27th May 1940

Morning of the 27th May

Whilst all this was happening, the Seaforths had been forced back from the railway line and back into the village of Verbrande Molen. This left the Fusiliers on their right with an open flank and the Brigade anti-tank company with no infantry cover, forcing them to abandon one of the guns. By 04:00 BST on the 27th May, there was enough of a pause in the small arms fire to allow Lt Whitehead to take the considerable risk and return to the gun to remove the breech block.

Not all the units of 17 Bde were engaged and some even managed to grab a last meal before things got hot.

Lt Livingstone-Bussell (D Coy 2i/c) recounts:

After about two or three hours sleep we were up at dawn. After going around, the Company area, we set into improve our trench as we expected another night in it. Evans started to cook our breakfast on the primus stove a few yards off, but we had to bring him into the trench when shrapnel started to land in the wood. No one was hit, and we made a very good breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and tinned tomatoes followed by bread and marmalade. Little did I realize that this was the last time I would eat such a civilized breakfast for several years. During the morning, A Company was in the thick of a battle, but as we were in reserve we weren't affected.

The B Echelon stores and MT platoon knew nothing of the intensity of the fighting along the railway. They were despatching stores and ammunition as requested to the forward units, but there were tell-tale signs that showed that not all was well.

Lt Shakespeare and 2Lt Kempthorne describe their morning on the 27th.

While Dick and I were eating, the battalion Butcher suddenly appeared at our table. He saluted smartly with a chicken bone in his spare hand, announcing “Sir, I beg to report, that I have seen a Spitfire” He had indeed, but this was the first and last, we saw in the whole campaign. The Air Force was busy elsewhere.

The Belgian farmer allowed us to borrow his radio and switching over to short wave, we were able to get some British news. This was the morning of the 27th of May. Having eaten an excellent meal, we set about doing some maintenance on the vehicles which was long overdue. Listening to a second news broadcast, we heard that the BEF had indeed been surrounded and the chances of any troops getting back to Britain were very remote.

Making a short Recce: Dick and I rode down the road [between Voormezele and St Eloi] and were amazed to see the drivers of one unit, armed with sledge hammers, bashing the hell out of all their vehicles, slashing tyres and generally wrecking each vehicle in turn. We made enquiries and were told that they had been ordered to destroy all their vehicles and after that every man was to get to the coast, the best way he could and head for Britain. No way were they to attempt to drive the trucks or whatever, as this would cause congestion on the roads and get in the way of the troops still fighting.

Lt Shakespear - MTO

2Lt Kempthorne – Assistant MTO

As the light returned, so did the ability to deliver artillery fire from both sides. The British concentrating on counter battery fire to help relieve the pressure on their front lines. The information delivered by the fighting patrol helped give accurate locations to ensure that this was effective. Most of this German fire was delivered onto the Seaforths positions and around the windmill, as the Germans felt this was where the counter battery fire was being directed from.

By early morning their casualties were so high that A Company, Seaforths had been reduced to a handful of men commanded by Sgt Stewart who was later awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions. The lack of leaders and the rough handling the battalion had received since the 10th of May began to seriously affect the men, with some pulling back and leaving large gaps in the line allowing infiltration groups of German Infantry to pass through them to cause even more chaos.

At around 06:45 Captain Goldie from the 17 Brigade Anti-Tank company, reported back to the Brigadier that the Seaforths had retired from around his guns and left them unguarded. There was an attempt to recover these positions, but it stalled in the face of heavy mortar fire.

The 17 Brigade war diary describes the situation at the time of his report:

Bde I.O. immediately left for H.Q. 6 Seaforths to make enquires and to take Brig’s order that the line was to be re-established at once. On arrival at the Seaforth H.Q. he discovered that the left Coy [C Coy] was retreating under enemy pressure and that approx. 2 Coys enemy had taken line of ry [railway] from halt extending 300 yds. S.E. Plans were made for ‘B’ Coy (Res) to retake line. Arty support arranged. This counter-attack never got back to the line of the ry owing to heavy enemy mortar fire. Comd. ‘C’ Coy 6 Seaforth (Capt. Falkeriner) had not reported his withdrawal to Bn H.Q.

The Royal Artillery OP that supported this counter attack was stationed in the windmill of the Verbrande Molen, Major Barff was a little less reserved when recording his observations in the 18th Field Regiment’s diary.

The day was not far advanced before it became obvious that we were in for trouble on our left. From Major Barff, well established in a good O.P. in Verbrande Molen, came sad news. The T.A. Battalion near him (who shall remain nameless) had no stomach for the fight and were fading to the rear. He himself rallied six gunners of an A.T. gun with their rifles and held the village for another 90 minutes until a storm of fire burst on them and drove the gunners out. The line was re-established on the canal by the reserve battalion.

Meanwhile across the road, A company of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was also under machine gun, mortar and artillery fire, which forced them into cover in the many world war one trenches and bunkers after Fusiliers Young and Munro were killed.

One of the main bunkers on Hill 60 which had been occupied as a command post by acting Lt Sinton came under direct fire from Pak 38(t) anti-tank fire, which repeatedly hit the front aperture causing the damage you see there today. The impact of these seriously wounded him with shrapnel, but he refused to be evacuated from this position. Many of the company that were wounded had to stay on the hill and were eventually captured there.

It was during these intense bombardments that IR 54 known to themselves as the Jägers or hunters, moved down through Fusilier Wood and across the railway between B and C companies. The trees here were quite young with dense undergrowth, making it difficult for the forward platoons to keep in touch with each other. Throughout the course of the morning this infiltration, whilst not serious, pinned down the RSF and limited their ability to respond.

Simultaneously a group had made their way along the railway line from the abandoned Seaforths forward positions, and into the wood behind Hill 60. Attacking the Caterpillar Crater, they wounded and captured most of HQ platoon including Lt Wallace who was commanding the company after Major Adamson was wounded at Arras.

Due to the immense pressure, they had been under all night and since early morning, the heavy casualties suffered and some instances of lack of leaders on the left flank, the Seaforths had finally broken. Leaving their positions along the railway near Verbrande Molen and retreating down through the woods leading to the Bluff, where the Northamptons were covering the canal in reserve. Isolated pockets of Seaforths fought running skirmishes all along this route whilst being covered by the Vickers guns of the Manchesters. By mid-morning, the Seaforths were back behind the canal and the left flank of 17 Brigade was open.

Jacques Cossart talked to members of the 5th battalion, IR 54 in the week after the battle:

While events were unfolding in Vierly park [Battle Wood] others were continuing in Verbrande Molen. The 2nd battalion of the 54th Jägers are fighting through the houses in the hamlet that have been heavily hit by artillery support coming from Hill 62. Once again Verbrande Molen lives up to its name of the “burnt mill”, the mill and the attached house are, just like in the last war, burning fiercely.

