War Diaries of K Battery, Royal Horse Artillery

1940

 

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Organisation & Officers of K Bty World War II

 

January to March 1940

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WAR

 

 

DIARY

 

OF

 

 

 

K BATTERY

 

 

 

ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY.

 

 

 

FROM

 

 

 

2ND APRIL 1940

 

 

 

TO

 

 

 

21ST SEPTEMBER 1940.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OFFICERS, AND THEIR TACTICAL 

 

 

 

APPOINTMENTS.

 

 

Battery commander Major R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A.
2nd in command Capt. D. Welsh R.H.A.
C.P.O. Capt. J.R. Kynaston R.H.A.
A/C.P.O. 2/Lt. R.M. Bremner R.H.A.
Troop Commander D Troop 2/Lt. J.F. Elston R.H.A.
G.P.O., D Troop 2/Lt. D.E. Tacey R.H.A.
Troop Commander E Troop Capt. J.M. Northen R.H.A.
G.P.O., E Troop 2/Lt. T.R. Watson R.H.A.
Troop commander F Troop Capt. N.B.C. Teacher R.H.A.
G.P.O., F Troop 2/Lt. J.H. Whitcombe R.H.A.
Wagon Line Officer 2/Lt. E.J.V. Williams R.H.A.
1st Line Reinforcements 2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon R.H.A.
  2/Lt. D.L. Benke R.H.A.

 

 

WAR DIARY OF K BATTERY ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY.

2nd April 1940.

The road party under Capt. D Welsh RHA with Capt J.M. Northen RHA and 2/Lt. D.E. Tacey RHA left for France. The journey was made without incident, embarkation being particularly rapid.

 

7th April 1940.

The main body under the command of the B.C. with the remaining officers of the battery left DURSTEY in the early hours of the morning for in training at CHARFIELD. On the afternoon of the same day, we embarked at Southampton, arriving at LE HAVRE on the morning of 8th April 1940. The journey was uneventful and behaviour among all ranks excellent.

 

8th April 1940.

Arrived at LE HAVRE where Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA i/c Advance Party met us on the quay. X truck driven by Dvr.IC Wilson was also there for the purpose of taking the B.C. to TOUFFREVILLE.

The Main Body disembarked and after having breakfasted and purchase cigarettes, etc., en trained for YVETOT where battery transport met them for carrying kits to TOUFFREVILLE in the vicinity of which all three troops were billeted. The journey was carried out without a hitch.

 

9th April 1940.

Organisation and cleaning up after long journey.

 

10th and 11th April.

As above.

 

12th April 1940.

In the morning, is it better list by road for BOIS GRENIER to which place the Advance Party headed by Capt. Welch had already gone. The journey was completed in two days, staying the night at a small village a few miles beyond BLANGY. The battery was billeted in the out House of a Chateau and spent a comfortable night. On this journey there was an unfortunate incident began skidding and crashing into the side of a house. No damage was done to personnel.

 

13th April 1940.

Advanced BOIS GRENIER. Battery H.Q. situated in a farm just outside the village with the Officers Mess & Battery Offices in the village about half a mile away. Detroit was billeted in MOAT FARM situated almost exactly on the old front line while E & F troops were informed about two miles away. The bullets were soon made comfortable and then quickly became accustomed to the new life.

At this time there was considerable tension in the air due to repeated rumours that the Germans were about to invade BELGIUM.

 

14th April to 2nd May 1940.

Life during the state seceded quietly although a certain amount of training was carried out. There was at least 1 Regimental Drill Order and each Troop had route marched during the night. Much was accomplished in creating an independent spirit among all three troops as Troop Commanders for the first time were able to take have complete control which included the own cooking arrangements. The Battery Commander looks upon those days spent it BOIS GRENIER as some of the most important in the training of the battery, as the independent training enabled the Battery afterwards to carry through more scattered operations with success.

 

April 1940.

Capt. Welsh was promoted A/Major and U/2nd i/c as junior Major in the regiment, Major Heath having left on promotion. Capt. Northen, Troop Commander of E Troop was promoted battery Captain in his place. The valuable work which Capt. Welsh had done for the Battery was recognised by all ranks. Capt. J.R Kynaston RHA, the C.P.O. was also posted to R.H.Q. as Adjutant. They were both greatly missed.

 

3rd May 1940.

The battery was detailed to proceed to GALAMETZ Practice Camp situated near St. POL for the purpose of carrying out the duties of Depot Battery for Shoots which could last two weeks. In addition to Depot Battery comma the B.C. was responsible for all Safety arrangements.

 

5th May 1940.

The Battery left by road GALAMETZ Ranges and was billeted in a village called GONCHY-SUR-CANCHE.

 

6th May 1940.

2/Lt. G.F. Elston RHA, Troop Commander of D troop was promoted A/Captain.

 

7, 8 and 9th May 1940.

Various regiments shot on the Ranges, including 5th Regt. R.H.A . Both G & K Batteries fired and the shooting as a whole was good. After having taken various things into consideration he B.C. considers that more detail had to be given out for the successful operation of these Ranges than almost any other anytime during the Batterys time in France. Both Brigadier Duncan and Lt.-Col. Durrand complemented the Battery on the way in which the Camp had been organised.

 

10th May 1940.

News of the German invasion of BELGIUM came through on the wireless. Instructions were soon received for the battery to return to BOIS GRENIER at once. We left about noon, the main having had a hurried dinner beforehand. The march was uneventful although German bombers had been at work in the front of the column. BROUAY and BETHUNE had air raid warnings as the column passed through.

 

11, 12, & 13th May 1940.

These days were spent in packing up preparing to move at short notice from BOIS GRENIER.

 

14th May 1940.

2/Lt. F.D.N Simon RHA reported to the Battery from 1st Line reinforcements. All ranks were pleased to see him return.

 

17th May 1940.

Orders were received for the battery to take up a position near TOURNAI which had been reconnoitred a few days beforehand. The Battery moved forward at about 0900 hours scarcely had the guns come on the position before orders received receipt at once to MARCHIENNES. This order was the beginning of the retreat. The Battery forming part of the Mac Force which was to protect the Right Flank of the B.E.F.

The B.C. and captain went forward to do a reconnaissance how long is the River SCARPE extending form MARCHIENNES and to St. AMAND with a view to covering various bridges against enemy tanks.

Late in the evening after a long march all three troops came into action not a single vehicle broke down nor was a single vehicle lost. In the B.Cs opinion it was the second most difficult march which the battery carried out during the whole operations.

 

17th May to 22nd May 1940.

Battery HQ was situated on the edge of the FORET DE MARCHIENNES, D Troop was action in the FORET, E troop in the village of WARLAING, F troop in an orchard round farm buildings not far from St. AMAND.

All three troops had a trying time from German bombers and Machine-gunners, though, luckily no casualties were experienced.

 

19th May 1940.

As no supplies could be obtained from the R.A.S.C., the order was given the all troops should live off the country. Luckily, the district was a farming one and there was plenty of food available with the exception of bread. The Battery lived on army biscuits from this date until it arrived in England.

 

23rd May 1940.

 The Battery left MARCHIENNES for the FORET DE NIEPPE which was looked upon as Anti-Tank obstacle. It was a long march and utter confusion appeared to exist in that place due to the fact that no proper arrangements had been made for the allocation of the various troops enter there. It was an unpleasant night, feeling that we were caught in the neck of a bottle an entirely helpless from German armoured attack and from bombing. Fortunately, we got out of it without a single casualty.

 

24th May 1940.

The Battery left FORET DE NIEPPE to assist in the defence of Cassel. En route, the C.O. of the Regiment stopped the B.C. and told him that K Battery less two troops was to proceed to the village of HONDEGHEM and defend that village at all costs against enemy attack. The B.C. collected a small Headquarter Staff and F Troop commanded by Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA for the purpose. As we left the Road to HONDEGHEM German bombers became very active and one casualty occurred. The remaining two troops continued on their way to CASSEL under the command of the Battery Captain. D troop subsequently went into action as a Troop whilst E Troop was split up for A/T defence.

