Wartime Diary of Lieutenant Ronald Baxter,
Troop Commander, F Troop 367 Battery, 140th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Lt Ronald Baxter, wrote a diary of his wartime experiences between May 1940 and May 1943. The diaries were donated to the Imperial War Museum in London by his son and are available for review in the museum reading room.
Baxter was in 367 Battery and captured during the breakout from Cassel in May 1940. After his return to England in 1945, he started to turn the notes into a narrative, as far as the 24th May 1940. The story from then on, until his capture on the 30th May 1940, continues only in note form.
There are then three notebooks that contain his notes of his time as a prisoner. These subsequent notes were written while in prison camps, and with the approval of the German prison camp authorities, as they contain the camp censor’s stamp.
The following is his story, including the notes, covering the period 10 to 30th May 1940.
F Troop 367 Battery.
140th Field Regiment. R.A.
The 140th Field Regiment’s official birthday was the first of May 1939. It was among the first ‘2nd line’ artillery regiments to be formed, having as its parent regiment the 92nd Field with H.Q. at Kennington, London. The 140th established its H.Q. at Woolwich and on the outbreak of war, moved to Clapham. Thence it moved again to Totteridge in Hertfordshire for a short time where it was brought up to strength before being transferred to its training area in and around Dursley, Gloucestershire. Here the regiment remained until sent to France, a period of 3 months.
The area allotted to the 140th in France was in the Belgian frontier defence zone, known as the ‘Gort’ line, 367 Battery having billets in the village of Auchy on the Orchiers – Lille road.
It is believed that the 140th had the distinction of being the first ‘2nd line’ Territorial Artillery regiment to be sent to France. There were, however, two other ‘2nd line’ regiments in France later, the 115th and 139th. At the end of April, the regiment moved back to a training area near Amiens in the neighbourhood of the Somme battlefields of the 1914-18war. Here 367 Battery found billets in the village of Toutencourt. The country around was not unlike Salisbury Plain, but largely cultivated. Here it was anticipated that some three weeks would be well spent in training with and on our vehicles, an opportunity as yet barely allowed us, as we had taken delivery but a few hours before all equipment had to be shipped to France. We were then still learning our ‘trade’ with a vengeance.
In those days an artillery regiment of 18 or 25 pounders had two Batteries, each of three Troops. The Troops of 367 Battery were ‘lettered’ D, E, and F. As this account concerns ‘F’ troop, a few preliminary facts about it may be of interest. The artillery experts had decided before the war to constitute a three Troop battery in all Field Regiments, leaving the Horse Artillery regiments with only two, as the role of the latter differed in many respects. The idea was that two of the Troops would be sited approximately on the same frontage, more or less in alignment. The third Troop, however, was allotted almost a roving commission, to be placed either to a flank, or in front or even behind the other two Troop positions, according to circumstances. This third Troop thereby acquired the name of ‘Swinger’. In 367 Battery, ‘F’ Troop became the ‘Swinger’ or spare Troop. Apart from this, ‘F’ Troop was in fact in almost all aspects the same as the other two, having four guns and as many gunners, signallers, officers, etc. It cannot be said, however, that the work was quite the same. Apart from the normal Troop role of engaging targets on the ground, the ‘Swinger’ was responsible for all air co-operation shoots. For this purpose, two R.A.F. wireless operators and their equipment were attached to the Troop. This was an added responsibility. Regarding the positioning of the Troop in relation to the other two Troops in action, without exception throughout the three-week’s fighting, F Troop was in action considerably forward of D and E, never to a flank or in the rear. This fact did not necessarily entail added danger, except at Cassel, but caused inconvenience to the Troop officers, in as much as they were unable to enjoy the amenities of Battery messing and sometimes lived entirely ‘al fresco’. As the Troop Commander, it seemed to me as though ‘F’ Troop was the Cinderella of the family.
This short introduction is by no means an attempt to give a full history of either the Regiment or of 367 Battery. The Regimental history will be told by a far more competent biographer than myself. This applies also to the Battery as a whole. The few facts here recorded intended merely to provide a background to the pictures my memory will endeavour to paint of the scenes through which ‘F’ Troop passed during the fighting in France from the 10th of May to the 30th of May 1940.
Before entering the story proper, a few remarks concerning the three Troop officers may be of interest. The G.P.O., Jack May, the Troop leader, Charles Bennett and myself were before the war, all members of ‘A’ Battery, H.A.C. [Honourable Artillery Company]. Here indeed was a common bond of sympathy and friendship. In actual fact, the friendship between Jack May and myself was of long duration, both in and outside the Regiment. As far back as 1927 Jack and I were members of the same subsection, he the lead driver of the gun team, myself the ‘Number One’. Our association in the subsection lasted until 1938 when Jack himself became a ‘No 1’ and I became the Battery Sergeant Major. In November 1939 we both joined the 140th Field Regiment at the same time, thus continuing our military careers together. Needless to say, we became even closer friends amidst strange surroundings and new faces. We shared billets, experiences and what was, for me, most convenient, Jack’s car!
In February 1940 I took over ‘F Troop of which Jack was already the G.P.O. From this time on Jack and I were inseparable. I will take this opportunity now of expressing my love and admiration for a truly unselfish and great-hearted comrade. His presence during the fighting was a constant source of strength and confidence to me. Unfortunately, Charles Bennett’s capabilities were appreciated so highly by both the Regimental Commander and the Battery Commander that his services were seldom at my disposal. Such a willing and efficient officer was naturally earmarked for more important work than Troop leading. What the regiment gained- the Troop lost. However, in the end the Troop was fortunate in having him near at a critical time when he proved his worth in no small measure. I was indeed fortunate in having two such efficient and hardworking officers with me.
Regarding the N.C.O.s and other ranks, in spite of adverse circumstances, unfamiliar conditions, and lack of training and experience, they gave of their best, never complained and acted as one would expect keen young pre-war Territorials to do. This applies also to the reservists and militiamen, the former using their army training to advantage. It is impossible to mention each one by name. High praise is due to them all.
As the following account is largely a personal one and set down from memory, without reference to diaries, records, or rosters, it is not possible to do justice to the part played by the N.C.O.s and other ranks.
The story begins on the 10th of May 1940; the day the Germans crossed the Belgian and Dutch frontiers to set in motion the campaign of France 1940, later known as the ‘blitzkrieg’. Up to this time the regiment’s activities were confined to the common round and daily task of training, in England to begin with and in France later on.
10th May 1940
My first recollection of this day was the click of the wireless at that moment turned on by Jack May, as was his usual custom, on the stroke of 7 am. Jack and I were sharing a room in our French billet in Toutencourt. The portable wireless set was on a small table between our single beds. Every morning we listened in to the English News, after which we enjoyed a continental dance programme until the time for breakfast in the officers mess. We had no reason to suppose that anything new in the way of news might have taken place on this particular morning. It was just another beautiful May day in the making, warm and sunny. When, therefore, the announcer spoke these momentous words “At 6 o’clock this morning, German forces crossed the Belgian frontier, etc.” no one could have been more surprised than Jack and I. The reaction of us both, however, was immediate. No more lying abed in slothful comfort, no more leisurely ablutions. To wash, shave and dress was a matter of moments that morning. Although, of course, we had no definite orders as yet to do so, we had our gear packed immediately in anticipation of a move. In actual fact, as we found out later, only those officers with private wireless sets knew of the changed situation, assuming even then, that they had listened into the English news programme. Official notification of the German move did not reach Regimental H.Q. until after 9 am.
In the meantime, Jack and I made ready for a move, then hastened to the Mess for news and breakfast. We found breakfast but no news. After a hurried meal and idle gossip with the few people about, word eventually came for a general packing up and concentration of the Regiment in preparation for an eventual move. To use a business term, the situation ‘crystallised’. We knew where we stood. There was something to do. Each of us set about his own particular job. Here I must digress a moment in two aspects. Firstly to explain the next step and secondly to give vent to a soldier’s prerogative, a ‘moan’!
When I said that orders came to concentrate the Regiment, it was because in fact the guns of both Batteries were some few miles away from their parks. On the previous day the whole regiment had started on a two-day manoeuvre. Troop positions had been chosen and occupied and the guns laid on ‘night lines’. The gun detachments and others concerned, however, had returned to their billets, leaving behind only piquet’s to guard the guns themselves. The first job to be done, therefore, was to bring in the guns. So much for the next step. My ‘moan’, however, was a state of affairs within ‘F’ Troop of long duration. I have already referred to being deprived of the services of Charles Bennett, now I must
on that as the same convenience applied to Jack May. Since HQ and 367 Battery had shared a common Officers Mess, May was given the job of mess caterer. This involved his giving up a certain amount of time daily to shopping and supervising the kitchen staff. It was seldom that he was able to do Troop duties in the mornings Now on this most important morning of the 10th of My sure enough went my GPO to supervise the packing of the Mess crocks and equipment. Charles Bennett was away too, on his specialist job, leaving me to carry all the babies. Needless to say, it all worked out all right, the guns were brought in by myself, the Troops billets evacuated, gear stowed aboard the vehicles, all shipshape and Bristol fashion. During our sojourn in the village, we had seen nothing of the owners of the buildings in which the troops had their billets. No sooner did we show signs of moving out however, than there appeared on the scene a decrepit Frenchman, nosing and poking about in search of both usable material and possible damage. In either case he no doubt hoped to score off the English.
The next few hours were spent in standing by ready to move. The advance parties had left, including Charles, but Jack was back in the Troop fold. Speculation was rife as to the immediate destination and as to events on the battlefield. We knew our final rendezvous and particular job and to a certain extent the possible route, having been briefed earlier on according to a plan ‘D’. This plan was one of several drawn up by the army chiefs immediately on the outbreak of war, based on the co-operation of the French and Belgian forces. As Belgium was not at war with Germany, the plans had to be kept very secret. Plan ‘D’ came into operation in March 1940 following a scare, which later proved a false alarm. Regiments were issued with their routes and destinations in Belgium. Thus, all the officers knew before the 10th March where our positions were and how to get there. While awaiting orders to move. German planes appeared overhead. Nothing happened.
At last, the order came to pull out the exact time I do not remember but it was in the afternoon and extremely hot. We did not proceed far, however, before we came to a halt lasting at least an hour. It was due to another artillery regiment, the 19th Field, having to join the column ahead of us from a side road. The congestion on the roads leading northeast can be well imagined. After this the journey was uneventful until we reached Arras where we saw the first signs of war, damage by bombing. Passing through Arras we experienced our first air raid, both seeing the German planes and hearing the bomb explosions. Luckily none fell near us. What I did notice were the puffs of smoke from AA shell bursts always behind the planes. I never saw, either then or later, any bursts in front of attacking aircraft. At this time the column was closed up, ‘nose to tail’, a splendid target. On through Douai, passing by the airfield there, once again being strafed from the air. Here I saw quick firing tracer AA, rather like a firework display. Again, no damage. By now the light was failing. No lights were allowed on vehicles, but the route was lined by ‘Balisage’ kerb lights, by which the drivers took their bearings. The difficulty was to avoid bumping the vehicle in front. During darkness any attempt to keep a regulation interval between vehicles was almost impossible. I shared the driving of my truck with Bombardier Pilbeam. Eventually we reached Faumont, a small town on the Douai-Lille road already familiar to us when stationed in Auchy, a few miles away to the East. Here we halted. The time must have been about midnight.
The advance party had selected billets and gun parks, which we proceeded to occupy, not without some difficulty in the dark. My troops were snugly bedded down in a large barn adjoining a farm, the guns in the courtyard. I say ‘snugly bedded down’, but I dare say the troops had other views! Having seen the troops safely housed, it remained for Jack and I to find our own quarters. Charles had gone on into Belgium with the advance party. For some reason or other the officer’s billets were rather disorganised, Jack and I finding ourselves in one room with several others, no beds, and, as far as I can remember, no supper. We slept in our valises on the floor.
Up early to take stock of the situation. The troops well and cheerful. Jack away to organise 367 Battery Officers’ mess, not yet established. R.H.Q. well housed so paid them a visit but received no invitation to breakfast! The only thing to do was to visit an estaminet; Georges Kemir, our Battery’s French liaison officer, accompanied me thither where we made short work of some egg omelettes.
This morning was spent in overhauling the equipment and general maintenance. I took the opportunity of sending off my first field postcard. No time for letter writing. Eventually Jack was able to organise a Mess in a house just evacuated by some other Royal Artillery Regiment. This regiment left in a hurry, many personal odds and ends being left behind. After lunch, the first decent meal since that of the previous day, Jack and I went in search of quarters, as our stay here was to continue. We found a pleasant house nearby, owned by a widow, a decent lady who made us welcome. Here we enjoyed a hot bath in a zinc tub affair in an outhouse, there being no bathroom on the premises. Draughty but very welcome after our long drive, also the last but one hot bath I was to enjoy for many a long day. Nothing exciting happened during the rest of the day, Jack and I retiring to bed weary but satisfied with Troop events.
