Dunkirk 1939 – 1940

The 2nd Hampshire was originally based in Aldershot, but were mobilised when war was declared. They left for France as part of the 1st Division which formed a major part of the British Expeditionary Force.

By the 29th September 1939, the 2nd Hampshire settled into billets at Tilloy, Northern France, from here, they marched to the Belgian frontier. They reached Genech on 10th October and were billeted in the village of Machy. Major defence work was needed, there were some half-timbered, un-camouflaged pill-boxes and incomplete tank traps. The Battalion was tasked with building trenches, improving the old and building new pill-boxes.

After 3 months in France doing mainly manual work, far away from the hostilities, it was decided they were to man a section of defences gain experience in patrol and work in Metz, although this still didn’t bring them into action. On the night of 23rd/24th February 1940, the 2nd Hampshire joined up with the patrol of Grenadiers to raid the deserted village of Zeurange, but this came to nothing. The Battalion returned to Metz on 28th February, then went on to Templeuve.

On 11th May, the 2nd Hampshire moved to Tervueren as part of a plan to hold the Dyke from Wavre to Louvain. The Battalion took up defensive positions near the Louvrain, but the attack never came. So the Battalion withdrew to hold the River Senne on 16th May. Still, they suffered no serious attack, instead ordered again to withdraw, and continued to withdraw all the way to Dunkirk, as the German plan of overrunning France was going very successfully.

Disorder surrounded the withdrawal to Dunkirk, but the Battalion withdrew in good order. They arrived in Proven at 4pm on 29th May, having travelled over 45 miles in 2 days, under very difficult conditions. At Hondschoote they were ordered to destroy all vehicles and move to Uxem. On 30th May, Uxem was shelled heavily, but the Battalion held the position, and on 1st June was ordered to withdraw to Dunkirk at 5pm that day. It was a race against time; the enemy worked incessantly to cut off the Allies last chance of escape. However, the 2nd Hampshire reached the beach and took their place in the long, orderly queues, getting home via ships of every kind and arriving at different ports all along the coast. Nevertheless, the Hampshires arrived home complete with all their arms and equipment, and had suffered very few casualties.