All my clothes stuck to my body with perspiration and I was completely dehydrated. Two days before we were due to leave Huddersfield, although at the time we didn't know our date of departure, we marched down to the station, this time more lightly equipped, for entraining exercises. A train was drawn up at the platform and the troops were in ranks facing the train. At a signal from the officer in charge the troops had to board the train as quickly as possible but in good order and array. The O-in-C had a stop watch, and he had us getting in and out of the train until he was satisfied with the time achieved for the manoeuvre.
A good plan! But what happened on the day? On the 27th April we were told that we would be leaving Huddersfield on the following day. We should be ready to move off at such-and-such a time, but that on no account must we divulge this information to anyone else on the grounds of security. On the 28th April we marched through Huddersfield town centre, with colours flying and the regimental band and drums playing, and with half the population of Huddersfield and Halifax on the pavements cheering and waving us on! When we arrived at the station the platform was crowded with relatives and girl friends of the local boys.
Officers, N. There was only one consolation, those of us with no one to see us off were able to entrain in comfort, monopolise the luggage space, and settle down in comparative ease with our boots off! So much for forward planning and security measures. That evening we were in Southampton where we boarded a cross-channel ferry and as darkness was falling we steamed out into the Solent to the cheers of the dockers on shore. The night was dark, there was no moon, the sea was running high and a stiff breeze sprang up making it quite cold.
I never found a spot where I could be wholly sheltered from the wind and I had a restless and uncomfortable night. I was not sorry, therefore, when dawn broke and I could see in the distance the French coast. Soon afterwards a solitary French aircraft came towards us from the land, circled round us and escorted us into Cherbourg harbour. I was on foreign soil for the first time, and at the expense of H.
There was no time to look around for almost immediately we had disembarked we were climbing into cattle trucks 10 horses or 40 men and within minutes we were in our way. I took note of the towns we passed through so I had a rough idea of the direction in which we were travelling. Some of the names were familiar - Bayeux, Caen, Argentan, Le Mans, Nantes and some nineteen hours after leaving Cherbourg we arrived at the little market town of Blain about 20 miles north east of the seaport of St Nazaire. Our camp was about 3 miles from Blain and consisted mainly of Nissen huts.
Ablution facilities were almost non existent, and for the first few days we did our washing and shaving from the river bank. After about three days we had improved the ablution and sanitary amenities by our own efforts, after which we settled down to enjoy the surroundings and the daytime weather, which was perfect. The evenings were pleasantly cool and, when not on duty, we would walk into Blain, have a coffee and cake in a bistro - or something stronger if you were inclined that way - and then stroll back to the camp.
During the night it became progressively cooler, and we were compelled to add our greatcoats to the blankets that covered us. All through the night the croaking of the bullfrogs in the marshes kept up a constant cacophony. Every morning there was hoar-frost on the grass, and often on our blankets, and we shivered as we crossed to the ablutions - open on all sides to the air - for our wash and shave in cold water. I remember once reading a book where a Sergeant in the Guards said, 'You've never had a real shave until you've shaved in the open air, in cold water and with a blunt razor'.
I know what he meant. By mid-morning the sun had driven the mists away and melted the frost, and for the rest of the day it shone out of a blue and cloudless sky. In the afternoon it became unbearably hot and we were glad of the shade of the forest in which we were working, loading trucks with ammunition and petrol.
We had been doing this work our so-called training for about six weeks when the news came through that on the 10th May the Germans had invaded Holland and Belgium, and so had 'turned' the French Maginot Line defence. Day after day we heard news of the Allied withdrawal towards the Channel ports. On the evening of 18th May we left Blain, once again with band playing and flags flying, to encouraging shouts from French people who we knew were very worried at the situation in the North.
We left Blain by rail at 8 o'clock in the evening with rations for one day only, and arrived in Le Mans at half past four on the following morning: the station and sidings were crowded with refugees, including some Belgian soldiers, who were heading South and drew up alongside a British hospital train. We heard afterwards that this was the last train to get away from the fighting area, so we guessed that things were getting desperate.
And yet, although we were travelling in very dark, cramped conditions on short rations and with little to drink, and although , when we took our turn at the open door, for fresh air and sanitary functions, we could see for ourselves the chaos that was developing on the roads and railways, in some strange way we felt curiously detached from it all as though we were watching a film.
There was no sense of fear this was confirmed in later conversation with my comrades , only a certain curiosity as to where we were going and how we were to be used. The thought that we might be going into battle never entered into our heads. We were really rookies, less than half trained and, as far as we knew, with little or no ammunition for our rifles, bren guns and our two Boyes anti-tank rifles. As we passed the trains travelling in the opposite direction to us, we received cheers and waves from occupants, civilians and military alike.
The cheerful and smiling faces of the soldiers, many of them British, gave us a sense of optimism that everything was all right, although this was balanced to some extent by the appearance and demeanour of the civilians. There was a rumour going round, passed on as we enjoyed the occasional stop where we could stretch our legs, that we were bound for Le Havre, from where, as a non fighting unit, we were to be shipped back to the UK.
Hope springs eternal! We found out later that our destination, in fact, was Bethune by way of Amiens, where we were to replace units driven out of their defensive positions by the Germans. This town was in process of being evacuated. There were streams of civilians refugees on the roads and many signs of aerial bombardment in the town. The trains moved on in the direction of Abbeville; troop trains containing French and Belgians many of them waving frantically to us to go back the way we had come: despair and sorrow written on their faces. At one point actually this happened more than once, on one occasion we ran into a wood for shelter - it was about this time that the reality of the situation hit us, and fear crept in the Battalion was detained owing to an attack by German Bombers, and on approaching Abbeville we could see a vast column of smoke over the town.
The roads were packed with refugees loaded with all their belongings A few decrepit lorries could be seen, a few horse drawn vehicles, some bicycles, but for the most part the wretched people were on foot, some pushing wheelbarrows - a pathetic sight, and one wondered whether one would be taking such a detached interest if these events were happening at home. The Dukes were now in the rear train of the Division, when it came to a halt on the outskirts of Abbeville. It was reported that the Germans had occupied the town, and a patrol sent forward located an enemy machine gun post only a short distance away we heard the rattle of the machine gun as the Germans opened up at the patrol.
The staff of the other trains in front had vanished and in consequence a senior warrant officer was put in charge of the engine driver and fireman of the Dukes' train and they were informed that they would not be allowed to leave. They became very excited, but eventually bowed to the inevitable and proved to be a couple of stalwart allies who did magnificent work. All the equipment of the unit and much of our transport was on the train and it was impossible to unload as we were halted on an embankment. It was now dark and the journey back was not without its excitements.
Every few hundred yards, owing to the tremendous strain, a coupling between two trucks would break, and just before we reached our destination the complete floor was pulled out of the mess truck, depositing the staff and equipment on the line you may guess how we felt in our cattle truck, without light and with no knowledge where we were going. Every time a coupling broke - and we didn't know that this was the cause we would be thrown together into a heap with arms and legs thrashing around in all directions, and one's equipment all over the place. The language had to be heard to be believed!
We didn't bother to look at rifle numbers until first light when we could see which rifle belonged to whom. And so we stood to all night, peering into the darkness towards where we were told the enemy was waiting: we had been issued with 10 rounds of ammunition per man. To our rear we could hear the crash of explosions and bursts of machine gun fire. We were in touch with no other formation, had no supply line, not even a map of the area, until a batman from his kit produced a Bradshaw's Railway Guide of Central Europe, which was of the greatest assistance.
As dawn broke many armoured fighting vehicles could be seen patrolling the roads, and air activity developed as the morning wore on. We found later that at this time we were the only Allied troops between Abbeville and Dieppe which was some 60 kilometres to the S. Early in the morning the two Dukes units were joined by the st Field Coy. The pioneers, by breaking up trucks, constructed ramps by which they cleverly unloaded two utility vehicles.
In one of these Capt. Unfortunately the latter party ran into a machine gun position occupied by the Germans on the outskirts of Abbeville; Lieut K Smith was killed our first casualty and the others in the vehicle had very narrow escapes This news filtered through to us as we waited for action and it did little to reassure us. During the afternoon enemy air activity increased, and as the railway line to the south was completely blocked it was decided to withdraw to some wooded country which could be seen some 3 miles to the rear What we were eating and drinking all this time I quite forget, but it can't have been very much.
I do remember an issue of 2 cigarettes per man, as we lay in a fold of ground on the edge of a cornfield in the sweltering sun.
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Just my luck, I didn't smoke! Now had it been a bar of chocolate. Daylight the following day showed that several trains in the vicinity of Fressenville had been mercilessly attacked from the air by bombs, cannon and machine gun fire. Some trains were civilian, others French military and one was a French hospital train. The civilian trains had been evacuated in a hurry. Food and wine were still on the table I wonder where it went to? One of the trains contained all the horses of a French cavalry unit, but no troops.
From that time the Bandmaster, who was acting as a medical sergeant, used a fine grey mare to carry himself and his medical pannier. The hospital train was filled with French wounded and we promised to do all we could to evacuate them. Behind this train two others were telescoped, and thrown into the tender of one was one dead man still holding his dog by the lead. The dog was jealousy guarding the body of its dead master. Later it decided to adopt the Battalion and remained with us until the end of operations when we came upon the sight of these terribly damaged trains we saw for the first time the horrors of war: one cattle truck, filled with people, had been telescoped to a total length of not more than 10 feet, and the sight of the mangled bodies, compressed in so a short a space was horrific.
Hanging upside down on the front of one of the locomotives, blown there, we surmised, by an explosion, was the body of a young woman, with only her vest on. Her clothes must have been stripped from her by the blast. As I walked the length of the trains to give a hand where I could, I noticed something in the long grass at the side of the track. When I went over to investigate I discovered the bodies of a little boy and a little girl, both, I would imagine, three to four years old.
They were lying together, face upwards, and at first I thought they were sleeping. There was not a mark on either of them, their cheeks were still shining and rosy red, but there was a waxen sheen to them which gave them the look of two beautiful dolls. I could only assume they, too, had been killed by the blast. The sight of these two innocents upset me more than all the other horrific things I saw that day. The Battalion took up a defensive position in the woods. The day was very hot and the supply of water was beginning to cause anxiety. A reconnoitring party was sent out to find a supply and at the station of Chepy-les-Valenes met a railway engineer and informed him of the plight of the hospital train.
He said that a breakdown train was in the vicinity and if we would give him protection and help he would try and extricate the hospital train. The whole Battalion volunteered for the task and a company stood by the train with their anti-aircraft guns. The railway engineers and the Dukes worked frantically, and with a huge crane and ropes pulled up and relaid the permanent way.
This work was interrupted throughout by attacks from enemy bombers. While the work was goin on Capt. Gerrard returned. He had contacted a British Headquarters, which was quite 'excited' to hear of a complete and fully equipped battalion my inverted commas , and although they could not credit the fact that we were so near the Somme, they sent orders for us to retire to Dieppe as quickly as possible and take up a defensive position along the River Bethune.
I Lt Col Taylor decided to extricate the hospital train and then withdraw by night marches to Dieppe, a distance of 50 miles in fact our contingent actually started to walk to Dieppe: luckily as you will see, we finished by train. Very little food had been available for the past three days, so a truck was sent to St Valery-sur-Somme. The railway engineers told us that a hospital there had been evacuated. The truck returned in a short time laden with invalid jelly, chicken breasts in aspic, and other delicacies not usually on the ration - they were all very welcome my memory fails me at this point: or was it that only the higher ranks were the beneficiaries of this windfall?
The day was sweltering I do remember that! It was a tremendous thrill to everyone when the engine was hitched on and the train began to move slowly over the repaired tracks. The engineer was delighted and he handed round the few bottles of French beer he had in his van - never did beer taste so good to whom? Over the beer he expressed his gratitude for our help and offered to save us our long trek to Dieppe if we could get into a small number of cattle trucks which were in the station.
We made the grade, packed like herrings; few trains have been driven so frantically. On two occasions men fell out going round corners, and at one point the floor of a truck was pulled completely out. The driver of the train was running no risk of being overtaken by the Germans: he drove as if he was on the footplate of the 'Flying Scotsman'.
The Battalion arrived at Dieppe at hours on the morning of 27th May. Many of the men had not slept for three days and rations had been very meagre, inspite of the windfall from the evacuated hospital at St Valery sur Somme We were very dirty, very sleepy and extremely hungry when we arrived in Dieppe and marched, in good order, across the square and up the road that wound uphill from the town to the hill overlooking Dieppe.
We had no transport so the heavy cases of Bren ammunition were shared out amongst us, to take turns in carrying them to our destination - where this was, and how far away we didn't know. As luck had it my turn came on the steepest part of the hill and I was glad when I was eventually relieved of my burden. I felt I couldn't have carried it another yard. The Dukes were accommodated in the prisoners-of-war cage on the hill behind the town very conspicuous from the sea and the air, and an easy target for bombs and machine gun attacks - we always felt very exposed and vulnerable.
In fact the first thing we did was to dig slit trenches around the Nissen huts in which we were housed for refuge when air attacks came - which they did! Area Headquarters, which was situated in a medieval castle at Les Turelles, was very glad to welcome the Battalion, as the only other troops they had to form a defensive screen consisted of a small number of men who had been working on lines of communication, and a few military policemen.
Everybody was delighted to find major Jock Huffam V. It was decided that a reconnaissance of the area should take place on the day we arrived, and as a result of this the Battalion took over the line Dieppe - Arques - la Bataille the following morning. At noon that day air-raid siren sounded and the Dukes experienced their first taste of dive-bombing, which was to become an unpleasant and daily occurrence during the remainder of the operations The Germans had started to use 'screaming' bombs, and the sound of them coming down - giving the impression that they were coming straight at you - was more frightening than the eventual explosion.
We had a sergeant, to name him would be invidious, who went to pieces when we crouched in our slit trenches and he never became accustomed to the effect of these bombs. Later, when he faced the onslaught of German infantry and tanks he was bravery personified. We had to face the ordeal of being dive-bombed several times a day for over a fortnight. Luckily we had no physical casualties though one young chap from Hull was sent south to Le Havre for hospitalisation and shipping back to the UK.
We never heard whether he recovered from his 'shell shock', or indeed whether he reach Le Havre. The only time there was anything approaching panic was one evening when most of the camp was in the Canteen Hut. There was very little to buy at the counter, but it was a convenient place for a game of cards or a chat with friends who were not your hut mates. Suddenly, without any of the usually 'screaming' warning, there was the 'crump' of bombs falling in rapid succession, the hut shook violently and we thought the next bomb must surely demolish the hut and all of us who were in it.
The effect was electric, we stopped in our tracks. But it was all over; the planes had departed leaving only a number of large craters on the perimeter of the camp. We had, had a narrow escape. On this first occasion - on our first day in Dieppe - the target was the shipping in the harbour: the bombing was very accurate and five ships, including a hospital was sunk. During this raid a batman asked his officer is he should get him a brandy, and when asked why, replied, 'I think it would do us both good, sir'. Enemy air-raids increased in intensity and reports were receive of the presence of enemy mechanised and motorised forces in the vicinity of Abbeville and St Valery sur Some.
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The 51st Highland Division, which had been in the Saar and had therefore escaped the Dunkirk pincer movement were moved over the Somme and with the assistance of the 7th Border Regiment staged a gallant but unsuccessful counter-attack. The Division then withdrew to the line of the River Bresle. Following a reconnaissance by Capt.
Gerrard on 29th May a party of Dukes was sent out the following day to salvage the Battalion train abandoned four days earlier. The men found that the train had been ransacked and all the officers' valises had been taken. It appeared that the enemy was not responsible; but most of the valuable stores had been looted, although the drums and band instruments were recovered, together with our packs and greatcoats. I lost various items from my pack, including the First War steel mirror that had been my fathers'.
The River Bethune was now the reserve line and the Dukes did their utmost to restore the morale of the civilian population, which had naturally been affected by the constant bombing and low-flying machine-gun attacks, and the reports of large German forces in the vicinity.
On two occasions the band and drums beat retreat in the square in Dieppe and created tremendous enthusiasm amongst the French population. The strength of the defence of the road blocks was increased by every possible means, anti-tank mines were laid on the coast road to Le Treport and Eu, and patrols were constantly sent out throughout the day and night.
