Royal Scots Fusiliers
Diary of Lt. Livingstone Bussell with added notes from 2Lt. Derry Livingstone
The Second Battalion left Rouq Blanc Four, a small village about 10 miles from Lille, at six o’clock in the evening and marched 4 miles to Tourcoing, where they entrained. Opposite the station, I slipped on the cobbles and fell down. At this time I was in charge of the Fighting Patrol, therefore in H.Q. Company, as Richard Cholmondeley was on leave. The general impression was that we were going to the Oisy area near Amiens for Divisional manoeuvres.
By ten o'clock in the morning, we realized from the map that we had passed Amiens, and were heading for Le Havre. At 1 o'clock we arrived at Boltec, and marched to billets in Rafetole. This was a small village about 25 miles from Le Havre. It now transpired that we were en route for Norway.
For the last few days, we had been filling inthe time doing odd bits of Platoon training, and wondering what was going to happen as everything seemed a bit in the air and it was doubtful whether we were going at all, but on the morning of May 3, the transport went to Le Havre to prepare for embarkation: however only the first few trucks were put on board before the orders were cancelled. (D Company was billeted in an orchard and I was asked to make an officers latrine. The Company Commander was sitting on the thunder box reading his newspaper, when a horse stuck its head in the middle of the paper and nearly knocked him off. He came tearing into the mess demanding a brandy to recover.)
Entrained at Boltec in the morning en route for the Oisy area. Arrived at Hangest, 20 miles from Amiens, at 6 o'clock, and marched 6 miles to Fourdoinoy, which is about 4 miles from Oisy. Again spent our time doing Platoon and Company training. I was billeted in a small house in the village opposite the H.Q. Mess. Fus. Griffin made an excellent batman.
Chris Thompson Royds went on leave (D Coy Comd.)
As it was my birthday, several of us went into Amiens in the evening for a party. On the whole not successful as the place was somewhat dead.
When I came into breakfast, I was greeted with the news that Germany had invaded Holland and Belgium. No orders came through in the morning, so Ian Maitland-Magill-Crichton and I went out to prepare a scheme for the Intelligence Section and Fighting Patrol. Spent most of our time listening to the Ach Ach fire over Amiens. Started packing up in the afternoon and at 5 o'clock Richard Cholmondeley returned from leave: so I rejoined D Company at Oisy as 2 i/c. On our arrival, there was an Air Raid alarm, so in the correct style the Company dispersed in a wood and all packing up was suspended, for at least an hour, but there wasn't the sign of a bomb. Under the light of further experience this was a quite unnecessary procedure. Finished packing up late in the evening. (I was miles away at some training area in advance of the Battalion, but when my batman told me the news of the Germans advance I immediately headed back to find the Battalion.)
From this day, our war started properly. The pundits of D Company were as follows:- Company Commander Captain J. N. E. Vaughan; 2nd in-command self; O.C. 16 Platoon 2/Lieut. McIntosh; O.C. 17 Platoon 2/Lieut. D. A. Livingstone; O.C. 18 Platoon, Platoon Sergeant Major Gilmour; Company Sergeant Major C.S.M. Rolfe; Company Quartermaster Sergeant C.Q.M.S. Wilson. At crack of dawn we left for Prouville, a march of 21 miles. Only a few people fell out with bad feet, principally the old lags. This was our first long march fully laden, and it was a hot day. Prouville was a small village with only one pub. We merely stopped the night here. Many evacuees were driving through the town, their cars piled high with baggage.
Started at a reasonable hour, and had an easy march of 15 miles to Caunchy. Arrived about 3 o'clock and we supplied the troops with beer! Unfortunately one of the cooks was quite drunk later on, but harmlessly so. A certain amount of trouble over billets, but eventually got McIntosh and Livingstone fixed up.
A march of 12 miles to Manchy near St. Polarriving about midday. The troops were fixed up in the usual farms and we had a small house as a Mess. Went into St. Pol in the evening and met some members of C Company - Major Ellis, Lieut. Wilmot and Z/Lieut. Marshall. Returned to their Mess in good form and the 'piece de resistance" of the evening was Comrade Ellis riding on a horse roller. Whenever the tired old horse was taken more than a few yards from the farm, it automatically turned round and came back, irrespective of the driver's wishes.
