BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

After Dunkirk: With The South Wales Borderers

by helenmcd

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Cyril John Clifford
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 February 2004

I have just watched a programme about the evacuation from Dunkirk. This moving story reminded me of my father's story of what happened to his unit at the same time. I cannot remember how big his unit was but it must have been substantial, in fact I say unit because I cannot now recall just how he described it but my impression is that it consisted of several hundred men and possibly many more.

I regret that my memory is not more accurate in recalling details but I think he may never have actually told me the numbers involved.

I do remember that he said he and his comrades were thunderstruck when they heard an English radio broadcast saying that all troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk - "where did that leave us?" was the general feeling he said. "We were still there!" His unit was, at the time, still making its way to Dunkirk and the news of the end of the evacuation casued general consternation. The officers were at a loss at first but decided the only course open to them was to head for other ports, hopefully, not yet overrun by Germans, in the hope that they would be able to take ship from one of them. Here my memmory fails me yet again and I cannot recall which port or ports they headed for - it may have been Cherbourg and or Le Havre; I really cannot be sure.

My father said that in order to increase the chances of more men getting away it was decided that they would be split in half. It may well have been that both groups travelled by train but I am pretty sure that the other group was on a train that was bombed - my father told me these things with a sense of disbelief and seemed to be transported back in time. It was as though he was seeing things passing before his eyes and scenes from the time were replaying on his own private film.

Dad continued with the story, telling me that the mixed bag of luck continued when they reached the port. The remaining men were again split into two groups and yet again disaster struck the other group. Having embarked onto two ships the othe groups ship was bombed and sunk, leaving my father's group as the sole surviving group to return to England.

This story is fragmented I know and asks more questions than it answers. I have not attmepted to verify any of the story so far although I do hope to obtain my father's service record in the near future.

I think Dad was serving in the South Wales Borderers at the time of this story but he did transfer to the Royal Engineers at some point, in order to look after his younger half brother.

My dad had already done his 9 years under the colours and was on reserve at the outbreak of war, which meant he was called up straight away. He and mum had been married the previous year and my eldest sister was 9 months old then. Dad was on active service throughout the rest of the war, seeing action in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. I also had two other older siblings, born during the war years - so Dad obviously got home sometimes! I wasn't born until 1952, an unexpected happy event.

I have my father's diary for the early months in Italy and may transcribe it for the site. If that seems appropriate. As well as some other stories from that time.

It would be good to know if what I have remembered is at all accurate - maybe I can find out from this site.

Helen McDiarmid 21st Feb 2004

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - After Dunkirk

Posted on: 23 February 2004 by twinksblancmange

Dear Helen,

Many thanks for putting in your father's story- I have done something similar on page 2 (And I saw "Gone with the wind in Bagdad") and mention some details of Italy on VE day. Like your story, it is very fragmented.

After watching "Dunkirk" and looking at the web site, there are so many tales to be told.

I was born in 1951. Dad did not speak very much at all of his war years and I do not think I was too interested when I was a child anyway. And my mother had not shared Dad's war years for they were not married until 1949, although they came from the same village.

It is good to record all these memories before we all forget.

Best wishes, Margaret B



Message 2 - After Dunkirk

Posted on: 25 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


You may get a better picture as to what happened after Dunkirk by following this thread F1701707?thread=355569 and another thread linked to it.



Message 3 - After Dunkirk

Posted on: 12 June 2004 by helenmcd

Thank you for your message - I am sorry to have taken so long to reply but I was ill for a while and then had lost of college work to do - as I am a very mature student.

I am 51 as well and was always aware, as a child, that the war was still quite recent. My parents married in 1938 so experienced the war as part of their married life, even thought heir expreriences were very different.

There are manay stories to be told and I think this site is wonderful.

Thanks again



Message 4 - After Dunkirk

Posted on: 12 June 2004 by helenmcd

Belated thanks Peter - I was unable to reply for quite a while but do appreciate you response.

I will look at the thread you mentioned



Message 5 - After Dunkirk

Posted on: 26 July 2004 by originalmarjorie

Hi Helen,

My Dad went to France after Dunkirk - he was in 5th Kings Own Scottish Borderers, D Coy. They were sent to St. Malo on 12th June and came back from Cherbourg on 18th June I think. Incidentally, my Dad would not talk about the war so I've found this out by my own research. They were supposedly the last infantry unit out of Cherbourg.

Do get in touch.


Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

British Army Category
France Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy