The BEF cross back into France

German half track with Flak gun

Mobile Flak (Anti-Aircraft) units with 20mm cannon provided protection for German transport

The rapid German advance was now causing widespread alarm. The British were falling back an recrossed the border back into France.

Edwards Packe was a retired Army officer who had been remobilised in September 1939 and was now Air Intelligence Liaison Officer, attached to an RAF Squadron in France:

May 23rd.

Woken up by Coombes at 0330 hrs who told me that we have to get packed up and started in 15 minutes. It seems that he had been woken up by some bombs going off and gone out to relieve nature and while doing this, had heard the D.L.I. Guard of a Corporal and six men falling-in.

He asked them what they were up to, and they told him that German armoured cars were imminent, and they were getting out of it because although they had an anti-tank rifle, they had no ammunition for it. We had the hell of a job to get dressed, packed up, and get everything into the office lorry, but we managed it in good time. Even my Ford car, which had been the hell of a jot to get going in the mornings, behaved itself, and we tagged in behind the Squadron which was just moving off having forgotten all about us.

The weather was just right for the occasion; the aerodrome itself being clear enough for the aircraft to take off, their orders being to land at Dunkerque if the aerodrome there was all right, but if it wasn’t, they were to fly back to England.

The Squadron moves off in thick mist but before we’d gone a mile, Charles remembers that we had not set fire to the petrol, so he and Faulkner go back on motor bikes to do so. They manage to get the petrol dump going and as they were coming away, they see the first German motor cyclists arriving on the other side of the airfield.

We move on again, with various maddening halts due to other units cutting in, and go through Ochtezeele – Pollezeele – Bergues, to the outskirts of Dunkerque where we halted. The journey had been a nightmare as the heavy mist had made the windscreen very wet and the dust from the convoy on the un-metalled roads made vision practically nil.

Read his full account at Edward Packe’s diary of World War II

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

Thursday 23rd May.

Very tiring march. Started at 11 last night, crossed frontier about 6 a.m. This morning arrived in Lannay approximately 7.30 a.m. Once again got good billets but as it later happened, we did not expect to be left in them for more than 12 hours. Could not get hold of transport for about an hour but had breakfast at 10 a.m. then slept for 2 hours.

Awaken to find French taking over from us and spoke to some of the men, appeared to be very cheerful and hopeful. They had come up from Valenciennes. Left Lannay at 8 p.m. en route for Bois Cysoing, embussing point.

Great news, we are going to area Armentieres for 48 hours rest. Roads full of troops of different units. Arrived destination about 11 p.m. thereafter spent very bad night. Mix up with transport and did not get away for an hour or two after rest of Battalion and then had to turn another Brigade out of busses.

Tony took over Adjutant today, and Peter went to “B” Echelon.

{Entry No.14, for the first entry see 10th May 1940]

See TNA WO 217/15

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: