v/a - DUNKIRK & THE BATTLE OF FRANCE & FLANDERS 1939-40

CD41
(CD41-028: 5024545468120/CD41-28)
Release date:
Genre: History



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This 70 minute collection showcases rare audio material recorded between October 1939 and June 1940. Much of the content is contemporary first-hand accounts by officers and men of the British Expeditionary Force, both during the 'Phoney War' period and the military campaign in May 1940, culminating in the miraculous evacuation of 338,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. The CD (and digital download) includes a booklet with archive images and historical notes by James Hayward.

Recordings by named individuals include RAF Hurricane ace Edgar 'Cobber' Kain of 73 Squadron, George Parkes of 7 Royal Tank Regiment, Richard 'Gunbuster' Austin of 92 Field Regiment RA, and Edward Parker, coxswain of the Margate Lifeboat. The CD also covers the airborne invasion of Holland, including an account of the escape of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company by Constant Lambert. Other historic recordings include the first speech by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister on 19 May, the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, the Fall of Calais, several landmark BBC news bulletins, J.B. Priestley's historic Postscript to the News on the fabled Little Ships of Dunkirk, and 'blue pencil' humour from Jack Warner in Garrison Theatre.

CD tracklist: The BEF - Irish Regiment moves up; field conditions - France; Fairey Battle reconnaissance; The Phoney War - life at the front; News bulletin - Denmark and Norway Invaded; Garrison Theatre - Jack Warner; Hurricane ace - 'Cobber' Kain; News bulletin - Low Countries invaded; German paratroops at Leiden; Allied troops enter Belgium; Neville Chamberlain resigns; Ballet company escapes from Holland; BEF in action in Belgium; Winston Churchill's first broadcast as Prime Minister; tank battle near Arras; BEF experiences - four soldiers; The fall of Calais; Operation Dynamo - scenes at Dover; 'Gun Buster' - return via Dunkirk; The Little Ships - Margate lifeboat; J.B. Priestley - Postscript to the News; second BEF embarks; If We Play Up For The Side (song).

Liner notes By James Hayward

In his excellent account of The BBC at War 1939-45, Tom Hickman wrote: "As soon as war was declared in September 1939, a saloon car fitted up with recording equipment was loaded on a cross-Channel steamer at Dover. It passed through French customs without delay and was driven to Paris, where it was hidden in a deep garage. Early in October, when the BBC was allowed to follow the BEF, Richard Dimbleby arrived and took possession of the car. Broadcasting had moved into the front line."

This, at least, was the theory. In practice, both the Cabinet and the War Office were deeply uneasy about in-theatre war reporting generally, and the BBC in particular. All correspondents were supervised by military Conducting Officers, and both front line and unit-specific reporting were forbidden. Between October 1939 and April 1940 the BBC had just two correspondents in France: Richard Dimbleby covering the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from GHQ at Arras, and Charles Gardner attached to the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) at Rheims. The lack of resources, freedom and action during the Phoney War period made for much bland, anodyne reporting, offering colour without content, and focused (in line with Ministry of Information guidelines) on fraternization and human interest stories about British forces in France, with the principal aim of maintaining morale.

The French authorities offered British journalists little or no co-operation, with the result that for the first few days after the German attack on 10 May 1940 British reporting focused on events in Holland and Belgium. During the first few days of the campaign British media reporting suggested that the Allies had the upper hand. Then, on 16 May, there was a sudden falling off of news about the BEF, and on the 17th the midnight Home Service News broadcast revealed that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Correspondents were hastily evacuated, and even those caught up in the hectic drama of the retreat had no way to report it. The ensuing news blackout affected the retreating troops in France and Belgium as well as civilians at home. Worse still, far more news was available from Berlin, a factor which dominated American reporting.

The evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk and other ports (Operation Dynamo) commenced on 26 May, but was announced by the BBC only on the 30th. Just one freelance press correspondent (David Divine) accompanied the armada of rescue vessels, and only one cameraman (Charles Martin of Pathe) sailed on a British warship to shoot footage of the debacle from the Allied side. Indeed the Royal Navy would remain notably resistant to war correspondents throughout the war. As a result well-intentioned myth-making and spin of the kind typified by J.B. Priestley's celebrated Postscript to the evening news on 5 June coloured public perception of the epic 'miracle' of Dunkirk from the outset.

The sorry situation between September 1939 and June 1940 may be contrasted with the return to France by the Allies in June 1944. On D-Day, the BBC fielded no less than 18 correspondents on land, sea and air, resulting in comprehensive reports and even battle actuality recordings. More was recorded in a single day than during the entire Phoney War and Blitzkreig period, yet the surviving recordings from 1940 are no less fascinating for that.

CD tracklist:
1. THE BEF: IRISH REGIMENT MOVES UP 1939 (1.09)
Correspondent Richard Dimbleby sent the first radio dispatch of the war from France, recorded 11 October 1939. The broadcast extracted here was recorded four days later, on 15 October, and depicts 'a famous Irish Regiment' moving up to the front line in heavy rain (most likely the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Ulster Rifles or Royal Irish Fusiliers). These broadcasts reflect official policy: emphasising high morale among the troops, and Anglo-French harmony. Reporters and correspondents were not allowed to identify locations and units, or visit the front line, and this strict censorship meant that by March 1940 Dimbleby decided that he "had run out of anything to say about the war." He requested a transfer to the Middle East, and in April was replaced by Bernard Stubbs, who was soon joined by Edward Ward.

2. FIELD CONDITIONS: FRANCE (6.10)
A compilation of accounts of field conditions in the Saar region of France during the winter of 1939/40 by several unidentified British officers and men. During the Phoney War (or Bore War) period from September 1939 to May 1940 the BEF spent much of their time constructing defensive positions on the Franco-Belgian border, a dull task complicated by the fact that the winter of 1939/40 was one of the harshest in many years. Recorded 2 December 1939. The number of references to the previous war is telling, and Field Marshal Montgomery would later describe the BEF as: "Totally unfit to fight a first-class war on the continentÖ in the years preceding the war, no large-scale exercise for troops had been held in England for some time. Indeed the regular army was unfit to take part in a realistic exercise."

3. FAIREY BATTLE RECONNAISSANCE (3.42)
Broadcast account by Charles Gardner of an ill-fated reconnaissance mission by five Fairey Battle aircraft of 150 Squadron, Royal Air Force, on 30 September 1939. Gardner was attached to the Advanced Air Striking Force, boasted a camouflaged recording car, and based at the Hotel Lion d'Or in Rheims. A light bomber with a crew of three, with a maximum speed of just 250 mph, the underpowered, poorly armed Battle entered service with the RAF in June 1937, and was already obsolete when war broke out. In September 1939 150 Squadron was one of ten Battle squadrons sent to France with the AASF. Hopelessly outclassed by modern German fighters, the five Battles ran into fifteen Messerschmitt Bf 109s near Saarbrucken. Four were shot down, while the fifth crash-landed on returning to base. Battles also suffered devastating losses in May 1940 during the Battle of France, although on 12 May the RAF's first two VCs of the war were won by a Battle crew of 12 Squadron, albeit posthumously. During the campaign in France and Flanders the RAF would lose a total of 931 aircraft.

4. THE PHONEY WAR: LIFE AT THE FRONT (3.16)
Account by an unidentified BEF officer, recorded 25 January 1940. He talks of enemy night patrol activity, the bitterly cold weather, improvised clothing, food and rations, rum ('deaf and dumb') and high morale. In temperatures as low as -40 Fahrenheit, frost formed on blank acetate recordings discs, obliging sound engineers to take them to bed overnight.

5. NEWS BULLETIN: DENMARK & NORWAY INVADED (0.32)
News bulletin read by Alvar Liddell announcing the German invasion of Denmark and Norway on the morning on 9 April 1940. This marks the end of the Phoney War.

