Lee’s Apprentices

8. Lychgate-RLee is a most ingenious person who can do simply anything with his wonderful hands and skills, restoring and repairing classic cars and engines, often erecting heavy concrete fencing posts. In fact, bravely taking on any task. He and his father and Uncle also ran a silk screen printing business. He built us a summerhouse and greenhouse both with toughened glass windows- just a few examples of his strength and determination.

It was therefore an honour to be asked to help with the anticipated removal of a wobbly Acrylic Sheeting frame covering valuable stained glass windows so he could clean then. 2. inside church .jpgHe had already done so on another church in the Parish and needed no help – it should be easy! At this 13th Century church he had already finished cleaning and replacing all the other windows but this was the big one 10’x 6′. I even suggested doing it without Richard but was informed he would need both of us. Bells did not ring!

We did not need to go until 10 as he had to prepare. St Leonard’s church is where they married 14 years ago and is in the middle of nowhere along narrow roads. On the way Richard recalls that the last time he went along this lane was on a bike ride some 55 years ago and it was then that he had first noticed a chest episode and had decided not to ride so far again. He used to ride hundreds of miles on his sports bike staying at Youth hostels. Whenever we go somewhere within 30 miles or in as Hampshire, Devon and Dorset he tells me he has been there on his bike!7. Car,lychgate,church.jpg

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As I am hopeless with directions I relied on his navigation until he announced he no longer recognised the road – help, we will be late! In fact we were not lost, it is just old age when you are talking and forget where you are or blame it on road signs!

We arrived and Richard went to open the complex double metal gates and spotted the large chain and padlock. I could see Lee in the distance some 200 feet away and got out of the car to check the lock noting the large chain attached to it, was just propped over the huge lifting section and it easily opened. Lee was heading towards us to help.

We were equipped with suitable gloves that would not slip on the Acrylic Sheeting and rubber boots because the grass was covered in muddy worm casts following days of rain. Overnight there was a little snow covering now still around the gravestones. We both donned warm snow hats with ear muffs, big coats and scarves, so compared to Lee’s attire could have been mistaken for Arctic adventurers!

Lee was ready to go and jumped up on the scaffolding like one of those gibbon monkeys, so young and agile although very apprehensive. We took our orders and stood at the bottom of this gigantic window so when he had removed the last screws at the very top, we could prevent it crashing down – So easy! The first problem was that one of the 10 screws broke, Lee shot back to his car for more tools to deal with it while Richard turned to me stating, “He can cope”.
10. Lee on scaffold 1 .jpgThis might take about half an hour so Richard wandered into the church to speak to the not very communicative church warden while I wandered around reading gravestones, gravely appreciating that since last going round a graveyard some 10 years ago, I was now older than most of these sleeping dead whose inscriptions I read with interest especially the one- “Until we will meet again!”. Some died so young and some family plots including the children and in Laws. These appeared better maintained with dried flowers or pot plants. Maybe the next generation is hoping to join them – Time waits for no man! I also noted how the rare marble headstones had not defaced and were easily read, maybe I will be that lucky!
1. Church clock .jpgRichard asked the warden the age of the stained glass on the large East widow that Lee was working on . He simply told Richard to read the date at the foot of the window. Richard did and then sat down on a pew while the man put up the numbers on the hymn frame. Richard felt like asking him if he knew who had invented it, knowing the answer but resisted! Apparently it was a man in Brading on the Isle of Wight and has been used all around the world. The warden finished his work and turned to ask Richard the date of the window. Richard told him-1884, apparently this was the date this old church was last refurbished but not the Acrylic Sheeting!

Lee was then ready and assembled us with instructions at the foot of the window. An added problem was a huge heavy grave stone just below the window. This meant the window Acrylic Sheeting could not go fully down to the ground but had to be supported in the air and moved sideways!

It was not long before Lee appreciated the weight of the window cover.How we both managed to hold the weight and get it to the ground is a miracle, gravity must have helped and Lee firm hold from above, difficult from up the scaffolding. We then realised the weight goes up with the area of the window!

At one stage Richard could have had a nasty problem as he could not release his hand!

Wow! we all announced, when it was down, how will we ever get it back! But we had to plod on with the task. As it was Acrylic Sheeting, tall and heavy it behaved like a wobble board. Lee, thinking it would be easy, had put his tarpaulin under cloths some 20 yards away on the church path. It was almost impossible to move two feet at a time with Lee one end and both of us the other but we made it. On the journey it got covered in mud when putting it down to rest. All the time Lee shouted “be careful it is bending and may break!”.