 

24th - 25th May 1940.

On arrival at CASSEL on the afternoon of the 24th May 1940 it was decided that D Troop will take up a position on the slopes of Mt . CASSEL. At 2100 hours D Troop was shown the gun positions and by first light on the morning of 25th May the guns reported ready for action; the men having worked the whole night through making the gun positions as secure as possible in the dark.

 

25th May 1940.

Active preparations continued in preparing the defence of HONDEGHEM against enemy attack. The B.C. left to join other two Troops for one night but returned to HONDEGHEM the following morning.

 

27th May 1940.

In the early hours of the morning comma the Germans attacked the village of HONDEGHEM, a full account of which was subsequently published in the Daily Telegraph and is attached to this diary. The following Officers and W.Os were at the time in the village, the B.C. Major R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A., F Tp. Cmdr, Capt. N.B.C. Teacher R.H.A, 2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon R.H.A., 2/Lt. J.H. Whitcombe R.H.A., B.S.M. Millard, T/B.S.M. Opie TSM Gordine and the French interpreter M Charles HINSTIN. The following officers were with D troop; Capt. G.F. Elston R.H.A ta the O.P. 2/Lt. D.E. Tacey R.H.A. with the guns. No sooner had the guns off D Troop opened fire in support of F Troop than two guns were immediately knocked out of action. D Troop fought a gallant action and maintained the best traditions of the Battery. Both Padre Royle and Padre Rice and the M.O. Lt. D Hector Jones R.A.M.C. immediately joined the Troop and gave all the assistance and encouragement possible. The following Officers were in E Troop: Capt. S.R. St. John all right shake, 2/Lt. R. Watson R.H.A. E Troop under Capt. St. John did some great work. The detachments were isolated, but will always cheerful and happy. Capt. St. John was wounded while visiting his guns. The following remained at Battery Rear H.Q.:- Capt. J.M, NORTHEN R.H.A., 2/Lt. R.M. Bremner R.H.A. Capt. Northen had been a power of strength during the action. 2/Lt. E.J.V. Williams R.H.A. was with B Echelon.

During this action, the following Officers W O's, N.C.O and men were killed, taken prisoner or reported missing:-

 

Killed.    
  Gnr. Hindle R.C.S. (D). Gnr. Wright M. (Bty.H.Q.)
  Dvr. IC. Pinner G. H. (Bty. H.Q.).  
     
Died of Wounds.    
  Gnr. Hinton. T.J. (D).  
     
Wounded.    
  Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA (F). Capt. S.R. St. John (E).
  2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon RHA     (F). 2/Lt. J.H. Whitcombe RHA (F).
     
  Gnr. Ames G. (D). Gnr. Barnes L.    (D).
  Dvr. IC. Boothman R, (Bty.H.Q). Dvr. IC. Campbell T. (Bty.H.Q).
  Gnr. Faulkner R.    (F). Gnr. Gill E.G.      (D).
  W.O.III Rimmer J. (D).  K.I.A. Dvr. IC. Russell   (F).    
  Gnr. Tilling H.F.     (F). Gnr. Wells D.G.   (F).
  Gnr. Williams D.    (F). Dvr. IC. Broddie A.K. (F).
  Gnr. Byrne H.L.     (F). Gnr. Forman.      (D).
     
Missing.    
  Gnr. Adaway A.C.   (F).  K Dvr.IC. Armour R.   (F).   v
  Gnr. Foster J.          (F).  K Sgt. Heaton C.        (F).   K
  Dvr. Rastrick F.       (E).  K Gnr. Kemp. E          (F).   K
  L/Bdr. McVeigh. E.  (E). K Sgt, Pallant G.         (F).   K
  Bdr Soppitt J.H.       (F).  K Dvr. Bumford E.      (F).   K
  Gnr. Manning R.J.    (F).  K L/Sgt. Parker H.C.     (Bty.HQ).K
  Dvr. Poole. W.J.      (E). K L/Sgt, MCKay A.B.    (Bty.HQ).K
  Dvr. Frost G.        K (Bty.HQ.)  
     
