FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Dunkirk 75: Alf’s road to Dunkirk

Posted in Dunkirk, France by folkestonejack on May 30, 2015

Today marks the 75th anniversary of my grandfather Alf’s return to the UK after the Dunkirk evacuation.

My grandfather, Alf, enlisted with the army at Canterbury on 12th June 1925 at the age of 19 and was serving with the 2nd Battalion Buffs at Pembroke Dock when war was declared. By this time Alf had already seen service overseas once, having spent three months in Palestine in 1936.

Alf (standing)

Alf (standing)

The battalion headed by train to Southampton where they embarked on the ‘Maid of Orleans’, setting sail in the early hours of 17th September 1939. After a smooth crossing in a convoy of five ships, escorted by two destroyers, they arrived in Cherbourg later that morning.

Once they had landed in France the battalion made their way south east, rather than towards the Belgian border. Their destination, Blain, was a small town in the Loire-Atlantique department, just half an hour’s drive from Nantes. Amongst my late grandfather’s possessions is a small photograph of a French family of whom we know nothing, but perhaps that was taken here.

At dawn on 10th May 1940 Germany invaded the low countries, moving forward with frightening speed. The 2nd Battalion Buffs had reached Menin in Belgium by 6pm the same day and engaged the enemy in battle at Petegem ten days later. After three days the men were hungry, tired and weak. The order to withdraw was received on the evening of 21st May.

On the way to Dunkirk the men suffered terribly, particularly in the intense bombing of Mont des Cats. By 11am on 29th May 1940 all of the battalion had set out for the beaches of Dunkirk, from where the men were rescued. My grandfather couldn’t swim, but we know that he spent time wading through the water and seeing those incredible photographs of men queuing into the waters makes me wonder what he went through.

Alf’s service records show that he served with the 2nd Battalion Buffs (BEF) until 29th May 1940 and was ‘Home’ on 30th May 1940. I don’t know whether that is an accurate reflection of the date he came back or just a generalized date for the battalion.

It is hard for anyone of my generation to imagine the horrors of war from this distance in time, but they were all too real enough for my grandfather and clearly never forgotten. Alf was worried that the film ‘Dunkirk’ (1958) would show the terrible sights that he had seen and would not let anyone see the film until he had been to the cinema to check it out. In the end he was quite relieved that it didn’t come anywhere close.

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  1. […] have very little idea what my grandfathers, Alf and Pete, went through at Dunkirk so anything that helps me get a feel for that I greatly […]

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