BEF rearguard actions / Dunkirk what are your most poignant stories

Discussion in '1940' started by soren1941, Jun 26, 2008.

  1. soren1941

    soren1941 Living in Ypres

    Friggin hell, forget the crack pipe I'll have a half of whatever he's drinking!!
  2. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

    The Bill Balmer Story (Royal Marine 1939-1953)

    My Second Battle

    Calais – Friday 24 to Sunday 26 May 1940

    After the Boulogne operation Blue Watch was coming off leave, White Watch was on Coastal Defence and Red Watch was supposed to go on leave. I was in Red Watch and because we were available, we were sent to Calais. As we came down the stairs from our accommodation to ‘Go Ashore’ we were approached by the Sergeant Major, who ordered us to listen out for the ‘General Assembly’ to be announced and to be prepared to muster on the parade ground within two minutes. We asked him what was happening to which he replied that we were going on another trip. ‘By the way’, he added, ‘Go to the Armourer’s shop and sign out your guns’. That was the two Vickers machine guns, tripods and water coolant as well as our personal .45 revolvers.

    The Sacrifice Army

    We were known as the ‘Sacrifice Army’ for that operation. Before we left for Calais we knew we were on a lost cause. A young ‘Geordie’ in our squad called Thwaites had been talking to a Brigadier’s daughter. She had overheard her parents talking and she was able to tell us, ‘You will be going to Calais, and you will not be coming back’.

    The main reason we were sent there was to destroy the Calais harbour installations and reinforce the troops already in position. Unknown to us at that time, Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister, had taken a leading part in planning a series of rearguard actions designed to allow the retreat of the Allied forces at Dunkirk to continue.

    That Friday ninety-six Royal Marines and four officers headed for Calais on a Royal Naval destroyer. The officers included Captain Curtis, Lieutenant Bruce, Lieutenant Hunter and the Machine Gun Officer, Lieutenant Scott. The Senior NCOs were Colour Sergeant Reid and Sergeant Mitchell. The Junior NCOs were Corporal Harper and Lance Corporal O’Farran. There were supposed to be some troops from the Royal Ulster Rifles with us but their trip was cancelled.

    While we were crossing the Channel to Calais, Lieutenant Scott moved around the ship talking to everyone. He came and sat down beside me and started to talk. He said, ’You’re Irish, aren’t you?’ I said I was. He then asked me if I was superstitious and I replied that I wasn’t really. He told me that he was superstitious about some things. When I asked him what superstitions he had he related how a single magpie had flown across the road on the way to the Royal Navy destroyer. Lieutenant Scott was joking with me and had to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing. I told him the Irish also believed that superstition. He finished off by saying, ‘Just keeping you going.’
    Before the weekend was up I would mistakenly pronounce him dead.

    Our first action took place on the way into Calais harbour. Two mortar shells exploded harmlessly above the destroyer on the jetty. Because the jetty was well above us there were no casualties. It did not take us long to disembark from the destroyer after that hot reception. As we were disembarking other troops were boarding.

    For the next three days there was a constant run of small ships from Calais harbour evacuating the Allied non-combatant troops. The ships never brought in fresh troops after we landed.
    The Royal Marines were supposed to meet with French Marines but we never met them. We eventually found them on Sunday morning 26 May 1940 just before we were captured. They were all at the railway station, all drunk with their weapons piled up.

    The Citadel

    Despite that setback with the French troops, a British officer was able to direct us, No 1 Gun Team, to a building called The Citadel, which was ideal for fighting from. It was a great vantage point, over three stories high. It had also been severely damaged during the fighting and was full of debris. This gave us good cover from enemy fire.

    The Royal Air Force (RAF) had a transport pool at the Citadel. The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and the Queen’s Regiment had established a hospital within the Citadel.

    The roof of the Citadel was full of rubbish and debris from earlier battles. Our gun team NCO, Colour Sergeant Reid, thought this was ideal, just as long as we didn’t look up or move when the German aircraft flew over our position. The white of our faces would have given our positions away.
    The German spotter planes were constantly passing overhead and we used the rubbish to camouflage our position. Colour Sergeant Reid made sure we kept our heads and feet covered at all times.

    The other machine gun team was behind our position to our left. We could hear the machine gun firing but such was the confusion no one told us it was our other team.

