The Wormhoudt Massacre (28th May 1940)

Towards the end of May 1940 the 8th Battalion. The Worcestershire Regiment were engaged in military operations as the result of the German invasion of Belgium.

On the afternoon of May 25 the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, having been in action for about two days in the face of overwhelming odds, were surrounded and a number, their ammunition having given out, surrendered and were made prisoners of war in the area of Wormhoudt.

Prior to this action the 8th Battalion had been moved out of Wormhoudt to positions a few miles away, around Herzeele and Bambegue on a line known as the 25-mile perimeter. Heavily outnumbered by enemy tanks, artillery and infantry, the 8th suffered heavy losses and at the end of the action only a handful of men from each company was able to join Battalion HQ, which had been under attack from machine gun fire from all directions. During darkness the remains of the Battalion, numbering about 150, found a gap in the enemy positions and, by crawling up the ditches, were able to get through and make their way to Bray Dunes.

Until recently it was not known that at this stage at least six men from 'D' Company had been taken prisoners of war, stripped to the waist and their identity discs removed - they and the remnants of The Warwickshires, a number of Cheshires and Gunners, making up a party of some 90 captured men.

This group was marched to a point South of the road between Wormhoudt and Esquelbecq to a place known as "La Plaine au Bois". This was a meadow with trees on three sides some distance away from a Barn.

The men were forced into the Barn and hand grenades were tossed inside. Bullets were also fired into the Barn. Later those who had survived this ordeal were taken out of the Barn and shot (most of them in the back) in groups of fives to ensure there were no apparent survivors.

During the Dunkirk pilgrimage in May each year the Worcester branch of the Dunkirk Veterans Association joins the Birmingham branch for a service in the Church at Esquelbecq, followed by a march to the top of the hill out of the village, on the Wormhoudt road, to the site of the Barn.

Mr A. Hall (late HQ Coy 8 Worc R) at The Wormhoudt Monument

After this massacre the Barn was burnt to the ground; a circle of trees was later planted to mark the site. The Birmingham D.V.A. erected a monument to the dead on the roadside some years ago; they also presented the village with a well-known china figure of St George and the Dragon, mounted on a wood plinth with cap badges of the Warwickshire Regiment, Cheshire Regiment and Royal Artillery. This has a place of honour in an alcove in the Church.

The cap badge of the Worcestershire Regiment was added in 1987, after the Church Service, to the plinth of the figure in the Church at Esquelbecq by Lieut.- Colonel Goldfinch, President of the Birmingham Branch D.V.A.

On Sunday 24th May 1987, Mr. A. Hall (late HQ Company - 8th Battalion) attended the Church Service and parade at Esquelbecq. At the wreath-laying ceremony at the monument on top of the hill he laid a wreath on behalf of the Worcestershire Regiment for the first time to the men that were massacred at Wormhoudt.

Barn at Wormhoudt (1940)

Rebuilt Barn on the spot of the old Barn at Wormhoudt