Churchill stiffens British resolve

German troops were apparently welcomed in some parts of Belgium

In London Lord Ismay had become Churchill’s military assistant and staff officer. He noted in his diary the effects of Churchill taking command:

The change in leadership may have given rise to a few misgivings in Whitehall. There is a type of senior official, both civil and military, who get more and more set in their ways as they ascend the ladder of promotion. These able, upright, worthy men do not like the even tenor of their lives disturbed, and resent dynamic ministerial control. This is precisely what they were likely to suffer at Churchill’s hands.

But whatever misgivings there were in Whitehall, the nation as a whole acclaimed his leadership with enthusiasm. Almost overnight the British public took him to their hearts. Here was a man who they understood and who understood them; a man who would not be content with merely warding off the enemy’s blows, but would ‘give it them back’ with all the power at his command.

See The Memoirs of General Lord Ismay.

Churchill’s made energetic attempts to bolster the French resistance, but was dismayed by their defeatism. Meanwhile the Germans continued to press on in Belgium.

Belgian prisoners of war
German troops examine a Belgian tank

Across Belgium the British Expeditionary Force was still trying to fall back in some order:

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

Friday 17th May

Coy H. Q. in stables in racecourse grounds. Did not get back from conference till 2 a.m. and stood to at 3.30 a.m. so not very much sleep. Battalion position on main road round race course. “B” Coy on left near railway and roundabout, “C”in centre, “D” on right, “A” Coy round southern end of racecourse. Started to withdraw about 8.30 a.m. in order C, B, D, A, C.O. arrested 2 suspected parachutists who marched with “B” Coy and were later released at Loth.

Worst and most tiring march so far, only about 12 miles actually, but everybody feeling the effect of the last few days. Heavy enemy bombing Loth area, had to wait outside town about half an hour. Crossed canal held by Gds and S.H’s. slept in field two or three hours and ate haversack ration. About 4 p.m marched off about one mile and embussed. Very crowded in transport had to take round about way by side roads to avoid aircraft. Were machine gunned and bombed.

Got cut off from and lost remainder of convoy in one village. After that took a wrong turning. Caught up Battalion on main road after couple of hours. Had “C” Company behind us. Bought bottle of home made beer from driver in R.A.S.C. wearing L. Scottish rosettes on shoulder. Arrived Lessines 9 p.m. Dark and drizzling. Battalion billeted for night in main street, good billets in very comfortable shop and houses. Slept very comfortably for about 5 hours.

Coy and Self – 13 miles.

[Entry No.8, for the first entry see 10th May 1940]

See TNA WO 217/15