6th Seaforth Highlanders war diary
We did not reach the new area until long after daylight. The roads were extremely congested and many enemy bombers were about, but although bombs fell near us, we did not come in for their attentions. During the move all vehicles were crammed with troops, all of whom were in a very exhausted state.
On arrival in the new area, we found ourselves in a large wood which we shared with a French signals unit. Here we were able to get some sleep during the day, food of which we had little and bury some dead who had been wounded and died in the ambulance accompanying us. At this time there was no place that we could find to evacuate the wounded to.
During the day in the woods, enemy bombers were again kind to us. Although no bombs fell on us, many dropped in the vicinity and their planes were continually overhead.
As Darkness fell we again embussed in M.T., this time assisted by a number of troop carrying vehicles and moved to Templemars, just south of Lille. This move was one of our most successful M.T. moves. The roads were reasonably clear and the 30 mile journey took less than 6 hours.
We arrived at 0200hrs; got the men into billets and got what rest we could. In the morning Lt.Col. W Reid was informed by Brigadier Stopford M.C. that our next move was to be to the south to carry out an attack.
That evening a conference was called at Bde H.Q. and we were informed that plans were changed and that we were now to go north to carry out a defensive operation.
The Bn was ready to move soon after nightfall, but our troop carrying transport was many hours late in arriving.
We actually moved off not long before dawn on the 26th of May.
The move was reasonably successful and we arrived at St. Eloi just south of Ypres at about 1100 hrs having covered some 30 miles. We were bombed twice enroute and had some casualties. Here we occupied a defensive position just south of Zillebeke. Our actual position was just west of and parallel to the Ypres – Comines railway and facing N.E. with 2RSF on our right and 2/Northamptons on our left.
The position was to be held with three Coys up, A right, D centre, C left and B Coy in reserve. Bn HQ was in a farm at about H6058. The Bn frontage was about 2000 yards which with our depleted strength was a very long front indeed.
Enemy advanced elements appeared during the afternoon. First one or two armoured cars, later some motorcycle troops followed by a considerable number of troops on bicycles. Intermittent shelling started and soon enemy advanced posts were reported in close proximity to our own troops particularly on our left flank.
Towards dusk the enemy sniping started and there appeared to be several snipers behind our lines, though these could not be located.
There was considerable activity throughout the night and shelling continued at intervals. The left platoon of C Coy disappeared completely and it was later discovered that most of them had been captured by a German patrol. This platoon was commanded by 2/Lt. J.M. Moir.
With the return of daylight, enemy pressure increased enormously and their mortars and armour piercing weapons were brought into action in considerable numbers. Casualties became heavy in all forward Coys but in particularly A Coy which was reduced to a mere handful of men commanded by Sgt. F. Stewart, all officers having become casualties. Sgt. Stewart was later awarded the D.C.M. for his gallantry in this action.
At about 14:00 hours and in the face of greatly increased pressure the Bn withdrew to the neighbourhood of St. Eloi village, where it again occupied some sort of position, though not a favourable one. Our flanks were most insecure owing to the large frontage and a small number of men available. Although we were in touch with the Bns on our left and right, there were large gaps between and it was impossible to fill them adequately.
Enemy shelling continued until darkness fell, when it ceased, but by this time the enemy infantry were in close proximity to us. Rifle and L.M.G. firing started and verey lights were fired by the enemy during the hours of darkness. A few of our troops were captured almost in the village of St.Eloi during the night, these included at least one officer.
As dawn broke we had a visit from enemy bombers and two bombs were dropped very close to the Regimental Aid Post which with Bn H.Q. was at that time almost in the front line. The enemy advanced troops, who had been in close contact with us during the night appeared to have withdrawn slightly and we came in for a good deal more shelling for a number of hours.
The enemy infantry again started pushing forward and they began to work into gaps between ourselves and the neighbouring Bns. As previously mentioned, owing to the long front and small numbers of men available it was impossible to cover the whole front. Eventually the situation was such that the enemy were on three sides of us for some considerable depth and they appeared to be holding ground on our right which we believed was held by 2RSF (we afterwards found that this was the case and that the whole of their H.Q. had either been killed or captured.)
It was decided that the remnants of the Bn should withdraw to the neighbourhood of Wyschaete and there reform. This was done under heavy rifle and L.M.G fire from the enemy. By this time the Bn was in a very disorganised state and it took many hours to collect stragglers and reorganise what remained of the Bn.
By the time this was done it was almost dark and Lt. Col. Reid on returning from Bde H.Q. gave the order that we were to move back in the regimental M.T. to the neighbourhood of Moeres (H38) The transport having already been brought to the outskirts of Wyschaete, the Bn embussed at once. During the whole day, the Wyschaete area had been under shell fire and the village itself came in for a heavy bombardment.
The Bn moved back to the area of La Clytte (where B echelon transport had been located during the day) and here a meal of biscuits, bully tea and run was issued. The night move was then started. Congestion on the roads was appalling, especially in the morning, there were vehicles of all kinds, marching troops, French cavalry, Belgian horse artillery, refugees etc. Intermittent shelling did not improve matters.
The convoy got split up by other vehicles cutting in and by dawn we only had a few vehicles left and these firmly wedged in the road where all movement was impossible. The sky was always full of enemy aircraft, but again they left us alone.
By noon, what remained of the Bn, had assembled near Moeres. The distance covered during the night was about 30 miles. All troops were in a very exhausted condition. The Bn occupied two small orchards and rested there for the greater part of the day. The order was received during the day to ditch and scuttle all B echelon transport and all A echelon transport except that required for removing the men. Any remaining stored were also to be dumped. Enemy aircraft were very active all day but there was no direct attack on the Bn. It was on this day that we heard of the Belgian capitulation.
At 03:30hrs the Bn left Moeres in the direction of Dunkirk. Orders were that we were to proceed by truck on a certain route. A point would then be reached past which no transport would be allowed to go and all vehicles except the C.O.s car were to be dumped in a park here and scuttled. Beyond this point the Bn was to proceed on foot and orders would be received as to our destination.
All this was carried out and the Bn then proceeded on foot to some broken ground about H3485 about 12 miles from Dunkirk and 3 miles from the coast. Here we dug in, not tactically but merely as a protection against bombs and shelling. During the move back from Moeres was passed through at least two defended lines, particularly the line of the Colme canal.
At this time we still did not know what we were going to do, though there were many rumours that all troops were being embarked at Dunkirk and either taken to the UK or landed on the French coast further south. The strength of the Bn at this time was 9 officers including the QM, MO and Chaplain and under 200 ORs. During the afternoon the Bde Commander decided to form a composite battalion out of the remnants of the Bde. This was done and the following appointments were made. CO – T/Major Watts (2 Northamptons); 2i/c – T/Major E.H.B. Neill (6 Seaforths), Adjt – 2/Lt. Roche (2 Northamptons); QM – Capt. A Sutherland (6 Seaforths). The strength of this battalion was about 16 officers and 400 ORs. The Bde commander then thought it likely we would have to go into the front line again.
We remained in this area during the night and also all day on the 31st of May. During the whole of this period enemy aircraft activity was intense and throughout the hours of daylight the sky was invariably full of enemy machines. Many of which flew extremely low. Large formations of bombers escorted by fighters and flying at a great height were continually flying overhead.
During the fighting (along the Ypres-Comines canal and also at Arras, many of the Seaforths were recognised for their bravery.
Below are some of their citations: