Category Archives: Servicemen

The Challenge begins

On Saturday 25th May 1940, the Luftwaffe focused their attention on Allied pockets holding out at Calais, Lille, and Amiens.  They did not attack Dunkirk.
Calais was held by the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and surrendered on Sunday 26th May. 

On that same Sunday 26th May 1940, at 15:30, Hitler ordered the Panzer groups to continue their advance, but most units took another 16 hours to attack. The delay gave the Allies time to prepare defenses vital for the evacuation and prevented the Germans from stopping the Allied retreat from Lille.  The Halt Order has been the subject of much discussion by historians, many of whom considered the failure to order a timely assault on Dunkirk to be one of the major German mistakes on the Western Front. Another called it “one of the great turning points of the war”, and a third described it as “one of Hitler’s most critical mistakes”. Hitler himself believed that once Britain’s troops left Europe, they would never return.  The retreat itself was undertaken amid chaotic conditions, with abandoned vehicles blocking the roads and a flood of refugees heading in the opposite direction.

Due to wartime censorship and the desire to keep up British morale, the full extent of the unfolding disaster at Dunkirk was not initially publicized. A special service attended by King George VI was held in Westminster Abbey on Sunday 26th May, which was declared a national day of prayer. The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers “for our soldiers in dire peril in France”. Similar prayers were offered in synagogues and churches throughout the UK that day, confirming to the public their suspicion of the desperate plight of the troops.

It was just before 7 pm on Sunday 26th May that Winston Churchill ordered Operation Dynamo – the Dunkirk evacuation code-named also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk – to begin.   Initial plans called for the recovery of 45,000 men from the BEF within two days, at which time German troops were expected to block further evacuation.  As it turned out only 25,000 men escaped during this period, including 7,669 on the first day.

The Dunkirk attack begins

On Friday 24th May 1940 Hitler paid a visit to Army Group A headquarters and endorsed the order of the previous day.

The German forces had captured the port of Boulogne and had now surrounded Calais. The engineers of the 2nd Panzer Division had built five bridges over the Canal Line and only one British battalion barred the way to Dunkirk.

Göring urged Hitler to let the Luftwaffe (aided by Army Group B) finish off the British, to the consternation of Franz Halder, who noted in his diary that the Luftwaffe was dependent upon the weather and air crews were worn out after two weeks of battle. Rundstedt issued another order.  That was sent un-coded and was picked up by the RAF at 12:42: “By order of the Fuhrer … attack north-west of Arras is to be limited to the general line Lens-Bethune-Aire-St Omer-Gravelines. The Canal will not be crossed.”

Later that day, Hitler issued Directive 13, which called for the Luftwaffe to defeat the trapped Allied forces and stop their escape.

Franz Halder was a German general and the chief of the Army High Command from 1938 until September 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler. Until December 1941 his military position corresponded to the old Chief of the General Staff position, which during World War 1 had been the highest military office in the German Imperial Army.

A Daughter’s letter to Dad, 16th April 1915

Based on our first meeting with Nellie Lant a couple of weeks ago this letter is out of place. Last time we were in 1916 – this one is from 1915, almost to the day.  The war is some 9 months old and Nellie is at Wesley School, King Street, Cambridge – a different, but still residential, girl’s school – Nellie will only come home at the end of each of the three terms.  and is writing home to her father on Friday 16th April 1915.

Dear Dad
Christ’s Pieces are now our playground.  We have been turned out of our proper school by the soldiers.  On Christ’s Pieces there is a band stand nearly every Sunday evening.  The bands play and crowds of people listen to it.  Not very long ago there were some soldier’s horses on there.  At the middle of every morning and afternoon we have ten minutes play time.  At playtime we all go out and play until the bell rings.  On certain days of the week we have drill on the Piece.

                      I am                               
 Your loving daughter
Nellie

 

A day when Britain stood still

This Saturday, 30th January 1965, saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history when Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held – regarded by many as a day when Britain ‘stood still’.

The following is based mainly on BBC reports with personal memories included:

‘Thousands of people had paid their last respects to Britain’s greatest wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill who was buried today after a full state funeral. A total of 321,360 people filed past the catafalque during the three days of his lying-in-state.

Silent crowds lined the streets to watch the gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s coffin leave Westminster Hall as Big Ben struck 09.45. The procession travelled slowly through central London to St Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral service.

Many millions around the world watched the funeral procession at home and abroad as television pictures were beamed from 40 BBC cameras placed along the route.

The mourners were led by Sir Winston’s wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, his son Randolph and daughters Mary Soames and Lady Sarah Audley. The Queen and other members of the Royal family; the Prime Minister Mr Harold Wilson and representatives of 112 countries packed into the Cathedral for the service.

The funeral cortege was accompanied by a 19-gun salute and an RAF fly-past as it began the journey to Sir Winston’s final resting place. At Tower Hill the coffin was piped aboard the launch ‘Havengore‘ for the voyage up the Thames and then toWaterloo Station where the coffin was placed onto a train drawn by a Battle of Britain locomotive named Winston Churchill.  Thousands gathered to pay tribute at wayside stations as the coffin passed while, at many football matches, a two-minute silence was observed.

Sir Winston was finally laid to rest in the Oxfordshire parish churchyard of Bladon, close to Blenheim Palace where he was born 90 years before.  Only family members were present at his internment.

 

 

A late Friday night/Saturday morning

The night of Friday, 29th January 1965, was one of bitter rain and snow but that didn’t stop many men and women from taking up their positions for the following day’s state funeral.

While they were taking their places in the cold and wet the the Earl Marshal, Duke of Norfolk, was rehearsing the pallbearers duties inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Throughout that day and night there was a steady drumbeat, beating out the minutes in that day-long final flurry of rehearsals for the nation’s last tribute to Sir Winston Churchill.

The sound of 65 beats to the minute on a black-draped drum started in the pre-dawn darkness and echoed eerily through empty streets as 5,000 Servicemen escorted the heavy gun carriage and a lead-weighted coffin in a ghostly parade along the funeral route.  Come the morning daylight that will carry Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in the first stage of his final resting place.

The troops left Westminster as Big Ben struck 04.45 a.m.