1st Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment Friendly Fire Incident

Discussion in '1940' started by Drew5233, Feb 17, 2011.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Sourced from 1st Bn South Lancs War Diary WO 167/784

    On the 16th May 1940 at Veldkant, North of Brussels, Belgium.

    At 2325hrs shots are heard at Battalion HQ coming from the direction of the canal.

    At 2350hrs A Company reported three casualties, owing to a misunderstanding between British and Belgian troops. Some Belgian soldiers opened fire after a British sentry failed to reply to their challenge. The head of a Belgian column, who were crossing a bridge, I believe it to be the bridge on Tommenmolenstratt, and challenged A Companies sentry who was posted near a large tree about five yards away. The sentry appears not to have understood what was being asked of him and failed to answer. The Belgian who challenged him thought he might be a German paratrooper and challenged him again. Again failing to get an answer from the sentry the Belgian soldier opened fire on him and shot him through the head. Seeing their sentry fall a section from 7 Platoon, A Company who were at their posts around 50 yards away thought he had been shot by enemy troops and opened fire on the Belgians with their Bren Gun. Around 30 rounds were exchanged with each other before they realised who they were firing at. During this incident A Company received a further two casualties. One was shot in the stomach and fell into the canal and was reported as missing. The other was wounded in his left hand. The two casualties were taken to the RAP by company transport.

    At 0010 hrs on the 17th May the Belgian soldier who had challenged A Companies sentry was taken to see the CO of the battalion. He told the CO that he had challenged the sentry in French, Flemish and English and receiving no reply assumed he wasn't French or English.

    I suspect the dates are slightly wrong as the battalion didn't suffer any casualties until the 20th May according to CWGC which are listed below. So either CWGC or the units war diary has got the dates completely or partially wrong. They could fit as one has no known grave (Pte Coulburn being the soldier shot in the stomach that dropped into the canal) and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial.

    My train of thought regarding the other two casualties is as follows:

    One is in Belgium (Pte Connor who was shot in the head) was buried in a local cemetery and taken to his final resting place after the war, which fits with CWGC's cemetery description where he is buried now. The casualty buried in France (Pte Walsh) was evacuated and died of his wounds on the 20th May in France.

    I think the confusion regarding the dates of death lies with Walsh dying a few days later on the 20th May and with them being involved in the same incident they were all later recorded with the same date of death as Walsh.

    001 CONNOR J 3766984 1ST BN 20/05/1940 SOUTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT :poppy:
    002 COULBURN HH 3651826 1ST BN 20/05/1940 SOUTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT :poppy:
    003 WALSH C 3650251 1ST BN 20/05/1940 SOUTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT :poppy:

    I must stress that this is just my interpretation of the facts I have to hand and my theory regarding the casualties has not been proven as fact.

    Anyone have any thoughts?
  2. Pete Keane

    Pete Keane Senior Member

    Hi Drew

    The other consideration has to be when the diary was written - certainly after D-day the 1st Bn were criticized for tardiness in respect of records and letting n-o-k know of deaths - although as the CO pointed out, they were in constant contact with the enemy and Bn HQ was detroyed twice (he also suggests that whoever is investigating may wish to come out to the front line, Chateau de la Rondel, and check for themselves!).

    I recall that the 1st Bn were one of the last to leave, I will see what the Regt history makes of the dates.

  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Pete,

    The diary entries for May are signed off by the CO and dated 1st June 1940. They left France on the same day at 1310hrs.
  4. Pete Keane

    Pete Keane Senior Member

    Ok, not a mistake when they were written retrospectively then !!

  5. englandphil

    englandphil Very Senior Member

    CONNOR, JAMES, 3766984.jpg
    In Memory of
    Private JAMES CONNOR
    3766984, 1st Bn., South Lancashire Regiment
    who died age 30, on 20 May 1940
    Son of Elizabeth Connor, of Kirkdale, Liverpool.
    Remembered with honour

    COULBURN. HAROLD HENRY, 3651826.jpg
    In Memory of
    3651826, 1st Bn., South Lancashire Regiment
    who died age 26, on 20 May 1940
    Remembered with honour

    View attachment 46508 .jpg]
    In Memory of
    3650251, 1st Bn., South Lancashire Regiment
    who died age 31, on 20 May 1940
    Remembered with honour
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Thanks Phil
  7. susantydd

    susantydd Junior Member

    I am researching 3446840 Private Thomas Martin South Lancashire Regiment killed 21 May 1940, aged 21 and is the only CWGC in the church yard at Verbrande Brug (Grimbergen) Belgium. I have been told that it was likely Thomas was killed by friendly fire. I wondered if he was possibly one of the men involved in the incident discussed on this thread. Any ideas or help would be appreciated.

    Many thanks,
  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Susan,

    Englandphil maybe able to answer your question-I've just had a look through the entries for May a few days eitherside of his death and nothing stands out to me. Infact according to the diary the battalion was nearly 100km away from Grimbergen the day before his death. Notably this was to the west so he may have been left behind after being wounded.

  9. englandphil

    englandphil Very Senior Member

    Not much I can add I am afraid. There were too casualties on the 21st Private Martin and WO Harry Goble. WO Goble is buried at OOSTDUINKERKE COMMUNAL CEMETERY so this does look like he may have died of wounds.

    One way of potentially finding out is apply for his death certificate, which may give a cause of death.

    MARTIN. THOMAS, 3446840.jpg

    Photo courtesy of Forum member Doc

    His Army Service Number indiates that he was a pe War Territorial Soldier.
  10. Rhythm Boy

    Rhythm Boy Junior Member

    Hi DREW........I read with much interest your article above. I have been asked by a gentlemen in Grimbergen to research Thomas MARTIN who is buried in the churchyard at Grimbergen. Thomas was a Salford lad who more than likely was killed as a result of this friendly fire incident. I am searching for more info, so if you come across any, would you be kind enough to share it. I am a friend of Sue Tydd, who has already mentioned this earlier, and is also kindly researching it as best possible. Many Thanks, Graham.

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