70 years ago: the noose tightens at Dunkirk

As May 1940 became June, the perimeter at Dunkirk became smaller and smaller. On 31 May 68,014 men had been evacuated, including the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Gort. On 1 June 64,429 men were taken off the beaches and through Dunkirk Harbour. To give some sense of perspective, on 1 June 17,348 men were evacuated over the beaches, while 47,081 were evcuated from the harbour. These were incredible numbers of men – especially when we consider that thousands of them were queuing up on the sand dunes. Originally the hope had been to evaucate 45,00 men in total.

Private Norman Anslow, 21 and from Milton, was serving with the 1st Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. He was killed on 1 June 1940 and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 1 KOSB were part of Montgomery’s 3rd Infantry Division, in II Corps. Gunner Frederick Costello, 29 and from Southsea, was also killed on 1 June 1940. He was serving with 12 Battery of 6 Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery – a GHQ unit. He is buried in Marquise, France, between Boulogne and Calais.

Two naval tugs with Portsmouth crews were also lost on 1 June while attempting to take men off the beaches. HM Tug St Fagan had onboard Stoker William Clark (22, Milton), Stoker Frederick Hatch (22, Portsmouth), Leading Steward William Longley (44, Portsmouth) and Stoker Bernard McBride (40, Hilsea). They all have no grave other than the sea, and are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Their comrade Able Seaman Peter Panteny (20, Cosham) is buried in OostDuinkerke, Belgium. Her sister ship HM Tug St Abbs was also sunk on the same day, with the loss of Able Seaman William Cornford (41, Cosham), who is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Both the St Fagan and the St Abbs were 550 tons, a were launched in 1919. They were both sunk by air attack off Dunkirk.

Meanwhile several men died during this period and are buried in Dover, suggesting that they died of wounds received at Dunkirk, or somehow their bodies were brought back to England. Lance Sergeant Reginald Nevatte, (27) of 33 Field Regiment Royal Artillery (3rd Division) and Lance Bombardier James Thomas, (30, Hilsea) of 17 Battery 1 Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery (GHQ) both died on 3 June and are buried in Dover Cemetery. Both of their units had been with the BEF in France.

The evacuation from Dunkirk ceased on 3 June 1940. A total of 338,226 men were evacuated safely to England – an incredible number of men, who would prove crucial to defending Britain in the months ahead, and eventually providing a nucleus for Britain to rebuild her Army.

For many men, however, the fight was far from over. Many were starting what would be 5 years of captivity. Others were still fighting further south. Signalman Alfred Richards died on 4 June 1940. He was serving with I Corps Royal Signals. Curiously, he is buried in Cadzand, Holland – this suggests that he had been captured and died whilst being transported to Germany.

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

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