Capt. J.D. Inglis' Account of C Coy.'s Capture
Captain J.D. Inglis' Account of the Action in which he was captured in 1940. Written for the Regimental history by George Malcolm.
‘C’ COY., 8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
5th - 7th June, 1940
For two nights before the 5th June, intense activity (motor) was heard from ST. VALERY, S.S. This was reported to Bn. H.Q.
On the morning of 5th June, 1940, ‘C’ Coy. were in the following positions. 13 Pl. (2/Lt. J. Gourley) and Coy. H.Q. (Capt. J.D. Inglis) were at the village of TILLOY, 14 Pl. (2/Lt. J. Mellor) was at PANDE, and 15 Pl. (2/Lt. B. Cheape) were in a small wood 500 yards in front of TILLOY, towards the River Somme.
At about 0330 hours, while on stand-to rounds, L.M.G. fire was heard from the (south east) area held by the 7th A. & S. Hdrs.
At 0430 hours, No. 14 Pl. reported by phone to Coy. H.Q. that they had opened fire on a patrol of enemy cavalry. The enemy were advancing in close formation. They were engaged by No. 14 Pl. and suffered heavy casualties. One wounded German officer was taken into Pl. H.Q. for identification. Later reports from No. 14 Pl. stated that the cavalry were dismounting and using the village as an assembly point. One or more enemy tanks were visible.
At 0530 hours, No. 15 Pl. reported large concentrations of enemy troops moving towards them along the ridge in front of their positions. Enemy advance troops were engaged by No. 15 Pl. At this time, and for an hour or two, O.C. ‘C’ Coy. was relaying by ’phone targets and information to the gunners behind. There did not appear to be any direct communication between F.O.O. and guns. Targets, etc were indicated from Pls. to Coy. H.Q. and were relayed.
At about 0600 hours, Col. Grant arrived with a Gunner Major (name unknown). At about this time, No. 14 Pl. reported being very hard pressed, and as unsuccessful attempts had been made to contact them by carriers,
O.C. ‘C’ Coy. asked that the village be shelled. No. 14 Pl. were instructed to withdraw from PANDE to TILLOY when the opportunity offered. This plan worked satisfactorily, and during the shelling and general disturbances, No. 14 Pl. got away almost intact and re-joined Coy. H.Q. on the outskirts of TILLOY village.
During this period, that is from 0530 hours onwards, the enemy was moving up the ridge in front of No. 15 Pl. They suffered heavy casualties from Artillery fire, and were at the same time engaged by No. 15 Pl. Solid masses of them were seen to break and later re- form and advance. Contact was kept up between forward Pls. and gunners, but about 0800 hours, some guns were moved out of TILLOY, and after this no contact was possible through Coy. H.Q. or Bn. H.Q. Messages had been passed through R.A. exchange.
About 0900 hours the village was in danger of being surrounded, and several casualties were caused by shelling in Coy. H.Q. These were evacuated.
By this time, No. 15 Pl. had moved into the edge of the village and were again engaging the enemy. It was later arranged to withdraw. This was done about 0930 hours and cover was given by carriers. ST. BLIMONT was reached at about, it is thought, 1230 hours, but it was found that the enemy were already on the outskirts of the village at one point. The Coy. took a line on the east side of the village. No. 13 Pl. got the brunt of the enemy attack and were heavily engaged with mortars and L.M.Gs. They had, on this occasion, some casualties. Again, all wounded were satisfactorily evacuated by truck.
At the time of arrival, Bn. H.Q. and wounded were moving out of ST. BLIMONT. The village was held for another hour or so until instructions were given by Brig. Stanley Clarke direct to ‘C’ Coy. Commander, that evacuation was to take place when necessary. Lt. J. Cameron, 2 i/c ‘C’ Coy., brought our rear Pl. followed by Lt. Mackenzie, who was commanding ‘D’ Coy. (the Coy. Commander having been previously wounded). ‘D’ Coy. from this time for a period came under command of O.C. ‘C’ Coy. with one Pl. of about 20-25 men from the Norfolks. ‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys. withdrew to the next village.
Again a line was taken up. The time would be approximately 1430 hours. ‘C’ Coy. was in position outside BELLOY, ST. BLIMONT ROAD, and ‘D’ Coy. were in position in front of ESCARBOTIN, covering another road leading eastward. Again, the enemy were close, and when ‘D’ Coy. were taking up positions, they again had to go into action. Even under these difficult circumstances, they were satisfactorily placed, and in conjunction with some machine gunners, did considerable damage to the enemy.
At about 1800 hours, it was found possible to issue some tins of food - 1/2 tin M. & V. per head - to all men. This was their first meal since the previous evening. Owing to the risk of being cut off as the exit from BELLOY was a bottleneck and enemy motorised units were already behind, it was thought safer to send ‘Q’ truck and other Pl. trucks back. They were withdrawn through the village and had instructions to make tea if possible, and send it forward. The trucks were never seen again, and it is not known what happened to them. Presumably, they joined up with Bn. H.Q.
