- Contributed by
- CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire
- People in story:
- J. Ellison
- Location of story:
- France, England
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 July 2005
After a few week’s basic training, a couple of dozen of the lads and myself were drafted to join the BEF in France. We travelled by train to Southampton and eventually boarded a troopship and set sail for France where we landed at Le Havre. We were then put on cattle trucks and travelled for 2 days to a place I think was called Charleville. It was a transit camp of XXX Corps HQ’s. I had never seen a real tank before and a Sergeant took us to the vehicles and there stood a line of Matilda Tanks Mk 1. We were then interviewed by the officer in charge and told that we would receive basic training and then sent on to different squadrons.
Things were not going too well for the BEF as the Germans had broken through at different places. We received orders to board one of the tanks. My mate and I took the first one we could get into and after we had been given map references we moved out in single file. We were heading for Arras. We moved off in the dark and travelled all through the night. When daylight was breaking we arrived at Arras. The 4th and 7th Tanks were in the middle of a battle and apparently we had caught Jerry on the hop. The German Armoured Division were badly mauled and had lost at least half it’s tanks. Unfortunately for us, thought, the German then brought in their 88mm gins and heavier armour and we didn’t know what hit us. We were ordered to withdraw in the direction of Dunkirk but not before we had destroyed most of our equipment and made sure it was of no use to the Germans.
Our orders were then changed and we had to march for three days and nights in the direction of Cherbourg. There were troops of all nationalities all heading for the same area and what made it worse was that the roads were blocked with thousands of civilian refugees.
We eventually made it to Cherbourg and got onto the last ship to leave port. Some of the civilians were shouting at us saying why didn’t we stop to fight instead of running away. Some even spat at us but some wanted to come with us. On our way out to the English Channel we saw on our right, a ship being attacked by Stuka dive bombers and Junker 87s. We could see that one of the planes dropped a stick of bombs down the funnel of it and a few seconds later the ship was practically blown out of the water. The ship was never seen again and we were told that there were a great number of casualties. A lot of our lads were on that ship and we never heard what happened to them until we rejoined our regiment at Panton Hall. When we landed back at Southampton we boarded a train and threw our kits on the floor and flopped onto the seats. We were so tired we were asleep within minutes.
The next thing we knew was that a young lady from the Salvation Army had woken us up to ask if we’d like a pot of tea and a sandwich. Of course we did and I can tell you it was the best pot of tea I’d had in a long time. We finally arrived at our destination which was a transit camp in a place called Louth in Lincolnshire. Apparently ICI had a big factory somewhere nearby and the management and staff put on entertainment for us and when that was finished we were invited to some of the people’s homes where we were entertained for the rest of the evening. The next morning we boarded a train to rejoin our Regiment at Catterick Camp but when we got there we were informed that the Regiment had moved to Lincolnshire, not far from the place we had just left and it was only the rear party which remained there. The next morning we travelled with the rear-party to rejoin our Regiment in Lincoln. When we got there (Panton Hall) our CO told us that he was pleased to see that we had got back from France safely and he also told us about the loss of our chaps on the other ship.
I was put on guard duty and while on duty one of the chaps came up in a hell of a state. Apparently his wife was expecting their first child and he wanted to go on leave but the CO wouldn’t let him so he asked the chap on guard with me if he would break his arm so he could get back.
The next day we were given four day’s leave and when we returned, were told that we were being sent to the Middle East. We had to go to Louth Hospital for our medicals to see if we were fit enough to go abroad. Who do you think we should see at the hospital but the lad who had asked if we would break his arm. I saw he had his arm in plaster and I asked him how it happened. He had fallen in one of the slit trenches in the dark the night before and that is how he had done it.
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