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 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, however an account by 2nd Lt (later Captain) 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. The account reads:
|‘We arrived in MERVILLE that night and the next morning we were ordered to proceed to CASSEL. Unfortunately, the gear lever on one carrier had broken and as we were told to expect action, we had to leave it behind, reducing the platoon to 6 machines.|
On the way to CASSEL the last machine with Cpl. Huxter in charge had engine trouble and was unable to find us when the trouble had been overcome, this depleting the Platoon to 5 machines.
When we arrived at CASSEL we found the R.I.A.S.C. Muleteers just moving out to DUNKERQUE and the Chateau grounds we took over from them had been bombed or shelled and 18 horses and mules killed. The English N.C.O. in charge also handed over a meal they had cooked of chicken and bread and butter which was very acceptable as we had not had anything to eat, except a few biscuits, for two days.
Soon after our arrival the Village was bombed, but the platoon suffered no casualties. After that we had a day and a half of comparative peace until 145 Brigade [SOMERFORCE] arrived and the 2nd Glosters decided they liked our Chateau Grounds. Troops were rather thick on the grounds, so I decided to join Battalion H.Q. in another Chateau about 1 mile further down the road.
|About lunch time that day the Battalion was ordered to proceed towards WORMHOUDT but although I had made repeated efforts to try to trace our Battalion it seemed that definite steps must be taken now. I received permission to report to G.H.Q. The “MAC FORCE” which was in CASSEL and eventually found out that the Brigade was in the area LA BASSEE – FOURNES.|
The information was rather vague but we left CASSEL at 1 p.m. and proceeded through BAILEUL to ARMENTIERES…..
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 there. On balance I think it’s more likely that Berry met the 32nd Animal Transport Company on 22nd May, as it would have been illogical for the 25th Company to have marched southwest from Winnezeele. 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