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CASSEL May 1940

by Lieut-Col. E.M.B. Gilmore, DSO
(Back Badge 1946)

After the withdrawal of the BEF from the line of the River Scheldt, the 61st found itself for some hours at a village called Nomain, some miles south-east of Lilles. We received orders to proceed by motor transport, during the night of 24-25th May, to Cassel. Cassel is an important local road junction, whence roads lead to Dunkirk, Lille, Calais, St. Omer and other lesser towns.

The Battalion reached Cassel in the early hours of the morning, Saturday 25th May. With us were the 4th Ox and Bucks L.I., some RFA 18-pdrs, machine gunners from a TA Battalion of the Cheshire Regt, Brigade A.T. Unit and some French army elements. There were also some RAMC, RE, and Royal Signals personnel present. The first 2 days at Cassel were ones of rest. Houses and buildings forming a perimeter were linked by demolition or digging, and strengthened. Roads and lanes were blocked. The town was divided in half, the 4th Ox & Bucks LI holding the east, the 61st the west sector.

Capt. H.W. Wilson's Company ("B") linking on its right with the 4th Ox & Bucks, stretched along the perimeter to the north-west to join with "D" Coy. It faced an open area of country, with an isolated farm some 400 yards out in front which was occupied by No. 10 Platoon under 2nd Lieut. R. Weightman. Also in the Company were a party of French and later a platoon of the Cheshire Regt (MG).

Next to the left and facing west, was Capt. A.P. Cholmondeley's Company ("D") with the Battalion Mortar Platoon. This company area consisted mainly of a residential house surrounded by a small demesne. The foremost edge of the area was formed by an escarpment, below which was a small wooded enclosure. A section of machine guns occupied some cottages on the left, and of 2 roads which flanked either side of this company. British and French AT guns were included.

Round to the south-west and completing the Battalion perimeter was Capt. E.H. Lynn-Allen's (MC) Company ("C"), holding a somewhat more difficult area, whose field of fire was minimized by small walled enclosures on the outskirts of the town.

The reserve consisted of Major W.H. Percy-Hardman's (MC) Company ("A"), the remains of the Carrier Platoon under Sergt. Kibble, the available elements of HQ Company under CSM Haberfield, and the AT gun section under 2nd Lieut. J. Robertson, which was used to thicken up generally the anti-tank defence of the whole area. As usual in these days, the Battalion was very think on the ground. (Over 130 other ranks were reported missing after the bombing of "A" and "C" and HQ Companies in the bottle-neck traffic jam at Leuze near Tournai, on 19th May).

The Battalion "Keep" and HQ, with the RAP, was in and around the local bank in La Place Dunkirk. The organisation here was mainly due to the admirable efforts of Major Colin Campbell (MC) (2nd-in-Command), Capt. E. Jones (MID) (Adjutant), RSM G. Pearce (MID) and Lieut. Ian Spencer (MO). Later tactical moves led to a serious alteration in the disposition of the reserve. From "A" Coy. it was necessary to find 2 detachments which completely used up this company. The first of these alterations was the sending out of No.8 Platoon under 2nd Lieut. R.W. Cresswell (MC) to occupy a partially completed blockhouse about 2 and half miles out of Cassel on the road to Dunkirk, on the afternoon of the 26th. The second was the sending out of the rest of "A" Coy. under Major Percy-Hardman to occupy the village of Zuytpene, on the railway line west of the town; early hours of the morning of the 27th. A Company of the 4th Ox & Bucks LI was sent to occupy Bavinchove, also on the railway line, south by a mile or 2 of Zuytpene. These were the forward positions to break up any enemy onslaught before reaching the main position.

The enemy was first met on the 26th, when 2 patrol actions between the enemy tanks and carriers with AT guns occurred in the wooded area to the south-west. The main enemy effort began during the early morning of the 27th, when he attacked simultaneously from the west, south and south-east, using infantry supported by machine guns, mortars and tanks, with occassional assistance from the air, in which he had complete superiority. The Germans were also helped by obvious "Fifth Column" activities in Cassel itself. It was remarkable how Unit and Company HQ's were perpetually singled out for accurate mortaring.

