10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, War Diary May 1940
In view of the complexity of the War Diary for this crucial month in the Brigade's existence it is recommended that the Diaries for each of the Units concerned are read alongside each other, so as to form as accurate a picture as possible of what was a confusing few weeks. The entries are kept in date order and, where clarity would be helped, the reader is referred to parallel entries from other Units. It is suggested that the Diary for the 23rd Division is read first, followed by that for the Brigade HQ and then the Infantry Battalions and Engineer Companies. There is a considerable amount of material to cover, especially as Units were in many cases broken into small parties and served as part of temporary groupings, such as Petreforce. The author has tried to be as faithful as possible to the original documents.
1st to 11th May 1940
Pioneer work at NUNCQ AERODROME. The German assault on Belgium, France and the Low Countries commenced early on the morning of 10th May 1940.
12th May 1940
“Stand by” Order received at 2000 hours.
13th May 1940
Orders were received at 01:00 hours to guard against parachute attacks. Platoons were allocated to defend individual aerodromes.
Battalion HQ and the HQ Company were sent to VAUCHELLES WOOD. To assist in moving the 10th Battalion, transport was loaned from both the 11th Battalion and also 9th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. By 06:00 hours the Platoons were all in position and stood by until further notice.
The whole Battalion stood-to between 03:45 and 04:45 and again between 20:30 and 21:30.
14th May 1940
Defence of all the aerodromes South of the River Somme – those which were the responsibility of “B” and “C” Companies – was taken over by the 2/5th Battalion of the Queen’s Regiment of 12th Division.
Throughout the day, reports were constantly being received at Battalion HQ of enemy parachutists in the vicinity and troops from the HQ spent the day patrolling the area, though no parachutists were seen.
15th May 1940
A severe thunderstorm broke over the Camp after what had been an uneventful day, though as the troops were well prepared they did not get too wet.
16th May 1940
Orders were received that “B” and “C” Companies were to act as reserves to “A” and “D” Companies and therefore had to take up positions in LA BROYE and LE POUCLET respectively. “HQ” Company moved immediately by motor transport to LA BROYE.
17th May 1940
“B” and “C” Companies moved, together with Battalion HQ, to their allotted positions by motor transport. Tents arrived from NUNCQ and the Battalion made preparations for a lengthy stay. However, at 15:30 hours the Battalion received orders to proceed immediately to LAGNICOURT MARCEL. “A” and “D” Companies were called in from LA BROYE and LE POUCLET and the Battalion left at 21:30 hours.
18th May 1940
The Battalion, which was acting as the Reserve Battalion of the Brigade, supporting 11th DLI and 1st Tyneside Scottish, who were holding the line of the CANAL du NORD, arrived at LAGNICOURT MARCEL at 05:00 hours and immediately took up defensive positions round the village. “C” Company was sent to 1st Tyneside Scottish as reinforcements.
19th May 1940
At 03:00 hours Orders were received to withdraw and at 05:00 hours the Battalion withdrew, by march, from LAGNICOURT MARCEL and took up defensive positions between QUEANT and BOISLEUX, on the North side of the railway.
These were as follows:-
“A” Company (Captain Stock) BOISLEUX exclusive to BOYELLES inclusive.
“HQ” Company (Captain McCoy) BOYELLES exclusive to St LEGER exclusive.
“D” Company (Captain Morrison) St LEGER inclusive to ECOUSTE inclusive.
“C” Company remained attached to 1st Tyneside Scottish, and the front was so large that it was deemed impossible to hold a reserve.
One Platoon of “HQ” Company under 2/Lt Watkins, which had marched to RIENCOURT and been detached to Brigade Headquarters for special duties, was placed under the command of the C.O. of “D” Company on their return.
The rest of the day was uneventful, with the exception of the capture, by “B” Company, of a parachutist who had landed near BULLECOURT. He was handed over to the French authorities.
