TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
This is how the majority of people would have known my father as he ran for many years a small garage in Netheravon, Wiltshire.
T.W. Drew, The Garage, Netheravon. Tel. N°348.
The garage is still in operation and doing very well.
Now its The Motor Garage Ltd. Netheravon. Tel N°01980 670348.
The Garage in the 1930's.
The Garage just about the time he bought the business.
And this is how I sold it much later around 1980.
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
TWHB Drew The family
Granny and Grandad Drew. The little girl is my cousin.
Grandad was Thomas Drew (from Bishops Cannings, Wiltshire) and Granny was a Besant (from Coate, Wiltshire) and that is where the B comes in Dad's name - Thomas William Herbert Besant Drew. He really only used TW as his initials.
Tom Drew (senior) married and had two daughters Allis, Maud and his wife must have died because he got married again to Granny and had another four sons and one more daughter. A house full. The two elder sisters were much older and had already left home so Tom (Dad) was the eldest.
He was born in Shaw, Melksham in Wiltshire March 1913, the son of a tenant Publican/Farmer and Cook to several major houses in London.
Thomas - joined the army RASC 1939 to 4th May 1946.
Ralph ---- could not join up as he was in a reserved occupation (farmer) and fire watcher.
Doug ----- joined the Royal Navy, served in East Africa.
Mary ---- too young.
Walter --- (Walt) too young.
The Golden Fleece today.
Granddad would have to get up in the morning, milk the cows, take the milk to Melksham railway station in a horse and cart.
Downton Abbey, I am not sure where in London Gran worked but my mother always said she was a wonderful cook.
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
TWHB Drew 1940
This is Dad at 27 years at the start of the war.
There were three types of soldier, those already in the army, those who volunteered and those conscripted, Dad volunteered.
He was older than the conscripts but many of the regulars had seen action in WW1.
Dads Unit name.
Thornicroft army lorry.
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
TWHB Drew 42nd Workshops, 1940 somewhere in France
42nd Workshops RASC. The letters stand for Run and Seek Cover. Royal army Service Corps.
A British army field workshops in the early part of the war.
Bedford QL 3ton.
Bedford QL rear axle assembly drawing, something Dad would have had to study in the army.
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk his story
Having heard the awful tales of hardships endured by the army in the 1914/18 war, the Air force was my first choice.
I was told to report for a medical. It took place before a panel of six Doctors, each testing a different part of my body. After they had finished with me the chairman of the panel summed up the results. I was told I had a heart murmur which barred me from flying duties, but might be eligible for ground duties. I was advised to see my own Doctor first.
He gave me a very extensive examination but could not find anything amiss and concluded it was probably some kind of stress at the time. He ensured me I would not die of heart failure this side of 90.
If the Air Force did not want me I would try the army. They had a similar type of examination and when I arrived before the chairman, he looked down at the different reports and then complimented me on my healthy body. As far as they were concerned I was A 1.
I was shown into another room to see an army officer and a marine Petty officer. They asked me various general knowledge questions, which must have satisfied them and so they asked me to sign a form.
Having done so I was informed I was now, "IN THE army," to go home, await instructions and I would be paid the princely sum of 15 shillings a week. It was now time to sell off my assets, namely my car. An Austin 7, it fetched 25pounds. The new owner brought it back the next day, as he thought it was not fast enough. So I told him to leave it with me and I would tune it. I took off the speedometer hand and replaced it, showing nearly 5mph while standing still. He tried it out and was highly delighted, it now exceeded 70mph. Hardly any one looks at a Speedo until the car is moving and seeing is believing. After 6 years, a war and thousands of miles travel in Africa and Europe, I saw the car again in a fair ground. The Romany owner offered to sell it to me for 50pounds.
After a few weeks, my warrant arrived, with orders to report to Dorchester Barracks. This proved to be a stone and concrete prison of a place. The N. C. O. In charge of the guard, pointed out a building across a wide expanse of deserted concrete and told me to, grab a bed space on the second floor and remain there until further orders. So being a lazy person, I proceeded to walk the shortest distance across this open square. I had barely started, when a roar brought me to a stop. "You there in civvies get off my drill square and don't ever let me see you ambling across it again"
. It was the Sergeant Major. My first lesson, never cross a drill square!
