21 July 2017

CWGC's Scott Smith shares his family connection to the Dunkirk Evacuation

For many staff at the CWGC their connection with those the Commission commemorates extends to a personal link. From three generations of families caring for the Commission’s cemeteries and memorials to a family tie.

 

The Commission’s Digital and Marketing Coordinator Scott Smith first heard about his great-grandfather’s military history and part in the Dunkirk Evacuation at the age of 10. As Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk is released in UK cinemas today, Scott shares his great-grandfather’s story.

William Thomas Evans – Scott’s dad’s mum’s father – joined the South Staffordshire Regiment in June 1922, going on to serve in India, becoming a reserve in 1930, before being recalled on the outbreak of the Second World War and serving in the 8th Anti-tank Battery, Royal Artillery.

 

“I knew my great-grandfather had been lucky enough to escape Dunkirk via a ship we believe on 2 or 3 June, just 24 hours before the Germans swept in,” Scott said. “But my great-nan said she didn’t hear from him for two weeks after he went back to his base camp in Yorkshire.”

Scott says his interest in the military was sparked from a young age resulting in him visiting battlefields more than 10 times before the age of 30, and researching William’s military background and retreat from Dunkirk.

Scott said: “I went to Dunkirk for the first time in 2002 when I was 15-years-old with my nan and grandad on my mum’s side. Before leaving I got a jar and put some sand in it from the beach to take back home to my great-nan.”

In 2012, Scott discovered the National Archives at Kew held a copy of William’s unit’s diary, which he ordered and transcribed. Below are some extracts from the diary documenting the unit’s evacuation from Dunkirk.

“2 June – DUNKERQUE AREA – 2130 - 2359 – From 2130 hrs onwards to midnight the battery embarked in various ships and boats.

3 June – ENGLAND – 0300 – At various times during the early hours of 3 June ships arrived on the East coast of England leaving a strange assortment of men. Those arriving at Dover were despatched with incredible speed to any one of the eighteen concentration areas, irrespective of units. Stops en route found an army of volunteers issuing most welcome cigarettes, tea and cake. By then we were treated as heroes and no doubt it was good for public morale that this should be so. Nevertheless it was difficult to avoid the feeling, later experienced by Mr Churchill that wars are not won by evacuation, whatever the cause, and we still held the conviction that we were bluffed; we had suffered a major defeat.

So ended for us the Battle of France, and nothing brought home the reality of war more strongly, then the contrast of England’s green and pleasant land, as yet untouched by it.”

In September 2013, Scott and his parents returned to Dunkirk to follow the journey William and his unit would have embarked on in 1940.

“After transcribing the unit diaries we felt that it was only right to make a journey back to where he had been. Although I had never been able to meet my great-grandad, with him passing away in 1978, my dad had always spoken about him and his time at Dunkirk. It turned out to be a very interesting trip for us all – with us being able to walk along the East Mole and beaches where William may well have done the same,” said Scott.

 

He also visited the graves and memorial of the three men from William’s regiment who died while retreating from Dunkirk – at the CWGC Dunkirk Town Cemetery, Warhem Communal Cemetery and CWGC Dunkirk Memorial.

Scott said: “Although the unit was perhaps lucky to suffer very few casualties during the campaign it felt only right to pay our respects to servicemen who would’ve served alongside William and didn’t make it home. As always the CWGC plots were excellently tended for.”

 

Gunner George Isles’ headstone at Warhem Communal Cemetery, Joseph Henry Pass’ headstone at Dunkirk Town Cemetery and Robert William Britten’s name on Dunkirk Memorial

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