- 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
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