Dunkirk Veterans' accounts

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by dbf, Feb 22, 2011.

  1. dbf

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  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    James Hill: “I would say it was England’s saddest hour, as opposed to its greatest, and I think it hardened the resolve of the British people.”

    “Certainly as a young officer, and I’m sure it was the same for the chaps as well, you had two things to fight for: you had your King and your country and you were very proud of them, and you had the greatest Empire the world had ever seen.”

    “But you see if you go and sit in the Maginot Line and you wear gumboots, it’s very bad for morale. And you get a Maginot Line mentality - it wears into you. You think that’s the answer, it’ll do everything and of course it doesn’t”

    “We hadn’t quite envisaged them going right through the North and going round the flank like that. I don’t think we’d imagined that at all.”

    “I remember a Search Light detachment and they said they’d been - one chap escaped - and he said they’d been decimated to a man. And he said there were 200 German tanks there. Well didn’t believe that. And there they were, crossing these cornfields: hundreds of vehicles, all going flat out.”

    “You can only ask people to die if it’s in a worthy cause, the right cause. And you can only ask people to die if you are prepared to die as well as them. And if you’ve got those two you’re in business. It is as easy as that.”

    “My job was to arrange the evacuation of the refugees from Brussels. First of all of course to let the British Army up and secondly unfortunately, to let it back again. When you wanted to clear the road for the military you had to get the refugees off the roads and you had to put them somewhere. So we found in the end we had to have parks - off the road. Then of course the Germans very quickly spotted what was happening. They knew perfectly well that the people in those parks were all civilians and eh, so they made hay. They suddenly realised what was happening and they mercilessly bombed those parks when they were full of screaming children, women, horses going mad, galloping everywhere, breaking loose. The thing was really one of really horrible things you never want to see again in your life.”

    “I was sent I remember with urgent messages to the Adjutant General in Boulogne. So, this is the case you’ve got your motorcar and your servant, pop that in, your batman who is is absolutely invaluable of course, and your driver and away you set and you went there. Well when you started to get near Boulogne, you found that the Germans had got there first.

    So I was sent on to Calais and I got to Calais and I was given a billet in a basement and I found there were two companions in that basement. One was my uncle - a chap called Douglas Hill in the 7th Hussars - and then a cousin of mine came along - Dick Page. So all three of us - neither of us, any of us knowing that the other was even in France - found ourselves all together. Two days later my uncle was dead, four days later my cousin was put in the bag, and was in the bag for the rest of the war, and I was lucky and escaped.”

    Major GEORGE DOUGLAS HILL 18403, 7th Queen's Own Hussars, Royal Armoured Corps who died between 20 May 1940 and 17 June 1940

    Remembered with honour DUNKIRK MEMORIAL
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Column 2.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    “Particularly if you are a soldier you can’t imagine what it’s like to see all your equipment thrown away: burnt, dumped, handed over to the opposition, if you like to put it that way. Dreadful.”

    “The thing became hopeless. The thing became hopeless and the French were having great problems.”

    “We all took a sandwich or two onboard and had it to eat and then eventually the train set off and we didn’t know where we were going.”

    “The train stopped at Salisbury and my family’s home was at Salisbury house - about seven miles from Salisbury. So I hopped out and then started my walk, I suppose about four in the morning, home. And the walk - you had to get to our house - you had to walk along the river and I remember having two sandwiches left, and I got to a pool - beside the road - in the river where I’d often fished. And I remember I sat on the bank there, ate my sandwiches and thought, ‘Well, how lucky can I be!’ Here was I sitting beside this lovely piece of river, lovely pool, eating sandwiches two miles from my home.”

    Attached Files:

  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Wilf Saunders: “I joined up in February 1939. Like so many young people of my age, we were getting pretty fed up with Hitler’s antics.”

    “You probably can’t imagine the associations that France had for youngsters in this country, never been abroad before at all. It all happened there, so romantic, etc etc”

    “We did think it was going to be like World War 1 because we dug trenches and etc etc”

    “At last action, something is going to happen and I’m a part of it.”