On this day the main enemy point of attack was aimed at the south-east part of the defences, near the neck linking up with Mont Des Recollets. But at the same time, attacks were maintained on the other parts, as well as the villages of Zuytpene and Bavinchove. No. 8 Platoon in the blockhouse came into action about 1800 hrs that evening. On no future occasion was contact ever regained with either Major Percy-Hardman or 2nd Lieut. Cresswell. Both were completely surrounded and cut-off, and both admirably fulfilled their role of holding on to their positions and inflicting the maximum delay and casualties on the enemy.

Zuytpene was attacked through the western end of the village at about 0800 hrs, when an aerial bombing, followed up with tanks, opened proceedings; infantry and mortars supported and by midday the enemy had surrounded the position. It was not until about 1900 hrs that 2 members of "A" Coy. (Ptes Tickner (MID) and Bennett) arrived at Battalion HQ in an exhausted state, having been sent earlier on by Major Percy-Hardman to try and get through the surrounding Germans. It was long afterwards learnt that the remnants of "A" Coy. at Zuytpene were finally forced to give in about 1900 hrs, when their last defensive position at Company HQ was in flames and a superior number of the enemy had got close enough to throw grenades into the cellar into which they had been finally driven. A final effort to reach "A" Coy. at Zuytpene was made during the night of 27-28th by means of a patrol under 2nd Lieut. S. Reeve-Tucker, but the enemy was too thick on the ground to get the patrol through.

No.8 Platoon, under 2nd Lieut. Cresswell, held out against continuous attacks from the evening of the 27th to the late aternoon of the 30th, when casualties, a fire in the blockhouse, lack of food and the ominous silence from Cassel caused them to give in to overwhelming numbers.

"D" Company suffered very heavily in casualties this first day of the attack. An enemy tank succeeded in getting into the grounds of the Company "Keep". An attempt by a party from "B" Coy., consisting of Capt. Wilson, 2nd Lieut. Fane, CSM Robinson (MID), and Pte Palmer, to assist "D" Coy. by a flanking stalk against the tank was ended by a direct mortar bomb hit on their Boys rifle. Eventually the tank was set on fire by a hit from one of our AT guns.

"C" Coy. had a tough but successful time in dealing with hostile tanks, which pressed forward in support if infantry, against the company position. Sergt. Collins (MM) by himself put one tank out of action with a Boys rifle.

The enemy did not press his attack after darkness had fallen. On the 28th May the only real attack was made on "B" Coy. in the late afternoon, which was beaten off without much difficulty. An attempt was made to get a carrier through to No.8 Platoon, but it was impossible to get beyond the town owing to heavy machine gun fire.

On Wednesday 29th May a heavy and sustained attack broke out again, preceeded by an accurate mortar bombardment. "B" Coy. came in for the brunt of the day's onslaught. No. 10 Platoon, in the farm forward of the company area, under command of 2nd Lieut. Weightman, was very heavily bombarded. 2nd Lieut. Weightman was killed by a direct hit. He had acted throughout most gallantly and had led his platoon ably in all the fighting. Cpl. C. Waite (MID) hung on with a few men until the situation was restored by Capt. Wilson.

Another serious loss was the death of 2nd Lieut. Gerry French, the Intelligence Officer, always indefatigable, cheerful, conscientious, and willing, who was killed by a mortar bomb while on a mission to liaise with the artillery.

It was a hard day, well borne, by the whole Battalion, but in spite of casualties and diminishing effective manpower, at no time did the enemy gain a footing anywhere. The Carrier Platoon had been used to reinforce dangerous points on the perimeter. HQ Coy. had also played its part and it is impossible to speak too highly of the Signallers under Sergt. Bartlet (MM?), the stretcher-bearers under Sergt. Tilton, or the Pioneers under PSM Murphy. Weaponless members of the AT gun section had been used to strengthen the emaciated Battalion Reserve.

