Father : Royal Engineers - BEF

Discussion in 'Royal Engineers' started by patsy48, Apr 26, 2019.

  1. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    I'm trying to track my dad's movements in France from when he was disembarked at Cherbourg on 9.9.1939 until he came out from St Nazaire as part of Operation Aerial on 17.6.40. I knew that he was part of the original BEF because he enlisted in June 39 and I have his army records, but they are very difficult to understand. His grandsons are now asking questions I wish i'd asked long ago. I have his army number and know that he was a Sapper. I also know, because he was reprimanded, that he was in La Baule on 25.4.40. He did tell me all about leaving France because he was there the day the Lancastria was sunk and it impacted on the rest of his life. I thought he told me that he got to St Nazaire from Nantes where they were all told just to get to the port as quickly as they could. If anyone has any information or could direct me to where I might find it. Or even tell me how I can narrow down the possible units he might have been in! For example, at one point the records say 12th MCG and at another we have RE270. A couple of times it says RESR (don't know what SR stands for). Grateful for any ideas. Many thanks.
  2. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Welcome to the forum.

    Your best bet would be to start a fresh topic and include your father’s name and Regiment in the title.

    If you attach his copy service papers to your post members ought to be able to interpret them for you.

    Once you have that basic information you could look for his unit War Diaries (they may already be on the forum) as they will give more detailed information on his location and movements in BEF.

    Good Luck

  3. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Hi Patsy48,
    I can't help with the military side, but I can list the ships that were involved in the evacuation from St Nazaire, if that helps?
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Roy Martin likes this.
  5. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    Thanks very much for your offer. I have actually followed this story and have read an excellent book on the Lancastria disaster, but I already know that he came out on the Oronsay (sp?). He said it was the luckiest day of his life he could so easily have been taken to the Lancastria. I have visited there it was very moving. Many thanks again.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  6. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    Plenty of reading material here on REs

    Royal Engineers - Useful Links

    I am sure once you've posted his Service Records here it will all start to make sense

  7. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    As you probably know the Oronsay's trip was an epic, she brought out 1,557 troops:
    "The LANCASTRIA and ORONSAY had arrived at daybreak on 17 June. Early in the afternoon the air raids began and at 1348 the ORONSAY was hit with several killed on board. Captain Sharp, the Master of the LANCASTRIA, had been ordered by two naval officers to take as many troops as possible, without regard to regulations and the availability of life saving appliances. By this time there were '7,000 to 8,000'[ii] weary men on board the LANCASTRIA and an unknown number of women and children. About the last to be loaded were two small children, who had walked from Belgium with their pet dogs; the Chief Officer found that he could not refuse the children, and the dogs, permission to board.[iii] Many of the soldiers stripped off and enjoyed baths and showers, while others headed to the bar.

    Captain Sharp said that he had requested a destroyer escort, but received no response to his signals. He and Chief Officer Grattidge agreed that they would wait until the ORONSAY was loaded and sail with her. Afterwards Captain Stevens of the HAVELOCK said that the signal from the LANCASTRIA had said that they were out of drinking water and it was Stevens' opinion that Sharp had 'not obeyed the order to sail'. That morning the HAVELOCK had reported starboard propeller and tail shaft damage, with possible damage to the port propeller. Stevens had blamed the damage on his First Lieutenant, who was handling the ship while the Captain rested!

    The attack on the ORONSAY ended at 1540, it was then the LANCASTRIA's turn, the first attack having missed. Had Sharp immediately given the order to sail it is doubtful that the anchor would have been raised by the time of the attack - even if it had the liner would have still been in the area and would have most likely been attacked. The LANCASTRIA was only armed with a four inch gun and a few Bren guns that the soldiers had brought aboard. Six planes made the second raid and the ship was hit by four explosive bombs. Within two minutes she started to list and within twenty minutes the LANCASTRIA had sunk, leaving the survivors to save themselves in a layer of fuel oil that kept increasing in size.

    Rescue ships of all types converged on the area. Some naval reports seemed to suggest that the CAMBRIDGESHIRE was the only rescue vessel, probably because the trawler, with a low freeboard, was able to rescue survivors directly from the water, while most other ships needed to use their boats. Boats from the merchant ships were loading survivors and taking them back to their ships. For this sort of work the Chief and Second Officers of the small Union Castle cargo ship DUNDRUM CASTLE were awarded the OBE and the MBE, respectively. The citation reads

    They rescued over 120 men. Oil on the surface of the water made rescue work very dangerous, but these two officers made repeated trips with survivors of the Lancastria to ferry boats which were standing by. After these gallant and successful efforts the Dundrum Castle's boats were the last to leave the scene.[iv]

    The even smaller JOHN HOLT reported having 829 on board, many without clothing; the destroyers BEAGLE and HAVELOCK had 600 and 460 respectively; while the Naval Yacht ORACLE had 44. The liner ORONSAY reported 1,557 passengers. It is not clear how many of these were survivors from the LANCASTRIA, but this figure seems to include those who boarded before the casualty. The tanker the CYMBULA, which was returning from the Loire, carried 252 back to Plymouth. The Captain of CYMBULA reported at 2355 that he had on board '250 army ranks, short of kit and two women survivors from LANCASTRIA.'[v] In all between 2,500 and 3,700 were saved. Estimates of those lost vary between 3,000 and 5,000, making this Britain's worst maritime disaster.

    Those who boarded the ORONSAY were 'made comfortable' and the liner sailed at 2000. It was a long night for all. When they arrived off the British coast a call went out for a signalman to semaphore a message ashore. This mystified those who had missed the earlier briefing given by one of the ship's officers. They could not understand why the ship could not radio or send a signal on the morse lamp. They were then told that, when the ORONSAY had been attacked, the bridge deck had been seriously damaged, putting the wheelhouse and radio room out of action and breaking the Master's leg. The liner, listing and taking water, had been brought home using her emergency steering, without charts or radio. One soldier wrote some years later that the Master was ordered to take the damaged ship to Oban, but he refused. The Plymouth Journal simply states “June 18th - ORANSAY (sic) with wounded and other survivors from “LANCASTRIA” and troops arrived Plymouth 1547.” By this time the list was so bad that the ship could not go alongside, so the survivors were ferried ashore.

    Ships in bold are HMS
    The ship was said to have 2,000 life jackets aboard.

    [ii]Don Kindell says that there were a total of 5,310 on the Lancastria, 66 crew and 2,833 passengers died.

    [iii]The Sinking of the Lancastria, Jonathan Fenby.

    [iv]Supplement to the London Gazette 23 August 1940.

    [v]Plymouth Journal.
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  8. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    Thanks. It was an horrendous experience for everyone wasn't it? Dad did tell me quite a lot about it and it did have a lifelong impact on him as I mentioned previously. He said they could hear people screaming. Also said that they were taken into the holds which were battened down and guarded. Until I read the book I hadn't realised how damaged the Oronsay was. As I recall it was almost on its side helped in by tugs. He never mentioned that, but he probably didn't know. He did mention all the London taxis waiting to take them to London. I guess that to say they were really relieved is an understatement! Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I've had a quick look at Volume 8 of the suggested reading put up earlier and that looks very interesting. I'm just deciding which papers to put up.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  9. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

  10. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Yes they got the 139,812 British troops away from the ports as soon as possible, many by special trains. They were sent to camps all over the country, having only been allowed to send a post card to their families to say that they were safe. One ship, the City of Derby, with a small RAF contingent aboard was sent to Belfast, where they were told to tell the authorities that they had come from Liverpool. Much fog still envelopes Plan Aerial, as it became known.
  11. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    fullsizeoutput_6133.jpeg fullsizeoutput_6133.jpeg fullsizeoutput_6132.jpeg

    Attached Files:

  12. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    Thank you everyone who has taken an interest in this project. I have posted 3 forms although I'm afraid they are not very clear. Be grateful if anyone can make any sense of them. Thanks.
  13. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    My father joined up in March 1940, as a carpenter and joiner he naturally assumed that he would go into the REs; but they had enough chippies so he was put in the Signals, as a dispatch rider. Looking through his record I can see that he decided to be Bolshie! It wasn't till 1943 when he got into the REs that he started to get promotion. Sorry Patsy, this doesn't help you I know!
  14. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    Others with more knowledge on the BEF will, I'm sure, be along. In the meantime if you're looking for an explanation of RE(SR) or RESR this stands for Royal Engineers Supplementary Reserve.

    Last edited: Apr 27, 2019
  15. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    Seem to have posted the same one twice here is the third. fullsizeoutput_6137.jpeg
  16. patsy48

    patsy48 Member

    Thanks for that information. Stops one blind alley anyway! Well Roy these stories are interesting, who'd have thought it would be so difficult to get a carpenter nowadays? My dad as you probably saw was a driver and then a despatch rider, which is how he got the motorbike to get to St Nazaire. He was a bit peeved that he had to take the bike to be burned before he was ferried out to the Oronsay, although he understood the rationale he really liked the bike!
  17. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I can't find No.2 Movement Control Group in a BEF Order of Battle - Only 3, 4 and 5. They seem to have been involved with running the railway services. Did he have a rail background ?
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  18. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

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  19. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Well Spotted. I've just got it listed as 'M.C. Group....
  20. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Thanks for attaching the papers. As you say they are quite difficult to decipher. Are they the originals or copies of copies as I’ve not seen such poor quality MOD provided forms previously.

    The last form you’ve attached is one side of the Army Form B102 - the Central Registry Index Card. T’other side of that form usually has much helpful information from which to track a soldiers movements in conjunction with the detail on the Army Form B103. You’ve attached the front page of the B103 but there are usually several more pages as it is updated during the course of a man’s service.

    If you could attach those forms members may be able to assist more.

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