Prisoner of War.    
  Sgt. Astrop. R.F.      (E). T/BSM Opie R.R.      (F).
  Gnr. Bennett W.       (E). Gnr. Clark J.            (E).
  Dvr/Mech Hunt W.P. (F). Gnr. Lockhart D.      (E).
  Gnr. Marriot R.D.      (F). Sgt. McGeachie W.   (F).
  Dvr. Paget W. G.      (E). L/Sgt. Pickford T.A.      (E).
  Gnr. Talbot J.W.       (F). Gnr. White B.           (F).
  Gnr. Barker S.L.        (F). Gnr. Berry G.            (E).
  Gnr. Crichton J.        (E). Gnr. Gadd W.G.        (E).
  Dvr. Hewitt A.          (F). Sgt. Lownsborough G.   (E).
  Dvr/Mech Muncaster G. (E). Sgt. Pilcher A.J.         (F).
  Gnr. Huntriss W.      (F). Gnr. Appleby F.W.     (E).
  Bdr. Beales R.          (E). Gnr. Davis T.            (E). K
  Gnr. Griffen A. E.      (E). L/Sgt. Howard T.A.        (F).
  L/Bdr. Lawrence J.    (F). Dvr. Murphy J.          (F).
  L/Sgt. Stewart A.      (F). Gnr. Westbury T.       (F).

 

Late in the morning our wounded were evacuated from CASSEL under L/Sgt/Sur Beacham who succeeded in finding his way to the Clearing Station on STEENWOORDEN under extreme difficulties on an unknown route in the darkness He handed over the wounded safe and sound and returned to the Battery in the early hours of the morning

            On the retirement of F Troop from HONDEGHEM, the day closed with a feeling among all ranks that the Battery had done its duty.

 

28th May 1940.

            D Troop was withdrawn from action together with two guns of E Troop and the Battery concentrated almost two miles behind CASSEL. Orders were received that the Regiment was to proceed to BERGUES to clear up a situation had the two guns of E Troop were to remain in action at CASSEL attached to 140 Regt. R.A. At 1600 hours, the Battery moved towards BERGUES (at this time nothing was known of the impending retreat and ultimate embarkation at DUNKIRK). The first few miles of the roads were clear and it appeared likely that we should go into positions within the area allotted to us. As we approached BERGUES in the evening, the confusion due to abandoned vehicles and retreating Frenchmen was indescribable It was only then that the B.C. realised that a retreat had begun. In his opinion, one of the most difficult nights (and we had already experienced the 1918 retreat) in the whole of his service was the experienced. Senior Officers, Staff Officers, and innumerable other people urged the Battery to abandon the vehicles and proceed to DUNKIRK. The Battery fought its way through endless endless abandoned vehicles until it ultimately reached BERGUES which was then in flames. Leaving the town was Major-General Thorne who commanded the 48th Division on his way to establish his H.Q. at HONDSCHOUT. He informed the B.C. that he advised him to turn round and having known the Battery at St. Johns Wood, felt certain that it could do so successfully. The entire column entered the town of BERGUES, turning round amid the glow of burning houses and from there, once again forces its way through innumerable abandon vehicles to HONDSCHOUT where it arrived in the early hours of the morning. As the B.C. collected vehicles behind the village, one by one other vehicles turned up together with the rest of the column and the Capt. J.M. Northen RHA who had done most excellent work throughout the retreat: the Battery was again complete. The Guards were retreating along the road where the Battery had halted, so the B.C. asked the Colonel of the Welsh guards where he would like the guns brought into action. He replied On the other side of the canal, covering the bridge.

During the operation rained throughout the difficult march, many of the men of the Battery could easily have left the column and made their own way to DUNKIRK as everyone else seemed to be doing, but nobody did this.

