FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Dunkirk 75: Pete’s road to Dunkirk

Posted in Dunkirk, France by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

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

My grandfather, Pete, enlisted with the army at Canterbury on 3rd May 1928 at the age of 18 and was serving with the Royal Artillery when war broke out.

Pete had originally intended to join up with a mate from home (Folkestone) but things didn’t go entirely to plan. His mate was turned away and Pete said “I suppose we’ll go home now” at which point the recruiting officer said “No, you’re in now!” Pete initially signed for 12 years but later re-engaged for 21 years on 16th February 1939.

Pete (second from left)

Pete (second from left)

Initially Pete was appointed as a driver, working as part of a team riding horses to haul the 20 pound guns of the field artillery. However, the process of mechanisation saw Pete move from horses to motorised vehicles in Summer 1939. On 26th September 1939 he was posted to France with the 22nd Field Regiment Royal Artillery.

The regiment marched to Belgium on 9th May 1940 and were soon involved in the battles around the Escaut and areas that are today better remembered as the terrain of the First World War. Orders to withdraw and go in to action at Oost Dunkerque were received on 29th May and the regiment remained until 31st May before a further withdrawal to La Panne and the gradual destruction of the guns.

The war diary records that the regiment took refuge in the sand dunes as dawn broke on 1st June 1940, owing to the continuing danger of dive bombers. In later years Pete made brief reference to the safety of the sand dunes and talked about spending time on the beach, possibly in the company of an RAF man, and wading through the water (even though he couldn’t swim).

Some of the men made it off the beaches in small boats later that morning, between intermittent dive bombing, but the main body of the regiment marched on to Dunkirk and embarked from the pier with the last party going on board at 18:30 hours. Pete’s service record shows that he was home on 1st June 1940.

On their return to England the men were put on a train but Pete didn’t know where he was until he saw Warren Halt (Folkestone Warren). Everyone was throwing cards out and he took a field service card and wrote out a quick message to his father in Folkestone telling him that he was home safe, and threw the card out of the window, hoping that it would be delivered. It was and we still have the card today.

Pete went back to Dunkirk on a coach tour with my grandmother many years later. She recalled that the bloke opposite was telling his wife ‘All the trees were burning [to] ash’. On asking him about this my grandfather replied ‘Of course I saw it’ but that was it – he just didn’t like to talk about it.

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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 appreciate. […]

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