Sequence of events for the 28th May 1940
02:00 Brigadier Stopford visits BHQ in the Farm and orders them to hold at all costs until 09:00 when a counter attack by the guards brigade would relieve them.
03:00 A mixture of C and D Coy’s take up positions in the woods, D on the forward edge with C to their right. After the initial attack on C Coy’s positions D pulls back to join their defence line.
03:00 The Brigadier leaves BHQ taking several wounded with him (Lt. Wilmot amongst them) and the companies make their way back to their former positions.
04:00 German anti-tank weapons fire upon and destroy the carriers leaving the farm.
04:00 The remains of HQ, and B Coys take up defensive positions around the farm and the remaining carriers under Lt. Thomson are sent out to contact the Seaforths and Northampton’s on the left as they break out from the cover of the buildings, they are hit by AT fire. Lt. Thomson, Lt Knight and Fusilier Stott, bail out but are killed by machine gun fire whilst trying to escape on foot.
04:05 M.G’s occupying this building witness Bren Carriers hit by AA fire. They open fire and kill the escaping crews.
05:00 The Germans launch an overwhelming attack on the farm Vergotte
05:00 Two Boyes gun carriers (from another brigade) drive from Hollebeke and into the Pavillion farm. Without M.G.s they throw grenades at the German forces but a quickly overwhelmed and forced to surrender
05:00 German M.G.s carry out suppressive fire during the attack.
05:00 under covering fire German infantry attack through the positions held by 2Lt Thomson’s 14 platoon from C Coy. The defence continues from the drainage ditches and the farm buildings and fierce hand to hand combat ensues.
05:20 Vergote Farm falls.
During the fighting, as each position falls, individual members of the battalion escape across the fields towards the Seaforths and the Northampton’s.
06:00 The 75mm artillery is joined by larger 150mm guns and they land their shells in and around the positions of C & D company in the wood. When they can no longer hear firing from the Farm Vergote, Lt Green (2i/c C Coy) is sent back to establish contact but is wounded in the attempt.
07:00 British Counter battery fire is directed by spotter plane overhead and temporarily stops the German artillery
07:00 the 10th Company of the 54th regiment begin their assault through the woods leading from the canal. They meet fierce resistance from a mixed band of C & D Coy’s. The advance is stopped by Bren gun fire from both flanks.
All morning skirmishes take place in the woods.
09:00 Lt. Livingstone and 17 Platoon C Coy are trapped in their trenches by a creeping artillery barrage.
10:30 The 11th Company of the 54th Regiment take over the advance across the ford “Pitch-Menu” they clear the positions trench by trench advancing through 17 platoon’s positions until they have cleared them at 11:00.
11:00 Using the 17th Platoon positions, 11th Company suppress and knock out the left hand D Coy machine gun that was situated on the WW1 bunker.
Suppressive machine gun fire is used from the “white house” and mortar from across the park. During which the Germans slowly crawl forward through the woods.
13:30 Pinned down by machine gun and mortar fire they finally surrender
By the early hours of the 28th of May, the battalion existed of the remains of C, D and HQ Coys spread out between the farm and the woods that held the remains of the old "white house" manor (which was destroyed during WW1)
During the night of the 27th-28th of May, BHQ destroyed all it's paperwork and dispatched the last of it's wounded to the rear.
This included 2Lt Wilmot, who was taken away by the brigadier, as he delivered his final orders.
Colonel Tod, recounts what happened in a letter after the war:
At first light on May 28th, I extended what was left of the Battalion and advanced from the farmstead, sending Ian Thomson and his carriers to try and contact the unit on our left. No sooner had we taken up a position on the edge of a wood than the German attack began. Very soon they had broken through our thinly-held position and, at the same time, had come round both flanks and were behind us. It was at this time that Peter Green, bringing me news of the situation on the left, was badly wounded, but nonetheless, delivered his message; his leg was amputated later in a German hospital. I then decided that our only hope was to fall back on the farmstead again. There at least we could put up some sort of all-round defence. This was done, and on the way back I was hit and knocked into a stream.
“We held the farmstead for some time, both sides lobbing bombs at each other. It was during this fight that a bomb was thrown at Arkwright. His servant, Leyden, tried to catch it but it exploded in his face. We thought Leyden was killed. His face was smashed but I met him later as a prisoner, the face beautifully patched up but with a rather Jewish nose. Arkwright got some of the bomb but was only badly bruised. The situation soon became quite hopeless. The Germans were still around, the barn was full of wounded and our ammunition was all but expended “Rightly or wrongly, I then surrendered. The time was about 11a.m.
In fact the fighting at the farmstead only brought the surrender of HQ Coy. Both C and D companies fought on around the WW1 observation bunker in the woods until 13:30.
The 2i/c of D Coy Lt. Neil Livingstone-Bussell wrote in his diary:
We returned to our old positions in the wood at 3 a.m.. I now realised that we would never get away from it. D Company took up a position on the forward edge of the wood with C Company behind us covering our right. After we had been there some time we heard a great commotion and some firing behind us, so Johnny and I went back to see Major Ellis and were informed that he had just had a skirmish with the Germans, so we decided to come back and join forces.
Enemy machine guns now started firing from all parts of the wood and we made several attempts to do them in but with only rifles it was a hopeless task. All the morning was spent having odd skirmishes in which several people were killed or wounded including C.S.M. Rolfe killed. (it was later commented by 2/Lieut Livingstone that he was killed in a bayonet fight in the last hour of combat) 2/Lieut. Green tried to get back to Bn. H.Q. but was badly wounded in the attempt. Later we heard that he lost a leg and some fingers from his right hand.
When they turned a mortar on to us we decided no more could be done that was of any use, so we packed it in; the time was 1.30 p.m.