However, at 15:30 hours the Adjutant, following an urgent summons to Brigade Headquarters, reported back to Battalion Headquarters with Orders that the Battalion should commence withdrawal via WANCOURT, MONCHY and GRAVELLE to THELUS – the general withdrawal to commence at 20:30 hours, with “thinning out” commencing at 17:30 hours.
The withdrawal was carried out via the GOJEUL and SENSEE valleys, with the exception of “B” Company, which moved across country to FONTAINE under 2/Lt Gill, Intelligence Officer.
Following a Brigade Conference at MONCHY, Orders were received to devert the Battalion to LATTRE, the Battalion coming into reserve to the Brigade, which had been ordered to take up a new frontage SAULTY to BEAUMETZ. Companies were diverted to MERCATEL, where they rested, while the transport proceeded to LATTRE with orders to unload and return to MERCATEL to ferry the Battalion to their new positions.
20th May 1940
Owing to road congestion resulting from the flood of refugees, and attacks from the air, the transport was not able to return to MERCATEL until 08:30 hours.
“B” Company delayed their departure owing to the arrival of 1st Tyneside Scottish proceeding on the same route towards BEAUMETZ.
The first half of the Battalion, consisting of “A”, “D” and part of “HQ” Companies plus Battalion Headquarters arrived in LATTRE in an exhausted condition, but immediately took up the defence of the village.
The remainder of the Battalion – “B” and “C” Companies – did not get through as, between BLAIRVILLE and FICHEUX, a considerable portion of the Brigade was attacked by German Armoured Fighting Vehicles and infantry.
The column had marched out of MERCATEL by Platoons. The tanks attacked the second half of the column and caught units from all the Battalions of the Brigade. The 1st Tyneside Scottish suffered very heavy casualties and half of the 11th Battalion was missing. “B” and “C” Companies of 10th Battalion were missing, including the following Officers:-
Captain G.E. Robinson
2/Lt A.J. Smith
2/Lt J.H. Davis
Captain J.W. Kipling
2/Lt H. Moon
2/Lt E.A. Ede
In the action against the German Armour 2/Lt T.A. Graham, of “A” Company, manned a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle and, in spite of a broken magazine, knocked out one tank and disabled another, before being killed.
Captain McCoy and 60 Other Ranks of “HQ” Company were the last to march into BEAUMETZ, together with Captain Robson and 2/Lt Macfeggan, who had joined on with “HQ” Company. This force marched towards LATTRE with instructions to be prepared to assist the withdrawal of Captain Shipley’s force from BEAUMETZ. Trucks collected parts of the force until only the three Officers and 25 Other Ranks remained. Under Orders from Captain Shipley the force then turned towards AVESNES and FREVENT.
An R.A.S.C. lorry then collected the whole party and took them to FREVENT where, as information on the German advance had already been received, and there being no fuel available, the lorry carried on to NUNCQ.
At NUNCQ the party met Captain Brown, Medical Officer of 11th Battalion, who briefed Captain McCoy that Brigade HQ was understood to be moving to HOUDAIN. The Officers then commandeered two R.A.F. lorries and Captain McCoy’s party, together with the NUNCQ Rear Party, under 2/Lt C.B. Peartree and R.Q.M.S. Thrift, plus the 507th Field Company, Royal Engineers, left for HOUDAIN and reached there at 22:00 hours.
The entire Brigade party then moved on to HAVERSKERQUE where two composite Companies were formed under Captains McCoy and Robson respectively.
At LATTRE, by 12:00 hours, no contact had been able to be made with Brigade HQ, the 11th Battalion or 1st Tyneside Scottish. The Adjutant proceeded by motorcycle in an attempt to contact the 11th Battalion and heard, from an 11th Battalion Sergeant, that 11th Battalion were withdrawing to the HERMAVILLE area.
Although heavy firing had been heard to the South-East, the Battalion was ignorant of what was taking place on the Brigade’s front. At 14:30 hours the Battalion Commander proceeded by car to HAUTEVILLE and met Captain Hedley of 23rd Division, who had heard that 70th Brigade had withdrawn to BERLES and that the Division would probably take up a line between ACQ and AUBIGNY. He indicated that the position forward was very involved.
