When war was declared on 1st September 1939 Britain reluctantly sent another expeditionary force to France & Belgium as we had in August 1914, and men who had served as part of that original force in 1914 would have been quite familiar with their surroundings the second time around ! There followed a period of inactivity which became known as the "Phoney War" during which Britain's army dug-in and built numerous concrete defensive bunkers across France. France in the meantime had reposed her faith in the Maginot Line, but there was one fatal flaw in their dispositions - it didn't defend the border around the area of the Ardennes Forest. French military war games had calculated it would take an attacker ( Germany ) a minimum of 9-10 days to penetrate the dense woodland with sufficient force to become a threat, and this would give the French ample time to counter this. In reality it took Guderian's panzers just 57 hours ! On the 12th May 1940 the phoney war became a nightmare reality.
The subsequent fighting was of a vicious, brutal and confused nature, with woefully inadequate communications between allies, and even between our own army units. The British Commanding officer on the ground was General Lord Gort, VC. In the face of opposition from the war cabinet, in the formidable personna of Churchill, Gort had difficult decisions to make. By 6pm on the night of 25th May he had decided to withdraw the BEF to Dunkirk for eventual evacuation to England, a brave personal decision to which the force owed its eventual survival. Our tour picks up the retreat as the BEF made its way back along the corridor to its eventual escape from the beaches and the Mole at Dunkirk.
We begin our tour at Beford House CWGC on the outskirts of Ypres from where the BEF were establishing a defensive stop position, and this was the site of a field ambulance. There are graves of many of those killed during the fighting in this area.
Next stop is Mont Cassel, site of Lord Gort's last HQ "on the ground" and we discuss the defence of this most important "Halt" by the 4/Ox & Bucks and the 2/Glosters.
One can appreciate the strategic importance of this position from the top of the hill and gain an understanding of the importance of the high ground, as well as be able to have an overview of the battlefield. Also here is a superb statue to Marshall Foch, Great War leader of the French forces.
Lunch in Cassel.
Next stop on our journey is the bunker at the Peckel crossroads at Hardifort. This was an important strategic position dominating, as it does, the vital road out of Cassel towards the coast. There is a wonderful story of heroism connected with the defence of this bunker so typical of the gallantry and self-sacrifice which typifies the BEF in retreat.
Moving on the Wormhoudt and Esquelbecq we encounter the dark side of the retreat and look at the infamous massacre of British troops by men of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler SS regiment.
Men from the 2/Royal Warwicks, the 4/Cheshires and elements from the Royal Artillery were herded into this cow milking shed and brutally massacred by men from the LAH SS. No-one was ever brought to book for this atrocity. Later in the war the site became an airstrip. The little barn was demolished but has now been re-built and is now a site of remembrance.
Moving on, the next stop is the CWGC at Esqeulbecq, final resting place of many of those killed by the LAH. Among them is Sgt.Maj. W Moore and Sgt. Gus Jennings, both of whom sacrificed themselves in the early stages of the massacre by throwing themselves onto grenades thrown into the barn by their captors. The dead had originally been buried in the field adjacent to the barn but were later moved to the local CWGC. Many are still missing.
Following the route taken by many of the BEF we arrive at an important stop position, the medieval town of Bergues. Here the BEF had established a position along the north bank of the Bergues-Veurne canal. We visit the site of action of Capt. Ervine-Andrews VC of the 1/East Lancs, and later hear the tale of the defence of the perimeter by the 2/Coldstream Guards and the story of Jimmy Langley.
Inevitably, we reach the most iconic of sites, the beaches at Bray Dunes. It was here, along with the beaches at Malo Les Bains and La Panne that the majority of those taken off by the small ships embarked.
We end the day at the town of Dunkirk itself. No trip would be complete without a visit to the marvellous evacuation museum situated in one of the old bastions overlooking the harbour, followed by a walk to the new Mole.
A most appropriate place to end our tour is the Dunkirk Memorial and CWGC, with its splendid etched glass window and Memorial to the Missing. Time is set aside for reflection and the laying of suitable tributes, if desired.
Accomodation will be in one of the many 3* hotels in Dunkirk.
Prices are per person and start from, assuming two persons sharing:
Two Days £679
Three Days £849
Single room supplements of £30 will apply. This is a charge made by the hotel and beyond my control. For daytrips, or any other questions, please contact me on: email@example.com, or call 01842 862014, or write to: Past Endeavours, 18, Pashford Close, Lakenheath, Suffolk IP27 9ED