    I had a very busy forty hours at Calais before we surrendered to the Germans. No sleep, hardly anything to eat or drink. ‘Geordie’ and myself worked a four-hour shift behind the gun but there was little respite for the two days. The lucky soldiers were those posted near or in the convent. They were well looked after by the nuns whereas we were isolated on the Citadel for the battle.

    Our main task in the Citadel was to observe a gap in the battlements where the railway line entered the old city. That was over 600 yards from our location. We had to stop German foot soldiers and vehicles from gaining access to the harbour through that point. The Germans were waiting there to break through, but we were successful in stopping them for two days.

    If the Germans managed to get through that gap they would have overwhelmed our troops in the harbour. As soon as we saw any movement on the other side of the railway lines we would fire a five or six round burst to keep them back.

    As soon as I saw any movement I would kick ‘Geordie’ awake and fire the gun. It was his job to reload the gun when necessary. We were sleeping rough because sleeping bags had yet to be issued to fighting troops in those early days.

    I saw many horrible sights at Calais. Men were blown to bits by Stuka bombs, artillery fire and mortar fire. The worst scene I witnessed was No.2 Gun Team and a rifle section of ten Royal Marines; twelve young men or should I say boys, blown to bits by a bomb from a Stuka.

    On another occasion Geordie and myself had to deliver a message to the railway station. We watched two soldiers coming along the track towards us. Then we heard a mortar shell being fired in our direction so we flattened ourselves to the platform. When we looked up the two soldiers were gone, just bits of uniform lying where they had been.

    When you see people killed in front of you, that’s when your training kicks in and you do what you were trained to do.


    That Sunday morning on 26 May 1940 at about 8 am, Colour Sergeant Reid said to me, ‘I’ve made a cup of tea. And there’s a cup sitting there for you. I will take over the gun’. I stood up and walked over to get the cup of tea. As I stood up I heard a ‘ping’ and thought little of it.

    The Colour Sergeant said to me later, ‘You were lucky. A bullet hit the gun just after you stood up and walked away’. Sure enough the bullet had hit one of the tripod legs. If I had been lying behind the gun the bullet would have caught me between the shoulders.

    No soldier likes to be shot in the back. We always thought that anyone shot in the back was either running away or doing something they should not have been doing.

    Stretching Our Legs

    Later that morning the Machine Gun Officer came to the Citadel and told ‘Geordie’ and myself that we needed to stretch our legs after being in position for nearly two days.
    There were stories circulating that German snipers had infiltrated close to our positions. Because of that we were tasked to go to the railway station and locate Sergeant Mitchell who was in charge of a rifle section there.

    Eventually we found Sergeant Mitchell and gave him the message. He had to take his rifle section and search the ground to his front before the machine gun teams moved forward.

    Sergeant Mitchell said, ‘I want the organ grinder not the two monkeys’. We had a few choice words with him and returned to the officer with the message. Sergeant Mitchell (G) shifted his position after that meeting and we never met him again to re-task him.

    The Last Stand

    For the last stand we had moved from our gun position on the Citadel to the sand dunes on the Dunkirk side of the town. We were located four hundred yards from Calais, overlooking the town. We had to street fight all the way there. I was carrying the tripod for the Vickers gun, another Marine carried the barrel and a third Marine carried the water container of coolant for the gun.

    Across the channel lay the town of Dover, freedom so near and yet so far. We had nothing but a very uncertain future, not really comprehending what lay ahead. We believed that our defence of Calais had engaged the Germans troops and allowed the Dunkirk evacuation to continue.

    Lieutenant Scott

    Later, two stretcher-bearers came to ‘Geordie’ and myself and asked us to identify a dead Royal Marine officer. We went with them and identified the officer as Lieutenant Scott, our Machine Gun Officer. We took his ‘dog tags’ (Identification discs) and pay book and then returned to Colour Sergeant Reid, our section commander.
    But Lieutenant Scott was not dead, just badly injured. Later on, after we were captured, the German stretcher-bearers came across him and moved him into hospital where he recovered.


    We were taken prisoner by German infantry at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon on the 26 May 1940. The Colour Sergeant had just taken a phone call on the field telephone. He said, ‘We are going to surrender. They have asked for a senior officer to go forward with a white flag and surrender. Destroy your guns’.