An uneventful day; gun drill and sight testing. Sounds of bombing from the direction of Lille, due north. The main battle line was far away to the east, the German air force merely bombing our back areas and lines of communication in this part of the country. They gave no attention to Faumont. Orders came to pull out that night. I am uncertain again of the exact time, probably around 9 p.m. Anyway, it was pitch dark, so that we had another trying night’s driving in front of us. The route was now due east, but our particular road across the Belgian frontier was anything but straight. Road scouts and D.R.s were stationed at all major junctions and crossroads. In spite of these, however, I must confess I lost my way! Country lanes are difficult to follow without lights and I took a wrong branch, leading the Troop away from the column. Finding at last there was nothing in front or behind the Troop vehicles, I called a halt. I reckoned on hearing something of the column if all engines were stopped. Sure enough, in the night silence a faint hum of engines came from my right front. It seemed feasible to me to re-join the column if I continued to go ahead, which proved correct. The lane I was in re-joined the main road some way ahead. This was a piece of good luck. The journey continued throughout the night.
Dawn found us approaching Tournai. We passed through the town, silent, deserted and damaged in places. Some way beyond, the column halted. German low flying planes were in evidence, but no attack on us was made. Haversack rations were
consumed and the opportunity taken to renew the circulation by walking up and down. Most of us were cold and cramped by sitting in one position. The morning was raw and I believe, rain was falling. While waiting here we were able to observe at close quarters the traffic passing, going west away from the advancing front line. There were refugees on foot and in carts, on bicycles, in cars. Not as many as we were to encounter later, merely the first to leave their homes. At this time there was as yet no indication of a German breakthrough. What did strike me very forcibly, however, was the number of large, expensive, American type cars going hell for leather for the west, containing well-to-do Belgian civilians. Women in fur coats, children with their nurses, piles of luggage etc. One could not help feeling that these people were running away at the first opportunity, sheer panic. In addition to the civilian refugees, a certain number of Belgian soldiers on bicycles were in evidence. These latter may, of course, have been on their way to rejoin their units on mobilisation.
The next stop was at Brussels, reached some time before mid-day. Here we experienced a remarkable change from anything seen so far on our travels. The city was crowded and appeared to be almost ‘en fete’. To begin with the column took the wrong route through the town, driving straight through the city centre. Brussels had been declared an ‘open’ city from the start of hostilities and our presence in the very heart of the place must have given the Belgian authorities a nasty headache. However, there we were, meandering through busy streets, a lost column of British guns and vehicles. The welcome we received should have been seen to be believed. Dense crowds lined the pavements, cheering, shouting and gesticulating. Our speed was so slow that both men and women could walk alongside with ease, endeavouring to shake hands with anyone of us within reach. Flowers, cigarettes, cigars and sweets were thrown into every truck. Many in the crowd addressed us in English. I remember one woman telling me that she came from Birmingham. It was evident that these people regarded us as the saviours of their nation; they openly said so. We in return assured them that we would do our best to prove them right! Alas, what a mockery! Neither they nor we had the remotest idea of what was in store for us all. Our attitude was naturally confident, partly nourished on pre-war tales of the German inability to wage a major war, her lack of petrol and oil, and partly on faith in the huge, modern, well-equipped French army. We did not analyse our own feelings in regard to any efforts we might make ourselves. I think we were all rather conscious of our out-of-date guns and inexperience. A keener crowd of officers and men one could not wish to find, but our ideas of modern warfare were elementary; our ideals were beyond our powers to attain.
I happened to be in the driving seat during the ‘triumphant’ march through Brussels, so had my hands, feet and eyes concentrated on the job in hand. My driver, Pilbeam, duly received all gifts with appropriate British phlegm and good humour, handing me a sweet, cigarette or flower for the buttonhole from time to time. I saw one gutted building, obviously the result of a bomb hit so that there must have been some bombing previously. The people looked prosperous and well dressed and what we saw of the city, then and later, conveyed to us the impression of wealth and spaciousness. Brussels certainly is a beautiful city. I must mention here the ‘Fifth column’ scares. There had been much talk of these sometime before our entry into Belgium. The nearer we approached the front line, the greater grew this ‘bogey’. It was understood that one should be careful when speaking to civilians. During the drive through Brussels it was noticeable that several persons made a point of asking pertinent questions, such as, ‘what regiment are you?’ or, ‘where are you going?’. There may have been no significance whatever in these questions, but we were on our guard. We reached our destination at last, a broad, tree lined, park-like space separating two wide streets in a residential district on the east side of Brussels, called ‘Walowie-St Pierre’. Here were to be found large mansions and elegant apartment buildings, obviously a wealthy suburb. Guns and vehicles were parked beneath the trees. A curious crowd soon collected, mostly children. It was indeed a delightful spot. The next item on the programme was to find a place to eat.
Fortunately, a restaurant was nearby to which we repaired forthwith. The troops got down to their ration issue, pending a hot meal to be served in their billets when found. The advance party arrangements had not been finally settled in regard to the billets. In the meantime, Jack and I demolished a large omelette apiece, bread and cheese and coffee. This done, opportunity was taken to change French into Belgian francs.
I understand the monks had raised some objection, as they had feared a bombing attack if the Germans got to know of British troops lodged there. I did not blame them for this. Nevertheless, the troops were installed and soon afterwards received a hot meal. Returning later to Walowie-St-Pierre, Jack and I decided to have a decent meal while the ‘going was good’. An hotel near our billet suited our purpose, so, having ordered a meal and consumed a couple of short drinks, we relaxed. Just then the air raid sirens sounded, and everyone went to ground. Jack and I were foolish enough to stand agape outside the hotel. As it happened it did not matter as no bombs were dropped. Word went round, however, that Fifth Column parachutists had been dropped instead, one having been captured.
Up to this time the events recorded above are either personal or common to the 367 Battery or the regiment. From now on the story will largely concern ‘F’ Troop, as the night of 13th May saw the deployment of the Regiment and occupation by Troops of their gun positions on the River Dyle, our destination. To a considerable extent ‘F’ Troop became detached from the Battery by reason of its role as a ‘Swinger’. To resume the sequence of events now is a matter of no little difficulty. Nothing seems quite as clear-cut, event succeeded event with great rapidity. Night succeeded day, and day followed night for three weeks with little rest for all ranks. Lack of sleep is the one outstanding characteristic of the whole period as far as I am concerned. The time of any particular episode is extremely difficult to fix Things just happen during the day or during the night I find it equally difficult to recall eating a meal at any particular time or place
The state of ‘haziness’, for lack of a more descriptive word, set in on this night of 13th May. The fun began in earnest. The arrangements to remain overnight in Brussels came to nothing. The order came through to proceed to positions on the Dyle. Dusk had now set in. Off went the advance party and Battery Recce groups, Jack with the latter Now ensued a long wait for the three Troops of 367 Battery. As far as F Troop was concerned, Jack May, together with his G.P.O. Ack (Bdr Brookes), had gone on ahead with the Battery Recce group to locate ‘F’ Troop gun positions on the Dyle at a place called Huldenburg. The main party, that is to say, the guns, with which I remained behind to lead on to the positions when found, would not move out from Brussels until a guide arrived back to lead the way. When eventually Brookes did return to act as a guide to Huldenburg, some hours had passed and the night far advanced. It appears that ‘P Troop was the first away, to be followed by ‘D’ and ‘E’ before the latter Troops guides appeared on the scene. Charles Bennett, now back with me, brought up the rear of ‘P. Being in the leading Troop vehicle immediately behind that in which Brookes was leading the way, I was unaware at the time of an incident that occurred before we cleared the outskirts of Brussels. Whether a train wrapped itself round one of my guns or the gun made an improper suggestion to the train is not certain! The fact remains a collision took place which Charles Bennett had to sort out. No serious damage was done.
The drive to Huldenburg was something of a ghost story. We passed through the Forêt de Soignes, an eerie place at the best of times. [https://www.sonianforest.be/] Phantom vehicles, bodies of men, buildings and trees loomed up in the dim light to disappear again into the night. I have a vague recollection of reaching a bridge spanning a wide river, only to turn back and take another turning. This, I think, was in a place called Overyssche. After what seemed as many hours of turning and twisting we finally reached the end of our journey, a large village in a narrow valley to the West of the river Dyle. Here Jack met us. After a delay while the regiment sorted itself out, ‘F’ Troop proceeded on its way. By this time dawn was not far away, and as it was essential to occupy our position before daylight, there was no time to lose.
The position chosen for ‘F’ Troop was some considerable way away from the other Troop positions, on the edge of a wood just below the crest of the east slope of the valley, the valley itself running approximately parallel to the river, which at this point flowed north and south. The approach to the position was by a track up the side of the valley, past a chateau and then through the wood itself. Having brought the Troop thus far, to the edge of the wood facing due east, a further survey of the track plan was necessary, to avoid going over the skyline. This did not, however, present any serious problem. The position was occupied by the individual method. That is to say, each No. 1 was shown his allotted gun area, the track leading thereto and then left to occupy it himself. This method is safe but very slow, so that the sun was up before the occupation was completed, a fact that caused me no little worry. Nevertheless, the guns were well under cover in good time before any German planes appeared. Another incident occurred here worth noting. A gunner, Birchett by name, was detailed to bring up rifles from the vehicles. I was standing by No 4 gun when a shot was fired nearby. On investigation, it appears that Birchett had accidentally shot himself in the foot. Exit Birchett from further participation in Troop affairs. His wound was not serious but he was removed to the Aid Post, not to return.
Having done all possible to get the guns into action, bring up the ammunition, organise the Command post, and chosen the Troop wagon lines, Jack and I went back to the chateau for an hour or two to sleep. We needed no rocking! How long I slept I do not remember, but I do recollect most vividly my awakening, both rude and abrupt. The German planes were over and their bombs, apart from being loud were unpleasantly near! No more sleep for me! Once awake, the work of the day began and there was much to be done. The chateau by the way, had been abandoned by its owners, but was still fully furnished. Signs of a hasty retreat were very evident. It was not known how long we would remain in our present positions, but we anticipated a long enough time to warrant digging in and making certain firm arrangements. To explain all the details would be tedious reading. Certain outstanding items of interest only need to be mentioned. We three officers lived out of doors during the whole of our stay here, sleeping on camp beds by our trucks and eating the same rations as our troops under the trees. The weather was ideal. Jack, always with an eye open for material to aid improvisation and improvement of existing conditions, produced from the chateau a huge, red and white garden umbrella. This he erected in his command post, under which he sat like an Eastern potentate! During the morning the Troop gun positions were connected by cable to Battery H.Q. This cable was later cut by persons unknown. The Fifth column bogey raising its ugly head once more! As the day passed and no one came near us or sent any news, I decided to visit Battery H.Q. Leaving Jack in charge I drove back to the village, locating H.Q. in the vicarage. Very comfortable they were too! On the way I saw the results of the morning’s bombing, including the body of a civilian, the first casualty of the war I had seen. What irony! A civilian! I remained long enough touring the village and outlying parts to be able to invite myself to dinner at Battery H.Q., an opportunity for a decent meal not to be missed. I had not arrived back at the Troop wagon lines long, before another Fifth column alarm was raised. This time a civilian was reported to have been seen inside the chateau: Jack and I seized rifles and caused the place to be surrounded, hoping to catch the fellow in the net. The bird had flown, however, much time and energy being expended by all for no purpose. And so to bed.
This day passed uneventfully. So far, the Troop had not fired a shot. The reason for this was because our forward position was not out of ‘flash spotting range of the German observers on the far side of the river. Our role, therefore, was to open fire only when absolutely necessary te, on 5.0.5. lines, in support of the infantry lining the west bank of the Dyle. Colonel Odling paid us a visit during the day. In the night we went into action for the first time, the enemy had launched his attack across the river. Hard work while it lasted. The attack must have been beaten off.
A busy day for me. Early in the morning I received a message to report to Battery H.Q. Major Milton told me he considered our present position to be too far forward and exposed. He proposed, therefore, to survey a new position in or near the village. We then set out on what, in the end, proved to be a pointless expedition. While prospecting on the far slope of the valley I had my first sight of enemy shells bursting. I must admit an unpleasant feeling registered itself in my stomach! The new Troop position was at last selected. I thought nothing of it at all. The approach from any direction was fraught with difficulties, such as wire, trees, a garden wall, a ditch, etc. I was secretly hoping I would not be obliged to occupy it! I can now frankly admit, I procrastinated. On my way back I called in to have a word with Captain Westley. I found him sorting ammunition in the dump outside H.Q. Just then German bombers chose to visit us again. There we were surrounded by hundreds of rounds of H.E.! We got away with it! At this time I noticed the Guards regiment, billeted nearby, was busy digging trenches on the ridge behind my new position. When gunners see the P.B.I. preparing positions in rear of the guns, they can expect an exciting time ahead. Sometime during the day there was a gas alarm. I personally neither saw nor smelt any.
Sometime either during the 15th or 16th, I forget which day, an abortive attempt was made to establish a forward OP. I remember going with Paddy Sirkett, ‘E’ Troop commander, to a sunken roadway out in front from which a view over the river was obtained. Here I met an ex-F.A.C. gunner manning his own O.P. Nothing came of this sortie. I again wangled a meal from H.Q., the second and last. Poor old Jack never had an opportunity for even a snack at H.Q.! I made my way back to ‘F’ with Jack, who had in the meantime come down to have a look at the new position. We need not have worried about occupying this position, because a short time later orders came to withdraw and concentrate on the road in readiness to move back from the Dyle. To evacuate ‘F’ Troop position in broad daylight did not appeal to me at all. The only way out for the guns was along the front edge of the wood facing towards the German lines. To go too far forward would expose guns and vehicles on the skyline. The wood itself was too thick to penetrate behind the position. Apart from the problem of the skyline, our movements could easily be seen from the air, at that time and for the whole period of the campaign indisputably German. The risk of discovery had to be taken, as there could be no delay waiting for nightfall, still some hours ahead. During the time the Troop was pulling out of action, beginning with the gun towers issuing from the shelter of the wood on the way to the position and ending with the last regaining the cover of the trees, my heart was in my mouth and my legs just lumps of jelly. Had the Germans known it, they could have strafed us out of existence. We offered them a target on a plate. For a reason I cannot now recall, we were obliged to follow a track plan that emerged on to the skyline for a short distance. Standing here, shepherding my flock, I felt as naked as a newborn babe! In due course we made the rendezvous in good time, none the worse and in good spirits. The concentration area for the whole regiment was along the main road running through the valley, the head of the column being somewhere in or beyond the village. ‘F’ Troop, having been in the most remote position, was the last to come in and brought up the rear. A delay occurred at the rendezvous due to 366 Battery converging from a side road and having to sort themselves out. While our own withdrawal was going on, another artillery regiment of 25 pounders gave covering fire from positions in the valley and beyond it. Their shells were going directly over our heads. While ‘F’ Troop was facing the road at right angles to it waiting to move, a 25 pounder Troop’s guns belched forth fire and steel from the opposite side of the main road! We made good use of our wait by salvaging brand new truck tyres lying about, threading them over the gun muzzles. Before re-joining the main road, we had to cross a bridge over a stream. The Engineers were busy preparing demolition charges. This gave us the clue that the withdrawal would be general. In the meantime, German shells were coming over into the valley fairly regularly. The drive, once started, was at first slow, 367 Battery leading, as far as I can remember. In this respect ‘F’ Troop had to pass 366 Battery to gain its position in the column. The time of our departure must have been between 9.30-10 p.m. My last memory of Huldenburg was of the cows, dotted about the fields, lying down and unable to get up because of their overfull udders, not having been milked for several days.
Now began another nightmare drive, the second of many yet to come. My recollections of it are extremely vague. The outstanding feature was a blunder on somebody’s part in Brussels, whereby at least two Troops were led astray up a cul-de-sac. Before that, however, I remember passing a Battery of guns in action by the side of the road, firing at night angles to our line of march! Dreadful thought! The enemy was attacking on our flank. This incident bore out what we learnt later that the Germans had penetrated the allied line away to our right, thus forcing the line of the Dyle to be abandoned to avoid encirclement. On to Brussels. This time we avoided the centre of the city which was the target of the German planes. A raid was in progress when we went through, and fires were blazing. The cul-de-sac episode delayed us a while, each vehicle having to turn round one by one, as the road was too narrow for the column to follow round in turn. Guns had to be unhooked. The darkness did not help matters. However, apart from frayed nerves and tempers, no harm was done. The remainder of the drive was uneventful, but all ranks were tired out and driving no sinecure. Sometime before dawn we reached a place called Berchem. [Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels]
Here we halted, sorted ourselves out again, parked ourselves in Troop areas, checked up on personnel and equipment, placed guns and vehicles under cover and generally made things shipshape. After seeing my troops safely bivouacked, Jack, Charles and I took over an outhouse of a nearby small house, put up our camp beds and got down to some sleep. It was then full daylight.
This place Berchem was a village west of Brussels, and here we rested the whole day. On awakening from our comparatively short sleep, a wash, shave and clean up soon put us in a cheerful frame of mind. The owners of the small house provided us and the Troop sergeants with breakfast, the usual omelette and coffee. The Troop cooks looked after the men as usual. Although the day was to be a rest period, I cannot say I remember doing much resting. The vehicles and guns had to be cleaned and maintained. Jack went through his sight and testing drill. Lunch we had with the troops. Then the usual Fifth column scare arose. This time in the form of ground signs or strips cut by scythe out of a field of long grass. We thought some local pro-Nazi had done this to advise German aircraft of our presence in the vicinity. The whole field was ordered to be levelled. Late evening found us ready to move again, still westwards. The march was resumed, continuing until the early part of the night. At one spot we passed right through an infantry battalion, every man lying in the road, leaving only a narrow lane along which vehicles could pass, this was an unforgettable sight. These troops had no doubt been marching and fighting without rest for many hours, and when a halt was called, simply fell asleep where they stood.
With daylight came a German plane flying low behind the position, probably a recce. Then a little excitement was caused by a civilian loitering about, we assumed with evil intent. I had him up and asked him for this identity papers. These he produced and said that he lived in the house across a field just visible. Sure enough, as his wife could be seen gesticulating in the doorway. I let him go. Soon after this we pulled out and took the road again. All our night’s hard work in vain. 367 Battery did not go into action, but I believe 366 Battery did so. This day’s march leaves but little impression on my mind. All ranks had been without sleep now for over 24 hours. The weather was gloriously hot, a fact that acted to our somnolence. At one period we halted for a while on a main road. I left my truck to stretch my legs. An infantry battalion was resting nearby, the C.O. of which was seated by the roadside poring over a map. He saw me and called me over. He showed me his map and asked me to advise him of our exact whereabouts and if I knew such and such a place. As it happened, we had passed through this place a little way back. To my amazement, the map he was using was 1 in 250.000, a road map of the whole of France! This may appear an untruth, but it is a solemn fact. No wonder he could not find himself. Fortunately, I could put him right and offered to take him to X in my truck. He accepted my offer with alacrity. I took a risk on the column moving before my return and Major Milton, who saw me pass going in the wrong direction looked puzzled, to say the least of it. This little job done; I re-joined the Troop just as we got going again. Later, we reached a town also called Steenhoudt, having already left one so called in the morning. The Recce party went ahead, so I knew we were in for some more hard labour. I might mention here, a little late perhaps, that the Battery Recce group consisted usually of the Battery Captain, Captain Westley, the G.P.O. Lieutenant Graham Cook, the three Troop G.P.Os Lieutenants Budd, Jeffrey and May with their N.C.O. assistants.
Here in the second Steenhoudt, F Troop took up a position on the edge of a field under the trees lining a sunken road. The road, therefore, was immediately behind the guns, affording excellent cover if necessary. The village itself ran both to right and left of the position, but in front was a clear field of fire. We did not attempt to dig gun pits, but erected camouflage nets over the guns. As a rule, I find it difficult to remember eating meals at any time, but I do recollect having one here in a house in the village. Not knowing how long our stay would be, an uncertainty at almost every place we stopped, Jack and I paid a visit to a large farmhouse behind the position with a view to find likely billets for the troops. Here we were entertained by the whole family, Father, Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother, and children of ages. I think we were given milk to drink, a welcome change. Our stay here, however, was not prolonged. After surveying the surrounding area for ‘alternative’ positions and going through other motions according to the textbook, the order came to move. During the last 18 hours we must have spent the best part of 12 of them getting our guns into two positions without firing a shot from either. It must be remembered that in those days the Germans had complete air-superiority, necessitating on our part extreme caution in hiding the guns from air observation. This entailed complicated track plans, digging pits and erecting nets overhead. Slit trenches were also essential, as was a Troop Command Post both hidden and safe from splinters. To complete all these necessary safeguards called for much hard work on the part of all ranks. Whether we went into action from a position or not, the same procedure had to be carried out.
Here we were then again on the move by evening. I was becoming conscious of a continual withdrawal gathering speed the further we went back. The two abortive positions must have had some significance in a co-ordinated plan, but German pressure evidently was forcing us back faster than anticipated. The following night and drive were to prove, for me anyway, more irksome than any hitherto. Something like 36 hours had passed without sleep for every man in the Troop. We started, therefore, more asleep than awake. As customary I shared the driving of my truck with Bombardier Pilbeam, although, on the whole, he did the greater part. He, together with all the other troop drivers, deserves the highest praise. Not one ‘F’ Troop vehicle was either lost or damaged during the whole period, from 10th to 27th May. One 15 cwt truck did go astray on one occasion but re-joined the Troop later. The line of march continued westward, following the road to Tournai through which town we were to pass. Our experience on this drive was different from any hitherto. This time we were part of a double line of traffic moving in the same direction. The congestion was considerable, the road manners hardly up to ‘driving test standard! To maintain a complete Battery column was impossible. Troops became separated and then vehicles within Troops became isolated. In the dim light it was essential to keep in touch with the vehicle in front. Thus, the road presented a spectacle similar to the Brighton Road on a Sunday night, all cars streaming London-wards, nose to tail, but in our case, without lights. Hold-ups were frequent. The inside column would stop, while the outer line would continue. This factor caused the trouble. Halted vehicles would pull out from their line to join the still moving second column. Large R.A.S.C. lorries seemed to be the chief offenders. To stop to investigate anything was fatal. You caused either a hold-up or became an island around which the two columns endeavoured to pass. You might not regain either lane of traffic. Once I remember closing up on to a stationary lorry, thinking the line had halted. I stopped behind it and remained stopped. The line piled up behind me. Nothing happened for some time. I got out to have a look. Yes, you are right. The truck behind which I had stopped had broken down! By reason of these chaotic conditions, it can readily be understood how impossible it was to know what was happening behind and whether the Troop was following me or not. I had the consolation of knowing that Jack was in the rear to pick up any stragglers and also, I had Charles Bennett and Bombardier Webb on their motorbikes patrolling up and down the line. Theirs was no easy task under these circumstances. When not in the driving seat, no turmoil on earth could have prevented me from dozing!
I happened to be driving when we entered Tournai, the ‘highlight’ of the night’s excitement. Many parts of the town were ablaze, a raid was in progress, the congestion was at its height, and we took a wrong route. I should say, I took a wrong route. After passing over the river bridge, already being prepared for demolition, I somehow went astray. The road I followed led uphill away from the town centre. At the top I suddenly realized that there was nothing behind me. I stopped at once, got out and found myself quite solitary. The hum of moving vehicles was faintly to be heard away to the right and below. Silence reigned round about. My road was deserted. Fortunately, Charles was at hand, so back he went to find the Troop. After what seemed to me some considerable time, probably in fact only 10 or 15 minutes, Charles reappeared leading T.L.F., Jack’s truck, closely followed by others. I went over to have a word with Jack, but, to my amusement, I found him fast asleep beside his driver. On checking up I found the Troop all present and correct. Although we were now committed to a wrong route, the error of judgement in fact enabled us to extricate ourselves from the traffic jam, concentrate on the leading vehicle, mine, and start away as a complete Troop column in good order. I had made a mistake and the rectifying of it was entirely due to Charles. I must pay tribute also to the vehicle drivers for their wakefulness and initiative. Anything might have happened at that juncture. The next and last stage of our journey was less hectic. The road we were on joined the main road beyond the town.
Just at dawn we approached our destination, Wannehain Wood, the last Troop to arrive. There was no one about to guide us to a parking place; the place was dead, or at least, dead asleep. On investigation I found a parking place in the wood where the whole Battery appeared to be concentrated. Here vehicles, guns and men were safely housed among the trees. Jack, Charles and I then found a cottage, in which we spread our blankets, to fall asleep almost before our heads touched the floor. We had by then gone 48 hours without sleep.