During one of these Lieut. T Birkhead was killed in an enemy attack. The storm was gathering; the last elements were now leaving Dunkirk and soon the Germans, flushed with victory, would be rushing south to complete the kill. A small fleet of French coastal vessels had sailed into Dieppe waters from the north during the night.
As dawn broke the leading ship started sending Morse messages by signal lamp to shore. Whom they were signalling to we never found out: fifth column activities were suspected at the time. Our duty signallers decided to take down the message, but, apart from a plethora of numbers the rest of the very long message was in French which they were not able to understand.
Knowing from our stay in Blain seemingly light years ago that I could speak French they brought the message for me to translate before submitting it to the Officer on duty, who presumably passed it on to the Colonel. I don't know if this was the cause, but a few days later I was transferred from Signals to the Intelligence Section. The receipt of the message filled us with foreboding because we knew now that we were encircled. Le Havre had been taken to the south of us, and Dunkirk to the north. At this time Battalion Headquarters was at Chateau Janvil, where a flying squad was always in readiness to investigate fifth-column reports.
On 5th June aerial activity by the enemy was nearly non-stop and reports concerning the dropping of parachute troops arrived almost hourly. That evening I was a member of a patrol through the streets of Dieppe and by the docks investigating reports from civilians that there was fifth-column activity in the town and that the church bell had been mysteriously rung just before an air-raid.
We found nothing untoward, our only action was the repeated dropping to the ground when enemy aircraft flew over. For some reason I had been given a German Mauser pistol that evening and my only excitement and worry was deciding whether the safety catch was on or off. I could never remember the position so I was constantly taking off the magazine and pressing the trigger to see if it operated!
The result of all these patrols was the capture of one German parachutist who was shot while descending but not seriously wounded. No infantry or tank attack had so far tested the defence along the River Bethune. Intelligence reports arriving stated that the enemy was being held along the line of the Somme; these defence were still holding out two days later.
They were not to hold out much longer, however. The day after the last news reached us, Gerry Winters and I were sent out to establish an observation post on the high ground overlooking the coastal plain to the North-east of Dieppe. From here we had a good view of the sea and the sparsely wooded plain.
Before we reached the high ground, however, we had to cross the main Dieppe to Le Treport road from a small copse shielded from the road by a high bank. As we climbed the bank we heard the sound of horses' hooves approaching at the gallop. Concealed behind a tree we awaited the arrival of what? An enemy cavalry patrol? Our imaginations were working overtime and our hearts beat faster in time with the galloping hooves as over the brow of the hill and down the road towards us came a solitary white, riderless horse.
When we reached the ridge we could see in the distance puffs of smoke and faint sounds of gunfire, but were too far away to see any action on the ground. Then we suddenly became aware that, about yards to our left, across a ploughed field, was a battery of Royal Artillery.
We began to walk across the field towards the battery when a voice hailed us from that direction, 'What the blankety blank do you thin you are doing? If you've got to come over here then get down and crawl'. When we reached the battery position well camouflaged with netting and greenery the commander tore us off a strip for endangering his position, but was able to give us information of enemy activity to the north which we were able to take back to Battalion.
We had completed our first intelligence mission. On the 7th June Lieut. Colonel Taylor assumed command of the Dieppe defence, and the same afternoon the Commander of the nd British Infantry Brigade visited the Dukes' Headquarters and stated that he was occupying a defensive position along the River Bethune on the right of the Battalion line.
On taking over, Lieut. Colonel Taylor decided to withdraw his forward companies to the west of the docks and the river, as these were the obvious anti-tank obstacles. By doing this his front was also decreased in length, and he took up a position with three companies forward: Z my old company on the right, W in the centre, and X on the left guarding the docks crossing.
He arranged with the Sappers that demolition of the river and docks crossings should be in readiness should the situation demand drastic measures. Y Coy was in close support in the Chateau Rosendal woods, and HQ Coy of which Intelligence section was a part furnished mobile platoons which were being constantly sent off to round up parachutists. The aerodrome at Dieppe was rendered unserviceable by ploughing and the Army stores there were destroyed I was one of the party of three sent to destroy these stores. When we entered the hangar containing the stores we were angered and disgusted.
For a fortnight we had been living on minimal rations and hard biscuits and, those who smoked, on a very small ration of cigarettes; chocolates and sweets were non-existent as far as the rank and file were concerned. But here in the stores were literally thousands of loaves of bread, some now with mould on them, and boxes of chocolate, cigarettes, jam and many other kinds of provisions that would have lifted our morale and satisfied our perpetual hunger.
And we were to destroy it all. We filled our battle-dress pockets with as much chocolate and as many cigarettes as we could, before dousing the place in petrol, setting a petrol trail, throwing a match in and watching the place thoroughly alight before reporting back to the unit. At least we had something to share with our comrades.
Subsequently we should be relieved by the 2nd Seaforths, and the Dukes Battalion and the 4th Seaforths would act as rear guard to the Division on the withdrawal towards Le Havre. Early the following morning information was received that the bridges over the Somme had been blown. Refugees passing through the Dukes' lines reported the presence of enemy armoured fighting vehicles in the vicinity of Neuville and at hrs German patrols began to test the Battalion line; these were assisted by mortar fire.
The enemy displayed great daring and also lack of knowledge of the methods of taking cover and, as a result, suffered heavy casualties. Meanwhile the 51st Division had passed through and the bridge over the Bethune was blown. Later a small fox terrier was seen on the other side, much distressed as it could not get home.