We were all searched on the spot and equipment such as revolvers, compasses, field glasses were taken from us, also a certain number of cigarettes. We were lucky because I gathered later that some people were stripped of their watches, cigarette cases, fountain pens etc.
Fus. Best had a large hole in his left side which I covered with a field dressing. Although he marched several miles with it, I found out 18 months later that he recovered. Looking round I noticed with satisfaction that we had accounted for several Germans.
C & D Coys
10th Coy 54 IR
11th Coy 54 IR
Jacques Cossart recorded the following first hand account from the commander of the 10th Company 54 Infantry Regiment:
Suddenly the German artillery in Ravine wood stops dead. Is it that the counter battery fire has silenced them? Or is it that H hour has arrived? No it is just a brief pause as the firing resumes once again.
However, on the north side of the valley of lilies, the assault sections of the 10th company are standing by facing the wood of the Ossuary.
On the other side of the valley, the southern slope, the 2nd assault wave of the 11th company is ready. A hundred metres distant facing the north corner of the Ossuary woods is the support elements of the 10th, providing cover for their comrades during the attack, 6 men of the first squad face out across the open ground but the rest are looking from the ossuary into the wood of the Ossuary.
On the other side of the valley of lilies, the 2nd wave of the 11th company have remained in place on the edge of the woods, ready to move through the first assault group if there is trouble. They have dug small trenches in the woods to preserve any surprise they might have.
The Captain in charge of the company received the order to start the attack and for the battle group to move forward as one. The 10th Company will lead the charge through the ossuary and will take the first part of the Ossuary wood and then the two companies will move forward in a pincer movement.
On the side of the canal at the top of the bank atop a small mound, surrounded by his soldiers, the captain commanding the 10th company awaits a lull in the British artillery fire and then makes the fateful gesture.
All along the line to the extreme right flank the men rise as one and climb the short slope to the plain and run the 50 yards to the their first objective, whilst in the ossuary, the rest of the section moves through the wood and each member already feels isolated from the rest of the world. Hiding behind a few shovels of hastily thrown earth the six men watch the edge of the Ossuary wood, 300metres away in rapt silence. “Forwards” a lance corporal shouts in a guttural voice, all 6 stand up and move forward, but as they reach the mid way point between their objective and the apple trees a machine gun, hidden in the north eastern horn of the wood lets rip and all 6 men drop, either dead or wounded.
But the Hunters are already moving out of the ossuary and have reached the a small wooden structure near the small pond of the water lilies, they move now through the small thickets along the edge of the pond, as random shots fly past them and strike the dam of the large pond. They are formed in a long line, and like a wave will break onto the enemy position as one.
The soldiers around the wooden structure are silent for a few moments, coiled like tigers ready to pounce. A burst of fire triggers them into action and they run forward shooting wildly. The wave crashes forward then seems to shake, hesitate and stop. They are forced to drop to the ground and return the incoming fire.
While these events are unwinding on the other side of the valley, the captain commanding the 11th company leads the second wave from the front. Walking in line with his skirmishers, until they reach the White House, where they move around the north side and meet up with the troops occupying the Avenue entrance and facing Vergotte farm. Their route forwards presented no serious difficulties, whilst that of the 10th trying to clear the wood around the ossuary is faltering. The 11th have brought forward a machine gun into the farm near pheasant wood, whilst a second machine gun, within the White House halfway up the stairs, fires directly down the break in the woods (Hubert Robert) adding to the misery of the defenders of the Ossuary wood.
As one, two assault sections of the 11th Company rush forward and reach the foot of the mound on which the white house stands. The Captain rises again for the next bound, his voice rings clearly through the sounds of battle as he indicates the target, but suddenly a well concealed Scottish machine gun, opens up and the captains arms fly up in distress before clutching his shredded thigh and moaning with the pain of his wound.
However the order is already given and the attack begins. On the lawn that goes up to the White House, even without their commander green uniforms move forward as the gun continues to shoot from behind a red bush on the waterfront. The machine gun is obscured by the thickets surrounding it, whose saplings are being cut down by the bursts of return fire. Under this continuous lashing, the attacking forces still push on towards the White House.
They rush into the house from all sides, through the large shattered glass terrace door, the living room windows and the kitchen. A hunter who is critically injured comes in through the side entrance and collapses against the wall leaving a bloody hand mark on the wall. On both sides of the great pond, the situation has become critical and will remain so as long as the wood of the Ossuary continues to hold. The situation must be stabilised soon.
The hunters of the 10th company change their tactics and instead of attacking head on along the path of the arbour, they use the woods to outflank the position allowing them to get behind the machine gun and break into the north eastern horn of the woods.
However the hunters in the White House have occupied the doors and windows setting up a machine gun on the stairs to fire down the break in the trees (Hubert Robert).
The machine gun in the arbour falls silent, but like a cornered wild boar the defence continues and it opens fire once more. All that can be seen through the smoke is the flashes of guns and the passage of bullets towards the castle. Across the open ground, a burst of six shots fly towards the White House, three enter through the corner door, one shattering a cupboard, the next hitting a hunter in the chest and the third shatters a hunters head, his body collapsing in a pool of crimson blood and leaving scraps of his scalp and brains plastered on the wall.
The Scots who advanced to Cran wood, along the north edge of the park are taken to task by a machine gun that has already been set up by the hunters from the Vergotte farm, in the old pill box of the 1914-18 war. Under the protection of this fire another group of hunters has broken into the wood of the Ossuary at the northern edge and works their way closer to their enemy.
Finally, across the field of battle, green uniforms emerge and rush into a final assault. All along the northern edge of the park the defence collapses and the defenders of Cran woods come under a fierce artillery barrage coming from Klein Zillebeke and assailed by rifle fire and grenades from three sides they also surrender. The defence of the Pitch-menu finally collapses