During breakfast, Richard Cholmondeley came along with the news that I was to defend a man of the Fighting Patrol, who had had a fight at Rafetole, in a Court Martial. When I saw the Adjutant, I found that the Court Martial was to be held in an hour's time; so palmed off the defence onto Richard himself as it was his Platoon. Johnny Vaughan & I visited a Fish Farm, which was just near the Mess. Highly interesting and we ordered some trout for our dinner, but they were disappointing as rather tasteless.
At 2 a.m. we had orders to pack up, but half way through, these were cancelled and we returned to bed. After breakfast, we were told we were due to leave at 2 p.m., but the transport was delayed, and we eventually left in R.A.S.C. transport at 5 p.m. en route for Belgium. Refugees were still streaming southwards, which made matters worse.
Crossed the Belgium border at 2 a.m.. A nerve-racking drive as many of the drivers were tired out and there were several crashes. At dawn we stopped on the open road.
(I drove until the jam up. At one point my lorry was separated from the rest of the convoy and I drove for some hours before I managed to catch up.) Two convoys had got intermixed and the road for many miles was two deep in lorries head to tail. I thought what a wonderful target it would make for dive bombers and was looking round for the nearest ditch. At that moment I heard an aeroplane but it turned out to be an English one, a Lysander. We arrived at Ninove at 10 a.m. After breakfast managed to get in an hour's sleep. Johnny went off to a Company Commanders' Conference and to reconnoitre our position. We had to wait until 5 o'clock for more R.A.S.C. transport and then it wasn't. sufficient; so left 18 Platoon behind. Arrived in our position at 8 p.m. This was Halle near Brussels, and the Company position was on the bank of the Charlroir Canal, and there was a large concrete bridge on our left flank. Spent all night digging in. I managed to get an hour's sleep in a farm house, which we used as Company Headquarters. The owners were still there and intended to stay, even if the Germans arrived, as they had done so in the last war. McIntosh distinguished himself by digging his trench on the very edge of a bank, so that the front of it was not bullet proof, and had to redo it all.
About 9 o'clock I had to take 18 Platoon to another bridge further to our left to dig a position there because part of the 6th Bt. Seaforths had failed to arrive. They took over from me at about midday. Met a Major, who for some unknown reason wouldn't be convinced that I thought he was a genuine officer. Insisted showing me his identity card and told me I was talking rot when I said the bridge was held by the 6th Seaforths. In the end began to think he was a spy, but as someone else came up and grabbed him, I left them to their own devices. There was a dive bombing attack during our digging operations, but it didn't affect our area. After returning to D Company's position, I took over from Johnny checking units as they retired over our bridge. They all looked very tired. Battalions and even Coys were split up. During the morning Fus. McDonald blew up his hand with an Anti Tank rifle. At 3 p.m. we retired 300 yards up the road to watch the blowing of the bridge. It went off with an almighty roar and bits of brick fell all round us. One person further back than myself got hit on the head. In the evening, I patrolled the front to see if there was any German activity, but saw nothing. A Machine Gun detachment of the Middlesex Regt. on our left flank were firing flat out and when I went to them, they said they had seen some vehicles on the hill the other side of the
canal. Some of the men were standing in the middle of the road firing their rifles down the road. Nothing was visible and as they had been firing for at least an hour, I came to the conclusion they were drunk. There was a Company Commanders' Conference late in the evening and we knew we were going to withdraw but as yet time unknown.
