Personal Account Corporal Edward Foulkes DCM MM 716 Company Royal Engineers

Personal Account Corporal Edward Foulkes DCM MM 716 Company Royal Engineers

I joined the company in December 1939 whist in the employ of the City Surveyor, Manchester Corporation. I was 44 years old. I handed my enlistment payment of 4/6d to my wife. She was ill in bed covered in cotton wool because of her rheumatism. In another bed was my 12-year old son. He suffered from rheumatic fever. The doctor visited each day to test his heart condition. The little girl of 3 was playing on the hearth. My daughter of 8 was looking after the house and the patients. When I told my wife of my action she cried and said 'God forgive you, I never will' but you see I had been the President of a Trade Union and I knew what my fate would be if Hitler came to England. Besides I was a trained soldier.


My unit had been organised from Corporation staff for the concreting of R.G. tramways in France. They had no training in musketry. About May 6th 1940, I met my old regiment near Arras, the Tyneside Scottish Northumberland Fusiliers. The Colonel and the Second in Command told me they knew my officer, Lieutenant Johnson V.C. (James Bulmer Johnson awarded the VC 14/10/1918) who had been decorated with me for the same action. They promised to effect my transfer as concreting was not soldiering, but on May 10th the enemy entered Belgium. Our company stood by their vehicles. I asked Lieutenant Bolton what the next move was. He said "we are untrained so we'll go back home". I told him "I came to fight Hitler and he is up north, not to the west". As we moved to the coast in darkness I determined to get away and find my former regiment. My company were back in England by May 11th or 12th, I did not re-join them until 18th June when I was removed to hospital suffering from shell shock and the effects of sea immersion for which, later on I received a 40% disability pension. I was evacuated from the beaches on May 30th in the destroyer Scimitar and was taken to Blandford Camp, Dorset.


I did not find the Northumberland Fusiliers, so I attached myself to various units. Here are some incidents in my heigara – if that be the correct term. One day I was posted to Quadpre (?). A young officer was in charge of six of us at a bridge. He was so green that he thought that my DCM and MM ribbons were Boer War ribbons. I went about 200 yards forward with an anti-tank rifle for I had observed some enemy tanks stationary under cover of a wood. After a while a full battalion of Belgian infantry marched in column across the bridge. The CO and his staff rode in a car at the head. I stopped the column, thrust my anti-tank rifle in the Colonel's chest and told him to get out quick. He said in perfect English 'But your officer passed us. Our King has arranged something with the Germans and we are going to surrender'. I told him "You'll find the Germans behind those trees, I have to watch them until 4 o'clock. As for the officer, he is only a kid or he would have turfed you out of this car. He didn't do this so I will. No-one is taking British Army property. Can't you see the arrow painted on this vehicle". So the Colonel got out and the column moved forward. The troops carried white table cloths and sheets on pieces of branches and as each signal came up I spat on them. An officer stepped out (of the column) said something clearly intended as an insult and spat a mouthful of spit on my tunic. I ought to have been mad but I started to laugh and to my surprise the officer laughed and his men laughed. He shook my hand as he moved off. I've never got over this encounter.


Later on some Stukas came over. A bomb hit the bridge and killed the officer and the others there. I thought I had better leg it to Dunkirk whose pall of smoke I could see about 20 miles away, but a part of me said 'You've always been a good soldier. You used to advise the recruits to adopt your slogan 'a good soldier always does what he is told, goes where he's sent, and stays where he's put'. So I stayed put. The tanks then began to move, I fired a token burst and ran to the debris of the bridge. I had no time to collect (the dead men's) discs etc. I came to a house and I asked for a cup of coffee. A lady and her baby lived there. Her husband worked in Paris and had bought the house so that she would escape any possible blitz. She spoke English and was shocked to know that the enemy was so close. She was feeding the baby with a bottle. All at once the door burst open and several Germans entered. The one in charge told me to put my hands down whilst the lady made a meal. I then had one of the most surprising conversations of my life. The commander told me he was a Feldwebel and had been a chef at the Manchester Midland Hotel. I told him I had been a member of the YMCA next door. He told me that for the several years he had been in Manchester he had a room at the YMCA. He knew my friend Alwyn Parker and we talked about the YMCA PT Instructor Sergeant Tessier. I expected to be made a POW but he put me in a barn, having spoken to his men. They were on a reconnaissance and travelling fast. He let me keep my weapons but took my Mills grenades. We shook hands and after a while I left. I just walked out of the barn.


I got in touch with a convoy of (British) lorries making for Dunkirk. There was no space between vehicles. Now and then an enemy plane would machine gun the mass. As we heard the noise every man jumped over the tail board to disperse in the ditch or the fields then would return and get into the lorry. I entered one with forms in it. I was on the seat at the rear looking at where the driver of the next lorry sat. Next to the driver sat a Sergeant. The man seated next to me by his accent was from Belfast. He was drunk and kept flourishing a revolver. When the Sergeant in the following vehicle shouted 'This is an order, throw that weapon away' the man aimed at the Sergeant. He missed. The man on the other side of the Irish man told him 'Do what the Sergeant said you drunken f----r' but he got a blow in his face from the revolver butt. It opened his flesh and you could see the cheekbone between the gushes of blood. I went to the tool chest at the front part of the vehicle and procured a 2ft long spanner. I tipped the Irishman's helmet forward just as he put a bottle of some liquid to his mouth and hit his skull. Some chaps tipped him over the tailboard and the driver behind drove straight over him.