Just as in the hamlet, the Seaforths could not hold the Jägers and they are pushed slowly back through the woods leading to the canal. The 1st, 3rd, 4th & 5th battalions of IR 54, aiming for the stretch of canal between the lock at the Bluff and the lock at the Spoil bank, push downhill towards their goal.

 

They pass the two cemeteries, reminding them that the ground leading to Zillebeke station was also important ground in the last war. The shells have ploughed up the ground again, reopening the graves and scattering the bones of the combatants of 1914 for the second time.

The remains of the mill after the fight (Photo courtesy of Henri Braem)

While the Scottish retreat on foot, using the walls, fences and ditches for cover, reinforcements arrive along the Wyschaete/ St Eloi road. These reinforcements cannot reverse the tidal wave of the attack, but they take positions on the west bank of the canal and provide cover for their brothers in arms during their retreat. As soon as the newcomers arrive, they hastily dig in, deepening their trenches to form a continuous chain between the Bluff and Spoil bank.  The position is a strong one, protected by the large clay rampart and the swamp below. The Jägers try in vain all afternoon but cannot break through. Towards the evening, the 54th retire and are replaced by the 30th, which will be launched between the canal and Zillebeke pond, opposite the St. Eloi / Ypres road, however the British reinforcements are in place and this manoeuvre is blocked.

At around 10:00 BST the attack by the German 17th Infantry Regiment (IR 17), on the British 13 Brigade began in earnest. Waves of infantry swept down off the ridge but are unable to get over the railway embankment, due to the heavy fire delivered by the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and their supporting machine guns.

Eventually, part the way through the morning, a group of infiltrators found a small culvert that lead under the railway and through a ditch dug into the canal bed. (Halfway between Hollebeke and Houthem) Once reported back, the German commander sent several platoons through, to find a way of getting behind the Inniskillings A Coy and the left-hand company of the Cameronians.

This unexpected direction of attack combined with the poor defensive nature of the ground forced both to retreat. However, B Coy in the centre near Hollebeke and D Coy nearest the RSF held firm.

Unfortunately, the retreating Cameronians, A Coy of the Inniskillings and infiltration groups from IR 17 led to serious misunderstanding.

This much-repeated situation was mainly caused by poor communications that were only possible for the most part by using couriers and intermittent telephone lines.

At about 12:40 one of the artillery OP’s reported enemy forces in Hollebeke and that the Inniskillings were retiring. Brigadier Stopford confirmed this with a phone call to Lt Col Tod.

This report, as well as another delivered by the Seaforths liaison officer that German forces were approaching the canal on the RSF’s left, led to the decision to pull them back behind the canal. At 13:00 BST liaison officers were dispatched to their respective battalions and the brigade Intelligence Officer (I.O.) to inform 13 Brigade that potentially both flanks were open to an enemy force.

Hill 60 and A Company were effectively cut off with little hope of disengaging the enemy as they had too many casualties amongst there number to move fast.

B company having lost one of the patrols during the night and with the thick woodland around them was fragmented into small isolated groups.

View from the Hill 60 viewing platform (scaffold tower) looking towards the RAP over the railway 1938. Note the absence of the road bridge over the cutting.

C Company was very much intact and in a good position to withdraw and were ordered to do so. Their route took them south and then through the Inniskillings MG position and along the wooded ridge back through D company.

After minor adjustments, D company was in an ideal position to cover any form of manoeuvre, so the relief of the forward companies would have to fall onto the fighting patrol, backed up by Lt Ian Scott Thomson’s carriers.

As the situation deteriorated, the ‘A’ echelon transport was ordered to withdraw across the canal, along with the few remaining members of HQ Coy and the regimental aid post evacuated. Both the Royal Artillery and Manchesters MG’s were warned off to provide covering fire.

Lt Col Tod, after discussing the situation with Brigadier Stopford, gave orders for the battalion to withdraw. However, the only way the forward companies could disengage would be for the fighting patrol to conduct a counter attack. The battalion intelligence officer 2Lt Maitland Makgill Crichton delivered the orders to each of the units involved, before joining the carrier platoon to join in with the action.

The plan involved two thrusts, one north commanded by Lt Cholmondeley to relieve A Company, the other led by 2Lt Maitland Makgill Crichton to the east to assist the B company withdrawal.

By 13:30, the German troops had broken through between B and C companies, forced their way past the abandoned HQ transport and were massing in the woods next to the main road.

After the battle, Jacques Cossart talked to many of the locals and some of the surviving Germans to piece together the following account leading up to the Counterattack.

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At 13:00 [CEST], the two 150mm guns assigned to the 54th Jägers are deployed in the woods on the edge of Klein Zillebeke, they immediately open fire on Verbrande Molen and Cavrois Park while machine guns installed in the attic of the farm Piat (near the isolated villa) and the outskirts of the Klein Zillebeke wood, fire continuously on the east edge of the park. The bullets whistling around the Vierly pavilion appear to be coming only from the south east. In the meantime, in the surrounding outbuildings the old Cavrois Park [Battle Wood] ranger, Polydore is preparing to leave the buildings that have “welcomed the new visitors” [the RSF] and along with his wife, Euphraise, he wants to go. From their small house in the middle of the trees, they both hastily load a trailer attached to an old Peugeot 304, whose engine is already running. The couple go to look for anything they have left in the barn, but when Polydore opens the door there is a large fellow dressed in field grey.

“Civilians! Civilians” Says Polydore in Flemish. “Come inside” Says the other in German.

Polydore finds he suddenly understands German and moves to the back of the house but keeps looking through the above panel of the door that was left open on purpose. That’s how he sees two British soldiers shot while engaged in bringing soup to their colleagues. Shortly after he sees a line of men in field grey running forward through the trees from the North. A Scottish NCO who was in the house tries to jump out a window to escape but is shot during his fall.

This Scottish NCO was Cpl Cowan who made it as far as the fields of flax halfway towards the canal before he died of his wounds.

Cpl Cowan’s temporary grave card

Francis Cowan – Bedford Road Cemetery

Unterfeldwebel (Sergeant) Wagner, 4th Company 54 IR describes the advance


As the sun sinks on the horizon, we work our way slowly forward. The enemy engages our staging area with heavy harassing fire. But our lead company and the rider patrol have already reached Zillebeke without coming under fire. The first houses lie out of range, because it whistles through the air. The enemy is in the village and the railway embankment in front of us, a few hundred meters away. Everyone takes cover in nearby ditch. The words "Tanks to the front," goes through the ranks.