6. GARRISON THEATRE: JACK WARNER (1.24)
Compere Jack Warner (1896-1981) reads a censored ('blue pencil') letter from his fictional brother Sid, serving 'somewhere in France' with Lord Gort's BEF. Recorded 9 April 1940. Garrison Theatre replaced Band Waggon and proved almost as popular, making a star of Jack Warner, and introducing the deathless catchphrase 'Mind my bike!'

7. HURRICANE ACE: 'COBBER' KAIN (4.07)
Charles Gardner introduces an account by Flying Officer Edgar 'Cobber' Kain of 73 Squadron, recorded 7 March 1940. Here Kain describes a dogfight on 1 March, fought with two Bf 109 fighters at 20,000 feet. After Kain's Hurricane was badly damaged on the wrong side of the German border, Kain managed to glide 30 miles to French territory and force landed at Metz. Kain was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this exploit, the first awarded in WW2, and received much unwanted publicity. Edgar James Kain was born on 27 June 1918 in Hastings, New Zealand, and was the first RAF ace of WW2, with 14 confirmed kills during the battle of France. He was killed on 7 June 1940 while performing aerobatics over Bois airfield, having been ordered to return to Britain. He is buried at Choloy Military Cemetary, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France. Like Dimbleby, Gardner tired of the censorship and lack of action during the Phoney War period and asked to return to London.

8. NEWS BULLETIN: LOW COUNTRIES INVADED (0.19)
BBC Home Service special bulletin read by Alvar Liddell, announcing the German invasion of Holland and Belgium, broadcast at 10.30 am on Friday 10 May 1940. The piece reports the invasion of both countries by land and by air, as well as the attack on Luxembourg, defensive flooding in Holland, the stopping of leave, and air raid alerts in France and Britain. Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister, and was replaced by Winston Churchill.

9. GERMAN PARATROOPS AT LEIDEN (3.24)
Philip Burgess, a student from South Africa, gives an eyewitness account of the occupation of the Dutch town of Leiden (aka Leyden) by German airborne troops on 10 May 1940, and subsequent events. Recorded 14 May 1940. During the first few days of the campaign in the west British reporting concentrated almost entirely on events in Holland and Belgium, rather than France. Holland surrendered on 15 May. German paratroops caused as much panic in May 1940 as had mounted Uhlans in August 1914, although Luftwaffe airborne forces paid a high price for their successes in Holland, Belgium and France. Of 11,000 men committed to battle, 3,900 became casualties or prisoners over a short period, and 220 Junkers 52 transport aircraft were lost, along with almost all parachutes. By mid-May fully 1,200 German airborne troops captured in Holland had arrived in Britain as prisoners-of-war. In July all were shipped to camps in Canada, since elite enemy troops would have posed a threat in the event of an invasion.

10. ALLIED TROOPS ENTER BELGIUM (3.14)
Dispatch by Bernard Stubbs from the Franco-Belgian border, recorded on the afternoon of Friday 10 May 1940, with a contribution from sound engineer Harvey Sarney. On this day the Allied Press Centre relocated from Arras to Lille. Stubbs records events as British forces move up into Belgium by road and rail, on constant alert against air attack. Stubbs also describes and air raid and dogfight, and the hasty flight of some car-owning civilian refugees. Prior to the German attack Belgium remained neutral, and did not allow British of French troops to cross the frontier. Once hostilities commenced the BEF and French First Army advanced towards the River Dyle east of Brussels, in order to bolster the weak Belgian army and counter the expected advance of the German Army Group B. However the main German attack through the Ardennes (Army Group A) and subsequent breakthrough at Sedan forced the Allies to begin an orderly withdrawal. Belgium capitulated on 27 May.

11. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN RESIGNS (0.24)
Britain's Prime Minister since May 1937, Chamberlain was damned as one of the Guilty Men of appeasement, and after of the debacle of the Allied expedition to Norway was famously attacked in the Commons on 7 May by Leo Amery, who quoted Oliver Cromwell: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go." He tended his resignation on the evening of 10 May, after German forces invaded France and the Low Countries. Born in 1869, Chamberlain remained in government and as leader of the Conservatives, but died of cancer on 9 November 1940.