The Commanding Officer diverted the stragglers from 10th and 11th Battalions to LATTRE. On his return, he ordered “D” Company to take up a position in a small copse covering the main ARRAS to AVESNES road.
At 15:30 hours the Adjutant ascertained that AVESNES was occupied by German Armoured Fighting Vehicles, as he had come under considerable fire. The transport was immediately dispatched to the HERMAVILLE area with orders to lay up and contact the Battalion, which would withdraw to HERMAVILLE at dusk. As enemy armoured cars had been seen in the vicinity “HQ” Company were withdrawn from LATTRE through “D” Company, to occupy a hamlet halfway between LATTRE and HABARQ on the main road. “A” Company, on the outskirts of LATTRE, had some contact with enemy scouts, who did not appear very offensive.
A French Tank Officer reported to the Battalion Commander that AVESNES was occupied by a considerable force of hostile Armoured Fighting Vehicles and the C.O. decided, under the circumstances, to withdraw to the HERMAVILLE area which was given as a rendezvous. This withdrawal commenced at 18:00 hours, with “D” and “A” Companies providing rear and flank guards.
The Battalion’s Padre – Captain E. Cave, Medical Officer – Lt C.E. Iliffe and the French Liaison Officer left in a separate truck and missed the correct road. They eventually arrived at NUNCQ and were not heard of again.
The Adjutant proceeded ahead to try and contact 70th Brigade at BERLES where he found a party from the 11th Battalion. The C.O. proceeded to BERLES where he attempted to bring this party under command of 10th Battalion, but could not make contact with them.
Lt Oldham, Quartermaster, having contacted the Battalion at HERMAVILLE, returned to AGNIERES with two spies who had been caught, one dressed as a curé, and Orders were issued for a meal to be prepared in the station yard at AGNIERES.
21st May 1940
The Battalion arrived at AGNIERES at 00:30 hours and were joined by Captain Welford and 40 men of the 11th Battalion. The party had a meal before moving on at 03:00 hours to CAMBIGNEUL, arriving there at 05:00 hours in a very exhausted condition. Guards were posted and the men went into billets.
The C.O. went out in an attempt to gain contact with Brigade by using Cavalry wireless sets, if any could be found. He was notified of a location of a Cavalry unit in ARRAS and proceeded there. The Cavalry Squadron Commander reported that German troops had occupied HERMAVILLE some quarter of an hour after the Battalion had left there the previous night. Brigade HQ of the Welsh Guards in ARRAS was able to pass details of the Battalion’s location on to 23rd Division.
The C.O. returned to CAMBIGNEUL and the village was put into a complete state of defence. During the day, British and French Armoured Fighting Vehicles kept passing and repassing through the village – fighting appearing to take place to the East, South and West. An escaped soldier of 12th Lancers joined up with the Battalion and one of that Regiment’s Armoured Cars brought in a dead Lancer, who was buried in the Churchyard by Lt Oldham.
R.A.S.C. transport arrived to take the Battalion to SECLIN and by using these vehicles, together with the remaining Battalion trucks, the Battalion moved. One truck was disabled and one man wounded. The convoy was separated on the journey but reached SECLIN safely – the men being very exhausted.
22nd May 1940
Stragglers joined the unit from 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions of the DLI from 151st Brigade. After leaving SECLIN at 03:00 hours the Battalion arrived at GONDECOURT. Captain Shipley, 2/Lts Smallwood and Hamilton, with about 300 men of the 11th Battalion also arrived in GONDECOURT.
Later in the day 2/Lt Sopwith, the Padre (Captain O’Neill Elliott), the Quartermaster (Lt Collie) and 49 men, presumably all of the 11th Battalion, arrived and joined Captain Shipley’s force.
