Torrid time for Black Country men at Dunkirk

By Toby Neal | Wolverhampton | Nostalgia | Published:

Forged by the Black Country, hammered by Hitler's panzers, evacuated at Dunkirk...

South Staffordshire Regiment soldiers from Wolverhampton area await rescue on the Dunkirk beaches.

The 1st/6th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, with many Wolverhampton area men, arrived in France in April 1940, just in time for the German onslaught.

They had a torrid time before retreating to the beaches.

See also:

Somebody must have had a camera, because a number of photographs exist of the soldiers resting by abandoned tanks and digging in at Dunkirk.

Stragglers from other units joined them, with the upshot that the Territorials of the South Staffs claim to have been the only unit of the BEF to bring more soldiers out of France than it took in.

Black Country men take cover by Matilda tanks.

They got away on various vessels. The destroyer HMS Esk evacuated many local men from the Willenhall-based D Company under Captain James Beattie, of Beattie’s store, on May 29.


Private Vic Nicholls of Wednesfield got away on the destroyer HMS Venomous.

"I was the last soldier to get aboard," he was to recall.

"We formed up two by two. It was properly organised, under absolute control. We came off in military fashion, in pairs and with our rifles.

South Staffords digging trenches at Dunkirk. Picture: Richard Pursehouse.


“A big sailor grabbed me under the arms and swung me on to the deck like a sack of potatoes. I will remember the sensation of hitting that deck to the end of my days. I slept all the way back to Dover.”

Private Albert Smith, of C (Bilston) Company, was just 18.

"It was chaos. We dug a trench in the sand and suddenly the bombers came over and buried us. We had to dig ourselves out with our hands," he said.

"After Dunkirk, I don't think we really thought about winning or losing. We were all so young, we just took everything as it came.''

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.


Top Stories


More from the Express & Star

UK & International News