‘K6’ Indian Contingent at Cassel

Men of Force K6, Royal Indian Army Support Corps (RIASC) also known as the Indian contingent, had joined the BEF in France in December 1939. Just as in the Great War 1914-18, they used mules to carry supplies to the frontline. The men were Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from present day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and their involvement with the BEF in 1940 is described by Ghee Bowman in his book, The Indian Contingent – The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk. 

Men of the K6 Indian Contingent with their animals. Source: BBC

During the retreat toward Dunkirk, it appears that the 32nd Animal Transport Company RIASC marched through Cassel on 22nd May 1940 on a route from Douai–Cassel–Wormhoudt–Bergues–Dunkirk. Whilst passing through Cassel, the Company was caught in an air raid and some of their animals were killed. Groom Akbar Khan, age 24 is thought to have been killed during that action and is buried at the CWGC at Wormhout.

Groom Akbar Khan’s grave at Wormhoudt Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

In addition, the War Diary of the 25th Animal Transport Company authored by its commanding officer, Major J.G. Wainwright, describes a march from their main base in Marquette-lez-Lille to an encampment in the grounds of a chateau in the hamlet of Le Temple near Winnezeele on 22nd May 1940. The 25th Company were ordered to march north towards Zudycoote on 27th-28th May 1940 and reached the Dunkirk beaches later that day (28th May).

It’s not clear whether the 25th Company moved from Winneezele to Cassel during the five days between 22nd-27th May, although their War Diary records heavy bombing of Cassel on 23rd May.

An account by 2nd Lt E.W. Berry of the 8th Battalion, Worcester Regiment describes an encounter with an Animal Transport Company at Cassel encamped at a ‘chateau’. The route taken in this diary suggests this Chateau may have been Chateau Masson on the D916 main road. Alternatively, it could possibly be Mansion Hamer Houck, about 1/2 mile to the south of Cassel.

War Diary 25th Animal Transport Coy, 23-24th May 1940. Le Temple is a hamlet about 2 km to the west of Winnezeele.

During this chaotic time for the retreating BEF, there are several accounts which describe the scene at ‘Dead Horse Corner’ that the British encountered on their arrival at Cassel on May 25th. These were French military horses that had been hit by shellfire or air raids and were lying in gruesome poses just outside the Cemetery on D933 cobbled road that ascends into Cassel.

Apart from Capt Berry’s diary entry, there is no other confirmation of incidents where RIASC Companies passing through Cassel sustained casualties of their men or animals.

On balance I think it’s more likely that Berry met the 32nd Animal Transport Company on 22nd May. It’s also possible there may have been conflation with the incident at Dead Horse corner.

Citation for Muleeter Din for his bravery at Dunkirk