Unit: 7th Ban. The Royal Sussex Regt.
Commanding Officer: Lt. Col. R. GETHEN M.C.
Summary of Events and Information
The following events have been written from accounts given by Officers N.C.Os and men
of the 7th Bn. The Royal Sussex Regt., who served in France in the Spring of 1940.
All original documents records and War Diaries were lost during the campaign in France.
The events have been checked as far as possible but in certain cases dates and times are approximate.
Adjutant, 109th Light A.A. Regiment, R.A.
(Royal Sussex Regiment)
1st Feb. 1942.
Month and Year: APRIL 1940
The above personnel embarked.
The above personnel arrived at Le Havre at about 0830 hours.
The above party set off for St. Saens.
The road party of 18 men arrived under 2/Lt. R.D. de B. Pipers (T.O.). They had four 30cwt lorries the C.O.s Humber car and one B.S.A. motor cycle. They had come from. Southampton to Le Havre on the S.S. Clan McAlistair. This party found there was plenty of work to do at the camp at Rosay near St. Saens. The camp had to be prepared for the arrival of the Bn. and this involved moving a lot, the tents which had been pitched in straight lines with no attempt at concealement or dispersion. The party was there for seven days before the rest of the Bn. arrived.
A number of men were drafted to the Bn. from the D.C.L.I. and Welch Regt. and it was on this day that the Bn. was told that it was going to France that week-end. These men had 8 weeks service. They were only given 24 to 48 hours embarkation leave.
Note: Date of Embarkation varies in different accounts but most reliable seems to be:-
Bn. left England in the S.S. Ben-My-Cree from Southampton.
Bn. arrived Le Havre 0730 hours. On the same day the Bn. entrained, ‘A’ Coy. got off at Buchy Stn. the rest went on to St Saens, detrained and went to Rosay in R.A.S.C. lorries.
Month and Year: APRIL-MAY 1940
They remained at Rosay in a camp under the trees, a pleasant and
quiet three weeks, doing guards and working parties on an amn.dump and a little
training (One Coy. each week). ‘A’ Coy. were about 20 miles away at a
petrol dump at Arguil. The M.T. were kept very busy and were doing about 5000 miles
There was a shortage of weapons. The Mortar Pln. had no mortars or amn. the Brens were borrowed by Coys. in turn, for training.
On arrival in France, the Bn. had the following weapons:
1 Bren L.M.G. per Pl. 12
1 A. Tk. Rifle per Coy. 4
1 2” Mortar without sights per Coy. 4
H.Q. Coy had NO carriers of 3” Mortars
On 20th May, there was approx. 50rds S.A.A. per rifle and twelve filled magazines per L.M.G.
Month and Year: MAY 1940
About this date there was sudden heavy rain and the camp was underwater in 20 mins. It was days before it dried out.
2/Lt. de Manio and one N.C.O. from each Coy. went off as a billeting party (being joined by a Capt. from Div. H.Q.). They went to Limmercourt, got there in the evening and spent the next day arranging billets for the Bn. south of Abbeville.
A Coy. Comdrs. Conference was held during the afternoon and they
were told that the Bn. was moving but were not then told where.
Capt. G.I.S. Croce
who was attached to the Bn. was, at this conference asked to be I.O. as the I.O.
had been evacuated to England owing to illness. Subalterns were told by Coy. Comds.
that they were going up to a position south of Abbeville, to check any wandering
German units which had broken through. Bde was to hold a hollow square position
7 R.Sussex on the right.
The men were called on parade at about 1900 hours and told they were moving. Most of them seem to have been told they were going to Abbeville but, apparently, few were told what they were going for. A number were under the impression that they were going on a ‘scheme’.
Up to this time the Bn. had not even seen a German aeroplane. ‘A’ Coy. were fetched in to join the rest of the Bn. (Two men who were sick, were left behind at the Petrol dump and were attached to the C.M.P. who took it over. About three days later they evacuated it, blowing up the petrol before they went).
The Bn. was taken to St. Saens Stn. in lorries that night and remained there a long time waiting for the train. The train journey was not begun until dawn (about 0430 hours on Sat 18 May).
