2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers war diary
The original war diary entries for May of the 2RSF were destroyed during the fighting on the 28th of May. When the survivors re-grouped in England, the following was recorded and placed in the archives.
May 22nd 12:00hrs
On the right of the brigade was the D.L.M. (french armoured division) A heavy concentration of enemy tanks, about 60 in number, was observed to be concentrating on the Bde Right flank.
The enemy shelled the whole front heavily. The battalion started to have a fairly constant stream of casualties. Air attacks continued throughout the day.
Enemy pressure increased on the Bde right flank. During the early afternoon the Bde sector was subject to concentrated dive bombing attacks and heavy shelling following the withdrawal of the D.L.M., leaving the Bde right flank absolutely open, the enemy succeeded in working his way round the right flank and well behind the Bde front. It was decided to withdraw the Bde to face a new front thus created. The Bde swung back, pivoted on the RSF left, which maintained it’s original position, and a general line was taken up along the Arras – Souchez road.
The withdrawal was subjected to heavy shelling and dive bombing attacks which inflicted many casualties. The new position was held.
May 24th 02:39 hrs.
The Bde was ordered to come out of action. There was no enemy pressure during the darkness, but as soon as daylight came the battalion, which was the rearguard, was subjected to shelling and low-flying attacks, as well as long range M.G. fire.
The battalion’s withdrawal was along a very devious route owing to M.G. fire from it’s flanks. During the 27mile march to Douai, Lt Thomson and the carriers did excellent work in engaging enemy M.G.’s, thus materially assisting in the withdrawal of the battalion. During the afternoon the Douai area was reached. During the night the battalion proceeded to Templemar area by M.T., reaching it during the night 24/25th.
The battalion rested in a large wood, the day passing off quietly without aerial attacks on the battalion. During the afternoon it was learnt that the Bde would have to move up to the Ypres area and hold a position to facilitate the withdrawal of the B.E.F. towards the coast. M.T. arrived during the afternoon and the battalion again crossed into Belgium during the night.
The new area was reached. The C.O. was given the area to be occupied by the battalion and then went forward to reconnoitre the battalion position along the west side of the Ypres-Comines Canal.
During the early afternoon the battalion occupied it’s position (Bde H.Q. and advance troops were forward of the battalion during the morning. They were bombed from the air at 08:40 hrs, but the enemy aircraft were not very active during the remainder of the day)
All bridges across the canal except that on the main Ypres-Messines road were blown.
Forward units of the enemy are reported on the Bn front. (the Bde line was held by 2RSF on the Bde right. East of St Eloi; 6 Seaforths on the left; 2 Northamptons in support. Shortly after 16:00hrs a gap was reported on the Bde left and the Northamptons were despatched to close it.
The whole front in contact with the enemy
Two recce patrols sent forward by the battalion. One patrol penetrated as far as an enemy field gun position. Both brought back valuable information. Heavy rain fell all day.
May 27th 06:00hrs
Arty fire commenced at daybreak from both sides of the canal, Enemy mortar fire started harassing the battalion left flank, held by A company on hill 60.
Enemy were heavily shelled by Arty, but the Bde left flank was driven back by heavy enemy mortar fire. In order to conform with the withdrawal of the 13th Inf Bde. The brigadier ordered 2RSF to withdraw across the canal. The withdrawal proved to be very difficult as all the bridges over the canal had been destroyed, and the only means of crossing it was over some stepping stones. All the battalion “A” echelon transport was lost owing to the impossibility of transporting it over the canal’s steep banks. (It has been recorded that the withdrawal was excellently and skilfully carried out)
The battalion was heavily pressed during the withdrawal and suffered heavy casualties. A Coy suffered severe casualties when vacating Hill 60, and it was during the companies withdrawal that the fighting patrol under 2/Lt Cholmondeley, did excellent work by covering the withdrawal. 2/Lt Cholmondeley was killed whilst leading his patrol into action against an enemy M.G. position.
