2020, the 80th Anniversary of my Father’s capture near Dunkirk
The year 2020 will be the 80th Anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation (Operation Dynamo) and also the beginning of my father Eric West’s captivity. This site tells his story, and that of his Regiment (the 140th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery) concentrating on the period between the Regiment’s contribution to the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F) between 10th and 31st May 1940.
Eric Douglas West was born in 1919, the oldest of 3 boys. He grew up in Cheam, South London and at the age of twenty, while working as an assistant to the Public Health Department of Sutton Council and shortly after the outbreak of World War Two, he enlisted into the Royal Artillery 140th (5th London) Field Regiment, a London-based Territorial Army Regiment on the 20th October 1939. Eric West joined the Regiment as a Gunner in 367 Battery and was promoted to the rank of Lance Bombardier around the time of the Dunkirk battles in May 1940.
Newly recruited Artillerymen of the 140th Field Regiment R.A. Gunner Eric West is standing, first from right.
L/Bdr. Eric West was captured by the advancing German forces in Belgium on 31st May 1940 at the age of 21, during the breakout from Cassel and as he attempted to reach the Dunkirk beaches.
My father spent five years as a Prisoner of War at Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf, Silesia in the far South-East of Germany (now Poland). In September 1940, along with many of the ordinary ranks of the captured British Army, he was moved from Lamsdorf to a work-camp. In his case it was a coal mine complex at Bytom, near Katowice (Arbeitskommando E72) where he was forced to work for the remainder of the war as a miner. By 1944 he had become fluent in German and was appointed the official E72 camp interpreter.
Between January and April 1945, he was on the ‘Long March’ across Poland and Czechoslovakia into Southern Germany, although like his other wartime experiences, this was never really spoken about. We do know that he met the advancing American army in April 1945 and that his Liberation Questionnaire was signed on 30th April 1945.
On his return to England, age 26 and after five years in captivity that included heavy labour in a German coal mine and culminating in the Long March, a 500-mile forced march across Eastern Europe, my father would have learnt that his youngest brother (who he would not have seen since March 1940) had committed suicide in 1946 whilst on active service in India.
Retracing his steps
With the help of a military historian (Stephen Cocks, Guided Battlefield Tours Ltd, Newport) and inspiration from Andrew Newson (British Army War Diary Copying Service) I have uncovered details of my Father’s Army service and visited the sites of his Regiment’s combat action in Belgium and Northern France during the three week period from 10th May 1940 until 31st May 1940.
This was a trip my father proposed that he and I could do together after his retirement as a Consultant Psychiatrist in the 1980’s, but which we never managed to achieve in his lifetime. Based on his military record, I’ve added brief details about his captivity and liberation, as well as the fate of the 140th Regiment after Dunkirk.
As well as the information and map referencing from Guided Battlefield Tours, this account is based on the War Diaries of 140th Field Regiment written by one of the senior officers of 367 Battery, Major Nevill Christopherson M.C., who was injured at Cassel and captured on the 30th May 1940. In addition, I have referenced the established historical accounts and the 1941 book entitled ‘Grand Party‘ written by another of the Regiment’s senior officers and the Commander of 366 Battery, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Brooks.
I have visited all the sites listed and photographed here. If there are factual errors please email using the ‘Contact’ tab on this site and any inadvertent errors will be corrected as soon as possible.