Transcript of Journal - Belgium/France May 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by louisaj, Oct 9, 2007.

  1. louisaj

    louisaj Junior Member

    Following on from my 'newbie' thread.... I was recently given a typed journal that my grandfather wrote during his time in Belgium/France from 10th May - 30th(?) May 1940.

    I have transcribed the journal as it would not scan and due to being a technotwit, forwarded it onto Owen D who had kindly offered to post it for me!

    I hope you all find this as interesting as my family have.

    'Grandad Tony - in our hearts and minds with love and thanks'
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD


    France, 10th May 1940

    Squadron Leader --- Major G. L. Craig
    2nd in command --- Capt. H.C.R. Bolckow
    1st Troop --- 2nd Lieut. R.D.A. Renton
    2nd Troop --- T.S.M.Wilkinson
    3rd Troop --- Lieut. D.G. Atkinson
    4th Troop --- Sergt. Jones
    5th Troop --- T.S.M. Smith
    6th Troop --- T.S.M. Potterton
    Supernumary --- 2nd Lieut. V. Hine

    Early in May, Major Mullens rejoined the Regiment. Major Craig, who had been 2nd in Command of the Regiment since our arrival in France in September then took over the command of ‘B’ Squadron.

    Major Scott, 14th/20th Huzzars, who had commanded the Squadron during that time returned to the U.K. Capt. Bolckow also joined the Squadron about the same time.

    As a result of these changes, when Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium on May 10th, neither the Squadron Leader nor the 2nd I/c was familiar with the detailed orders previously prepared by Major Scott for the advance into Belgium. In addition all marked maps had been handed in some days before and all secret papers concerned with the move had been destroyed.

    (It is suspected that some of these had found their way to the U.K. with Major Scott as souvenirs).

    The Squadron was billeted in a village called Rieulay about 2 miles from Regimental headquarters and the order to move did not arrive until about 8.30. There was then a great deal to be done in a very short time as in addition to the packing up, the route had to be gone over with all troop and vehicle commanders.

    The route to be taken by ‘B’ Squadron was longer and more complicated than that of the remainder of the Regiment and covered 6 sheets of map.

    After a hectic morning the Squadron moved off at 12.30 and crossed the Belgian frontier at Bercu just north of Orchies at 1.30pm.

    The route taken corresponded roughly to the boundary between the 2nd Division and the 1st Division on its left and ran through Tournai, Frasnes Lessines, Grammont, Enghien, Leerbeek, Hal, Ruysbroeck, Droogenbosch, Groenendael, Overyssche, Terlaenen, to Ottenbourg, a distance of over 80 miles.

    We arrived at Ottenbourg within and hour and a half of the Regiment, which had moved for the greater part of the distance along a main road which formed the Right flank of the Divisional lines of Advance.

    We were greeted on arrival by our first bomb which did no damage except for a splinter scratch on the face of S.S.M. Cake.

    All the vehicles eventually turned up without assistance from the L.A.D.

    One troop of the 82nd Battery A/T was under command on the march up.

    The 1st Troop (Renton) did advance Guard as far as Hal, where the 3rd Troop (Atkinson) took over as Renton went on reconnaissance in the Foret de Soignes under Divisional orders. Both Renton and Atkinson led the Squadron with considerable skill at an even pace over a difficult route.

    We spent the night in and around the Cure’s house in the Village of Ottenbourg.

    On the morning of the 11th the Squadron was ordered to cross the River Dyle and take up a position on the left of ‘A’ Squadron, - right boundary (inclusive) the road Lambais - Jodoigne to left boundary point of contact with the 13th/18th Huzzars at La Bruyeie.

    Nos 4, 5, and 6 Troops were in the line and the remainder in reserve at La Baraque Farm with Squadron Headquarters.

    We remained in this position throughout the 12th and 13th. By day the 2 tank troops went forward on patrol to Jodoigne and Lumay.

    Although the front was a long one for 3 Troops, they only had to watch the gaps in an artificial anti-tank obstacle consisting of crossed iron girders.

    There was considerable enemy air activity all around us during this time, but we suffered no damage, although T.S.M. Potterton complained bitterly that he was collecting the ‘overshies’ when the enemy attacked a Belgian aerodrome immediately in front of his position.

    During this attack all the Belgian aeroplanes were either destroyed on the ground or shot down when trying to escape.

    The French D.L.M. had moved across our front on the 12th and had apparently gained contact with the enemy early that day.

    All day on the 13th the sounds of battle got closer. The village of Jodoigne was shelled in the morning and we received news that the D.L.M. were withdrawing towards our position.

    Early in the day the 6th Troop (T.S.M. Potterton) reported an enemy tank about 1 mile to his front and immediately afterwards an enemy combination to his right rear advancing in the direction of Squadron Headquarters. This information was passed on by wireless to R.H.Q. Squadron headquarters were themselves somewhat perturbed, but no to the extent of R.H.Q., who received the message as ‘Enemy concentration’. Their fears were allayed and their opinion of ‘B’ Squadron greatly enhanced when they got a message a little later to say that we were quite prepared to deal with the situation without assistance.

    A further message to R.H.Q. stated that the troop leader concerned had received a ‘rocket’ for mistaking D.L.M. for enemy.

    During the afternoon orders were issued in anticipation of retirement.

    We had expected that the D.L.M. would retire through our position, but when they came back in the evening they told us that they proposed to take up position for the night in the same line as ourselves. We though this would probably lead to a certain amount of confusion and sure enough it did. T.S.M. Potterton being wounded by an anti-tank shell fired at his carrier at point blank range by the French.

    The 4th Troop (Sergeant Jones) was sent to contact the 13th/18th Huzzars at Hamme-Mille, the 1st Troop (Renton) went on patrol to Bossut-Gottechain, where one tank sank in the soft ground and had to be abandoned. The remainder of the Squadron retired across the Dyle river via Archennes to Ottenbourg.

    Before the retirement was ordered enemy shells had been falling uncomfortably close to the Troop positions.

    It is presumed that this fire was directed from air photographs taken by day, or from bracketing on the troop wireless sets, or from 5th Column information, as it was amazingly accurate considering the impossibility of observation from the ground.

    Hine was attached to the 5th Troop (Sergt. Smith) at this time and was sleeping in his carrier when on of the early shells passed over their position, he is reputed to have woken with a start, drawn his revolver in alarm and attempted to follow the scream of the shell.

    When the 1st Troop rejoined the Squadron from Bossut-Gottechain we withdrew to la Hulpe where we billeted in the Chateau Rouge and in the woods around it. Here, owing to vehicle casualties the 1st and 2nd Troops were combined under Renton.

    Early on the morning of the 15th, having had a much needed rest the Squadron was ordered to take over from ‘A’ Squadron who had been sent back East of the River Dyle through Wavre to make contact with the enemy. However contact was make by ‘A’ Squadron, in no uncertain manner and we were not required.

    During the morning orders were issued for dealing with parachutists. Later the ‘baleing out’ of two friendly airmen caused a wide dispersion of the Squadron, who had mistaken them for enemy.

    Early in the afternoon we were ordered to provide all round protection for Divisional Headquarters, who were anxious about 5th Column activities.

    A plan was made after reconnaissance and the Squadron was just getting into position when the Colonel arrived and told us that our orders had been changed and that we were now to reconnoitre in the direction of Bierges - Froidmont and re-establish the front between these places, where the enemy were reported to have broken through the French positions.

    Alex Renton and Denis Atkinson succeeded in collecting the necessary information very quickly and were then given the further task of reconnoitring the villages of Bourgeois and Renipont.

    Whilst these operations were going on our gunners were putting over the heaviest barrage that most of us had seen and although it was cheering to know what the enemy were getting, it was quite and eerie sensation to be between the guns and the enemy and to expect retaliation at any moment. As a matter of fact the enemy must have had very few guns up at this period as no retaliation arrived.

    At about midnight the Squadron was ordered to rally at R.H.Q. in Malaise and was sent from there to hold a position between ‘A’ and ‘C’ Squadrons, South of Hannonsart with Squadron H.Q. in a quarry in about the centre of the position and all three carrier troops in the line. Nothing of importance happened during the night.

    At about 10 ‘o’ clock on the morning of the 16th the Regiment was withdrawn.

    ‘B’ Squadron was then ordered to reconnoitre the ground East of La Hulpe with a view to a possible counter attack should the enemy break through. The 3rd Troop (Denis Atkinson) carried out this task.

    In the afternoon we were sent to Genval and Maubroux to contact and support the Infantry.

    Just before dark the Regiment was withdrawn to the White Chateau Solvet. We were all very tired and were looking forward to a good nights rest, but it was not to be.

    At about 8.30pm we were told that the B.E.F. would retire that night and that the Regiment would cover the retirement of the 2nd Division.

    The Squadron was to hold a line from the railway La Hulpe - Brussels to Malaise on the left of the Regiment from 10pm to 3am, and was then to retire slowly through the Foret de Soignes and over the Charleroi Canal, which was the next obstacle to be held by the Infantry.

    We were in position soon after 10pm. The 3rd, 5th and 6th Troops divided the front with the 1st Troop and Squadron H.Q. at Beakenbosch. The 13th/18th Huzzars were on our left and ‘C’ Squadron on our right.

    During the night enemy patrols approached our positions and were reported on several occasions attempting to get round our left flank.

    At 3am on the 17th we retired to the West end of the forest by Espinette Centrale.

    On arrival at R.H.Q. we were sent back to support the 13th/18th Huzzars by holding an extension of an intermediate line running S.W. from Groenendaol. We were to hold this line until 10am.

    At about 9.30 Major Jimmy Hawker, commanding ‘B’ Squadron 13th/18th hussars came to see the Squadron Leader. He said that the enemy had been seen in the woods West of Overyssche and round the S.W. corner of the forest and asked that we should not withdraw until the time that he was to withdraw. We were out of touch with R.H.Q. and in view of Major Hawkers information, it was decided to do as he asked.

    At 11.30 orders were given to withdraw. We had already lost on carrier (Sergeant Broad) complete with crew and it was now reported that the enemy had surrounded part of the 3rd Troop. The 1st Troop under Alex Renton was sent back to rescue them, which they did with great dash and returned with the crew of the broken down carrier on one of their tanks.

    On reaching the West end of the forest we were told that the 12th Lancers were in trouble and being hard pressed towards the S.W. of the forest. The 3rd Troop was sent to investigate, but was told that our assistance was not required.

    We crossed the Canal de Charleroi at Loth, where units of the 48th Division were hurriedly preparing a defensive position. From there we marched through Hal, enghien and Grammont to a village called Priem.

    We had covered a distance of 70 miles since the previous night and those of us who were not too tired had a good wash and a meal and prepared for a nights rest.

    At about midnight the G.I. Of the Division awoke Capt. Bolckow and told him that our right Flank was ‘in the air’ and that we were to send 2 troops to Lessines and one the Ath to hold the crossings in case enemy tanks should break through.

    The 4th, 5th and 6th Troops were sent to these places. Early in the morning of the 18th the Colonel held a Squadron leader conference as a result of which, the whole Squadron was sent to hold the crossings at Ath, the Troops at Lessines being ordered by wireless to rejoin the Squadron.

    We arrived at about midday and made our headquarters at Bouvignies, a name we knew well.

    Our sector of the Dendre rand North from Ath to a bridge South of rebaix, ‘C’ Squadron was on our right and our left was ‘in the air’.

    Late that night we were ordered to hold the crosings until noon the next day. ‘A’ Squadron were changed over to our immediate left and ‘C’ Squadron to Lessines, so that we were now on the right of the Regiment. Our front was also extended so as to include the most Northerly bridge at Ath. A battery of A/T guns (82nd) and a company of the Cheshire Regiment were placed under command.

    The Fife and Forfar yeomanry were on our right. At this time there were some very tired infantry of the 48th Division sleeping along the bank of the canal, but, although they would probably have given a good account of themselves if called upon, it was decided to ignore them in the defensive scheme especially as they were due to withdraw before us.

    The Squadron took up position with the 3rd Troop (Atkinson) on the right, the 6th Troop (Sergeant James) in the centre and the 5th Troop (T.S.M. Smith) on the left. The A/T Battery was given the task of covering the roads from Ath and Lessines with the remainder at Squadron H.Q. The Cheshires were given the task of covering the gaps between Troops and engaging the enemy at long range.

    The 3rd Troop failed to get contact with the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry until the morning of the 19th and Atkinson was anxious about his right flank as at least on bridge on our right was undefended, so a loop was formed with a platoon of the Cheshires and a Troop of A/T guns to guard against surprise from this direction.

    Between 4 and 5 am the Adjutant of the Fife and Forfars Yeomanry came to Squadron H.Q. to ask for assistance. He said that some of the bridges on his front were not blown, that his troops were very thin on the ground, that only some of his machine guns were fitted with locks and shoulder pieces and that anyhow they had not yet finished Troop Training. He was almost weeping, but was somewhat cheered by the laughter which greeted this remark and by the fact that he was invited to join our breakfast party.

    With the Colonel’s permission he was given one troop of A/T guns and one platoon of machine guns, not for entirely unselfish reasons on our part! He promised to return if the enemy got through on their front.

    There was little activity during the night except for some artillery and machine gun fire in the distance.

    At about 7 am the adjutant of the Fife and Forfars returned to tell us that the enemy, including tanks, had crossed the bridges on their front, but he did not know in which direction they had gone. Atkinson was told to keep a special watch on his right flank.

    At about this time written orders in anticipation of retirement were sent to all Troops.

    By about 8.45 the enemy were beginning to approach our position and the 3rd Troop shot up 4 or 5 horsemen on the opposite bank of the canal.

    Very soon after the Squadron become engaged along the whole front.

    Troop leaders had chosen their positions with considerable skill. Not only were they well camouflaged and dug in, but, owing to well co-ordinated cross fire the enemy were not being shot at by the weapons opposite or nearest to them, and consequently must have had difficulty in finding targets. It is difficult otherwise to understand why the Squadron should have had such a small number of casualties during the 3 1/2 hours of almost continuous artillery, machine gun and mortar fire.

    Owing to the wireless batteries of all but the 3rd Troop being out of action through 9 days of constant use, the D.Rs., L/C. Turner and Tpr. Shipley had many exciting rides to the left of the position and tribute must be paid to the fearless manner in which they delivered their messages in spite of heavy fire, some of which hit their machines.

    T.S.M. Smith, who had been a machine gun instructor for many years got several good targets. On being asked by wireless whether his teaching was being proved sound in practice he replied that it was ‘all too easy, like shooting into a haystack’.

    The enemy kept on approaching the opposite bank of the Canal in parties of 12 or 14 and attempted to inflate and launch rubber pontoons. As the battle proceeded and confidence increased, fire was withheld until the pontoons were launched and on no occasion did they succeed in getting across.

    The plan of retirement sent to Troops earlier in the day was as follows: The 1st Troop (Renton) was ordered to take up a position near Ath, to cover the withdrawal along the Ath - Leuze main road. The 5th Troop (T.S.M. Smith) being on the extreme left was to start thinning out at 11.30am, the 6th Troop (Sergt. James) at 11.45 and the 3rd Troop (Atkinson) at noon. All the Troops were responsible for escorting the A/T guns and Cheshires in their areas.

    At 11.30 the wireless operator of the 3rd Troop (Tpr. Argyle) asked whether the Troop should retire at the time given without the Troop Leader (Atkinson) and his Corporal (Edmundson) who had crossed a footbridge onto an island in the Canal and were unable to get back owing to machine gun fire. They were ordered to give covering fire in co-operation with the 6th Troop in a further attempt to get them out.

    This plan succeeded in enabling the Troop Leader to get back about half the distance.
    In the meantime the 5th Troop reported that they were pinned down by intense enemy fire and were unable to withdraw.

    The only reserve Troop was the 1st (Renton) and it was sent to create a diversion and cover the withdrawal of this Troop. This was just the sort of task Alec Renton was waiting for. He carried it out with great dash and determination, yet with shrewdness and cunning. He cruised about 60 yards from the bank of the Canal and with the machine guns of all 3 tanks firing as hard as they could, sank many pontoons and killed many enemy.

    It was now 12.30pm, half and hour after the time given for retirement and all troops engaged with the enemy. The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry had evacuated their position a considerable time before - a survivor admitted later that their watches had been rather fast! - and they had probably been away for about an hour. Therefore orders were given changing the route of withdrawal to a road running West from Bouvignies.

    This message was acknowledged by the 3rd and 4th Troops. The 5th Troop had to pass Squadron H.Q. by either route.

    At 12.35 a message came through from the 3rd Troop saying that the Troop Leader and Corporal Edmundson had been rescued.

    Tpr. Argyle, the operator, had seen a small boat some distance away. On his own initiative and under heavy fire, he rand down the bank of the Canal, got into the boat, paddled it across and, by signalling, attracted the attention of his Troop Leader indicating to him a line of retirement away from the bridge and then brought them safely across. Tpr. Argyle thoroughly deserved the Military Medal he received for this exploit.

    At the same time T.S.M. Smith got away with his Troop and the code word was given for retirement.

    Squadron headquarters remained at Bouvignies awaiting the arrival of the Troops. The Squadron Leader went towards Ath to meet the 3rd Troop and was met by the D.R. (Tpr. Shipley) who said that they had taken the wrong turning and had run into ‘thousands of enemy’ - (the actual strength was probably a battalion of Infantry with some tanks and A/T guns.) Undoubtedly this force had crossed the Canal in the Fife and Forfar area.

    The Cheshires and A/T guns of the 82nd Battery, which had been watching Ath, had retired according to orders 35 minutes earlier.

    Tpr. Shipley reported that the enemy had taken cover on both sides of the road until the Troop had advanced well into them, that they had then opened fire at close quarters and that Lieut. Atkinsons Carrier was last seen going over a fence and across a cropped field under heavy fire. As Shipley was on a motor cycle he was unable to follow and being some distance behind the Troop, he was able to whip round and get away. He was the only survivor.

    By this time the enemy were closing in on the other flank and Squadron H.Q. were being shelled. It became imperative to get the Squadron out of the village as they were strung out along a narrow road. At this critical moment Capt. Bolckow’s tank stopped and refused to start again. It was vacated in record time and he and his crew installed themselves on the S.S.M’s carrier.

    Having got away from this immediate danger of being surrounded, we fully expected to meet the enemy further back. This was probably avoided by the fact that we retired by a more Northerly route than that originally intended.

    The Squadron Leader stopped just outside the village to consider whether a force should be sent back to attempt once again to rescue the 3rd Troop. He decided that the odds against success were so great that the only result would probably be the loss of the Troops concerned and, perhaps, of the whole Squadron.

    It was a great blow to all of us to have lost Denis Atkinson and the 11 men of his Troop. He was a most capable and efficient officer and a very great loss to the Regiment.

    The Squadron had remained in position for 35 minutes after the time given for retirement and had killed not less than 200 of the enemy. All ranks were filled with confidence and were convinced of their superiority over the Germans.

    We retired via Frasnes and Tournai instead of via Leuze and Antoine to a large wood near Taintignies. That night we moved back over the frontier and billeted at Genesh.

    All ranks were extremely tired yet some very necessary mainenance of vehicles had to be done.

    The owners of the billet, in the words of the 2nd in Command were ‘intolerably unhelpful’ and he told them so in no uncertain manner. A clue to his frayed temper might be found when he exclaimed ‘This was is getting quite impossible, no whisky, no gin and no cigarettes!’

    Next day, the 20th, we returned to Taintignies ready to deal with some small parties of enemy which had penetrated the Infantry position on the Escaut. The Infantry cleared them out without assistance from us, but we remained at hand for the night.

    On the 21st for the first time we began to realize the possible effect for us of the break through further south.

    The enemy were across our lines of communication and we were warned of the future shortage of rations. Livestock in our area had to be counted and Sidney Hine was given the task. We were not far from the Infantry positions and our own guns were active all around us. Under such circumstances the herding of livestock and the milking of cows produced some amusing incidents.

    The same day the Colonel was told that a large petrol dump and Beaumont was being threatened from the direction of Vitry. This was well to the S.W. and brought home to us the precarious position of the B.E.F.

    Having had some difficulty in getting there, owing to the roads being blocked by refugees, we found that we had been sent on a wild goose chase as the French D.L.M. were already in occupation.

    The French troops in Douai had set fire to the petrol and oil dumps there and half the sky was blotted out with thick black smoke.

    On the 22nd we were again ordered back over the Belgian frontier to a village called Rumes behind the 2nd Divisional front. At this stage we were beginning to recognise the indications of a further withdrawal and consequently another job for us. However we set about making ourselves comfortable and re-stocking our cellar and larder from the abandoned houses. As expected Squadron Leaders were sent out just before dark to reconnoitre a position just behind the Infantry to cover their withdrawal that night.

    The Squadron had now only 2 Troops left, one Tank Troop under Renton and one composite Carrier Troop under T.S.M. Smith.

    We were given a front which could not possibly be covered by this small force. Fortunately it was arranged that the Infantry Carrier platoons should come under our command as they passed through. ‘C’ Squadron was on our right and troops of another Division on our left.

    While at rumes the 4th Troop (Sergeant Jones) rejoined the Squadron on foot, having lost all their vehicles since being detached from La Baraque farm on the 14th, in order to contact the 13th/18th Huzzars.

    While detached they had had some interesting adventures. On the 15th they had a shot at several enemy motor cyclists. On the 16th, having been attached to the 4th Infantry Brigade, they joined 6 Carriers of the Norfolk Regiment in a rearguard action, and on the 17th they stopped an enemy armoured car with a Boy’s rifle and shot up the crew with Bren guns. Later the same day they helped to lay a minefield before returning to Le Pru west of Grammont.

    On the 19th they lost their remaining 2 Carriers and were picked up by the 18th Field Regiment, R.A. whilst walking between the Dendre and the Escaut.

    We got into our positions behind the Escaut at about 11pm. In the early hours of the morning of the 23rd there was some machine gun fire on our right, which may have been ‘A’ Squadron shooting cows to prevent them being of use to the enemy. The 5th Troop reported an enemy patrol firing at them at long range. Their marksmanship was distinctly poor, which was proved beyond doubt when Ian Gill returned to his Squadron (‘C’) and complained that we had been shooting at him, but had failed to hit anyone.

    Unlike other positions which the Squadron had held, in this case we had a very long field of fire over open ground and we felt that an advancing enemy would be at a definite disadvantage. On the other hand there was very little cover for vehicles and an equally long open getaway, so, perhaps it was just as well that we were not heavily engaged.

    We withdrew at 10am, the 5th Troop being followed up and fired on by enemy armoured car.

    T.S.M. Smith held a check position just short of the frontier until 11am, when the latter was crossed and the bridge blown up.

    We then passed through the Orchies line on which the B.E.F. had spent many millions of pounds and where the Infantry had worked during one of the worst winters on record preparing the defences and working out the most detailed fir plans.

    It was pathetic to see fine block houses and anti-tank obstacles not being occupied, but the reason was, of course, that we were now retiring towards Lille and Dunkirk so that the line was facing the wrong direction.

    We eventually arrived at the billeting area Chappelle to find French Troops already in occupation. The same thing happened at Attiches, so we returned to Molpas, where we had no sooner had lunch than we were ordered to Fleurbaix twenty miles away. We had covered about 70 miles since 10 am.

    Having settled into billets the Colonel called a Squadron Leaders Conference and explained the predicament of the B.E.F. and how serious the situation was.

    It was disappointing to feel that all our efforts had been in vain. The Squadron leader was anxious that everyone should have as much rest as possible and the discouraging information which he had just received was partly responsible for the abrupt manner in which he broke up the party on his return from the conference.

    Early next morning, the 24th, we were sent through the Foret de Nieppe, where we filled up with petrol, to a village South of Morbecque. Here a series of orders were received before the Colonel attached himself to Brigade. We were eventually given the task of holding a position just North of Haverskerque to prevent the enemy debouching from the village.

    We had a good deal of difficulty getting to the position. The long straight road from Hazebrouk to St. Venant was our only line of approach and was obviously under enemy observation. Shells began to fall round the Troops as they crossed the bridge over the Canal de la Nieppe and followed them most accurately up the road.

    The 1st Troop (Alec Renton) was doing advanced guard and was held up for some time by this fire.

    Fortunately the shelling decreased in intensity and they were able to get on the their positions.

    Squadron H.Qs. Toop up a position just North of the bridge where they also got shelled. It was probably lucky for them that a house beside the bridge was hit and set on fire as thick smoke was blown across the road and obscured the enemy’s observation.

    In spite of the accuracy of this shelling no A.F.V. received a direct hit and we only suffered one casualty, a D.R. (L/C Howard) being killed.

    The crew of an anti-tank gun on the bridge were nearly all wounded and retired in their truck leaving the gun in position. Sidney Hine and L/C Turner experimented until they knew enough about it to man it, so they said!

    In the meantime Alec Renton and T.S.M. Smith were joined by 3 troops of ‘A’ Squadron. Soon after their arrival the enemy appeared to retire.

    Alec Renton with his tank troop advanced into the village, but was met by rifle fire and anti-tank shells and was forced to go back again. There seems to be no doubt that some of the enemy had disguised themselves as civilians.

    On their return to the south edge of the forest both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadron Troops were heavily shelled, but, fortunately, found good cover in a deep ditch. One shell landed in the ditch uncomfortably close to T.S.M Smith and covered him with water and mud.

    The Troops had now no qualms about firing at people dressed as civilians and they gave better than they got.

    As the only bridge over which the Troops could return was being shelled the Squadron Leader asked for a free hand as to when retirement might be ordered.

    Unfortunately, through a misunderstanding, Alec Renton ordered a withdrawal earlier than was really necessary. The situation was not affected however as the enemy did not advance in that area.

    Having rendezvoused South of Morbecque the 1st Troop was sent towards Steenbecque to contact the Inniskillings and the 5th Troop to defend the bridge du Parc.

    After dark the Squadron was sent to hold a reserve line along the Canal d’Hazebrouk running North from La Motte, which they did until dawn.

    Although this kind of duty entailed no fighting it must be appreciated that there had only been 2 troops in the Squadron since crossing the River Escaut on May 19th and consequently they had to be used on every occasion, so that it was impossible to give them any rest. Not only the leaders but the wireless operators of the Squadron Leader, (L.C. Gleeve) and the 2nd in Command, (Cpl. Preston and Tpr. Scott) the 1st Troop (Cpl. Espin) and the 5th Troop (Tpr. Smith, 91) were on practically continuous duty and deserve the greatest credit for their staying power.

    On the morning of the 25th the Regiment returned to the Northern edge of the Bois d’Aval and, whilst ‘A’ and ‘C’ squadrons carried out various patrol duties, we spent a welcome couple of hours cleaning up and breakfasting.

    In the afternoon we were ordered to Le Doulieu about 10 miles East.

    We stayed there for 2 days during which time the Regiment was re-organised as follows:
    One mounted Squadron under Major Frink joined two Squadrons of the Inniskillings to form a composite Regiment. (The 2 remaining ‘B’ Squadron Troops, 1st (Renton) and 5th (T.S.M. Smith) joined this Squadron).

    The remainder, together with the dismounted parties of the Inniskillings and the 15th/19th Huzzars, formed an embossed Regiment under Major Mullens with Major Byron commanding the 4th/7th Squadron.

    S.Q.M.S. Ripley went with the mounted party. He had done his job for ‘B’ Squadron in his usual efficient way. If rations and cigarettes could possibly be delivered we always knew that Ripley would be there. One is inclined to take the daily rations for granted without realizing the difficulties involved and without giving credit for overcoming them.


    On the 27th of May the Colonel, having had his Command divided was ordered to the U.K.

    Before leaving he talked to each Squadron. It was obvious that he had more information about our precarious position that he could pass on to us, it was also obvious that the last thing he wanted to do was to leave us under these conditions, but the Divisional Commander’s orders had to be obeyed. Everyone appreciated that the Regiment was his one and only concern. His Command during the previous 3 weeks had been a tremendous responsibility.

    He divided the duties between the Squadrons with the utmost fairness and never doubted that the Regiment could and would carry out the most difficult tasks allotted to it.

    We felt completely confident that, if the Colonel gave us a job to do, it was a fair and necessary one, and, in fact when he thought otherwise, he never hesitated to say so, whatever the rank of the commander concerned.

    Capt. Bolckow also left for the U.K. on the 28th. He had had little opportunity of learning mechanized soldiering, but his experience of the last war was of great value to the Squadron. He manned the rear link throughout. Nothing ever rattled him and his coolness and cheerfulness together with his experience of difficult situations were of the utmost value to all of us.

    It is not possible in this short account to give praise for the good work done by each individual, neither is it possible to recommend for reward all those who deserve it.

    When the Colonel said goodbye to the Regiment of the 27th of May he told us that decorations awarded to individuals should be taken as decorations awarded to the Regiment and those who receive them will understand what he meant.

    28th. The same day the embossed party of about 200 were sent out on the night of the 28th to hold a section of the Canal de Lye running East from Estaires. The Northern bank was very open and in order to keep the lorries under cover, they had to be abandoned a considerable distance from the Canal. Most of that party realised the value of the armoured and inconspicuous Carriers which could have been brought much closer and would therefore have been readily available for a quick getaway.

    29th. Fortunately the whole party were withdrawn under cover of darkness and returned to Le Doulieu, where except for those of a small billeting detachment all vehicles were ditched and abandoned. The dis-mounted party then set out on a 15 to 20 mile march in the direction of Watou where they were ordered to rest for the night. It soon became obvious why vehicles had to be left behind. The roads were already thoroughly blocked with French Troops and refugees, which were being periodically bombed by the enemy, In many places, it was definitely quicker to walk.

    In the meantime, the billeting party, having discovered that enemy tanks were only some two miles from the area given us to rest, asked Div. H.Q. for fresh orders. Consequently the dismounted party were greeted with orders to continue their march as far as the Canal about 8 miles east of Dunkirk which they were then to assist in defending. It came a little hard to some old Cavalry Soldiers to be suddenly put on their feet and told to march some thirty odd miles without any recent practice. To some of us, that night will be long remembered. We passed through burning villages and before long a solid block of vehicles of every description had to be negotiated. The brilliant lights of burning Dunkirk never seemed to become any nearer. In threading our way through the mass of vehicles and by being left behind at various stops, the party became very much divided and it was a sadly depleted Regiment which eventually reported for duty at the Canal soon after midnight.

    The next page of the journal has the top 2/3rds missing. Being ripped, I have transcribed it as it appears.

    We had made little progress.
    …….rking troops far behind us, direct
    …..Mullens did good work discouraging the
    ……giment from taking part in the resulting scramble, because by
    Keeping our place in the queue we were able to moved up to the positions vacated by others.

    After what appeared to be many hours, we got onto the mole which was under the efficient control of the Royal Navy. A big marine gave some of us, who had a receptacle available, a spoonful of hot stew. One Officer had only a cocktail glass, which the Marine filled with hot gravy and added: ‘can I put a cherry in it, sir?’ And so we departed for home.

    The behaviour of all ranks during the trying hours on the beach was excellent. The contrast between the Regiment and less disciplined troops was very obvious.

    A word must be said about Sidney Hine, a second Lieut. With little soldiering experience, who arrived with the Squadron a few days before the battle began. Not being in charge of a Troop, all odd jobs fell to his lot. He was expected to turn on food and drink under all conditions, to act as a D.R. or a liaison officer. He was general relief for everyone in turn and, at times, took his place in the line. His lack of training was balanced by a big share of commonsense and tremendous keenness to help. His ability to see something amusing in most things and his cheerfulness in all circumstances were of the utmost value to the Squadron.
  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    See Tpr Argyle wins MM.
    Well here he is.
    The National Archives | DocumentsOnline | Image Details
    Name Argyle, A
    Rank: Trooper
    Service No: 320579
    Regiment: 4/7 Dragoons Guards
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: British Expeditionary Force 1939-40
    Award: Military Medal
    Date of Announcement in London Gazette: 20 December 1940
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    This chap also gets a mention.
    He was the D.R (despatch rider) who was killed.

    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Initials:A E J
    Nationality:United Kingdom
    Rank:Lance Corporal
    Regiment/Service:Royal Armoured Corps
    Unit Text:4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
    Date of Death:24/05/1940
    Service No:408844
    Additional information:Son of Albert H. J. Howard, and of Rosaline Howard, of Sandringham, Norfolk.
    Casualty Type:Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference:Column 2.
  5. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Louisa, that is a wonderful document and nice to see confirmation that he was 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards at that point. They were 'Divisional Cavalry' for 2nd Division prior to reorganisation in May but they seem to have been still fulfilling that role.

    Eye-witness accounts of an advance beyond the River Dyle are few and far between as the main units stopped at the river. I live about 30 miles east so the place names are very 'actual' for me.

    Might I be so bold as to ask what your Grandfather did in 'real' life as he was remarkably well informed for an 'Other Ranks'.

    Vehicle Commanders at least had the advantage that they had access to maps so knew where they were going.

  6. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I've printed this off, Louisa but as Rich says, can we have some more info on Grandad as I'll keep this with my 1940 books.

    I can't find 2/Lt D.G. Atkinson on CWGC so I'm assuming he became a POW?
  7. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    Superb stuff - really great to see it here.
  8. saintconor

    saintconor Senior Member

    Great read.
  9. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    This is a scan of IWM F 4505 showing the Royal Welch Fusiliers of 2nd Division digging-in on the road from Ottenburg to Wavre around 15th May.

    *It's been pointed out to me that IWM 4505 is on line and shows refugees. I took the scan from "mei 40" by Peter Taghon. The correct no. must be fairly close. I have seen the original in the IWM but didn't note the number.*


    I have ridden along the road but the lack of features makes it difficult to place.

    There are 5 RWFs buried in the churchyard at St. Agatha Rode. The graves are tidy but I don't suppose they get many visitors. I pay my respects if I'm in the area.

    CWGC :: Cemetery Details

    Lest we forget.

  10. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    The MM winner Argyle didn't make it home, just seen him on this site.
    4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards - Main Page

    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Nationality:United Kingdom
    Regiment/Service:Royal Armoured Corps
    Unit Text:4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
    Date of Death:19/05/1940
    Service No:320579
    Awards:M M
    Additional information:Son of James and Rose Argyle, of Kingstanding, Birmingham.
    Casualty Type:Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference:Column 2.
  11. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    His loss makes sense because he seems to have been with 3rd Troop and there is a reference later the next day to them being wiped out with the exception of one motorcyclist.
  12. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Rich, shows that you've read it closer than I have.

    Just found this which is of similar interest, refering to A Sqn.

    4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards - Main Page

    Brigadier H.R.C. Frink, DSO- Brigadier Frink joined the 4th Dragoon Guards in 1918. He was a brilliant natural horseman. In 1922 the 4th Dragoon Guards was amalgamated with the 7th Dragoon Guards.
    In 1938 the Regiment was mechanised and in 1940 went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force stationed on the Belgium border with ‘A’ Squadron under the command of Major Frink, equipped with light tanks and carriers. When the German army invaded Belgium the Regiment crossed the frontier on Friday May 20th. However to maintain continuity in the front line orders were given to withdraw from WAVRE 25 kilometres SE of Brussels in a westerly direction engaging the enemy in support of our infantry.
    Because the Regiment had lost so many vehicles due to enemy action or breakdowns one Squadron was formed - 4h/7th DG Sqn. under the command of Major Frink attached to the 5th Inskilling DG on May 26th.
    They reached BAILLEUL May 28th 40 kilometres S of DUNKIRK, traversing ground the scene of the WW1 battlefield
    The 4th/7th Squadron arrived on the outskirts of DUNKIRK on 1st June "and destroyed vehicles and guns. Forgot to remove my gin bottle" and next day June 2nd "All took lunch down to the beach for the day……. (Lt) Riley produced a bottle of red wine – not quite the right temperature but very welcome".
    The Squadron dug in and "Most of the day spent examining sea life at a very close angle from the bottom of a trench so deep that the water came in"
    They were subjected to constant bombing attacks from a large number of enemy aircraft and shelling from behind DUNKIRK and anxiously looking at the sky to know whether they would get away with it till dark. "Morale of the men was excellent".
    "Formed up with the ‘Skins’ Sqn and marched to the Mole about 9 pm. Everything worked like clockwork – no shelling or bombing at what would have been a perfect target. Think largely due to the appearance of six Spitfires in the evening, the only ones we had seen. All on board by 10.30 pm. and so to FOLKSTONE. An unpleasant nightmare dispelled by a view of the white cliffs at dawn".
    The obituary in 1975 reads as follows – "At the end of 1940 he went to the 25th Dragoons which he commanded with immense distinction in the Burma campaign where he was awarded the DSO.
    After commanding the 2nd Indian Armoured Brigade at the end of the war, he was obliged like everyone else to revert to his substantive rank and he commanded the 4th Hussars for a year until he was promoted once again to command the 8th Armoured Brigade.
    Light hearted he combined charm and cheerfulness. It was impossible to be bored in his company and no party was complete without him. He always appeared to be in good spirits, was adored by the soldiers who would do anything for him, and had the courage and powers of leadership that manifested themselves particularly during the war"
  13. louisaj

    louisaj Junior Member

    thanks for your comments, links and information. My head is buzzing somewhat, but in a nice way!!

    The information I have regarding my Grandfather is as follows:
    Name: Ernest Henry Jones (known as Tony)
    DOB : 15th April 1913

    From his release book:
    Army No... 404199 Present Rank... W/Sergeant
    Unit, Regt or Corps... Royal Armoured Corps
    Trade on enlistment... Clerk (trade tests passed, Clerk Gp c C1 I)
    Date of Last Enlistment...24 Sep 1930(crossed out) Rejoined from reserve 3rd Sept 1939
    Service Trade... Clerk C I

    Do you think he did/could have written the journal, or is it unlikely? I am also assuming he is the Sergt. Jones of the 4th Troop listed at the start of the journal, although that means he wrote about himself in the 3rd person, ahh, who knows?!

    Anyway, I have attached a photo of him taken in 1940 in Whitby, Yorkshire, where my Nan evacuated herself to.

    thanks again


    Attached Files:

  14. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Can't really help with much else , just to say HCR Bolckow didn't survive the war either.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Initials:H C R
    Nationality:United Kingdom
    Regiment/Service:Royal Armoured Corps
    Unit Text:4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
    Date of Death:17/01/1944
    Service No:13746
    Additional information:Son of Henry William Ferdinand and Bessy May Bolckow, of Marton-in-Cleveland.
    Casualty Type:Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference:N.E. of church.
  15. louisaj

    louisaj Junior Member

    Owen, you have been more than helpful. Thanks to you and everyone who has responed, we have a much clearer idea of what was happening at that time and I can pass it on to my daughter, another generation who will not forget.
  16. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Louisa, It's quite possible that he was the author. He was a clerk when he enlisted and kept the trade and he was a pre-war Regular. A clerk in the Regimental Office would be privvy to all sorts of things and would have been responsible for keeping the maps up to date.

    Whoever wrote it knew about the missing marked maps and virtually accuses Major Scott of theft - I can't imagine that a brother officer in a Cavalry Regiment would do that !

    A crewman in a vehicle with failing radio contact would be hard-pushed to know what was going on 50 yards away so the journal was obviously written by someone in contact with HQ and with the more senior officers.

    I'm sure that it was written by someone used to making reports and writing in the third person so he does rather fit the bill. I would suspect though that it probably means that he isn't the Jones of 4th Troop.

    It's nice to see a picture of him. Have you been able to find the motorcycle picture yet ?

  17. louisaj

    louisaj Junior Member

    Rich... I am going to see my Nan today, I will have another look for the motorcycle picture. I am also going to get her to sign the forms so I can request his service history, hopefully, that will give me some more information.

    I am a bit :eek::blush: at the thought of him practically accusing the Major of theft, I hope non of the Majors descendants get wind of it!!

    Will post later with any news.

    Thanks Louisa
  18. louisaj

    louisaj Junior Member

    Rich, I didn't find the picture, it's so frustrating as we can all remember it, apart from my nan!.
    My aunt is away at the moment, but I will see if she can shed some light on it when she comes back.
    I did find a great picture that had been made into a postcard (see attachment) My Grandfather is front row, 2nd from left. No idea where or when it was taken though.

    I also found 2 pages of 'orders' for 30th July 1941 and 9th April 1943. They are typed by him as his initials are typed in the bottom left hand corner. He kept these as they have the birth announcements of his daughters on. The papers list who had undergone punishments and why, who has been on courses of instruction, who has been exposed to chemical warfare etc as well as births and marriages.

    The entries regarding him state he belongs to 'HQ', but i don't know where.

    Its so interesting for me, hope i'm not boring you all!

    Attached Files:

  19. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Going by the uniforms that's pre-war or very early in the war.
    They are wearing Service Dress. By 1940 they'd be wearing Battle Dress.
    Those orders from 41/42 , could they be when he was with 22nd Dragoons?
    Any names mentioned we could look up?
    Sounds even more like he was a clerk at HQ as Rich says, makes him privy to info not generally known by "Other Ranks".

    4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards: Service

    1929England: Shorncliffe
    1931Tidworth 2 Cav Bde
    1935Scotland: Edinburgh
    1936.104th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
    1937England: Aldershot 2 Div
    1938.08mechanised 1939Aldershot 4 Div
    1939.09France & Belgium recce regt, 2 Inf Div, BEF
    1940.06UK 1 Armd Recce Bde
    1940.12UK 27 Armd Bde, 9 Armd Div
    1940.12.30cadre detached to form22nd Dragoons
  20. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Just looked here,
    4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards [UK]
    it might be worth trying to obtain a copy of these.
    Second World War:
    Stirling, J.D.P. The first and the last : the story of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 1939-1945. London ; Glasgow : Art and Educational Publishers Ltd., 1946.
    Actions of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, May-June 1940. Dorking : Rowe's, printers, 1941.

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