- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Harry Haskell
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- Contributed on:
- 21 February 2004
Harry was my husband's uncle. He died a few years ago, but before he died he told me a little about his experiences before and at Dunkirk.
Harry joined the Territorial Army in Fareham in September 1937. They were attached to the Hampshire Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery (Coastal Defence). He was Gunner no 873465.
In September 1939 he was mobilised and went to HMS Dolphin, on guard, in case the German Fleet came up the Solent.
He then volunteered as a driver, and joined 2nd Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery. They had 12 inch Howitzers, made by Vickers in 1917, for the First World War.
Harry went as a driver to France, crossing from Dover, on the train ferry to Dunkirk. They ended up in Lille with their guns set up in the Market Square. They were inspected by Lord Gort, who decided that there guns were not really suitable for the present situation. They were sent elsewhere, to guard an ammunition dump, where on 10 May 1940, they had a nasty scare, when a lone German aircraft dropped a bomb on top of the wall which was around the ammunition dump.
One day a motorcyclist came to tell them that the Germans were in Arras, not far away. They headed for Amiens, but the Germans headed them off. They eventually found themselves near Dunkirk.
They were ordered to imobilize their vehicles, and walk to Dunkirk. Harry was now with just two friends. While on the way to Dunkirk, he remembered human figures were silhouetted against the sky, which was one mass of orange flame, from the oil tanks which were on fire.
They were each given a tin each of Nestle milk, by a French man, who had a crate of tins, and was opening them and handing them out to everyone.
At Dunkirk they were told by the Military Police not to go to the Docks, but onto the beaches east of Dunkirk. They arrived at the sand-dunes at day-break. Here they sustained themselves on a tin of cheese, that they found.
The next morning at daybreak, a lamp signalling Morse code, told them that boats were being sent. When the boats came, they were anchored in deep water, and the Navy ferried people from the shore to the boats, in rowing boats. The rowing boats were getting stuck on the sand, not helped by the weight of the people getting into them, and the tide going out. Harry stood in the sea, for a considerable time, at first up to his waist in water, and as the tide went out, up to his thighs, helping to push the boats off the sand.
Eventually he was hauled into a boat, and taken to a Naval destroyer, HMS Drafton. He has to climb up a net on the side of the boat, which was very difficult, as by them he had cramp in both legs. On the way to Dover, the destroyer was attacked by two Stuka aircraft. The Navy shot one down, and the other then decided to move away.
Harry was lucky as HMS Drafton was torpedoed and sank on her next trip to Dunkirk on 29 May.
Harry went on to train as an electrician, applied to join REME, and worked in a REME depot in Naples.
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