Dunkirk. A Veterans Story

Discussion in 'Old & Bold' started by Joshua Slocum, Jul 16, 2017.

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  1. To Contrast with the release of the new film Dunkirk , I am going to place this article here
    the real heroes were the Men who stayed behind, to allow their comrades to get back home, to re train and return and crush the Axis forces
    For many of them, Their place in History lies in a Commonwealth war grave, or the names of the missing, for those that survived,they had 5 long years of suffering, slavery and terrible conditions before being liberated

    Whilst attending a D Day event last year, amongst all of the noise and bustle costumes and machinery, I noticed Bertram stride in with his daughter, I managed to collar him and engage him in conversation, I asked him about the re enactment of a beach landing ( lots of fat blokes and bangs and smoke)

    No he said not like the real thing thankfully, more like panto , I hope they never have to experience it for real !, I quizzed him a while and he revealed a few facts to me, his generation are very stoic and you have to draw things out without appearing to pry or praising them

    Bertram a sprightly 96 years old, stood ramrod straight, as only a real soldier can, he told me that he joined the Territorial regiment in the spring of 1938, come 1939 he was mobilized as soon as war was declared so that would have made him 19 years old !

    Just think of the modern generation at 19, or yourself at that age and consider how you would have coped with such life changing events, I am firmly of the belief that the generation that fought for us then were made of stronger material than many of today's youths

    That generation were fitter, in many ways better educated, well read, and had a fuller understanding of world events

    Bertram fought with the Royal East Kents ( the Buffs) a regiment with a proud tradition dating back to 1572

    After Sailing from Southampton with the B.E.F. He Landed at Le Havre, was moved down to Normandy then onto a village called Fleury-sur- Andelle then was moved Through Rouen North East towards the Germans to slow them down and assist with getting the men away from the beaches

    Bertram was captured twice, and after a taking part in the Long march to Poland was Liberated by the Americans

    Bertrams Daughter Barbara very kindly provided me with a copy of part of her fathers diary all carefully and correctly typed up, in that neat style of his generation, they had a copy of a computer file but it has failed to transfer, I volunteered to type his origional records up, and have done so without any alterations, modern phrasing or words, as I am of the opinion that a historical document must be kept as such

    I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did, and I have added a few photos and links to further illustrate his journey

    Bertram Jones, aged 96
    B Company 5th Battalion The Buffs

    Royal East Kent Regiment

    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
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  2. upload_2017-7-16_14-51-58.png

    Bertram with his Daughter Barbara, who so very kindly allowed us to read her fathers Diary
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  3. Useful links to his Diary

    Quevauvillers — Wikipédia

    I was unable to locate the Convent, it may well have closed or been destroyed during the War

    Doullens from the air

    Cemetery Details


    The COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION No 1 contains 1,335 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. There are also seven French and 13 German war graves from this period. Second World War burials number 35, more than half of them men of the Queen's Royal West Kents who died 20/21 May 1940
  4. upload_2017-7-16_14-54-33.png

    The Railway Station Where Bertram saw the tanks and escaped from, is now a private house, the track having been removed is now a cycle path

    view of the main road, with old station to the left

    Google Maps

    the railway sidings where the Germans were searching ( page 17)

    Google Maps
  5. page 19


    Bapaume was already well know from the Great war where most of the town was destroyed
    an old Soldier pointing out the bleeding obvious ! ( hes related to me so I cant help it )
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  6. And Now Bertram's Story

    page 15

    A Prisoner of War in Poland
    April 19th. 1940
    From Canterbury, we went by train to Southampton from where we sailed for France, crossing the Channel that night.
    April 20th. 1940.
    Arrived in France in the morning, disembarking at Le Havre with the 12th Division (made up of Territorial battalions) . From Le Havre, we were taken to Fleury in Normandie, which we reached on the evening of the same day.
    We were at Fleury for about two weeks, and we spent the time training with 36 Brigade . From Fleury, we were taken to a camp at Alizay, near Rouen. We stayed at a village called Fleury sur Andelle.

    May 10th. 1940
    After the 'Phoney War' of the winter of 1939/40 things suddenly started to happen. In the early morning hundreds of German planes bombed Brussels, Antwerp, Nancy, Lyon, Abbeville and many other Belgian and French cities. Fierce fighting began on the frontiers of Belgian, France, Luxembourg and Holland.
    While the 5th. Battalion remained near Rouen, the main B.E.F. force occupied positions on the French side of the Belgian frontier, but after an appeal from the Belgian government in the early hours of the 10th, the bulk of the British Army crossed into Belgium.