The fighing died down about 1700 hrs and the enemy had withdrew. Movement could be seen away to the north, but too far away to engage with fire. About this time a warning order was received from Force HQ that the garrison would withdraw that night and try to rendezvous near the Dunkirk area. Hopes were high of being alble to get away, but what was not known was that this order was 24 hours delayed. The withdrawal after dusk, in spite of the close contact of the enemy, was carried out successfully, but the exasperating events of the next 2 days are another story.


Around 100 men of the 2nd Glosters made it home. 5 officers and 132 men were dead. 472 taken prisoner.

Awards for France 1940 (date is of London Gazette)

C.B.E.

Colonel N.F. Somerset, DSO, MC - 1 June 1945 - France, 1940

Distinguished Service Order

T/Lieut-Col. C.E.B. Walwyn - 2nd Bn - 1944 - France 1940
Lieut-Col. E.M.B. Gilmore - 2nd Bn - 1946 - France 1940

O.B.E.

Major R.J. Bewell - 20 August 1940 - France

Bar to Military Cross

A/Capt. J.A. Mackenzie, MC - 2nd Bn - 20 August 1940 - France

Military Cross

A/Capt. J.A. Mackenzie - 2nd Bn - 30 Jan. 1940 - France
A/Major A.E. Wilkinson - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940 - France
Capt. (QM) R.E.D. Brasington - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940 - France
2nd Lieut. J.P. Fane - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940 - France
Major W.H. Percy-Hardman - 2nd Bn - 1 June 1945 - France 1940
Major C.S.R. Campbell - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Major E.N. Lynn-Allen - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Lieut. R.W. Cresswell - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940

Distinguished Conduct Medal

5173452 WO D.R. Brown - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940

Military Medal

Pte P. Morris - 20 August 1940 - France 1940
CSM P.A. Olivier - 20 Dec. 1940 - France 1940
Sergt. J. Eldridge - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940 - France 1940
Sergt. F.A. Thyer - 20 Dec. 1940 - France 1940
Cpl. H.G. Cook - 20 Dec. 1940 - France 1940
Pte H.F. Tillyard - 20 Dec. 1940 - France 1940
WO B.E. Oxtoby, MBE - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
849575 Sergt. R.D. Collins - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Sergt. T.W. Bartlett - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
L/Cpl. A. Stormont - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Pte W.M. Clarke - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940

Mentioned in Despatches

Major R.J. Bewell - 26 July 1940 - France
L/Cpl. E. Drawneek - 26 July 1940 - France
Pte F.G. Aston - 26 July 1940 - France
Major L.A.W. Lachlan - 20 Dec. 1940 - France
Capt. T.N. Grazebrook - 20 Dec. 1940 - France
Capt. (QM) R.E.D. Brasington - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940
2nd Lieut. J.P. Fane - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940
A/RSM G.W. Dean - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940
CSM P.A. Olivier - 20 Dec. 1940
Sergt. W.J. Newman - 20 Dec. 1940
Sergt. F. Greenhough - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940
Sergt. A. Challis - 20 Dec. 1940
Cpl. A. Liddle - 20 Dec. 1940
L/Cpl. A.J. Smythe - 2nd Bn - 20 Dec. 1940
A/Lieut-Col. E.M.B. Gilmore - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
T/Major H.J. Lovett - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
T/Capt. E. Jones - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
T/Capt. H.C.W. Wilson - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
WOI G. Pearce - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
WOII F. Robinson - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Cpl. J.J. Loftus - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Cpl. C.J.F. Waite - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Pte A. Dainty - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Pte W. Parslow - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Pte A.S.J. Tickner - 2nd Bn - 25 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Capt. T.S.W. Reeve-Tucker - 2nd Bn - 22 Oct. 1945 - France 1940
Pte A.J. Bingle - 2nd Bn - 29 August 1946 - France 1940
Pte G. Crooks - 29 August 1946 - France 1940
Pte A.E. Howell - 29 August 1946 - France 1940