- Contributed by
- People in story:
- William Hugh Robinson ('Robbie')
- Location of story:
- Northern France and Belguim.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 December 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War web site by a volunteer on behalf of Bill Robinson and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
My name is William Hugh Robinson. Better known as Bill or ‘Robbo’ to my friends and colleagues. In January 1938 I had lost my job and I met this chap who had been a boy soldier. He said that he was going to join the Regular Army and persuaded me to go along with him to the Recruiting Office. It seemed a good idea. That was the 5th of January, 1938. When the Recruiting Sergeant asked me my age, I said “ Seventeen and a half” to which he replied “No you’re not, your eighteen”, and that is how I became a Regular in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. By the time war was declared, on the 3rd September 1939, I had completed my basic training and was part of C Company of the 2nd Battalion, the Beds and Herts. Towards the end of the month as part of the BEF, we went to France and on into Belgium, as far as the Leopold Canal. I remember one day volunteering to deliver something to another Company. I found them in a trench and when I leaned over to pass my delivery down, they said “Don’t stay there. That is where Ginger Volkins was killed yesterday” Ginger was by way of a legend in the Regiment as he had 18 years service. Even so I was young and had no fear. There was never any real fighting but Jerry always seemed to know where we were and kept taking shots at us. We moved by night and layed up during daylight, quite often in a farm. There were dead cows lying around because they had not been milked. We were short of food and had very poor equipment. All we had to protect ourselves was our rifles. Ammunition was short. I was given a Boys Anti Tank gun by an officer. I carried around for a while but there were no ammunition for it, so I left it somewhere. I can not remember all the names of the others in the Company, but I was Batman to Major Onslow. I think that was his name. We were never told what was happening or where we were going. Everything was very SECRET.
In the early hours of the morning on either the 3rd or 4th of June 1940 we were moving down a long straight road. I always liked to be in the front and was at the head of the Company with Private Judkins (‘Juddy’). We turned round to see where the rest of the Company were doing to find that there was nobody behind us. We assume that the column must have turned off left some way back. ‘Juddy’ said we will have to go back and find them. I could smell the sea and was going to find it. After a short while we stumbled out onto a beach. It was crowded with formed ranks of soldiers all with their Greatcoats on; just waiting. In our Company we did not even have Greatcoats. I saw a small Flat bottomed canvass Boat with four soldiers in it trying to paddle out a Royal Navy ship further out. They were having great difficulty as they were trying to paddle with their rifle butts. I offered to help them as they seemed to be stuck on a sand bank. I got into the boat and told them what to do and we started to move towards the ship. About half way out a Naval Officers from the ship shout out that he could not take any more on board. We ignored this and continued to the ship and found rope ladders down the side. We all scrambled aboard. As I was exhausted I found a corner and lay down and went to sleep only to be woken by a loud explosion. The ship was being attacked by German aircraft and we were underway. Luckily we were not hit.
The Naval Officer informed us that his orders were to go to Calais, but as the town was alight, he was going straight to Dover. I remembered that I had picked up a packet of biscuits on the way back. As I was hungry, not having eaten anything for several days, I took them out only to be accosted by another rather large soldier who said “ Thank you for looking after my biscuits, now I will have them back”. To which I replied “No, they are mine”. He thumped me and laid me out. I never saw him or the biscuits again. We were landed at Dover and told to go along the Dockside where we would find a hot meal waiting for us. I remember that I could hardly eat anything as I had been without proper food for such a long time. Afterwards we were moved onto Aldershot.
The remainder of C Company must have turned off and headed into Dunkirk. They were never seen or heard off again. By the time they would have reached Dunkirk the Germans were already there. I often wonder what happened to the four soldiers in the boat. I never found out their names or what unit they belonged to. I never saw them again once we got on the ship or at Dover. I went on to transfer to the East Surrey Regiment and served with the 1st Battalion in North Africa, through Italy and into Austria. But that is another story.
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