 

But no fire-breathing steel colossus can be seen. The 3rd Company is advancing despite the strong fire and takes the entire village of Zillebeke into their possession. The other companies take up a night defensive position at the edge of the village, digging in, and only with nightfall do the guns fall silent. Peering and listening, the grey figures keep watch in their holes. Nothing moves. Only the bursting and crashing of individual shells disturb the peace of the night. With the dawn we seek with our glasses the enemy lines. There is a machine-gun nest, an individual soldier stands for a few moments before taking cover. The whole forest edge appears to be occupied. Systematically and accurately our artillery, infantry guns and heavy mortars engage the edge of the forest. Layer upon layer slamming down on the enemy positions. In this destructive fire, no enemy can hold anymore!


Here comes the attack order for us infantrymen. At 12:30 [CEST] the companies rise from their holes. It is open terrain all the way to the railway embankment. On the right the 3rd Company and left the 1st Company, both of which are supported by heavy weapons. The accurate fire of heavy machine gun forces the enemy into his holes. Our forward troops are making good progress and achieve the right wing before the railway embankment. "Medic! Medic! Cry the wounded, others moan and groan softly. But they move forward undeterred. On the embankment the brave troops kneel to fire at the Tommy, who fires a mere 25 meters away, standing behind trees of the forest, his well-aimed shots. Already some of our troops are dead, since storming down the steep slope to the railway line. A hoarse cry, "I'm hit", sounds next to me. We drag our wounded comrades into the ditch for cover. Laying in the water they put on their emergency bandages, despite well-aimed machine gun, rifle and heavy shell fire, which is now on the railway embankment. And then I go on, up the steep slope again. A wire fence provides a barrier, but wire cutters eliminated the obstacle in no time at different locations. We go forward into the forest. Some of the Tommies, who could not leave their well-fortified positions, raise their arms or play dead and are captured, the others withdraw. There is a loud screaming throughout the forest. Word of mouth leads the battle cry and drives us on. The German infantry storms forward with cheers. The enemy knows only a wild escape. The forest is breached, the first target is achieved, achieved in spite of the numerically superior enemy, despite the well-equipped lines of defence.

German medics from the 18th Division removing casualties near the canal

(From the author of Unser Weg Zum Meer 1941)

The defenders continue to resist in places especially near the railway cutting around the crater which was made during the Great War. In both woods on the western edge of the Park two English sections await with their weapons ready. Suddenly a mass of field grey emerges from the Cavrois Park heading for the road leading to the collapsed bridge “Pitch Menu”.

 

A convoy of British vehicles [meaning the HQ vehicles] is also surprised in the Park by the suddenness of the attack and unable to take the Ypres road as it has been cut by another attack in the direction of Verbrande Molen and one towards Comines as there is fighting near the dam.

Their trucks and tractors are lined up along the edge of the valley. When they realise they cannot cross the collapsed bridge [This is in reference to the pre-WW1 bridge at the Pitch Menu crossing, before this some vehicles had crossed with the assistance of carriers, but they were busy with the counter attack] an officer in one of the leading vehicles gives an order and within a very short time the entire column length is a blaze of fire.

In the meantime, at Vierly park, [Battle wood] the attackers are silencing any pockets of resistance. They are now the masters of the Park; the British are destroyed with most of the Scots [RSF] either killed or taken prisoner. Some of them could escape however and make for the two small woods. On the western edge of the Park, the 1st and 3rd battalions of the 54th Jaegers line up in the scrub along the Hollebeke - Verbrande Molen road.

On their right, further to the north, [German] 2nd and 4th battalions, in small groups move through the first of the houses in the village that they have conquered and infiltrate the gardens and alleys ahead. The gap increases between those of the 1st / 3rd and the 2nd / 4th.  So, the commanders of the 1st and 3rd battalions signal the men to advance, instantly, hundreds of men leap onto the road and at once the artillery [wrongly identified anti-tank guns] based near the Farm Vergote at Palingbeek opens fire, landing shells at an insane rate, and illuminating the two small woods. As if they were a house of cards, the attackers dive for cover.

 

Gusts of machine gun and artillery fire break over them with an indescribable savagery.

Map showing the direction of advance. Firstly, by the 4 German battalions of the 54th IR from the east and 30th IR from the north and then by the Fighting Patrol and the Carrier Platoon.

The counter attack and withdraw

As the Germans retreated from this savage bombardment, the fighting patrol, supported by the carrier platoon launched the counter attack from the small wood in which they were dug in.

This attack went in with such a noise and ferocity that it was later reported that an entire battalion had made the attack, rather than the 39 men and a few carriers that there were.

2Lt Cholmondeley and the two sections accompanying him assaulted the crater that had been the A company HQ. The German machine gun that had been set up further back by the railway line opened fire as they cleared the north side of the crater killing Cholmondeley, Fusilier Boyd and Fusilier Paterson before it is suppressed and destroyed by other members of the patrol.

The company HQ element had all been wounded which unfortunately meant they had to be left behind. The attack met up with members of B Company under Capt Heisch and proceeded to withdraw down through the crossroads near Verbrande Molen, back through the woods, collecting the Manchesters in their farm house and towards the positions of the Northamptonshire’s on the Bluff.

2Lt Crichton 1939

Gaurain-ramecroix war cemetery

The other section commanded by 2Lt Maitland Makgill Crichton attacked down the avenue with the carriers allowing both B and C companies to disengage. As they reached the railway, he was killed by a sniper round and his body was brought back across the canal with the carriers.

The Inniskillings MG post was situated on top of this bunker near L’Entrepot café. German troops of 12th Bn, IR 17 can be seen advancing over the top of it shortly after it was evacuated. (From the author of Unser Weg Zum Meer 1941)

It was during the final moments of the action that C Coy broke contact with the Germans and withdrew through the Inniskillings MG post on top of the bunker. They in turn joined C Coy and they fought a running battle down the canal valley until they reached the HQ positions dug in above the Gue du Palingbeek ford.

It is worth noting that due to parish boundaries in and around the battlefield some of those killed during this phase of the action were moved to cemeteries many miles from where they fell, including as far away as Tournai.

Both the fighting patrol and A company took heavy causalities during this action which is noted in this statement from October 1942 from Fusilier F. Adey from A Coy:

I was with the 2nd Bn, the royal scots fusiliers at Hill 60.

On the 2nd Day we were fighting close quarters when I saw Fus. Hamilton walking wounded. At another burst of fire, he fell but as I was unable to reach him, I could not tell if he were still alive. I have not met anybody who had further news of him.

