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The Mythical Second B.E.F. 1940

by Maysie

Contributed by 
Maysie
People in story: 
Thomas William Mayes
Location of story: 
France.
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2365210
Contributed on: 
29 February 2004

I am pleased that the above mythical Army is at last being recognise, over the years I have been thinking that it was a dream. I was stationed on Marlborough Common in May 1940, and we left in a hurry and were taken to Cherbourg. We picked up some troops, who were Scottish and were at the back of a long convoy which went south then east. I never kept a diary so cannot remember the names of the towns we passed through. We must have dropped the troops somewhere west of Paris and then returned to a camp just east of Cherbourg. One night the camp was in uproar, troops were being brought from Le Havre, I discovered they had been fighting the Germans. This was the first time we had known of the German break through. In England we never saw a paper so were ignorant of the News. We left our camp and took the troops to Rennes. Early next morning 20 lorries left on a Dangerous mission!! I know we went east, and stopped somewhere north of Alencon. Our officer went ahead to get information and when he returned he lead us through small country lanes until just before dusk we met and picked up the remains of a Battalion of the 'Duke of Wellingtons'. We then returned I do remember going through Laval and when we stopped at Vitre, our Officer learned that the French had surrendered. We continued through Rennes to Saint Malo. Here we left the lorries and boarded a small Collier named ALT which was registered in Goole. We were the last on and had to sit on a gangway which ran from the bridge to the Forecastle. There must have been about 2000 men aboard, we left at dusk and arrived in Southampton next morning. All the morning we had to stay out in the sun whilst waiting our turn to dock. After a welcome meal we went by train to Chesterfield, I slept all the way, we went to the Drill Hall and I fell asleep again on a pile of Blankets.
Some of our company came home via St. Nazaire and saw the sinking of the Lancastria, they said it was a plane with French markings that dropped the bomb that is why it was not fired on. As nothing appeared in the papers we assumed it was not important.

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Message 1 - The Mythical Second B.E.F. 1940

Posted on: 29 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Maysie

I very much enjoyed reading your story, it deserves a wide audience. All did not end at Dunkirk, far from it.

For those interested in events in France after Dunkirk, click here F1701707?thread=355569

On a minor matter, Maysie, you end by saying "Some of our company came home via St. Nazaire and saw the sinking of the Lancastria, they said it was a plane with French markings that dropped the bomb that is why it was not fired on." This may well have been an impression gained from a distance in chaotic times, but it wasn't the case.

There was a French Morane fighter in the area but it was heavily engaged in defending, not attacking the Lancastria. The Lancastia was bombed by Ju88 medium dive-bombers (one of the most effective anti-shipping aircraft of all time) of Gruppe II/KG 30. In all, there were 14 Ju88s in II/KG 30, all attacking. The Morraine made several attempts to shoot Peter Stahl down but the French fighter had to break off out of fuel, and he immediately dive-bombed the ship. The Ju88s were under intense anti-aircraft fire, but Stahl dived and released his bombs on the Lancastria. At least two planes bombed the Lancastria. The Ju88s had no losses; although Unteroffizier Geffgen's plane was riddled with seventy 7.5 bullet holes from the French fighter, he managed to get the Ju88 back to Belgium and belly-landed using his two engines and four bombs as skids. All the Ju 88s of Gruppe II./KG 30 were clearly maked in Lufwaffe colours.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - The Mythical Second B.E.F. 1940

Posted on: 14 March 2004 by Maysie

Thank you for your detailed reply.
Re the Lancastria, you must remember that there was very few reports about the sinking and we thought at times that our collegues might have been telling us a few untruths. By the way I tried to make my report as truthful as I could remember it.
Later on I had a couple of encounters with the Home Guard, and after watching Dad's Army, I am afraid my recollections of those meetings might be a bit fictitious. I was arrested one night by the Home Guard a few miles east of Exeter, I had about 6 tons of Anti-aircraft shells on my lorry and was trying to reach a gunsight which was in action firing at planes bombing Exeter, about 28/04/42. I will not enlighten you of the outcome.

 

Message 3 - The Mythical Second B.E.F. 1940

Posted on: 14 March 2004 by Maysie

Thank you for your detailed reply.
Re the Lancastria, you must remember that there was very few reports about the sinking and we thought at times that our collegues might have been telling us a few untruths. By the way I tried to make my report as truthful as I could remember it.
Later on I had a couple of encounters with the Home Guard, and after watching Dad's Army, I am afraid my recollections of those meetings might be a bit fictitious. I was arrested one night by the Home Guard a few miles east of Exeter, I had about 6 tons of Anti-aircraft shells on my lorry and was trying to reach a gunsite which was in action firing at planes bombing Exeter, about 28/04/42. I will not enlighten you of the outcome.

 

Message 4 - The Mythical Second B.E.F. 1940

Posted on: 14 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

You are quite right, news of the Lancastria disaster was held back from the public for over 5 weeks on Churchill's order.

Regarding this, Churchill says in Volume 2 of 'The Second World War': "When this news came to me in the quiet Cabinet Room during the afternoon I forbade its publication, saying: 'The newspapers have got quite enough disaster for today at least.' I had intended to release the news a few days later, but events crowded in upon us so black and so quickly that I forgot to lift the ban ..." In fact the news was released about five and a half weeks later in 'The Times', on 24 July 1940.

Kind regards,

Peter

Message 1 - The 2nd B.E.F.

Posted on: 04 December 2004 by sgt_george

Sgt. George Fitzpatrick (1866342)
1 Supply Base Depot, Royal Engineers.
Killed, aged 30, in Luftwaffe attack on Rennes and its railway station, Brittany, France, Monday 17th June 1940 along with 800 others, including civilians, French and British soldiers.
British dead are buried in CWGC section of Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery.
The CWGC cemetery records show approximately 100 British servicemen killed in bombing attack on a troop train(s) or died soon afterwards.
The regiments mentioned in these records include Royal Engineers, Pioneer Corps, Durham Light Infantry, Service Corps, Ordnance Corps, RAF, York and Lancs, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent, South Staffs, North Staffs, Manchester, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and Royal Artillery but the majority of casualties appear to be Royal Engineers from various units.
I am related to Sgt George in that he was my maternal grandfather’s youngest brother, thus George was my great uncle but he died long before I was born. Verbal family history tells George was involved in bridge demolition to delay the German advance on Dunkirk. How he and so many of his comrades found their way to Rennes 500kms to the south west and two weeks after the completion of the evacuation at Dunkirk is unknown. Perhaps George's unit was part of the 2nd B.E.F. George's family would very much like to learn what was happening in Rennes on that day, which I believe is the same day HMT Lancastria was bombed.
Any help on this would be much appreciated.
David Grundy

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