Supply line and Cigars
As agreed by the Allies, the Belgian army was on the left flank of the main British position and the French 1st Army was to their right. The 140th Regiment’s position, from the War Diary map reference, was adjacent to the N253 road between Huldenberg and Overyssche, with the Regimental ‘Wagon Line’ (supply depot) situated by a cigar factory some miles to the rear. As the German advance threatened Brussels and the Regiment later withdrew, the factory owner donated his entire stock and these cigars accompanied the Regiment on their journey back into France.
The gun position described in ‘Grand Party‘ suggests that 366 Battery was somewhat to the south of 367 Battery and Regimental HQ, in the village of Smeysberg. The Smeysberg road connects the N253 with the Stroobantsstraat on the downward slope from Huldenberg towards the Dyle river. The village was described as a ‘tiny pocket of cottages‘, from which all the civilians fled during the first air raids.
1937 map of Huldenberg and Smeisberg, the positions of 367 and 366 Batteries respectively
The hamlet of Smeysberg in 2019
First B.E.F. Artillery action and Blitzkreig
Also, according to ‘Grand Party‘, the first B.E.F. Artillery unit to engage German positions in World War Two was, in fact, the 140th Regiment during the evening of 14th May 1940. The War Diary coolly describes ‘first contact was made with the enemy in the evening’.
That action had been preceded by a Luftwaffe dive-bomber attacks on Smeysberg and Huldenberg. The Stukas had appeared unopposed out of a clear, sunny morning sky. Lt. Col Brooks reports that he was shaving at the time, and reports how impressed he was by the coolness of his men under fire for their first combat experience.
Brooks also describes witnessing the horror on the faces of retreating civilians, and the distress of local farm animals and domestic pets, many of which the men had to put out of their misery by shooting.
Further prolonged combat firing from the Regiment’s Dyle positions took place during the 15th and 16th May, including a barrage of fire on the evening of 16th May to protect the infantry in response to a SOS signal (probably a colour-coded Very light) fired by forward infantry.
2nd Lt Rowland’s Diary
Sunday 12th May 1940. ‘Left FAUMONT 10.30pm for Belgium. Took over from Adj just before BAISIEUX. Heard one or two planes. Very lucky to get through. One or two bombing & m/g attacks towards end of route. Colonel [Odling] remained half way down column whole time.’
Monday 13th May. Arrived BRUSSELS 11 o’clock. Colossal reception- all kinds of things showered on us [by grateful civilians]. Vehicles parked in big boulevard. Suddenly left to establish RHQ at HULDENBERG 7.30pm. Had tea beforehand. No dinner. Rest of RHQ arrived 11.30pm. Chateau turned down & alternative place I had chosen was selected. Quite [?Quiet] night. Got to bed 2am in wash house.
Tuesday 14th May. HULDENBERG. Communications established after some delay. In morning attcked with m/g fire from low flying aircraft at Rgtl Wagon Lines. Many civilians in road but no one hit. Established RHQ in wash house at day and in front room of mess at night. Had first gas alarm- no gas. Considerable aircraft about during day. Number of snipers reported.’
Wednesday 15th May 1940. ‘HULDENBERG. Number parachutists landed during night. Baird fired at, some firing m/gs. Very busy day with shelling and bombing. Our own guns firing – mainly [?regi]. Major [Graham] Brooks took on targets in afternoon with considerable success. CB work of CCMA working very well. Noticed neutralisation of number of hostile guns. Just like the old Corps manning exercise.’
Official 140 Rgt War Diary
14th May 1940
‘First contact was made with the enemy in the evening’.
‘At 19.00 hrs. The Regiment opened a heavy bombardment on enemy Infantry concentrations on the East side of the River Dyle.’
‘In the afternoon I was sent to report to the Commander Royal Artillery 1st Division And on arrival was told that we were required to withdraw and defend the West of BRUSSELS. At 20.00 hrs. the Regiment opened fire in answer to an S.O.S. and at 21.00 hrs. the Regiment withdrew from their positions’.
Sint-Agatha-Rode Church and Commonwealth War Cemetery, where the B.E.F.’s first Dyle line combat casualties are buried.