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|Wormhoudt and Bambecque (May 1940)|
2nd Lieutenant E. J. Haywood (later Captain), an officer who had been commission
into the Worcestershire Regiment, was attached to 144th Brigade as a intelligence
officer. During the final days of the withdrawal to Dunkirk he was appointed Adjutant of the 8th Battalion
Worcestershire Regiment. In 1941 he wrote the following account of the later
stages of the withdrawal to Dunkirk:
I begin this story of the last few days in Flanders as Brigade Intelligence Officer and end it as Adjutant of the 8th Battalion. The Battle of the River
Escaut, which immediately preceded this story, deserves a long account to itself and will form no part of this narrative.
The Brigade withdrew from the positions it had so tenaciously and successfully held along the Escaut on the night of May 22nd/23rd, occupied posts along the Franco-Belgian frontier on the 23rd, and handed over to French troops on the 24th.
Few of us, even then, realised the precarious position of the B.E.F. At Wez Velvain we had received the message "News from the South reassuring. We stand and fight. Tell your troops," so that the report that we were to be given two or three days' rest after the hectic experiences of the ten previous days fell on ears only too ready to believe it true.
Instead, on May 25th, the Brigade moved in troop-carrying transport to the Dunkirk area, where Brigade H.Q. opened at Rousbrugge, some 8 miles as the crow flies, S.E. of Dunkirk. The 8th Battalion was concentrated at Beveren over a mile to the N.E.
I spent the early part of the afternoon rounding up stray transport of Brigade H.Q., immediately after which I was sent by the Brigade Major to open Brigade H.Q. at Le Nouveau Monde some 2 miles S.E. of Wormhoudt. I had read or heard somewhere that the enemy were preparing an attack from the West, and that Wormhoudt, on the important Dunkirk-Cassel road, was one of their objectives. This news cleared away a lot of the uncertainty in one's mind and I went off, cheerfully enough, in my P.U. and took with me the Officers' Mess Van. We threaded our way through flimsy-looking half-built road-blocks, stopping a few minutes in Herzeele, where I made unsuccessful attempts as P.M.C. to Brigade H.Q. to buy some bread. None of us had eaten bread for some days. At last I managed to buy some soft biscuits. The good lady in the shop was in a sad state of nerves, but her small daughter served me very cheerfully. At nearly every door stood civilians watching us as we went by and crying "Where are the Germans?" My invariable reply was "Assez loin d'ici !!" and I hoped I was right.
A little out of Herzeele I found the hamlet of Le Briel. Here we took cover as German bombers droned their way to their base, evidently from a raid on Dunkirk.
It was soon clear from the inhabitants who flocked round my two trucks that we would not be welcome. I remember trying to understand this. Was it because they feared their hamlet would become a battlefield? Was it because they were bilingual and—No! that was surely nonsense. They wanted the war to pass them by. That was certainly the answer.
I arranged with the owners of one estaminet for Brigade H.Q. Mess to open there. They were the two most pleasant people I found there. I had a bottle of beer and some biscuits—my first food that day—while the men began cooking veal cutlets for dinner. We had killed the calf ourselves and the meat was very fresh, but I knew how hungry everyone was. I then went off and quickly arranged billets for the rest of Brigade H.Q. H.Q. itself I established in a small empty cottage. Most of the men would sleep in the barns of the farm nearby. The billet looked a comfortable clean one for them, but the farm people themselves were incredibly dirty. Again German planes flew over, and a drab of a girl there shrieked with terror at the very sight of them.
Later in the evening I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Brigade H.Q. I had an excellent supper ready and had sent back the good news. At last a D.R. (Despatch Rider) came to say that fresh orders had arrived, and that Brigade H.Q. would open in the grounds of the Chateau at Wormhoudt. I was bitterly disappointed—hunger and lack of sleep made me unreasonably so. The supper was packed up, and the Officers' Mess Truck, which, had developed engine trouble, was towed by the brake—a slow process. The D.R. guided us and I fell asleep for the first time in nearly two days. Back through Herzeele and on to Wormhoudt. The rain was falling heavily, and during my intervals of sleep I noticed how much traffic there was on the narrow road and how patiently the drivers slowly crept forward without lights in the rain-sodden darkness. At last we reached the Chateau, where Dennis Gibbs, the B.M., was busy parking all vehicles along paths which afforded perfect cover from view. I growled to him about the ruined supper. "Never mind, Bill! We haven't done badly," he replied, "you get some sleep now. We've had a rest in a field." I got out my camp-bed for the first time and fell asleep under a hedge while the rain dripped slowly on me.
We stood-to next morning and I had a good look round. The Chateau was an ugly house, but very large. I soon had the cooks preparing breakfast in the kitchen, but, as the rain had stopped and the morning was fine, we breakfasted under the trees. The Brigadier was in grand form. He knew that we were in for a bad time, and so did we, but when one's leader is cheerful, who under him can be otherwise?
I found out where the Battalions were, and learned that Battalion H.Q. of the 8th Battalion with "C" Company was near at hand in the grounds. I visited them first, found out where the other Companies were, and then went down into the village with Kenneth Hougham, the I.O. (Intelligence Officer). Here I first found the 5th Gloucesters and got their dispositions from Major Priestly and Tony Dewsnap, the I.O. Tony was in grand form. Two days later he was wounded and a prisoner. We went to the market square. "Quick, parachutists!" Tony whispered in my eat. I jumped round, only to see a number of weary-looking clerics footing it to Dunkirk. We went on to the H.Q. of the 2nd Warwickshires, where I found Major Harborne having a shave. Major Hicks, who was in command, was in grand form and made me very welcome. I chatted to him and Dick Tomes, the Adjutant, and then saw David Padfield, the Signals Officer, doing stunts on a bicycle. David had just been promoted Captain and was in high fettle. Everyone was just as cheerful. The thought of a second good crack at the Boche, who was kindly giving us time to welcome him, was the cause. The new I.O. was not available, but I took out the Intelligence Serjeant, whom I knew well, from the Saar, and climbed a high water-tower a quarter of a mile away, which the Brigadier had recommended as an O.P. (Observation Post). This afforded a wonderful view of the country for miles around, but the only sign of enemy activity was an aircraft which hovered above the village for a few minutes. I do not think he could have seen many signs of our occupation, but a C.C.S. clearly marked with the Red Cross was plainly visible. I strongly recommended this O.P. to the Serjeant, and went into the village to do some shopping. Bread was unobtainable, but I bought some sardines and cakes and the worst hair-cut I've ever had! Everywhere came the same question, "Where are they, monsieur ? Ought we to go?" By that time I had learned what refugees cause on the road, and I replied "No, stay. What good is it to depart? Each one has his chance."
On the way back I met a French Serjeant, with whom I chatted. He had a few sappers with him for demolition work. In exchange for a bottle of good wine he gave me half a loaf of stale bread. Back to the Chateau grounds, where I found French Security Police Officers searching the house. The owners, they told me, were Belgians and suspected of being enemy agents. In one room they found part of a transmitting set, but this, I believe, was all.
I reported to the B.M. (Brigade Major), who, patient as ever, went over the dispositions of the Brigade Group. while I filled in the details on his map. "Now, we just wait," was how he summed it up. "The Brigadier expects we shall catch it to-morrow."
In the Chateau I had a glorious cold bath—a thing I generally shun, but there was, of course, no hot water. Someone had found the cellar and we all had good wine for lunch, with more veal cutlets. Why leave good wine for the Boche? I went over to the 8th with two bottles of champagne. It was then that I heard my first screaming bombs. Over came three enemy aircraft and down screamed the bombs. As we all know now, each bomb seems meant for everyone who hears it. I lay down, angry at my helplessness, and beside me lay two privates whom I did not know. The first one landed and I felt it must have hit some part of the grounds. As the second screamed at us, one of the men by me said "Well, they can't it everything!" He said it in such a way that I shall remember it in every air-raid I experience. One of those little sayings, surely, which help one to carry on and disregard danger.
The bombing did not last long, and I soon found that we had suffered no casualties. Indeed, it seemed that a few French troops a mile away were the target.
I spent an hour talking with the C.O. of the 8th and with "Jonah," (Major S. W. Jones) the Second-in-Command. We all agreed that the Brigade would certainly be in action again soon.
There was in the gardens a peacock with a raucous voice, and, apparently, a victim of insomnia. At first we found his shrieking intolerable, for all of us in turn tried to make up arrears of sleep. But the strident protests of " Gabriel Junks against the screaming bombs endeared him to us, and the saying was put round that as long as he survived, we would be "all right."