Sgt. Maddison's gun had a punctured tyre and in spite of the difficulties attached driving a Quad under these circumstances, the No. I refused to abandon his gun as he could easily have done. It was brought all the way from CASSEL to the last position where it remained in action until the final withdrawal.

 

29th May 1940.

            The Battery came into action on the other side of the canal supporting various battalions of the Brigade of Guards which are holding the bank, though later a battalion of the Duke of Wellingtons took their place.

 

30th May 1940.

In the early morning R.H.Q. & G Battery arrived. We were all delighted at the re-union as she felt that some of us must have been cut off. It was so obvious it was only a matter of time before we are embarked from DUNKIRK. Many other troops passed through opposition including the 2nd Regt. R.H.A. which been obliged to abandon their guns and vehicles much earlier in the battle. The great sadness of the day was that 2 guns had been left attached to 140 Regt. R.A. In CASSEL and that their fate was unknown. In the afternoon, the first party was ordered to proceed to the beaches for embarkation at DUNKIRK. This party was headed by Capt. Northen, 2/Lt. Williams who had been in charge of the B Echelon and 2/Lt. Bremner. It was also accompanied by Padre Rice.

 

31st May 1940.

The second party led by 2/Lt. Watson preceded to the beaches.

 

1st June 1940.

The Battery with B.C. (Major R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A.), Capt. G.F. Elston R.H.A., 2/Lt. D.E. Tacey R.H.A. with the two remaining gun attachments (Sgt. Maddison and Sgt. Addle), BSM Millard, QMS/ART Tribe, TSM Gordine and Sgt. Talbot withdrew at 4:00 am to DUNKIRK. The guns had been put completely out of action before being abandoned, the sight clinometers and the dial sights being brought back to ENGLAND by the Nos. 1. We proceeded in our vehicles along the road in perfect order and in rear of the column came Lt. Col A.A.M. Durand M.C. RHA who commanded the Regiment. Intermittent shelling and bombing was experienced. At DUNKIRK and excellent reconnaissance was carried out by the Adjutant, Capt. J.R. Kynaston RHA which eventually made it possible to fight for us to find the place for embarkation. We were probably one of the few units who drove their vehicles within 100 yards of the mole where they were abandoned and put out of action. The men were embarked on the Destroyer WINCHELSEA in perfect order and L/Bdr. Stewart T. was the last to come on the mole, having waited behind with the M.O. to tend the wounded, who were subsequently embarked on a hospital ship. After embarkation, German planes flew over and dive bombed heavily attacking destroyer on at least 4 occasions before reaching DOVER.

The arrival in DOVER was in perfect order and, had it not been for the stringent orders to the contrary, the men would have marched to the train as a Battery. As result, everybody got separated though it was after discovered that all ranks had been hospitably treated. All had interesting stories to tell when the Battery eventually reformed at SOUTH TAWTON CAMP, Devonshire.

 

5th to 12th June 1940.

In small parties and singly, all ranks of the Battery gradually reformed. We were able to take stock of ourselves And set our house in order. They were pleasant days admit beautiful weather. The men were able to bathe in a large pool which gave them pleasure.

 

13th June 1940.

Left SOUTH TAWTON CAMP for COLWYN BAY at which place the men were billeted with subsistence in boarding houses.

 

14th to 25th June 1940.

These days were mostly spent in doing physical exercise and barfing together with a certain amount of marching and rifled you.

 

24th June 1940.

Sudden orders were received for the Battery to proceed to eastern command for the purpose of manning 6-pdr. static guns for A/T defence. It was considered likely that the Germans would invade at any moment. The Battery arrived at CHELMSFORD and subsections were scattered along the G.H.Q. Line for the purpose of building temporary gun pits while the concrete emplacements were being completed in the line from DUNMOW to NEWPORT.

2L/t. D.E. Tacey RHA was promoted A/Capt.

 

25th June 1940.

Battery H.Q. was situated at THAXTED.

 

30th June 1940.

Battery H.Q. was moved from there to ELSENHAM and the men were billeted most comfortably in a house which had a swimming pool.