    An army officer then told a Sergeant to take a white flag and stand on a hill. The Sergeant refused and had to be ordered again. He stood up, drew his gun and said, ‘Death before dishonour’. And then the Sergeant shot himself dead with one shot to the head from his own .45 revolver.

    Another Sergeant was ordered to raise the white flag and did so. The German troops were now swarming around us. A young German officer who was as broad as he was tall approached us. As he did so we were busy destroying the gun.

    My mate ‘Geordie’ Thwaites said, ‘Paddy, I don’t know how to pray. Say a prayer for me.’ I replied that I had already said it. ‘What did you say?’ he asked. I replied ‘God help us.’ He asked, ‘Is that enough?’ ‘I think so.’ I replied.

    The German officer said something to us in German. We did not understand him and he repeated himself, but this time he spoke in perfect English. We said to him, ‘Why didn’t you say that in the first place?’ We learned that he had been educated in Cambridge before the war. He then asked us what regiment we belonged to and we refused to answer him. He then told us we were in the Royal Marines because he recognised the buttons on our tunics. He then asked us if we knew what the Germans did to Royal Marines. We replied that we did not know so he informed us that we would be shot. A rare sense of humour indeed! After talking to us for a while he returned to the German lines.


    This principle of the small vessels helping to evacuate the troops did not start with the Dunkirk evacuation. After Bill was taken prisoner at Calais they learned about the Dunkirk evacuation and the part played by the small boats.

    That evacuation appears to have been more organised with groups of vessels having to be at specific areas at specific times. At Boulogne it was a more spontaneous event.

    During the Battle for France between May and June 1940, 142,000 Allied troops were killed in action or disappeared. Of that total, 11,010 belonged to Great Britain and the Commonwealth (Ellis, 1993). There were also 2,224,000 Allied prisoners of war and 34,000 of those belonged to Great Britain and the Commonwealth (Rollings, 2007)

    This sacrifice allowed 338,000 Allied troops (Churchill, 1949) to retreat at Dunkirk and another 156,000 from Cherbourg (Childs, 1995) on 14 June 1940.

    ‘Ultimately it is impossible to be sure what might have happened on 26 May if the German troops that were engaged at Calais had been free to take part in the attack on the Dunkirk position, but what we do know is that without them the Germans failed to break through...a failure that allowed over 300,000 Allied troops to escape from the German trap’ Rickard, J (19 February 2008).
  3. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

    On Tuesday 28 May 1940, on the third day of Bill Balmer’s capture, Private Thomas John Hanna from Bushmills was reported missing in action. He was a member of A Company 2nd Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His company and other units had been tasked to fight the Dunkirk rearguard in the village of Wormhout. The purpose of that action was to allow the evacuation of the defeated Allied army through Dunkirk to proceed.

    That day A Company and the other units had fought valiantly but lost the battle to the 2nd Battalion Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). In retribution for all the casualties they sustained, the LSSAH shot the injured defenders dead. They then escorted the 200 survivors on a 3km march and herded them into a barn at Esquelbecq.

    The LSSAH tried to kill all their prisoners by throwing hand grenades into the barn. That was not efficient enough so on two occasions they escorted the survivors out, five at a time and shot them in the head. The process was too slow so they entered the barn to machine-gun and then finish off the remainder.

    That evening a local farmer filled a churn with milk and went out to comfort the fifteen survivors and the dying. The milk churn remains at the scene of the massacre as a poignant memorial to the brave Warwicks and their comrades. (Rodgers, p21)

    For the LSSAH this was not an isolated incident. Their war record is peppered with atrocities. Their last actions included the torture and murder of eleven African-American soldiers from the 333rd Field Bn US Army and the massacre of 130 Belgian civilians in December 1944. Present-day wars are still throwing up armed forces of this ilk.
    Thomas Cooper, an Englishman with dual nationality, was known to be a member of LSSAH in the early years.
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Some personal stories taken from the War Diary.

    Corporal Andow was evacuated at Dunkirk on a ship that was nearly bombed. His memory is of being unprepared for the horrors of 'Blitzkreig' fighting and how desperate the British escape really was.

    We were all very low when we reached the town, very low in spirits . . . but we were still getting rations from somewhere. If I remember rightly I still had some iron rations when I got to the otherside.