In a similar statement about Fus, Hamilton and Fus Reid, Piper Buchanan states:

He [Buchanan] was a member of a fighting patrol of roughly platoon strong.

They attacked a big wood which may be called “Beeswood” [Battle Wood] between hill 60 and Ypres. He saw the Fusiliers referred to and is sure that they did not leave the wood.

In his opinion, it is unlikely that they are alive.

To:- The War Office,

Casualty Branch

Blue Coat School

Wavertree

Liverpool 15

Reference your PD/154 dated 28th July, I endorse original signed statement in respect of Fusilier Hamilton. An unconfirmed statement reports that the R.C. Padre [Captain Dwyer] buried Hamilton in Belgium but as the Padre is no longer with us, this statement cannot be verified.No fresh information is obtainable about Fus. Reid

It was during the final moments of the action that C Coy broke contact with the Germans and withdrew through the Inniskillings MG post on top of the bunker. They in turn joined C Coy and they fought a running battle down the canal valley until they reached the HQ positions dug in above the Gue du Palingbeek ford.

It is worth noting that due to parish boundaries in and around the battlefield some of those killed during this phase of the action were moved to cemeteries many miles from where they fell, including as far away as Tournai.

Both the fighting patrol and A company took heavy causalities during this action which is noted in this statement from October 1942 from Fusilier F. Adey from A Coy:

I was with the 2nd Bn, the royal scots fusiliers at Hill 60.

On the 2nd Day we were fighting close quarters when I saw Fus. Hamilton walking wounded. At another burst of fire, he fell but as I was unable to reach him, I could not tell if he were still alive. I have not met anybody who had further news of him.

In a similar statement about Fus, Hamilton and Fus Reid, Piper Buchanan states:

He [Buchanan] was a member of a fighting patrol of roughly platoon strong.

They attacked a big wood which may be called “Beeswood” [Battle Wood] between hill 60 and Ypres. He saw the Fusiliers referred to and is sure that they did not leave the wood.

In his opinion, it is unlikely that they are alive.

To:- The War Office,

Casualty Branch

Blue Coat School

Wavertree

Liverpool 15

Reference your PD/154 dated 28th July, I endorse original signed statement in respect of Fusilier Hamilton. An unconfirmed statement reports that the R.C. Padre [Captain Dwyer] buried Hamilton in Belgium but as the Padre is no longer with us, this statement cannot be verified.No fresh information is obtainable about Fus. Reid

Fusilier D Hamilton

Piper Buchanan

Fusilier D Reid

During the retreat through the crossroads, acting Lt Sinton, who had been badly wounded previously, was hit again and had to be left in the garden of the “Café Van Garreyn“, which was owned by Henri Kino.

Lt Sinton had been promoted in the field to take on the role as Company 2i/c and accordingly was wearing 2 pips when he died, but unfortunately the battalion field records that would confirm this were lost in this action and so his CWGC rank is taken from the last submitted nominal role.

Whilst this withdrawal towards the canal is underway, the Germans of the 2nd and 4th battalions the 54th Regiment have been able to use their infiltration tactics to a great advantage and have already followed the Seaforths along the north-western edge of the Verbrande Molen woods all the way to the canal. At which point they have crossed the canal without the Northamptons seeing them from the Bluff and climbing up the other side have started across the fields towards the Vergote farm.

This gap between the Northamptons B company near the demolished Spoil bank bridge and their D company on the Bluff was left unguarded. However, as the Germans pushed through the crops in the fields towards the farm, members of HQ Company firing from the roofs of the farm buildings stopped them cold and forced them to retreat back into the canal, where they were exposed to the fire of 17 platoon of the RSF near the Pitche Menu and the Northamptons on the Bluff.

Eventually those of A and B companies of the RSF that have survived the move back from Hill 60 move through the woods and back to the canal. A group of B company under Captain Heisch stay with the Northamptons on the Bluff and fall back to the Northamptons positions later in the afternoon.

As the retreat draws to a close, those covering the move, also pull back, but not always successfully.

Jules Ide, whose farmhouse was being used as a regimental aid post and also a Machine Gun position by the Manchesters, saw some of what happened.

Many Germans and Britons die along the railway, in Verbrande Molen, Zwarte Leen and Vierlingen [Battle Wood]. Many Germans are killed coming out of the forest of Vierlingen, they are mowed down by a British machine gun emplaced in the house of J. Ide. When that runs out of ammunition, they retreat in the direction of the canal. Another British machine gun, which stood in the farm of A. Verlinde, was overrun by the Germans and the crew wounded.

Some of the RSF retreated too far and are caught in the artillery fire being directed at the rear areas of the Inniskillings.

Lt Livingstone Bussell tells us what happened to members of D company:

We changed our Company position to cover the Battalion's withdrawal and then withdrew ourselves sometime after 2 p.m. We went back over the canal and had to abandon all our transport, which was set on fire. Only two carriers were able to get down the steep sides and up the other. 17 Platoon took up a position on its bank in a wood while the rest of the Company went on.

 

I thought we were going back some distance and I imagine everyone else did because when we eventually collected the Company part of 16 Platoon were missing. The Germans now started shelling us in dead earnest, while we were taking up our new positions. McIntosh was in the middle of a field when it started. He got hit in the legs and Sergeant Barnes was killed.

 

18 Platoon went into position under command of C Coy and 16 Platoon took up a position in a wood behind and slightly to the right of 17 Platoon and I took command of 16 Platoon or what was left of it.

As C company (RSF) withdrew across the road and past the Inniskillings MG post, this was reported to Brigadier Dempsey of 13 Brigade and soon after they also withdrew back down the route of the canal. This route passed through several RSF positions near the Bois du Hospices and the crossing point next to it, and the Eekhofstraat leading back towards St Eloi.

During this manoeuvre, they incurred multiple casualties and, in the confusion, pulled back as far as the St Eloi – Warneton road before being collected and ordered to into line at 16:00 BST.

Finally, at about 15:00 BST the carriers that have covered this move pull back from the woods and across the fields. This is described in his usual colourful way, by Jacques Cossart.

The retreat takes place through the woods in good order, whilst the Bren gun carriers, form a rear guard, protecting them like loyal dogs. The last carrier is now on the road back to the collapsed bridge, its mission finished it accelerates to top speed. It goes past the burning convoy and hooks into the fields and down the slope. It heads down to the ford of the “Pitch menu”, its caterpillar tracks losing grip on the loose stones, the tracks then bite the mud on the bank and it begins to rise again. They have almost made it; however, the Jägers have finally seen it from their positions along the base of the Bluff. A burst of machine gun fire hits the driver, the carrier zig zags into the old bridge structure; it swerves, overturns and catches fire.