    May 17th 1940

    The B.E.F. Forces in Belgium had withdrawn overnight to the West of Brussels as the Germans pushed forward.

    The 5th. Battalion was sent to Quevauvillers 1 ( about halfway between poix-de-picardie and Amiens)

    where we stayed for the night. We were billeted in a Convent School. The cellar was packed with cases of evaporated milk, and so we had a high old time stabbing them open with our bayonets and drinking the milk.Sid Bartlett remembers also finding tins of chicken and bottles of wine.

    May 18th 1940.

    From Quevauvillers, we were sent forwards ( towards Belgium) to a place called Doullens, in the hope that as the German forces approached we would delay their advance.

    We spent the night and the following morning building up the town's defences, placing barriers across the roads into the town.

    May 19th 1940

    By nightfall we had received orders to move again. 2 Leaving the 6th Royal West Kent's to hold the Doullens area, we moved up the Doullens-Arras road to take positions between Pommera and La Herlie`re

    May 20th 1940

    The road was chocked with refugees blocking the way, but we managed to get into place by morning. 3 We were very poorly equipped; besides our old .303 Lee-


    1 After being held up for three days, the Germans had crossed the Meuse, broken through the French lines, and were racing Westwards towards the Channel coast. Order for the 5th Battalion to return to Le-Havre to take up guard duties were rescinded , and the unit was ordered forward.

    2 On the 19th May, the Germans had crossed the old Somme Battlefield and the XIX Army Corps had arrived at a line Cambrai-Peronne-Ham. XIX Army Corps were commanded by General Heinz Guderian ( the creator of the German armoured forces) consisting of three panzer Divisions, 1st, 2nd,and the 10th, and the Infantry Regiment Gross-Deutschland. They were now only 30 miles away from Doullens.

    3 I was in B Company along with Captain M.I. Hart which was at La Herlie`re while the rest of the battalion was spread along the road. C Company under Captain A.D. Mac I. Hilton was on the right, in the area of Pommera, Captain W.R. Findlay, whilst A Company was South of the railway between Mondicourt and La Bellevue. In reserve was major F.W.B. Parry, with D Company, situated at La Bellevue, where also was Battalion H.Q. ( Historical Records of the Buffs)
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
  7. page 16

    A copy Of my Diary


    Fig 1 The Boys anti-tank rifle was an ordinary bolt-action magazine rifle, calibre.55 firing a 930 grain armour-piercing bullet. It could penetrate 24-mm armour at 100 Yds

    Enfield rifles, we had a couple of Bren guns and a .55 inch Boys anti-tank rifle. We also had a 2-inch trench-mortar, although I was told we had smoke bombs for this, but no H.E. ( high explosives).

    We were on watch that morning in the attic floor rooms of a village railway station.1

    From our vantage point we could see right across the fields to the south. The first sign of trouble was light glinting on metal. We could see lots of movement, and what looked like large numbers of vehicles moving along a road to the South. We reported to the Officer, but he told us that it must be another refugee column , after all, the main German advance was supposed to be well away to the North of us.

    The truth soon became clear, as the German tanks left the road and began to move across the field towards us, spreading out as they came. Our forward section was right in their path. Hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned, they ran back towards our position. 2

    One German tank drove down the street towards the railway station. A Corporal ( called Radcliff , I believe) opened fire on the advancing tank-he lost an eye but was otherwise OK, I think.

    Sid Bartlett and I were still inside the station and I ran outside to drag a large box of .303 ammunition into the station. However when the Germans started firing in our direction I thought it more prudent to get back in to the station, and the box was too heavy to drag along anyway.

    1 The railway station was on the main road just NW of La Herlie`re and SE of Saulty.

    2 Approx, mid-day, The 5th Battalion was spread out over a 6 ½ mile front, with only three Bren guns, three `Boys` Anti
  8. tank rifles,and one two-inch mortar per company. ( Historical Records of the Buffs)

    Page 17

    A Prisoner of War in Poland

    As the Germans poured towards us with scores of tanks and other armoured vehicles our position was pretty desperate, 1 and one of our Officers shouted “every man for himself” Sid and I tried to get out of the main entrance but the machine gun fire was too bad and we ran back inside. Sid remembers a line of tracer passing him at waist level, “ it would have cut me in two if I`d gone a step further”

    Several of the Lads managed to get on board our 3 ton truck parked outside the station, however before they could move off a German tank came down the road and opened up on them with machine gun fire.

    Sid and I then emerged from the back of the station, crossed the railway lines and crawled into a field of long grass on the other side of the tracks. Whilst we lay there, a German tank drove up the railway line and passed right beside us. The tank commander was standing up in the turret in full view. I could easily have shot him, but was thinking about the machine gun on the tank I thought better of it and stayed where I was.

    Down the line, we could see German soldiers searching goods wagons in the siding, and I am sure they were looking for more of our boys. Five of us Sid Bartlett , myself, the company storeman ( called Hayes), a Lance Corporal “Bates” , and a man named “Miller” set off to find our other companies which were down the road towards Doullens. 2 Sid Bartlett and I got separated from the others and when night came we found a ditch and lay there until daylight. Through the night the village was burning, and German armour was rumbling through continually.3


    1 The attacking force was the 2nd panzer Division commanded by General Veiel.2ns Panzer consisted of some 3,000 vehicles and about 14,000 men ! That morning they were stopped just 13 miles away to the South in Albert, where they had wiped out the 7th battalion Royal West Kents and captured an English Artillery battery of 25-pounder guns, Drawn up on the the barrack square and equipped only with training ammunition. 2nd Panzer Division were almost out of fuel and were intending to wait in Albert, however General Guderian, Commander of XIX Corps, arrived and ordered them to advance to Abbeville. Unfortunately Doullens was in the way ! ( The Germans continued on to reach Abbeville by 19.00 Hrs. One unit of 2nd Panzers had rolled over our position and reached the channel coast by 20.00 Hrs)

    2 It was not until 26th July 1940 that the Army contacted my parents to confirm that I had been reported Missing.

    3 The 5th Battalion Buffs were almost wiped out at Doullens. Of the 605 who had left England, only 80 returned unharmed. According to the Panzer Divisions war diaries, `they had Fought Tenaciously. In spite of the use of numerous tanks it was only possible to break down their resistance after about two and a half hours` 5th Buffs were later reformed, and landed with the First Army in North Africa.
  9. Page 18

    A Copy Of my Diary

    21st May 1940

    Whilst Sid and I were laying in the ditch some French Soldiers came along, so Sid and I thought they would have a better idea than us of which way to go, and we tagged on with them ( although they weren't very friendly towards us) They eventually went to a large farm and laid down in the straw among the cows, we both did the same. The people in the farm brought us food.

    May 22nd 1940

    The next day one of the villagers came and told us that the Germans were coming towards our farm and they were about 2-3 miles away. They were searching the farmhouses as they went. The French soldiers promptly cleared off, without saying anything to us two. Whilst Sid and I were debating what to do, the woman from our farm came to our barn and told us to follow her into a loft which had a huge heap of grain piled up on the floor. She then gave us `civvy ` clothes each, and told us to bury our uniforms in the pile of grain.

    We then proceeded to leave the farm-but as we approached the main entrance we heard some one shout and on looking around, saw a German officer and another soldier. The officer was carrying a revolver and the chap with him had his belt, and his jack boots stuffed with hand grenades. Their grenades had wooden handles on, thus they could stick the handles in their boot-tops or behind their leather belts.

    Sid and I stopped, and they came over to us. Luckily neither of them could speak French and after searching us both, they let us go on our way. Before we left them, I offered the Officer one of the Biscuits which the lady in the farm gave us. He laughingly refused,probably thinking we were a couple of French `Yokels`. We both carried on, not knowing which direction to take.

    After about 2 miles we had been stopped and searched four times, by various squads of German troops. It wasn't until we were questioned by a German who could speak a fair amount of French, that they got suspicious of us, and almost kept us for further questioning, They did allow us to continue however. 1


    1 Many surprising things like this happened in` the fog of war`, for example; I rain into a number of enemy vehicles which, thick with dust, had joined the German columns and hoped in this fashion to
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  10. page 19

    A Prisoner of War in Poland

    Having nowhere to sleep and with night approaching we found an empty chicken-run behind a house, so we crawled into that

    May 22nd 1940

    In the morning we awoke, half-frozen and cramped. Whilst we were there , a family of refugees came along, the women sitting on top of the farm cart, which contained their entire worldly goods, and their menfolk walked alongside. The roads at this time were crowded with these people trying to get away from the fighting, there were horses and carts and furniture, and endless streams of civilians everywhere.