 

29th June 1940.

Capt. Northen preceded to the School of Gunnery, LARKHILL with a view to becoming an I.G. Capt. W.R. Holman RHA was posted from G Battery (Mercers Troop) RHA in his place. It was with great regret that Capt. Northen was posted away. His service when the Battery had been invaluable.

The following days were spent in preparing gun pits and it organising static warfare down to the minutest detail. At one time the Battery was maintaining no less than 15 different cookhouses. Great amusement was created by Gun Pit competitions. The detachments put up remarkably good shows having made all the own Gun Pit furniture. These pits were subsequently handed over to Defence Batteries and set a high standard at what can be accomplished in static warfare. They were pleasant days to look back on.

 

11th July 1940.

Major R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A. awarded D.S.O. in Times dated 11th July 1940.

 

1st August 1940.

2/Lt. W.H.L. Addison, 2/Lt. C.P.S. North & 2/Lt. A.C.S Gimson posted to K Battery RHA.

 

19th August 1940.

2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon RHA posted to K Battery RHA from hospital.

 

26th August 1940.

Lt.-Col A.A.M. Durand M.C. R.H.A. who commanded the Regiment since its formation hand whose example of fearlessness and coolness had maintained the highest traditions of the service was promoted Brigadier and posted as C.R.A, 54 Div. All right ranks greatly regretted his departure as he had been an incentive to efficiency throughout the entire time hand being commanded the Regiment.

Major R.R. Hoare D.S.O., M.C., R.H.A. promoted Lt.-Col and to command the Regiment. Capt. W.R. Holman RHA took temporary command of the Battery.

 

27th August 1940.

Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA awarded M.C. in the Times dated 27th August 1940. BSM Millard awarded D.C.M. and L/Br. Kavanagh the M.M. in the Times dated 27th August 1940.

 

2nd September 1940.

Battery H.Q. & E/F troop moved from ELSENHAM to MARKS HALL near COGGESHALL, E/F Troop taking control of 4 mobile guns 2 12-pdr and 2 3-pdr. D Troop moved two static guns into COLCHESTER, one into BURES and one into BURY ST. EDMUNDS, with a Troop H.Q. in COLCHESTER.

 

21st September 1940.

Major D. Welsh RHA took over command of the Battery.

 

 

 

A VERY GALLANT BATTERY AT HONDEGHEM

Of all the close range fighting play that took place between British and German troops in France during the last fortnight of May, there was no more gallantly contested engagement than that of the defense of Hondeghem village, a couple of miles North of Hazebrouck.  

Here during more than eight hours of continuous fighting on May 27th, two eighteen-pounder guns of the famous K Battery of the 5th Regiment, RHA held off the onslaught of vastly superior enemy forces. Gun detachments, often firing at point-blank range of a hundred yards, were in action all day until the crews were deafened by the noise of the incessant firing. Officers and men alike behaved with the same coolness as though they were taking part in a Practice Shoot on Salisbury Plain. The following count of the days glorious action has been assembled from three separate accounts of the operations suspired supplied respectively by two Officers and the BSM all of whom were in the thick of it.  

On the 26 May enemy forces were in full flood along the main road from Saint Omer to Mt. Cassel in their violent thrust to reach the sea and the Channel ports. Traditionally cited an immediately in the Direct Line of the advanced lay the little village of Hondeghem. To delay the enemy it was vital to defend this place comma and this task was allocated to K Battery RHA. The Battery Commander selected a small Headquarter Staff and F troop of four guns for the purpose. No infantry were available and the only additional Garrison was a detachment of eighty men and one officer of the searchlight unit.  

The village formed a vital outpost in the widely dispersed British line and its defence was far from easy. The armament of the defenders was restricted to four eighteen-pounder guns, Bren and Lewis guns and rifles. By the evening of 26th May, final arrangements had been made for the defense. Two guns were posted on the outskirts to come on the road by which the Germans would probably come, and two others were placed at strategic points inside the village. Bren and Lewis guns were located in makeshift strong points, chiefly in the upper windows of houses.  