A few metres away, in their trenches in the woods, the Scots Fusiliers are unable to stop this tragedy.  They rush to rescue the crew before they are burned alive.

Those soldiers were members of 2Lt Livingstone’s 17 Platoon. The carrier itself completely rolled over and back onto its tracks again after hitting the remains of the pre-ww1 bridge which can still be seen in the undergrowth today.

The carrier was so badly damaged in its engine and tracks that it was still there during the winter of 1941.

The driver of the carrier, Fusilier S Milner, was killed by the German gunfire and one of the crew, Fusilier J Wain, who sadly was not identifiable and is only remembered on the Dunkirk memorial.

Second carrier of the first section where it came to rest after overturning on the upslope (Photo courtesy of Hugh Shipman)

Curiously, Fusilier Milner’s CWGC records show he was killed on the 10th May 1940, but we know this is not the case as he was buried by the locals after the battle just in the woods (in one of 17 Platoon’s trenches). During my research I have found quite a few discrepancies in dates, but with the circumstances as they were, it is very understandable.

 

The problem faced by 17 Brigade was now quite severe, with many of their soldiers either killed, wounded or taken prisoner. This was compounded by units retreating through each other and a lack of communication about their intentions. This meant that many troops pulled back too far and either had to be gathered up and delivered back to their formations, or never re-joined their battalions until they were back in the UK.

As this reorganisation was taking place, the German artillery delivered heavy concentrations to the locations pin pointed by their infiltration groups from the 54th and their forward observers.

Lt Livingstone Bussell describes the need to dig in:

While walking in the wood I found a pile of brand-new shovels, which seemed like "manna from Heaven". Told the men to dig in the best they could and wondered what to do with myself as the shelling was now fairly heavy. The ground was hard and stony, and I felt too tired to dig a hole, but eventually self-preservation won and Fus. McCann and myself dug one between us. We were glad afterwards that we did because a shell landed very near and covered us with dirt and stones. We sat in the hole waiting for dark and watched machine gun bullets knocking off the heads of nettles a few yards in front of us. Very neat. Sergeant Dorking was shot through the head just before this.

 

Attached units such as the 17 Bde Anti-Tank company, having lost all but 2 of their guns were ordered to take up positions protecting the right flank of the brigade. They found themselves in the area of 13 Brigade and engaged the enemy at long range with both rifle and anti-tank gun fire.

Shortly after 15:00 BST on the 27th orders had been delivered to the German commanders of the 9th, 11th and 12th battalions of IR 17. The objectives of the 9th are primarily the Bois du Ravin, and then onwards to the Dome house on the other side of the Bois du Faisan. Those of the 11th are to firstly clear the woods between the L’Entrepot and Palingbeek along the canal and then into the park to take the Pavilion and the White House.

 

The view down towards the canal from the White House in 1939. The RSF positions were on the left of the lake and Battle Wood can be seen in the distance.

The 11th Battalion will have to be aware and careful not to come into conflict with IR 54 who are attacking at right angles with a similar objective.

The 12th Battalion are to take the recently vacated ridge on the north side of the canal leading from the L’Entrepot café and provide fire support for the rest of the Regiment.

Jacques Cossart was able to interview some of the members of IR 17 after the battle.

As if in the eye of the storm, the platoon commanders sit, counting down the fateful seconds. Behind them, rifles at the ready, the men prepare for battle. Suddenly, the battalion commanders raise their hands and point towards their objectives. At the same time, the howitzers hidden near the dairy in the woods near Van Esland, Piat park and the woods near Zillebeke Klein launch a whirlwind barrage establishing a wall of fire beyond the track leading to Hollebeke, while the machine guns installed in the dairy and the Piat farm suppresses the entire British line.

Each Battalion is formed up in 2 waves, with the first two companies aligned end to end and the same repeated 500 metres back.

 

In the Castle Piat the Regiment Commander follows the progress of his troops through his binoculars, close by is the 10th battalion held in reserve shelters in the park under the trees. Temporarily out of their sector, the 12th battalion is already in the south of the Cavois parc [Battle Wood] to climb from the North the promontory of the L’Entrepot lock which the English abandoned during their retreat to the south of the canal.

Parts of the 9th and 10th, however, are now moving through the grazing fields and their advance is so unexpectedly rapid that when the Scots open fire they are already under cover of the railway embankment.  In the meantime, the 12th battalion has quietly moved into positions on the warehouse promontory and then they in turn suppress the British positions with their machine guns along the road between the warehouse and Hollebeke.

The Scots respond to this from all sides, flames spitting from their weapons, at the same time the artillery based in Palingbeek near the Vergote Farm rain shells down on the gunners around Klein Zillebeke and Piat farm [this isn’t a correct statement as these guns aren’t capable of this]; this unlucky farm had already partially burnt down during the night during the first counter battery fire by the English. But the fire of the attackers increases, just as the return fire of the Scots decreases and they are forced to hide in their entrenchments. Suddenly over the length of a kilometre between the warehouse and the dairy, a line of silhouettes emerges at the top of the railway embankment, rifle in one hand, grenade in the other. This line appears for only a moment and then vanishes into the mud of the canal. From this new position, the ‘Jägers’ [17 IR] can now add their fire to that already falling on the Scots since the beginning of the attack. A new command is given, and the assault begins. Those who do not surrender will not see the evening. The 1st company of the 11th takes no prisoners and the 2nd describes their enemy as “vigorous young people, who put up a good fight”.

Without dwelling on the initial success on the left, the 9th Battalion bypasses the defences in Hollebeke station and the village and continuing west through the gardens of the town and onto the fields of the plateau while the 11th Battalion is moving along the west bank of the canal. First the small Scottish position is located in the trench close to the area of the warehouse which the 12th had not been able to see from the promontory, was assaulted and captured by members of the 11th Battalion. They now need to tackle the wood in the North-Eastern tip of Palingbeek park.

The 11th Battalion attacks with two platoons up, 2nd platoon on the other side of the canal and 3rd platoon through the Bois du Hospices, which stretches from the heights of the plateau to the lower ford in the area of L’Entrepot. 1st platoon goes into reserve behind the other two. 3rd platoon have no difficulty moving through the thicket that forms the wood of the Hospices along the edge of the canal. On the other side of the canal, 2nd platoon is finding it more difficult as the ground lends itself to guerrilla style hit and run tactics, which the British are using to their advantage.

The Battalion commander deploys his men in the low marshy ground on either side of the canal, but they come under fire from a position 300 metres distant where the wood opens out. Immediately the platoon commander pushes left with a few men, climbing the slopes of the valley at a crawl, so they can observe their opponents.