Withdrawal started at 3 a.m.. The transport had been sent back, so we had to carry all the kit: ammunition, greatcoats, picks, shovels etc. After two miles Fus. McLean collapsed as he had about ten blankets round his neck. I managed to get him into the C.O.'s car. After another mile we managed to get rid of most of the heavier stuff as we met the Motor Transport. Got tied up in a maze of small lanes which were not shown on the map. Everyone was so tired that it was impossible to stop, so marched all through the night. Albert Arkwright and Johnny Vaughan were leading the Company and when a man let his rile off accidentally, there was no reaction, fatigue was so great. At about 10 a.m. I was sent on in one of the Company 15 cwts. I was only able to sit on the outside of the front seat due to baggage and nearly fell off three times due to going to sleep. Drove into Grammont, where I met C Company's transport. The battalion billets were at Breadstraat a few miles further on. Found the remainder of the Company transport and had to unload it, so that it could go back for the troops. When Johnny Vaughan arrived, we found that the lorry containing Company Headquarters had gone astray, so that Johnny had to spend some time looking for them. We managed to get a meal and spent some hours sorting out the Platoon bits and putting them in their proper trucks. The company was eventually sorted out by 9 p.m. There was a Company Commanders' Conference at 8.15 p.m. to which I went as Johnny was still searching the countryside for the elusive Company Headquarters. We were now given orders to embus in two hour's time because we were going back to Lesquin, a village between Tournai and Lille. One officer per Company was to go ahead in a 15 cwt truck to meet a Brigade H.Q. representative on the Belgian French border just outside Tournai, and thence to prepare billets in Lesquin. I gather that Tournai caught a packet from Air raids. I left Breadstraat at 10 p.m. with Peter Knight, H.Q.Company; Barney Sinton, A.Coy.; Michael Mellish,B.Coy.: Gordon Wilmot, C.Coy. and a driver. I slept like a log in the back of this open truck waking up just before we reached Tournai. This town was bombed when we were ten miles short of it. Very little damage visible.
We reached the border at 6 a.m. and found a convenient cafe, the owner of which was just leaving. After his departure we proceeded to loot the place and also handed out chocolate to the hordes of refugees who were passing through. The Battalion transport arrived about ten o'clock and halted further down the road. Barney Sinton produced a chicken from somewhere, we boiled it and made a satisfactory breakfast. At 11 a.m. we made for Lesquin arriving by midday in the middle of a heavy air raid. I had lost my steel helmet in the cafe, so felt very unsafe crossing an open piece of road when approaching Lesquin when aeroplanes were being shot down over our heads. One German aeroplane was shot down near Peter Knight and myself, and we saw a man fall out with his parachute failing to open. The aeroplane crashed on the far side of a group of houses, and we didn't have time to go and see it. Soon after this Major Adamson sent me to chase a parachutist in a 15 cwt but I was unable to see where he fell while we were getting out of the village. Company Headquarters had again gone astray but turned up the following morning. We spent the rest of the day getting into billets and reorganizing Company stores. We had a small house as a Mess. The owners of our Mess left during the afternoon and I managed to have a bath in a wooden tub. During the night there was a certain amount of firing and Johnny came into my bedroom to decide on policy as we thought German parachutists had landed on the local aerodrome. After about quarter of an hour we returned to bed and slept soundly. I never found out what was the cause of the firing.
Spent the morning reloading the trucks, and after the usual Conference found that we were heading for Arras. We were being picked up by R.A.S.C. transport on the outskirts of the village, so marched out at 6 p.m. Cpl. Robertson of 17 Platoon and one other man were absent. The transport was delayed, so we put the Company into a barn to rest. Corporal Flynn and one or two others milked some cows which badly needed it. We went into the farmhouse where McIntosh cooked some scrambled egg very indifferently.
Finally embussed at 1 a.m.. Arrived in Lens at 6 a.m. and were welcomed by the Air raid sirens. Debussed and waited for a short time but there was no raid. Marched to the far side of Lens where we parked the Company in the gardens of some small houses. To get there we had a 5 mile march through hundreds of evacuees carrying their possessions on every type of vehicle. Dick Shakespeare went through Lens some time later and found several of them plastered on the walls. At 2 p.m. we marched 6 miles to Vimy Ridge; just after Johnny had put the Platoons into their respective positions, there was a heavy air raid. Johnny and I sheltered in an upturned trolley and thought we were pretty safe. Later he shot at it with his revolver and the bullet went through with the greatest of ease. The Platoons dug positions all night, which were in an evacuated Ordnance Depot of huts. Picked up some useful equipment but the stuff left was mainly anti gas equipment. Company H.Q. was in one of the huts; so we had a comfortable supper and a few hours sleep on some truckle beds.