    Any organisation, at least so far as regimental organisation was concerned, was pretty non-exsistent. You might come across a group of chaps who had been together for a while, but that was as far as it went. Not all of them had weapons. If you saw one lying around you picked it up.

    By this time, the tanks had gone into the rearguard action. We did not see them again. And all the personnel with them were either killed or taken prisoner of war.

    The voyage took six hours maybe, I wouldn't like to say. We just had this one bad attack with these six planes - whether they were Messerschmitts or not I wouldn't like to say off-hand now. I daresay they were floating around us for four or five minutes, in which time they could do quite a bit of damage . . . but for some unknown reason they just went down the port side. They never did the starboard side at all.

    The thing is - and I've thought about this alot - that you were training before the war, you always got on to the objective and there was never anything in the training about being suddenly surprised by the amount of armour that was positioned on the objective that we were going to. I think the British Army learnt some lessons in France.

    Back home, I think the general public was rather surprised at how fast the advance had gone; we were ourselves. But I don't think the public itself could grasp the situation until the troops had come back from Dunkirk and Calais and so on, and told them what was really taking place out there during the retreat.

    When we got back to England, naturally enough the newspapers and the radio were getting information left, right and centre - and I don't think it was censored too much. After all, you can't gag thousands upon thousands upon thousands of troops, can you?
  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Later to achieve the rank of Colonel and awarded the OBE, MBE and MC. Remembers the men under his command with fondness.

    We marched back towards Bray Dunes and dug in on the coast there. Major Temple was put in charge of the anti-tank guns. We didn't see him again - in fact he was killed; most of his force were killed or captured.

    The difficulty was getting the boats to take the men to the destroyers because they were quite a long way out. There were boats there but, as they had drifted back towards the shore, they had lost their oars. We got onto this Mole and went on by companies, quite quietly and steadily. I remember putting a brave young officer in charge of getting the wounded on - there were quite a lot of wounded there. We got every man in, every man carrying his weapon, you see, and this awful Boys anti-tank rifle was taken solemnly aboard.

    I don't know what the papers said but I don't think anybody knew very much what was happening. A lot of the soldiers go back for old times sake, but it was a defeat, and that's all there is to it.
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Later to achieve the rank of Brigadier and receive the DSO and MC. He remembers the self sacrifice, bravery and indomitable 'Tommy' spirit of the soldiers that stayed behind to defend Dunkirk and allow the others time to get away.

    Well, the first thing I'd pay tribute to is the men and the morale that we had in the battalion, which was absolutely wonderful. It was the most thrilling feeling to experience the spirit of the chaps who were with you.

    On the otherside, I think we were shockingly badly equiped. Some of the equipment we got we'd not trained with. It only joined us when we were mobilising.

    So far as training in the orthodox forms of warfare went, we were fine, but we had hadn't done enough movement at night by transport.

    We had tremendous courage in our men and the way they held out when the Dunkirk withdrawal was going on - they never got to Dunkirk themselves - they were stopping the Germans interfering with the withdrawal of thousands and thousands of other people. Which they did successfully and I mean, the battalion was practically wiped out doing it. But, such was the determination to put the biggest possible spanner in the Germans advance that it succeeded in letting the better part of the British Expeditionary Force get back to England.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Excerpts below of an interview with Samuel Love recall the conditions men endured during the retreat from Dunkirk and his return to France and not being able to set foot on French soil.

    I bet there were thousands buried on them beaches that nobody knows nothing at all about, because the bombs were coming down that thick and fast. One would make a crater and a bloke would fall in it and the next bomb would cover him over.

    What condition was the town in?

    Burning and blowing up. We'd get in a doorway, and I used to say go' and we'd go - and as soon as ever we'd gone that building went as well.

    How was the crossing?

    This boat we had got on had had a hit. We had to back out and they were after us - Jerry was after us all the while we were trying to get out. Four or five miles after we had left Dunkirk Harbour, we lost three destroyers in twenty minutes.

    What happened at Dover?

    We were turned round and sent to Cherbourg. Do you know, the troops lined up along the rail and they were going to shoot that captain if he didn't take us to Southhampton.

    Eventually there were 146 wounded and 26 that had died on the voyage to Cherbourg.

    How was the Cherbourg Hospital?

    They fussed over me properly when they found out what I was and what I'd done. A sister offered me sleeping draught - I said I didn't need it -I'd had no sleep for a fortnight. I could sleep on a clothes line.