There are 8 of them, thinly camouflaged in a small thicket with brambles and heather in abundance. The commander followed by a machine gun, creeps to within 100 metres. This takes time, the Germans are out of breath and by the time they get into position the British soldiers have disappeared back into the weeds and brambles. They decide to attack the wood in a simple pincer movement; one group will move along the west side of the canal and another will continue to move in the initial northerly direction, while the third will go through the hills and come around behind them.  As they advance, they dig small individual trenches spread out around their commander as if they are an imprint from a gigantic hand. They are well covered by conifers, the branches of which spread out like hands amongst the heather, ferns, tall grasses and brambles.

The view down towards the canal from the White House in 1939. The RSF positions were on the left of the lake and Battle Wood can be seen in the distance.

There is a path running along the edge of the canal on the southern side, between that and the field is the woods which the Germans are advancing into, closing in, around it like fingers, as the bullets whistle past and the grenades fly.

Gradually the Scots withdraw up the face of the canal bank under the tide of the German advance, hoping to slip away from the overwhelming force and re-join the positions of the rest of their Battalion in the park.  Many make it back but before the rear guard can retreat the platoon commander and three of his men emerge from the woods into the wheat field and cut them off. He has arrived just in time and the 8 soldiers raise their hands in surrender.

It is 17:00 [German time] and the Bois du Eventail is conquered. The two companies can now resume their attack between the Palingbeek / Hollebeke road and the canal. The Battalion commander takes up a position between his two assault companies, a few hundred metres back in a small house on Doude road in Hollebeke. He points out to his company commanders their

second objectives, the park and the White House and also the Bois du Ravin further south. Without a pause, the attack is resumed all along the one thousand metre front.

Places to note: ‘Gue’ (Ford), ‘Bois’ (Wood) along the German route of advance.

On the left, the 9th Battalion appear to have had it easy; there is nothing before them apart from the ridge that shields them from the park. They enter the woods without any resistance and pass through them.

This is also reflected in the notes of one of the German officers of 11th Battalion:

On May 27th during the afternoon, I crossed the swampy Ypres-Comines canal with my second company. We are greeted at 300 yards by firing from the woods between us and the white house.

 

I took cover with my scouts and crawled in their direction and saw a group of English moving into the wood to our front. Despite the weight of our equipment and weapons, we sprint the last 100 metres and arrive breathless in our attempt to cut off the retreating Tommies. My three men and I cross the wheat field, still under fire, but when we get to within 30 yards of them, they retreat.

I then take command of my first company. We move on the hunting lodge [Pavilion] and rest there before attacking the white house. But as we do, we are greeted by firing from all sides.

 

By late afternoon and with the Germans now effectively on three sides of the battalion, heavy casualties and with a significant portion of ammunition expended, it was vital that Lt Col Tod contacted the units on his left and right, evacuate casualties, order up a resupply and get around to each of the forward positions to ensure his men were clear in their task.

With reports of German troops crossing the railway lines on both left and right flanks, Tod sent out members of the intelligence section in their carriers to try to establish contact and evaluate the danger. One of these was Lance Sergeant Bell who later went on to deliver incredible services alongside the reverend Caskie helping POW’s escape from occupied France. These recces however didn’t go according to plan as he later recounted.

“We appeared to be fired upon from all around, he [Lt Col. Tod] told me to do a recce in a Bren Gun carrier so with the driver and the gunner I moved off. Approaching the gate into the drive of a chateau I saw a soldier lying in the middle of the road.  I found him dead then bullets whizzed by and clambering onto the vehicle we shot up the avenue and through an archway, seeing a German soldier i shot at him, fortunately missed and to my horror saw the courtyard filling with Germans.   It was an instinctive reaction for me to let the revolver drop from my hand, shove up my arms and call to my soldiers to surrender.” – L/Sgt Bell.

The courtyard he is talking about is the pavilion building only a few hundred yards from the Whitehouse. The archway can still be seen today.

LSgt Bell seen here as part of the battalion cross country motorcycle team before the war (Photo courtesy of his family)

The Pavilion courtyard where L/Sgt Bell was captured

(Photo courtesy of Golf & country club de Palingbeek)

The next priority was to get an ammunition resupply, so a dispatch rider was sent to find the 2nd Echelon transport and the supplies near Voormezele. The rider arrived at the supply depot as Lt Dick Shakespear and 2Lt Johnny Kempthorne were discussing the sight of other units destroying their transport before withdrawing back towards the coast.

As we were discussing the matter, a dispatch rider from battalion arrived and handed us an urgent signal, telling us that they were running out of ammunition and that a further supply was urgently required. Two large three-ton trucks were already loaded with ammunition, calling the drivers, we ordered them to follow our motor cycles. We had no maps of the area and had been given no map reference and could only rely on the information that we had extracted from the battalion dispatch rider, regarding the position of the BHQ. We had a vague idea and headed for the village of Voormezele.

 

Leaving the village, we found ourselves on a ridge in open country. Getting the truck drivers to put their vehicles under cover, we moved along the ridge, stopping from time to time to establish our position. We felt quite certain that we were going in the right direction, as we recognised hill 60 in the distance. Just below us we could see the odd stretch of a canal. We had not reached the highest point of the ridge, so we thought that by getting there, we might get a better view through field glasses. We stopped our bikes and Dick dismounted, while I remained in the saddle with my feet on the ground.

Suddenly there was an enormous flash and I found myself on the ground with the heavy bike on top of me. I must have been unconscious for a moment, for when I came to; Dick had pulled the bike off me and was pulling my first aid dressing out of its pocket in my battledress. I felt a hot stream of blood, flowing out of my head and just above my right eye, and I could see nothing with either eye.

Dick must have laid me out on the ground and placed the field dressing over the injured area. It turned out that the Germans, must have spotted us on the ridge and let fly with a mortar shell, a large fragment of which had hit me just above the right eye. The curious thing was that Dick had been standing closer to the explosion than I was and although knocked to the ground, was not in any way hit.

 

We were both wearing steel helmets, but when riding a motorcycle, one tends to tip the thing backwards, to avoid getting wind under the rim, so my forehead was not protected! While Dick was attending to my wound I heard a car pull up and I heard Dick say, “It’s the Brigade Commander, Monty Stopford.” Helping Dick to get me into his car, I remember him saying “He looks bad, I will take him to the dressing station, which is just down the road.” I then heard the Brigadier, giving Dick the exact whereabouts of Battalion HQ and he shot off to pick up the two trucks and from what I gathered he, though very shaken was able to deliver the goods.