Col. Grant arrived at about this time and said that our positions should be held, but there was some idea of holding a line further back. The position was at this time very vague as nothing had been heard of ‘A’ or ‘B’ Coys.
About 2130 hours, a message was received from Major Young (7th A. & S.H.) who had temporarily taken over ‘D’ Coy. with some stragglers, stating that he considered the position untenable and that he and his men were going to move back. In view of this, O.C. ‘C’ Coy. , after receipt of this message went into the position with 2 i/c Coy. As stated before, there was no news of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys., and as far as was known, nothing was between ‘C’ Coy. and the sea, three or four miles distant. South, the 7th A. & S.H. were, as far as was known, non-existant, and no contact could be made with anyone in the South. A/Tank guns and Artillery had not been seen since early in the morning. It was not known where Bn. H.Q. were, or the positions of reserve Bn. The M.G. Bn. (Northumberlands) had, as far as was known, moved back that evening.
After due consideration of the above points, it was decided that it would be advisable to move back and endeavour to get contact with something or someone. It was finally decided that this should be done. O.C. ‘C’ Coy. knew this ground fairly well as he had made a reconnaissance of it on the way up. No serious difficulty was anticipated as the enemy was still mostly confined to the roads. Arrangements were therefore made for withdrawal.
The move back was timed for 2330 hours. Coy. were all ready and forward scouts, etc. were already on the move when a Despatch Rider arrived and contacted Coy. 2nd i/c who was making arrangements at the rear of the Coy. No. 15 Pl. were late the rendezvous as they had a considerable distance to go. Had the D.R. been ten minutes later, it is very doubtful if contact would have been made. He gave a verbal message that ‘D’ Coy. were returning and that ‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys’ were to hold BELLOY and ESCARBOTIN. ‘D’ Coy. had been taken over by Major Young, O.C. ‘D’ Coy. 7th A. & S.H. after their arrival at ESCARBOTIN.
These orders were obvious and Platoons returned to the old positions in the grounds of the chateau. They held through that night and there was little incident of any kind. It was noted that the enemy troops, unless they were on the move, appeared to have a good night’s rest. This was, of course, not possible with a comparatively small force such as we were and being very much on the defensive it was always necessary to be on the quivive. This, of course, added to the fatigue of the men.
On the morning of the 6th June, contact was made with ‘D’ Coy. who were in new positions covering the cross- roads at ESCARBOTIN. These were fairly close to the positions held in the chateau grounds (300 to 400 yards). At 0700 hours, 15th Platoon were attacked. They were holding the outskirts of a farm some 400 yards East of the chateau grounds. This farm covered several roads leading from the East. This attack was very sudden and very violent. One carrier was put out of action straight away and 2/Lieut. Cheape had eventually to retire with his men into the chateau grounds. A second carrier had to be abandoned on the way and the Platoon had several casualties. This was most unfortunate, as some of the reserve ammunition carried in one of the carriers was lost. The Platoon of Norfolks had been supporting No. 15 Platoon. They also had to be moved back into the chateau grounds. In fact, there was shortening of the line right around the chateau and the remainder of the action was almost all within the grounds. Coy. H.Q. were moved into the chateau and a First Aid Post was started in the Drawing Room of the chateau. The enemy force, who had dislodged 15th Platoon, were engaged by ‘D’ Coy. who later were forced to join ‘C’ Coy. within the chateau grounds. After this, it may be said that we were not really holding the roads and were really only an island of resistance, causing nuisance value and occupation of enemy troops surrounding the chateau. There were, however, occasions when it was possible to harass enemy vehicles and on one occasion a motor-bike and side-car were captured and taken into the chateau grounds.
During the remainder of the morning, it was found possible to improve the positions but it was realised that the men were getting weak from want of food and sleep. It was therefore decided to hold a conference and the position was discussed at length. It was fairly obvious, by this time that the Coy. were well and truly surrounded and that there was little, if any, chance of being relieved even though there were spasmodic bursts of firing from the distance. It was also fairly obvious that after the night of the 6th the men would not be fit to undertake any break-out and of course enemy forces were getting stronger as time went on. O.C. ‘C’ Coy. was in favour of getting some men back or, at least, making an attempt. The idea was that some or all of ‘D’ Coy. should try to get out but Major Young and Lieut. Mackenzie both stated that they would stand by ‘C’ Coy. and it was decided in the end to send back only two suitable men with a message to Bn. H.Q. stating what the position was. These men (Rennie and Cpl. Michael) succeeded that night in getting through the enemy and reported some days later at LE TREPORT.
Incidentally, that same morning Rennie endeavoured to take a message back by motor cycle but ran into a German picket and was only able to make a hasty retreat for the chateau.
During that afternoon, the chateau was attacked twice and there was considerable fighting in the woods around the chateau in which the enemy suffered heavy casualties. Several attempts were made by No. 15 Pl. to try and locate an enemy mortar, but this was not successful. During this period, Lieut. Cameron was making all possible efforts to find food and a meal was provided (the only one that day). It consisted of a tablespoonful per man of a mixture of turnip and bad potatoes. An effort was made to find two cows which had been grazing around the chateau in the early morning but these, unfortunately, were not to be found.
Just before dark, six tanks took up positions on the north side of the chateau grounds. These were engaged with machine gun fire on the Norfolks. Little damage was done to them, but they appeared not to like L.M.G. fire when there were any tracer bullets present. After this, the Germans put up a fire-work display over the chateau presumably as a signal indicating that the position was held by the enemy. The following night was quiet with the exception of intermittent firing and a few bombs. The two men selected to go back to Bn. H.Q. were given a route and left through ‘D’ Coy. at about 2200 hours.
Next morning, the 7th June, the enemy did not move until 0700 hours when they brought increased mortar fire on to the chateau grounds and it was obvious that they had reinforcements. It is said in a letter received from home, source of information unknown, that there was an enemy force of 1,500 infantry, 20 tanks, 10 armoured cars and two field guns surrounding the chateau. later, it was possible to issue a meal to the men of one cooked preserved egg and a lump of sugar each with a mouthful of cocoa for some.
At about 1100 hours, mortar fire (again of increased intensity) was opened up and the chateau was hit several times making it necessary to move all the wounded to the cellars. Actually they were using light field guns as well as mortars. The kitchen and the pantry were in the east end of the chateau. In the pantry, Lieut. Cameron had stored quite a considerable number of cans of bottled fruit which were to be issued to the wounded. These, unfortunately, were lost owing to a direct hit by one of the light enemy field guns.
The enemy attacked following one of these bombardments, but this failed and there was a lull till 1500 hours when even more intense mortar firing started - about 20 bombs per minute. Previously, we had copied with the mortar bombardments by moving the positions of the Platoons and in some cases bringing them right into the chateau. This had been fairly effective, and kept casualties comparatively low, but this last bombardment was so searching that Platoons were almost all finally driven into the chateau itself and casualties at this stage were very heavy and it was obvious that once most of the men were in the chateau it was just a matter of time. A quick decision was therefore made by the O.C. 'C' Coy. and the order to "Cease Fire" was given. This has frequently been regretted but the position was that after the enemy discontinued their attacks, the men in the grounds and the chateau were purely targets and had nothing to hit back with. The few available bombs were used early in the action and as the enemy were behind the walls and in houses overlooking the chateau grounds 50 to 100 yards away, they had sitting targets and little could be done against them with L.M.Gs. and rifles. It is not known exactly what the casualties were on either side. Fourteen of our men were buried in the grounds immediately after the action. At one period there were fifty wounded in the cellar but the exact number of wounded is not known. Enemy casualties were stated to be heavy. Our wounded were very quickly evacuated by the Germans less than an hour after the "Cease Fire".
Some of my own observations are:- almost the only definite order I received during the action was that we should hold the position at the chateau. This order was supposed, at the time, to come from the Brigade. Since returning home, I have been informed that it did not come from our own Brigade but from 154 Brigade and it has been suggested that the order was not meant to convey that the position should be held till further orders. In any case, I acted on them and made arrangements accordingly although it was apparent latterly that there would be no further orders and that one had to act on one own's initiative. On the 6th, the second day in the chateau, we thought we were unlikely to be relieved and several discussions were held, always with the same results that Officers wished to see things through together and it was arranged that a final stand would be made in the chateau. The Officers and men were in a very exhausted state. Before the action started at dawn on the morning of the 5th, they had been on the move for some weeks and during the days before the attack, they had been very much on the quivive as we were so thin on the ground. After the action started, they had only one reasonable meal and little or no sleep.
The Officers and men with almost no exceptions fought splendidly under most trying conditions. Everything and everybody functioned well even though they were a rather mixed lot - 'C' and 'D' Coys. with some stragglers from 7th A. & S.H., a section of Carriers and a Platoon of Norfolks. Lack of food and sleep were the biggest limiting factors. What few bombs we had were quickly used and as long as the enemy attacked through the woods, we could cope with them but they gave this up as being too costly. As indicated previously, once we became merely targets, I saw the prospect of most of my Officers and men being killed or wounded and achieving no objective (except Glory). It should be noted that at this time we were among pioneers of what appeared to be a mass surrender. This has been one of the features of this War but at the time we did not know about this and it appeared to us a dreadful thing to have done. But from the events happening during the War, I now feel that we probably did the only reasonable thing under the circumstances and brought no discredit on the Regiment.