    The next day Private Love sailed home.
  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Recalls Dunkirk from the skies providing air cover for the boats and the thousands of retreating men.

    We arrived at Wittering for a break, and learned that we had to leave for Dunkirk.

    We patrolled it the best we could - the town was covered by a huge pall of smoke and it was very difficult indeed to see any low-flying enemy aircraft such as Stukas. We were ordered to patrol at 15,000 feet in Hurricanes with Spitfires at 30,000 feet.

    I met two young officers who had been posted to our squadron at St. Pancras. It was about 430 in the morning when we finally reached Biggin Hill. We had to go straight out to the aircraft, and I remember telling them, 'For heavens sake keep your eyes open all the time'. I was worried stiff as they were brand new to the squadron and there they were - expected to fly into the heat of the action within the hour.

    Over Dunkirk we got mixed up with a whole lot of 109's. It was a question of flying around in tight turns and firing at any 109's you could, while making sure that no-one was on your tail. Those two porr youngsters were both shot down and killed on that first mission - that was the end of their war experience.

    I know a lot of the troops on the ground said that there was no air force protection - I can assure you that whatever aircraft and men we had were out there trying to provide air cover above the smoke.

    Troops were coming back without equipment - bedraggled, grey, dusty and dirty - and I remember thinking 'My God, this is the pride of the British Army'.
  9. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Describes the rout of the French Army.

    Complete disintegration. Out of 70,000 men and numerous officers, no single unit is commanded, however small . . . at most 10 per cent of men have kept their rifles . . . Out of the thousands we sifted, it wasn't possible for me to form one company for the defence of the bridge at Compiegne. However, the losses had not seemed to be high. There were no wounded among the thousands of fugitives . . . they don't understand what has happened to them. The sight of an aeroplane induces terror in them. Service troops broke up before the infantry and spread disorder.
  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Describes waiting for transport to the front after his leave and hopefully returning to his Infantry Regiment.

    We marched incessantly, with a surprising continuity for two long hours, and then the column suddenly stopped. A powerful light was fixed upon us at a turn in the road . . . profiting from this unhopedfor halt, men sat down on the side of the road. A quarter of an hour passed, then an officer came to the back of the column, to announce that we were prisoners and that we must throw away our arms. The commander had already been taken away by the Germans . . . I threw my rifle away in a ditch. How simple this had all been!
  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Recalls how easy the advance seemed.

    It's through the speed of the panzers that we've managed to come round the back of the English. We are travelling north-east. Our second company has been on the move all night to be at the arranged place to meet the artillery battalion. We can still feel a pleasant warmth from the burning town we've just come through.

    The Tommies would not let themselves be taken and are still shooting at us from a distance. An abandoned English anti-tank gun stands at the fork in the road - an evil looking thing with considerable gauge and power.

    Another battalion is arriving from a different attack which they had started the previous day. There are still many fallen German soldiers laid out on the road from this assault.

    The artillery follows closely after the panzers. So far, everything is going as if on the practise ground, but still everyone had the feeling that the enemy, who are holed up in positions in the hillocks over there, are only letting us advance so as to be able to wipe us out at the closest possible proximity.

    Suddenly there are new orders. The panzer division splits immediately from the artillery unit and quickly makes the crossing of the Canal at Merville to persue the English who are in retreat . . .

    Unfortunately we have very little cover and I'm lying near the others, out of breath and panting. Just as I raise myself up to join them, another shell whistles above us into the masonry. As I'm lying there, I cut the boot from the foot of the Lieutenant next to me and bind a splint to his broken leg.
  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Divine was one of the many that answered the call put out by the Admiralty to sail to Dunkirk. We join his story as he leaves England.

    It was the queerest, most nondescript flotilla that ever was, and it was manned by every kind of Englishman, never more than two men, often only one, to each small boat. There were bankers and dentists, taxi drivers and yachtsmen, longshoremen, boys, engineers, fishermen and civil servants. . .

    It was dark before we were well clear of the English coast. It wasn't rough, but there was a little chop on, sufficient to make it very wet, and we soaked the Admiral to the skin. Soon, in the dark, the big boats began to overtake us. We were in a sort of dark traffic lane, full of strange ghosts and weird, unaccountable waves from the wash of the larger vessels. When destroyers went by, full tilt, the wash was a serious matter to us little fellows. We could only spin the wheel to try to head into the waves, hang on, and hope for the best. . .

