The 7th Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment in France 1940

The 7th Battalion sailed from Southampton on 14th January, 1940 and disembarked at Le Havre in a heavy snow-storm. From there 144 Brigade moved north to the Belgian front. However when the 7th Battalion reached at Le Forest, it received orders to remain in the north and replace the 2nd Royal Warwickshires in the 5th Brigade, 2 Division. The other two units in the Brigade were the 2nd Dorsets and 1st Cameron Highlanders.

On 5th February the Battalion marched from Le Forest to Rumegies. There companies took up defended positions on the Frontier in pill-boxes and block-houses of the “Gort” line. These positions were subsequently never defended. There followed a period of intense training , while Battalion Headquarters were occupied with plans for the defence of the “Gort” line. One of these, Plan “D,” which in the event was to be used in the subsequent action, involved an advance to the river Dyle.

On the of 28th February the Battalion marched to Agny. The men settled into billets and on 2nd March a start was made in earnest with Platoon training. This continued until 24th March. There followed Brigade and Divisional Exercises from 25th to 27th March, and on 1st April the Battalion returned to Rumegies.

On 9th April the Germans invaded Norway, and the following morning the Brigade returned to Rumegies. On 10th May Germany invaded the Low Countries. Plan “D” which was now put into operation allowed for a movement forward, and accordingly on the 12 May the Battalion set out, crossing the Belgian frontier at Howardries. 4 and 6 Brigades were to hold the line of the River Dyle with 5 Brigade in reserve, the Battalion digging in behind the river just north of Genval.

By 14th May refugees were streaming back from the forward areas. On 15th May the Battalion were ordered to occupy the line L’Argent–Le Grand Etaing, where a Belgian anti-tank obstacle provided a framework for defence. On 16th May a warning order was received indicating that the B.E.F. were to withdraw that night to the line of the River Dendre, 5 Brigade acting as rear-guard to 2 Division, with the 1st Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry coming under command, the withdrawal being covered by 4/7 Dragoon Guards. The Battalion with the Dorsets withdrew to the line of the River Dyle, while the other two Battalions moved farther back into the Forest de Soignies to hold the Corps check line. At 0100 hours on 17th May the withdrawal of 7th Worcestershire and 2nd Dorsets was carried out over the concrete road bridge at La Hulpe and back into the Forest de Soignies, the sappers blowing the bridge as the last platoon was over.
For the 7th Worcestershire the next ten days was a nightmare of confusion which was the experience of every battalion of the British Army in the retreat to Dunkirk. As soon as opportunities occurred to stand and fight the enemy, the flanks were yielding and orders to break off an engagement and withdraw would be received.

The Battalion halted briefly at Grammont on 18th May then the retreat continued. The orders were to march to Tournai, 2 Division having now been ordered to withdraw to the line of the River Escaut. Eventually a position in some factories by the River Escault was occupied, only to be followed on 20th May by the order to make for Guignies. The roads were chaotic so the Battalion struck across country to Guignies and were caught by shell fire and lost two officers and thirty-one men killed and wounded.
That night, orders were received to push on to Wez-Velvain, where they were to relieve 8th Worcestershire in 144 Brigade. On 22nd May a move on to Bruyelles was ordered. The move could only be made at night, and when dawn broke the following day the Battalion was in a difficult position with “B” Company isolated in front of Amtoing in the sector held by the Camerons. Somehow the following night the Battalion was extricated, and the next day the move brought the Brigade back to the “Gott” line in the vicinity of Mouchin.

The retreat continued the following night, through Sedin into the La Bassee district. A position near Givenchy was occupied along the bank of the La Bassee canal from the bridge over the canal in front of Givenchy on the right to some lock gates two and a half miles away on the left. “B” Company was now so weak that the Commanding Officer decided to keep its two remaining platoons under his direct control, with “D,” “A” and “C” Companies up. On the right “D” Company under Captain J. Tomkinson was in touch with the Dorsets. But on the left and in the centre “C” and “A” Company positions remained obscure, though “C” Company were in touch with the Camerons. It was in attempting to trace “A” Company that the Commanding Officer’s truck ran into machine-gun fire. The Commanding Officer escaped injury, but the three officers with him received wounds and injuries.

The Germans had penetrated “C” and “A” Company positions, and an attempted counter-attack by the two platoons of “B” Company could make no progress. “A” Company had in fact been overwhelmed. At dusk on 25th May with the Battalion in a very precarious and exposed position. The enemy tanks appeared and opened up on B company. By now heavy casualties had been sustained. Six of the ten Bren carriers had been knocked out. Early on the morning of 26th May a message from Captain Tomkinson came in saying that “C” Company was completely surrounded, but that he was hanging on as long as possible, and in this situation a sorely wounded battalion fought on through the following morning. In the afternoon a message came in from the Brigadier to break off the engagement. The forward companies could only be left to their fate and the remnants of the reserve company and Headquarters were all that were mustered for the final move to Dunkirk. On the night of 28th May, Lavantie was reached. By now the transport had destroyed their trucks and so a small party, consisting of the Commanding Officer, two officers (Lieut. R. H. K. Evers and Lieut. G. P. P. Chesshire) and some 150 other ranks, in answer to a last call from Brigade, made for the north.

The rendezvous named being St. Jan sur Bitzen. On reaching there, 1 Division H.Q. were able to direct the party on to Dunkirk.
On reaching Dunkirk on the evening of 30th May, the Area Commandant was anxious to get the small party away as soon as possible owing to the food shortage; and remnants of 7th Worcestershire on 31st May walked along the sea wall and waited for the first boat to come in.
Later another party under Major T. G. Vale, and one under Captain J. W. Tomkinson with 2nd Dorsets, arrived and embarked. Out of a total of 800, approximately 250 men were killed and wounded and another 150 remained as prisoners, some 400 men finding their way out of Dunkirk.
On 6th June 1940 a small nucleus arrived at Dewsbury, in Yorkshire. On 14th June a large draft of fifteen officers and 210 other ranks arrived, to be followed by one officer and 165 other ranks on 15th June.