 

The Brigadier dropped me off at the dressing station, which was housed in what had been a monastery, and had been taken over by the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The Brigadier must have had a busy day, as another friend of mine, who was wounded on the same day was also taken to the same dressing station by this kind gentleman!

Brigadier Stopford

Brigadier Stopford had been on his way back from visiting the Royal Scots Fusiliers at 18:00 BST to discuss the importance of holding this position until reinforcements could be brought up. 

This time also saw the withdrawal of the 2 pounder anti-tank guns of 206 Battery, they had to leave several of their ammunition limbers behind due to the mud and heavy shelling in the area.

All the battalions of the 17 Brigade were now under heavy mortar and artillery fire as they prepared their new positions for the imminent attack. Infiltration parties have been harassing them all along the edge of the Palingbeek park and the Pavilion, making it seem as if they are very much alone in holding the line. These thoughts occur within many of the various battalion’s war diaries of this time and is testament to the success of the tactic, the reduced manpower of the units and the poor quality of communications between units at all levels.

As the front briefly stabilises again, we must look at the bigger picture to understand the situation facing the BEF.

The entire front between Ypres and Comines had been pushed back by several miles.

Everything in the Palingbeek park to the east of the lake, including the Pavilion (sometimes known as the hunting lodge) had been abandoned by the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

The occupation of the pavilion is described by Jacques Cossart:

The first platoon of the 11th battalion is placed under the command of the second platoon’s officer who led the attack on the wood [Bois du Eventail], he now gathers the whole unit together in this dense thicket that has been deliberately left this way for the last 25 years since the last war. However, this is not what gets his attention, for he can see that through the undergrowth, towards the west, shining in the sun light, is the White House and 100 metres away from that is the second platoon’s objective of the hunting lodge [Pavilion].

 

German casualties from the 1st company, 11th battalion with the strip of woods and the White House in the background.

The Hauptmann [Captain] commanding the 11th battalion arrives at the intersection of the ponds and gives his orders to the platoon commanders; The 1st company will work its way towards the White House on the right of the track leading from the pavilion, the 2nd company followed by the 1st and 4th will move along the thickets that form the edge of the park and the 3rd will form the reserve. They must hurry because the 10th Battalion have already started their attack on the Farm du Thoit which will be used as in support in case there is a defensive position in the woods. The 1st company of skirmishers emerges early from the thicket on both sides of the track leading to the pavilion. Bullets coming from the White House begin to buzz around them.

Those on the right dive for cover first in the small strip of woods at the end of the first field; the left group follows; the rounds don’t seem to be intended for them, but they have no cover between them and their objective. Clearly, the Jägers on the left are the lucky ones, as they can immediately take their objective as it is undefended. The 1st company however are in serious trouble, they cannot leave this strip of woods and cross the pasture because a barrage of bullets are streaming from the windows of the White House.

German casualties from the 1st company, 11th battalion with the strip of woods and the White House in the background. (From the author of Unser Weg Zum Meer 1941)

To the left of the RSF, the Northamptons were finally withdrawn back across the canal to a position about 400 yards back along a ridge near their BHQ. To the right what remained of C and D Coys of the Inniskillings withdrew through the Bois Du Ravin passing their BHQ and started setting up further to the West.

At about 19:30 BST German 9th Battalion sweep through the Bois Du Ravin and surprise the Inniskillings BHQ in the process of packing up and were swiftly obliged to surrender. The remains of this battalion, approximately 150 men then made their way back towards Wyschaete. Whilst this is happening the commander of the 17 IR has moved forward and ordered an attack on the “White House”.

The White House has thick walls with plenty of windows, it is held by the signals platoon under the command of 2Lt Knight. They are very alert and ready to aggressively defend the house, which is demonstrated by their spoiling attack mounted as one of the leading platoons starts to move through the copse between the Pavilion and the house.

A squad moves forward through the thicket and get ready to engage the enemy with grenades, however the small garrison of the White House have guessed this manoeuvre and come out through the kitchen area and confront them. A battle ensues in which no less than thirty grenades are used, the projectiles describe big curves as they arch through the air, exploding amid the poplars, birches and pines.

The Scottish respond with a barrage of grenades themselves and after a few moments of them crashing through the branches, the damaged trees sag and collapse along with the wounded and dying. The attackers are reinforced and the Scottish retreat, suddenly, amid the clouds of thick smoke and dust the Scots have disappeared, returning to the White House through the kitchen and double lock the door.

 

The German officer in charge of the 1st Platoon takes advantage of this sudden withdrawal:

I put two groups of sharp shooters in the small copse situated on either side of the track up to the house. The third group I lead. I entered the house with two others jumping through the kitchen window. Upon entering the hall, I see two Tommies escaping from the dining room into the living room. We threw two grenades and captured one man, the others had already fled.

 

The fourth man in my platoon is shot in the arm when he was in the kitchen. I spread my Jägers between the ground floor and upstairs. The staircase that leads up there, faces the rear overlooking the pond, so that my men must pass through the fire of the Tommies whose positions are on the other side of the pond and in the woods to the left of the house.

 

I run up to the first floor with one of my best soldiers, I open a window facing the Northwest and see about fifty yards away, five English soldiers. I shoot the first and he collapses into the creek. [This is Fusilier Dickson] The other four jump into the bushes. At the same time my Jäger who is also trying to look through the landing window is shot twice in the chest. We descend the stairs into the drawing room, where the imprint of his bloody hand is still on the wall and the pool of blood that has left its mark on the bottom step.

2Lt Knight – OC Signal Platoon

Jacques Cossart describes the fighting in his house with more detail:

The Germans are surprised by their opponents but quickly pull themselves together and rush in pursuit. They do not attempt to break down the door but use the butt of their rifles to smash out the three windows of the office and enter that way. The rest of the squad remain outside in the bushes on either side of the track. The leader of the three men already inside, enters the hall and is surprised to find no one there. “The Tommies have to be in here” he says throwing open the door that goes into the main lounge.

Suddenly two British soldiers jump from the dining room and race across the lounge towards the large glass doors that open out onto the terrace overlooking the pond. Abandoning their rifles and taking out grenades the two men accompanying their officer throw them at the retreating English. One explodes in the middle of the room damaging the ceiling and doors. (the furniture, sliding door and paintings are still riddled with shrapnel) The acrid smoke suddenly plunged the room into darkness, the only light coming from a chair which is burning.

 

The Germans who threw the grenades launch themselves at the stunned Scots, one of them tripped and was instantly caught. While one of the Jägers guarded the prisoner, the other two rush into the hall. They open the study door, the bedroom of Hubert Robert and the office; the windows and doors are all open, showing where the Scots had escaped. “They decamped very fast” said the laughing Germans. They now entered the dining room and see the hastily abandoned dinner, the napkins thrown on the ground and the half empty bottles of wine. “Victory over the wine!”