The next few days were spent, getting to know the other members of my platoon. Most of them were ex-soldiers, recalled from reserve and they knew all the ropes. It was a question of watching and learning from them.
One person who stood out from the others, was a man with a hollow roof in his mouth. How he got into the army is a mystery, as it took some time before we could understand what he said and of course he became the butt of coarse jokes. I did my best to defend him. Although I was not immune from jokes, as I was the only volunteer among them and it is an unwritten law in the army, "never volunteer for anything"
He managed to change his bed space to one next to me and after a while, I learnt to understand what he said. He told me he was married, with two children and worked as a farm labourer from Lincolnshire. He spent his time ploughing, harrowing, seeding, weeding, feeding, and harvesting those huge acres in that county and now loved the army life.
I learnt some days later that he could hardly read or write. So I read his wife’s letters to him and replied to them. Learning how much better off they were with an army married allowance, after his agriculture pay 30 shillings a week.
Unfortunately he was told he could be given an honourable discharge, as owing to his speech defect he could never attain a higher rank. He told me that he had pleaded with the C.O. to stay in, as he would be quite happy to remain as a private.
He was told they would get a ruling from higher authority, but shortly after he was admitted to hospital and died within two weeks. Whatever he died of I am convinced the thought of discharge had something to do with it.
Another man who had little to say to any one, spent his off duty just lying on his bunk and staring at the ceiling. Fascinated me. So one day I said to him it was a shame about the hollow roof man. He surprised me by saying he would like to have joined us as he also felt sorry for him, but did not think he would be welcome. After that we had many talks. I found out that he had fought in the Spanish Civil War. When I told him I had been a mechanic, he advised me to re-mustering as a fitter, I would then get trade pay and be doing a job I liked. I took his advice and never regretted it.
While waiting for my re-mustering to take effect he suggested, I could go home for a week end. He would make up my bed each night and put the pillow down so that the Orderly Officer, if he came in, would look as though I was asleep.
I had planned to leave the Barracks on Friday night as if on an evening pass and he would book me back in on Sunday night. I would have to climb over the goods entrance gate which on inspection looked simple.
Having had a pleasant weekend and fairly uneventful train journey, I arrived back around 2 a/m. I started to climb the iron gate, but every time I moved the chain and padlock rattled. It had been snowing, but now it was a bright moonlight night and the guard would see and hear me if he was alert. Having climbed up to the ornamental part of the gate, my foot slipped between the bars and became fixed. However much I struggled it would not come free. So in the end, I had to undo the laces and free my foot and continue over the top and down the other side. I shall never forget how cold that iron felt, but it was nothing to the shock of stepping into a slushy puddle. The boot still remained fast despite all my efforts, so I decided to take off the other boot and use it as a hammer.
By then I was past caring about the guard or how much noise I made. Eventually it came away and I made my way up those wet, cold, concrete stairs. My new found friend was still awake and told me my trip had not been noticed, although bets had been placed on my non arrival on Monday morning. I was very pleased my friend had won his bet that I would make it.
Shortly after this, I had to report to the office and was given a Rail ticket to Westgate On Sea, where a Workshop unit was forming.
After much searching about and help from the Military Police, (a rare event). I found them on the seashore.
As people turned up so they were given a rank and responsibility. As my papers were still somewhere in War Office, I was told to go away and not to show up again until they had arrived.
I found my billet, it was in a Hotel with six beds to the room. We had to crawl over beds to reach our own. Food was cooked in a mobile cooker, in a school playground. Everything being tipped in and boiled up. One stood up to eat and was it cold, I can still feel that wind off the sea, with the rain and sleet running down my neck.
Eventually we were given rooms in private houses. I was billeted with an elderly widow in a modern bungalow. She insisted on giving me breakfast and an evening meal so I was able to forgo the army stew.
Our vehicles arrived.
There were Thornicroft Workshop and Breakdown lorries, a Karrier stores lorry, three Bedford load carriers and a Ford 10cwt., which should have had a fixed Bren Gun fitted, but none were available. So a wooden one was made to fool the enemy.
All three platoons had new Bedford three toners. Officers had Austin 8's, the CO. a Humber snipe and the two Warrant Officers had Royal Enfield 250c.c. motor cycles. All brand new.
After a General's inspection we were considered fit to fight, the vehicles were driven to Southampton for a secret destination. It turned out to be a school on the outskirts of town and we were strictly confined to its grounds.
