Personal Account of Guardsman George Bennett, No 2 Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards

Personal account of Guardsman George Bennett, No 2 Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards

At the time of the evacuation my regiment retreated to the small town named Veurne a few miles from the beach of De Panne.
Our platoon dug in along the canal to the left of the road bridge. My section was posted in a cellar of one of a group of buildings, the Bren gun being sighted behind a low wall. I was the gunner at the time. Corporal Walker and the rest of the section were resting in the cellar.

I could hear shells passing over from the beach side. Seemed to me like heavy naval guns, the Germans were also shelling with light guns and mortars, shrapnel was flying all over the place. It was near 2pm and time for my relief. Corporal Walker shouted for me to come down into the cellar. As I was passing my relief on the cellar steps there was a terrific explosion, we were all thrown on the cellar floor. When the dust had cleared my relief made his way back up the steps to the Bren gun post and found the gun had disappeared along with a section of the wall. The only casualty was Guardsman Dexter, he was in a room above the cellar. His back was peppered with what seemed like small particles of brick (I believe he recovered back in England).

As the Germans had discovered our post, we were moved to a slit trench along the canal bank within a few yards of the road bridge. We must have been well concealed as a German soldier appeared on the other side of the canal, he could not have realised how close he was to the front. One of the section shot him. Not long afterwards we were bombarded with heavy mortars. I was out of the trench at the time having been on burial detail for one of our soldiers (he was buried in the garden of the house near the road bridge). Making my way back I was caught out in the open in the middle of the bombardment, so was Captain Daniels. We were both running towards the slit trench, I dived a split second before he did and he finished flat on top of me. It seemed the Germans had their mortars mounted on trucks and when they had discharged their bombs they were away.

In the early evening the Platoon commander, told us the road bridge was charged with explosives and the R.E. were going to blow it. He said we would be safe to stay where we were, although it was obvious to all of us that this was not so. However, about half an hour later an R.E. Officer told us they were going to blow the bridge and we had better move well back to a safe place. This we did. After the bridge had been blown we went back and found the slit trench and the surrounding area was heaped up with boulders and rubble.

In the early hours of the following morning the order came down to continue the retreat and we packed up what little we had and marched down the main road towards the beach. After about an hour's march, in the distance we saw what appeared to be a building on fire. As we approached there were soldiers lying on the side of the road, wounded and in great pain. One remarked to me "you bastard, why don't you help me", we were told the Red Cross were following to pick them up. I hope they did as even now I feel guilty about it. The building was a garage and I believe some soldiers were trapped in a vehicle waiting to fill up with petrol. The cause of the fire was a direct hit by a shell.

After about a 3 hour march we came to the beach just as dawn was breaking. All the units then split up after being told "every man for himself." As it got lighter I could see troops lined up in a single file along the water's edge waiting to be picked up. I could see no ships so I did not join them. Feeling tired I had a lie down, but was awakened by the German bombers attacking the beach. After the attack I joined the queue and managed to get onto a boat. Unfortunately it must have had engine trouble and couldn't move. All this time we were being bombed and shelled.

I got back onto the beach, found myself some cover. I remained there until the following morning. I was then picked up by the Royal Navy and taken to Margate.

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