1st Bn Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders In France

Discussion in '1940' started by brickmaker, Aug 2, 2010.

  1. brickmaker

    brickmaker Senior Member

    A bit more information -His Certificate of Service shows he enlisted 25.1.35
    Home from 25.1.35 to 22.9.39
    BEF from 23.9.39 to 30.5.40
    Home from 31,5,40 to 28.1.42
    West Africa from 29.1.42 to 15.4.44
    India from 16.4.44 to 13.1.46
    Home from 14.1.46 to 14.3.47

    I have a photo dated 1946 but can't find out how to attach it !!

    I also have his kilt, regimental tie and a "hacking" type jacket
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  3. brickmaker

    brickmaker Senior Member

    JC Bowler 1946.jpg
    Owen likes this.
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    lovey portrait , cheers
  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

  6. rickster1964

    rickster1964 Member

    Hi this may interest you My Great Uncle Wilf served in the Camerons during dunkirk i have the story he typed of this attached

    Attached Files:

    Owen likes this.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi and welcome to the forum.

    Great stuff and many thanks for posting that account, is your Great Uncle still alive.

  8. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Great stuff, thank you Great Uncle Wilf for recording that.
    Great first post rickster
  9. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    Wonder if this is the same Sgt/Mjr Kerr, as mentioned on last page of ricksters post. Pictured with 1st Camerons in Burma. Photo from October 1944 edition of 79th News. Camerons regimental news magazine.

    Attached Files:

  10. brickmaker

    brickmaker Senior Member

    I can only read the first page of your post as I'm away on hols and the pc I'm using has its own peculiar rules! (pictures of the "battle box" in Singapore etc to follow when I get home)
    Hopefully, when I can see the whole post, it will add a lot to my understanding of what 1 Camerons went through.
  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    You may wish to watch last weeks 'Who do you think you are'. Without giving too much away the battle above is covered rather well by the BBC. Probably one of the best WDYTYA I've watched.

  12. brickmaker

    brickmaker Senior Member


    Thanks - I've just got back from "Down Under" and am trying to catch up on my viewing (TV over there is c**p)

    I now have the episode of WDYTYA on DVD if you're interested - one good turn etc
  13. rickster1964

    rickster1964 Member

    for thos who were unable to read .jpg



    In darkness, broken by occasional shell-bursts and the smoky glare of burning buildings, Seventy-Nine men, which remained of the 1st Cameron Highlanders, waited patiently on the Mole at Dunkirk — perhaps for the last time the kilt would be worn in battle.

    It was the end of lay 1940, but they had not the air of defeated men, nor the look of men whose fighting time was done - they were laden with weapons and equipment.

    Outside the town were soldiers, lost and strayed, who had grown careless of their arms and ammunition, and the Cameron’s, to make ready for any emergency, had taken advantage of the opportunity to reinforce their fire power.

    In the advance and retreat of the British Expeditionary Force they had travelled two hundred and forty miles in three weeks. They had dug trenches and sited their defences in half a dozen places from the Forest of Soignies to La Bassee.

    They had passed through and fought in ruined and blazing towns — and had fought with doggedness and courage, during two stubborn battles with the enemy.

    The first of these major encounters was on the River Escaut, some miles
    south of Tournay, where the Germans had forced a crossing, and created a salient between Bruyelle and Calonne. Here the battalion for two days fought bitterly, and with considerable success, but in the midst of what appeared to be a winning battle, were ordered to withdrawn immediately, in a south westerly direction.

    This was on the 22nd May, when the German thrust into the north of France was already a grave menace to the right flank of the B.E.F. The Germans had been so heavily punished by the Cameron’s on the Escaut, that the Cameron’s were able to retire without interference, bringing off the wounded in hurriedly unloaded ration trucks. By now rations had diminished somewhat, hind had to be replenished by foraging.

    On arriving in La Bassee they occupied a position covering the canal crossing there. Three companies were along the canal, and one prepared for all round defence in the village of Violanies. Under shell fire they began digging, and watched beyond the water the steady concentration of German tanks and transport. This was on May 25th. By early evening news came in, vague but disconcerting, that the Germans had crossed the canal through a battalion on the right, and ‘A’ company, behind a screen of Bren-carriers, promptly went looking for them, but were fired upon from an unexpected direction. It was found that the battalion on the left had disappeared, and the enemy was working his way round the Cameron’s’ exposed flank.

