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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Rearguard Action towards Calaisicon for Recommended story

by Dogsthorpe library

Contributed by 
Dogsthorpe library
People in story: 
T.V. Rayment
Location of story: 
France
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3609326
Contributed on: 
02 February 2005

In 1939, I was conscripted by the Belisla to serve in the BEF in France.

Young and inexperienced, as we lads were at that time of life, we found the journey interesting and exciting, as we made our way from Calais through France to the Belgian border.

For a few months, although conditions were extremely cold, and sleeping in a pit dug out in the ground wasn't comfortable, army life didn't seem too dangerous! But when the Germans invaded the Low Countries and the Belgian army capitulated life dramatically changed.

Inexperienced and with not enough rifles to go around, struggling our way through the ranks of Belgian refugees, we began to retreat towards Calais. Fighting a losing battle is unpleasant and humiliating, and in small groups of ten we fought a rearguard action in stages to Calais.

Here we quickly organised and established a searchlight of ack/ack (anti-aircraft) sight on the western perimeter of Calais. We were no match for the highly mechanised German army who soon overran Calais, setting fire to the docks and oil refinery.

In no time they surrounded our site, in a farmyard on the outskirts of town, capturing five of our crew and five of us got away. Without maps or local knowledge we retreated as far as Gravelins where the swung bridge across the canal was not in place.

During the night, with the sound of armoured division coming towards us two of our remaining five deserted, including our driver. Come daybreak the bridge was put in place and the road was opened. Although not qualified, I took over the task of driving the lorry.

Not knowing my destination I drove away from the incoming Germans and finally arrived at the memorable place known as Dunkirk, to be greeted by a shower of incendiary bombs.

For several days without food or refreshment, we waded out to sea (although not being able to swim) only to find the boat FULL. Eventually I managed to get aboard and in the midst of machine gunning and bombing made my way to Blighty. There is no more memorable sight or welcome vista than the White Cliffs of Dover.

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