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The humorous faithful Durhams: Dunkirk 1940

by heartlessallfulcher

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Raymond Ellis
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Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 February 2004

This is a humorous story from Dunkirk depending on how you look at it.
From every battle and wars lots of stories have been told through the ages about 'Blood and Guts' so it makes a nice change to tell a funny one depending on your sence of humour, though there wasn't anything to laugh about in 1940.

During the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk was a most serious and worrying period of time in the history of the British Army and Great Britain as German forces had just swept through the Low countries of Europe conquering like a dose of salts and it was well looking like the next invasion would be England after the fall of France.

Raymond Ellis was the youngest soldier serving in the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, this regiment at the outbreak of WW2 was part of the B. E. F. sent to France. When Belgium was invaded the Durhams were directed there to it's aid, so for a lot of the lads they would be fighting on the soil of their Fathers in the First World War, but for Belgium it's aid was a case of too few too little and too late in saving the country.

Orders were given to fall back to Dunkirk but not before Jerry was given a bloody nose to remember the Durhams by; even against overwelming odd's. At one stage some of the Durhams were completely surrounded by the enemy and to break clear of them they had first to go through a particular town. They were out of ammunition for their rifles so they fixed bayonets but they did have a box of hand- grenades which they shared out. The order to charge through the town as fast as they could was given; throwing the grenades left and right as they went. They got through without any loss and do you know that not one grenade exploded as they had not been cleaned and primed.

On paper or spoken to'Fall Back' was the easy part as it wasn't going to be no Sunday School trip for the troops in getting back to France. The roads were blocked by refugees fleeing from the advancing German Army and they were being bombed and machine gunned regular by the Luftwaffe plus it was a very long trake back for a foot soldier, many who'd been on the go and fighting for days on end and were now weary from lack of sleep through dodging past the enemy to evade capture which resulted in most of them becoming seperated and were on their own.

Raymond Ellis was a young good looking lad with dark wavey hair and of stocky build like most coal miners from the North East, he was a bit of a rough diamond so to speak, though he was a friendly rogue and you couldn't have wished for anyone better to have on your side if in trouble. He was both a good provider and surviver as all Geordies are known to be. Having no intention of being made a prisoner of War if he could help it, as he headed towards France. Raymond had met up with another soldier from another regiment and they shared each others most welcomed company as they headed for Dunkirk both having hope that at the end of their journey they would find a way in getting home to the U.K.

Being a good seasoned forager of the years of depression and miners strike Raymond spotted an abandoned N.A.F.F.I mobile canteen and being a true Geordie adventurous and provided sort of a lad he was going to make sure nothing good was going to be left for the Germans to pick up free as he loaded up, stuffing his tunic full of cigarettes and bars of chocolate; it was just like Christmas.

When they at last arrived on the Dunkirk beaches adding to the thousands already there among it's sand dunes awaiting their turn for boats to take them home, Raynond started dishing out the cigarettes and choc bars to all around him. As he himself was a none smoker he kept hold of a few bars of chocolate not knowing where and when his next meal would come from.

After his tunic was empty of goodies apart from the few he had held onto he then turned to his new found friend and asked, "What have you got mate?". He in turn opened up his tunic and said, "I've got these" and started handing out around him Envelopes and writing paper.

The Geordies of County Durham are well known for liking a good laugh even in the face of death. Well they got a good one that day as for sure no one would be writing home from those beaches, but the paper would still come in handy after the machine guns strafing and bombing raids from the Luftwaffe Stuka Dive Bombers, if you the readers know what I mean. If not then I'll try to explain in my polite Geordie manner.

During the old days before the war when there wasn't much money about, if kids became constipated and their parents didn't have any spare money for laxitives then their Fathers would sit them down on their little potties and told them Ghost stories till it scared it out of them, -hope you now get the picture.

After a perilous and brilliant rescue from the beaches by The Royal Navy helped by hundreds of civilian volunteer pleasure boats a successful evacuation of the Allied British and French forces was completed. Raymond landed home safe for a well earned rest and a spot of leave: then after a period of further military training came a much further sea journey to North Africa for him and the Faithful Durhams.

After much fighting up and down the desert with first one side being the Victor then the other. By 1943 this conflict was all over and nearly a million Axis troops had been killed or taken prisoner with Raymond coming through it all OK. This campaign was the turning point of the War starting at a place called EL-Alamein. When the war finally ended and the World was once again at peace Raymond went once again into the coal mines to work, he lived in a little mining village near to a town called Bishop Auckland the home of the 6th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry.

One of the greatest leaders of World War Two Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein speaking in the House of Lords about the disbandment and disappearance of so many old and loyal famousd Regiments said " I cannot mention them all but I feel sad about the loss of one, the Durham Light Infantry, the Regiment which marched with me from Alamein to Germany and never put a foot wrong : I've never been in favour of putting stickers on my car windscreen but I'd be most willing to cover all my car with them to save this Regiment". They were his elite fighting troops, any trouble spots in the World and it was, send in the Durhams: sadly alas no more, gone forever like the coal mines of Durham where they were first recruited from.

Dennis Fisher wrote this story and was good friend of Raymond Ellis. They both worked along side one another down the coal mine.

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Posted on: 22 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I very much enjoyed reading these recollections. However, you say "but for Belgium it's aid was a case of too few too little and too late in saving the country."

To set the record straight on that one point, both Britain and France asked the Belgian Government if Allied troops could establish a defensive line in Belgium along the Albert Canal in 1939. This was rebuffed, even with the example of the fate of Czechoslovakia staring them in the face, and Belgium refused even to hold any military talks with the Allies. As Churchill states in "The Gathering Storm", both the Dutch and the Belgians refused "to take any common measures with us". Amazingly, Belgium informed Germany of this, declaring that they were a neutral state. It wasn't until the Germans invaded Belgium that any help was asked for, and unstintingly given, but by then it was too late.



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