That evening an Englishwoman came into the Chateau. She told me she was the wife of a Belgian and was making her way from somewhere near Brussels to Dunkirk in the hope of getting to England. It was of little use to dissuade her, so I did not attempt it. We gave her food to take back to her family and I went with her—one was so suspicious of civilians by that time. We found her family sheltering in a farm outside Wormhoudt on the Cassel Road, where I stayed some time questioning some R.A.S.C. drivers who had delivered their last supplies of ammunition to the troops holding Cassel and were now on their way to Dunkirk. They had come from farther West and were full of stories of a rapid German advance. They added nothing to what we already knew. We had no knowledge then of the glorious defence of Calais and no understanding, therefore, of our debt to the defenders, whose resistance gave us time to organize defences West of Dunkirk.
The next morning, May 28th, I was acting as Adjutant of the 8th Battalion. Company Commanders were ordered to report to the Commanding Officer in the Market Square of Wormhoudt at, I think, 0900 hrs. Enemy tanks and troops had been reported as moving towards us from the S.W. It had been decided to move the Battalion S.W. of
Wormhoudt, but these instructions were cancelled before 0900 hrs., with the result that the Battalion
dispositions became as follows: "B" Company, S.E. of Wormhoudt, "A" and "D" Companies near
Wylder, and "C" Company in reserve with Battalion H.Q. at the Chateau.
The meeting in Wormhoudt was a cheerful one. I do not now remember all who were present, but "Jonah," (Major S. W. Jones) the "Ram" (Major F. S. Ramsay) and John Farrar especially made me very welcome. It was the last time we were all to be together.
During the morning close touch was maintained with Brigade and the Companies, and "B" Echelon at Herzeele was kept informed of the enemy advance.
By 1500 hrs. the 5th Gloucesters in the Ledringhem area were surrounded and fighting desperately, while the 2nd Warwickshires were heavily engaged. With its great scarcity of anti-tank weapons, the Brigade had little chance of warding off the enemy indefinitely. Curiously enough, the 8th Battalion was not involved. The 2nd Warwickshires were withdrawn from Wormhoudt itself, while Brigade H.Q., "C" Company and Battalion H.Q. formed a composite force to check the German advance. The enemy had been roughly handled, but fresh lorry-borne infantry were following up his advance. His shelling cut our lines to "A" and "B" Companies as often as they were repaired, but I was able to keep in touch with "D" Company to the last minute.
Everybody remained very cheerful, although it seemed obvious that we should soon be fighting without the hope of relief. "Jonah" was seen to smoke his first cigarette for years, and various minor-prophets at once foresaw calamity!! "Crumpets," the Brigade R.A.S.C. Officer, with his inevitable cigarette in a long holder, passed me with a dozen Brigade Signallers he had organized into a section. He was carrying a rifle, saying that if he could hit pheasants he couldn't very well miss a Boche!! Kenneth Hougham, who had been an excellent I.O. for months, had organized a platoon and was in great glee at commanding one again. The Colonel and "Jonah" were everywhere. I remained alone under the bank by the moat, eyed by two hungry puzzled swans, and making anxious efforts to keep in touch with the Companies.
Then, the weather, which had been so wonderfully sunny, broke most suddenly and the heaviest rain, surely for months, fell, drenching us all. Shelter was impossible—we just became soaked. The Brigadier, I gather, had decided to withdraw a few miles and re-form, leaving our untouched "A" and "D" Companies as the right flank of the Brigade. The rain gave him the chance. Ted Berry with two Bren carriers drove down into Wormhoudt and circled round the Market Square, gunning German infantry, who ran into shops and houses. An anti-tank gun fired at him and scored a direct hit—on his valise, ruining that and a chest of tools. Back came Ted, highly disgruntled at damage to private property, and I failed to console him with a wet cigarette.
At about 1700 hrs. we withdrew across fields covered by one platoon of "C" Company, who were the last troops of the Brigade to leave. With us came the survivors of one troop of the Anti-Tank Regiment (The Worcestershire Yeomanry) under Major R. A. Wiggin. This troop alone had accounted for at least 26 tanks and had manhandled its guns after its transport had been destroyed. After a while we re-joined the road from Wormhoudt to Herzeele, and met "B" Company swinging along, proud and seemingly wonderfully fresh.
Back into Herzeele, where I quickly bought some more biscuits from the perky little girl in the grocer's shop. She couldn't let me have any more, she said.
Here we found that Geoffrey Day and Geoffrey Dorrell had salvaged a whole fleet of cars and trucks, which might otherwise have been destroyed. How grateful we all were to them! Everyone soon found a seat. Off we moved to Bambecque, where "B" Company quickly took up a position covering the bridge, forward and East of the village, crossing the Yser, while "C " Company took up a more scattered position West of the village. The fate of the 5th Gloustershire was uncertain, and the 2nd Warwickshires had been so severely handled that we were told the 8th alone would hold the Brigade front on May 29th.
