The Cameronians - Scottish Rifles
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The Cameronians - Scottish Rifles


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 I’d do my best - with 20 men!”

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 for £25.

Also available from Amazon