We were now back on the Franco-Belgian frontier, behind the Scheldt river, over which we had passed in Tournai. This river was also called the Escaut, the name more familiar to us. This coming day proved full of interest, to be followed by an equally exciting night for me. Our rest in the cottage was all too short. We had to be on our way again bright and early. I recollect here having a ‘brush’ with a very senior, beribboned, red-hatted staff officer. The Troop was lined up in column ready to move, my truck being on the road, and, as it so happened, outside an ‘estaminet’. I was standing by the door of the truck between it and the building. To my surprise and discomfiture, I was suddenly accosted in irate terms by the said staff officer. “What the h— are you doing here? Have you been inside there (pointing to the estaminet), if so etc, etc.” I was threatened, in no uncertain way, that my future career in the army would not be worth a tinker’s cuss if I had as much as a thought of refreshing myself with strong liquor! Poor innocent, overworked, underpaid, underfed, miserable ‘Two by Four’ that I then was, to receive such an unjust ‘rocket from one so high came as a shock. I was yet again to see a mighty man of war in a ‘flap’, proving that the best sometimes lose control.
From Wannehain we were destined for the battle again, this time on the river Escaut, in similar circumstances to these existing on the Dyle. The distance was not far, but owing to factors as yet unforeseen, the Troop did not occupy the new position until late afternoon. The first delaying factor proved to be the civilian refugee problem. We had now our first real experience of road congestion caused by droves of men, women and children, on foot, in carts, prams or anything on wheels, making their way westwards. An unforgettable sight. Against this stream we had to make our way. In time we reached Froidmont, a small town through the centre of which we slowly edged our way. Then came the bombers. The column halted and where possible, guns were put under cover. ‘F’ Troop was still jammed in the narrow streets; nothing could be done. My truck at this time was at the ‘T’ junction of two roads. We drew in as close as possible to the side in the shadow of a building. The bombs, however, fell some distance away, no damage being done to us at all. We remained where we were for some time, during which some loaves of bread were obtained and distributed among my troops. Jack had come up to join me and together we cheerfully polished off a loaf between us. Moving on we passed the spot where the bombs fell. The chief sufferers were the guns and horses of a French artillery unit caught in a field. A short distance further on, our road converged onto the main Tournai-Lille road. Before entering this main road, the column halted. The ‘Recce’ groups went forward. The ensuing wait seemed endless at the time and was no doubt of long duration. Positions had to be found covering the Escaut. The buildings round about here where I had halted presented a tattered appearance as the result of the recent raid. Traffic on the main road was considerable, going up and down. It was a relief to get going again, these prolonged waits between periods of activity were in no respect restful, either to the nerves, always taut, or to the body, ever occupied.
This position ‘F’ Troop occupied on the Escaut was the most difficult to negotiate, either before or afterwards. I thought it ‘lousy’ and said so. As usual it was forward of the other two Troops, but not anything like as exposed as that on the Dyle. It was on the forward edge of a wood with a deep, sunken road immediately in front. The gun muzzles almost overhung the sheer drop into the roadway. Because of this cutting, the guns could not be brought into action from an approach along the front edge of the wood. There lay the rub! The track-plan skirted a field behind the wood and then the gun towers had to enter among the trees as far as possible up to the front edge, the guns being manhandled into position. One can imagine the work all this entailed, felling small trees, clearing away undergrowth and thickets, heaving, shoving, digging and levelling. At last, it was done, the vehicles being parked to a flank in the wood itself. A bit close to the guns but well under cover. A deep C.P. dugout was dug with a shelf bunk. A hundred yards or so behind the position stood a small house into which the Troop cooks moved and where the troops found sleeping space. Jack, Charles and I preferred to have our camp beds set up near the C.P. under trees. By dusk the Troop was ready for action with cable laid to B.H.Q. I had received instructions to relieve Captain Lorne MacDougall at the Battery O.P. [Observation Post] at nightfall.
This O.P. was sited on the edge of another wood, in front of and to the right of my Troop position, overlooking the river. I took with me my N.C.O. of Signals, Bombardier Webb and, I think, Signaller Wilson, and my Ack, Sergeant Thrussell. The actual position of the O.P. was at the corner of a ride, which ran through the wood from front to rear. The opening, therefore, faced the German positions. This fact had an interesting bearing on what happened next day. The ground immediately in front was open and sloped away gradually to the river. The latter could not be seen, however, as it ran through a deep ravine hereabouts. On the far side of the river the ground rose again, covered here and there by woods and pasture. A village stood almost directly in front of the O.P, some two miles away. The church spire was plainly visible. To the left on our side of the river the village of St Maur’s scattered buildings spread from the wood to the riverbank. A long way over to the right front another village could be seen on the far side of the river. So much for the panorama. When I took ever from Lorne McDougall it was too late to dig any sort of funk hole, the inside of the wood soon became as black as the proverbial hat. I decided, moreover, to move forward from the trees into the open to ensure an all-round view and defence. Some felled trees provided a ‘laager’ into which my party moved and made efforts to introduce some comfort. The early part of the night was enlivened by constant bursts of tracer machine gun fire. The village to the right front was in flames. Now here I noticed a peculiar thing. In the centre of the flames a single bright spot of light remained constant, as though a lamp burned independently of the surrounding blaze. This may sound ridiculous, but it is what I saw. I reported this over the telephone, thinking the incident may have some connection with enemy intelligence signalling.
Sometime before dawn I must have slept as I remember waking in the early light. We then moved back into the shelter of the trees. Incidentally, I had volunteered to stay 24 hours in the O.P. for reasons since forgotten. I had, therefore, another 12 hours duty in front of me. We started the day by enlarging the slit trench and observing the zone, drawing the panorama, etc. This day was to be one of the most eventful and unpleasant in my all too short fighting experience. The morning brought with it activity over the whole observation area. To my left a Troop of the 115 Field came into action near St Maur, the transport being parked in the village itself. Soon this brought enemy fire down on the village and the Troop itself. I saw clearly shells exploding among the houses. I heard later that some guns were lost, and casualties suffered among the crews. I could not actually see the guns from my place of observation, but only the vehicles, several of which were destroyed. Then the German gunners gave their attention to the wood I was in, starting on the left and working along. Now we were for it! There were three of us at the O.P. with only a shallow six-foot slit trench for protection. I bundled Bombardier Webb and Sergeant Thrussell into the hole one on top of the other, then went in myself on top of them. A three-decker sandwich! I was in danger of having a bit of steel in my backside, but Webb was in greater danger of being suffocated! The next half hour or so was extremely unpleasant. The ‘ride’ I mentioned must have attracted the Germans particularly as they gave it merry hell. Bits and pieces of trees and shells flew in all directions but thanks to our slit in the earth we three escaped unscathed. My overcoat and webbing equipment were hanging on a tree beside the hole we were in. The hem of the coat was torn and holed, and the equipment hit by splinters. A rifle, leaning against another tree nearby, had its stock shattered. Shell holes appeared in the ‘ride’ not ten yards away! This experience proved to me the value of a slit trench, however small and narrow. So long as one’s body is below surface level, the chances of being hit by splinters are small. Bouts of enemy shelling similar to this continued, on and off, during the day. St Maur came in for the greater share of the strafing and at the end of the day presented an appearance of desolation. Needless to say, our line to Battery H.Q. was cut and had to be repaired more than once by Bombardier Webb. During lulls in the shelling, I was able to do some uninterrupted observation. I reported enemy gun flashes to be seen on the far slope. This information was considered sufficiently important for me to be put through to ‘Guke’, the code name for the C.M.A. at his H.Q. I should have mentioned long before this the captive observation balloon seen in the air behind the Dyle. The presence of this form of artillery air O.P. came as a shock to me when I became aware of it, confirming the air-superiority of the Germans in no uncertain way. Such a thing as a balloon was thought to be obsolete in modern warfare because of fighter plane opposition. This German balloon went up with impunity, keeping a constant and uninterrupted watch over our movements. British fighter planes were non-existent. I myself did not see one British plane of any description in the air during the daytime from 10th to 30th May, except one ‘Lysander’ in the process of being brought down by three Messerschmidt’s. The German balloon had followed up the British withdrawal and there the damned thing was, as undisturbed as ever, in the air immediately opposite my O.P. on the Escaut.
Regarding bringing down my own Battery fire on any targets, the opportunities were meagre and signs of enemy movements nil. The gun flashes already mentioned were way beyond our maximum range. I saw no enemy troops or vehicles. I did, however, strafe the villages on the German side of the river, but good observed results were difficult to see due to dead ground. In actual fact, the O.P. itself was not far enough forward and as I had not had the choosing of it and had received no orders in regard to my particular plan of observation, targets etc., I decided to remain where I was. I have kicked myself heartily since for my lack of initiative. At the same time lack of experience and knowledge of the whims and shortcomings of senior officers played a great part in those days of trial and error. At long last dusk came bringing with it my relief, Lieutenant Jeffrey. By this time, we had had more than enough of that particular O.P. On my return to the Troop, I learnt that we had suffered our first casualty from enemy action so far. One gunner had a slight arm wound. I was not long in seeking a bed and some sleep. I chose the C.P. as being safe from disturbance. I was awakened sometime in the night by voices and a somewhat hectic phone conversation to Battery H.Q. Jeffrey had come in from the O.P. reporting suspicious movements in the wood. He thought some German patrol had penetrated into it. I was asleep again before I could hear the outcome.
Nothing of great importance took place during the day. Jack and I paid a visit to Battery H.Q. farm. We envied them their comfortable abode. St Maur received a lot of shelling but fortunately nothing came our way. A Lysander was brought down behind the position; did not stand a chance against the three German fighters on its tail. At nightfall the whole front leapt into activity with a vengeance. The Germans launched an attack, our infantry calling for fire from the guns. The S.O.S. rockets of red and green went up all along the line. I do not remember how long we kept up our supporting fire, but it was hard work while it lasted. I do recollect, however, having to switch 33° to the left, an unusual procedure and evidence of hot work on that part of the front. This switch necessitated moving the guns, not an easy thing to do in the darkness in our thickly wooded position. The attack must have failed as we remained in the position until the next night.
This was another uneventful day. The R.A.M.C. took over our small house early in the morning for an A.D.S. [Advance Dressing Station] A sure sign of another backward step to come. In the afternoon Jack and I went prospecting for an alternative position further back. During this tour German planes dropped bombs in and around Ere, the village adjoining our Battery gun position area. In the late evening orders came to move, the Battery position of assembly being a sunken road near H.Q. To pack up and clear the Troop position was achieved with much less trouble than I anticipated. The moon was up and the night clear and I remember my anxiety to be away as soon as possible once clear of the wood. We had to abandon some ammunition, as there was no time to return it to Echelon. The troops took away from here some chickens. I suppose they enjoyed eating them later. We duly turned up all present and correct at the assembly point and after a short delay the Battery regained the Tournai Road. Of this night drive my recollection is again vague.
We seemed to take a roundabout route to fetch up at our next position area, at a place called Sainghin, [Sainghin-en-Melantois] very close to Lille. My arrival there was somewhat of the same nature as that at Wannehain. Few people about and no one on the spot to guide us to our Troop position. I went in search of information and eventually found the Battery Captain about to climb into bed. Our Troop area was located in a field behind a large chateau in which some infantrymen were already installed. [Jardin de Maraude, Av de Chateau] By the time we were ready to move into position, the sun had risen.
The first site chosen for the guns was along a hedge bordering a lane. We had been labouring for some time manhandling them into position when suddenly the work was interrupted by a very agitated Brigadier who literally came steaming up to me almost shouting these words, “Quick, get into ant tank positions on the road, the Germans are coming up, no time to lose. He was indeed excited. He then went away. As our present position commanded the road, or near enough anyway, and as I was exceedingly sceptical, tired and already sufficiently harassed, we stayed where we were to await events. Nothing happened. Eventually the scare subsided. Later on, a better position, further afield was occupied and the digging of our gun pits went on. At the first opportunity. Jack and I sought some kind of billet in the chateau, firstly settling in a small room with a view of the Troop position. Here we had a meal of sorts. I do believe the Germans were quite close to Sainghin as 366 Battery definitely went into action nearby. Anyway, after a day’s hard work, orders reached me in the evening to be prepared to move. This we did, thus leaving a position once again without firing a shot. The next step back took us through the centre of Lille. I remember seeing my first crashed German plane, a bomber, just before entering the outskirts of Lille. Here we had a tiresome game of hide and seek”, the column somehow getting lost in a maze of bystreets. I recollect cruising about trying to find the main road, covering the same ground more than once. This time the fault was someone else’s. The centre of Lille was already familiar to me; we even went up the ‘Rue Nationale”, a street with vivid memories for both Jack and myself. Earlier on, during a traffic block, I remember going into a shop to buy as much chocolate as I could. Darkness was well on the way going through Lille and the remainder of the night drive was similar to those already described. Armentieres was in flames and badly knocked about.
Dawn found us approaching the Forêt de Nieppe, and the story goes that the German tanks entered at the same time from the opposite end. This may be true but evidently, they withdrew, as we were not attacked during our stay of some hours. At this time, I had had another 48-hour period without sleep other than dozing periods during the night drives. Another 12 hours were to pass before Jack and I got down to a solid night’s rest. I must mention here that 366 Battery had been left behind at Sainghin, where they went into action after we left. The reason, which I did not know at the time, was because a special force of all arms had to be collected in a hurry to take possession of the high ground of Cassel before the Germans could do so themselves. It would appear that it was touch and go who would arrive there first. This force, of which we formed part, i.e. 367 Battery and R.H.Q. was concentrated at Nieppe prior to the occupation of positions in and around Cassel.
The force commander was General Mason Macfarlane and thenceforth we became known as ‘Macforce’. In fact, 145 Brigade from the 48th Division, plus auxiliary troops, formed the basis of the units engaged Brigadier Somerset commanded 145 Brigade. Now began our most testing and gruelling part of the campaign. Hitherto the regiment had fought a long-distance battle with the Germans, as is usual for the gunners in enclosed country. I had not yet ever seen a German. Our casualties were almost nil. Tired we were sometimes hungry, certainly dirty, but otherwise fit and in good spirits. We were, moreover, far too busy either digging in or going places to give much thought to the larger issue of the war. It was fairly obvious to the most dull-witted person that our withdrawal (never retreat) was both far and fast, but I do not think any single one of us had any but optimistic hopes of the outcome. Be that as it may, our task in Cassel was regarded as just another job of work to be done. The fact that Mac force was to be sacrificed to enable the Dunkirk route to be kept open was not known by anyone outside Force’ H.Q. At any rate, not officially known, but probably suspected by Regimental Commanders.
To resume. Having arrived at Nieppe, a halt was called. All guns and vehicles put under cover of the trees. Enemy aircraft were much in evidence, one plane coming over to machine-gun the road soon after we arrived. Again, not knowing how long our stay would be, I had the guns and vehicles removed to a nearby farm where billets could be found for the troops and suitable cover was available for the M.T. Here the troops had breakfast and a general clean-up of themselves and the equipment. I kept my truck with the main party, where I also had something to eat, bully I believe. Having time to spare, Jack and I made a tour of the area. At the back of the wood, we came upon five derelict R.A.S.C. lorries in a lane. They were undamaged but all bagged. Evidently the owners had left in a hurry! These trucks were fully loaded with petrol and food, biscuit, jam, bully etc. This was an opportunity not to be missed. I had our Toc truck (Swinger Troop’s armoured O.P., a Bren carrier minus the Bren) brought up and set to work to de-bag the lorries. Which we did. The rations were split up among the three Battery Troops, but the petrol left intact. This fuel lorry ‘F Troop took away as a useful spare vehicle, apart from its value in spare petrol. Searching further, we found dumps of ammunition of all kinds, from S.A. to 8-inch shells. Petrol, too, was in abundance. In fact, the whole forest was a huge store of war material, all of which had to be abandoned. The exact time we left Nieppe I do not remember, but it was exceedingly hot and dusty. The roads were crowded with refugees, transport and troops, including scattered groups of French. We moved through Merville, turned left and out into the Lille-Cassel road, passing through Caestre and so on to the outskirts of Cassel.
Our column halted short of the actual town, which is perched on a hill, conspicuously standing amidst the flat plain, hence its tactical importance to us. The main roads from east and south converged through Cassel leading to Dunkirk some 15 miles away to the northwest. The road from Caestre, along which we were now halted, was straight, wide and tree bordered, forming a fine avenue connecting the two places. It was fortunate for us that the trees were in leaf, as, shortly after the column had come to a standstill, several German planes came over to plaster Cassel. Had they seen our long, closely packed line of guns and trucks, we might have been the target instead. As it was, we emerged from our ditches and from behind trees none the worse. My newly acquired lorry was later found to have bullet holes through the roof, so some ground strafing did take place further back along the road. As the next few days were to be of such significance in the history of 367 Battery and of ‘F’ Troop in particular, a brief description of the area is necessary to appreciate the subsequent events. Imagine, therefore, the Battery and R.H.Q. column on the road facing in north easterly direction with the town of Cassel rising steeply on our left front. To our immediate left, the ground fell away from the road in a gradual slope to a wide depression, at the bottom of which the ground was still soggy from the winter rainfall. The country on this side was broken up into fields and pastures, undulating until the mass of forest in the vicinity of St Omer closed the panorama on the west horizon. On the opposite side of the road, i.e. to our right hand, the layout was quite different. Immediately beyond the roadside ditch the ground rose steeply, ending in a ridge behind which it dropped again to a flat valley of pasture. Where the head of the column had stopped, on the right-hand side of the road, an entrance to the drive of a large chateau [Chateau Masson] could be seen. This building stood at the foot of a thickly wooded hill, the Mont des Recollets. The hill itself extended along the road as far as the T-junction made with the Cassel-Steenvoorde road, the right hand arm of the T leading to Steenvoorde, the left hand arm rising to Cassel. Immediately opposite the chateau entrance a narrow lane branched off from the road at right angles, taking another right-angled turn a few yards down to the right, then running approximately parallel to the main road for 100 yards through a grove of trees and bushes in the direction of the town. Then the lane ran clear of the trees, bending left-handed, finally ending before a small cottage. We are now, with the cottage facing us, at the foot of the winding road leading into Cassel. The town itself was quite large and no doubt a prosperous place in peacetime, certainly a landmark in the surrounding plain. Army H.Q. were located here during the First War.
As we did not go into the town until the 27th May further descriptions of it can be left for the moment. As soon as the German planes had finished wrecking the town……
At this point Ronald Baxter’s narrative ends. He made notes of his subsequent story, but these were not translated into narrative. These notes are as follows and terminate on his capture by the Germans at Watou in Belgium on 30th May.
24th May 1940
Germans raid the town, unpleasant. Battery to take up positions on outskirts. First area allotted to F Troop waterlogged. Finally selected my Troop position, guns sited along a track leading to cottage. Dug in. Part of ‘Mac’ force.
M.T. to Eecke wagon lines. Took over cottage as Troop H.Q. Regimental H.Q. behind position. D Troop on left further back. E Troop away on the right facing. Jack, Charles, myself. Three Batmen, two drivers and two a/cs took over cottage. Owner gone. A.A. gun mounted in field behind. Jack’s truck parked outside, also Charles’ bike.
25th and 26th May.
No activity. Time spent in recce and familiarising ourselves of locality. Two pounder anti-tank gun joined Troop, later withdrawn, more’s the pity. Given job of locating an O.P. facing in direction of expected attack from St. Omer direction.
Dead ponies in Chateau grounds. Visited Infantry mess in Chateau. Made up arrears of sleep. German parachute flares much in evidence. Little air activity. Battery sergeant Major O’Connell and his party lost in Lille. Bombardier Webb went back as far as Lille and found them. A good job of work. Into Cassel to find Mason Macfarlane H.Q. Did so. One map in Battery. Baths in the cottage. First time we had lived under a roof since 11th May.
Up at 5 am. Drove our truck with A/c, and signals Webb, Temple, Wilson, Sergeant Thrussell. Manned O.P. Took over only map in Battery! Not liking position of O.P., moved behind solid brick wall.
11 am. Very soon column of vehicles appeared on the St Omer road. Could not identify them at the distance. Our own movement and F.D.L.s [Forward Defence Locality/Line] were not known for certain. Reported to Regimental H.Q. Engage or not? Answer. Do not engage. Brigadier uncertain of identity. Column remained stationary all morning. Meanwhile guns of 5 R.H.A. in action.
Resolved to find out more about the situation. Went into the town. Found O.P. officer R.H.A. who was firing on the same column that I had reported. Good enough.
Returned and prepared to engage. Difficulties. No Zero line. Groping in dark. Had not been allowed to register target area owing to lack of information re. F.D.L.s. However, got ‘F’ Troop into action. Meanwhile German guns seen in position further to left. Switched over to engage them. No hits but made them move.
Back to road target target. Firing of our guns erratic. May have hit a vehicle or two. Linked D. Troop on. German shell or mortar falling about OP. Searching for RHA guns. Wire cut. Wireless control only. Very slow. Enemy column moved up into Bavinchove.
Wall receiving plenty of splinters. Officer from Ox & Bucks came along to post one of his men on German side of wall behind a tree. Do not know why. Shortly after killed by shell fragment. Sergeant Thrussell helped to get him in. Paddy Sirkett arrived on scene Tried his hand at the game of hitting the now hidden Germans in Bavinchove. Sounds of a general flare up all round. Signaller Wilson unable to repair wire
Back at Troop position things were going badly. Round about midday German tanks had appeared a mere 300 yards from the guns. Jack engaged over open sights. A duel ensued. Several of the guns crews were wounded, including Sergeant Harcombe and Gunner Preston, Sergeant Goodown was killed. Sergeant Swindle returned from the Aid post, having been wounded in the foot and resumed his duties. Unfortunately, soon after he was hit and died almost immediately.
Jack May then received severe wounds in the arm and shoulder. Directed operations from ground. Shewed a fine example under very trying circumstances. Meanwhile two German tanks had been knocked out. Exchanges unequal. Charles Bennett took over, receiving a splinter in back. He was finally ordered to evacuate the position. High praise is due to all ranks for the steady discipline shewn during this period. The wounded, including Jack May were treated by our M.O. Lieutenant Lacey at the Regiment First Aid post. The stretcher cases were removed. I did not see Jack again.
At the same time the work at O.P. had become impossible, German tanks had worked their way up the road from Bavinchove to within a few hundred yards of town. Paddy went off to get his truck away while the going was good. As the German tanks were within sight and short range and no one in O.P. area about, took it upon myself to get in touch with Ox & Bucks. Unfortunately mortar ammunition only smoke. Ox & Bucks organized an attacking party which cleared Germans from Chateau grounds. My anxiety for Paddy. Enquires of Ox and Bucks.
Withdrew into town, established H.Q. in corner Estaminet. With Sergeant Thrussell recce’d environs. German tanks had meanwhile retired for reason discovered next day. Late in evening met Colonel Odling and R.H.Q. party coming in. Heard of Jack being a casualty. Left Sergeant Thrussell in charge of Estaminet. Went back to Troop position.
Machine gun fire covering crossroads Uncomfortable trip. Arrived Troop position found Charles Bennett with orders to pull out. Now dark Welsh Guards as covering party. They stayed 20 minutes. Uncertain of German positions.
Withdrew guns, leaving Jack’s truck and cottage behind. Set off to investigate house. Back in Cassel. Vehicles parked in street and Inn yard. Wounded in basement. Rendezvous with Major Chris. [Nevill Christopherson]. Go to find Colonel Odling. Find him lying by roadside with broken leg. Out of action. Send for his truck. Visit to Brigadier Somerset. He left Chris to choose positions. Chris and I return to R.H.Q. Glass of Whisky. Fell asleep. Alone off to site guns in anti-tank positions. Spent all night doing this. Rest of Battery outside of town.
Four guns in by dawn. Three guns only in action. Did not like look of things. Troops housed in buildings near own guns. Sergeant Naggs in charge ? section. Sergeant Hawkins only No 1 unscratched. Party from light A.A. attach themselves to us. Saw them no more.
28th and 29th May.
Two days difficult to differentiate. Charles Bennett and I inspect German tanks. Request to engage possible target. Germans detraining. Took on Germans in house 2000 yards. Fired on nearby house. One Frenchman came out. Jock and his Fifth columnist. Trucks in square. Sniping in alley opposite Troop H.Q. 51st Anti-Tank regiment.
Champagne with Jock under fire. Visit to Battery H.Q. cellar. Visit to Paddy’s guns. Saw Germans all round. Trip through Cassel in Carrier. Hits on gun. Trailer hit. Ammunition did not explode. Gun disabled. AA gun on hill behind Sergeant Hawkin’s gun drew fire. No signs of civilians. Caves underground. French 75 mm by crossroads. Two R.H.A. guns covering Caestre road. Gunner Swallows effort to burn tank. Rescue of Jack’s truck. Loss of his wireless set. Visit Wagon Lines Eecke.
Panic of A.S.C. [Army Service Corps] rumour of attack. Wounded coming in. Leaflets dropped.
Night of 29th May
Orders to evacuate with vehicles. Half hour later. Evacuate on foot, no kit, no fires. Silence. Hurried destruction. Talk to Sergeants. Full of hope. Food destroyed. Rum and whisky abandoned. Books down. W.C. Firing mechanisms thrown away. Gunner Swallow’s booby trap. Convent on fire. Difficult to destroy Types. Petrol tanks pierced.
Rendezvous in square at 9pm. Gloucesters rear-guard with carriers of E.R.Y. [East Riding Yeomanry]
Unforgettable night. Single file. Nightmare march. No German activity. Through Steenvoorde in flames. British anti-tank guns and tanks abandoned.
Dawn. Burning cottage. Off road into ditch. Tracer machine gun opens up. Crawl up ditch. Cross anti-tank ditch. Sounds of firing away to left. Meet Paddy at Watou.
To farm. Ask way. Germans open up. Back through farm. Big crowd. No good. Scatter. Paddy and I together with a few troops. Firing all round.
Don’t bunch! Casualties all round. Rifle let off in my face. Reach cottages. No admittance. Whiskey bottle to chap with broken jaw. Tanks. Cornfield. Halt to study leaflet map. On again to Hop Garden. Fired on.
All flat. Two hit. Paddy and Wilks in lap. Cannot move. Walking stick, surrender.
Although his notes on his period in action end here, with his capture, he did write more notes while he was a Prisoner of War. These start where the above left off and are contained in a separate article.
Diary Notes made by Lieutenant Ronald Baxter while a Prisoner of War, May 1940 to October 1942.
May 29th 1940.
Left Cassel on foot at 2200 hours
Arrived Watou at 0400 hours. Came under automatic rifle fire. Endeavoured to find a way round the German flanks. Unsuccessful. Finally gave ourselves up as position hopeless. After delay of some hours, were marched to Hondeghem, via Steenvoorde, some 25 kilometres. Here were given first food, bread and coffee without milk or sugar. Spent night in church.
Up early, 0600 hours, after bread and ersatz coffee marched to Therouanne, in
great heat, very uncomfortable. Arrived early evening, given potato soup and slept in a barn. First good wash. Here Lt. Layton joined us, also Capt. Westley.
Another issue of potato soup and again on the march. Arrived Heuchin, installed in church, given soup, managed to buy bottle of wine. In the afternoon, sent in lorries to Frevent, arriving in time to have issue of soup. Slept in large flax factory, very filthy and unhealthy. Uncomfortable night.
After issue of biscuits, on march again. Arrived Doullens. Sent to old castle. No food. Found the M.O. Lt. Lacey, party now six. Very good march, but very long. Hungry. Went with Wheatley on the scrounge, found piece of bacon on our rubbish heap, a few seed potatoes, two cigarettes in a tin. After cleaning the bacon, same was boiled with the potatoes, and proved very appetising. All made a reasonable meal.
Up early, but in spite of alarms, did not move out. Had an issue of thin soup. Managed to procure some milk. Biscuit porridge was a great success. Finally in the afternoon were taken in lorries to Cambrai. A long journey, passing near Toutencourt en route. Passed many French and English prisoners, a depressing sight. At Cambrai, sent to what had been a military school. Thousands of prisoners there. Given a good lentil soup, very enjoyable. In the evening on the march again, this time in a train.
Woke up in train, stationary at way station. Moved on eventually to Hirson. Train moved on again at 12 noon, passing through Anor, Momignies, Macon, Villers-la-Tour, Chimay, Aublain, Mariembourg, Fagnolles, Matagne, Romeree, Doische, and finally stopped at Givet. Left train and marched 9 kilos to Beauraing. Here we boarded another train. Had an issue of German biscuits. Very un-palatable. Left at 2230 hrs over to Ardennes.
Woke up at Bertrix. Left there at 0830 hrs, passing through very woody and beautiful countryside, finally reached Luxembourg 1415. Here we had bread issue. After a stay of 1½ hours on again in the train through to Germany, fetching up at Trier, splendidly situated town on a river. Marched up to the top of a hill behind town to prison camp, set in the middle of a large barracks. Up to this time we had no food, other than bread and biscuit, since leaving Cambrai. 24 hours. However, on arrival at officers’ camp, we eventually received a bread, cheese and coffee issue. The quarters were in what had been barracks, very comfortable, beds/straw mattresses. A good night’s rest was had by all. Before retiring, I had a complete wash down in cold water, very necessary and refreshing.
Up at 0700 hrs. Wash and breakfast of bread, jam and coffee. Spent morning washing linen and sunbathing. Dinner consisted of thin sauerkraut and potato soup. Unpleasant wait for this meal. Thousands of French, Belgian, Dutch prisoners assembled. Back to our own compound to sleep. Supper came eventually at 0900 hrs, cheese, bread and coffee again. 47 officers departed, some said to Mainz. So to bed. Westley sent letter home.
Breakfast late, did not obtain full issue of bread. However, all had something. Belgian officers departed. Paddy sent a letter home. Midday meal of barley & potatoes. Very filling. Warned to leave after meal, but did not fall in until 1900 hrs. Had issue of bread and sausage. Marched to station, entrained and away by 2300 hrs. Carriage crowded to capacity. No hope of sleep.
Saturday. Roused myself after wretched night, at 0400 hrs. Looked out of window & saw wonderful scenery alongside the Rhine. This continued until we reached Mainz. A large, attractive town. The Rhine flows through the city. Our train deposited us at Mainz South station, a short march from which we entered a barrack stronghold, our new but temporary quarters. We received every consideration. Several German officers speaking perfect English. Here we signed up our names and particulars, were given postcards to send home. Eventually we received a meal of bread and sausage. Our quarters, two to a room, were very comfortable. Charles and the MO were put in a different block from us. Potato soup formed our supper and very welcome. Westley, Sigs, Paddy and I played Battleships, childish, but passed the time. Changed paper French money. Rotten rate, 40 cigarettes cost 2 Reich marks or 60 francs. Were locked in our rooms at 1900hrs. Very depressing, so early. And so to bed.
Awoke at 0700 hrs, sunshine outside. Door unlocked at 0730 hrs. Arose, washed, shaved & ready for breakfast. No food arrived, coffee only. Voluntary church service at 1000 hrs. Very simple and impressive. Back to huts, where bread and jam awaited us. Dinner 1315 hrs. Huge plate of potato and sauerkraut. Not allowed out in afternoon. Bread sausage & butter ration at 1700 hrs. Allowed out at 2000 hrs. Enjoyed the sunshine & air, not locked in tonight, but shutters put up. Met Johnston after church service, also Scotsman with whom I shared a room at Winterbourne Gunner. Bed 2200 hrs.
Another lovely day. No breakfast, apart from coffee and remainder of yesterday’s loaf. Hung about all morning awaiting interrogation. Dinner 1315 barley and potato stew. Individuals were questioned, one after another, including Sigs Layton. Layton eventually went to the main building. Westley, Paddy and I were left for the night. I slept on the floor, as English officers were concentrated owing to a new batch of French officers arriving. Another issue of potato soup at 1800 hrs. Went to bed to the sounds of singing in the park opposite. Awoke during the early hours of the morning, hearing the sounds of an air raid.
Tuesday. Another morning hanging about for interrogation. At last, after dinner of barley soup and potato, was interviewed by a young German officer educated in the USA. A most amusing 4 hour. He did not get a thing out of me, was very sore. Then away to the main camp, where we had a most enjoyable de-lousing bath, clothing as well. Afterwards we re-joined Charles and the MO. We were lodged in the same building as the latter. Another issue of soup in the evening. The most cheering event of the day was the sight of Tommy Hood, Rowland and Blossom Budd. All survived, thank goodness. So far, no contact with them allowed. We sat under the trees until 2130 hrs. then wandered bedwards, all tired after the semi-turkish bath. A long hot day, but the rumours of our moving on the morrow sustained our spirits. We look forward to becoming established so that letters and parcels can be set in motion.
Up at 0700. Coffee, hot for a change. 0800 assembly for checking numbers. We are told that we depart in the evening. In the canteen we meet and talk with Tom Hood and Rowland. Managed to acquire some cigarettes. Dinner spinach and potato soup, very good. After meal retired to rest, but we were roused at 1430 hours to parade. Handed over blankets, received ration bread and sausage and coffee. Much waiting about, roll call, etc. Finally at 1830 hrs we left Mainz in cattle trucks, 38 in our particular truck. A very uncomfortable night for all, including thunderstorms which lasted all night.
All day in our truck, with rare stops to relieve nature. A fine day, but nothing to see or do except eke out our rations. Arrived Munich late evening. On again during night with no food. Arrived early next morning at Laufen, [Oflag VII] our final destination.
Friday June 14th
Arrived Laufen by train. Very pretty village situated in hilly country on riverSeltzer. Marched to our so-called camp, an old barracks building, 200 officers already installed. Met Stevens of 366 Battery. Given coffee and mouldy bread, baked 3 weeks previously. Heads shaven, much to my horror. Then examination and interrogation. Money taken away, also fount. pens. An issue of soap, which I did not receive. A disinfectant bath, also clothes washed. Dinner of sausage and sauerkraut. Medical examination. All this took time, finally we were allotted our beds for the night. An issue of spinach soup, then to bed.
Sat. June 15th
Up at 7.30 am. Coffee. Wash and shave. Parade for final room allotment. Grouped by rank. I being the sole full Lieut. of our party, I went along to the Lieutenants room. No. 61. Small but magnificent view. 44 in our room, more to come. Wrote a letter to Peggy and card to Cox & Kings bank, hope they arrive safely. Met Stevens in canteen. He very sportingly bought us all beer as our party all broke.
Sun. 16th June
Up at 7.00 am. Coffee. Church service 8 am. Communion service after, very quiet and impressive. 9 to 10 Inspection by the Camp Commandant. Dinner 11 am, sausage sauerkraut and potatoes. Tea 4 pm coffee, cheese, butter. Best rations since capture. Did a bit of washing. Had a chat to Howe ex H.A.C First lesson on Bridge. Dull, overcast day. To bed 10 pm.
Mon 17th June.
Reveille 7 am. Coffee. Roll call 10 am. Hung on until 11.00 am. Much counting of heads. Our table on food fatigue. Dinner spinach only. 2nd Bridge lesson. Then spaghetti soup and potatoes. Bad day for rations. Large party of new arrivals 250. Another wet day. Rumours of French capitulation and news of Herr Hitler’s speech to America re: aims. Much speculation on the end of war. To bed 10 pm.
Tues. 18th June.
Usual routine. Good dinner – tea. Sun came out 2.30 pm. Visit from member of USA Embassy, also German YMCA. News of French Government removal to USA. Peace terms discussion at Munich between Herr Hitler, Mussolini and Marshal Petain. Played Bridge in evening. 2nd issue of bread, to last until Sunday.
Wed. 19th June.
Usual routine. New arrivals, about 120. Fine day, view of Salzburg for the first time. Good meat soup for dinner. Slept after. Photos taken in 3’s, can be bought for 40 pfennigs. Butter ration for tea cancelled as a punishment. Churchill’s speech of the 17th read out. Food for speculation and conversation. First lesson on Poker. Bed 10.30 pm.
Thurs. 20th June.
A Red Letter Day. Jimmy Fitch turned up! A ghost indeed. A distribution of herrings, 8 per man, also beetroot. A change of diet, otherwise food today poor, soya and potatoes
dinner, potato soup supper, sunbathed by the river, a very happy hour. Conversation with one’s friends is part and parcel of the day’s interest. No official news. A really hot summers day.
Fri. 21st June.
Another Red Letter Day. Pay. Beer. Ice cream! 10 am hot bath. 11am dinner. Noodles soup, meat & potatoes, the best so far in Laufen. 2.30 pay. 13% marks. A visit to the canteen for a mug of beer, and what a mug! Delicious. 5.0 pm. Tea. Potato soup and margarine. Beetroot and biscuits were bought to augment rations. Ice cream cornet, quite good. 20 pfennigs. Had a washing parade. Shirt, collar, socks and handkerchief. 6.30 pm our spirits received a bad blow. In the canteen, the announcement of an Armistice between Germany, France and Italy having been signed came as a bitter pill. Have caught a cold and have a sore throat, went to bed feeling rotten. Day finished with a violent hailstorm. Bought a fancy biscuit for 20 pfennigs – what a price!!
Sat. 22nd June.
Had a bad night, nose running, eyes streaming. Got up feeling rotten and continued to do so all day. Walnuts selling for 2 m 40 pf the kilo. Bought 2 kilo. Usual routine. Soya soup and potatoes for dinner. Paid 2 visits to the canteen, morning and evening, 2 pleasant hours. News Armistice terms published between France and Germany. Bed early, still feeling under the weather. (Power of Attorney drawn up in 6 lines).
Sun. 23rd June.