    ‘A’ company moved up to cover the gap. By now it was dark, but a farm house was burning fiercely, and the platoons in turn were exposed by the brightness of the fire. The enemy had been reinforced, and his machine guns took heavy toll of the Cameron’s, but the infiltration was stopped, and ‘A’ Company held the gap. The strength of the Company was now only FORTY-FIVE MEN, but as the others were closely engaged with the enemy, it was Major Riach, commanding ‘A’ company, who was given the task of deleting the German bridge-head, - six French tanks had appeared, and these would lead the attack.

    The first objective was a wood that grew along the bank of the canal. The tanks advanced, but their drivers’ vision was limited, arid they took the wrong direction, so Company Sergeant-Major Stott of ‘A’ company ran alongside the under heavy fire and, by hammering on their steel sides, brought them on their proper bearing. Although he was wounded in the arm and shoulder, he continued to advance with the company. Casualties were very heavy, but the Cameron’s went on, and the Germane began to leave their weapon-pits, and presently all who survived were floundering through the water in great haste to return to their own side. Their dead were clothed in black uniforms with silver markings. They had belonged to the ‘SCHOTZSTAFFEL’ (aka Schutzstaffel). Now fire from the other side of the canal grew heavier, field guns, mortars, and machine guns deluged the wood, and one of the French tanks was knocked out, Of the FORTY-FIVE Cameron’s, EIGHTEEN remained alive, of whom only six were unwounded. They had won their position, but could not hold it with only six en and five small tanks, so they withdrew to Battalion Headquarters in Violaines.

    The gap was open again. The battalion on the right was by now so weakened that it had no hope of holding the enemy, and the Germans, it was evident, were about to make their main attack against it. The Cameron’s had to form a defensive flank, and hold it until a brigade counter-attack, supported by tanks, could come in to seal the gap. But they had few troops available, for the task, and so with the remnants of ‘A’ company were clerks, drivers, signallers and bat-men from H.Q., and by good fortune a machine-gun platoon of the Manchester Regiment was in the vicinity. They waited and waited in vain for the promised counterattack, but no counter-attack was made. Instead news came from ‘D’ and ‘B’ companies of German tanks concentrating opposite them on the other aide of the canal. ‘B’ company put seven out of action, but the concentration continued, and H.Q. reported they were seen massing about half a mile away, and crossing the canal on the right flank. The Cameron’s had all this time no effectual artillery support, but in the early afternoon their anti-tank platoon of three 25 mm guns arrived from Brigade, under 2nd Lieutenant Callender, and so reinforced the defensive flank. A wounded Gunnery Officer appeared and directed his battery against the tanks.

    At half past two the German attack began. Hell let loose. La Bassee was bombed from the air, shelled by guns and tanks. From the opposite side of the canal an inferno of flames, smoke, dust and rubble.

    To the left was the road to Estaires, where trucks and lorries were running the gauntlet under heavy fire. Beyond were the roofs of Violaines, showing above a green copse, and waiting to attack it were some fifty German tanks and a mass Infantry, who were preparing to follow up behind them. Givenchy on the right, was already in flames. Circling slowly about the battle field was an old ‘Henschel’ observation plane. Firing as they came, the tanks advanced on Volaines. They halted about two hundred yards from the village, and the darting tongues of flames from their guns were answered by sudden foundations of dust, smoke, fire and debris. Very soon the village was in flames.

    Many more tanks moved steadily northwards, then turned east to attack La Bassee from the rear, and so cut of the retreat of the French troops - the Germans, it appeared, were using a whole Panzer Division, and after forcing a crossing of the canal, by using pontoons, formed up in three groups, on to attack Violaines, the encirclement of La Bassee, and to attack the French on the left.

    The farm house in Violanies where the Cameron’s H.Q. was situated, was soon ablaze, but steadily firing out of the heat and confusion of the battered village, 2nd Lt. Challander’s anti—tank guns scored hit after hit on the German armour. Some distance in the rear, two troops of battery served their guns well. They kept on firing though the drifting smoke from Givenchy obscured their view.

    They harassed the German Infantry, and drove them for a while over the ridge.

    La Bassee had disappeared in the smoke of burning houses, and the Cameron had lost communication with their forward companies. Sgt. Morgan and his signallers had gallantly kept the lines working, repairing them under firs again and again, but now they were cut once more, and Morgan and his linesmen, going forward to look for the break, disappeared in the storm of battle, and were not seen again.

