Royal Scots Fusiliers
The last few hours described by Lt. Col. Tod in a letter after the war.
“At first light on May 28 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.
“After I had been a prisoner for more than a year someone brought me a cutting from a German newspaper. It contained an account of a deed for which a German captain had been decorated. The gist of it was that on May 28 near Voormezelle he had destroyed the tanks of a famous regiment of Scotland. There can be no doubt that this referred to Ian Thomson, and the tanks were his wretched carriers that were not even bullet-proof. That they were not bullet-proof I know, because early in May one of the Fusiliers let off his rifle by mistake and the bullet went slap through a carrier parked nearby.”
There is no further reference to Lieutenant Thomson in Colonel Tod’s account. He was killed on May 28 along with his friend Lieutenant P. A. Knight. They were first posted as missing, but a year later, when the War Office confirmed their deaths, a newspaper appreciation mentioned that together they had approached a house, subsequently found to have been occupied by German machine-gunners, and there met their fate. Thomson, who died on his 28th birthday, was a noted sportsman. He had led the Regimental team when it won the Army cross-country motor-cycle championship in 1938. He had his pilot’s certificate. While still a boy at Fettes College he had climbed both the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc within five days. Knight, before his marriage, had lived with his father at Chawton where Jane Austen, his great-great aunt, wrote several of her novels.
In addition to Lieutenants Cholmondeley and Maitland-Makgill-Crichton (only son of Brigadier H. C. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton who is mentioned in previous chapters) Captain Sinton, who was with “A” Company on Hill 6o, was killed on May 27. In the earlier fighting on May 22, Captain Adamson and Lieutenant McDavid had been wounded. Those officers wounded on the Ypres-Comines Canal were Colonel Tod, Major Arkwright and Lieutenants Wilmot, Green, Mellish and Kempthorne. Mellish and two other reinforcement officers had been brought to the farmstead by Brigadier Stop-ford during his morning visit on May 28; Colonel Tod says of them: “I could do nothing with them at that stage; I don’t think they even had rifles and, poor chaps, were ‘in the bag’ a few hours after their arrival.” Lieutenant Wilmot and Kempthorne escaped to Dunkirk, Kempthorne having lost an eye. Apart from them, only those officers of the Battalion who happened to be at Brigade H.Q. and in the transport lines got away. These were Captain H. D. B. Goldie, who commanded 17th Brigade Anti-Tank Company and was Later awarded the Military Cross for his work; Lieutenant A. F. Whitehead, also of the Anti-Tank Company, later wounded and awarded the Military Cross with the reconstituted 2nd Bn in Italy in 1944; Captain V. McNeil-Cook, who was later wounded with the 2nd Bn in Sicily and lost when a hospital ship was sunk in July 1943; Captain Butterworth; Lieutenant Shakespeare, the Transport Officer, who was killed near Catania in Sicily in 1943; and Lieutenant (Quartermaster) F. E. Cart-right. The senior warrant and non-commissioned officers of the party which reached the bridgehead were Regimental Sergeant-Majors Burr and McCreadie; Regimental Quartermaster-Sergeant Arthur; and Company Quartermaster-Sergeant Brouse. According to Brigadier Stopford only 40 Scots Fusiliers were gathered at Dunkirk, but the numbers gradually mounted to 250 in the camp at Blackdown near Aldershot where the survivors were assembled—more, he says, than he had dared to hope for.
Before the curtain finally falls on the 2nd Bn of 1940 one more scene deserves mention. It is described in a personal memoir by Colonel Tod
“On the day after we were taken prisoner we reached a sort of P.O.W. collecting place. As soon as we arrived a car appeared and a German officer came to me, saluted and told me in English that General von Richenau wanted to see me. Von Richenau was commanding either a corps or an army. He was the general who commanded the IV Army Group that marched into Austria in 1938 and who, later, commanded an Army in Russia; he ended his days with a so-called heart attack in the train taking him back to Germany from Russia.
“I was taken into his room and, when I appeared, he got up from his chair, bowed and said in perfect English, ‘I wish to congratulate you. I am told your troops fought magnificently. I hope you will have lunch with me.’ He then said he realised what my feelings must be at being a prisoner but added it would not be for Long. ‘I promise you’, he said, ‘that you will be home with your family by Christmas.’
“Just then the telephone rang, and after he had talked for a bit he turned to me and said: ‘You will be interested to hear that we have just taken Kemmel Hill. It was giving us a little trouble.’
“I said’ I am sorry to hear that; it now means we are in for a long war ‘—not a very scintillating remark but I was not feeling very scintillating and it certainly annoyed his staff.
“Von Richenau then told me to go in to lunch and he would follow. We had just started lunch—waiters with white coats and all that and me unshaved, muddy and covered with blood —when von Richenau appeared in his hat and coat and told me he had to go up to the front immediately. Neither von Richenau nor his staff asked me any questions about the situation or about units of the B.E.F.”
Colonel Tod ultimately became Senior British Officer in the German prison camp at Colditz, in south-eastern Germany, where the Nazis sent the “unregenerates” and incurable escapers among the Allied prisoners of war. His exploits at Colditz may be read in two books by P. R. Reid, The Colditz Story and The Latter Days. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his services in the field, and was later made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his work at Colditz and other prison camps, from which he organised many successful escapes.
The Adjutant of the Battalion, Major A. S. B. Arkwright, who escaped from Oflag VI B in 1942, an act of bravery which won for him the award of the Military Cross, has himself described his experiences in his book Return Journey.