The night passed quietly in atmosphere of great tension as scouts had reported the enemy force concealed in woods only four miles away. At 7:30 AM the lawn was received by dispatch rider that the two outer guns (I and J sub-sections), had engaged the enemy and had destroyed a number of vehicles and two or three tanks as they advanced down the main road towards the village. The two sub-sections, however, despite gallant resistance were quickly overwhelmed by the avalanche of a large of tanks and were both out of action and the crews captured or disabled in ten minutes of opening of the Battle.  

Such a setback so early in the day was a serious matter and all considerations were now centred on the defence of the village itself.  

Armoured vehicles and supporting parties of German infantry began to penetrate the outer perimeter of the vehicle and the two remaining guns were immediately in action registering hit after hit at short range on the enemy as they tried to place machine guns in windows of near-by houses. The enemy did manage to get one machine gun into action in in the Batterys cookhouse but just as they were about to open fire, L sub-section gun, gallantly manhandled under intensive fire with the same precision as though the men were deploying during a gun laying parade on the barrack square, put around straight through the wall of the cook house, effectively silencing the post. The cook-house was set on fire and all the day's food was destroyed, but the gun was knocked out and later the dead crew were discovered in the embers of the charred building: the remains of the German sub-machine gun and now a prized memento to the Battery.  

Another enemy machine-gun was located by K sub-section behind a large farm house which has served as a car park for the Battery vehicles. Although some of our men might have been there, it was essential to silence the gun at all costs as, if it were left unmolested it would have caused havoc enfilading fire. K gun was trained on the farm house and the first round was a direct hit bringing the whole place down in a dense shower of plaster and dust. Another four rounds were pumped in to make sure that the machine gun was not heard again. One British driver who was in the farm house had a miraculous escape and rejoined his unit little later the worse for his rare experience of being shelled by his own guns.  

Both K and L guns were now hotly engaged, firing at point blank range of one hundred yards using Fuze 1. So close with the Germans that the gun crews will being bombed by hand grenades but casualties apart from the total loss of J and I sub-sections, remained small, only one man haven't been killed and two wounded. Both guns were in very exposed positions but they maintained a very fast rate of very accurate fire and every round took effect. The utter disregard for personal safety shown by Officers, NCOs and men alike was magnificent.  

About 1 pm large numbers or German light and medium tanks were seen approaching Cassel and Hazebrouck from the top of Hondeghem church, which had been used as an observation post. About the same time, the enemy suspecting our use of this eminence, began to shell it with typical Teutonic determination and after twenty-two hits had been scored in 27 rounds, totally dismissed it.  

In the thick of the fighting one of our guns in error fired a round of smoke shell. It burst into village street and all ranks were convinced that the Germans would use the moment is covered for a general advance. The two gun detachments worked like galley slaves pumping in round after round into the smoke as a sigh of relief went up when it finally began to disperse, without the enemy taking advantage of the opportunity.  

Machine-gun fire was now coming from all angles and both the eighteen-pounders had to be frequently changed in position by their crews who manhandled them up and down the street village street and fired from all angles, apparently indifferent to the heavy enemy fire. Ammunition was also a difficult problem, but all ranks did their bit in carrying ammunition to the guns.  

In the meantime, help came from unexpected quarter. D Troop of the Battery, posted on the slope of Mt. Cassel, controlled by wireless, opened up a defensive barrage and so accurate was their shooting that although at one time their shells were fully within fifty yards of the two guns in the village street, not a single round fell amongst their own people. Unfortunately, three of these four guns were put out of action but the remaining gun continued to fire up to the last minute of the action.  

Ammunition was now running low and the guns could only fire every 5 minutes. The enemies activity, however, luckily seemed to die down a little while British drivers, armed with rifles, did some excellent work taking pot shots at the enemy from windows and excitedly making side bets amongst themselves as to who would get the biggest bag.  