Early one morning, we had orders to pack up all our kit and parade in full marching order, including anti gas equipment and kit bags. We had never done this before and it was some time before we managed to get the kit bag balanced on top of the big pack.
Then we marched through the town to the docks and onto a waiting boat.
Arriving at Le Havre, our vehicles had not been un loaded due to some labour troubles (French Dockers again). After a long wait we were marched to a train, which eventually took us to Bolbec.
There we had to bed down in some farm buildings and wait until the Pioneer Corps settled their differences with the French Dockers and unloaded the transport. We all thought "How to run a war".
At Bolbec I had my first taste of Cafe au Lait, one of many in the weeks to come. After the transport arrived it was a slow drive up through northern France, stopping at various towns, sometimes for several weeks.
At one place, a deserted small holding, we shared an open space with a huge manure heap. This was moved by the French army much to our relief, as we thought it might fall to us to move. During the removal, a steam train driving wheel was unearthed or unmannered. As the French soldiers had not been told to move a train wheel, it was left propped up against a gate post.
It was about four feet across with a massive balance weights and crank pin. Weighing perhaps half a ton I was to have intimate relations with this monstrosity later.
The Bren Gun vehicle, with its wooden gun, had, as all things in the army, a proper drill. On the command, "prepare for aircraft,"
the gunner had to leap on to the tailboard and get into a firing position. Now the tailboard was held in position by two chains. Which in turn was bolted, to the side board by a quarter inch soft iron coach bolt? These were never intended to resist a 16 stone man jumping on to them for long and they regularly broke. When I was told to replace one, the driver said it was the third time it had broken and some of the gunners were getting hurt. So I did what I would do in civilian life and drilled out the sideboard and fitted 5/16th high tensile steel bolts.
End of problem.
This got around the other sections and one morning, six vehicles turned up, all asking for the Pte. Drew "modification"
and of course, the Sergeant Major came to hear about it.
He wanted to know what all the fuss was about. When he heard what I had done, he went purple. "Only the War Office can modify,"
he roared, "You will be charged with altering War Department specifications without authority, to appear before the workshop Officer at 9 a/m properly dressed in clean battle dress."
At 8a/m the Sergeant Major told me, the Officer had been called away for several days and to save a lot of bother, would I accept his, (the Sergeant Majors) punishment. I said I would. The result was, "Cut up that train wheel in one foot sections, with a hacksaw after duty."
Many months later, I was told by the orderly room Sergeant, that the Sergeant Major had submitted the modification to the War Office and he had been commended for it.
Such is life.
We eventually reached Lille and where billeted near a coal mine. It meant we could use the mine pit head baths. We stayed there until Belgium was invaded.
Then we moved to a farm in Flanders, owned by a man who had worked in Canada and knew some English. He had two sons and a herd of cows that were the tallest I have ever seen. One morning I was on guard duty, around dawn the farmer came to get in the cows for milking, when he shouted to me and pointed to the horizon and there visible in the rising sun were parachutes falling. I immediately called out the guard. The guard commander sent someone to call the Orderly officer, but of course they had all gone before he turned up and he refused to believe I had seen anything and described the farmer as a drunken yokel. The guard commander who had seen them now denied seeing anything. I was to be charged with," making a frivolous statement while on guard duty".
However before I could be charged we were in full retreat and I heard nothing more about it. The farmer did give me a huge breakfast, much to the rest of the guard's chagrin. I have often wondered how he got on with the Germans.
The civilian population were now on the move, prams and wheelbarrows piled up with all their belongings. Carts pulled by horses, cows and one by two goats. Private cars with bedding tied to the roof as protection against aircraft bullets, all just creeping along or resting by the side of the road.
Story Part 1
Winter 1939/40 was one of the coldest, Dad always said how cold they were.
Stuka dive bomber.
Moving along the roads with civilians streaming away from the front.
This is the sort of map Dad was working with. He had I believe the Daily Mails map. (New York Herald)
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
We stopped at one farm to hide from some dive bombers and saw all the cows huddled around the farm gate in obvious pain with distended udders. Another lad and I milked them where they stood, allowing the milk to fall on the ground. We were not put under orders to move until every cow had been milked. As a reward for the pain they had suffered, I turned them out into a field of growing corn, hoping someone would milk them that night.
Moving on we came across what the bombers were after. It was the refugees. The sight I shall never forget. Women, children and animals all dead or injured and we were not allowed to stop, as they said the civil authorities would take care of them. Cows are of course different. War certainly alters all the rules as this episode shows.
That night we stopped in a small wood. As usual it was iron rations for our meal, during which I was sent for and told to follow a man dressed in highly polished leggings, a long blue cloak and a peaked cap. He knew no English, but I gathered he was someone's driver. Apparently their car had broken down and being a Diplomat had called on the nearest help. Having walked some distance, with a heavy toolbox, we came to a lovely Delage car. There were two ladies in the back and a dapper man in top hat and tails. He told me in faultless English that the car had just stopped and the chauffeur was just a driver and knew nothing about engines. Would I please help as it was urgent he delivers some vital information.
Well, as the A.A. always says the ignition causes 90% of breakdowns. I took off the distributor cover and found the brass strip on the rotor arm had come off. It was badly damaged and could not be used. I knew we had nothing like it in our stores so it had to be a, "make do and mend". To help solve problems, a cigarette always used to help. So I opened up a packet and there was the answer, make a new one from the silver foil. But how to stick it to the rotor arm? The only thing available was chewing gum. I told the Diplomat the problem, but he nor the driver had ever heard of the stuff. I knew some of the men used it. I wrote a note and ask the Diplomat to tell his driver to deliver it to the first Officer he saw. Who would I hope ask any of the men for some gum, while I continued cleaning up the mess inside the distributor. The driver came back with three pieces of gum. I chewed one until it was the right stickiness. All the time this was going on, refugees still streamed past. The ladies in the back of the car looked straight ahead never speaking. The Diplomat on the other hand, took a great interest in my repair, making sure the driver was watching. I showed the finished repair to them both, stressing the flimsy nature of the foil and how it would react to high engine revolutions. He translated this to the driver. All that remained was to try it. Starting first time, the passengers smiled, the only sign of any expression either of them made. The Diplomat gave me a sealed letter to take back, shook hands and left. I never knew the contents of the letter but he did say I had done a good job.
Before we could move off the next morning, six aircraft came over and started bombing some Royal Artillery guns, which had been firing since dawn. The gunners did not seem to have any anti-aircraft defence. The bombers came right down low and then zoomed upwards to turn and come down for another go. Meanwhile a squadron of French tanks had driven into the wood. The crews just left the tanks and ran off. One was left with its engine still running.
Four of us ran to the edge of the wood to watch the fight. The bombers continued until all the guns were silenced. Then they circled our wood. Seeing the tanks they started to machine gun us. Unfortunately they hit one of our ammunition lorries, which burst into flames and exploded. They must have realised that there was more in the woods than tanks and having used up all their bombs on the guns, radioed back for more planes.
Meanwhile, taking it in turns to give a burst into the trees. Several more lorries were hit. Luckily the four of us were at the other end of the wood and could only see the flames and hear the explosions. The planes after a while must have run out of ammunition, but still dived down, their sirens screaming until reinforcements came and they bombed the tanks. Trees were falling down, ammunition blowing up, then they emptied their guns on the tree tops, hoping to hit anything concealed underneath them. When they departed, we waited a while then returned to see how the others had fared. Only to find the place deserted. Several lorries were still burning, but most of them had gone, not a soul in sight and devastation everywhere. We stood around wondering what to do, when a Staff Officer, with red tabs walked into the wood. He told us someone had issued the order "every man for himself
". (I did not know such an order was used in the British army.) The Officers always looked after the men and here we were four lost souls somewhere in Belgium. No officers, no maps and not knowing which way to go. I vowed, there and then, that I "would never be caught in this dilemma again".
Searching around the few lorries left we found a Bedford undamaged and climbed aboard. The driver in his haste to be rid of this place had hit a tree stump, which bent the tie rod making it un steerable A further search came upon another, but it had three anti-tank mines in the back. A quick check confirmed they were not primed, but two of the lads refused to ride in it. As they said, "A direct hit would blow us sky high."
I tried to convince them a direct hit on an empty vehicle would also blow us sky high, but they would not come, so it was just the two of us.
I made sure that I was going to drive this time. We had gone about two miles when we caught up with two of our Sergeants and offered them a lift, but when they saw the mines and also refused. Never argue with a Sergeant. After all they had never bothered to find out what happened to us.
On the floor of the lorry was an old Daily Mail paper, many days old. On the front page was a war map with names of the most prominent towns and so we were soon heading for Calais.
It was by now getting dark and we could not drive in the dark. We had no food and it was time to look for a suitable place to spend the night. Eventually we found a field with high overgrown hedges and parked the vehicle up under the overhanging trees, partly hidden from any Stuka's on dawn patrol.
In our battle dress trousers we all had a 24hr emergency ration block, Sewn into one of the pockets. "Only to be used on the orders of an Officer."
Well, they were long gone, so we decided to eat them, it was certainly welcome. The contents seemed to consist of a Bovril or OXO substance, covered in a biscuit outer, with a thin chocolate covering. It made one very thirsty, but we had full water bottles. A short distance away, was a fairly dry ditch, so we laid our gas capes down and made our beds in it and slept well.
In the morning we awoke to a delicious smell of cooking, but could not locate its origin. Once on the road again we noticed a farm track and at the end a fire burning, heating a huge pot. So thinking it might be an army unit making breakfast, we decided to investigate. Arriving at a the farmyard we found it deserted, though steam was coming out of the pot. Hence the smell. Across the yard, a door opened and a stocky man dressed in riding breeches, held up by multi coloured braces. He blew a whistle and the hayrick erupted, disgorging a patrol of French colonial troops, dressed in their long blue cloaks. All with rifles at the ready. An order from "coloured braces"
they put on their safety catches, much to our relief.
The French officer as he turned out to be, told us they saw us stop and turn around. Not driving a French army vehicle, they were taking no chances and had we been identified as Germans, the 15 or so rifles had us well covered. We were given a breakfast of many vegetables and quite large pieces of mutton. It tasted even better than the smell. Having thanked the troop's for their hospitality, we moved on.
Following a canal for a considerable distance, we came to a bridge, at right angles to the road. I stopped some distance from the bridge, to look at the tiny map, but it was of no real help.
The road over the bridge seemed to be used more than the one following the canal so I chose that one and crossed the bridge. On reaching the other side a Sergeant jumped out of a ditch ordering me to stop, which I hastened to do, as two more Bren Guns were covering us from the ditch. He asked us where we intended going, and I said Calais, his answer to that was, "You'll be lucky the, Huns have already got there, you had better come with me and see my Officer".
He took us a short distance down the road to another deserted farm, where there was a platoon of Royal Engineers camped. We were interviewed by his Officer. "Where were we going, what had we seen on the way and what had we in the lorry".
I told him we had supposedly three anti-tank mines on board, but what else I had not looked to see. With that he shouted for the Sergeant and told him to see what was in the truck. Presently the Sergeant came back with a list. There were boxes of detonators, fuses, and some .303 ammunition. He read the list. Then looked at me for several seconds and said, "I am going to commandeer your truck. You can stay here until we blow the bridge. We will take you with us, or you can make your own way to Dunkirk on foot, as I am very short of petrol and transport. We do not know how long we will have to stay here".
I told him our last orders were, "Every man for himself."
He disbelieved me and forbade
me to mention it to any of his men. We could have a meal then decide what we wanted to do.
After a meal, I told my friend I intended to go on to Dunkirk and would he like to come. After a slight pause he said he would rather stay with the Engineers. I left after taking a good look at a map. In making for Calais we had come to far south, so going North West I should be more likely to meet up with troops going to Dunkirk.
Towards evening I began to come across burnt out vehicles and more refugees. Most of the houses were mere wrecks. More English troops overtook me, but they were in organised bodies with their Officers and N.C.O's, hardly bothering to looked at me, by now a very scruffy R.A.S.C private.
I had been keeping my eyes open for a place to spend the night and came to a small wood, once inside its shelter I saw deep tyre tracks. I followed them to find a 15 cwt Bedford truck, stuck up to its axle in mud and apparently abandoned. After a quick look round, the truck seemed sound and the engine started after a while, with one petrol tank nearly empty and the other full. There was a trenching spade in its holder and so I commenced to clear all the mud away from behind the wheels. It's easier to reverse out the way you came, than to go forward in mud and with some hard work, I managed to get the truck on to better ground.
