German invasion of Belgium
The Regiment was on a training exercise at Toutencourt, near Amiens when German forces invaded Belgium and the Netherlands on 10th May 1940. On this momentous day Neville Chamberlain lost the confidence of the House of Commons and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. The British Expeditionary Force enacted its long-prepared plan (‘Plan D’ in the War Diary) to take up positions with the Belgian and French armies to defend the Western bank of the River Dyle to the South of Brussels. The British sector held a 22-mile front between the towns of Louvain and Wavre.
The entire 140th Regiment immediately moved across the border into Belgium to take up position on the Dyle line, a journey of about 70 miles. The Regiment was part of the British 1st Division, under the command of Lieutenant-General M. G. H. Barker. The details of that difficult journey feature in ‘Grand Party‘: the convoy travelled mainly by night through Tournai and Ninove with slit headlights and using out-of-date maps. In the suburbs of Brussels at daybreak they were greeted enthusiastically by grateful Belgian citizens.
The Matadors Cloak
By the 13th May the Regiment was in position overlooking the village of Sint-Agathe-Rode. There was some air activity but, in retrospect, we understand that the relative lack of resistance from the Luftwaffe is explained by the fact that the main German thrust was to the South via the Ardennes forest towards Sedan. The German advance into Belgium in now understood to have been a sophisticated ‘feint’ operation sometimes referred to as ‘the Matadors cloak‘.
Although there is no mention of any casualties in the Diary on 10th May, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records two deaths on this day. Gunner Edwin Strahan, a 24-year-old single man from Crayford, Kent is buried at Hotton Cemetery in Belgium and Gunner Alfred Bright, age 28, has an unknown grave and is commemorated at the Dunkirk Commonwealth War Memorial.
From 10th May 1940 onward, the War Diary is no longer a contemporaneous record. It was written in retrospect by Major Nevill Christopherson, 2nd in command of the Regiment, on his return from captivity in 1945 and some of the map references are abbreviated.
This is Major Christopherson’s verbatim account from the War diary: the repeated phrase ‘Went into Action’ describes deployment but not necessarily combat.
War Diary, 10th May 1940
‘On the morning of May 10th the Regiment was in a training area at TOUTENCOURT. We heard on the wireless at 07.00 that Belgium and Holland were being invaded so we cancelled our field day and packed up ready to move. The Regiment was at this time under command of the C.C.M.A. I Corps. Under Plan D we were to come under 1st Division. At 14.30 hrs. we started marching via ARRAS and DOUAY to FAUMONT arriving about 21.30 hrs. and left for the river Dyle leaving the Regiment there and taking recce. groups to join the 19th Field Regiment under whom we were grouped, at the Frontier. I was in command. of the recce. group, so I cannot say when the Regiment left.’
War Diary, 11th May
‘The group crossed the frontier at 01.00 hrs. passed through BRUSSELS at 05.00 hrs and started my recce. on the west of the river Dyle around HULDENBERG ‘.
War Diary, 12th May
War Diary, 13th May
‘The Regiment arrived and went into action, between HULDENBERG and OVERYSSCHE during the night 13th/14th May’.
Satellite map, courtesy of Guided Battlefield Tours Ltd, showing 140th Regiment’s gun positions between the villages of Overyssyche and Huldenberg, overlooking the B.E.F’s positions on the River Dyle valley, the river itself is marked as position (4).
367 Battery and HQ was in positions marked (1) and (2). The hamlet of Smeysberg (position 3), where 366 Battery was concentrated, is just to the South of Huldenberg.