Thursday, 28 May 2015
The retreat to Dunkirk
An extract from an account of the retreat of ‘A’ Section 1st Brigade RAOC Workshop gives a sense of what it might have been like.
“On receipt of the news that Holland had been invaded, plan ‘D’ was put into operation and all outstanding work was cleared up. This included assembly of a Ford V8 engine and two Leyland Terrier Engines which had been stripped down for complete overhaul. A Humber with clutch cable trouble and two motor cycles had also been repaired…by 1800 all work in hand had been completed and returned to units and at 1830 hours the workshop moved off…two bombing raids were encountered but no damage done. Workshops were established in a large barn and surrounding buildings at Arbres…Extensive repairs were carried out to a Bofors gun which had overturned…two Bren Gun Emplacements were dug to defend the workshops…many bombing attacks were experienced.
“At Romarin a big amount of gun work was completed. One 3.7 inch AA gun was completely rewired…
“On 28 May orders were received to destroy and dump the majority of our vehicles.
“29 May in the afternoon we were again heavily shelled and moved into the sand dunes behind La Panne…at 2200 hours with 17th AA Battery [the last operating] a light battery and Regiment HQ moved to the racecourse at Dunkirk…the remainder of the vehicles were destroyed and the party marched with personal weapons and two Bren guns in good order onto the mole at Dunkirk and embarked on a destroyer at 2100 hours arriving Dover at 0450 hours on 2 June.
“It was a heart rending process. I saw one particular sergeant who had tended his specialised equipment vehicle with loving care who was in tears when we smashed costly equipment with the sledge hammers we wielded….we slashed tyres, ran engines until they seized up, put sugar in the fuel tanks and hammered cylinder blocks.
“Later, we made our way to the cooks lorry for an issue of stew. We were told it was the last meal to be served, but were each given a tin of bully beef and a packet of biscuits and told to make it last….”
Phil Hamlyn Williams's current project is a book entitled Ordnance telling the story of how the British Army was equipped for the Great War. It is to be published by The History Press in June 2018. His previous book, War on Wheels, tells the story of the thousands of ordinary men and women who together worked to mechanise the British Army in WW2. It was published by The History Press on 8 September 2016. He writes regularly on contemporary issues for a number of periodicals and his own blogs. He has written the story of the MacRobert's Reply collaborating with Story Terrace, published in December 2016. He was awarded an MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth in 2009. As a result of the this course, he wrote a novel, Broken Bonds, on human dimension of the Banking Crisis. His He has been writing for fifteen years, having spent much of his career in professional services and the not for profit sector.