- Contributed by
- Southampton Reference Library
- People in story:
- Major R D Lake DSO
- Location of story:
- Rouen, Cherbourg
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 June 2005
After the fall of France, one contingent of soldiers stationed in Rouen had to fight their way across France.
Starting on 19th May, 1940, a 12 mile line of Britons with only 300 rifles had to hold the line. So steel helmets were placed on sandbags and tent poles turned into guns.
Several soldiers ran up and down the trench firing from different positions. And this line was held for 20 days by Beauman's Division, consisting of approximately 800 men. They were constantly bombed and harassed by the advancing Germans whilst the Germans were trying to assess their strength.
On the 8th June D Company faced by German tanks managed to escape to a riverside village which was in flames. The Batallion Commander set out to rescue C Company. At one stage guns from tanks opened fire, his car was wrecked, but they all got to the river without loss. In the meanwhile one of the other soldiers opened a gate and from a barn a small car and 2 motor cycles rushed out: no one got hurt.
Meantime Headquarters Company had been creeping through a forest held by the Germans, only aided by a small compass, and had reached the river. The ferry started to ferry them across then refused to carry on, so one of Newcombe's Rifles swam across, put the Captain under guard and the ferry started up again. They all managed to cross the river and on 19th June embarked at Cherbourg with 22 Officers, 310 other Ranks, together with 29 antitank rifles and 15 bren guns.
Major Lake's daughter remembers waiting for news at her Army school, which had been evacuated from Bath to Longleat, and has preserved a well-worn newpaper clipping from the Daily Mail of July 12 1940 telling the story.
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