    L/Cpl. Darling had supplied the companies with some ammunition. He had, fantastically, with fifty bandoliers and two Brens, perilously driven his motor cycle over fire-swept roads, into La Bassee, but nothing more could be done to help them. Now the German tanks were within eighty yards of the battalions burnt out headquarters, and lorry borne infantry had come up behind the tanks. Colonel Miller, in wireless communication with brigade, described the situation, and was ordered to withdraw his battalion. It was then quarter past five in the afternoon. Though the companies in La Bassee were almost surrounded, Private Ross, a dispatch rider, succeeded in reaching them with their orders. Regardless of all efforts, ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies were caught in the trap, and none of them got out. The Carrier Platoon, under 2nd Lt. Black, carried the wounded, and fought their way out. Many of the wounded owed their lives to L/Cpl. Jackson, who searched for them in burning houses, and under enemy fire, saved them from the flames.

    2nd Lt. Challander’s anti-tank platoon, with a score of twenty-one tanks to its credit, followed the carriers, and the remaining few of ‘A’ company withdrew across country. All that was left of ‘B’ company tried to break out of La Bassee, but its transport was shot to pieces by the German tanks, so they decided to lie quiet until dark.

    In the blazing village behind them they could hear heavy firing. ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies, unable to escape, were fighting on. Captain Leah and the leading platoon were captured while trying to break through the German out-post line at Laventie, but the other platoon under P.S.M. Kerr, avoided the enemy, arid eventually reached Dunkirk. The remnants of the battalion withdrawn from battle, also reached the beaches.

    Of the 1st Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, one hundred had survived these battles. (AND THE PURPOSE OF THAT LAST STUBBORN AND COURAGIOUS BATTLE)

    Near La Bassee was the junction between the British and French armies, and there was also the right flank of the Combined Armies. Branching beyond it, north and east, were the intended roads of the German advance.

    It was a vital sector, and had to be protected, while a French Army and two British Corps could make their dispositions to withdraw. It was protected, and the devotion of a valiant man brought safety to many.

    They gathered among the sand—dunes, the last hundred, and still their task was not done.

    Under Lieutenant Laurie and Sergeant Major Kerr, a platoon was detailed to aid the inner-most defenses’ of Dunkirk. The remainder, heavily laden with weapons, marched towards Mole.

    FOOTNOTE: After the injuries sustained at La Basse, Wilf went to Southport General Hospital for recovery then a period of recuperation at Granby Avenue, Newark. He was the seconded to The King’s African Rifles and fought in the Abyssinian Campaign.

    Attachment some of the camerons on route to BEF

    Attached Files:

  14. rickster1964

    rickster1964 Member

    In the above picture he is to the left of the chap with the clock

    He passed away in 1994 after a fall at home.

    I'll never forget him or his stories and i have a view more cameron pics from that era that i'll post later

    Does anybody know how I can get hold of my Uncles Service records as I'm trying to build family history as much as i can. Got some confusing over when he was demobbed one note read 1944 and another 1946
  15. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

  16. rickster1964

    rickster1964 Member

    Does anyone know if the Diary of Captain R. Leah, 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders was ever published.

    If so can you give me title and author. As "A" company were mentioned a few times.
  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    A member with a zero post count asked me in a PM sometime ago if I knew what unit the six French tanks were from that supported the 1 QOCH in this battle. They were from 1'ere D.L.M. Division L'egere M'ecanique (Light Mechanised Division). I suspect they were Somua S35 tanks.

  18. brickmaker

    brickmaker Senior Member

    Many thanks to Rickster, I would also be interested in captain Leah's diary, as I still do not know which company my father was with - the diary may help.

    On a slightly different note - it has previously been mentioned that 1 camerons were awarded a hackle, to go with their cap badges, whilst they were in France. Was this issued to all ranks automatically? or officers only, or did people have to apply? The reson I ask is that I have my father's uniform cap with badge but minus hackle. I also have another badge, backed with a square of Cameron tartan but no hackle. (This badge was given to my mother whilst they were still courting)
  19. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    All personnel of all the Cameron battalions were awarded the 'Royal Blue Hackle' as a result of 1st Camerons being inspected in the Field in France, December 5th 1939, by King George 6th. The King was particularly impressed by the battalion, which paraded in the Kilt, and at his command the regiment was permitted to wear the Royal Blue Hackle in the Balmoral Bonnet. From this occasion originated the blue Hackle, worn by the Camerons and all their successor regiments, Queens Own Highlanders and The Highlanders.
    1st Camerons were also the last battalion of any and all the Highland regiments to wear the kilt in battle.
  20. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    King George was the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment.

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