Had a better night. Church service 8.30 am. A very good service. Just before roll call had an attack of indigestion. Did not go on parade. Passed off before dinner. Hamburgers, margarine, cheese, soup and bread issue. A beautiful day. Sunbathed in the afternoon. Bridge between tea and supper. The scenery in this summer weather is glorious, the mountains snow-capped in the background. Borrowed cheque from Hood. No news.
Mon. 24th June.
Wrote a letter home, enclosing cheque and Power of Attorney, hope they arrive safely. Another glorious day, 2 visits to canteen, 1/2 mugs of beer! First shorthand lesson – seems difficult. Comflake soup for dinner, barley soup for tea. Listened to talk on Australia in the evening. News. Russian divisions marched on Latvian and Estonian borders. Italian terms presented to France. Churchill appeals to Frenchmen outside France not to support Government. England will fight on.
Tues. 25th June.
Had a very restless night. The worst spent in France or elsewhere. Got up early to wash and shave in comfort. Room orderly. Potato soup for dinner. Very unsatisfactory. First French lesson. Also, Agriculture and Fruit Growing lectures. Very interesting and passed the time well. A visit to the canteen for an hour. Split a shandy with Rowland. 3 more men in room. Total now 85. Bridge in the evening with Paddy, Tom and the MO. News. Franco-Italian Armistice signed. Cessation of hostilities. Various details of Italian successes (perhaps). Reported financial assistance from England for French colonies to continue to fight. German Airforce confined to reconnaissance over North Sea. To bed, raining.
Wed. 26th June.
Woke to sound of pouring rain. A very depressing morning. Cleared up in time for roll call at 9.20 am. Kept on parade a long time. Padre called for to attend a very sick orderly, who eventually died from his injuries sustained from a runaway refuse cart within the prison. Visited canteen before dinner to cheer self up. Another unsatisfactory meal, noodle soup & meat. No potatoes. Good, but not enough. Bought another ½ kilo of nuts to fill up. Weather cleared about noon. Bell ringing again, suppose for victory still. Second shorthand lesson the lecturer is pretty futile. Potato soup for tea, another poor day for food. Bridge from 6 to 8 pm with Tom W. the MO and Rowland. Bread and milk for supper. News. Terms of Franco-German armistice. Spirits falling fast as possibility of release becomes less likely.
Thursday 27th June- 3rd July
Rumour Russian invasion.
…Had not washed or shaved. Dinner. Knoodle soup, meat soup. Supper bread and milk. Bridge till 8 pm. News, German bombing of England and Senator Pitman from U.S.A. hoping throne of England be relocated to Canada . Germany must be considered most powerful nation in Europe.
…Attended French and Land Agency lectures. Visited see in the afternoon Tea barley soup and pots. Another damp, dull day. I hope the sun soon comes out soon.
Church and Communion at 8.30. A very large gathering, the service complete Dinner, but not enough, got up feeling very hungry. Tea, margarine and cheese issue, with coffee. Weather cleared up during afternoon but News Death of Marshall Balto. Raids on N. England and ports.
Collected and redistributed clean linen. Dinner Barley super dinner. Pay 13 marks. History lecture 3.30 pm. Major General Fortune….Visit to canteen for beer 6.45 pm. Hungry today. News. Mutual bombing. English and French troops in Syria. Countess Moseley arrested. Germany hints at war aims to gain living space.
A fine morning at last. Walked 1 mile in the sunshine before parade. Tea, cornflake soup and pots. Bridge with Tom Hood. Supper bread and milk
News. Mutual bombing raids. Extract from Mr Chamberlain’s speech. Threats from both sides. To bed 9.30 pm. Hope springs eternal but no news from home.
Another fine day, had a walk in garden before parade. A lesson in the canteen after parade. Dinner. Potato soup, quite good. Sunbathed in the afternoon. Ice cream. Tea, soya soup and potatoes, also quite good. Wrote card to Mother. Margarine issue. Supper cold potato, home made cheese, marg and bread. A good meal but am still hungry. Thunderstorm 9.00 pm. News. Mutual air raids. Gt. Britain’s preparations against invasion. Very depressing thoughts about what is happening at home. My thoughts are ever of Peggy and my loved ones. I feel so helpless.
Thurs. July 4th
Dull day. Our table on duty. Dinner, soup, sausage and potatoes. Bath 11.30 am. Lectures. Canteen for a beer stop. Tea, barley soup and potatoes. Lecture on hygiene 7 pm. Supper consists of sausage potato mash, bread and margarine. A good meal. News. Mutual bombing. Attack from our ships. French and Arab resentment of British occupation of Syria. Oil the centre of interest in the East.
Fri. July 5th
A good breakfast of bread and butter. A game of Bridge before dinner of cornflake soup and pots. Lectures in the afternoon, ½ hour in canteen. Tea of meat and potatoes, the best tasting meal since arrival. A good day for food, finishing up with supper of sausage, bread, cheese and potato. An announcement that 100 parcels have arrived for officers which will be distributed. Fruit issued to the 2nd Lieut’s., strawberries, redcurrants and radishes. Toc H representative made informal announcement of his news of the situation. News. British capture and sinking of French naval units in English port and Oran. A fine day.
Sat. July 6th
A fine, hot day. Sunbathed in the morning. Dinner noodle soup and pots. A visit to canteen lectures 11 to 12 noon and dinner 1 hour late. Sunbathed again in afternoon. Tea soya soup and pots. Tables 1, 2 and 9 won basket redcurrants. Quite a large share per man. Another visit to canteen 6 pm. Bridge to 8 pm. Supper, redcurrants in milk with bread, a delicious dish, followed by potato. News. Many tons (80,000) British shipping sunk. Raids on ports and factories, and a convoy, destroying 9 ships and 1 cruiser. France breaks off diplomatic relations with GB. Jewish free state created in Palestine, the Abyssinian Highlands handed over as a Jewish colony. The distribution of 100 Red X parcels laid down, 1 per table of 9 men.
Sun. July 7th
Holy Communion, Methodist, 8.00 am in the open under lime trees in garden.
Congregational service 8.45 am ditto. After parade sat by river. Dinner meat soup and pots, very good. Visit to canteen 12.15 pm, lemonade all round 30 pf. Sat by river all afternoon. Tea: coffee, bread, jam and cheese. A large number of British officers arrived. Bridge 5.30 to 7 pm. Toc H sing song to 7.45 pm. Supper: bread, potato, cheese and jam. News. French warplanes bomb Gibraltar. German bomb ports, airfields, etc. Petrol tanks set on fire in Plymouth. Hastings and Dorset coast to depth of 30 miles declared military defensive zones. Britain bombs plants in Holland, Belgium and NW Germany. Ciano’s visit to Belgium. Rumours. Abdication of King of Italy. Italy’s capitulation. German troops land in Cornwall.
Mon. July 8th
Black Monday! A large new batch of officers arrive, we cannot go out into the garden. Food cut down. The opening of parcels postponed. 500 French prisoners reported stranded at station – had to be fed. Dinner small ration of barley soup and pots. Tea, coffee and pots only. Paid 2 visits to canteen, all of us have the hump. In addition, it rained all day. Supper, bread and potatoes. Bread now reduced considerably. News. Mutual raids on England and Germany. Usual Italian successes. Large amount of British tonnage sunk. Rumour. 3000 USA pilots and planes on way to England. The Princesses and 200,000 children evacuated to Canada. Several large German towns reduced to ashes by our bombers. Rlys badly smashed in Germany, necessitating prisoners being brought up the Rhine in boats. Hitler tells his Gauleiters that war must end by September.
Tues. July 9th
Wet morning. Parade cancelled until 3 pm in room. Not allowed in garden Visited canteen after 10 am. Dinner Maggi soup and pots, meagre rations. Tea comifake soup and pots. Altogether a wretched day. Bread 2 pots for supper. News. Bombing of Falmouth, le of Wight ports, Brighton station. Malta. East African Italian successes.
Wed July 10th
.No breakfast. Wet morning. Dinner, meat soup and pots. 2.40 pm. Orders to collect parcels and to give to men. Collection and distribution, great fun, spoonful of the following to each man. Marmalade, fish, meat roll, sausage, margarine, 2 small squares of chocolate, 2 sweets 6 lumps of sugar, 1 cube of cheese, Cocoa, Milk powder, Condensed milk. Everyone very excited like children. 3.30 bath. Tea Maggi soup and pots, very good soup. Canteen for lemonade in the evening. Supper, potato and sardine on bread. Today loaf for 2 days. Felt quite weak and tired. Rumour. Part of German Air Force refuse to go up against our fighters News Complete squation of Blenheims reported brought down at Stavanger. Harwich, Tilbury, mouth of Thames, Falmouth bombed. England has raised 4,000,000 men for defence.
Thurs. July 11th
Very foggy morning, the first we’ve seen. Turned very hot. Sat by river until dinner. Meat soup and pots. Very good soup. Pay day 2.15 pm. Usual lectures. Visit to canteen for lemonade during afternoon. Tea, real English tea, the first cup of tea since May 29. Mary issue but no soup, potatoes only. Had a good feed of cocoa/milk powder/condensed milk on bread pilus potato and sausage. Again lecture 6 pm. A walk in the garden with Hood, talking of possible trading propositions after the war. An enjoyable day on the whole. Supper, Bread and sausage porno mast A talk afterwards on “pubs”. News Italian-British naval action. Italian raids on battleships, French naval units forced to surrender to British units. The “Richelieu” at Daccar. Ile de France” at Singapore. British fighter planes driven off when attempting to raid Amiens aerodrome. War costing £9½ millions a day. Names of prisoners of war reported to England via USA. Embassy, Int Red Cross and German Wireless.
Fri. July 12th
Raining and cold. Bridge after parade to 11 am. Dinner Maggi soup spinach, sausage and pots. Very good. Slept for 2 hours after dinner. Lectures and visit to canteen before tea. Tea barley soup and pots. Lecture and visit to canteen. 7 pm. Padre gave talk on Sheepdogs and trials. Supper. Bread and sausage potato mash. No news no rumours. A most depressing day. Bought cake “ersatz soap” 20 pfennigs.
Sat. July 13th
.Bread issue does not allow bread for breakfast. Potato only. Towel issue, usual unruly crowd. Dinner. Meat soup and potato. 5 per syndicate bought so called Worcester sauce. 3 Mks bottle = 60pf each. A bad bargain. Lectures after dinner. Attended Economic geography per lecture by Rev. Hurd, Dean of Peterhouse, Cambridge. His reasoning proved that we would continue some time yet. Tea cornflakes soup and potatoes. Our table’s turn to fetch and carry be served. Toc H concert 6.45 pm for 1 hour. A jolly sing song. Supper. Bread and Cup quite mush and bread. News. 4½ million tons of British seagoing ships sunk!! Lowestoft, Midlands, and S. England bombed. Naval battle in Mediterranean continues. Hood and Ark Royal damaged. Present lull the prelude to great invasion of England. Rumour. Peace talks, Cinus, Hitler and Hungarian representatives taking part.
Sun. July 14th
Up at 6 am, bright sunny morning. A good wash and shave in empty bathroom. Jam and coffee issue for breakfast. Holy Communion 8 am in Garage. C of E service. Walk with Rowland in garden until parade 10 am. Dinner 11 am. Meat soup and potatoes, also issue of cheese and margarine. Glass of beer 12.30 pm with Warner. 2 pm Bridge with Paddy, and the 2 Toms in Paddy’s room. View from this window of village street very interesting, many people enjoying the air and sunshine. A well dressed, contented looking crowd. Tea 4.30 pm. Potatoes, bread cheese, margarine, jam. A real feast!! But only small pieces of each. In addition, an issue of real, English TEA Heavenly nectar A fracas during afternoon between guard and potato fatigue party. Ended in victory for fatigue party, 5.45 Piano recital by an officer. 7.0 pm Toc H meeting, songs and address. 8pm supper. Potatoes, bread, cheese and jam. Altogether a good day for food. Feel quite satisfied. News- Air raids on Britain and vice versa. Speech by Weygand in France. Italian denials of defeat in Libya. Anger with Jugoslavia in the “Pravda” paper. Hood and Ark Royal towed into Gibraltar, one Italian destroyer sunk. 4 members of room removed to hospital with dysentery. Bassett also taken ill.
Monday July 15th
A fine morning.Small piece of bread and jam for breakfast. Kept on parade for ¾ hour in hot sun, 2 Officers collapsed. More cases of fever, incl. Bassett from our table. loaf issue 8 cigarettes at increased price of 5pf each. Did a bit of washing. Dinner barley soup and potatoes. Whole camp stinks of bad potatoes Lectures Tea, coffee, butter, potatoes and bread. Had a real “blow-out”. Lecture on “gold mining in the Rand” 7 pm. Supper, Bread, potato mash and cheese Stevens lent me a book. News Italy denies British naval victory in Mediterranean. Churchill makes speech, saying Britain is prepared to fight on until 1942 when she will take offensive. New German fighter plane BF106 brought down large number of Hurricanes. The prospect of 2 years here appals me.
