& RECOMMENDED READING
Dunkirk: Fight To The Last Man - by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
This recently published book contains a new angle on how
the 1940 British Expeditionary Force came to be evacuated
from Dunkirk: it was not just because of the courage of the
men on the beaches as they were rescued by the Navy and those
celebrated little ships.
According to author Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, the evacuation
would never have taken place had it not been for the bravery
of the British soldiers who were left behind to hold back
the Germans while the evacuation went ahead.
The troops left behind were involved in a series of rearguard actions
which were fought to the south of Dunkirk. Battle was joined there
on 27 May 1940, the day after the commencement of the evacuation,
because the British commander-in-chief Lord Gort had decided there
was only one way to save the majority of the British troops in France:
the infantry had to shield the corridor up which the British Army
was retreating to Dunkirk by holding a string of strongpoints. They
were to stand and fight, whatever the cost, even if they had to
fight to the last man.
One of the battalion commanders who took this instruction literally
was Lt Col Pop Gilmore of the 2nd Cameronians. When he was told
his men had retreated beyond the point in the line they were supposed
to hold, he immediately marched them back to where they had come
from even though by this stage they were being fired on by machine
guns. The battalion was all but decimated, and Gilmore was seriously
wounded, but not before he and the few men left standing had recovered
the lost ground.
It had been a close run victory however, as the following extract
from the newly discovered account by Captain Pat Hendriks, one of
the surviving Cameronian officers, testified: I was trying
to discover if anyone was left on my left, when old Pop [Gilmore]
appeared supported by three chaps, and hit in a couple of places.
He was very heroic, and said: Well, I leave you in sole charge.
This position is vital to the British Expeditionary Force, and must
be held at all costs. I said Id do my best - with 20
One of the reasons so little has been written about the exploits
of the men who shielded the corridor to Dunkirk in previous history
books is that so many were lost during these battles.
The vivid accounts of the fighting in this book may only scratch
the surface of what occurred - the author is still looking for more
accounts to fill the gaps - but they mean that never again will
the trials and tribulations of those involved be forgotten.
Dunkirk. Fight To The Last Man
Published by Viking/Penguin can be purchased from most bookshops
available from Amazon