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15 October 2014
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A Supply Drivers Memories of Dunkirk

by ArthurOates

Contributed by 
ArthurOates
People in story: 
Arthur Oates
Location of story: 
France
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2335763
Contributed on: 
23 February 2004

I arrived at Le Havre, France on 10/11 January 1940 and was billetted in Dechy, near Douai until May 14, when Jerry attacked through Belgium. We moved in support of 145 Brigade (the 2nd Glosters, 1st & 4th and Ox & Bucks, supporting engineers, artillery and tanks)supplying food rations. We were constantly on the move, collecting supplies where possible.

On our move up towards Belgium, the roads were packed with refugees, in cars, trucks, carts loaded with personal belongings. Twice I was forced to stop and dive into a ditch as Jerry planes machine gunned the roads.

On one occasion in a large village square, we were parked on one side whilst on the other a troop of bren gun carriers were parked. Suddenly, they were attacked by enemy planes. The action was over quickly to my relief, as I was desperately trying to find a hole to dive into.

One night driving back in convoy, having made a delivery of rations, I lost contact with the vehicle in front of me (we were on dimmed lights following the lights in front) so with my co-driver, pulled off the road to rest till dawn. During the night a convoy of Belgian trucks with trailers, thundered past. As soon as dawn broke we set off to locate our own convoy, which we eventually did.

The last delivery I remember was to the 145 Brigade field ambulance COY. The RSM asked if I would notify his wife that he had to stay behind with the wounded (he gave me his name and address). I am pleased to say that he got home safely.

My transport company received orders to make for Dunkirk, but we first had to go to the NAFFI supply depot at Lille and load up with food to take to the beaches. The NAFFI was deserted when we got there, so we loaded food, wines, cigarettes, etc and made for Bray Dunes. (We also put a bottle and some cigs into our packs).

I think it was Wednesday 27 May when we arrived at Bray Dunes. We left our vehicles and joined the troops on the sands. During the afternoon Stukas and fighters attacked the beaches and ships. I dived into the dunes and with others fired a few rounds at the planes. I saw one destroyer sunk, and the steam ship Crested Eagle bombed and beached not far from where I was and the men jumping overboard into the sea.

That night we settled down into the sand dunes. The next morning I joined one of the queues of men stretching down to the sea and waited to be picked up, but as movement was slow, I made my way along the beach and towards the waters edge - I can still see the bodies floating there in the shallows.

A rowing boat came in, so with a few others and clutching my rifle, I waded out to the boat and managed to get aboard. We rowed out to a nearby destroyer, which was packed. We clambered up the boarding nets, were hauled over the top and in a short time were on our way home.

Half way across the channel, three fighters approached, but we thanked God that they were our own. (Although I had been through the events of the previous day and seen ships sunk, I felt sure that once I was in the hands of the Navy, I would be safe.)

We arrived at Dover where we were put straight onto waiting trains. (I think it was Dover where we were given tea and sandwiches.) I finished up in Chesterfield.

Yes, It was a miracle that so many were saved, when you realise we were surrounded on three sides by crack German Panser divisions. But, a thought comes to mind - ours and the French rearguard troops fought a marvellous delaying action, but why were we, the 330,000 survivors not adequately equipped to hold and sustain a defensive line.

Also, Those gallant troops taken prisoner were denied the Defence Medal because they had not served three years.

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Message 1 - Defence Medal

Posted on: 07 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear ArthurOates

I enjoyed your story "A Supply Drivers Memories of Dunkirk" very much. It is both well written and informative.

However, you conclude by saying "Those gallant troops taken prisoner were denied the Defence Medal because they had not served three years."

The Defence Medal was primarily for members of the armed forces, including the Home Guard, with three years service in the UK and for many other valuable civilian services such as the Ambulance Service, the Fire Service, and even Canteen Service.

An ex PoW, taken prisoner at Dunkirk, would qualify for the more prestigious 1939-45 Star, which takes precedence over the Defence Medal and all other campaign stars. He would also qualify for the War Medal 1939-45, worn after his campaign stars. Those who know how to read ribbons would see at once that all his service was in the armed forces overseas which, in the absence of other campaign stars, would strongly indicate an ex BEF PoW. Medals and awards, like other heraldic devices, have to be read in toto.

Kind regards,

Peter

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