    Sid and I didn't know which direction to take, so we simply fell in behind the farm cart and and followed the civilians. We walked about 18 miles that day. There were streams of Germans passing us, but we were never stopped once. We eventually ended up that evening in the town called Bapaume- which was in ruins. We were with thousands of other refugees. We slept in a barn that night, with about 30 of them ( Bapaume is between Amiens and Cambrai, at the junction of the road to Arras ).

    May 23rd. 1940

    The day following we set off again. However before we had gone further than a mile or two outside of Bapaume we saw that all the refugees were being asked for identification cards. We were stumped but decided to carry on, hoping for the best.

    When we reached the two soldiers who were inspecting the `passes` they asked for ours. I started speaking to them in my `best` French . Luckily for Sid and I the two Germans couldn't speak any French at all. After talking between themselves, they told us to go down a nearly quiet road and not the busy road road which all the refugees were using, although the road which we were directed to ran parallel with the other one .

    Later on, we found a lane which connected with the` refugees` road and joined their never ending columns once again.

    After travelling a further good many miles, a

    reach Paris and avoid being taken prisoner, “I thus captured fifteen Englishmen” ( probably from the artillery unit captured in Albert) General Heinz Guderian writing in his book “ Panzer Leader”
  11. page 20

    A Copy Of my Diary

    storm began so we sheltered inside a barn at the rear of a farmhouse. There was nobody else in there, and covering ourselves up with straw and some sacks, we both fell asleep.

    I awoke when I felt something striking me. Looking towards the barb entrance I saw that a Jerry soldier had thrown a saucepan at me. There were half-a-dozen soldiers, who had also come into the barn for shelter from the weather. They also dragged a mobile field Kitchen in with them , so they must have all been cooks. The one who had thrown the saucepan, started bawling and shouting at us and came scrambling up over the straw to search us. As we had nothing to incriminate us, they told us to `shove off`

    Thankfully, we departed. Still breathing sighs of relief, we were stopped again-by a German officer, and unfortunately he could speak good French. He wanted to know where we were going and I gave the name of a town which I thought was only a short distance away, He said in French “How far is this town” so I said in my `best` French “about one or two Kilometres “. He appeared surprised and I found out later that actually the town was about 30 Kilometres away. So, instead of letting us proceed, he took us to a nearby church. This building turned out to be full of civilian refugees. However, the next day everybody was allowed to carry on their various ways.

    We came to another large town and here, as previously , everybody was being asked for their identification papers. We managed to slip up a side road again and avoided the sentries, thi sled us into the town centre. Once again we joined the main body of refugees. As we approached the French/Belgium border, we anticipated being asked for identification again as we crossed the borders. So we decided to look for another much less used road, instead of the main used route we were on.

    Accordingly we found a quieter road, and in due course we came to a brewery which had been evacuated as the German army had advanced towards them. All the taps on the huge vats of beer had been turned on full some one and we were paddling through 3 or 4 inches of beer. We drank as much as we could and then filled an old suitcase we were carrying with bottles. We also stuffed our pockets with bottles.
  12. Page 21

    A Prisoner of War in Poland


    Captured, Escaped, and Captured again !

    Later that day, we came to a tiny village, which was marked as being the “French and Belgian Border”. We walked quite a long way without seeing a sign of a German soldier. After crossing the border into Belgium ,we tried to make our own way to a town called Gand . There were canals here, and we wondered if we could get back to England by water from here.

    ( Before we were captured for the first time, ( as detailed below) – we had wandered around quite a bit. From Doullens, where we encountered action , to Cambrai, Amiens, Baupaume, Maubeuge, Mons, Tournai, and Oudenarde. After capture, we marched with all the other POWs from Oudenarde, to Ath, and then to Wavre, where we escaped and got to Namur. We were recaptured between Namur and Charleroi. ) 1

    June 7th 1940

    A few days later, whilst we were walking through some woods, in the area of Oudenarde, we were stopped by two German officers on horseback. One of them rode up to us and asked us, In French, if we knew who owned the woods. Well, the fact is, he could speak French much better than I could, and as for Sid he didn't understand a word of it, Consequently, being suspicious of us, they told us to follow them back to a large farm, which was occupied by German troops. We followed them to a room where some officers were having a meal.


    1 Two of our Officers, Colonel Allen and major Parry of the 5th Battalion buffs were also “on the run” Hiding by day, and marching by night, they managed to avoid capture for five days. However, on the 26th May near Merville, they were seen by a unit of German AA gunners and captured.
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