70 years ago: the evacuation begins

By the end of May 1940 the evacuation from Dunkirk was well underway. While men were being plucked from the beaches, the rearguard were fighting to hold the Germans back to allow as many men to escape as possible.

Rifleman George Clements was killed on 28 May 1940. Aged 33 and Portsmouth, he was serving with the Rifle Brigade. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. The only Rifle Brigade unit to serve in France in 1940 was the 1st Battalion, who were part of the 30th Infantry Brigade, of the 1st Armoured Division.

Gunner Ralph Cairns was killed on 29 May 1940. Aged 25 and from Buckland, he was serving with 1 Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. His service number indicates that he had originally joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. 1 Medium Regiment were a Corps Artillery unit of Brooke’s II Corps.

Lieutenant Harold Asser was killed on 29 May 1940. From North End, he was serving with 4 Field Park of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial.

Private Thomas Sewell was killed on 29 May 1940. Aged 20 and from North End, he was serving with the 5th Battalion of the Kings Own Royal Regiment. He is buried at Les Moeres in France. The 5th Kings Own were part of the 126th Infantry Brigade, in the 42nd Infantry Division. As Les Moeres is 10 kilometres east of Dunkirk and was at the front line of the British perimeter it is believed that Private Sewell was killed in the rearguard fighting.

Sapper Francis Wiseman was killed on 31 May 1940. Aged 35 and from Cosham, he was serving with 59 Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 59 Field Company were part of the 4th Infantry Division.

The Royal Navy was also suffering losses while attempting to evacuate the Army from the beaches. 42 destroyers were assigned to support Operation Dynamo, initially to bombard German shore positions to support the Army, but gradually they were pressed into service carrying men back to England.

On 27 May HMS Wakeful carried 631 troops to Dover. While crossing the Channel she came under air attack and suffered minor damage below the waterline. She returned to Dunkirk, embarking another 640 troops on 28 May 1940. On 29 May she was torpedoed by the German E-Boat S-30. One torpedo hit the boiler room and the ship quickly split in two. Only one of the 640 soldiers survived, and only 25 of a crew of 110. One of the sailors killed was Warrant Engineer Harold Tucker, 37 and from Southsea. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

On 28 May HMS Grafton carried 277 men to Dover. On 29 May she hard returned to Dunkirk and was in the process of taking men back to Dover when she was called to assist the survivors of HMS Wakeful. Whilst doing so she was torpedoed by U-62. She suffered serious damage, and the Captain and one officer were killed, along with four men. One of them was Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class Thomas Kean, 26 and from Eastney. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial. The Grafton was too badly damaged to be towed and was scuttled.

Unfortunately it is impossible to tell, but some of the soldiers killed and who have no known grave may well have been killed on HMS Wakful and HMS Grafton.

About these ads

2 Comments

Filed under Army, Navy, portsmouth heroes, World War Two

2 responses to “70 years ago: the evacuation begins

  1. Don Evans

    Don’t forget that Boom Defence Vessel Cambrian was sunk with the loss of 24 lives near Horse Sand Fort on 30th May 1940.

  2. James Daly

    Hi Don, thank you for your comment. You’re right about the Cambrian, which I wrote about in my post on the small ships of WW2 a few months ago:

    http://dalyhistory.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/trawlers-drifters-and-tugs-the-small-ships-of-ww2/

    I’ve always had an interest in the Cambrian as I remember fishing over her years ago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s