Tues July 16th
Dull, wet day, 4 hour on parade. Loaned a book from Stevens. Dinner. macaroni soup and potatoes Rested after dinner. Lectures. Beer in canteen 3.45. Tea cornflakes soup and potatoes. Bread issue, whole loaf for 5 days. Supper, full tummy of bread, potato and home made cheese. Played “Housey, housey” after supper. Did not win. News Bombs dropped near King at Ashford and Faversham, Rumour. Commandant considers rations adequate, also accommodation. New batch of officers in wounded from hospitals.
Wed July 17th
No breakfast as I wish to conserve bread. 4 hr on parade again. Sat in garden with Tom H. Dinner 11.30 am, meat soup and potatoes. Quite good. Lectures. Lemonade during moon. Tea, issue of milk cheese, butter and sale of fig biscuits at 20pt per biscuit. Uneventful day. Learned that our original prison card had reached England. Spelling Bee in Theatre 7 pm. M.O.s versus Padres. Generals and 2 Lieuts-M.O.s won. Supper bread, cheese and potato. News. Germany bombed ports and airfields incl. Brighton and Yeovil. French colonies fighting with us. Italian successes in Italian Somaliland and E. Africa. 3000 U.S.A. planes landed in Britain. 3 out of 5 French warships sunk en route to surrender to Germans.
Thurs July 18th
Coffee and fig biscuit for breakfast. Wet morning. Depressed, so visited canteen for beer with “Canada”. Dinner, meat soup and potatoes. Hours sleep after dinner, French lesson followed by hot bath. Lecture and walk in garden. Tea, Knoodle soup and potatoes, good food today. but not enough. Rev. Hurd on Ancient MSS 6 pm. Walk in garden with Tom Hood in sunshine. Supper 8 pm. Bread potato salad and butter. News British Income Tax might be raised. Schoolchildren not to be evacuated to Colonies War cost 9 millions per day. Rumour All strategic points in Libya and Abyssinia occupied by our troops. Have been depressed all day.
Fri. July 19th
Biscuit and coffee breakfast. Dinner meat soup, sausage, butter and potatoes. short measure. Hygiene lecture. Cig, issue 6. Lectures, Orangeade, very good. Tea. Sago soup and potatoes, again poor issue. Supper, sausage and potato mash and read and butter. Rumour, Hitler’s speech. His first and last offer to Britain for peace, otherwise Germany prepared to go on with the war.
Sat. July 20th
A beautiful morning. Warner and Fry go to hospital. Washing day for me, vest, pants, socks and collar. Clean for Church on Sunday. Have to wear boots next to skin these washing days. Am determined to read New Testament. Dinner, meat soup and potatoes, no meat in soup. however, Sent for Quartermaster, as unsatisfactory. Lectures incl. Economic Gas by Rev. Hurd. He thinks war will go on. Beer in Canteen. Tea. Soya soup and pots, very good thick porridge. Issue of jam and butter and loaf. Concert at 7 pm, quite good, Commandant present. Supper, bread, potato jam and butter. A really lovely evening, thoughts of home and loved ones. News. Hitler’s speech. Everyone convinced war must go on.
Sun, July 21st
A wretched morning after such a splendid day yesterday. Breakfast, bread and jam. Church service 8.45, did not get up in time for Communion 8 am. Dinner, meat soup and pots, short measure, complaint to cook house. Rest after dinner, 2 hours Bridge with Paddy and the Toms. Weather cleared, watched religious procession and people walking about from Captain’s window. Tea, bread, jam and cheese, English TEA. After tea, walked for 1 ½ hr in garden in sunshine. Supper, bread and potato, cheese. Started cheese from milk issue. “Housey, housey” in evening, no luck. Spoke to Lynn Allen re the Leigh Pembertons and found he knows them well. News. World’s opinion (press) of Hitler’s speech. English and American adverse. Italy admits loss of 1 Cruiser. Germany claims loss of 3 planes to 15 British fighters. Official comment on Hitler’s speech to be made on Tuesday at opening of Parliament.
Mon. July 22nd
What we might call an eventful day. A visit from a German General. Duty table. Pay. Drink in the canteen. A bottle of Vermouth to myself. Issue of books, 3 per table. Butter issue. Dinner, comflake soup and potatoes, tea, sago soup, supper, bread, cheese, potato and vermouth and lemonade. A showery day. No time for lectures. Finally a cigarette issue, 10 for 4 days. Sold 4 cigs. For % cheese. I chose books. “The Hill” – “Pimpernel – Rosemary”- “Wassinuss” News. Confirmation of former rumours re French fleet, no official comment on Hitler’s speech until Tuesday’s opening of Parliament. Rumours. Padres to be sent home. Had a haircut. 20 pf.
Tues. July 23rd
Excitement! The place is full of guards. We are ordered into garage, there is to be a search of persons and rooms. Certain tools and a map are missing from a German motor van. Time 8.30 am. We are duly gone over with tooth comb. So far as I know nothing is found. The search is over at 11 am just in time for dinner. Knoodle soup, very good. Wrote letter card home to my darling, enclosing note to Cox & Kings. The weather today is cold and wet. Lemonade with Paddy & T.H. Sunny afternoon. Tea, Knor soup. In future shall not refer to potatoes, unless they are missing from menu Butter issue 4 pm for tomorrow when we do not have any soup all. Supper, bread and cheese, vermouth, and lemonade. The latter a very pleasant drink, shall introduce at home. News, Intensive bombing by R.A.F. over Germany. Navy admit loss of several ships. Today the day of Churchill’s speech.
Wed. July 24th
This day is notorious for its menu, and after effects. Parade lasted 1 hour. The 2 i/c has gone, the adjutant becoming 2 i/c in his place. The menu was as follows: Hamburger, vegetable soup for dinner. Butter, gherkin, spring onions and cheese for tea. Naturally everyone tucked in, including myself, for tea and supper. It appears 50% of the camp were up during the night. again ind myself 13 M.Os off to Poland. The Padres may go home, therefore got in touch with Rev. Bourke to take message to Lyon in B’ham. Wretched day. Debate in evening. Finished off Vermouth for supper, which thoroughly enjoyed. News. Lord Halifax declared Gt. Britain will fight to the end. Increased bombing by R.A.F. in Germany.
Thurs, July 25th
A change of programme for parade. All officers in the field 10 am. A long period from reveille at 7 am but short interval after parade to dinner. Today the sun shone and several officers had to fall out. Dinner, Comflake soup, lectures and visit to canteen during afternoon. Tea Potatoes, butter and coffee only. The day passed quickly, read a great deal. Had a walk before supper with Tom H. & Rowland, discussing the doings at Elstree and Totteridge. Supper, bread, butter and potato. Bread issue to last 5 days. Guard came in at 10.30 pm. Complained that floor was dirty, made us get up to sweep same and sprinkle water. A funny sight, officers in shirts only sweeping vigorously at that time of night. News. Diplomatic activity in the Balkans. Romanian representative withdrawn from London. British Far East Fleet left Singapore in westward direction. Japan expound their policy of equal treatment to all nations.
Fri. July 26th
A lovely morning. Walked continually from 8.15 to 9.45 am, mostly with officer from Bromsgrove. A long time on parade, rearranging order of companies. Dinner, knor and meat soup. This is a day of spending. 10 biscuits at 25 pf each. Lettuce 25 pf. Hussif Im 20 pf. Cigarettes 35 pf. Milk 70 pf. Subscriptions 60 pf. Total 560 pf, or 5m 60pf. Funeral of officer who died of appendicitis. On my third book, Wassinuss. Having finished “The Hill” and “Pimpernel and Rosemary” within 4 days. Tea, sago soup. Supper, Bread, homemade cheese, lettuce. Issue of 10 cigarettes. Put down 1 litre of milk for cheese. No news of any importance. Rumour. Churchill made a speech, stating that if Germany returns Belgium, Poland and C-Slovakia, Churchill will sign immediate armistice.
Sat. July 27th
A fine morning. Pottered about, put up my medal ribbon, made quite a good job of it. Parade 10 am. The new adjutant is hot, causing a scene with one officer in our room. Dinner, cornflake soup. Another issue of biscuits, 2½ per man. Also jam, butter and lettuce. Tea, noodle soup. Poor rations today, the biscuits saved the situation. Took some exercise in the garden after tea. Supper, bread cheese, 1 potato and biscuit. Read a great deal, found time hang a bit. No news of any importance. Stevens gave me ½/2 Players cigarette, the first English smoke since capture. 59th day in captivity.
Sun. July 28th
Up at 6.30 am. Breakfast. Coffee and biscuit. Communion 8.00 am. Morning service 8.45am. Very good address by Rev. Bamber, vicar of Woollaston, Worcs. Dinner, Irish stew, the best so far in captivity. Rest after dinner. Bridge 2 pm to 4 pm. Tea coffee, bread jam and butter. Long walk in garden after tea. Piano recital by Capt. Govan-Tennant. A period, half hour of meditation and good music. Thoughts of home and my loved ones. Supper 8pm. So to bed. A quiet, peaceful day. No news of any interest.
Mon. July 29th
Up at 6.30 am. O.C. Linen. Today towels and bed linen due for change. My unlucky day, 5 pillow slips short & 1 towel. Long parade. Reshuffle of companies. Dinner. Cornflake soup, poor issue, but we had a turn for 2nd helping. Lectures in afternoon. Sunbathed for 1 hour by river. Tea. Knor soup. Very good. 5.30, drew unlucky card, had to peel and sort bad potatoes. I have never experienced a worse smell in all my life, and the filth was revolting. However the spuds were condemned. New ones to be issued forthwith. Bought fig biscuit for 3 cigarettes. Supper, bread, potato, cheese and fig biscuit, felt fine. Coffee later as reward for potato services. Wrote card to Dotts in Lisbon, hoping for the best. Issue of cigarettes and 25 grammes of Polish tobacco. No news of any importance.
Tues. July 30th
The coldest night heralded a shivering dawn. The stench of bad spuds necessitated the closing of all windows. Parade held in pouring rain. Dinner delayed 1 hour due to potato situation. Dinner, meat, soup & potatoes. Consignments of tomatoes distributed, 12 per man – very fine specimens. Tea, Knor soup. Beer in canteen 7 pmwith Paddy & Tom H. Supper, Bread, cheese, tomato, french mustard & biscuit. Very appetising. Bridge after supper with Bassett, Crighton, Johnson. News. Germans trade agreement with Turkey. ???????? bombings. Rumour. Au 1st the day of prace according to Germans in the camp. Wine and biscuit to be distributed!!
Wed. July 31st
A foul day, rain. Duty table. Breakfast. I potato & tomato. Dinner. Hamburgers, vegetable soup. Bridge after dinner & lectures. Issue of butter and cheese to tea. Bought glass dish 90pf, saccerine 55pf. Another issue of books, 2 per table. Tea, bread, cheese tomato & hot potatoes. 7pm. Lecture “St Francis of Assisi”. Supper, cold potatoes, tomatoes and cheese. A good day for food. News. Air battle over channel, near Dover, our losses 15 planes, Germans 3 planes. No rumours.
Thurs. Aug lst
The longest and most depressing day in Laufen so far. Rained all day. Parade in garage. Dinner 11.30am. Cornflake soup Rested after dinner. Moped about. Bath. Tea, coffee, butter & peeled pots. Lemonade in Canteen with Paddy. Supper, cheese, tomato & bread. Played Crib & Housey, Housey. Lost 28pfs. News. Extension of blockade from Ireland to Gold Coast. Weather too bad for air activity. We had all anticipated some news, as Aug 1st was considered an important day by the Germans in charge of the camp.
Fri Aug 2nd
A fine day at last. Letters arrive from for some lucky ones. 1 hour on parade again. Sat reading in the sun until dinner. Knor soup. Bread issue, cigarette issue, Polish brand not so good as German. Swapped 3 for 1 inch of bread. White loaves distributed, 8 men to a loaf, very good bread indeed. Tea, sago soup & sausage highly flavoured with garlic. Sunbathed for 1&half hours in afternoon, followed by ½ litre of beer. Concert 6.45, good show. Supper – bread, sausage & potato mash & bread & milk. Went to bed feeling full. News. American speech on re armament. Roadblocks removed in England. British loss of a Destroyer. Usual bombing reports. Air fight over Dover.