Leonard James Saunders
On 17th May 1940, the Company was unloading field works supplies, erecting Nissan Huts etc. in a railway yard near our billet, which was probably 20 to 30 minutes walk from Rouen Centre. There was a large twin-towered transporter bridge, which carried cars, lorries etc. on a suspended roadway across the Seine. It had disappeared by 1944 - I imagine due to air attacks.
During the day, our work was suspended and we were told to remain in the billet as there was a warning order for movement. We were not told where for. At about midnight, we were lorried to a railway station and boarded the usual ‘8 Chevaux, 40 Hommes’ trucks. We waited, it seems for an hour or two, when 263 Field Company RE turned up and boarded the train, which left, time unknown. To the best of my recollection, it must have been early afternoon of 18th May, when we stopped in the railway yard at St Roch and underwent an air attack. After which, the Company moved across the road to be undercover, in the grounds of a chateau. I believe 263 went somewhere else.
19th May. The 2 Officers with our Companies had been wounded in the first attack on the Saturday. There were further attacks on the Sunday morning. During early afternoon, senior NCOs told us to make our own way back to Rouen. I don’t know if some senior Officer had given the orders. Unfortunately, some of our company were captured along with Royal Sussex men.
After the battle on 20th May, I walked to Rouen, where our original billet was situated. Later I entrained, we thought for No.2 Base stores Depot near Pornichet, close to St. Nazaire. We then took a train for Cherbourg, boat to Southampton, Train to Newcastle and, later, another to Hexham, Northumberland.
The first I knew about 7th Sussex being on the train, was in 1985 after reading an article about a trip being made to the scene. I was lucky enough to secure the last seat on the coach, for which I was most grateful. There was one other RE, Frank Buckle, sadly now deceased.