Garrick Dermod Bowyer
Mentioned in Despatches
The 7th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment was a second-line Territorial Army Battalion formed late in 1939 after the decision to double the size of the Territorial Army. It was formed with the help of the 5th Cinque Ports Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment TA, an existing Territorial Army Battalion.
Garrick Bowyer was gazetted a 2nd Lieutenant to the 5th Cinque Ports Battalion on 4 September 1937 aged 18 and transferred to the 7th Battalion on the outbreak of war in September 1939. The Battalion became part of 37th Infantry Brigade, 12th Division. It was employed guarding vulnerable places and training its majority of untrained drafted men. It was lightly armed and equipped. Due to the shortage of labour in France, in April 1940 it was sent with other Battalions of the Division to work on the dumps and rear facilities near Rouen, as well as to carry out some training. The intention was that it should return to the UK for further training and equipping. In May 1940 it was ordered to move by train to join the BEF at Lens, north of Arras.
Officers of 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment - March 1940
(2nd Lieutenant G D Bowyer - back row, 3rd from right)
2nd Lieutenant G D Bowyer
No 5 (Pioneer) Platoon Commander, HQ Company Brighton - 8th April 1940
(2nd Lieutenant G D Bowyer aged 20 was transferred to B Rifle Company prior to May 1940)
The 7th Battalion entrained at Buchy (approximately 20 miles NE of Rouen) early on the 17th May 1940. The train proceeded slowly in the direction of Amiens and halted in the marshalling area of St Roch Railway Station in the western area of Amiens, in the late afternoon. The Officers were in carriages at the front of the train and the troops in cattle trucks. Whilst stationary, it was bombed by the Luftwaffe, causing approximately 80 casualties. 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer took a French ambulance with British casualties to the Amiens town hospital which was full of French casualties. There were fires raging in the town caused by the German aircraft bombing, which lit up the night sky. 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer was treated for cuts to his head and then returned to the Battalion, which had moved to a wooded area close to the railway line on the outskirts of the town.
Amiens General Staff Map No 4250 - 1943
On the 18th May 1940, the Battalion moved to a tactical defensive position, south west of Amiens astride the Poix Road. The CO, Lt. Col. R. Gethen, M.C. informed the officers that as they were unable to proceed as ordered to Lens, north of Arras near the Belgian border and, as he had received no other orders at the time, the Battalion would stay where it was. Some rations were obtained from a nearby British supply dump.
On the 19th May 1940 during the day and night, a large number of civilian refugees and French Troops not in units, retreated down the road to Poix. On the orders of Lt. Col. R. Gethen, 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer set up a road block and collected some number of these French Troops in a field with some French Officers. The CO addressed them to stay with us and fight. However, the French Officers said their orders were to retreat further to the south west and left with their soldiers. A small French tank also came down the road and agreed to remain with the Battalion. The tank had only a small amount of machine gun ammunition left and no shells for their small gun. However they stayed by the road and later, when the Germans attacked on 20th May, opened fire on them until their ammunition was exhausted and then withdrew towards Poix.
The Battalion was deployed with C Company to the left of the Poix Road, B Company (OC Major Miller with 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer) across the Road, A Company forward by the Road, HQ and D Company spread out to the right flank. No tools were available, so the troops were unable to dig in. The Battalion was on its own and had very limited ammunition and no supporting troops on its flanks. An officer from 12 Div HQ did call, but had no orders for the Battalion and left to report.
Early in the afternoon of the 20th May 1940, German Reconnaissance Units (Panzer Mk 1 & Mk 2 Light Tanks) of Major General Kirchner’s 1st Panzer Division appeared and engaged A Company and the Companies on the right flank. Some of the tanks then came towards B Company’s position. Major Peter Miller, OC B Company and 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer had gone forward to see if help could be given to the battle now developing on the right flank. They were machine-gunned by light tanks which came over a crest of a hill and 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer received flesh wounds to the left and right thigh.
Panzer Mk 1 Reconnaissance Units
Major Miller and 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer moved back to the main road, where the Company Sergeant Major had an anti-tank rifle which he fired at one of the light tanks and caused it to stop. The other German tanks withdrew and Major Miller went forward to the disabled tank with his pistol, to check for any signs of life of the occupants. He was, however, killed by fire from another tank.
Major Peter Taverner Miller OC B Company
Killed in Action 20th May 1940
The Germans pressed their attack on the right flank employing infantry supported by artillery and mortars plus some dive-bombers. Isolated and ill-armed, the Companies fought as long as their ammunition lasted and it was 8pm before the right flank survivors surrendered. As the right flank resistance collapsed against the overwhelming German superiority, B Company became exposed to the German attack and endeavoured to escape in small groups. Some were captured by the Germans and others were probably shot.
2nd Lieutenant Bowyer withdrew with a small group which made for the wooded areas to the rear. The Germans had however worked around the right flank and fired on the retreating groups. However, some reached the woods but during the night became separated. 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer found himself at dawn alone with one soldier in the wood. Later, this soldier also became separated as the Germans established outposts on the edge of the wood. Although fired on by the Germans, 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer was not pursued into the woods.
He was now without food or water and reduced to attempting to collect rainwater in a gas cape. After a number of days (I am hazy as to the number) a French Army patrol came into the wood as the Germans withdrew and thought 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer must be a British pilot shot down, as no other troops were in the area! They supplied red wine from their water bottles, when water would have been better appreciated. He spent a few days with a French unit before being passed to French Divisional HQ, who arranged for him to be sent to the British base at Rouen.
Letter from Sydney Bowyer (father) to his younger son Terence Bowyer
reporting 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer wounded in action on 20th May 1940
After a few days at Rouen to recuperate and clean up 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer was put in charge of a small group of 12 Division survivors (15-20) and ordered to evacuate via Cherbourg on a cattle truck train. At Cherbourg after a short period, during which there were nightly air raids by the Luftwaffe, they were found passage on a merchant ship arriving back at Southampton in early June 1940.
Things in the UK were pretty chaotic with the Dunkirk Army personnel also arriving home.
Letter from 2nd Lieutenant Bowyer to his brother Terence Bowyer
No 1 Reception Camp BEF on 2nd June 1940
2nd Lieutenant Bowyer was sent to Haltwhistle, Northumberland, where the 7th Battalion’s few survivors plus some new drafts were starting to reform the Battalion. He was ordered to submit a report to the Battalion HQ on the action at Amiens and his subsequent escape. To his great surprise he subsequently received a Mention in a Despatch.
The 7th Battalion’s war diary was lost in France during the action and therefore many of the historical records are vague or speculative. The Old Comrades Association only had records showing 119 known graves and 158 Prisoners of War, a total of 277. The 7th Battalion was reconstituted as part of the 37th Independent Infantry Brigade. In 1941, it was converted to 109 Light Anti-Aircraft (LAA) Regiment Royal Artillery (RA) which led me to take part in Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy) in June 1944.
The Royal Sussex Regiment was awarded a Battle Honour ‘Amiens’ to its Colours, which now hang in Chichester Cathedral.
Major G D Bowyer TD RA - WW2 Record Of Service
Based on accounts written by Major Garrick Bowyer TD RA during October 2005 - deceased 7th March 2009 aged 89.
7th Battalion War Diary