert SHEILS

    Royal Engineers, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Driver Walter GILCHRIST

    Middlesex Regiment, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Private Richard COVERDALE

    19th Field Regiment RA, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Warrant Officer Cecil PLAYFORD

    RAOC, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Warrant Officer Leonard WATTS 2026837

    6th Battalion Yorks and Lancs Regiment, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Lance Corporal George NICHOLSON 4750206

    Military Police, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Lance Corporal Reginald CASPELL

    8th Battalion Worcester Regiment, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Private Christopher WILLIS

    Royal Corps of Signals, now buried at CWG Hotton

    Signalman (motorcyclist) Victor MUNRO

    98th Field Regiment, RA- now buried in Dunkirk Town Cemetery

    Gunner Reginald WATTS- 935663

    53rd Worcester Yeomanry anti-tank Regiment, RA

    Major Ronald Cartland MP,
    Lieutenant Robert Hutton-Squire, now buried at CWG Proven


    140 (5th London) Regiment, Royal Artillery
    killed on 30th May 1940 in an ambush alongside Major Ronald Cartland MP

    Described in the website In Memoriam – 140th Field Regiment Royal Artillery – 140th (5th London) Army Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

    2nd Lieutenant Graham COOK, age 26

    Gunner Horace NICHOLLS, age 20

    Gunner Sydney VANGROSY, age 25

    Lance Bombardier James HARDY, age 26

    Gunner Alfred THORPE, age 21

    Gunner John DUFFIELD, age 21

    Gunner Edwin STRAHAN, age 24

    Gunner William DAVIS, age 26

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    Grave Concentration Report Form showing Ronald Cartland MP and the names of eight 140th Regiment and other Soldiers who were reburied at Hotton Cemetery in Belgium, courtesy Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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    .
    Graves of Major Cartland MP, one unknown soldier, and five members of 140th Field Regiment at Hotton. Gunner Vangrosky’s grave carries the Star of David.


    Watou Air Raid images, 29th May 1940


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    Air raid damage photographed in Watou, 29th May 1940. The convoy was heading North through Watou towards Dunkirk and had been strafed by German bombers. B&W images courtesy of Jan Daschot.


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    Flemish Grave documentation kept in the mayor of Watou’s office describing Major Cartland’s burial details and belongings. Similar documents exist for all the other casualties buried here.



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    Abandoned British and French Army vehicles on roads towards Dunkirk, between Poperinghe and Proven, May 1940. Photograph courtesy Jan Daschot
     
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  2. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    Hi John West

    Really interesting report. I have been looking into the 4 OBLI casualties from the night of 29/30 May 1940 following the breakout from Cassel. My main interest has been the burials at Winnezeele. Do you know if there are any 'Unknown Soldier' graves at Hotton?
     
  3. John West

    John West Member

    Yes there's at least one in the row of Artillerymen in Row 1 0 B (See image- Cartland's grave is nearest in 2nd row- an unknown is next to his grave)
     

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