The Company fell in at about ten o'clock ready to march off. Just as Johnny was about to give the order to move off, there was a curious whizzing noise and then a thud. I have never seen the Company move so fast before as they did to get into the slit trenches under the huts. This noise occurred twice and I think they must have been dud bombs. However, we fell in again five minutes later and marched across country in open order towards Arras. When we were half way there a French Artillery position on our right flank received a heavy bombardment. Two miles short of our new position at St. Catharine’s Bridge the Company closed and we marched down the road for the rest of the way in threes. Shells were continually exploding off the road on our left. On reaching St. Catharine’s village we cut off to the right through some houses and parked the Company on the edge of a field while Johnny and I reconnoitred a route to the
position. Shells were still falling in the vicinity. Finally the platoons took up a position on the edge of a stream and spent the night digging in. We arrived at St. Catharine’s at 3 p.m., but the Company spent some hours in some farm buildings, which were eventually Company H.Q.s while Johnny made his reconnaissance. They got into position at about 6 o'clock. We spent the night in a house opposite the farm which had a cellar although its windows were on street level. The village church and surrounding buildings had been completely smashed up. A few refugees were strolling about, both men and women. Difficult to know what to do about them as I was sure several of them were fifth columnists. I met Major Morrison in the evening who told me to go up and contact the Green Howards the next morning. I had a few hours sleep in a very comfortable bed. One of the few nights that we were able to put on our pyjamas. There was a 30 cwt truck which had got stuck in a shell hole outside our Coy.H.Q. I think it ran into it about 5 a.m. but as the Northampton’s didn't come back for it, we towed it away with us, and used it until the end. (I was left behind to send for the company transport in due course once the shelling died down. It was through whatever gate on Vimy Ridge I
sent the transport at different intervals and told them to keep their distances. I followed along in the last vehicle. I had to go to the Company H.Q. and as I was walking down the street an enemy plane started to strafe me, so I began to run and as I was running I saw some old coins on the ground and swept them up with my hand as I ran and dived into a doorway. The Germans returned these coins to me when I was leaving my last prison camp. 17Platoon's position was facing part of St. Catharine’s and it was becoming dusk and there did not appear to be any Germans about and I went forward and got into a large building, which turned out to be a school. In the cellar I found wine and champagne. I scouted round and found a barrow and took the wine (half a bottle a head for the platoon and a bottle of champagne each for Platoon and Coy H.Q.
Nearly got shot by the platoon when they heard me clinking towards them as it was nearly dark.)
Got up at 3 a.m. and went round the Company positions. Johnny decided that we should take it in turns, so that he could get a few more hours of well earned rest. Directly it was daylight a German reconnaissance aircraft appeared over our positions and flew about unmolested. We were getting used to the lack of air support by now, but it made one feel very annoyed to see it obviously noting our positions and being unable to do anything about it. When I had done the round and came out on the main Arras road, I met an old French civilian who kept mumbling about the dead in the village but as I couldn't make out what he wanted to do, decided to take him up to Bn. H.Q.s. I had great difficulty in getting him to walk up the street because he would insist on rushing into the houses and wanted me to look at a dead woman in bed in one house and a man lying in the doorway of another. I thought this was a bit much before breakfast. He told me that he was going to pretend he was mad when the Germans came so that they would leave him alone. I thought he was harmless but couldn't get rid of him, so thought the best way of dealing with him was to hand him over to the French interpreter in Bn. H.Q. When I got him to where I thought Bn. H.Q. was, found it had moved overnight, and nobody seemed to know where it was. By this time I was pretty fed up with the whole show but thought he might not be such a fool as he made himself out to be, so took him back to Coy. H.Q. and at the point of the revolver, threw him in the back of the 8 cwt and drove around till I found Bn. H.Q. and with a sigh of relief gave him to the interpreter and fled. I now had to go up and see the Green Howards. I never really considered how far it would be or what they would want to know when I got there. However I returned the truck to Coy. H.Q. in case Johnny would want it and started walking, with the vague idea that I would only have to go about half a mile. Much to my horror I didn't reach the H.Q. mess until I had covered a good 2 miles. I found them in the cellars of a large building by the main square with their mess truck a charred ruin outside. They gave me a cup of tea, showed me a map and then fired a lot of questions at me as to where our Bn. boundaries were and who were on our flanks. I answered all the questions but found I was a bit shaky and cursed myself for not bringing a marked map but it hadn't occurred to me that it was anything more than a social visit! Luckily they gave me a lift back in one of their trucks and I ate a hearty breakfast feeling that all round I hadn't exactly distinguished myself. However I was already too tired to really care. After breakfast we had a conference to draw up routine orders as we were given to understand that we might be in the same positions for a few days. In the middle of it