In the kitchen, the other Germans arrive, one of them starts to open the door and he feels a sudden pain as a shot comes through the front from the entrance of the avenue. Behind him the other Germans continue to enter the house, the officer gives the order to occupy both floors of the house. It appears that no one is at home, but they hear a movement in the great hall. Four men burst into the room, only to find it is one of the Palingbeek hunting dogs that has been mortally wounded by either shrapnel from a grenade or a stray bullet and stands there dying.

The White House continued to fill. It is hoped that the house will be quiet and comfortable place to spend the night, they are quickly disappointed because of the sinister cracking of bullets. The great oak sliding doors between the living room and the dining room are open, silhouetting the Germans for the Scots at the end of the entrance to the main avenue towards Kemmel. The bullets punch holes in the windows, curtains, doors, flooring and even the Phidias on the other side of the house was mistaken for an enemy and has a bullet in its side.

It is unnecessary to remain in the White House in these numbers and a partial evacuation order is given, but the Scottish fire continues, and the bullets and shrapnel leave their marks everywhere on the treads of the stairs, the window frames, the hall table and floor. In the kitchen, the bullets have found the Germans as they try to leave the house, just as they move outside, the panels of the doors burst with holes, smashing round holes in the kitchen tiles.

It is the north gable end of the White House that remains particularly dangerous. It is like the prow of a ship between two waves, one from the thicket either side of the road heading south and the other from the defenders of the copse to the north. Climbing the stairs to the 1st and 2nd floor, rifle fire comes through the large windows, wounding one man.

The White House (Winter 1940) looking from the north west. The creek can be seen running from left to right. Early on the morning of the 28th the 11th Coy place an MG34 in the first-floor window to support the reserve company (10th) as they attack towards the Vergote farm. (Photo courtesy of Hugh Shipman)

Some of the Germans are climbing quickly towards the first floor but one of them is still half way up, kneeling down supporting himself against the window support and concealed by the half-closed shutters. In the next room (Ruysdael’s room) the officer carefully looks out of the window onto the copse and into the clearing leading out onto the meadow.

Suddenly he saw in the clearing before him, less than 50 yards away, 5 English soldiers, just beyond the slope of the old bridge. The officer quickly seizes his rifle and fires very accurately at Fusilier Dickson as he jumps down behind the bank. Dickinson collapses into the reeds, dead, as his companions escape behind the ruins of the old bridge. At the same time the German that remained mid floors is hit by two bullets in the chest fired by the Scottish in the copse by the lake.

The fire continues and also starts to hit the room where the officer is standing; the lower wooden shutter explodes as a rifle bullet slams into the wall behind him, destroying a copper candlestick on the way. Other bullets follow into the room through the open window. The officer gives up his vantage point by the window and orders his men to stay away from the openings and keep their movement to a minimum. He also orders them to close all the shutters, plunging the interior of the house into darkness.

The winners of this fight for the White House appear to be prisoners, as they cannot move for the crackling fire coming in from all sides. Fire continues to come in from the clearing in the copse and also from the end of the avenue, randomly hitting the shutters.

The white house, before it was painted in early 1939. The lake in the foreground, the German assault came from the left. (Photo courtesy of Golf & country club de Palingbeek)

Night of the 27th

As the darkness falls on the 27th, the German soldiers of the 11th battalion, partially evacuate the White House, leaving a small group behind to secure against any infiltration during the night. The 1st company occupies the woods between the house and the Pavilion, and the 2nd company take over the Pavilion itself. The night is very dark, as the rain clouds cover any chance of moonlight.

To keep the lines of communication open between the Fusiliers and Brigade HQ, Tod sent 12 men under the command of WOIII (PSM) Gregory to do this. Shortly after moving from the farmhouse he made contact with members of the 9th Battalion of IR 54 and had to conduct a fighting retreat through the woods to the St Eloi, Oosttaverne road, collecting many stragglers from different regiments as he went. Once there he conducted aggressive patrols to keep the enemy away from the Dome House. For this action, he was recommended for the DCM.

At 21:45 BST Lt Col Tod pulled those of the battalion that could be contacted back to the Vergote Farm, its outbuildings and the drainage ditch leading down to the stream alongside, offered cover from small arms fire and good all-round defensive field of fire. Due to the heavy artillery fire landing in the open behind the positions of 17 Platoon, they were unable to comply. However, an hour later as the fire slackened, 2Lt Livingstone managed to bring his platoon back to the farm house.

Both IR 54 and IR 17 were very active during the night sending infiltration patrols forward to find out where the 17 Brigade positions were.

One patrol crossed the Palingbeek stream near the canal, finding the positions of 18 platoon empty they kept right, reaching the track from the “Pitche Menu” they moved forward towards the farm and took positions near the bunker from the Great War.

A second patrol moved across the stream with the first, but then hooked left past the empty 16 platoon positions and along the arbour trail. This patrol bumped into a C Coy patrol commanded by 2Lt Wilmot, a firefight ensues leaving the Germans to retreat back into the Bois du Melezes and 2Lt Wilmot wounded in the hip.

The third patrol tries to approach the Vergote farm from the south, they moved around the front of the White House and reached the Palingbeek stream. Tracking along the stream until they are ambushed by troops from HQ Coy positioned near the entrance to the White House called the Kemmel gate.

To ease the pressure on the Royal Scots Fusiliers, Lt Thomson took his carriers out to spoil any attack. They start out the back of the farm, having just delivered ammunition from B Echelon, they swung left and left again up the driveway of the White House. Splitting both sides of the house they went at full speed, firing at anything that moved. One group commanded by Sgt McFeat, went up through gardens of the White house, towards the Pavilion before sweeping back down the main road. The other carriers commanded by Lt Thomson, carried on down the lawn beside the lake, their plan to cross over further down towards the canal.

 

The recent rains had made the banks slippery and the carrier lost traction and slid down into the lake, where it stalled. Seeing this the Germans concentrated their fire and the crew had to jump into the lake and swim for the other side. Eventually making their way through the woods and back to the farm

Lt Thomson’s carrier where it slid into the lake during the night of the 27th May (still there in the Winter of 1940) (Photo courtesy of Hugh Shipman)

Whilst this was happening in the park, further south preparations for the attack in the morning were continuing, the artillery of the 31st Division were moved forward to set up behind the Bois du Ravin.

WOIII Gregory

(Platoon Sergeant Major)

Sgt McFeat

Carrier Section commander