Nearly every house in Bambecque was shuttered, but I managed to buy a few bottles of poor yin rouge. These, with the biscuits I had, gave us a scanty supper. The troops had found a dump of clothing and were busy exchanging their soiled uniforms for new ones. We opened Battalion H.Q. in an empty house in the village street, and all of us hoped that the enemy had had enough for one day.
"Doc" O'Keefe was soon in demand. An anxious woman with a pronounced squint urgently demanded his services for her daughter who was in labour. O'Keefe paid a professional visit and assured the wormed household that the happy event was progressing satisfactorily. Nevertheless, the mother came running back to him every half-hour or so.
Throughout the evening a few thousand weary, bewildered French troops, with horse transport, plodded through Bambecque on their way to Dunkirk, where the great evacuation was taking place, we heard. Knowing how far we were, I longed that but a few hundred could stay with us and fight. I did not know then that prolonged large-scale resistance was impossible, and that a few units, by tenacious resistance to the enemy's mechanized might, were each to effect the safe withdrawal of tens of thousands of their comrades.
Such a part was played by the 8th Battalion on May 29th. The enemy, so we learned later, had many tanks, untouched as yet by battle and supported by an overwhelming number of infantry carried as near as possible to the scene of action in lorries. Our anti-tank weapons and Brens were sadly reduced in numbers. If we were attacked we would fight, but with what slender hope of survival!
During the early morning stand-to, I saw a wonderful sight. Round the corner, as I came out of Battalion H.Q., appeared the survivors of the 5th Gloucesters. They were dirty and weary and haggard, but unbeaten. Their eyes were sunken and red from lack of sleep, and their feet as they marched seemed to me no more than an inch from the ground. At their head limped a few prisoners with Hauting the Adjutant, in close attendance. I noticed how badly Hauting needed a shave ! The column halted and two of the Germans flopped down exhausted, though a captured officer remained standing and tried to look defiant. I ran towards Colonel Buxton, who was staggering along, obviously wounded. He croaked a greeting, and I saw the lumps of sleep in his bloodshot eyes. Our Commanding Officer came running out and told the 5th Gloucesters 2nd-in-Command to rest the troops a minute. I took Colonel Buxton indoors, gave him a tumbler of stale wine and eased him gently to the floor on to a blanket, assuring him again and again that his men were all right. In a few seconds he was asleep.
Meanwhile, one of our D.R.'s was on his way to Rexpoede, and soon our strange convoy arrived to transport the survivors of the 5th Gloucesters back to Brigade reserve. George Mason told me they had been utterly surrounded, but had marched through the German positions during the night, after holding them back nearly all day.
A little later the Colonel sent me ahead with about thirty men to establish Battalion H.Q. on the road from Bambecque to Rexpoede. "B" Echelon, under the command of Geoffrey Day, was on the Bambecque side of Rexpoede, and Brigade H.Q. on the farther outskirts of the latter place.
The Boche began shelling the village intermittently—his invariable way of announcing that he would be calling soon. Two of my men were hit, but not badly, and Doc O'Keefe soon had them under his wing. For Battalion H.Q. I chose a farm below the skyline on the forward slope. On the other side of the road a park led to another farm. I organized the all-round defence of the area, and R.S.M. Yeates went round from time to time to check on it.
Very soon the Colonel and "Jonah" arrived, and soon after that came the Brigadier, who had made a rapid tour of the whole area. He was able to tell us that we had no hope of relief, but were to hold on until about 2100 hrs. If we could delay the enemy advance it would give troops in the rear time to organize defences along the Canal De Bergnes at Fumes. At about 2100 hrs. we might withdraw to Dunkirk, but more precise orders would reach us later in the day. This message was sent out to all concerned, and the Colonel went down to Bambecque to visit "B" and "C" Companies. "B" Company was organized in Platoon localities North of the Pont de Bambecque to deny to the enemy the road from
Herzeele. On the left flank we were told troops from another Division were defending the main road running North from Sheenvoorche to
Oost-Cappel. "C" Company was just West of the village forward of the church and round the corner by the railway station. Major Ramsay and Captain Macdonald both seemed to have a grip on the situation, and the "Ram" said "Au
revoir" to the Colonel with one of the finest salutes I have ever seen. Poor " Ram," captivity will weigh very heavily on him.