The same night that the Bn. left Rosay, 2/Lt. Pipers and Sgt. Bell-Scott set out at 2230 hours for Rouen to get nine m/cs. It took the T.O. a long time to get any but, after great argument, he succeeded at about 0330 hours.
During that evening, while arranging train facilities at St. Saens, Capt. Croce was ordered by the C.O. on instructions from the Bde. Comdr. to go in the C.O.s car - in Bde. Convoy - to Abbeville, where he would be met by the Brigadier. His instructions were that he was to make a prelimary recce of the area to be allotted to the Bn. at Abbeville and make rough plan of the defence of the area: also to contact the Billeting Party that gone on ahead under 2/Lt. de Manio.
It was about 0415 hours when
2/Lt. Pipers and Sgt. Bell-Scott
left Rouen and, on arrival at Rosay, they found the Bn. had gone by train and they
were to proceed with the road party, which was waiting for them in the Square ready
to move. The road party moved in a Divl. convoy to Caumont, just outside Abbeville.
Train consisted of 15cwt trucks on railway trucks in front, Officers coach, cattle trucks. On the train were 7 R.Sussex, some Fd Amb personnel and R.E.s and some personnel of H.Q 37 Bde. Estimated at about 800 men.
During a halt at about 0800 hours, it was gathered roughly that the Bn. was now going to Amiens, but why..... nobody knew.
While moving up, the Bn. passed the 6th Bn. Train at ABANCOURT and observed they had a L.M.G. mounted. The Colonel then ordered ONE A.A. L.M.G. to be mounted forward with the 15 cwt. trucks.
The Bn. train, after crawling along for hours, constantly held up by refugee trains, reached Amiens on a beautiful hot summer day.
The long train had hardly pulled into the station when it was attacked.
The men were travelling in cattle trucks (about 40 in each) and most of them were lying asleep with their boots off, having been advised to get as much sleep as possible.
The first thing they knew, was being awakened bv a heavy explosion at the front end of the train at 1515 hours.
Then they heard the drone of dive-bombers and bursts of machine-gun fire. The train had been run into a siding and the engine stopped at the buffer stops, so it was a stationary target.
The train with the 6th Bn. and some of the Divl. H.Q. etc. on it, was behind, the Bn. train and those on it saw the bombers from a small distance. This train was run into a cutting and stayed there from 1530 hours to 2130 but later moved on through the station.
The Bn. train was soon evacuated. A number of men dived under some stationary trucks nearby and others into a ditch. In the breaks, when the bombers, of which there were several had to circle again, they got the wounded men out and made attempts to gather equipment from the train.
The Bn. had only two or three Bren guns. With one of them, Sgt. Glover and Pte. Sexton made a gallant attempt to beat off the attack. The attack began with bombs and finished up with machine-gunning and, at the end of this time, the train was badly smashed and burning in places. The engine was wrecked, the driver killed and the rails twisted and bent. The engine of a nearby train was lying on its side, hissing.
The Quartermaster, Lt. Blackwell was killed, as also were both interpreters. The wounded included the M.0. (Capt. Mannington), Capt. Darwall-Smith (O.C. ‘C’ Coy.), 2/Lt. Milligan (‘C’ Coy) and Adjt. Major McCully (badly wounded in the left arm), 2/Lt. Rich, Capt. Cooper, 2/Lt. Edwards, 2/Lt. Burrough (slightly in the head) and C.S.M. Fry (‘C’ Coy.). The C.O. himself was also slightly wounded in the head. A number of N.C.O.s and men were also killed and injured including some R.Sussex and R.A.M.C. It is thought that there were apprx. 60 casualties. The casualities among the Officers chiefly occurred when a bomb struck the Officers’ coach near the front of the train.
The wounded were laid in the shade until ambulances arrived.
Soon the Bn. moved to a wood about a mile from the station and there the Coys. had roll calls. Some re-organisation was necessary in view of the losses.
2/Lt. Sevenoaks took over charge over ‘C’ Coy. and Sgt. Doidge became his acting C.S.M.