At one stage I took into my vehicle two wounded RA men and gave them my word that I would get them back to the coast safely. The roads became congested about ten miles from Dunkirk. The fields on either side of the road had been flooded as a defensive measure so we had to progress by walking around vehicles, wading through fields and the ditches, climbing over lorries or getting through the driver's cabs. It would be about 6pm when I started walking, in complete forgetfulness of the two poor RA lads I left in the lorries.


When it was dark I came up to an officer in charge of a party who had a stretcher case. I heard the officer say "Next relief", the stretcher was put down and one man disappeared amongst the lorries. The officer shouted "Stafford, come back". He drew his revolver and followed the man. We heard a shot, then the officer returned and said "That bastard will never leave a wounded comrade again. You can draw your own conclusions men".


I came up to a group of about thirty men seated on biscuit boxes around a big fire they had lit. They were singing 'the more we are together the merrier we will be'. They had searched one lorry and had emptied it of its cargo of Army braces. Thousands of these were in the road and draped over vehicles. There were bottles of whisky about, cartons of Carrs biscuits and cases of cigarettes. I stayed with them for a time, then as there was no NCO present I told them "When daylight comes the Jerry planes will spot you and you'll be wiped out, save your lives and come with me". One man said to me "The British Army is buggered Corporal anyhow so stay with us". One man said his progress was slow because he was carrying a on his shoulder a carton of biscuits besides his rifle. He had his gas cape over his arm and this kept tripping him up. When I said to him "I don't suppose you know of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the story of the Christian who was only happy when he got rid of his load, but you'll be more comfortable if you get rid of your load. Drop your burden so that you can get off this road before dawn's light comes". Then a remarkable thing occurred. He put his load down. The he adopted a boxing ring attitude, put up his hands and started sparring. He said "I am Tug Wilson, Middleweight champion of the North-East coast. If you want my biscuits and cigarettes you'll have to fight me for them". We were close to the embers of a lorry that had been on fire and I still have this memory of this Geordie being lit up by the flickers of fire. I made my peace with him by giving him the packets of cigarettes I had.


Later we came to a wooden bridge and the drunken Geordie needed to fold up his gas cape. As he was doing so I heard the sound of galloping hooves and I saw two horses galloping towards us. I called out a warning, but he did not hear. I put my body close to the bridge wall and was terrified by the noise and closeness of the animals. Poor Tug was (knocked) unconscious, his face and head blood covered. I could do nothing for him.


Some miles from Dunkirk at Bergues, I met another solitary wayfarer. He gave me a flask, and told me it belonged to his officer who had been killed. I have never drunk alcohol. I learned it was brandy. A lasting memory of the Dunkirk episode is this lapse. On the beaches I wandered to the right. I found myself with a crowd of French troops. All at once came the sound of machine gun fire. We threw ourselves flat on the sand. Only one figure stood erect, a man in a raincoat. He had inside his coat this weapon. When his gun was emptied the French soldiers seized him, knocked him down and stamped his head to pulp in the sand. I learned then that Frenchmen are different in their psychology to the British, I think he was one of the bravest men I ever saw. So I walked back to the left.


It was about 4am, all I have recounted had happened since 6pm the night before, and I saw large ships standing out to sea. The tide was coming in. You could see the mole that became famous and soldiers crossing it to get to the large ships. I chose to leave the beaches by way of being taken off in a small boat. There was a full company of troops waiting in sections of 30 as though on parade. They were shaven and clean. I had two weeks growth on my face. My clothes were sodden through wading the flooded fields and the canal at the side of the road to Dunkirk. I attached myself to this party. The Captain said to me 'You are not one of my regiment, bugger off'. I put my rifle into his stomach and said 'I'm in the British Army. If your men get home I'm going there too'. Just then the small boats came in and discipline broke down. Everyone made a rush and soldiers pulled one another to get into a boat. I was taken to a steamer. My ambition was to avoid being put under arrest by the Captain for insubordination. Whilst on deck a plane dropped a bomb and I was blown into the sea.


The next thing I remember was a shout "Are you deaf or are you dumb Corporal? I've told you three times now to pass the order on when we come to shipside. There must be no rushing of the ladder". I realised that I was in a small boat packed with troops that was being towed. The gunwale was almost flush with the sea surface. Then in a daze I realised that the speaker was an officer. I passed the order on and the man next to me told the officer "Sir you can go and f—k yourself". When we came to the ship's side I saw that the ladder was rope netting that stretched the length of the ship. The first one out of the boat was the officer who had given the order not to rush the ladder. As he was getting to the ship's deck I called out to him "you'll give no more orders you bastard". I drew my revolver from the holster but whether I hit the target or not I do not know. The tidal current was taking the boat back inshore, just as I was passing the end of the ship I managed to pass my arm over the netting rung and saw the numbers of the ships plimsoll line above my head and the name Scimitar. Then I was aware of a sailor seated astride an upturned boat. He slipped my rifle from my left shoulder and put a loop of rope under my armpit. I heard another sailor's voice from the deck as another rope came down "Slip that rope, the poor bugger's had it". I stuttered "For my mother's sake, for Saint Anthony's sake don't slip the rope". The next thing I knew I was seated on an upturned bucket on the destroyer's deck, at the top of a ladder that reached down into the ship.


Enemy planes were overhead and the ships guns were firing at them. I thought you were blown up in that field near the bridge, you've been blown off that steamer, if this ship gets hit you ought not to know it. So I went down the ladder (into the ship) and I sat on one of a row of steel sided toilets holding my head in my hands and crying. I saw before me a crowd of troops drying their clothes on a hot plate in the galley, steam was rising.


When I heard cheering coming from the deck I thought it must be safe up there. I went on deck and the troops up there were exchanging cheers with the crew of the Goodwin Lightship who were in the rigging. We drew alongside Dover pier and an Army doctor told me to report to his team.

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