By now it was now getting dusk, so I decided to make up a bed in the back. I had some of the food given to me by the engineer Officer in the morning and worked out that I had walked about 15 Miles, that left another 40 or 50 to do the next day and hopefully in relative comfort.
The next morning I was woken by aircraft flying overhead. Although I could not see them through the tree canopy, they sounded very high up and hopefully did not pose a threat to me. They sailed on their wicked way. I had a little food left but decided to push on as Dunkirk, now seemed quite near. I should have listened to my father who always said, "never fail to feed and water your horse at every opportunity."
I was getting quite hungry.
The truck behaved itself and I reached the road safely. The streams of refugees had dried up and it was possible to maintain a fair speed. Although getting through villages often took time as they had been bombed and the road strewn with rubble. The fields also had dead cattle in them. The German pilots were very trigger happy and would shoot anything that moved. The journey was taking much longer than I had estimated and it was late afternoon before I reached the outskirts of Dunkirk.
An embankment, with a bridge crossing a railway was ahead and as I approached it, some Military Police started waving and pointing to the sky, before running for cover. I pulled on the handbrake, opened the door and dived out through a barbed wire fence. Rolled down the embankment into a cabbage patch. The plane dropped two bombs, one landed behind my truck, the other in front but luckily to the left, just missing the road. Climbing back up the embankment I got through the fence and but tore my trousers.
The truck canvas cover was full of holes and torn by shrapnel.
The M P`s told me to go over the bridge and into a field. Park the truck and then, do as much damage as possible to the engine, so it will be of no use to the enemy. I was then to walk the rest of the way. Other men where there smashing radiators, breaking windscreens, and ripping out electrical wiring. When I had also smashed my radiator and done a good job on all the glass, I used some of the wiring to tie open the throttle. Smashed the oil sump, then started the engine and left it running flat out. I hope the Hun`s found it only fit for scrap.
Story Part 2
Dad and many more men hated the utter destruction of military equipment. Grown men cried at the thought of wrecking their vehicle that they had lovingly looked after for many months.
The Mole at Dunkirk where Dad tried to get home from but as there was so much congestion he left to go to the beach.
The Navy arrived and started to organise the beach, men were made to file down to the beach and into awaiting boats to be ferried out to larger boats.
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
As I prepared to leave, a tall soldier came over to me.
He seemed vaguely familiar but I could not place him. He turned out to be a driver from one of our supply platoons. While he was smashing up his vehicle his mates had gone on and he would now like to come with me. As I had no idea what the town looked like or where to go once we arrived, I was pleased to have some company. We had only gone a short distance when a Guards platoon overtook us, with a second Lieutenant in charge. This seemed to be our chance and we fell in behind them.
Every so often the Officer would fall back to the flank and joke with one of his men, then stride on to lead them again. As was bound to happen he eventually spotted two untidy additions to his troop and called a halt. He asked my companion what we meant by following his troops. My new found friend became tongue tied, so I told him we had no idea where we were going and knew that an Officer would have the answer and so followed them. This flattery pleased him and he told us we could stay, providing we marched some distance behind them, as he did not want anyone to think we belonged to him. Which put me very much in my place?
We followed them through the shattered outskirts of the town until planes could be heard. The Officer ordered us to take shelter behind some empty wine barrels, but I saw an open cellar entrance and dropped down into it, followed by my friend and two of the guards. This infuriated their Officer who ordered them out. When they did not obey, he said he would shoot and one round went inside the cellar, but luckily no damage was done. The planes dropped one bomb that landed among the barrels and another plane sprayed the street with bullets. We could hear them hitting the road and walls. After the raid was over and our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, we found there were two more men there.
They told us the planes would come back in about 20mins and advised us to stay put. The two Guards decided to leave and see how their friends had fared among the barrels.
There were four more raids and as the men said they did came roughly every 20min. As we were fairly safe in the cellar and having had nothing to eat all day, I ate my hard tack, as the biscuits were called, a little bully beef and a drink from my water bottle, that did not taste very fresh by then. I must have shown my displeasure at the taste, as one of the original cellar occupants bent down and pulled out a crate of Champaign from under the bed. We all had a drink and he said to use what was left in the bottle to wash up my mess tins. As there was no water, but possibly a hundred bottles of variously named Champers. Luxury surrounded by devastation.
Someone suggested walking down to the docks, as there might be a boat in. The oil terminal had been hit and a thick pall of black oily smoke covered the docks and beaches. We could hear the bombers but could not see them and they were dropping their eggs blindly through the smoke. The docks and slip ways were a mass of soldiers all fighting and arguing. Some drunken soldiers were firing their rifles indiscriminately and the Military Police tried but failed to keep order. One told me a small ship's lifeboat came in and men started to jump into it, before it could tie up at the quay. So many clambered in that the boat sunk under them.
I have read articles that said it was an orderly withdrawal. At that time it was a drunken, frightened, ill-disciplined mob. Later after the Navy came they imposed strict rule and an orderly evacuation was then possible. I am convinced, we all owe our lives to the way the Navy got to grips with the situation so soon.
We both decided this was no place to hang around and we came back to our cellar. At least we were safe from machine gun bullets. The house above us had three stories, but I was a bit worried if the cellar entrance became blocked. One of the men had found a N.A.A.F.I. truck in a side street. It was badly shot up, with the driver dead inside it. He brought back some chocolate, cigarettes and some stale French bread, which gave us a reasonable supper, before going to sleep.
We were awakened at dawn by a terrific air raid. The house was shaking and great slabs were falling on to the road outside. It increased my fear that the entrance would become obstructed, but with all the bombs and bullets flying around we were probably safer there. After the raid was over, we came out to see what damage had been done. The roof and top story was on fire, in fact most of the houses in the street were. It was time to find a fresh haven.
We had just reached the end of the street when the dreaded scream of the Stuka’s heralded another raid. We all scattered to find shelter. When it ended I could not find any of the others. I wandered around not knowing quite what to do, when someone told me the Navy had arrived and they were taking off troops from the docks. I hurried down there, but by now so had thousands of others. The whole dock area was crowded with troops, all fighting to get to the front of the queue. Then the bombers came over again, as they did at regular intervals. On the dock side Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer was manning a Lewis anti-aircraft gun and as every plane came in to attack, he returned there fire. By then he had been hit several times. When this raid was over he slumped to the floor. A doctor came over and said he should have been killed from the first bullet wound and it was his reflexes that had kept him going so long. A very brave man.
As there was nowhere to shelter, I decided it was no place for me to be and made my way to the beach. Hoping to find a rowing boat. I looked along the shore line, but it was deserted of anything that would float.
The dunes offered some protection from the bombing. It was possible to see and hear the destruction going on in the docks and undoubtedly the smoke of burning oil saved a lot of lives, as the pilots could not see their targets properly. The slaughter in the docks from the air, made the Navy leave there and try to take men off from the beaches. This is where the little ships came into their own. They could come close to the shore in the shallow water and take off men. As happened on the Dunkirk harbour, some men rushed the boats and piled into them and they became beached and could not move. Then the Navy acted. A Petty Officer came ashore with a Captain. The Petty Officer had an arm full of revolvers. He ordered everyone to leave the shore line, then counted out fifty men to come down half way. Then twenty-five were selected to move farther down to the water's edge. One man in each group was given a revolver and ordered "to shoot anyone who tried to get on a boat out of turn". One Officer did try and was shot in the leg. No one else did after that.
By now there were orderly files of men, reaching down to the water line. As a plane came over to bomb or machine gun the beach, everybody ran for some cover. Each man dug a hole in the sand, with whatever he could use, from pieces of wood to just his hands. When the planes had gone, I would look up and see the whole beach, with lots and lots of dead bodies, half buried in little holes. I was the only one alive. But after a couple of minutes all these dead men, would rise to their feet and form up in orderly rows. Being sand, I did not see very many man killed or wounded, as the blast was absorbed so well.
I was well back in the Queue and boats were few and far between, I decided to joined some stretcher bearers and Red Cross workers, taking wounded down to the water's edge. They were expecting some boats to come in from a hospital ship. The life boats would stay some distance out, because the water was very shallow and that meant stretchers had to be carried out to them. By then you were almost up to your neck in water, also your uniform and boots became waterlogged.
I did this on and off for several hours, until a boat came back with wounded still on board. They could not find the ship. The wounded were unloaded to wait until something could be worked out for them. The boat meanwhile would take un-wounded men out to any ship that would have them. I was still standing waist deep, holding the boat from grounding. As it filled up with men who had done nothing all day except wait for a boat, I decided this was my time to go. I could not get in as my clothes were too heavy. Meanwhile the boat had filled up, so I thought I would hang on the side and be towed out to a ship. A crew member sitting in the stern dragged me in to the boat.