It was now about 1800 hours and at Caumont the Road Party had arrived and having spent the evening reconnoitring the area and arranging billets, waited all night for the Bn. to arrive.
Meanwhile at Amiens, volunteers were going from the wood to try to rescue kit from the burning train. A bren gun was taken and mounted for Ack-Ack, to protect those who were working. A single plane came over and could be seen in the light from the burning train. The sights of the Bren gun were trained on it but its markings could not be distinguished. Then it dropped bombs and some fell near the Bren gun, blowing the men and the gun over before they could fire. They were not hurt.
The station was bombed that night and big fires were caused. Ammn. trucks blew up.
In the evening the G.S.O. III (C.W.) turned up from Div. and took some particulars. Lt. Bowyer went to the British H.Q. in the town after taking some wounded to the hospital, which was in an appalling condition and was informed that they were evacuating and had offered the H.Q. to Col. Gethen.
The Col. and Major Cassels kept discussing methods of on to Doullons, as the railway was u/s.
In the morning, iron rations and biscuits were issued and a welcome
sight was a mobile canteen which came along. The weather was fine and sunny. At
about 1000 hours, the Bn. moved from the wood to a position on some high ground by
the main Amiens to Rouen road, about a mile from Amiens. The railway was on their
left flank as they faced the town. No orders were issued for digging but individuals
dug in with borrowed tools to avoid detection. Planes went over and bombed the wood,
which the Bn. had left that morning. A few men had remained in the wood guarding some
stores but they were not hit.
Coys. were given sectors. ‘B’ Coy held the roadway and made a block of old carts and a motor bus. Others were in a cornfield.
They had no sooner taken up their positions, than another two troop trains were bombed accurately and with devastating effect as they drew into the station. There were a number of R.A.F. men in one of these trains and, afterwards, some of them who had escaped came along to where the Bn. was.
Men of the Bn. again went to the station to salvage kit this day but the bombing made them unable to do very much.
At midday, the Road Party at Caumont learned from Capt. Croce that the Bn train had been dive-bombed but there was little more information for them at that time.
Meanwhile, the Bn. spent the rest of the day lying by the side of the road trying to sort out 5th Columnists from refugees, which was almost impossible as the latter came in an endless stream all day.
On the night of 19/20 May, Lt. Bowyer was detailed by the C.O. to collect French stragglers with arms and amn. and he collected about 80 to 100 by the use of troops with bayonets. The C.O. then found a French officer, who he tried to get to command this collection but he refused and said that they had orders to fall back and reform. After this they all trooped off.
To keep up morale, the C.O. put out the tale that these troops were partly trained men from the Amiens Depot, which had been bombed.
Some Grenadier Guards who were stranded, were conducted to the C.O. and later moved on away, towards Rouen.
The Road Party at Caumont was having some experience during the day, making three unsuccessful attempts to shoot down planes, which began dive-bombing Abbeville in the late afternoon but gave it up, when it seemed likely that it would give their position away.
The Bn. was watching the destruction of Amiens by dive-bombers nearly all day. Hundreds of troops were evacuating the city and by 2200 hours, the Bn. was the only body of troops staying in the area, except for a few R.E.s. That night Amiens was bombed without a break and more fires started. A petrol dump not far away, was set alight but whether by bombing, sabotage or planned destruction, was not clear.
The Guard on the road blocks was at one time, told by a Belgian Officer (who arrived on a horse with about 30 men on horses), that the Germans were about 30 kilos away. The Guard Commander sent a message to 2/Lt. Sevenoaks, who informed the C.O.. The C.O. sent a message back to the Guard Commander, not to take any notice of rumours.
The Bn. moved about 500-600 yards back in the night and started digging in again but did not get on very fast, as they had only gardening tools etc., which they had found, most of the Bn’s tools having gone with the road transport and some of the others having been lost in the bombing of the train.
The Bn. was facing the town from the direction of which French troops were still streaming.
In the morning, it was noticed that the refugees had begun to thin out
and in their place, were more French and a few British troops. At about 1100 hours,
the French troops told some of the men, that the enemy were about five miles.
Sgt. Doidge told the C.O.
who replied, “Don’t talk rot! The Germans are not even 40 miles away.”
A French Officer, who told the Guard on the road block that the Germans were in Amiens
was taken to the C.O. The C.O. told him to go away and then told the Guard, they could
not trust a Frenchman and Jerry was a hundred miles away.
The Pte. soldier who records this, adds that at about 1400 hours, a Frenchman came up in a car and said the Germans were in the town and so, they again went to the C.O. He said that, if they came and told him again that the Germans were in Amiens, he would have them court-martialled.
Cpl. A. Barnes of ‘B’ Coy. went into Amiens with a sect. on a recce patrol with an R.E. Captain. In the town, they split into two parties Cpl. Barnes going to the left and the other to the right. Cpl. Barnes did not see any enemy but the others came back with information of the enemy but when the C.O. was told about it, he said it was lies.
During the morning, Amiens was heavily bombed and large fires again broke out. The anti-aircraft guns were gradually silenced, until there was not a scrap of protection left. Only one British plane - a Lysander - was seen. At about 1200 hours, six R.A.S.C. Lorries arrived in the Bn. Area. The drivers (they had no N.C.O.) said they had heard a Bn. of the R.Sussex was in a tight corner, so had come up to take the Bn. out.
Col. Gethen got the drivers to dismount and bring their rifles but they left later in the afternoon.
The Bn. remained in its positions and while they were having a meal of bully beef and stew at about 1330 hours, they heard the sound of artillery. This came nearer, until the shells could be heard going overhead.
Sgt. Doidge sent a message to the C.O. and ventured to say that it seemed what the French troops had said was right. The C.0. saw Sgt. Doidge and said he did not want to hear any more of that. He then gave the Sgt. orders to let the men take their equipment off and rest. But most of the men did not take it off because (the Sgt. admits), he did not tell them.
The men were told that the firing was the French having artillery practice and that there were no Germans within 40 miles.
At about 1400 hours, M.G. fire was heard on the right flank but the men did not know an attack was imminent, even when given an order to charge magazines with five rounds.
The firing was in the neighbourhood of ‘A’ Coy. on the right flank. ‘C’ Coy. were on the left flank, with H.Q. Coy. between them and ‘B’ Coy. No. 15 Pl. was sent under 2/Lt. Sevenoaks, to make a patrol round the right flank. The remainder of ‘C’ Coy. took up positions on the high bank by the road.
Sgt. Cousins had got his section in position, when the C.O. ordered him to take his Pl. (No. 13) round to the left and stay out as long as possible but not get heavily engaged. He said they would find an Officer and some men with an A.Tk. rifle on their route. They did not see them.
The Bn. was being attacked by enemy infantry in small groups, advancing under cover of shell-fire and mortar bombs.
The C.O. arranged an O.P. on the top of a slope and went off in the direction of the enemy to see what was happening. 6401578 Pte Burtenshaw A. noticed that the C.O. was wearing battledress, with no cap or helmet and his field glasses round his neck. His head was bandaged.
The Mortar Pl. which, having no mortars, had formed itself into a Rifle Pl. joined ‘D’ Coy., who were just going to make an attack.
They had only rifles, bayonets and 50 rounds (the whole Bn. had but two or three Brens, one A.T. rifle with 10 rounds, two 2” mortars without sights and only smoke bombs for those).
The C.O. gave the order to fix bayonets and charge. The smoke were fired and the men got over the bank.
They moved across a ploughed field and there they were confronted, as the smoke cleared by German tanks, which fired and caused numerous injuries.
The few enemy that were not in tanks and those on MCs were mostly accounted for.
One or two accounts speak of one friendly tank (described by one man as Belgian) supporting the Bn. but it did not do very much before retiring.
The Germans had tanks, M.G.s and Tommy Guns.
As soon as the men showed themselves, the Germans opened up with M.Gs.