the air raid alarm went off, so we retired to our cellar on the street level. We then underwent an almighty air raid and expected the ceiling to cave in any moment because it was rising and falling in a most weird manner. I discovered afterwards that a small bomb had fallen in the back garden. Aeroplanes passed over most of the day, but didn't attack us again. There was a certain amount of A/A fire but they merely ringed the aircraft neatly and I never saw one brought down. Later in the day I sat on a bed in a girl's school which was next to our house and tried to spot any enemy movement through field glasses. I saw some people moving about in an odd manner but it was too far away to see who they were and what they were doing. At 3 p.m. we had to change our positions and face West instead of South. One of our positions was at a road junction which had been heavily shelled when we came in the day before, so we didn't feel too happy. When McIntosh’s platoon changed positions I told him to go ahead carrying his guns and ammunitions and I would send his tripods and other heavy stuff on later in his Platoon trucks and I told him where the truck would be. I thought this order would be clear enough for anyone, but when Johnny and I went round the Platoon positions at dusk to see whether the night lines had been set, we found that
he hadn't even got his tripods and on being questioned, he replied, "I understood I was to leave them behind". This was definitely staggering as we thought we might be attacked at any minute. We now heard that Major Adamson commanding A Company had been wounded, also 2/Lt. McDavid very badly and Sergeant Murdoch killed. Our Coy. H.Q. was a sort of concrete air raid shelter just off the main road junction. I managed to snatch an hour's sleep in this on various eiderdowns and pillows which we took from the house opposite.
Very relieved to get orders to move out at 3 a.m. Our Company acting as rearguard. After marching about a mile we saw a body of people appearing out of the gloom in front of us and as they got closer they looked like refugees, but keeping in mind the "Durham Light Infantry story" we whipped out our revolvers, but unlike them we passed unscathed. This story was that a Bn. Of the Durham Light Infantry had met a body of refugees carrying red blankets over their arms and when they drew level the "refugees" had thrown down their blankets and produced tommy guns and then proceeded to wipe out the majority of the Bn. I don't remember where this story came from but as far as I know it is not true. We marched past our old positions at Vimy Ridge and as far as I was concerned it was the worst march I had ever done, because I couldn't keep my eyes open and several times found myself nearly in the ditch when I did manage to pull myself together. A most unpleasant sensation. About a mile further on we came to a T junction. Large numbers of troops were passing from right to left and we had to turn right and march past them. We halted about a mile up the road and found that 17 & 18 Platoons were missing, therefore supposed that they had failed to see us turn and had gone left rather naturally as no one knew where we were going. This was my lifesaver so to speak, because I had to go back and find them on a bicycle and the cold early morning air rushing past revived me and I threw off the great desire to go to sleep. Luckily they halted not far from the road junction, so I got them back to the rest of the Company without wasting much time. Not long after this, while we were marching up an open road we met our transport coming back saying they had run into machine gun fire. Accordingly we struck off left over open country. Ian Thompson appeared with his carriers and did some fine work on the ridge on our right, while D Company, A Company and part of C Company went in open order across the fields. A certain amount of shrapnel was falling near us, but they were only the overshoots from their main target on our right. Nobody quite knew where they were making for, when suddenly a shout went up from Richard Cholmondeley, who was walking near me, to hold on, because the Colonel & the Adjutant were coming up in our rear. I turned round and momentarily it did look like them, but when they got nearer, it turned out to be Ian Crichton and a man who couldn't walk fast because he was suffering from lumbago. This struck me as definitely humorous. We now followed Johnny who was leading the whole party and after a fine piece of cross country marching we came out on a main road. As I didn't have a map at the time I didn't know where we joined the road. I found a bicycle in the middle of one of the fields and pushed it several miles across country, although the wheels kept on getting clogged up on the plough. I was very glad afterwards that I had done this because I was able to ride most of the time. I have never been able to find out since whether we were nearly cut off by the Germans or what Ian Thomson saw or did in his carriers on the ridge, but it was a nasty moment. We marched for many more miles but were finally picked up by our trucks and taken to a wood in the vicinity of Douai. Altogether I estimate that we marched at least 25 miles. Johnny & I had a bit of a wash and a bite to eat in the wood and then we were picked up by R.A.S.C. transport and taken to Seclin, where we arrived at 5 p.m. The Company was billeted in the Ecole Maternelles. Spent several hours with Fus. Linnard in the 8 cwt. trying to buy beer, but it was difficult to get more than a few bottles in each pub. We spent a very comfortable night in proper beds, but were woken up once or twice by rifle fire. Seclin was infested by fifth columnists. When I was half awake I thought the Germans must have gone very quickly to arrive so soon, but I was so tired I just turned over and went to sleep again. (I found out later that we had marched right across the German front and somehow they had never seen us.)
We spent the morning and most of the afternoon reorganising the Company stores, but were continually interrupted by having to go down into an air raid shelter in the grounds whenever there was an alarm. In the morning they bombed the town, particularly round the station fairly heavily. Several French civilians were living in the air raid shelter, but we moved them up to one end as it was a sort of large underground building. The first C.O.s conference in the evening was to issue orders for a counter attack near Arras in conjunction with the French. This was cancelled not long afterwards and subsequent orders were that we were to go up into Belgium again. This was due to the Belgians packing in.
We eventually left Seclin at 3 a.m. on foot and marched onto the main Lille road. McIntosh left a Bren gun and tripod behind and sent a message back for me to go and get it as I was bringing up the rear of the Company. I sent a message to him to send a man back on his platoon bicycle to get it. It was got. We were picked up by R.A.S.C. transport at 5 a.m. and drove through Lille. The town and particularly the outskirts of the town had sustained several heavy air raids, but it was still dark when we passed through and I was unable to see what damage had been done. We drove on until 9 am. and I dozed most of the way. We eventually debussed on the main road just short of St. Eloi, which is a village a few miles from Ypres. The battalion was dispersed in a wood on the right of the road, while Company commanders got their orders from the Colonel. Although we had spent a whole day in Seclin, we had done a certain amount of work reorganizing stores and ammunition, so that no one had a proper rest, thus whenever there was a halt, anyone who wasn't doing anything fell asleep. When we moved off to take up our positions, I went with Johnny leading the Company. We came to a small canal which had very steep sides to it, after marching about 2.5 miles and Johnny told me to take the Company across and park them in a wood on the far side When we got into the wood I showed Coy H.Q. where to put themselves, moved back and told 16 Platoon the same. I then turned round expecting 17 Platoon to come up but they weren't there. I went back along our route through the woods thinking they might have failed to see 16 Platoon take a right angle turn after we had entered the wood. I met a corporal of B Coy and asked whether they had passed him, but he said "no", so I went back across the canal to Johnny and asked whether the whole Company had passed him. He replied, "oh, funny you should ask that because I thought it was rather short." This calm reply rather staggered me because I had already been told that we were supposed to be in position by 12.30 and it was not 12.15. We could only suppose that they had failed to see me move off from the wood 2.5 miles back. I took a truck and went back meeting all our transport coming up the narrow lane, so it was a trying drive. When I got to the wood, I found Livingstone had just woken Up and discovered we had moved off He had told Sergeant Barnes of 16 Platoon to tell him when they moved off and he had forgotten. We eventually reached our positions at 1 p.m. and started digging in. D. Coy was in reserve and A. B. & C. Company were on a railway line by Hill 60. The Bn. Transport were in the grounds of a house about a half mile ahead of us and our Company cooking was done in a garage in these grounds. In the evening when I went up to see about the meal for the Company I found a bit of a flap on in the cookhouse. Apparently just before I arrived a machine gun had fired straight at the building, or so I was told and actually a man was hit in the vicinity of it. However, nothing occurred while I was there and we got the food away without incident. It was very difficult to get a truck up to our positions because there were no tracks and unfortunately we had left the small containers on the 30 cwt truck, which was now heaven knows where (somewhere behind with the Quarter Master) due to there being no room on the 15 cwts. This was the first time that I had met any difficulties over getting the food to the sections. On the following day we got our Company cookers down to the wood in which our Coy H.Q. was situated, but even then it was impossible to carry a big container up to each section along very narrow tracks through the woods. The only method was for a few members of each section to comeback at a time, this was unsatisfactory due to the Platoons having to get their positions prepared quickly and later the Platoon Commanders didn't seem keen on sending their men back. This problem would not have arisen if we had had the small containers, but owing to losing the 30 cwt it was impossible. This was the first night that Johnny and I had to sleep in a trench. It was most uncomfortable because whenever we moved a certain amount of earth fell on us.
After about two or three hours sleep we were up at dawn. After going round 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 off 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. About 1.30 p.m. things really started to hum because we heard that the Germans had broken through on the Battalion's left. 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. 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. At about 9.45 p.m. we withdrew to a farmhouse about a quarter of a mile in our rear which now held the whole Battalion. It was impossible to get up to 17 Platoon as the ground between the respective positions was swept by fire. However, Livingstone and his Platoon were able to get back to the farmhouse later on during the night We now took up a position in a very strong smelling and rather wet ditch and tried to keep awake. I rather think it now began to pour with rain, but I was too tired to know or care. Saw Gordon Wilmot who had been hit and Ian Thomson arrived with a carrier and some ammunition. Never saw him again. Was told that Ian Crichton had been killed. There seemed to be a possibility that we might be relieved in the early morning.
Returned to our old positions in the wood at 3 a.m.. I now realized 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. 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 packed 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. We now marched about 14 miles to a H.Q. near Gheluvelt carrying Corporal Hammerston, who had been shot possibly in the stomach, in a wheel barrow. He also recovered. En route we passed through our own artillery barrage and some bursts were unpleasantly close. On arrival at the H.Q. we met Capt. Holme and about 6 officers from the Northampton’s and Seaforth’s. We were given a sort of barley stew and some brown bread and then went to sleep on straw on the floor at 6.30 p.m. We were woken up at 8.30pm and rushed outside. As it was daylight I thought it was morning because I was in a semi-conscious state and only realized it was the same day when it began to get dark later on. We now marched 8 miles to Courtrai. This was the worst march I have ever done because I couldn't keep my eyes open and it was so dark it was difficult to see the man a pace or two ahead of one. Arrived at Courtrai at 5.30 a.m. and marched miles round the town before we were eventually put into a room in the station. About 12 officers and 100 men lying on top of each other.
At 1.30 p.m. when very hungry taken t the prison where we met Major Morrison, Capt. Heisch, Lieut. Robertson, 2/Lieut. Bowlby and some officers of other regiments. Saw Capt. Arkwright in the distance but he was taken to the hospital as he had been hit in the back. Colonel Tod had also been hit. We were able to buy some food from the Belgians and managed to get a wash in the prison laundry . I slept on a very small straw pelisse.
Marched 19 miles to Renaix where we were put in a very dirty building with Belgian and English troops but we managed to get a room to ourselves . The place was
an old Belgian Ordinance depot so we equipped ourselves with packs, water bottles mess tins etc . Slept on a wooden floor . 3 more officers including a doctor joined us making a party of 21 officers
Marched 26 miles to Ninove . This was a very hard march as it was a hot day, but there was worse ones to come. In Grammont we managed to buy bread , biscuits ,chocolate etc. We were able to do this most days in Belgium by dropping out of the line of march. The Belgians, of whom there were about 4,000 had no discipline, marched all over the road and stopped to eat whenever t hey liked. Most all the time bar this once we had our own guard and were kept going but the guard usually let one or two of us off to buy food . On arriving at Ninove we were put in an orchard where we started to spend the night , but at 10 p.m. we were put in a shed with Belgian and British troops where we slept on a concrete floor absolutely on top of each other, Wherever one of us was put and however uncomfortable, one was so exhausted that one always went to sleep immediately. When we arrived I think we were given a chunk of bread and some coffee
Marched 22 miles to Halk with practically no halts. On arrival we were not allowed to sit down while we were waiting for the Belgians to be billeted before us. The Germans were very irate because we arrived singing . We were put in to a room in the top of a factory with straw on the floor. If one went outside for natural purposes, one had to barge through hundreds of Belgians
When we had fallen into march off, a German N.C.O. made Johnny hold an umbrella and said he looked like Chamberlain. Marched 21 miles to Wavre, This was the hardest march of all because we did about 6 hours without a proper halt .An N.C.O. who was a prisoner in the last war in Birmingham was in charge of us. To start off, one thing had apparently upset them because we were all crowded into a very small room, the door was locked and we were left there for about an hour. After that we were let out and put in quite a decent room but only bare boards to sleep on. The building had once been a school or some such thing. We were now given a good potato soup, bread and coffee, which was more food than we had been given before by the Germans, and were allowed to wash in a stream.
