THE BATTLEFIELDS OF MAY-JUNE 1940 – PART 1

by Phil Johnson | July 25th, 2011

Well, Thunder in May has been released now, so I thought I would start to put up a few posts that show some of the battlefields from the Dunkirk campaign. The reality is that there are so many places to visit that you could spend a good fortnight in France and Belgium and still not see everything. I have only managed to visit a small portion of the sites I would like to see, and will be going back again to tick a few more off. Here though, are some of the photos I took on a trip in 2010.

This is the reconstructed barn at Estlebecq, near Wormhout in Northern France, where almost one hundred British soldiers were massacred by the SS Leibstandarte in a cold-blooded and calculated execution. The pond where one of the survivors managed to hide is about one hundred metres to the right of the barn, at the end of the hedgerow. A modern sculpture now stands near the barn, and represents the struggle for peace in the world.

You can see the many Poppy wreaths that are hung inside the barn by the regular visitors to this emotionally charged site. The barn is set almost in the middle of nowhere and the surrounding countryside is peaceful and quite beautiful. As a former soldier however, I stood inside the barn and pictured what must have happened on that dark day in May 1940. It made me feel quite sick, to be honest.

I do not cover this particular war crime in the novel, but there is a dramatisation of an equally appalling massacre, this one perpetrated at Le Paradis by the SS Totenkopf. Once again, in this incident, almost a hundred British prisoners of war were summarily executed.

This photograph is of Mr Simon Whittaker (on left, a former Coldstream Guards comrade) and myself, standing by the wall that commemorates the fallen from the various Guards regiments during the Dunkirk campaign. The wall can be found at the British and Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Dunkirk itself. On this wall are many names that will be familiar to those who have studied the May-June 1940 campaigns in detail, and includes Major Angus McCorquadale, the Company Commander of No.3 Company, 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, who was killed on the second to last day of the rear guard action.

The grave of a Guardsman from the Coldstream, who fell in the same battle as Major McCorquadale. You can see that for a Guardsman, J Bennett was quite old. At the beginning of the war, particularly amongst the Guards battalions, the average age was quite high even for junior ranks. This was due to these battalions being an all volunteer, pre-war regular organisation. There were no conscripts among the Guards at Dunkirk. Of all the Coldstream graves in this particular cemetery, this was the youngest Guardsman I could find, so I laid my Poppy cross with him.

In the next post: Dunkirk harbour and beaches.

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Seelöwe Nord is the online home of Andy Johnson, a war fiction novelist. Seelöwe Nord is a war novel that tells the alternative history of Operation Sealion, the proposed German invasion of Britain in 1940. Followed by Thunder in May, and the recently released Crucible of Fate, the trilogy of War Fiction remains a popular read within the genre.

Andy has also started to publish small Leadership and Management Booklets drawing from his extensive experience across many sectors and industries, both military and civilian, the first of which is entitled Captains of the Gate and is now available for download on eReaders directly from Amazon.