The bravery of Major Miller of ‘B’ Coy. was an example to all, as he led his men forward several times until he himself was killed while firing into the slits of a tank which had been stopped. Capt. Rucker was killed at about this time, 2/Lt. Bowyer was wounded in the leg with a bullet.
The Germans used their mortars and some bombs fell near ‘D’ Coy.
Meanwhile, No. 15 Pl. (‘C’ Coy) under 2/Lt. Sevenoaks, had gone to a village and having escaped some shelling, carried on with their patrol. They went through a wood and came out on a small road. From a churchyard, they saw the enemy crossing a field. 2/Lt. Sevenoaks sent back a runner to Bn. H.Q. but while the runner was taking shelter in a yard from enemy air observation, the C.O. went by in a car. He told 2/Lt. Sevenoaks to return to the rest of the Bn.
The Pl. was about to move off, when the lookout signalled that enemy tanks were coming. They jumped into a thicket nearby and remained there about 4½ hours, while a number of tanks passed up and down the road, occasionally firing close to their heads. There were no casualties. One tank stopped for about half an hour, while the crew did something to the engine and also had a meal. No. 15 Pl. remained undiscovered.
With the Bn. near the main road, the M.O.’s place had been taken by a Lieut. from the 182 Fd. Amb. He was killed at about 1800 hours.
In the evening, the men were told to retreat as best they could. There is no clear indication of where the order came from. Some seemed to receive the order from Officers; others from N.C.0.s; others say, “a message came round.” One man records an Officer said, “Go while the going’s good - it’s suicide here!”
Quite a number went to see what the others were doing and found they had gone. Pte. R. Durrant of ‘C’ Coy. records that, at dusk, he saw the C.O. get into a car, to go and see what was happening.
At this time, Abbeville was in flames and the road party was being told that A.F.V.s were only two or three miles away. They moved at once.
At 2200 hours, No.15. Pl. of ‘C’ Coy. left their hiding place and being surrounded, crawled through corn for a quarter of a mile. They once encountered a German patrol but it did not give fight and the Pl. threw it off. A little later, they met C.Q.M.S. Lowles and a Pte. Soldier of the Mortar Pl. four remaining, gathered themselves together and made for a wood about two miles from where they were. They picked up two more British soldiers, one of them from the Buffs. They waited in the wood until darkness fell and then began to make their way back to the I.B.D at Rouen.
No. 15 Pl. marched all night and the next morning met Major Cassels, R.S.M. Eames and Sgt. Morling. After a short chat, No. 15 PI. took a road to the left and the others went to the right. No. 15 Pl reached the I.B.D. on the Saturday.
The four men from the Mortars had neither map or compass and, as they were unfamiliar with the area, it took them seven days to walk the whole way. The French peasants were generous but afraid to help them too much. A number of times, the men had to lie low while German tanks passed and every place they went through had either been bombed or else it was bombed while they were there.
Others got back in various ways, a number joining up with French soldiers or other English troops. Some drove a horse and cart for some miles, others obtained bicycles and rode them for many miles, others got a French Army lorry and drove it towards Rouen together with some Guards and R.A.F. men they picked up on the way.
The road party reached Dieppe just as it was being bombed but got the vehicles in a wood and apparently were not seen by the enemy. Later, they were told that advanced German units were in Abbeville and they evacuated to Rouen.
The road party, now at camp near Rouen, heard for the first time that
the Bn. had been in action near Amiens and that there were heavy casualties.
That night, the first of the men began to get back from the battle. A Royal Sussex Composite Bn. was formed.
Stragglers continued to come into the camp near Rouen all day.
The Bn. withdrew from Rouen to Blain near Nantes and, for a week, was employed on parties at No. B.A.D. Those men who arrived at Rouen after the Bn. had gone were sent on to Blain.
Month and Year: JUNE 1940
The Bn. went from Blain to Cherbourg and embarked on a boat called the Duke of York. The Bn. arrived Southampton same day as they left Cherbourg.
The Bn. then went to Northumberland and, for some time, stragglers
continued to come in,
party not turning up for nearly three weeks, having gone to St. Malo.
The Bn. was then reformed and made up with drafts.