When we reached a Destroyer it had its scramble nets over the side and we had to climb up in heavy wet cloths. A very strong Matelot grabbed my webbing and pulled me over the side. He then proceeded to take off my big pack and hurled it into the sea, he did the same with my rifle and when I protested he said "they made room for one more man".
I was sent down into the engine room. There I stripped off my wet clothes and dried them on the boiler. I was given the finest mug of tea and corned beef sandwich I have ever tasted in my life. When my clothing was dry I dressed and must have dozed off, to be awakened by the anchor chain being run out and asked one of the sailors if we had reached England. He told me we were still at Dunkirk, that the ship was now full of troops but top heavy.
Very soon after we sailed for Dover.
Story Part 3
Bombing of the beach.
The small boats.
Dad always said he came off on Wild Swan, Black Swan or something like that. HMS Wild Swan was at Dunkirk and did sterling service with its AA guns and her main armament.
TWHB Drew at Dunkirk
A Destroyer pulling in to Dover Harbour. This looks like a sister ship of HMS White Swan so this is how it may have looked to Dad.
The soldier in the red square is a friends father being evacuated from Dunkirk.
As the train slowed and stopped at stations after leaving Dover, people handed out food, tea and also Rum. All very gratefully received.
Hitler on the cliffs near Calais looking over England, the next campagne.
TWHB Drew after Dunkirk
TWHB Drew Dad circled it the Tunis victory parade 1943
Dad was sent to Lambourn, Wiltshire and billeted in a stable block with returnees of his unit. The officers charged many of the men for loss of equipment and the CO was very angry that rifles had been lost. Dad did explain what had happened to him but was not believed. The men decided to strike due to their officers who left them as soon as they could and returned to England very early on in the evacuation. A war Office party arrived and talked to all the men. Then the officers were removed and all new officers replaced. Life continued in Britain and he was then posted to Northern Ireland, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Eventually landed in Algiers and with a small unit went around all British units (British covers all Commonwealth troops) checking that their vehicles were road worthy and kept in good condition. This unit was under direct orders from the War Office.
Dad and his men at Bougie (Béjaï).
An anecdote: -
A command vehicle had a petrol leak and Dads unit passed it. They were stopped and asked could they help. Dad started to drain the petrol and told the General in the command vehicle “Could he leave the vehicle for safety” (this was the height of the Tunis battles). The General replied, “You continue working and I will stay in the vehicle and as I am fighting this battle”. Dad continued and repaired it.
Dad asked a local fruit seller to box up some oranges and send them to his family at home. He paid the man what he wanted. Dad was not too sure what he was paying fr but the a box oranges kept coming to Wiltshire every moth until the war ended.
TWHB Drew after Dunkirk
00 00 00
North African battles ended and Sicily was captured and then it was into Italy, Dad followed the armies tail to Italy. First to Naples via the Amalfi Highway very a narrow mountain road. The Germans had just retreated and many vehicles and men had been caught by allied fighters strafing the convoys. He said that American dozer´s were just pushing the lorries over the cliff edge into the sea.
Naples became his base area and he moved around checking unit vehicles all over the south. Canadian, Australian and New Zealanders. It just shows how diverse the British Army was, also Indian, Polish and the list goes on.
Monte Casino - Hell Hole, he followed the advance north and it stopped at Casino. He then watched the whole battle unfold in front of him as they could not move. Rome was captured and on up north. At a bridge near Florence he was stopped by an MP, (Military Police) and asked where he was going. He explained to a Canadian unit at such an such map reference. The MP said “Wait there and we will just capture the bridge for you!!.”
The war ended and a young WRAC lady arrived in southern Italy and started work at SHEAF HQ in the Palace of the King of Naples, Caserta. Dads unit was in the park and by then he was in charge (remember only officers were the real boss but usually they were nowhere around) of a car pool.
Mum and Dad married in 1946.
Dad's last rank was Warrant Officer 1, MSM, T. Drew, Royal Army Service Corps 29 November, 1945 and served until the end of the war.
Dads men in Caserta in large Romney huts.
Doris my mother. Italy 1945.
Palace of the King of Naples, Caserta, Naples, Italy.
Their wedding 1946.