17th Bde Anti-Tank Coy
The Anti-Tank company was drawn from elements of the battalions serving the 17th Brigade. Under the command of Capt. Goldie of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, they deployed their guns on the left flank in the area of the 6th Seaforths, to cover the railway crossing.
This was due to the high railway embankment on the right flank and an anti-tank ditch dug along the railway in the centre by Spanish pioneers (some of the thousands of fugitives after the civil war).
Early on the 26th, we moved to St Eloi, and arrived there at 09:00hrs approx, being somewhat heartened en-route by seeing our Pom-Poms bring down a Heinkel close to our column. We also appropriated a discarded motor-cycle at the side of the road, which was in perfect order.
The Coy rendezvoused in a wood near St Eloi cross roads, while Capt. Goldie accompanied the Brigadier on a recce of the front.
On return of the Coy Cmdr, the five guns were disposed as follows:-
3 guns under 2/Lt. Whitehead on the left flank of the Bde line in the Northamptonshire Regiment’s area, East of Ypres. These guns were given the role of covering possible enemy approaches across the canal and railway.
2 guns under Lt. Thompson in the centre sub-sector of the Bde front, which was occupied by the 6th Seaforth Highlanders. These guns had a similar role.
No guns were required in the right Bde sub-sector occupied by the 2RSFs. These positions were taken up about 16:00hrs on the 26th, at which time the enemy were known to be approaching the vicinity.
No contact had been made with the Belgian Army, who were to have been on our left flank. Belgian troops had, however been seen withdrawing past our line, carrying white flags and without ammunition.
To protect the left flank, the reserve Coy of the 2/Northants were moved up on our left.
Contact was made with the enemy along the line of the Bde front. During the night, the Boche succeeded in driving back the 6/Seaforths in the centre and established himself on the railway line. One of our guns which were covering a small railway halt station, was left unprotected by infantry in this area. The detachment Cmdr, Sgt N. Sutherland, was killed while gallantly endeavouring to get his gun into action against an enemy post some 200 yards distant on the railway line.
During the night of the 26/27th, the Bde was moved up and the Green Howards relieved the reserve Coy of the 2/Northants.
No news of the enemy penetration in the centre had reached Bde HQ on the early morning of the 27th, until Capt. Goldie arrived and gave them this information.
The enemy did not press further than the railway line however, and about 0400hrs, 2/Lt. Whitehead, at considerable personnel risk from L.A. fire, succeeded in reaching the gun and removing the breech block, thus rendering the gun harmless to the enemy.
During the remainder of the day, the fighting continued, but the Boche pushed on to the line of the railway line along the whole front and it was found necessary to withdraw back to the line of the Wyschaete – St Eloi road on the right, where the 13th Bde had been forced back, thus forcing our Bde to conform to the movement and adjust the line. For about three hours Lt. Thompson and his detachments held the front with rifles, as the Infantry in the area had withdrawn.
The Anti-Tank company was given the role of protecting the right flank of the Bde. In some way, the Coy eventually found itself in the 13th Bde area. Only 2 guns now remained with us, as no news was forthcoming concerning the 2 guns with Lt. Thompson.
Accordingly we took up positions from which we could fire our rifles and engaged the enemy at long range.
At about 18:00hrs, the Wiltshire Regiment withdrew past us, saying the Boche were on their heels. At the same time, machine guns bullets began to fall around us. Our transport was grouped behind a wood and the drivers managed to jump into their trucks and drive away to a rendezvous fixed hurriedly at the time, while the men withdrew under cover of the wood and rejoined the transport. The Company commander had to abandon his motor-cycle, owing to the kick-starter jamming. However, all ranks eventually reached the rendezvous at Wyschaete where the night was passed in a farm building.
Early on the morning of the 28th, after establishing contact with Bde HQ, the Coy, acting as riflemen again, took up a position to guard the left flank of the Bde, which was said to be threatened.
No attack however, materialised, but an unpleasant morning and afternoon was spent digging in during torrential rain. Eventually orders were received to withdraw to Bde HQ, preparatory to moving towards Dunkirk.
The company was required to form a rear party of riflemen to cover the withdrawal of the transport remaining in all units of the Bde. This rear party re-joined intact and without incident.
Lt. Thompson and the personnel of his 2 gun detachment were missing and it was hoped that they had joined up with the 2/Northamptonshire regiment.
We were ordered to Drie Ridders via Poperinghe.
The convoy was slow and there was much congestion, particularly at Poperinghe, which was being shelled. Here 2/Lt. Smith, CQMS Flatman and the rear party in two trucks at the end of the column took a wrong turning and we did not see them until safe in England.
They pushed on to Dunkirk, arriving on the morning of the 29th. They spent the night on the beach and embarked on the morning of the 30th.
The remainder of the company, consisting of Capt. Goldie, 2/Lt.Whitehead and CSM Lunn and about ten men who were mostly drivers, duly arrived on the morning of the 29th at their required destination. This day was spent in sleep.
We moved on again at 03:30hrs on the morning of the 30th to Adinkirke, a point some twelve miles from Dunkirk. The Company was disposed in a wood with the shattered remnants of the Bde, mustering now only some 250 men. The remainder of the day was spent resting. We hoped we would be able to embark that night, but it was not to be.
Not until 18:00hrs on the evening of the 31st, after first destroying our remaining guns and transport, were able to make the last dash to the beaches.
Luck favoured us on the journey and all succeeded in crossing on the night of the 31st and arrived in England.
All ranks arrived at different ports and were sent to widely different areas all over England.
All personnel left in the company were finally assembled at Turriff, Aberdeenshire by June 28th.
It was now possible to assess our casualties which were two killed, ten wounded and twenty missing.
On July 3rd we moved to Callander, Perthshire.