Once at the tarpaulin the Acrylic Sheeting was eased down with great difficulty, the inner Acrylic Sheeting facing upwards. Lee told us to go home as he would be hours, having to clean both sides and the whole stain glass window. By now we realised we could not leave him but how can we get it back! Richard suggested wooden supports fixed to the Acrylic Sheeting to stop it wobbling. I said can we make a winch by putting some strong string through the quarter-inch screw holdings which I spotted were two inches from the edge! Lee thought this possible and quickly worked out that if threaded from top to bottom it would hold it better. He said he would need a lot. We would buy some strong string when we left for lunch.
It was not long before Richard wanted a loo and Lee directed him to a distant field gate!
13. Glenys cleaning perspex .jpgLee reluctantly allowed me, with full guidance, to clean the inner surface of the window while he pushed on with cleaning the stained glass. After I had done it, we all helped turn the Acrylic Sheeting. Another session of struggles as the under-cloths were now muddy and we gave Richard the job of laying down fresh ones on the tarpaulin while Lee and I held the Acrylic Sheeting up on its side, very hard as it was so wobbly. I told Richard to take off his muddy boots and just as he was finishing laying the clean cloths, he stood on the gravel path and walked back all over the clean covers bringing the gravel with him! Lee with one hand holding the Acrylic Sheeting and the other hand brushing them off the cloth and off Richard’s socks. What strength!

Lee insisted on doing the other side of the Acrylic Sheeting himself so we headed home via the hardware shop seeking suitable string. Richard found some telephone cable which proved invaluable.
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We were due back at 2.30. I took enough old curtain coverings, 2 canvas windbreaks and my own tarpaulins. These I laid to make a dry route from the path to the scaffolding so we could keep the Acrylic Sheeting clean. The cord, thin strong nylon, and garden twine were threaded through the Acrylic Sheeting screw holes and around the end.

It seemed heavier taking it back. We then struggled trying to stand it on it end some 4 feet from the scaffold. It was impossible to keep upright- Help! we all thought and I told them to lay it down again and have a think. Lee was commenting, “this is too hard we need more help” but Richard assured him- we will get there! We agreed it could not be held upright let alone moved. The only option was to get it closer to the church wall and push it against the wall. Lee wisely covered the Acrylic Sheeting with a clean cloth because he worried it could get scratched on the flint walls. To get it there Richard and Lee pushed with all there might while I was in between them on my knees supporting it to avoid it flipping in two.
Finally it was up against the church wall even though some five feet away from the base of the window! We had a chance but the sun was setting fast.

Miraculously, with Lee’s almighty strength and us helping, it slid along the covers and reached as close to the scaffolding as possible due to the headstone obstacle. He again sprinted up the scaffolding and wrapped the supporting string around it as a winch and gave us instructions to get our hands under the bottom edges – very hard!. It was a near-death moment because without Lee telling us stage by stage whether this way or that we were clueless. Having each got our thumbs stuck under the Acrylic Sheeting we were lucky to get them unstuck without panic, which was not as bad as when it had come down and Richard had his whole hand trapped!

Once this Acrylic Sheeting cover was under the sloping window ledge we knew the weight could be held on the ledge but then Lee shouting down” I have no more rope length on the winch so you will have to push on your own!”. Help, how could we? I got mine into position under the ledge but still had to push to keep it there while poor Richard was three inches away his side which was harder because he also had to push it sideways at the same time. By now he is completely helpless unable to give it that final push, I could not reach him and let go my end and Lee could not come down to help because if he let go at the top the Acrylic Sheeting would have come crashing down.

Somehow Richard managed it and later told me he had to use his fingers and thumbs as a lever with his fingers tucked under the Acrylic Sheeting and his thumbs pushing the edge of the Acrylic Sheeting against the ledge slope. All the while both Lee and I were shouting at him to push a bit more telling him the ledge was just a bit further away. He then commented “I can now see it” having been looking at a different spot and finally got it above the ledge. It was secure, ecstasy! It makes childbirth a doddle!

All it now needed was for us to hold the Acrylic Sheeting in place by pushing against the frame while Lee put in the first holding screws. It was music to our ears to realise it was up! All the while it was getting to 4 pm, the sun was fast setting and dusk was descending. What a relief.
11. Lee on scaffold 2
We can now appreciate how they may have moved stones at Stonehenge! As we cleared away I noticed our trade mark left on the grass by Richard’s cotton wool balls he puts in his ears and quickly put them in my pocket!

I wonder what it would have said on our gravestones? “Died in service to the Church”?
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A Fortnight on the Isle of Wight: Day 7

Pictures edited by Glenys, Commentary by Richard.

St Catherine’s oratory is the place.
To view Freshwater’s distant bay
See the headland’s chalk cliff face!

It is true that Britain’s space program located its testing station on the Island, and you may suppose that launches were begun way back in Mediaeval times.Day7 (6)
Certainly, there was plenty of ocean to parachute down into.

Alas, inspection of the helpful notices hereabouts dispels any such romantic notions. The stone affair points heavenwards for quite different reasons. The name gives the game away. It is St Catherine’s oratory, , completed in 1328, placed high above Blackgang Chine and used also as a lighthouse, manned only by the priest. The tower is all that remains after the Oratory was burned down at the Dissolution. It is still used as a beacon.

There are splendid views over the South-West coast to Freshwater and The Needles, where Britain’s Black Knight missile was indeed tested and launched successfully in 1958. Tennyson Down is also there somewhere in the haze. Yes, Tennyson was a fan of the Island, as were a number of other poets.Day7 (19)
Nearby is an unfinished lighthouse dating from the 18th Century. It was abandoned because of practical difficulties and the builders switched to the beautiful still active one further down, off St Catherine’s Down, nearer the cliff.

The white stone, below is a “trig” point for geographical surveys and beyond is a bronze age barrow from some 4,000 years ago.

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We had hoped  our journey here would be along the high ground above the Undercliff near Ventnor with a gripping panorama over the English Channel, but a major landslip had sent the road tumbling down towards the water. Perhaps, with a little licence you may be able to reconstruct the vista from this photograph.Day7 (16)

The climb to the oratory is from a small car park at Chine, high above the coastline.Day7 (17)Day7 (12)

On the way back we visit the village of Godshill,Day7 (9) despoiled somewhat by traffic and tourists.Day7  (8).jpg

A Fortnight on the Isle of Wight: Day 6

Pictures edited by Glenys. Commentary by Richard.

Dismal cloud and rain start the day so relaxation in the comfortable quarte is the new agenda. By mid-day, however, the weather has cheered up and after a tasty salad , Cowes, the famous sailing centre for Cowes Week, overlooking the Solent and Southampton Water, is the destination.
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A stroll along the esplanade leads to the Royal London Yacht Club from where important races are supervised and umpired. An arc of starting cannons aimed at the sea reminds of serious business.Day 6 (11).jpgDay6 (1)
A rambling hotel falling into dereliction suggests the prospect of development for expensive apartments with glorious views.

Immediately beyond the Yacht Club is the attractive old town with some browsable shops.
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On the other side of the  Medina River once stood the Saunders-Roe yard in East Cowes. A boy aged eleven gazed marvelling at a huge tail plane sticking out over the water. It was a Saunders Roe Princess under construction, too big to be housed fully in the hangar.
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It was the largest all-metal seaplane ever built., but only three were completed. Sadly, the age of the jet airliner was too much competition.
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The yard is still there – you can can just see it across the water there – but Saunders Roe is no more, disappeared along with many other household names like de Havilland, Gloster, Supermarine, Auster …
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Back in the car, the satnav is set for home but the lady in the satellite insists upon a ferry crossing over the river. That’s all well and good, but, alas, the service is suspended for an hour without explanation, so –  back via Newport, the earlier route in reverse.

Along part of the way extensive preparations are in hand for the Isle of Wight Festival next week. Near Shiloh Cottage is a shop, attached to a dairy farm, selling all sorts of local produce and serving coffee and meals in a cafe. Glenys stocks up with all manner of fare. Naively, I ask, “Is it possible to walk to the Isle of Wight Show“, imagining it to be some sort of agricultural celebration. Strange looks make clear it was generally thought odd for this old buffer to be interested in a solstice music festival. Afterwards, Glenys, clearly a woman of the world, gently corrects me. Mercifully, this vast and noisy meeting of raving enthusiasts is not to affect the peace and tranquillity of the local environs in any way whatsoever.Day6 (11)

And so to supper and to bed.

A Fortnight on the Isle of Wight: Day 5

Today we took a little ride,
To Brading, once a busy port
(Its harbour’s silted by the tide).

Down Briddlesford Road, across Arreton, Ashey and Brading Downs, with extensive views across Sandown Bay and to the highest point on the island, St Boniface Down, outside Ventnor.
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Until the 1960s, three tall, dominating masts stood on St Boniface Down, part of the secret, pioneering, radar defences installed before the Battle of Britain. Prehistoric remains and Roman artefacts have been found on the downs, and practice trenches from the Great War were sited here.
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The road leads to Brading, an ancient port dating back to Roman times and beyond, but our objective today is the Roman villa, so we skirt round the small town  and willcome another day. Instead we briefly join the Sandown Road and take a lane to the right, signposted “Roman Villa”
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You might wonder at the advanced building techniques, car parking provision and modernistic design depicted in this photograph, not least the extraordinary preservation of the wooden cladding over 2000 years. I had the same sense of bewilderment when at age 10 I beheld the red corrugated iron building which then occupied the site.

Have no fear, it is, of course, a magnificent visitors’ centre housing the relics and a restaurant serving worthy vittles, refreshment and Americano coffee for the hungry and weary and for any centurions that might happen by.

The restaurant is to the left and preserved in the righthand portion are fine mosaics. They are the only ones in Britain depicting Roman buildings and there is an enigmatic representation of a soldier with a cock’s head standing by a chicken coop. Make of it what you will.
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Also displayed is a hypocaust, the Roman under-floor heating system. Outside are the boiler house supplying the steam, fed by a well, and a corn drier that borrows heat from the boiler house.
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Further excavations reveal the foundations extensive wings  to the right and left of the entirety of the  land to the foreground of the visitor centre pictured above. It was truly a desirable residence.Day 5 (26)Barrows – iron age burial mounds – remind us that inhabitants of an even earlier age appreciated the sheltered vantage point and views of the wide, sandy bay.

All the literature and mural posters and descriptions are quite mentally exhausting. It is quite a relief after this feast of culture, to cross flat farming lands to Culver Down, a small Island when Brading was a port, and lunch, watching over the sparkling, blue bay. It is extremely HOT.
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Culver Cliff

Our continuing itinerary takes us to Bembridge Windmill, a working flourmill (when the wind blows), a garlic farm on Arreton Down, and returning home to Shiloh Cottage by the same way that we came.
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A Fortnight on the Isle of Wight: Day 4

Text by Richard, pictures edited by Glenys.

Carisbrooke Castle is a little sad
For Charles was prisoner here, and then he died.
Is judicial killing good or bad?

Carisbrooke Castle, though established firmly at the Norman Conquest was probably a defensive site from late Roman times
IMG_20180612_114608Nothing on the Isle of Wight is far from anything else, and it is a short trip to the castle, just outside the Island’s capital, Newport. It is a fine example of its kind.
Charles I was captured and held prisoner here. He tried to escape twice but was then taken to his execution at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. A later owner built a chapel in remembranc

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THE CHAPEL AND THE PRIVY GARDEN. The Chapel was founded in 1070. It was untouched by Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries but dismantled and rebuilt in 1738. In 1856 it was dismantled again and then rebuilt in 1899. The Privy Garden was originally the burial ground.

A well, sunk in 1150, is 161 feet deep, is housed in a small building. You can see it beyond the Chapel attached to the main building, next to the red roof.

By the well is a treadmill and originally men were set to work in it to draw the water by rope and bucket. This task took many hours to perform until donkeys were used instead. We watch a demonstration, but this particular donkey, one of eight, refuses to cooperate.
The eight donkeys are very well fed and cared for and spend most of the day in a field behind the castle.

They work only a few minutes a day only one or two days a week. The bucket is raised but a few feet.

The level of water in the well provides important warnings as to the state of the water levels generally in the Island. As it is, water has to be piped from the mainland to satisfy demand.

There is another deep well in the keep in case of siege. Not often a problem these days, but who knows, with Brexit in the state it is.
We view the enemy from the battlements,

and manage to escape to a roman villa a mile or two down the road.



The hypocaust – Roman under-floor heating system

14-IMG_20180612_152659Seven roman villas have been excavated on the Island. All except two have been covered over again. Tomorrow we shall visit a famous one at Brading, an ancient port.

The Lead-Up to The Evacuation of Dunkirk

The Dunkirk evacuation has been widely publicised recently first with the “Dunkirk” film released in 2017 and “The Darkest Hour “. Also covering this period of history, is a new book by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore “Fight to the last Man”. Another covering this period of history, “The Men they left Behind” by Sean Longden.

The book “Fight to the Last Man” and the films prompted me to briefly summarize those early events of World War 2. The reference to the famous military men and the numbers of men and women who lost their lives, is taken from the book.

The Darkest Hour dramatized the events at the war office and Parliament over just few weeks. It reveals, at a time when the war was being lost, how Chamberlain and Halifax plotted to try and force Churchill to agree terms with Hitler through a settlement with Mussolini. This is briefly covered in the book although the book deals more with the military side.

The audience watching “The Darkest Hour” were spellbound, even cheering at the end. The film and book reminds us how close this country was to surrender. It would have been end the of Britain as we know it today.

Many seeing this film parallel it with Brexit and felt strongly patriotic, especially those who are still alive and have memories of those days or whose parents told them what had happened. In fact, even the young seeing this film, will have been moved.

The film reveals how many Conservative MPs did not want Churchill to be Prime Minister, although he was the only one all parties would work with in a coalition government, required at this crucial hour. One reason his party doubted him was the memory of Gallipoli, for which they blamed him, but the admirals lost the element of surprise resulting in thousands of men being killed despite the well executed plan of attack.

Richard’s father supported Churchill from the earliest days in the 1930s throughout the “wilderness years”.

Churchill’s key speech to ministers cemented his authority to fight on. This was the most moving speech he had made to convince those who wanted surrender terms with Hitler, They believed it would bring peace and save lives. Churchill knew a dictator would never agree terms without the nation losing its freedoms.
Here is an extract of the speech as in the book,

“What he said to them was recorded by Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare, in the following terms:

“It was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms from Germany than if we went on and fought it out and lost. The Germans would demand our fleet –that would be called ‘disarmament’ –our naval bases and much else. We should become a slave state, though a British Government which would be Hitler’s puppet would be set up –‘under Mosley or some such person’ On the other side that is if we fought on, we had immense reserves and advantages. Therefore we shall go on and we shall fight it out, here or elsewhere, and if this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground. “

We have all heard about the Dunkirk evacuation and how the Royal Navy and a 600 strong flotilla of small boats was commissioned to help save thousands of troops, in spite of the heavy Luftwaffe bombing of boats and men on the beaches. The commander of the evacuation was command Vice-Admiral-Ramsay. (Further on him below).

One story describes how the commander of the evacuation at Dunkirk was asked to evacuate injured men from a hospital being heavily targeted. He sent the War Office a non-coded message requesting two red cross boats hoping the Germans would pick up the message and spare these boats as they carried away hundreds of wounded. The Germans still bombed both these red cross boats. The book and films reveal these tragic Luftwaffe bombings that killed so many.

When war was declared initially in September 1939, 150 British Expeditionary Force (BEF) troops were sent out to France. The intention was that if the Germans invaded they would march alongside the French into neutral Belgium. The fighting did not start until around the 10th May 1940. The period between September and May was named the phoney war.

There are many stories of poor planning during the phoney war by the French. When a senior British commander was in a French camp and he produced his gun having hear noises outside, he was told to put his gun away because they did not want the Germans to think they were aggressive. It soon became apparent how poorly the French and Belgian soldiers were equipped, disciplined and uniformed. Some looked so shoddy it was hard to believe they were soldiers preparing to fight. Brothels and drinking were commonplace in various location.

Apparently at the start of the conflict the number of allied fighting men, tanks of all sizes and skin thickness and artillery equalled those on the German side. Some reports say they were even better equipped.

There was little organised strategy conducted by the French Military leaders and one was General Maxime Weygard. (His post Dunkirk record is mentioned below). By the time the BEF were evacuating, relations between the British and French had completely broken down. As the German army advanced many French Generals despaired when told how badly the war was going.

From the beginning dozens of bridges were not blown up in time as instructed, allowing the German army to cross quickly and invade all areas from the north to the south. The French tanks were poorly operated as fuel carried in lorries to the battle fields was not always available, resulting in many tanks being useless and abandoned. Bren guns and other weapons were also poorly maintained and many failed.
The RAF lost vast numbers of planes (figures below) mostly due to the poor Allied decisions to carry out daylight raids when the Germans had more planes and Bren guns on the ground. A third of the total RAF squad were shot down within weeks. This is one reason the RAF could not properly defend the Dunkirk evacuations. Churchill insisted that no more planes could be spared since there had to be reserves to fight the Battle of Britain at home.

It has been said that the war was spiralled by an event involving a German pilot, Major Hoenmanns, who was carrying secret invasion papers when he lost his way over France and crashed. These papers revealed the route of the invasion which was to be through centre and north Belgium. When the Germans realised these plans may have been seen by the enemy, they changed the focus of attack to go through Luxembourg and south Belgium. When the Germans attacked on the 10th May 1940, the Allies were not prepared. The Germans were easily able to surround the Allies, who had moved into central Belgium where they expected the attack to be.

A lot is said about the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Gort (more below). Sadly at the end of the evacuation his achievements were not fully recognised, even though he was a key player in it. The book covers events day-by-day throughout May 1940. Many afterwards said he could have been more assertive in dealing with the French commanders who remained in control.

Lord Gort proposed a plan to create a corridor to Dunkirk so that most of the BEF could get back to the coast to be rescued. (See map of route in red). It was an audacious plan. A less pugnacious leader might have given up when he saw how relatively few soldiers there were available to hold the southern line. This line protected the corridor from the strongest German Forces of six panzer divisions and thousands of aircraft. Lord Gort cleverly set up a series of strong points to control the principal junctions and bridges believing that the enemy would remain on the main roads and that this would delay them long enough for the evacuation to take place. His plan worked.

The problem was that there was a good chance some men left behind to fight would never get out. Some did cut and run after the main force had retired up the corridor to the perimeter ring of Dunkirk and beaches but they had to move very quickly and not all were so lucky.

As men were driven back further every day to a new front line they were often met by not only hundreds and thousands of fleeing civilians and dive bombs from enemy planes, but also by French soldiers running away. On one occasion when BEF paratroopers had to retreat to a new front line quickly, their path was blocked by a large convoy of Red Cross trucks. When they stopped them to look inside them, they found a number of French soldiers huddled together in the course of retreating.

Dunkirk Map

This map shows Ledringhem village, 12 miles south of Dunkirk. This was where one of the most heroic series of rearguard actions was fought by the BEF during the entire war. The 5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment had dutifully held the village for two days and on the 28th May received orders to retreat. At that very moment the enemy renewed their offensive making it hard to escape. Lieutenant Michael Shepherd described how the British soldiers held the Germans at bay by charging towards them down the village street and did this while shouting a war cry “Up Gloucesters!” They did this over and over again as the first fear left them. Thirty men and officers then moved steadily towards the corner by the church where they could see the enemy waiting under the cover of walls and doorways, they sought out the leader and simultaneously fired their rifles killing them all. The road was then illuminated by great explosions as the enemy threw their stick bombs at them and they responded with grenades, one going through a doorway silencing the machine gun. The BEF soldiers that did not get taken down continued shooting, bombing and bayoneting any they came upon and they finally pushed the enemy back from the village. This counter-attack freed up 150 men from the Regiment to retreat towards the coast representing just twenty percent of the number that had started the campaign.
While the Gloucesters were escaping, a fiercely fought battle was raging at Cassel, a hilltop village four miles to the south (see map). Orders to retreat only reached the garrison commander Brigadier Somerset after dawn on 29th May. An account by a young lieutenant in the East Riding Yeomanry describes the terrible conditions he and his comrades had to endure from the moment the Germans besieged the town. The access to the town was up a steep winding road passing horrific piles of dead horses and soldiers’ corpses, shattered trees and two pounder guns knocked out by enemy guns. Another sight was the remains of the three-ton lorry carrying BEF personnel that took a direct hit leaving ghastly, twisted bodies. The tortuous positions of the dead was evidence that none had escaped, the sight made more terrible by the cold and rain.

As evacuations to Dunkirk could only be done at night, on that day at Cassel the fighting was so forceful that by the time it stopped at nightfall, most of the men had either been killed or captured, including Brigadier Somerset.

Brigadier Somerset wrote in his prisoner of war camp diary: “I realised we were the Joe Soaps of Dunkirk, that we were being sacrificed so that many British and French could get away, and they got all the kudos, I feel very bitter”.

At least the survivors from Cassel taken as prisoners were more fortunate than the 2nd Battalion. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who were captured on 28th May at Wormhout (see map).Their captors, members of the SS Leibstandarte, Adolf Hitler regiment, were furious with them not just because they had repulsed the panzers by pouring and lighting petrol on the tracks in front of their advancing tanks, but because the British gunners had shot up the car carrying Josef Sepp Dietrick, their commander, and imprisoning him in a ditch for several hours.

At first the violence against the captured British troops by the SS was minor but the Germans’ restraint did not last. The famous massacre at Wormhout had just begun when rather than carry a wounded man they put a rifle to his head and killed him. Many others who surrendered with white flags, were also shot. The SAS then took some 15 men, including Captain Lynn-Allen, to a barn outside the village. Captain Lynn-Alan protested that there was no room inside for the wounded to lie down. A German who spoke with an American accent replied, “There’ll be plenty of room where you going!”. A number were then taken out and shot in the head and then grenades were thrown into the barn. Two men managed to escape from the barn, Private Evans and Lynn-Allen, who supported Evans, who was shot in the arm. They reached a nearby pond where they remarked that they may have escaped. According to Evans, the only surviving witness, he saw a German soldier approach and raise his pistol shooting Lynn-Allen in the head and killing him. Allen was shot in the neck but managed to hide in the pond. He came up for air after the German had left and managed to get to a farmhouse occupied by a German ambulance unit and this time captivity meant security. (below is more about Evan’s survival).

Wormhout Massacte

The barn where the massacre took place

The Royal Warwick Regiment were part of those sacrificed so that the corridor to Dunkirk could be protected and just 137 men were counted when they reached Dunkirk. Many other Regiments also bravely fought on, suffering heavy losses.

During the afternoon of 29th May, two approaching arms of the German pincer movement finally clamped shut at Poperinghe (see map) barring the allies escape route up the corridor, by then most of the BEF had evaded the German’s clutches having made it back to the lines of the canals around Dunkirk.

There are many events explicitly depicted in the book that they remain etched in your mind such was the awful fighting and loss of life. One such event was the tank driver who lost control of his tank in the middle of the fighting and accidentally ploughed through allied men in ditches nearby, killing them in horrendous ways. The tank driver was so distressed he broke down. Other events I also read of brave men risking their lives through open battle fields to rescue the injured, many having arms and legs blown off. The German tanks mowed down many men who simply disappeared into the ground beneath the tank treads.

In spite of what Brigadier Somerset says as a PoW that the interests of men had been ignored, it is a miracle that a few men from Cassel and the Gloucestershire regiments reached Dunkirk. 190,000 BEF troops were evacuated from Dunkirk alongside 120,000 French soldiers.

By travelling at night and hiding by day, the Gloucesters’ Lieutenant Julian Fane, in spite of being wounded in his arm, steered a small column of men through the German lines to Dunkirk just in time to catch one of the last ships to evacuate from there on 2nd June. When he arrived back in England he described his impressions.

“The sound of the ship’s sirens, the clatter of the dock as we came alongside, and the noise of the crowd which must have woken me as I was still dead to the world. I walked down the gangplank and was led to a waiting hospital train on a nearby siding. I had not washed for weeks. I had lived in ditches and slept in hay barns. I had no proper food or clean drinking water for ages and felt desperately weary. I then found myself lying on a top bunk looking out of the window as the train moved off through the Kent countryside on a lovely summer’s day. People were playing cricket in their whites on carefully tended grass, girls were playing tennis on hard courts in shorts and blouses, and life was going on all around, as if there was no war”

This depiction is typical of the character of the men in those days when things were so different before the war.

If the BEF and French forces had been unable to hold the Dunkirk town perimeter and the Germans had captured Dunkirk, the number of BEF troops evacuated would not have exceeded the pessimistic forecast of Admiral Ramsay’s 40,000, at the beginning of Operation Dynamo.

French boats inefficiently offloaded some of their troops North of Dunkirk, twice the distance to Dover and as a result fewer French troops were evacuated.
Many French soldiers were also allowed on British ships and after a few top French military men, including their Commander in Chief, landed in England on one of the last ships, they commented that Britain had done a truly magnificent job achieving the evacuation.

By the end of May 1940 the Germans were just 15 miles away from Dunkirk and when the last boats, rescuing 100,000 left the coast around Le Havre, they were just 3 miles away. The 3rd June was the last day of the evacuations and was the same day as the sinking of the ship Lancastria which was the worst ever sea disaster. It was bombed while taking on the last few soldiers including woman and children. Up to 7,000 were packed on to this ship but only some 2,500 rescued. More died here than on the Titanic and Lusitania put together.

It took less than a month after Dunkirk for the Germans to conquer the Allied area of resistance. Paris was so unprotected, they simply wandered in to capture it!
There are many references in the book to German soldiers complimenting British soldiers they had taken prisoner on the brave and courageous way they fought.

The Darkest Hour makes many feel a parallel with the way we are being treated by the EU on Brexit. The EU wants to take all and give nothing and many of their leaders want to punish us. In Churchill’s words, “Let them do their worst and we will do our best!”

Richard’s sister Eileen was born in 1935. The family lived in Selsdon, South Croydon not far from the old Croydon, Biggin Hill and Kenley aerodromes. The Battle of Britain was being fought overhead and frightening air raids were commonplace. Once a RAF young pilot parachuted into their back garden, with shrapnel all around and while he descended the Germans shot at him. Richard’s father and a neighbour went out in those conditions to risk themselves to help the man but sadly he died soon after being taken to hospital. Eileen has been talking a lot about her experiences. Apparently they had a steel Morrison shelter in the living room and often had to all go in it including Richard as a baby. He was born in Sept 1943.They were supplied with gas masks and one for the baby to go inside. We took the baby gas mask to the primary school when our children were young but never got it back!

Doodlebugs, or flying bombs, often hit nearby houses causing total devastation. Eileen can remember the frightening noise and when they stopped overhead, you knew they would crash down. V2 rockets also fell, but they were faster than sound and victims would not have heard them. After the war many households had to have their drains repaired, as the shock waves from these huge bombs travelled for miles doing untold damage.

Below is a video and another link about these flying bombs.


Notes about military men in “The Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk – Fight to the Last Man”

Vice-Admiral Ramsay. After Operation Dynamo he was appointed Allied Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Forces in Oct 1943 and the task of transporting Allied troops to Normandy beaches for the June 1944 invasion. It is said his execution of this task was one of the greatest achievements of the war and Eisenhower paid tribute to him by stating that only Ramsay could have organised such a huge scale landing, by which time he was a full admiral and had been knighted, he sadly was killed in a plane crash in Jan 1945.

Lord Montgomery. His achievements within the army are believed to have been slower mainly because of is eccentric style and insistence to speak his mind. He only made commander of the 8th army in North Africa in 1942 because the first choice died in a plane crash. Before Dunkirk he was instrumental in sidelining an unsuitable General for Alexander. He was responsible for other decisions that also saved lives. Monty never looked back after North Africa, winning famous victories at Alam Halfa, El Alamein, Medenine and Mareth before going on to command the 21st army group under the overall leadership of General Eisenhower which successfully invaded France during operation Overlord on 6 June 1944. He also helped the Americans halt the German advance through the Ardennes in December 1944. After the war, and after he becoming Chief of the Imperial General Staff, he became a life peer.

General Alexander. After his success at Dunkirk was given the post of Commander in Chief in overall command when the Allies first victories were won at El Alamein in October 1942 and Tunisia in March 1943. He later commanded the 15th army group which after much fighting overran Italy in May 1945, shortly before Germany surrendered. He then became field marshal. After the war he was knighted and made a viscount of Tunis and Errigal and after serving as Governor-General in Canada, became Minister of Defence in Churchill’s government and an earl.

General Alan Brooke. He was another very important man responsible for the success of Dunkirk and in defence of the Ypres-Comines line. He had to stand up to Churchill before the last 100,000 men were evacuated a few days after Dunkirk. This debate is set out in the book in detail. Churchill insisted he carry on fighting to support the French which would have risked great loss of life. Many French Generals in the area near the Somme were not agreeing the retreat even though the Germans were closing in with heavy armament. This cost many lives.

After a twenty minute telephone call, Churchill agreed with him that they could withdraw. There are so many accounts of the difficulty for officers to get messages sent between their battalions let alone firm instructions between the Allied forces. As a result tensions and bad decisions led to the breakdown of communication and trust. This can be detected in the film when Churchill went to a meeting in Paris. Some reports reveal how the French Generals would break down and cry in front of others at such meetings. In one of the last beaches to be evacuated the French requested the British send extra boats to evacuate their stranded 10,000 men. The navy duly provided some 20 boats but the Generals did not correctly inform the men which beach they should go to and when they reached the right one, the boats had left and returned to Dover empty.

General Dill.
He was another important and successful General at Dunkirk who was promoted but Churchill thought he was a negative Chief of Imperial General Staff and nicknamed him ‘Dilly-Dally’. This is in respect of a well known song “My old man said follow the van and don’t dilly dally all the way……” However, while General Dill did not get on with Churchill he was highly thought of by the Americans and was successful as the leader of the Britons Staff Mission in Washington. Sadly, like many of these men, he died early in 1944.

Lord Gort. He was a field force commander after Dunkirk and very much involved in events leading to the Dunkirk evacuation. When Churchill flirted with the idea of making him Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East in 1942, General Brooke vetoed the idea because of the way he had commanded the 1939 – 1940 BEF. He was then given the governorship of Malta and was later praised for helping the island to withstand the siege. He subsequently was made High Commissioner of Palestine and made an English Viscount. Again sadly he was diagnosed with cancer and died in March 1946. Lord Gort managed remarkably well having to work alongside General Weygard the French leader, who was in charge at the early part of the war and totally incompetent.

General Weygard. A French commander who called for an armistice and then displeased the Germans on some red line he insisted on so they sent him to Algeria as the French Delegate General but when he opposed established supply routes through his territory to Rommel, a breach of the armistice terms, he was brought back to France in November 1941 and arrested and imprisoned a year later by the Germans when they occupied other regions of France not previously occupied. After the war, when he was released, the French accused him of collaboration but the charges did not stick and he was freed and exonerated in 1948. France finally surrendered on 22nd June 1940.

General Ironside. He is another who General Brooke criticised because of the poor number of mobile reserves he provided for the defence of Britain. He was encouraged to resign from his job as commander in Chief of Home Forces in July 1940.

The film mentions Brigadier Nicholson at Calais. He was taken prisoner and incarcerated at Rotenberg, a castle south of Frankfurt. He tragically died there in June 43 aged just 44.

The massacres described in the book were horrendous and there were many. The one at Wormhout I mention above where the SS Captain Wilhelm Mohnke of Leibstandarte’s 2nd battalion shot British prisoners. He was captured by Russians when Berlin was taken. Attempts to indict him for these killings failed after the key witness died. There were two other massacres in France committed by him but again not backed up with the hard facts and he denied committing these crimes. The soldier mentioned above who survived the Wormhort killing, and had lost his arm. was sent back to Britain after three years as a PoW. He had been a factory worker and as he could no longer do that work he ended up cleaning floors and steps until a passing man gave him an office job as a clerk.

Other survivors of a German massacre were soldiers of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. This massacre took place at Le Paradis and they escaped from under a pile of shot bodies, although they eventually surrendered to a regular German troop when they first hid in a farm assisted by a farmer’s wife. Both men were sent back to Britain in 1943 and after the war gave evidence at the murder trial of Fritz Knocklein, an SS officer who had sanctioned the massacre of the villagers at Le Paradis. The victims included nuns and the BEF soldiers who had surrendered.

One other wounded PoW released early due to injuries in 1941, went on to lead the MI9 in partnership with MI 6 helping prisoners escape back to England.

The exact figures for Frenchman killed, wounded and missing during the 1940 campaign in France, Belgium and Holland are unavailable. The statistics below are approximations.

Killed and died of wounds 11,074
Wounded 14,074
Missing/PoW 41.338
Total 66,124
British planes lost, 931; 25 Royal Naval Destroyers and 170 ships and boats lost or damaged.

Killed 90,000
Wounded 200,000

Casualties 23,350

Casualties 9,779

Killed 27,074
Wounded 111,034
Missing 18,384
German planes lost 1,284