At 3:30 pm it became apparent that the small Garrison could hold out no longer. Ammunition was almost gone, all food supplies had been destroyed by the fire at the cook house, no reinforcements, except once full detachment of Fide and Forfar Yeomanry, had appeared, and finally the danger of being surrounded was imminent.  

At 4:15 pm the withdrawal was ordered and the two guns and the two wounded men were sent off ahead and told to rendezvous at St. Sylvestre, a village some two miles away on the road to Cassel.  

The remainder of the little force followed later by different route. There was no interference as the enemy had apparently momentarily withdrawn from the outskirts of the village, leaving true two of their troop-carrying lorries ditched just outside.  

On arrival at St Sylvestre, however, the road running through the village was found to be held by German medium tanks and orders were hastily given to take up positions around the church, with a group of some 20 RASC men were found armed with rifles and Bren guns. The enemy were by now appraised of the arrival of the British troops and the volume of hand grenades suddenly started from behind the tombstones in the graveyard. Germans appeared on all sides and the troop commander decided that he they could only be dislodged by a desperate measure of a direct charge. Two parties armed with rifles and bayonets advanced round each side of the churchyard wall, each man shouting, has he been ordered to do, at the top of his voice. A terrible roar went up and the psychological effect was immediately apparent. Three or four Germans were shot and the rest throwing away their rifles broke in panic stricken rout.  

Both guns were now again brought into action from the graveyard and fired what little ammunition was left into nearby houses which the enemy was using a strong points. 1 gun was limbered up to its quad (four wheel drive) in order to take it to a more advantageous position, but both it and the vehicle were blown to pieces by two direct hits from a German gun firing along the road. The situation began to look desperate, but the men were no what disheartened and still full of fight.  

Charges with rifle parties made by small parties along the houses where Germans were hidden, and the one remaining gun continued firing until its last round had been expanded. As it is now getting late enemy Verey lights presumably asking for reinforcements had been observed comma, and it was decided to make a dash to escape. The men hurriedly piled into the remaining lorries, the one gun left L sub-section, was abandoned and put out of action, and the party proceeded down the main road.  

The way put was covered by fire from German tanks in the fields well to make matters worse, they had to turn sharp left and then right at a bend in the road where the Germans had mounted a machine-gun. This turn had to be done at high speed so as to afford the enemy as fleeting a target as possible. Excitement was intense as the first car approached the fatal corner and the hail of German machine-gun bullets. The first vehicle became ditched going round the right hand bend, but the occupants luckily were able to scramble into the third vehicle which got safely away. The second vehicle meanwhile had safely manipulated the first bend very fast but the driver missed the next turn entirely and went straight through the hedge and into a grass field. Luckily the ground was very dry and he was ordered to drive on and nearly ran over a German lying in the grass, who ran away terrified. As luck would have it, the road curved round the field and the driver was it was enabled to regain the road a little further on by crashing his car through some railings. All through this manoeuvre the German machine-gun was firing steadily and bullets were whistling all along round the truck, some even breaking the windscreen, the convoy the preceded in comparative safety and after a mile or so came across a party of the East Riding Yeomanry, who were astonished to see them emerge alive as a jester mined the road along which they had escaped from St Sylvestre.  

One of the cars was actually blown up, a 30 cwt truck, but the occupants luckily escaped injury and continued their journey on foot.  

In this secondary engagement at St Sylvestre which lasted two and a half hours, all ranks showed once again the greatest bravery and coolness which is all the more remarkable following, as it did, continuous fighting from seven o'clock in the morning. Thus ended an eventful day in the history of K Battery, during which the behaviour all ranks proved the value of long training and strict discipline. All through the heat of battle, the men took their orders and carried them out exactly as though they were on the barracks square at home. It was difficult to single out the achievements of any single man. All who took part fought not only for their traditions of the British Army, but also for the traditions of their regiment and Battery as well. The heavy toll was paid in casualties, but the gallantry of those who fell will remain for all time and incentive an example to all ranks of the regiment. 

 
Below are two hand drawn maps of Hondeghem and St Sylvestre

 

 

October to December 1940

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