    Even before it was fully dark we had picked up the glow of the Dunkirk flames, and now as we drew nearer the sailing got better, for we could steer by them and see silhouetted the shapes of other ships, of boats coming home already loaded, and of low dark shadows that might be enemy motor torpedo boats.

    Then aircraft started dropping parachute flares. We saw them hanging all about us in the night, like young moons. The sound of the firing and the bombing was with us always, growing steadily louder as we got nearer and nearer. The flames grew, too. From a glow they rose up to enormous plumes of fire that roared high into the everlasting pall of smoke. As we approached Dunkirk there was an air attack on the destroyers and for a little the night was brilliant with bursting bombs and the fountain sprays of tracer bullets.

    The beach, black with men, illumined by the fires, seemed a perfect target, but no doubt the thick clouds of smoke were a useful screen.

    The picture will always remain sharp-etched in my memory - the lines of men wearily and sleepily staggering across the beach from the dunes to the shallows, falling into little boats, great columns of men thrust out into the water among bomb and shell splashes. The foremost ranks were shoulder deep, moving forward under the command of young subalterns, themselves with their heads just above the little waves that rode in to the sand. As the front ranks were dragged aboard the boats, the rear ranks moved up, from ankle deep to knee deep, from knee deep to waist deep, until they, too, came to shoulder depth and their turn.

    The little boats that ferried from the beach to the big ships in deep water listed drunkenly with the weight of men. The big ships slowly took on lists of their own with the enormous numbers crowded aboard. And always down the dunes and across the beach came new hordes of men, new columns, new lines.

    On the beach was a destroyer, bombed and burned. At the water's edge were ambulances, abandoned when their last load had been discharged.
    There was always the red background, the red of Dunkirk burning. There was no water to check the fires and there were no men to be spared to fight them. Red, too, were the shell bursts, the flash of guns, the fountains of tracer bullets.

    The din was infernal. The 5.9 batteries shelled ceaselessly and brilliantly. To the whistle of shells overhead was added the scream of falling bombs. Even the sky was full of noise - anti-aircraft shells, machine-gun fire, the snarl of falling planes, the angry hornet noise of dive bombers. One could not speak normally at any time against the roar of it and the noise of our own engines. We all developed 'Dunkirk throat,' a sore hoarseness that was the hallmark of those who had been there.

    Yet through all the noise I will always remember the voices of the young subalterns as they sent their men aboard, and I will remember, too, the astonishing discipline of the men. They had fought through three weeks of retreat, always falling back without orders, often without support. Transport had failed. They had gone sleepless. They had been without food and water. Yet they kept ranks as they came down the beaches, and they obeyed commands. . .

    We stayed there until everybody else had been sent back, and then went pottering about looking for stragglers. While we were doing that, a salvo of shells got one of our troopships alongside the mole. She was hit clean in the boilers and exploded in one terrific crash. There were then, I suppose, about 1000 Frenchmen on the mole. We had seen them crowding along its narrow crest, outlined against the flames. They had gone out under shellfire to board the boat, and now they had to go back again, still being shelled. It was quite the most tragic thing I ever have seen in my life. We could do nothing with our little park dinghy. . .

    Going home, the Jerry dive bombers came over us five times, but somehow left us alone though three times they took up an attacking position. A little down the coast, towards Gravelines, we picked up a boatload of Frenchmen rowing off. We took them aboard. They were very much bothered as to where our 'ship' was, said quite flatly that it was impossible to go to England in a thing like ours. Too, too horribly dangerous.
  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Thought I'd bump this up before my trip incase anyone has anything they wish to add.
  14. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

  15. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    LIFE - Google Books

    This is a link to Time Magazine for 1940. It has a Dunkirk feature.

    Only had a quick flick through and there's some interesting articles (US Invasion for starters) in there amongst the thousands of adverts :)
  16. barbed wire

    barbed wire Junior Member

    there's a well known picture of two dead guardsman that was filed in ss records, which refers to the high regards held by the ss towards particular british divisions/regiments. these two particular brave guys had fought to last bullet around the dunkirk perimeter. the irony being that during the early formation of the waffen ss they looked at various famous elite regiments/divisions and considered that the guards divsions did too much square bashing and not enought field-craft.
  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    there's a well known picture of two dead guardsman that was filed in ss records, which refers to the high regards held by the ss towards particular british divisions/regiments. these two particular brave guys had fought to last bullet around the dunkirk perimeter. the irony being that during the early formation of the waffen ss they looked at various famous elite regiments/divisions and considered that the guards divsions did too much square bashing and not enought field-craft.


    Do you have a source or any further info?

  18. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive


    On 27th May 1940, at Zillebeke, when all three officers of his company had become casualtie, Sergeant Stewart took command of the company. He showed great coolness, resource and personal courage in maintaining his company position under very heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire, sending back valuable information. He inspired the men by his example and from 1100hrs till late afternoon held on to his positions with the remnants of his company until the battalion was ordered to retire into reserve, when he conducted the withdrawal with great skill under heavy fire.

    Gazetted 22.10.40
  19. tasker

    tasker Member

    Escape and evasion? does anyone have any links or information on the men who made it back to blighty by any other routes?
  20. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Not so much rearguard action but to me very poignant and certainly Dunkirk related this was given to me a few years back and I`ve just rediscovered it tucked away in the loft ,unfortunately I`ve yet to find the other page(s).It was written by an old man Frank Marshall (soldier) who lived in Sunderland and used to tell this story in the pub and it never failed to get him a pint! He was a neighbour of my Aunts and I asked him to write down some of the stories he could remember eventually (after much pestering) he agreed but he only wrote down his pub story,nothing about the actions leading up to these events,nothing about the hardships he faced afterwards, what he wrote was how he told it,and to me its perfectly understandable and reading it once again I can see him sitting in the corner of the pub ,with a crowd around him telling his tale,even though many of us had heard it over and over again it never failed to bring about a hushed room.
    When I asked Mr Marshall to tell me of his war stories at the time I had hoped he would have told me about the battles,the advances,the escapes the boys own stuff ! Now with the benefit of age and a little more common sense (dare I say wisdom?)I realise what I got was a more personal story . I`ve scanned the original letter but also added an amended text because what he had wrote is not always clear.


    `we spent the night on the sand there were quite a few of us Durham’s about I didn’t recognize anyone from my unit there were I believe a couple of regulars from the second ,but most seemed to be from the ninth anyway I don’t think ah got much sleep that night early morning we were off to see if we could catch a boat, we all stood in a line no panic or anything then Jerry came over with his dive bombers everybody scattered one minute it was crowded next minute the place was empty and as soon as the planes had passed everybody came out again it must of looked comical though at the time a very much doubt many of us were laughing.
    About lunch time I went to the jetty and there was this little paddle boat next to it and this young lad in front from the ninth says “a think I’ll wait for a bigger boat what do you think Frankie? I said to him you daft bugger its taking us to the bigger boats out there, the words hadn’t left me lips when everything went black ,I woke up on a Navy boat with a terrible pain in me leg I turned around and this lad from the ninth was sitting next to me I said “what happened” he said “there was an explosion Frankie you got a bad wound in your leg I threw you in that little boat and they brought us out here” “Are you alright?” I said because he as was white as a sheet,”Yes just tired Frankie” he said I must of passed out for a while because when I came too and this sailor was asking if a needed anything, I looked at where this young lad from the ninth was sitting I said “are you sure you are alright son? He was white except he had a little bit of blood at the side of his mouth. I said again are you alright? I couldn’t get up because of my leg so I shook him and it was obvious he was dead. The sailor said “if he’s dead he’ll have to go over the side I said dead he’s just dead tired that’s all!” I wasn’t having anybody throwing the boy over the side not after what we had been through. We got into a port I think it was Margate? But I’m not sure by then my leg was hurting like hell, this sailor came back and said they’ll be taking you off first. I says and what about the boy an he said “don’t worry about him we’ll take care of him” I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t tell you what the lads name was if I knew at the time its gone now just like me leg because they had to amputate it and I found myself out the army as well. Anyway I hope this is okay I am not an educated man as you very well know but it’s the best I could do for you

    All the Best Lad

    Frank Marshall

    I have no way of telling if the story was true or not but I have no reason(or wish) to doubt him.Hope this is of interest to you all


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