‘D’ Coy 7th Royal Norfolk
Accounts of capture, St. Valery, June 11/12th 1940
The follow accounts are taken from the War Diary of Capt. J.P.P. Taylor, the Intelligence Officer of the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlands. The accounts were written in Capt. Taylor's handwriting but it is not known where, when or which men of 7th Royal Norfolk dictated the accounts to Capt. Taylor.
About 0300 hrs 11th June all transport held up in the road St-Valéry-Cany just outside St-Valéry; reported by returning troops that enemy were not far in front and it was impossible to proceed further. Decided to try and proceed on foot with 1st Gdns, who were next in column. Got men debussed, as road was packed for miles with vehicles and a most attractive target to any air attack. With two days’ rations in trucks, men had breakfast and then began to march southwest following 1st Gdns, About two miles from St-Valéry found 2nd Seaforths in village St-Sylvain to right of road, holding between there and the sea. One mile further met a Major of Lothians in a carrier, who reported that only a few enemy motorcyclists were anywhere in the district – no tanks. 1st Gdns took up position with Bn HQ at St-Riquier and one Coy northeast, one Coy southwest of Nivelle. ‘D’ Coy 7th Royal Norfolk ordered to take up position in a slight valley to the right of ‘B’ Coy 1st Gdns and join up with 2nd Seaforths. This was done, Enemy HQ being located in road St-Valéry-Nivelle, with ‘A’ Coy 1st Gdns. The three plns had some 1800 x of front and were lying out in the crops, which gave good concealment but of course no protection as tank attack not expected. Reported position to 1st Gdns.
About 12.30 hrs a Henschel recce plane appeared and spent about twenty minutes flying up and down and evidently making a thorough reconnaissance for an attack.
About 0330 hrs report from centre pln 2/Lt. Bett that tracked vehicles could be heard 400 x to their left front. Soon afterwards about twenty enemy tanks appeared, following the line of the coast about 300 x in front of the Coy’s positions, proceeding towards St-Valéry, producing a considerable volume of light and heavy MG fire in all directions. The centre pln AT rifle was sited on a low straw-stack and the gunner reported hitting a German who was sitting on the turret, and then hitting the tank with his next shot at about 250 x. The only result of this was that four tanks remained stationary, firing heavily at the Coy’s positions and beyond, and one then proceeded to where one platoon was lying and created appalling havoc, running over the AT riflemen. 13 killed, 17 wounded.
After the tank had gone on to St-Valéry the Coy was re-formed, now only sixty-odd strong, into a disused quarry about 100 x 50 yd,.and joined there for the night by 1st Gdns ‘B’ Coy. The wounded were meanwhile got in on a farm cart two or three at a time and sent by truck to the ADS (Advanced Dressing Station – I think) at St-Riquier Château. The quarry was a good position for allowing defence, being about ten feet deep with a wire fence round it, well studded with bushes. The CSM sent up the trucks and rations were issued to both units, the Gordons having had their few remaining ones destroyed by shellfire.
About 1830 hrs Troop carriers could be seen coming up behind a ridge 1000 x to the northwest, but owing to crops etc. it was almost impossible to fire effectively at them. Soon after, enemy infantry began to appear, supported by a fair amount of MG fire to the west and north, but meeting strong opposition in the village and woods on our left at Nivelle. ‘D’ Coy 1st Gdns (Capt. Stanfield’s Coy) and from us they did not press their attack but came round the valley to the north and west and fired heavily with mortar and MG on 1st Gdns HQ. This continued for some time after dark on 12th.
About 0330 hrs they began to attack us again, and from an OP in a farmhouse behind the quarry two or three detachments of about twelve men each could be seen digging in 300 x to our right front, to the north and northeast.
About 0600 hrs a message arrived from 1st Gdns, who had been trying to get in touch all night: ‘Retire at once’. The enemy wing digging in who could cover the route back to Bn HQ were kept quiet by some fairly effective sniping from the farmhouse attic, while the remains of the two Coys Gdns and Nfks returned by sections to Bn HQ, the route to which was under fire from LMG and a small field-gun, but the only casualty was Capt. Dennistoun Sword, hit in both ankles. He was put in a car but was subsequently captured. Bn HQ was found empty, and the two Coys tried to make for St-Valéry, but were surrounded by tanks and captured about one mile west of the town, near the cliff. About one Section with 2/Lt. King actually reached St-Valéry but were captured there.
During the enemy tank attack on 11th SAA was urgently required by ‘A’ Coy 1st Gdns a/CSM Robinson ‘D’ Coy 7th Royal Norf., volunteered to take back a truck to Bn HQ and brought it up under fire. Recommended for Decoration.
The Battalion reached St-Valéry-en-Caux by transport at about 6.30am on 11th July. It was not until nearer seven that the actual debussing point on the main St-Valéry–Cany road was reached. There the Battalion debussed, and it was discovered that only one platoon of ‘B’ Coy, 2/Lt. Gordon and Capt. J.C. Dennistoun Sword, were present. 2/Lt. C.A.L. Watt, 10 Pl. and 11 Pl. and all Brens and A/T Rifles had not yet arrived. Without waiting for them, the Battalion marched along the main road until it reached the crossroads at A. There ‘B’ Coy were left behind to wait for the remainder of the Company, while the remainder of the Bn moved forward after a longish wait, to take up positions astride the Cany-St-Valéry road, never having been received that the enemy were forward of Cany.
