The BEF start to withdraw

Bomb craters on aerial picture of Arreux

The village of Arreux, with bomb craters beside the roads following an attack by Blenheims of 82 Squadron, 15th May in an attack on German road transport- illustrating the difficulty conventional bombers faced in dealing with such targets.

Meanwhile the situation was rapidly changing for the British Expeditionary Force. The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders came into contact with the enemy for the first time and then found themselves withdrawing:

From the Diary of Captain R. Leah, 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders :

Wednesday 15th May.

About 9.30 a.m. the C.O. arrived with the message that “B” Company was going forward to Ottenburg to become Brigade Reserve. I went on with C.O., saw the new area, and the company marched up. Whilst visiting had lunch in the W. [?] mess. Ottenburg shelled steadily all day, but quite light stuff. Took Hughes up as runner. His and my first experience of shelling. Did not care much for the position. Kerr, on the right, was isolated, forward up the road, with Fleming behind him about 1/2 a mile and 10 Pl on the left. The previous Company had obviously left in a great hurry, not having time to collect all their kit. Company H.Q. was extremely comfortable and we looked forward to a good night. Did not keep any tpt [transport] forward except for the 8cwt.

Gunners put in a terrific show this evening. Obvious that the enemy were going to attack.

Called to W. H.Q. about 8.30 p.m. and told they were going to withdraw sometime to be notified later. “B” Company were under orders [of] B’s [?][space] and to meet their C.O. in the road on his way back. Got orders later. B’s and selves to do rear guard to Bde who should be clear by 2 a.m. Heavy fighting in progress on the Dyle, to our front, and great German activity. We were first Company of the Bn in action and the prospect of a rear guard action in a few hours made everybody pretty keyed up. Pte Rae arrived to say Peter Grant had been wounded – transpired he was only knocked out for a few minutes by a nearby shell.

Toward midnight one Company of B’s arrived back at Ottenburg – went through the order with him and decided we were not much looking forward to it.

Coy: 3 miles marching. Self: 2 miles.

Entry No.6, for the first entry see 10th May 1940]
See TNA WO 217/15

Captain Leah’s position was relatively quiet compared with that of the Durham Light Infantry where Second Lieutenant Richard Wallace Annand won the Victoria Cross:

For most conspicuous gallantry on the 15th-16th May 1940, when the platoon under his command was on the south side of the River Dyle, astride a blown bridge. During the night a strong attack was beaten off, but about 11 a.m. the enemy again launched a violent attack and pushed forward a bridging party into the sunken bottom of the river.

Second Lieutenant Annand attacked this party, but when ammunition ran out he went forward himself over open ground, with total disregard for enemy mortar and machine-gun fire. Reaching the top of the bridge, he drove out the party below, inflicting over twenty casualties with hand grenades. Having been wounded he rejoined his platoon, had his wound dressed, and then carried on in command.

During the evening another attack was launched and again Second Lieutenant Annand went forward with hand grenades and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.

When the order to withdraw was received, he withdrew his platoon, but learning on the way back that his batman was wounded and had been left behind, he returned at once to the former position and brought him back in a wheelbarrow, before losing consciousness as the result of wounds.

French newsreel from 15th May 1940 showing French troops advancing into Belgium and the reception of Belgium and Luxembourg refugees:

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