The Belgians on our left were attacked and driven out of their trench line, and retreated towards Calais. The BEF left flank is, although entrenched, hanging in the air again. BEF reserve troops are at St. Omer. A request to the navy is made to bombard Dunkirk. A combined counter-attack will be made by the BEF’s left flank and the cavalry (reserve), supported by heavy artillery and naval bombardement.
Team Control Gloss
The BEF were using the fact that the enemy in front of them appeared to have gone static to rotate and rest their Corps. They also absorbed nine of the 12 available TF Battalions to bring all the Corps back up to full strength after the casualties from their previous counter-attacks and in the retreat afterwards.
Although the Belgian force was liaising closely with the BEF and drawing supplies from a secondary sea head established at Calais the BEF had not realised just how weak it was. It had a battered Belgian Division and a French reserve division in it, making it a very weak Corps (about 60% of the effectiveness of the BEF Corps). The Germans seemed to sense that this was the weak point, or perhaps just chose it because it was the seaborne flank. Either way they hit it with three fresh Corps supported by two heavy artillery units. The odds were stacked against the Belgians and their force simply disintegrated under the weight of the attack.
A roar over my head closes
from behind and drowns the radio.
Binoculars brought to bear, I observe
the seed embedding. It grows
a small orange blossom. Morphing
into a larger, darker flower
climbing from the point of impact.
Rain patters over the iron roof
as sods and stones strike sonorously.
The flower is gone, dissipated
in a cloud of dust, and silence
This was the first full poem that I wrote, and this is the fourth draft, which may not be the final version. It was prompted from the memory of watching artillery shells burst when training as an artillery forward observer at Warcop training area in Cumbria in 1991. On the FOO course I gave an incorrect map reference and the first ranging shell burst about 150m in front of me (the wartime safety distance is 250m, in peacetime double that). Normally you don’t see the orange flame of a bursting shell, I only saw it for an instant, and that most likely because of how close I was to the impact point. By chance the shell landed right in the centre of the field of vision of my binoculars. Needless to say this event was accompanied by copious swearing as I ducked back down inside the trench. That was followed by “Add one thousand, repeat.”
As part of my drafting process I read out the poem on video camera, so you can watch/listen to it as well as read it.
I borrowed this from the library and liked it so much that I bought my own copy. I found it very interesting because it is unusual for an other rank to write a memoir. Especially one where the author was a battery sergeant major who also had access to the battery clerk’s notes. So, much of the 1944-45 campaign is very well documented with grid references for gun positions, ammo expenditure and times of moves. It is a fantastic reference book for WW2 operations of a Royal Horse Artillery battery in self propelled guns.
There is also some of the human element to it as well. I was especially moved by the mystery of Gunner E T Jones who disappeared in the middle of a battle between the authors casualty evacuation runs. Gunner Jones was never found and is commemorated on the memorial for the missing at Bayeux.