At about 9pm, as the remainder of ‘B’ Company had not arrived, the remainder of the Company moved forward to their position on the left of the road and facing west. The Company were on the right of the Bn sector. On their right were the 2nd Seaforths. Between them, however, there was a large gap, which was filled by ‘D’ Coy of the 7th Norfolks under Major Wilson. The Company were in position by about 9.30am, but only with one Bren gun, and no A/T rifles.
It was not until nearly midday that 2/Lt. Watt and 10 and 11 Pls. arrived. They had been directed onto the wrong road just before reaching St-Valéry, with the result that they had got mixed up with 152 Bde. No one knew where the Battalion was – this included Divisional HQ – and it was only by chance that they had met one of the Bn dispatch riders, who showed them the way. Even so, they also arrived with no LMGs or A/T rifles, having lost the weapon tracks in the mêlée in St-Valéry. Staff CSM Moir and Coy HQ were also missing.
Nothing happened during the morning and early afternoon, except that enemy recce planes were active along the front. At 2pm, however, the Germans launched a strong tank attack against the 2nd Seaforths, ‘B’ Coy and ‘D’ Coy of the Norfolks getting the right end of it in the shape of 30 tanks with no A/T weapons in the Company; only rifle fire could be brought to bear and, as this was useless, orders were given to stop firing. During the attack the Company lost two casualties only, being well hidden and in a small wooded quarry. Both casualties occurred in 12 Pl. (2/Lt. Watt), Cpl McGraw being mortally wounded and L/Cpl Forbes being shot in the back. The Norfolks, being in open ground, suffered severely, having about 60 casualties, mostly run over by the tanks. This left them with only about 20 men, so Major Wilson and Capt. Sword decided to make a composite Company, and with that in mind the remnants of the Norfolks was brought into ‘B’ Company position at about 6.30pm.
By 2.30pm the German tanks had moved towards St-Valéry and all was quiet on the Bn sector, although heavy LMG and mortar fire were heard all afternoon from the line held by the 2nd Seaforths.
Nothing of note occurred until 6.30pm. The time was spent helping to carry the Norfolk wounded back to the RAP. At 6pm CSM Moir and Bren Guns and A/T Rifles arrived.
At 6.30pm strong parties of German infantry were observed coming over the skyline and moving down towards ‘A’ Company. No. 12 Pl., who were the only Pl. that could see them, opened fire, which was returned. In the exchange of fire that followed, Sgt Shaw was wounded and L/Cpl Smith was killed. After about half an hour, the firing died down and all was quiet, although the enemy could still be seen congregating in the woods in front of ‘A’ Coy.
At about 8pm, Capt. Sword ordered 12 Pl., who were in an isolated copse, 100 x in front of the remainder of the Company, to come into the quarry and take up a position with the rest of the Coy and the remnants of the Norfolks. As a result of this move, a ‘strong point’ was made containing about 80 men, 14 Bren guns and 6 A/T rifles.
At 8.30 the Germans began to advance from the direction of ‘A’ Coy, and along on the ‘B’ Coy front, fire was opened on them at once, and the enemy retaliated with their mortars, none of which landed near our positions, although several of them dropped amongst their own troops. After about half an hour the movement on ‘B’ Coy front ceased, the enemy passing through on both our flanks. By then it was dark. The usual sentries were posted, and the men, who had had no food all day except a few biscuits which had been obtained from a farmhouse, settled down to try and get a little rest.
Apart from the rain, the night was quiet, although a certain amount of shell and machinegun fire from all directions went on most of the night. Stand-to was at the normal time, and after stand-down, rations having come up late on the evening of the 11th, preparations were made for getting breakfast. At this time, large numbers of men, whether ours or the enemy (owing to the darkness, it was not known which), were seen coming through ‘A’ Coy. At 7.30 a very garbled message was received from ‘A’ Company, ordering us to retire at once along the track marked B, to Bn HQ, and there await further orders.
Within 15 minutes of the orders being received, the Coy was on the move, being covered by the Norfolks. The moment the Coy struck the path they came under mortar and MG fire. Capt. Sword, wounded in the legs, was put in a truck and sent off to St-Valéry. The Coy moved on, and on reaching Bn HQ found it deserted, except for abandoned trucks, officers’ valises etc. There, it was decided to try and make St-Valéry, it being obvious that the Bn had left, and that we were in danger of being cut off by the enemy.
On reaching the crossroads at A, we met a pl. of ‘A’ Coy under Capt. Cobb; of the rest of ‘A’ Coy there was no sign. Just past the crossroads, the Coy came under MG fire from the front and flanks. An effort was made to reach the cliffs by going cross-country, but this was speedily frustrated by the appearance of enemy tanks. Thus, being surrounded on all sides, and further resistance being quite hopeless, it was decided to surrender, which we did.