The Germans invaded France and we listened to the news … we saw trainloads of troops coming back from Dunkirk. We were too busy mobilising to worry too much about them. In the middle of all this, we were told that we would be inspected by the King. We were duly paraded and the King, the Duke of Gloucester, the CIGS and several others inspected us. The next morning about 5 or 6am we entrained for France.
We went to Southampton. The ship was not ready so we hung about. I bought a Daily Telegraph and there I was on the front page with George VI. I wrote to the paper and they sent me a copy of the photo which I sent home.
We had a smooth passage to Cherbourg where we disembarked about 6am … We ended up in some kind of monastery. I was sent for and told I was to leave immediately, in charge of the advance party … I was given a Michelin map and told to guard it with my life, since it was the only one they had. I was to go to a place near Le Mans. It did not look far on the map, until I discovered the scale. It took us nearly 12 hours to do the journey.
Next day I was given the Bn area and I set up Bn HQ in a filthy pub. The Bn turned up late in the day. I was told to get cracking and connect up Bn HQ by phone with all the other companies. We got started and about 10pm I called a halt. I was told we would be settled for 2/3 weeks before moving up the line. The CO sent for me. The ammunition had arrived and I was the only one who knew where all the companies were located … The QM gave me 6 rounds for my revolver and warned me not to waste them as he didn’t have any more.
I eventually lay down in a field where my platoon was, and fell asleep. I was wakened about 5am by a DR with orders to be ready to move at 6am. I appealed to the CO and told him I couldn’t move as I had to pick up my phone wire which would take me 2/3 hours. I was told to leave it.
It was a lovely warm sunny day and we moved … until we entered a huge forest where we were sheltered from the air. All the way we were going through villages which were full of French soldiers sitting outside estaminets drinking and eating without a care in the world. My DRs suffered from the heat and the dust. One had bad hay fever. My opinion of the French, never high, went even lower. After an hour or two in the forest we set out in groups. It was dark and we had maps. We were heading for Conches … Our vehicles, about 10, had pin-point lights. My truck hit level crossing gates, neither my driver nor I saw them. Just as that happened, the ammunition truck went into a ditch. We got it out after a struggle. The driver was dead-beat having been driving all day and fell asleep … eventually we reached Conches.
We were supposed to go on to Evreux but finally were told to mount an all-round defence of Conches. All the French had fled and so the troops went into their houses. They pillaged the wine and some of my platoon got drunk. My sergeant was a tough guy and decided to sort it out. He told one L/Cpl he would knock his block off. The man refused to take off his tin hat and the sergeant … split his fist very badly …
After 2/3 days it was decided to withdraw
We set off marching and had no sooner done so when trucks appeared. We moved back to the Foet de Perch … Again all round defence. My DRs were dead-beat and the CO didn’t trust them so used me as messenger boy. I nearly got shot twice … These people were outposts and were slightly nervous having done it for real before. The German advance guards were on motorbikes, hence my problem [with being identified] … We were in the forest for 2/3 days, when we again got orders to move.
When we got to Cherbourg all the vehicles were driven into a field and set on fire. We then marched to the docks. I was leading the company when a drunken soldier threatened to shoot me with a revolver – the CSM knocked him out with a huge punch to the jaw.
We then embarked on an Ellerman line cargo boat, the jocks in the hold and the officers in the captain’s quarters. Food appeared and I ate one and a half tins of pickled herring. Never again! The captain was drunk or otherwise incapacitated, so the CO locked him up and appointed the Chief Officer as captain. We set sail in the middle of a bad air-raid but I was asleep and didn’t hear a thing. I woke up in Southampton.
 Dispatch Rider
 Company Sergeant Major.