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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Blouse and Bell Bottoms !icon for Recommended story

by Captain Kerry Noble

Contributed by 
Captain Kerry Noble
People in story: 
Capt Ian Coubrough Noble
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 February 2004

Sent to Belgium at the very outbreak of WW2, my Father, a section commander with the Leicesters TA, was tasked with defensive pioneer work on the La Basse canal. He was commanding two sections, one working on trenches north of the canal and his on the south. They were provided with one truck as transport and spent the, so called 'Phoney War' developing this position.

He told of a very misty, early spring morning, gazing from his trench across the invisible canal and fields to his front. As the rising sun burnt off the haze he observed 'grey things dragging black things towards the water!' To his astonishment he realised these were enemy shock troops equipped with inflatable assault boats. Rousing his section he was obviously asked what they were to do. Knowing the section across the water were already doomed, he repied very succinctly, 'We're going to get in that truck and f--- off as fast as we can !

For the next three weeks (after the fuel ran out) he shepherded his section throughout the retreat, arriving at the beaches of Dunkirk on 25 May 1940.

During this debacle he had been reported 'missing believed killed'. At this time, my mother was expecting my older brother Ian and in hospital at Canterbury. The hospital staff kept the newspapers from her and left her blissfully unaware of the drama taking place across the channel.

Asked of his memories of five days spent on that beach he recounted little. Evidently, they were 'unconcerned' with regard to the divebombers as, unless the bomb actually landed on your head, the destructive force was dissipated by he sand ! They were, however, 'very concerned' about the ME109's that frequently strafed them as they caused the majority of casualties. They were encouraged by the Royal Navy engaging enemy shore batteries but disgusted by the lack of RAF presence. Their way of passing the time, he states, was to dig a shallow sand scrape, lie on your back and take pot shots at the attacking aircraft with your .303, until they ran out of ammunition.

Picked up on 30 May, from the mole onto a Destroyer, he thought his luck was holding. Throughout the action of the past weeks he had only lost one section member, unfortunately the youngest at 18 years. Shortly after leaving the coast, however, they were attacked by Stukas. Although the ship was fortunately unscathed, my father suffered the indignity of having his battledress pants blown off by a near miss ! A sympathetic matelot gave him his spare 'bell bottoms' and he arrived back in Blighty thus clad.

My brother had been born on 27 May and, when word of this reached my Father, he made his way directly to the hospital. Dishevelled and filthy, dressed in his BD blouse and bell bottoms, he duly arrived at the bedside. My Mother's first words to him, still ignorant of this momentous event........
'Christ, Ian, you stink' !!

Notes: A Corporal at the time of Dunkirk, Ian went on to serve at Tobruk and as a Captain with Wingates Chindits in Burma. he survived the war unscathed and completed many more years service with the TA and the Army Cadet Force.

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