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- Dick Combes
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- 25 February 2004
My father, Dick Combes, was a subaltern at the beginning of the second world war and after the retreat through Belgium and France ended up on the beaches of Dunkirk. He was in charge of about twenty men including a sergeant. They were constantly under attack and with little sign of the RAF, my father told me that he had never dug a hole so fast in his life. There was a general disquiet among the men over the lack of showing of the RAF. The officers were called for a briefing and told to go back to their men and explain that the reason the RAF were not defending them on the beaches was because they were busy attacking the German advance.
All the equipment and weaponry had been destroyed and left on the road and the only main weapon my father's group had was a Bren gun, which was carefully looked after by the sergeant. The frustration of the air attacks and not being able to respond caused the sergeant to ask permission to fire attacking aircraft. My father pointed out that to try and shoot down an aircraft wth a Bren gun was a waste of time but if it made him feel better then to do so. The sergeant fired at the next aircraft to swoop low over the water.
Aircraft recognition at the beginning of the war was not of a high standard. My father was horrified to see the sergeant's lucky shot had downed a hurricane. The sergeant pilot dragged himself out of the water and being less than happy, expressed his displeasure in fairly basic Anglo-Saxon. In the mean time the Bren gun was being passed around like "Pass the parcel" to avoid any incriminating evidence. The sergeant pilot remained with my father's group back to England.
They managed to get on a destroyer and my father praised the skill of the captain who managed to steer to avoid the bombs being dropped. While this was going on a naval officer invited my father to leave the deck and go to the wardroom for a drink. On return to the deck my father was shocked to find that the Germans had straffed the crowded decks and there were bodies everywhere. My father always claimed that being a drinker saved his life.
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