    “To see the bombs drop out of the machine was such a surprise. I suppose I’d always thought that you know that they’d be so, come down so quickly, bombs, that you know couldn’t see ... No you could see them and there it was. Just extraordinary.

    You, you feel it’s for you personally. It just didn’t seem believable: there was this machine going there, dropping those things out, on a township down below - people all the rest of it.
    This was real, this was for real. It may sound naive but somehow it needed bringing home in that way before one could take it in really. This one anyway.”

    “The whole sky all the way around was alight. I mean there were verey lights, there was I suppose search lights, there were erm, there was artillery going like mad. Heaven knows what, a real clamour.”

    “It was every man for himself.”

    “We were in full retreat, there was no question about that, and em, seeing whole mobile workshops, beautiful huge things that would probably be a couple of million pounds worth these days.

    One was just an ignorant person but eh I thought: “We’ve got a lot of troops here and a lot of equipment - why are we having to retreat?””

    “It was an absolutely ghastly experience in every way but, one was kept going by the knowledge of what must be happening in general by this time and one - all one wanted was to get to to Dunkirk as quickly as possible.”

    “It was absolutely crowded, exhausted people all over the place. I just lay down and thought you know, ‘This is it, I can’t get away from this place.’ And I more or less gave up. Not made of sterner stuff.”

    “The dunes was the best place to go to because if you were shelled or bombed or whatever, with the sand and so on, and the sand hummocks, would be protection.”

    “Of course I was weighed down by the wet equipment and em, I’d managed to get a leg up the side of the boat but I simply could not get in, but I was helped in for the last bit by someone already on the boat, and then, we had to row the thing.”

    Attached Files:

  4. dbf

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    James Bradley: “I believed that there was going to be a war - but I hoped there wouldn’t be - but I wanted to be trained and when the war started I wanted to go off and to fulfill my obligations to my country.”

    “We took every thing up out of the ground - our guns, bren gun carriers - everything we had and dashed into Belgium where there were no prepared positions for us and it was a mobile war after that. It was fight and move, fight and move.”

    “It’s fear You are really afeared. You can feel your heart bumping like mad before you walk out because they give this sign and you walk forward and you hear machine guns open up, and you hear bees going by you, and then see a chappy writhing on the ground who you, mustn’t stop - keep going, keep going”

    “You’re thinking he can’t be dead and you feel as though you want to pat his face or you
    want to say ‘Come on, come on, don’t fool around’ but when you see the blood all running down and so forth, ‘Oh god he’s dead.’

    He’s a chappy I loved, played football with and now he’s gone into a boggy bit of ground. His mother would die of shame if she could see that lovely baby being dropped in like this. I used to say to myself ‘I’m not crying it’s raining’ because I shed tears, you know, and I used to think if their parents could see them like that, in a corner of a foreign field. They must never know.”

    “When I went away I was an art student, just on 18 and I used to go in on the evenings and do life drawing and one night a very nice girl came in and she’s got a dressing gown on and I turned round and she dropped the dressing gown and she’s got nothing on.

    Having never seen a woman in that state, a girl, I thought “Women are beautiful, aren’t they?”, you know. And it really set a theme ticking in my mind thinking about it.

    I am sitting crouched in a slit trench and then I looked at my hands and I think, ‘Your hands that used to be drawing now they only they know is rifles and killing, and this and that and the other. What a pity really.’ And then I used to think ‘It’s so ugly and all the killing that’s going on and the noise.’ Then I used to start to think about this girl - to help me to get through the day.
    It was the only thing that I could think of that was nice and one day I shall go back you know, and eh, people will be clean and nice and quiet and so forth. It won’t be this raging hell all day and night.”

    “There is a time when you do begin to worry a little bit. You get a bit concerned because they’re saying ‘We’re in a position here and you’re dug in there and it’s really the place to be’ and the next thing is, they all hook up the guns and ‘We’re pulling back again. We’re pulling back again.’ And you really were getting a bit of a downhill feeling, weren’t you, you know.”

    “Over came sixty dive bombers. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and they just plastered the hill. Guns were blown up and eh, we were told that we’ll have to stand and fight to the last here, but then we were told - a second time - we’ve got to get out of here ,we’ve got to save the regiment - or what’s left of the regiment - and eh, they said that you were to get a rifle and a bayonet and you’re actually on your own now and you’ve got to get back to Dunkirk.”

    “Eventually I came to the sand dunes and I could see Dunkirk was a blazing mass of burning oil and an absolute battle going on in there.”

    “I moved along to Le Panne which is a little bit to the right of Dunkirk, and there were hundreds and hundreds of soldiers on the sand there. Ships coming in trying to pick them up but there was so many I thought ‘They’ll never get these people off here’.”

    “I saw the most magnificent bit of British discipline there: taught me something. They went down and they stood in the water and the tide came in and it went up to here and then the tide went out and then it came back. I was there for, I remember, three tides, and staying there at night and it was just so terribly British.”

    “We had a despatch rider and he was behind me and I thought he must be mad because he’d got a tin hat on, a rifle and everything of his equipment. I thought ‘If he goes in the water he won’t have a chance’. And he went to step and he fell in the water and I shouted to him and I saw him going down like this and all the bubbles coming up and he’s still got a tin hat and a rifle around him.”

    “I hadn’t eaten for about two, two or three days, but anyway I got on the deck and they just said, ‘Get down the deck, get down the deck. We’re going to take off as soon as possible before the Stukas come.’ And all I can remember was the humming of aeroplanes coming. ‘The Stukas are coming! The Stukas’ and I fell asleep.

    Next thing I knew there was a sailor standing over me shouting, ‘Wake up! Wake up!’

    I said ‘Where am I?’

    He said ‘Dover you bloody fool.’

    And I thought I don’t even mind him swearing at me it’s Dover.”

    “I knew I was back in England: It’s got tables there with loads of tea and buns and so forth, and I was ravenous. I think I ate six buns.”

    “I had no feeling of failure. We’d fought to the last with the greatest effect we could bring to bear when you’ve just got a rifle and you’re on your own and that sort of thing. Well the regiment’s just about destroyed really.”

    Attached Files:

  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Bill Weeks:
    “We were the cream. That’s what - I always say that - I always tell blokes we lost the cream of the British Army out there.”

    “Join the Army: that’s the best thing I ever done really, in them days. Not just me, but hundreds of boys like me, you know, come from the hard times or Depression if you like. There was nothing about, no work, terrible really. I think so. They talk about the good old days, I don’t think they were. Bloody awful actually.”

    “We’d go into a cafe and then you’d ask for ‘Deux oeufs avec pommes de terre frites, s’il vous plait’ ‘Avec ein Tasse Tee’. Another one! Yeah, oeufs. You had to learn the basics, like where the toilet was, and what’s her name, and is she married and all sorts of things. All the necessary things.”

    “Three of us boys were walking down the street and there was a queue of soldiers and we said, ‘What are you queuing up for?’

    They said ‘Fish and chips.’

    ‘God right.’ We’re in the queue see. When we got there it was a brothel. It was, honest. So of course us boys done a runner, got out of it. Don’t forget, we were only nineteen.”

    “Even our leaders, the big boys, the top brass. I think they thought it was going to be like the 14-18 war. That’s what they thought it was going to be .”

    “Everybody was safe behind the Maginot Line. Never gonna get passed that! What did they do? They went round it. Come round it and attacked us.”

    “They really moved fast. We weren’t ready. We weren’t ready for this. Nothing was ready. We had five rounds of ammunition to each rifle. It was ludicrous really, you know, but that’s the way it was.”

    “And the stuff started to fly about. You sort of lay down, move out, dig in, move out, till you get up into the action itself, you know, get close to them, and try and take the high ground.

    ‘Take the high ground!’