12. BALLET COMPANY ESCAPES FROM HOLLAND (3.49)
An account by Constant Lambert of the flight from Holland of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company, recorded 20 May 1940. Lambert describes bombing, paratroop drops, propaganda leaflets and Fifth Columnists. The German attack early on 10 May interrupted a foreign tour by the celebrated English ballet troupe, who were eventually evacuated by sea on 14 May. Lambert describes The Hague as 'riddled with spies - more than 100 in one hotel, armed with machine guns.' Fanciful reports such as this contributed to the Fifth Column panic in Britain, and helped to justify the internment of enemy aliens under Defence Regulation 18B of the Emergency Powers Act 1939. Lambert (1905-1951) remains best known as a composer and conductor.

13. BEF IN ACTION IN BELGIUM (4.20)
Sergeant Hoggett first describes an action in Belgium, during which his (unidentified) unit was bombed from the air. He then describes a unit action as rearguard at a Channel port, again under heavy bombardment, and their eventual evacuation. Recorded 2 June 1940.

14. WINSTON CHURCHILL: 1ST BROADCAST AS PRIME MINISTER (1.49)
"I speak to you for the first time..." Broadcast 19 May 1940. Churchill's stirring "blood, tears, toil and sweat" speech of 13 May was made to the House of Commons, and not recorded until November 1942. Six days later the new Prime Minister offered the grim but positive message included here, including an optimistic claim that "we may look with confidence to the stabilization of the front in France." But the following day, 20 May, the German armoured spearhead reached the Channel coast at Abbeville.

15. TANK BATTLE NEAR ARRAS (3.10)
Two officers from the 7th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment (7/RTR), describe combat with enemy tanks of 7 and 8 Panzer Division near Souchez on 23 May, following the costly failure of the Arras counter-attack on 21 May. Recorded 21 June 1940. The first speaker describes an action by three A12 Matilda tanks on the evening of 23 May. The second describes an action by 14 tanks in the early afternoon on 23 May, probably a mixture of A12 Matildas, A11 Infantry Tank Mark I types, and the Light Mark VIB. Major George Parkes took over command of 7/RTR on the morning of 23 May after Major Freddy Garrett was killed my machine gun fire, and is almost certainly one of the speakers. The other is possibly a Captain Johnstone. 7RTR spent the entire day fending of German attacks. Until the arrival of 3/RTR at Calais on 22 May, 1st Army Tank Brigade was the sole British armoured formation in the BEF. Only the heavy A12 Matilda with its two-pounder gun was a match for the best German armour, but 7/RTR possessed just 16 tanks of this type.

16. BEF EXPERIENCES: 4 SOLDIERS (9.28)
Four unidentified soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force describe their experiences after the German attack on 10 May, and during the retreat to the Channel ports. They are: (1) officer in Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) between Albert, Piermont and Calais; (2) infantry officer describing an encounter with German tanks in a wood near Guise, on about 16 or 17 May; (3) a staff car driver, who escaped after being captured; (4) a junior officer in Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) between Tournai, Lille and Dunkirk. Recorded 3 June 1940.

17. THE FALL OF CALAIS: POW (4.37)
Eyewitness account by Marine S.F. Smith of the Royal Marines, recorded 7 November 1941. Smith formed part of a small RM harbour guard unit (3 officers and 85 men), landed at Calais shortly after midnight on Saturday 25 May, chiefly to cover naval parties tasked with demolishing port facilities. Commanded by Captain Courtice, the RM company fought around the Citadel and North Quay throughout the day. All but 21 were captured or killed. Debate still rages over the defence of the port and town of Calais between 22 and 26 May 1940, by elements of the Royal Tank Regiment (3/RTR), Royal Artillery, Queen Victoria Rifles, King's Royal Rifle Corps and The Rifle Brigade. Brigadier Claude Nicholson was ordered to hold Calais for the sake of 'Allied solidarity' and to facilitate the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk. However General Heinz Guderian (commanding XIX Panzer Corps) would subsequently claim that the tenacious defence of Calais did nothing to impede the German advance. Probably the sacrifice of the British garrison was unnecessary, and Nicholson died in captivity a broken man. Aspects of Smith's account of his experiences after being taken prisoner may seem surprising, since the brutality described (whips, summary and multiple executions) was not a common feature of the war in Western Europe at this time. However, aspects are confirmed by other accounts, and Guderian's command did include several Waffen SS units, responsible for the massacre of British prisoners at Le Paradis and Wormhoudt (Esquelbecq) on 27 and 28 May.