By this time we had evacuated the hospital camp on the top of the hill, and were temporarily given shelter in a large, empty hospital to await the withdrawal from Dieppe. We had just settled down to sleep for an hour or so when there came the biggest explosion I had ever heard. Not having been told of the impending blowing of the Bethune bridge we wondered, fearfully, if we were targets for a heavy artillery attack as glass showered on us from the shattered windows and plaster fell from the ceilings.
We were relieved when there were no further explosions. To lessen the prospect of enemy interference the escape route followed second and third class roads; the truck drivers had been taken over the route twice to make sure that knew the way, and as an extra precaution guides were placed at each turning. This preparation paid a good dividend. As rear guard luckily a fact unknown to us we were the last battalion to leave Dieppe, but were the first to arrive, at dawn on the 11th June, as a complete unit, at Veules-les-Roses a pretty little seaside village, with rose covered cottages - a favourite haunt of painters in happier days.
The drivers and guides had done a grand job. I remember that journey most vividly. We were packed so tightly that no none could sit. I did my best to perch on the edge of the truck, but the canvas top was stretched so tightly across it that the many bumps and jolts, and the sudden stops and starts would have made it difficult in any case.
We had been told to show no lights at all, but two N. O's who ought to have shown a better example, persisted in lighting up cigarettes, thus displaying lights, and at the same time polluting the already malodorous atmosphere within the truck. It was a most uncomfortable journey and it was a relief when we arrived at our destination, even if our first action was to run for cover as a wave of enemy bombers flew over - to bomb, as we discovered later, the 51st Highland Division who had reached St Valery-en-Caux where that were completely surrounded. I spoke to our driver who told me that several times during our journey we had passed the ends of roads in which enemy tanks were lying in wait.
That they had let us pass could mean only one thing, they were sure we could all be rounded up in the closed-off sector we were approaching! On arrival at Veules-les-Roses orders were received from the Commander of nd Inf.
Whilst carrying out a reconnaissance with his company commanders at hours the Commanding Officer saw a British destroyer lying about 2 miles offshore signalling with lamps. A mental note was made of this fact. Before going into position the Dukes were informed that French Alpine troops had taken up positions from Veules-les-Roses to the sea, thus shortening the Battalion front. The 4th Seaforths were on the right of the Dukes. The roads were now packed with the remnants of the traffic from the 51st Division and many French units.
The enemy had reached Yvetot, some 20 miles to the south, and, pushing north towards us, was driving all Allied troops through the defensive position. At this time we rank and file were only aware of the coming attack from the north! A heavy air raid on Veules-les-Roses at noon, in which incendiary and high-explosive bombs were dropped, added to the general confusion. The day was extremely hot; the village, well named, looked very beautiful, with most of the houses covered with rambler roses in full bloom. Battalion Headquarters were situated in an orchard some yards from the village.
From here members of the Intelligence section were sent out in pairs - on a shift rota - to help with controlling the heavy traffic at the cross roads to the north of Veules-les-Roses and also to report any suspicious activity and identities to Headquarters. When my companion and I reached the cross-roads it was the scene of indescribable chaos and confusion. Troops, mostly French, were arriving in droves, some on bicycles, some on motor-bikes-, lorries and trucks, while the majority were on foot, weary, bedraggled and spiritless. We were suspicious of the motorcyclists because there had been reports of German troops disguised in French uniform, but a French liaison officer who was with us vouched for their authenticity.
Unless he, too, was a fifth-columnist.
Whilst we were on duty at the cross roads, we experienced the heavy air-raid mentioned above by the C. Luckily there was a makeshift hospital some 50 yards away in some wine cellars, and we were able to dash to comparative safety as the bombs rained down. In the late afternoon we were told to evacuate the orchard and take up positions in a nearby sunken road to await the arrival of the enemy. The CO's account continues -.
A Brigade conference was called for hrs.
The strain of operations was now beginning to tell on everyone. During the conference half a dozen German tanks passed by, only two fields away. We were informed that our perimeter was surrounded and that it was the intention of the Navy to evacuate the Division from St Valery. Motor vehicles were to be destroyed, together with surplus stores. The nd Brigade would be withdrawn from the line immediately, and the Dukes, who were to remain in position till dusk, would - during that time come under the orders of the rd Inf.
Owing to enemy movement it was difficult to get back to Battalion Headquarters the orchard. I arrived back to find the battle in full swing, with one company already being pushed back, but a very gallant counter-attack by the reserve company soon restored the situation.
In Gold We Trust
The enemy firepower consisted mainly of mortars, heavy machine guns and light artillery. A very large amount of tracer bullets were used, and these must have reduced the number of casualties, as the 'hose-pipes' of it could be seen, and could be avoided. Enemy low-flying planes were constantly overhead and they dropped collections of small bombs with a delayed action which produced an effect like Chinese crackers. The tracer bullets had set nearly everything on fire, houses, barns, haystacks, so that one began to realise what was meant by the fog of war, the smoke from the fires combining with the dust thrown up by the bombs and mortar shells.
Some 35 to 45 tanks were now attacking the Battalion front. The Dukes had no artillery or machine gun support, though they had been lent two 20mm anti-tank guns. Each gun fired one shot, after which that were put out of action by the German tanks. About hrs Z Coy reported that they were being heavily engaged by enemy infantry, and shortly after, following a mortar bombardment, a large number of light and medium tanks made an assault on the Duke's front. During this attack air activity and long range machine gun fire increased in the vicinity of Battalion Headquarters, making communication with the companies impossible.
The forward companies dealt heroically with the tank attack and the enemy withdrew, leaving five or six tanks which had been put out of action. Following a lull of about an hour a violent artillery bombardment of the whole area heralded a mass attack of some armoured fighting vehicles. After heroic resistance these pierced the Battalions lines and drove on in the direction of Battalion Headquarters. The Dukes suffered sever casualties during this action, but their pluck and determination won the respect of the enemy.
A German officer told a platoon commander whose position had been overrun 'You are a very brave regiment'. The armoured cars did not reach Battalion Headquarters because of road blocks, and the vehicles swung left onwards St Valery-en-Caux along the main road south-west within the bridge. In accordance with the orders he had received the Commanding Officer issued instructions that companies were to escape to the beach at St Valery as soon as darkness fell.
He realised that the harbour there might now be occupied by the enemy, and the presence of a British destroyer off the beach at Veules-les-Roses was a comforting thought. As a last desperate measure it might be necessary to try and contact it. As Battalion Headquarters were packing up, tanks were seen approaching the sunken road where the Headquarters were situated: the Headquarters evaporated quickly! The Companies found great difficulty in negotiating the streets of Veules owing to the heavy shelling and the fact that most buildings were on fire. The officers collected the men in small parties and these withdrew independently to the beach.
Dawn broke with a heavy mist over the sea, but in spite of this boats came ashore from many vessels off the coast and evacuations commenced. Enemy aircraft did their best to interfere but they were driven off by fire from the ships. As the mist lifted enemy artillery opened fire on the beaches, but the Navy silenced these before any serious casualties occurred. As the morning wore on the beaches were raked by machine gun fore, causing many casualties; but the majority of the troops got away.
Many of the Battalion were wounded during this period and those most badly hit spent the next three or four years in captivity. Dickinson who had some interesting souvenirs of the beach at Veules-les-Roses. He had been wounded in the arm and the chest and was lying on the beach when he received a sever 'kick in the pants'. In the hip pocket of his battle-dress he had about a dozen copper coins, French and English. A bullet hit the middle of them, bent most of them into fantastic shapes and even imprinted the inscription of one of the French coins on an English penny.
Dickinson received only a slight flesh wound from this bullet. Apart from a few exceptions Colonel Taylor's description of events affecting Headquarters Coy. He could not have known the details of course, of every personal experience. I will, therefore, supply my own -. Late in the afternoon of 11th June we were called together, told of the seriousness of the situation, and told that we were to leave our exposed position in the orchard for the cover of a nearby sunken road.
As we crossed the open field between the orchard and the sunken road we were the object of machine gun fire and we threw ourselves on the ground in automatic self defence. We were then on the scrub covered slope over the top of which we were to drop down into the sunken road. We were soon aware that the slope afforded us no protection from the enemy's fire because this was coming from the village behind us, so our entry into the sunken road was precipitate to say the least. Unfortunately on hitting the ground prior to this last rush forward my trouser knee was fouled by a patch of human excreta, with results that can be imagined.
It was a battle scar I carried for many days. We had not been in our new position for many minutes before intense enemy activity began, and we were soon in the thick of mortar bombs, artillery shells and heavy machine gun fire. Most of this went over our heads, and we were sheltered from the worst effect by the high walls of our sunken road. Nevertheless several bombs and shells fell into our position, and there were a number of casualties. Enemy low flying aircraft were constantly overhead: at first we thought that they were not attacking our positions, but several seconds after they had passed over their delayed bombs exploded with a sound like very loud Chinese crackers, shooting fragments of metal in all directions: some of these were like slim, nickel plated, bullets.
These 'firework' bombs did little material damage nor, as far as I knew, any casualties to our troops, but they added a new, psychological dimension to the conflict. The effect of the attack on Battalion Headquarters by mortars, artillery, machine guns and aircraft pinned down H. Staff to their positions and prevented communications with forward companies. The result was a certain deterioration of morale: it is not easy to be passive objects of aggression and remain calm and brave.
If we could hit back it would have relieved much of the tension. As it was the most many of us could do was to keep our heads down, overlapping steel helmets, and to pray that none of the lethal projectiles had our names on them. Home was geographically far away, but very near to our hearts as we rode out of the storm. These N. The badly wounded were made as comfortable as possible, and left behind, with the Padre, to their fates in prisoner of war camps: the walking wounded came with us and most of them, like us, reached freedom.
There was no other route to this than through the village itself. When we came to the edge of the village we found that most of its buildings were on fire, the flames lighting up the square and its off shoot streets with daylight clarity. The problem was to cross the square without being seen by the enemy: we did this successfully, one by one at irregular intervals - with our hearts in our mouths.
Luck was on our side that night, we must inadvertently have chosen a time when the enemy patrols were busy elsewhere, otherwise we should have had little chance of escape. It was with a great sense of relief that we re-grouped on the sea-ward side of Veules but this was tinged with some apprehension of what we might find on the beaches. The night was dark, and seemed more so after the light of the blazing village, as we gingerly made our way down the steep and narrow path leading, we hoped, to the beach.
Soon we felt the scrunch of sand under our feet, and we knew we had made it! A mile or so to the south we could see the flames rising into the sky over the town of St Valery-en-Caux, from which came the sound of artillery and aerial bombardment. Our first problem was how to spend 6 or 7 hours before dawn. Though the day had been hot the night was now cool, with a cold breeze blowing from the sea.
We huddled as closely as possible to the foot of the cliffs where there was sufficient sand for us to hollow out to make shallow depressions to lie in. We were much too tense - and hungry - however to sleep and we spent the night talking and straining our eyes for signs of life out there on the dark sea. We were joined by members of a French unit, and I spoke for some time with one of them who had been a waiter in a London hotel.
I shared amongst these Frenchmen the last packet of cigarettes I had 'salvaged' from the Stores I had helped to destroy. From time to time during the night we were joined by small parties of men from our rifle companies, from whom we heard the harrowing details of their encounters with German infantry and tanks, and the equally appalling experiences in trying to find a way down the high cliffs after the enemy had passed through their lines.
A number of the men had been killed trying to reach the beach by fastening rifle slings together, but these had come apart sending men hurtling to their deaths on the rocks below, or, because in the darkness the height of the cliffs had been under-estimated, with similar results. After what seemed an eternity we detected a pale light in the eastern sky, and a small party of us walked down to the water's edge, partly to stretch our legs and get our circulation going, and partly to see if there were any signs that help might be coming from the sea.
Very soon the light was good enough for us to see that there were a number of vessels standing off shore, and to distinguish the shapes of destroyers from other types of shipping. Two medium sized steamers were particularly noticeable: we found out later that these were the L. It was not yet fully light when my good friend, Dougie Dart, decided to swim to the nearest ship - more than half a mile away - to see if the flotilla was British and, if so, to let it know that there were men on the beach - British and French - who would soon be in enemy hands if they were not rescued.
If the vessels had been German, Dougie Dart would have been captured immediately, and we would have been prisoners in a very short time. Dougie stripped down to his underpants, left his other clothes and equipment with me, dived into the sea and struck out strongly for the ships. It seemed an age before we saw him again, swimming powerfully towards us.
With teeth chattering in the cold air of dawn he pulled on his clothes and equipment, and went off to find an officer to give him the good news. Some months later, when the London Gazzette published a list of awards for gallantry in the St Valerie operation, I was disappointed that Dougie Dart was not in the list of men so honoured. As soon as it was fully light we could see small boats approaching shore, but our jubilation soon turned to disappointment when a heavy mist came down, and the operation had to be postponed.
After a time the mist began to clear and the little boats were seen to be coming inshore: at this point enemy artillery began to bombard the beaches, and we all rushed back to gain the shelter of the cliffs and the huge rocks at their base. The enemy artillery were soon silenced by the guns of the distant destroyers. It was fascinating to witness the effects of the difference in speed of light and sound. First we saw the muzzle flash of the Navy's guns, then the express-train sound of the shells flying overhead and the explosion of the shells on the cliff-tops, and finally the sound of the naval guns firing the shells whose flight and impact we had already heard!
When there was no resumption of enemy firing we prepared to be taken off. The tide had reached the seaward end of the solitary jetty so, in typical British fashion we formed an orderly queue on the jetty and the beach, restraining the Frenchmen who would have jumped the queue, but allowing them to retain their rightful positions in it. The first boatload had been taken aboard when the first wave of enemy aircraft roared over the beach spraying it with machine-gun fire and causing a number of casualties. At each attack the troops broke queue and raced for cover, but immediately reformed the queue on the jetty as if they were waiting for the next 'bus at home!
This happened a number of times, and by the time my pals and I had reached the front of the queue we saw, to our dismay, that the tide had come in so far that the boats for which we were waiting were several yards behind us. We hadn't waited so long and so patiently, only to be cheated out of our turn by the tide, so we jumped into the sea, into six feet of water, fully dressed and with all our equipment.
I managed to stay with my head above water long enough for a burly Canadian sailor to grab me by the back of my pants and haul me over the gunwale to land floundering on the bottom of the boat, completely waterlogged, with great loss of dignity but with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief. As I stood on the deck of the Princess Maud, dripping great pools of water, I was able to look round at the amazing scene.
There seemed to be boats and ships everywhere milling around in feverish activity whilst the Navy destroyers stood a short way off like mother ducks watching over their broods. Suddenly we could hear machine gun and small arms fire sweeping the beach, and we could only guess at the number of casualties occurring there. Almost immediately after we saw the flash from artillery on the cliff tops, and suddenly the sea around us was erupting with exploding shells as the German gunners were finding their range.
We were immediately ordered below decks,where we were very much more afraid than had we stayed on deck. We had been below for a few minutes, listening to the noise of exploding shells, when we heard and feel a tremendous impact. We've been hit! We had, indeed, been hit, just on the water line, but providentially the shell had not exploded and it was relatively easy to plug the hole with mattresses and make it fairly watertight with tarpaulins. As a result of this occurrence the Captain of the 'Princess Maud' requested permission to put out to sea without escort and to proceed, alone, to Southampton.
During this long journey we stood to on deck with our rifles in case we were pursued by and suffered the attacks of enemy aircraft. I shudder to think what would have happened had we been attacked: as luck would have it the enemy was engaged elsewhere. We heard later, mostly from Battalion comrades who had experienced it, that we were the lucky ones, sailing as we did direct to England.
Most of the other ships and boats had predominantly French troops aboard so sailed south to Cherbourg and other French ports to discharge these troops. It was many days before the British troops embarked again for their journey home. Southampton, with its massive air cover of barrage balloons, was the most beautiful and welcome scene of my life.
I know now how the pope feels when he kneels to kiss the soil of a country he is visiting. I could have done the same. It was 12th June when we were evacuated from the beach at Veules-le-Roses. Coincidence, telepathy, or the constant wishing for something to come true. Who knows? We must have been a sorry sight as we trooped down the gangplank at Southampton; dirty, unshaven, red-eyed from lack of sleep 2 hours in 3 days , our uniforms crumpled and creased from rough wear and total immersion in the sea. There was a train waiting for us in Southampton station, and when we had boarded it members of the W.
Despite not having eaten anything but a couple of squares of chocolate for 48 hours I had no appetite and could only manage to eat the apple. In a very short time we arrived in Winchester, and were taken by 'bus to the camp of the Kings' Royal Rifle Corp which was a few miles out of town. He had often been bottom of the class at school when the good conduct marks were awarded and developed a habit of seeking attention, largely, it is believed, because of the neglect he endured from his parents.
His father railed at him for being a failure when he twice flunked the entrance exams for Sandhurst. On public platforms Churchill frequently used language that, if not so inflammatory in terms of class war as that used by Lloyd George, was considered shocking by many in his social circle. And his conduct as a minister sometimes showed poor sense: Most famously, when a group of anarchists was besieged by the police in Sidney Street in the East End of London in the winter of , Churchill, as home secretary, could not resist going down to the scene of the siege and standing in the police line, conspicuous in his silk hat and fur-collared greatcoat.
As well as being evidence of his exhibitionism, it was indicative of how much he loved a fight, and needed to be present at the action. The idea of him as a warmonger, which was widely held by those who knew him in the run-up to the Great War and during its early stages, took hold because it appeared to be well-founded.
That was not quite the most controversial incident during his time at the Home Office. Even after the heroics of , some in the labor movement continued to hate him because of his decision to send the troops into Tonypandy in , when as home secretary he was alerted to the inadequacy of the local police in controlling rioting by striking miners. To be fair to Churchill, he did not want to send troops in, and held them back for as long as he felt able: but the decision in the end to commit them was held against him in South Wales for the rest of his life, and many on the left continue to view it as an unnecessary act of aggression and intimidation.
He also deployed troops during the dock strikes of the summer of , with a comparable effect on his public relations. Churchill initially acquired a reputation as a politician largely through his charisma and the power of his oratory, rather than because of any executive achievements. Despite his controversial reputation, he was put in charge of the navy in as first lord of the Admiralty. Churchill was responsible for expanding the navy before the Great War: but he was also one of the most fervent advocates of fighting that war. He changed his mind and then re-changed it about what to do with Ulster over the implementation of the Government of Ireland Act , a squabble that was silenced temporarily by the outbreak of war in August that year.
Now Churchill had the war he wanted, and could start to deploy his navy. When Antwerp fell he attracted more opprobrium. But the naval attack failed; a military operation to support it was a disaster; Fisher, whom Churchill had brought back as first sea lord—though he was then 73 and mildly unhinged—resigned and left Churchill exposed.
He came home not because he was deficient in courage, but as always because he was driven by ambition and thwarted in the conventional structure of a fighting army, where he was not in charge. He became minister of munitions in and then, as war secretary in , sought to intervene against the Bolsheviks in Russia. He made a correct estimate of the barbarism of the revolutionary forces: but his colleagues vetoed his impetuous idea for large-scale direct intervention, which would have led to another generation of soldiers being slaughtered.
By , the Liberal Party having ceased to be a force, he had persuaded the Conservatives to take him back. He became chancellor of the exchequer, and his complete ignorance of economics had catastrophic consequences. Sterling was overvalued: exports declined, deflation took root in the economy, the coal industry was crippled, and the General Strike ensued. Churchill had consulted a range of economists about the policy before implementing it, one of whom was John Maynard Keynes.
Keynes warned him that pegging the currency in this way would have serious deflationary consequences, a sentiment Churchill chose to disregard. Churchill , the most devastating attack on him ever written because of the way it undermined Churchill both as a politician and as an intellect. Later, Churchill would observe that going back to the gold standard at the pre-war fix was the greatest mistake of his life. It was not the last time he would pursue a course dictated not by what was practical, but by what might create the semblance of the world in which he had flourished before and to which, for reasons of his own doctrine and beliefs, he wished to return.
His reactionary ideas about India were part of the same mindset. The s were a grim time for Churchill. He flourished as a writer and journalist, making some much-needed money — he always lived beyond his means, with not just his penchant for Pol Roger, cognac and cigars but also his acquisition of a fine country house at Chartwell in Kent — and apart from what he earned was happy to accept financial support from admirers in a way that would end a political career today. He had the good sense to form a coalition government, and to undertake a discreet purge of those who had been the strongest advocates of appeasement, whether politicians or officials.
It took the Tory party some time to come round to him, displaying a loyalty to Chamberlainite methods that was finally punished in the Labour landslide of In military terms, Churchill had learned from the mistakes of He took coun tless bold initiatives that paid off, and others that did not. The relationships Churchill formed with Stalin and Roosevelt were essential to the war having the right outcome, even if he was outmanoeuvred at Yalta, to the detriment of the postwar settlement in eastern Europe and the liberties of the nations concerned.
Had Halifax and not Churchill become prime minister in May , Britain would soon have become a satrapy of Nazi Germany. Churchill hated communism, and the accommodation he came to with Stalin was made in the national interest. Ideally, Churchill would have retired, heaped with honours, in The postscript to his time in high office, his premiership of , was undistinguished and bad for the country. It bequeathed the country, when Eden eventually took over, with a leader whose health, morale and judgement had all been worn down by a man who refused to leave Downing Street until his 81st year, despite having suffered a debilitating stroke two years earlier that was cleverly covered up by his family and colleagues, and whose knack of getting things wrong had reverted to its pre-war standard.