At 21:00 hours Orders were received for the remainder of the 10th and 11th Battalions and the 69th Brigade to proceed to WATTEN and take up a position on the CANAL du LAA facing West, after destroying all bridges. The convoy taking the troops to this destination was protected by a Troop of Carriers and Light Tanks. On the way to their destination the convoy was halted and turned back, as the enemy had apparently already broken through ahead.
23rd May 1940
The Battalion arrived back in GONDECOURT at 05:00 and spent the rest of the day resting.
24th May 1940
The 50th Division passed through GONDECOURT after taking part in the defence of ARRAS.
Captain Burr, 2/Lt Calderwood and 70 men of 1st Tyneside Scottish arrived in GONDECOURT. The personnel from 70th Brigade at this location were formed into a unit known as “Marleyforce” commanded by Lt Col Marley, C.O. of 10th Battalion.
The make-up of the unit was as follows :-
Lt Col C.D. Marley C.O.
Major Hall 2 i/c
Captain Wilkinson Adjutant
2/Lt Gill Intelligence Officer
H Q Company
2/Lt Seymour Motor transport Officer
Lt Oldham Quartermaster
Lt Collie Quartermaster
25th May 1940
The day was spent in organising the new force.
26th May 1940
The composite Battalion “Marleyforce” left GONDECOURT at 02:00 hours and proceeded by march route to a wood one mile North of BEAUCAMPS and remained there until the afternoon. 2/Lt King and 98 men were sent, under Divisional arrangements, to guard bridges over the LA BASSEE CANAL.
Marleyforce proceeded to Le GRAND MORTIER with considerable enemy aircraft action taking place, several bombers being shot down, and then spent the night in barns. Battalion HQ was located in the “D” Company billet.
27th May 1940
Battalion HQ and “D” Company were attacked by six enemy bombers, the ration truck being overturned in a bomb explosion. Five men were buried in this attack but all were rescued unhurt. One man was injured by machine-gun fire.
The Battalion received orders to move to a wood on the road between METEREN and GODEWAERSVELDE. On approaching METEREN it was apparent that a heavy enemy attack from the HAZEBROUCK area was approaching.
The Battalion was diverted to WESTOUTRE and contact was regained with the transport, which had proceeded ahead. The Battalion was very fortunate as it appeared as though it would be impossible to get clear of METEREN before the enemy occupied it.
From here the Battalion went via RENINGHELST to a wood south of the YPRES – POPERINGHE road some two miles from POPERINGHE. During this, and the previous, day enemy bombers were constanly in action over the area.
28th May 1940
The Battalion transport was used to ferry the men in relays to CROMBEKE and from there to STAVELS which was under air attack when the Battalion arrived. Billets were found in barns and evacuated homes. Captain Shipley, Lt McGregor 2/Lt Dickinson and 100 men were earmarked for duty with 50th Division.
29th May 1940
Cpatain Shipley’s composite Company formed a bridgehead facing South to cover the canal crossing. The remainder of the Battalion took up a defensive position covering the same crossing. At 08:00 hours the Battalion received orders to proceed to KILLEM LINDE where the 23rd Division was concentrated. BEVENEN was being heavily shelled at the time. Here all transport was destroyed and the men fed. At 16:30 hours the Battalion received Orders to proceed independently to a point just South of FURNES, arriving there at 01:00 hours on 30th May and bivouacking in a field.
30th May 1940
At dawn the Battalion took up a defensive position. Orders were received that patrols would have to be found for the 151st Brigade and the force, already earmarked under Captain Shipley, consisting of 100 Other Ranks, marched back to assist the 8th DLI.
31st May 1940
At 03:00 hours the Battalion proceeded to LA PANNE with Orders to embark for England. Owing to a rough sea it was impossible to embark from the beach, though two boat loads did manage to do so. The Battalion therefore marched along the sands to DUNKIRK and embarked in several boats from the DUNKIRK MOLE there. All units were mixed up and on arrival at DOVER were sent to various Reception Areas.
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