As far as Battalion H.Q. and the Bambecque Companies were concerned there now followed a lull. The "Doc" went down into Bambecque again and announced on his return that a young Frenchman had entered the world and that, on the whole, "both parties were doing as well as could be expected." We washed and shaved and ate omelettes prepared by the good lady of the farm. The farmer himself had been hurt in an air-raid and was lying in silence on a couch.
At this point I will return to "A" and "D" Companies, which on May 28th were organized under the command of Captain J. D. Farrar in the all-round defence of Wylder and the roads leading in all directions from that village.
On May 29th, Captain Farrar withdrew "D" Company to the area of the cross-roads at West Cappel and Croenenspriet to the S.E. on the road to Bambecque. At 1130 hrs. Captain Farrar wrote a message reporting this move complete. "A" Company had been left at Wylder as an outpost.
At about 1130 hrs., enemy pressure on "A" Company increased from the Wormhoudt direction, but more so still from the direction of Bergnes to the N.W., where an outpost section under Corporal Lang-field reported a large number of tanks were massing little more than a mile away. "A" Company speeded up its withdrawal and reached "D" Company area without casualties. There it took up positions in the area of the Croenenspriet Cross-roads, leaving "D" Company on the right flank of the Battalion.
Soon after 1600 hrs. the enemy attack developed from the N.W. First tanks would come forward to attract fire and then to break a way through for the infantry who followed up in close support.
The L.M.G.'s of both "A" and "D" Companies had a good shoot and evidently caused a large number of casualties among the enemy infantry. One tank was also put out of action by an anti-tank rifle, and a M.G. party, off-loaded from a large tank, was quickly shot up by Private Turton, of "D" Company.
This was a very critical time. Had the enemy broken through quickly, there were many hours of daylight left in which to continue his advance and to cut off thousands of weary Allied infantry making their way to the perimeter of defences round Dunkirk.
As it was, the fierce resistance organized by Captain Farrar and the Subaltern Officers with him, caused the enemy to deploy. A circle of enemy tanks was formed round the area defended by "A" and "D" Companies, and fresh infantry was seen to arrive in lorries. By this time, the enemy had also ascertained that the village of Bambecque was being defended. From messages received later at Battalion H.Q. it would appear that the enemy organized an attack along the whole Battalion front to begin at 1700 hrs. on "A" and "D" Companies and thence to close in all round
Bambecque. At 1715 hrs. Captain Farrar wrote a message saying that three large and five small tanks had passed his H.Q. and were heading due East. A few minutes later other tanks closed in on "D" Company H.Q. and set it on fire. All platoons of that Company were overwhelmed, but men in twos and threes continued to resist. Captain Farrar, we gather, refused to leave and was last seen firing an anti-tank rifle at enemy tanks. At 1730 hrs. enemy infantry made a strong attack on
Croenenspriet. Many of these, wearing British uniform, were shouting "British" and pretending to surrender. They were allowed to approach more closely, but their colleagues in the rear spoilt the ruse by opening fire with "Tommy Guns." "A" Company Platoon returned the fire and a heavy engagement ensued until about 1800 hrs. By this time both "A" and "D" Companies were so badly cut up that further organized resistance was impossible, and the survivors from the scattered platoons of both Companies - 3 Officers and about 60 O.R.'s—arrived by fours and fives at Battalion H.Q. to re-organize.
This marked the end of the first stage of resistance which had delayed the enemy advance since 1430 hrs., and had for 2½ hrs. borne the brunt of fierce attacks made by tanks and infantry in overwhelming numbers.
At Battalion H.Q. we had spent an anxious afternoon, although until 1700 hrs. nothing had developed in the areas of "B" and "C" Companies. From 1530 hrs. onwards, large parties of stragglers from another Division came in. These men were utterly exhausted by forced marches and lack of food. Food we were able to give them from a nearby dump, and they were put in all round defence of a farm facing the fields which lay between that farm and the road running N.W. from Bambecque to West Cappel.
At 1700 hrs. Major F. S. Ramsay, Commanding "B" Company, reported that enemy infantry were working round to his left flank, evidently to cut him off from the main Steenvoorde-Oost Cappel road. At 1727 hrs., Captain Macdonald, Commanding "C" Company, reported that there was firing on his right flank ("A" and "D" Companies), and that his area was being shelled by mortars. Four minutes later he reported enemy infantry 200 yards away on his right flank, and as the runner came back with the message, enemy tanks broke into the village from the East. The runner with two or three other men were chased by these tanks, and hid in the churchyard for a few minutes. From this point onwards, the circle closed round Bambecque, and "B" and "C" Companies became heavily involved. This began almost exactly at 1730 hrs. It was all important to delay the enemy for yet three and a half hours more. On our flanks, enemy tanks were evidently feeling their way forward, for we could see the white Verey lights they sent up as signals.
The enemy had now established himself between "B" and "C" Companies and Battalion H.Q. Captain E. W. B. Berry organized a working party and built a very stout-looking road block on the Bambecque Road below Battalion H.Q. from farm carts and agricultural machines.
More and more stragglers arrived at Battalion H.Q. belonging to the same unit as those who had already arrived. At the same time, the enemy swept the road with tracer bullets whose flight seemed terrifyingly slow. The Commanding Officer and "Jonah" quickly took the situation in hand and stood in the hail of bullets as calmly as policemen on point-duty. As a result of their example, all the stragglers crossed the bullet-swept road and were soon forming part of the circle of defence, in which we had determined to make a final stand should the forward Companies be over-run. Brigade H.Q. had been kept informed of the Battalion's activities, but there was no counter-attack force to help us. More intermediate positions between us and the canal had to be manned.
A little later Arthur Steel, Liaison Officer, with Brigade H.Q. arrived in his small car. He pulled up quietly in the road outside, stepped out, ignored the enemy's fire, calmly shut the door of the car and ordered it to pull off the road, then walked slowly into Battalion H.Q. He brought a message informing us that we were to withdraw at 2100 hrs. and gave us our route to Bray Dunes on the coast N.E. of Dunkirk. I asked Arthur to make sure that Major Day with B Echelon received the message, and wrote out a copy of the route. On his way back, Arthur rounded a corner only to find an enemy tank coming the other way. The car was suffering from a "slipping clutch," so that even by "stepping on it," Arthur could reach no more than 25 m.p.h. At this speed he slipped past the tank, which opened fire too late. I then spent half-an-hour or so busily marking a number of quarter-inch maps, of which I had a fair supply. These I issued to all the subordinate commanders I could find. The runner which had succeeded in getting through from "C" Company set out with two marked maps for Captain Macdonald, and more were prepared for "B" Company. We had to run the risk of these maps falling into enemy hands, but the times were written on a separate sheet of paper in such a way that by themselves the figures were meaningless. In any case, the enemy knew that each of the few roads left was being used for the withdrawal of Allied troops. The maps for "B" Company we held up in the hope that a runner from that Company would reach us. This was not to be. The enemy evidently had every possible route guarded.
And so the anxious hours passed slowly by. "B" and "C" Companies kept the enemy heavily engaged and the latter did little more than send out patrols to worry us. The Doctor was sent back to Brigade with the wounded on his truck, and since the orders were that no transport would be allowed past a certain point, all important papers were burned in the farmhouse fire. The farm people wisely decided not to become refugees, and retired with a stock of provisions to a shelter previously prepared in an adjoining field.
During this time other men had volunteered to go to "B" and "C" Companies in the hope of exchanging news with them, but, apart from two who were wounded, none came back.
Finally, Corporal Locke and Private Rhodes, of the Intelligence Section, set out with marked maps for "B" Company. This was a particularly courageous act, since their chances of getting through were almost nil. This they knew, but they voluntereed most readily. How near they got we do not know, but at least they are alive and well, though in captivity.
The Commanding Officer, who had given himself no rest since dawn, continued to visit all points of the all-round defence on the hillside. He and Captain Berry, by their disregard of their own personal safety, encouraged the very weary defenders to keep a sharp look-out and to reply accurately to the enemy's fire, which steadily increased.
At last darkness began to fall, and at 2105 hrs. a start was made on "thinning-out" the defenders, who began to wind their way in single file along the road to Rexpoede. The march to Bray Dunes is a story in itself and will be told another time. The last detachment finally left at about 2200 hrs. under the command of Captain Berry. Major Day, with "B" Echelon, had fought an independent battle that afternoon, and this, too, is a story in itself. From "B" and "C" Companies few escaped. "B" Company, which was widely deployed, fought on until its ammunition was exhausted, and then had no alternative but surrender, since the net was closed so tightly around it. As the survivors trudged the long miles to Bray Dunes all through the night, they were sustained by the proud thought that, despite the heavy sacrifices it had made that day, the Battalion had ensured the safety of thousands of other troops.
The Brigadier himself summed it all up the next day, when he said "The 8th has always done what it was asked to do—and more."