Marched 18 miles to Tierlmon and billeted in an old barracks. This was luxury because it had proper iron beds with straw palliasses. Part of the building was used as a hospital. Also for once we got a really good wash. We were given burnt baked beans and coffee for supper.
We were marched off without being given anything to eat but had only a short distance to St. Truiden.
Marched to Tongeren
Marched to Maastrict
We spent the whole day in the same placed and had a good chance to wash our clothes. We were overloaded with food from the Dutch. Sandwiches of all types, beer, cherries, milk etc.. I must admit that I overate myself in a childish manner and was heartily sick the next morning.
We were routed out fairly early in the morning. Stumpy Thompson & Johnny Vaughan managed to stay behind. The former because his feet had given out because he had marched all the way in gum boots. The latter because his knee was bad. They arrived at Oflag V11C on June 23rd after traversing a different route to ours. Major Ellis also stayed behind as his feet had given out. He eventually went to Oflag IX A. We were with him at Oflag V1 B from October to January '41/'42 until he returned to IX A with the senior officers. I felt very ill until we had marched about 8 miles when I seemed to recover. The Dutch civilians and Red Cross lined the road and showered us with food and cigarettes. After a few miles one had to refuse the food because it was impossible to carry any more. Crossed the German border at 2.05 p.m. and arrived at Palenburg at 5 pm. after a march of 18 miles. We were put into a 3rd class compartment of a train
and expected to spend the night in it. However at 12 p.m. we were routed out, caught unawares with boots off etc.. Much shouted and telling one to hurry up. Eventually we collected ourselves and marched through Dortmund to a camp of huts and marquees. We spent the rest of the night in a marquee.
We spent all day in the marquee and were given two thick stews at 12 noon and 5 p.m.. We shared the tent with the Belgian and French officers. (The latrine was a long pole over a trench, all bums together, so when someone more sat down or got up one nearly fell off into the trench. Everyone had the runs!)
We were moved into a hut where we had a small room to ourselves, but washed etc. in the same places as the Belgium troops. Spent the next three days doing nothing except playing patience, reading one or two odd books we had collected or sleeping.
We were formed up outside the camp at 12 noon in pouring rain where we were given half a loaf of bread and a slice of galantine each to last for 48 hours. Marched through Dortmund and boarded a train at 2 p.m. We thought ourselves lucky to be put into a 2nd class compartment. Many others travelled for the same period in cattle trucks.
Route to Oflag VIIC on Austro-Bavarian border:
Munich (Given slices of bread and some black coffee. 6 p.m.)
Arrived Laufen at 9.30 a.m. on June 15
Oflag VIIC. June 15, 1940 to March 3, 1941.
With 17 other officers, I arrived at the prison camp at Laufen at 10 a.m. on June 15, 1940. As I marched through the gates into the yard, I realised that I might not walk out of them again for perhaps several years. As it turned out later, it was a highly inaccurate thought. The first torment we had to endure, was having to submit ourselves to having all our hair cut off. This was performed with a pair of electric clippers. I looked a particularly repulsive sight after this as my head is the exact shape of an egg. After this we were each individually searched in a building which had been erected as a garage. I seemed to have a large number of papers on me but these were mainly letters. My Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam caused slight consternation but was handed back with the remark: "Now you will have time to learn it all by heart." I never did. Particulars of place of birth, next of kin and such like were taken and then I was passedon to another German officer who took all my money which consisted of about 160 Belgian francs and a few French ones. I was given a receipt for these. I then joined the other officers at the end of the garage where we somewhat impatiently waited for some much wanted food,
But had our heads shaved and photo taken holding up my number 714 and given a metal disc to keep round ones neck.