18. OPERATION DYNAMO: SCENES AT DOVER (4.17)
Correspondent report by Bernard Stubbs from the port of Dover, recorded 31 May 1940. Stubbs (who had returned to Britain from Paris some twelve days earlier) describes the returning troops as tired, exhausted, but still reasonably cheerful. In fact morale was at rock-bottom, and the BEF had left behind most of its equipment: 82,000 vehicles, 2,472 large guns, 8,000 Bren guns, 76,000 tons of munitions, and almost half a million tons of other stores and supplies. Soon afterwards Stubbs enlisted in the Royal Navy, but was killed when HMS Hood was sunk in May 1941.

19. GUN BUSTER: RETURN VIA DUNKIRK (2.35)
An account by Captain Richard Austin of 368 Battery, 92 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, of his evacuation from the beach at Malo-les-Bains, and his relief at reaching a boat. Under the pseudonym 'Gun Buster', Austin wrote (with help from his father) two valuable accounts of the 1940 campaign, Return Via Dunkirk and Battle Dress. A Territorial pre-war, Richard Campion Austin (1912-2001) was a teacher in peacetime. Recorded 6 June 1950.

20. THE LITTLE SHIPS: MARGATE LIFEBOAT (1.18)
An account by Edward Parker, coxwain of the Margate lifeboat Lord Southborough, recorded 4 May 1950. On 30 May, with a crew of ten, the Lord Southborough was towed across the Channel to Nieuport, where she lifted some 600 British and French troops from the beach; one poilou was found to be hiding a guinea pig beneath his tunic. The boat was in action for almost 24 hours. In a letter to the RNLI, the Commander of HMS Icarus stated: "The manner in which the Margate lifeboat crew brought off load after load of soldiers under continuous shelling, bombing and aerial machinegun fire, will be an inspiration to us all as long as we live." Edward Drake Parker was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of the contribution of his boat and crew to Operation Dynamo.

21. J.B. PRIESTLEY: POSTSCRIPT TO THE NEWS (3.07)
In his celebrated postscript to the 9 o'clock evening news on Wednesday 5 June 1940, the Yorkshire-born novelist pays tribute to "how the little holiday steamers made an excursion to hell and came back glorious." This was Priestley's first Postscript, and his robust, genial delivery made him hugely popular with listeners, including 31 per cent of the adult population in Britain, making him second only to Churchill as a listener draw. Contrary to popular myth, during Operation Dynamo the Little Ships lifted only some eight per cent of the 330,000 troops evacuated, although their shallow draft proved invaluable in transferring men from the beaches to larger ships offshore.

22. SECOND BEF EMBARKS (1.52)
A somewhat theatrical 'sound picture' of the departure of troops of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division from an English port for France, including singing, cheers and music. Recorded June 1940. Two weeks after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation, and just days before the capitulation of France, the dispatch of the so-called 'Second BEF' to Brittany was another ill-judged gesture towards Anglo-French solidarity. Only the 1st Infantry Brigade actually reached France, but was swiftly evacuated, bringing back the bulk of its equipment but leaving behind many vehicles. In the weeks following the collapse of France, the 1st Canadian Division was one of only a handful of divisions adequately equipped to defend Britain against invasion.

23. 'IF WE PLAY UP FOR THE SIDE' (1.46)
Droll monologue/song broadcast in about June 1940.

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