    Take the high ground? I couldn’t even get up. Too scared. I mean, I mean not only were you crying, you were probably sick as well and you’d probably messed yourself as well, you know, with the sheer fright. I mean it’s unbelievable, you know, you can’t sort of explain it really - you’re petrified. Bang! Crash! There’s stuff whistling about all round you.

    You think ‘what the hell is going on here?’

    Somebody’s going ‘Lay down, get down! dig in!’ - all this sort of carry on.

    “I had a chap called Ernie Coster who come from ? Lane and he died in my arms and he was smoking when he got hit, and the cigarette was dangling from his mouth, and it was burning his flesh all down here, and it didn’t seem to be worry me all that much, you know.

    I think the only thing that really worried me were bits of flesh, you know arms, legs - they’d been hit with the shell fire and sort of disintegrated - and that’s why you wear your dog tags, so you got your number, name, rank and who you are on your metallic dog tag. So if a man’s been decapitated, the dog tag’s still round his neck, sort of thing”

    Guardsman ERNEST GERALD COSTER 2660410, 2nd Bn., Coldstream Guards
who died age 22 between 24 December 1942 and 25 December 1942
Son of Herbert George and Ellen Coster.
Remembered with honour MEDJEZ-EL-BAB MEMORIAL
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Face 12.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details
    Desmond Thorogood: “Well I had an uncle - he was a Coldstreamer - and he was always talking about it, you know, and he was so proud of it, and so I thought it well, that’s for me.”

    “The worst I think is the Stukas that used to come out of the skies. They used to scream. They had, they had sirens on their wings and they when they came out the skies these sirens were going. [Pauses] Terrible. But there you are, it’s all right, it’s gone now.”

    “It was “Get back!” you know. We don’t retreat in the Brigade of Guards - it’s a strategic withdrawal. You don’t retreat - just sort of “Fall back. Fall Back.””

    “It was the tanks that opened up on us. We got caught up in the shell fire and mortars, you know. and eh, I don’t know what happened, just whomp, you know. You go out and it’s finished and eh, that’s it. It’s just a flash and a bang and bright lights and it’s all over.

    The next time I woke up I was in hospital - somewhere - and the next time I woke up I was on the boat. Then the next time I woke up I was in England. There you are, just you are drifting in and out of consciousness, but you don’t remember nothing. Don’t matter who you talk to - blokes don’t remember; they got hit and that’s it.”

    “It must have been terrible for mothers like my mother. Well the only news they got was this Army brown card you know, with black edging to say: ‘Your son’s missing believe killed. Will keep you informed.’

    And then she got the telegram to say that she’s got to come because your son’s dying. I could hear my mother talking to me, I could hear her, but I couldn’t reach, I couldn’t find her and all of a sudden we touched and I woke up. That was it.

    They thought I was on my last legs. I made it though. I fooled them. Survival, yeah.”

    Attached Files:

  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Desmond Thorogood: “Well I had an uncle - he was a Coldstreamer - and he was always talking about it, you know, and he was so proud of it, and so I thought it well, that’s for me.”

    “The first man I killed ... we heard voices: ‘That’s German voices’ and sure enough it was and we looked over the top and there was a German private shouting something and I leaned my rifle over the - gently over the thing - and I shot him, and that was the first man I killed. I don’t boast about it, it’s nothing to boast about, killing another human being. But it happened, it was my job.

    If I hadn’t killed him, he would have killed me. That’s part of the infantryman’s job and it’s and unpleasant job. In war what happens to an infantryman is always unpleasant.”

    “Well it made me feel as though I was a criminal. I was different from other men. I had killed a man, that’s something very few men do. And eh, and I had to shoot. I shot.”

    “We we thought we were going to be left behind on the beach and eh, so we, the beaches were packed, litter every-bloody-where. I walked along the Mole and I saw a French fishing trawler about to take off.

    I called, ‘Hang on mate’ and I ran to jump down the stair. I asked him for some fresh water which he gave me and I fell asleep there and then, and I didn’t wake up until I felt him waking me and he said ‘Ramsgate’.”

    “It destroyed a lot of illusions. People cheered us as if we were victors, but what had we done? We held them off for a little while.”

    Attached Files:

  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Clive Tonry: “I mean I was 19 at the time and the others were only slightly older, and It was all rather marvelous actually. It was all part of the adventure. Skylarking schoolboys.”

    “The theory was that the Germans couldn’t break the Maginot Line.”

    “We picked up all our kit and loaded it into trucks and went off to war.”

    “There were just a rabble. They were not under the command of anybody. Heading for Dunkirk ’cos everybody had said that’s where you’re going where that great big smoke column is; and so they were all heading that way.”

    “I was put on the job of picking up corpses. We were picking up all these corpses on the beach and taking them into a central place, where I think there was somebody who was trying to identify them and take names so that they’d have a record for afterwards.”

    “As this boat rose and fell on the waves, up and down - the scramble net - I could jump from that onto the scramble deck and I did it; but several people didn’t they fell into the water, but as I said the ship wouldn’t stop, going very very slowly but eh, it wouldn’t stop to pick them up. It just left them.

    The whole operation was a nightmare from beginning to end.”

    Attached Files:

  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Reg Rymer:

    “The infantry were pulling back and then they’d come back forward, ‘cos some other bright spark had decided: no they shouldn’t have. And that’s the way it began to build up, you see. We came back through Brussels and they were throwing bricks at us never mind sweets, booing us something terrible.”

    “The Stuka bombers came over and I thought:
    ‘Oh well this is where the chapter ends, here because there’s nowhere to go'.

    And eh, they do their normal circle round and then, one after the other they dive down and I thought:

    ‘They must be blind. What the hell is that coming after us?’ and the next thing the let them go in among the refugees.

    Now these are old people, young people, babies; to see them blown to pieces and not one bomb anywhere along the Army convoy. Now you tell me, who could be that cruel? I mean we were there and we were being paid, we were supposed to be doing a job, so you expect it. But that. To see babies, arms, legs, all kinds flying up in the air.”

    “By now we’ve lost the Guards Brigade; we don’t know where they are or what they’re doing, so we’ve got to take orders from ... whoever. And that’s the way it was: going back, taking up positions, firing, doing what we had to do and in the meantime getting hammered, you see, and unfortunately we’re losing men.”

    “It all went to blazes from there on. It was more or less find your own way. Get yourself back to the regiment”

    ”Eventually we got down to eh, about 4 mile from Dunkirk and the MPs were there and they told us ‘Right that’s it, eh unload, shove the trucks into the field and set fire to them.’ And that’s what we did”

    “My first impression was panic on seeing all that. Honestly it was they were strewn all over the place: some dead, some dying and I suppose some wounded.”

    “You’ve got to remember: we’re running across beach and you’re jumping over blokes, you know, and dodging because they’re coming down machine gunning you and everything else. You’re trying to keep an eye on there - and there’s another one coming that way.”

    “We eventually found an upturned boat - underwater - that they’d all scrambled on it and it had overturned and left and we called a few more over, dragged the thing up to shallower water and eventually righted it; bailed it out and eh, then fought off all the others who wanted to get on it.”

    “The WVS ladies were there with a sandwich and a drink, passing them through the window.”

    Attached Files:

  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Julian Fane:

    “We were told that we were going to hold up the German Army as best we could. Suddenly the order came ‘You will hold Cassel to the last man, last round.’ I thought ‘Oh dear I didn’t think I’d be this in - so soon in my military career’.”

    “I thought ‘Oh dear wonder what’s happening now’ and then I looked to my right and the second I think another Platoon Commander - Olive, his name - was shot in the chest and died not long afterwards, he wasn’t alive for very long. The next thing the Quartermaster Sergeant was hit and killed.

    And so I moved my way along really crawling over these people who had been killed, and that point collected up about 14 people and then moved down south using ditches at this time, to keep out of sight.”

    Lieutenant RICHARD FRANCIS OLIVE 33855, 2nd Bn., Gloucestershire Regiment who died age 32 on 31 May 1940
Son of Charles and Mary Olive; husband of Mabel K. Olive, of Willaston, Cheshire. B.A. (Cantab.).

    Remembered with honour DUNKIRK MEMORIAL
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Column 56
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Colour Serjeant EDWARD WALTER FARMER 5182259, 2nd Bn., Gloucestershire Regiment who died age 25 on 14 June 1940
    Remembered with honour DUNKIRK MEMORIAL
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Column 56.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    “If you are a hunted animal, put yourself in the same position, erm, you know, you escape best way you can, and you are driven by fear really of not being captured.”

    “I was shovelled towards an ambulance train and so I was looking out of there and I was absolutely amazed em, coming from [pauses] the hell of Dunkirk and seeing [pauses], seeing people in white flannels playing cricket on cricket pitches, all mown clear and sharp, and girls playing tennis in white blouses and shorts and you can imagine the effect, quite extraordinary. Quite extraordinary. It looked as if one had, I suppose, left Hell and gone to Heaven you know.”

    See this thread for report by Lt J. Fane

    Attached Files:

  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Great stuff Diane, some hard work done there and it looks great - Would you like me to send you the other 3 Dunkirk Documentaries I have? ;)

    Incase anyone is interested Wilf Saunders worked for the library before the war and when war was looming he joined the 48 Division TA Signals. His father, a veteran of WW1 told him to join up why he had a choice so he could avoid the Infantry. He went to France in 1940 and was at Wormhout prior to the massacre. and his time in France during 1940 was covered by the BBC in the docu/drama Dunkirk. Wif finished the war an officer and after the war he published a great little book on his time in France for his personal diary. The book was spotted by the BBC and his story was one of the main accounts used in the 3 Part BBC Docu/Drama 'Dunkirk'.

    The book is called Dunkirk-Diary of a Very Young Soldier

    Wilf Saunders - Dunkirk - AbeBooks
    Incredibledisc and dbf like this.
  11. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I am just reading Forgotten Voices Dunkirk by Joshua Levine (In Association with The Imperial War Museum.) Its a superb account of the ordeal of those on the battlefield covering situations such as below and not exhaustive.

    The chaos of war,the interruption of communications due to the number of refugees packing the roads preventing the BEF to mount counter attacks...deliberate machine gunning by Luftwaffe aircraft of refugee columns.

    Morale of French and Belgian troops...some evidence by French civilians of their critical attitude to the BEF withdrawal.

    Destruction of bridges at the last minute...one recorded of a bridge being destroyed as refugees flooded over the bridge

    Evidence of Fifth Columnists involved in preparing the ground for the Wehrmacht....non standard hoeing of fields to indicate the presence of British troops .....one found to be firing on British reserve trenches with a Martini .22...Wehrmacht masquerading as nuns.English speaking Wehrmacht officers masquerading as English officers apparently always as Majors trying to give out confusing orders.

    Ambulance,carrying wounded, withdrawing to a hospital train observed by a German tank at 20 yards distance.....much to the surprise of the driver he was allowed through without intervention.

    Good account of the valour of Sergeant Major George Gristock on May 21 when he earned the VC.He was badly wounded by machine gun fire in both legs. He was evacuated to Britain where he had to lose both legs in a military hospital. A member of his battalion,Ernest Leggett (2nd Battalion Norfolks) had also been badly wounded ...shrapnel entering his buttocks and going through to his groin.He was "plugged up" in England in the same military hospital and after about 5 days,he was told to visit and taken to George every day to perform the ritual of feeding George his daily beer intake...apparently George had 10 or so beer bottles lined up on his bed rail.On one particular day. it was June 16 1940,he was not called to visit George. He called to the nurse "Take me through to meet my Sergeant Major" and she said.."No Sorry" He had died.

    Additionally there are aspects of tank warfare related by Peter Vaux RTR.
    dbf likes this.
  12. idler

    idler GeneralList

  13. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    I am just watching part of the opening video about the new WW2 Hall at Bovington, and there is a display showing the tank compass they used and a wall inscription showing Peter and telling his story.

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