During the early evening the battalion suffered from heavy mortar fire and during the night was subjected to shell fire. The enemy succeeded in crossing the canal during the night and took up fire positions on three sides of the Bn H.Q. Heavy enemy M.G. fire was brought to bear on the BN H.Q.
About this time the Bn L.O. and Sgt McFeat went forward from Bde H.Q. to pass on the C-in-C’s message that the line had to be held at all costs to allow the safe withdrawal of the bulk of the B.E.F. at this period the C.O. was collecting the remains of the battalion round a farm to make a final stand. His answer to the C-in-C’s message was “Tell the Brigadier I am not going a foot back”
May 28th 03:00hrs
Battalion H.Q. was last contacted.
A carrier was sent up from Bde to try and establish contact with Bn H.Q. the carrier reported that the farm building occupied by Bn H.Q. to be entirely empty, and without sign of life. The enemy had by this time passed some miles round the farm, but had left the road used by the carrier clear.
The Bn L.O. and Sgt Williams of the carrier Plt. Tried to contact Bn H.Q in a carrier but were unable to get within 2 miles of it as the enemy had installed a form of anti-tank weapon in a house at the St Eloi cross roads. The enemy infantry has passed right through the battalion area. About 160 men were found in a ditch near the St Eloi cross roads, unable to proceed, owing to the heavy enemy fire from three sides. The carrier was taken into action and a couple of magazines fired at the most visible of the enemy. For some unknown reason enemy fire ceased and the 160 men in the ditch were enabled to make a dash out of the ditch into the cover of some woods from where they were able to withdraw.
All available personnel were collected under the command of the C.O. 6 Seaforths and a position was taken up along the St Eloi – Messines road. This position was held.
The remnants of the Bde withdrew to the area around Drie Ridders.
May 29th 05:00hrs
Drie Ridders reached. On arrival a small force composed of about 40RSF, 60 Northamptons, 5 RSF carriers and a section of M.G.s under Major Watts of the Northamptons took up a position along the Yser canal.
The enemy were very active in the air and as the day proceeded shelling caused many fires in farms and among the mass of dumped vehicles. Enemy infantry did not appear to be following up the withdrawal very rapidly.
May 30th 03:30hrs
M.G. withdrew from position
The carriers carried out a rearguard action. The Bde withdrew, carrying all personnel on the remaining M.T. to Moeres where all the M.T. was to be dumped and damaged as much as possible.
Personnel arrived in the wood just inland from Bray dunes from Moeres. March lasted 12.5 miles and caused considerable thirst. There was little drinking water and practically no rations. Despite the general fatigue everyone immediately set to digging trenches.
Bn L.O. and Bde L.O. were ordered to recce a route from the wood down to the sea, a distance of about 1.5 miles. On return the two officers were ordered to recce routes to and from concentration areas at La Pann, about 4 miles away. During the recce a D.R. arrived with orders to return immediately as the Bde was to move back towards the enemy.
These two officers set to recce Bray Dunes as the Bde was expected to leave that night. This was cancelled and the Bde was ordered to stand to. The Bde remained in the wood all day, bombed and shelled by the enemy. There was little food and no prospect of getting more. For the first time RAF fighters were destroying the enemy aeroplanes in large numbers.
At dawn news was received that the Bde was to leave the same day for Dunkirk. During the early afternoon L.O.’s were sent to recce the town and find concentration areas and routes to the mole. Dunkirk was crowded with French troops and continued air raids made recce work very slow.
Dunkirk almost in ruins, making landmarks difficult to distinguish.
The remaining troops of the Bde commenced to arrive in Dunkirk and were directed to the beach from whence 1.5 miles to the mole. There was heavy aerial bombing and shelling.
Enemy shells were falling on the beach and the oil tanks were fired.
Last detachments of the Bde, reached the U.K. in the early hours of the morning.