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The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)
Defence of  the Dunkirk Perimeter, 25th May 1940,
Remembered by the late Major Jimmy Howe MBE


Major Jimmy Howe MBE at
Le Paradis War Cemetery

Extract from "A Conductor's Journey"

"The “phoney war” came to an end on 10th May 1940, when many planes passed over Lecelles.  After having spent so much time building fortifications, we were told we had to embus at noon and cross the Belgian border, move to Wavre, South of Brussels and await the Germans there.  As I was in the HQ Company, I was given a position in a house near Wavre railway station with another bandsman, and although we were stretcher bearers and supposedly protected by the Geneva Convention we were armed with rifles.  We settled into the house, and next morning we were visited by our Company Commander and Company Sergeant Major who told us that the Germans were expected soon and that we had to open fire when they cane into view.  I don't know whether or not they expected us two bandsmen to hold back the German Army, however, they had no sooner left us when German aircraft passed over dropping bombs aimed at the railway station, which missed, but destroyed a house opposite our position and wounded the Company Commander and Company Sergeant Major who had just left us.  After four days at Wavre, the Battalion was ordered to withdraw after suffering its first casualties.  We marched through the night, and I was so exhausted that every time we stopped for a rest I was scared to close my eyes in case I fell asleep and got left behind at the roadside.

Our next meeting with the enemy was at Calonne at the River Escaut, and here we suffered heavy casualties.  The Regimental Aid Post was set up in a large cave in the side of a hill and wounded soldiers were being brought in by the dozen.  The MO and the Padre worked hard, some of the wounds were most severe and I could only assist by passing dressings over and trying to make the soldiers comfortable.  It was quite traumatic to see some of my colleagues from the band among the wounded.  A first class violinist was one of these with a particularly severe head wound and it was very distressing to realise that he would never make music again.  The MO sent two of us out of the cave with the stretcher to pick up several soldiers in a wood nearby, and it was here that I had my first experience of being under mortar shell fire.  It was terrifying, the shells would burst with a loud crack and it was no good trying to shelter in ditches, as the missile burst in the air and shrapnel would rain down.  I soon learned that the only way to escape danger was to dive beneath any vehicle that might be near.  Orders came that we were to retire from this position and some RASC trucks managed to get to us.  Dusk was falling, but as we drove away I saw some soldiers from a British regiment sitting by a ditch by the side of the road.  I thought that they must be taking over our positions, but they were all dead and we had to leave them hurriedly, without any dignity of burial.

On May 25th, we arrived at the village of Le Paradis, near Bethune, and it turned out to be anything but “paradise”!  The Regimental Aid Post was set up in a small house, the villagers had vacated the place, fearing the advancing Germans who soon caught up with us and began attacking our positions.  A message came to the MO that there was a severely wounded soldier in the village church about half a mile away, and he told me to go with the medical truck and see what I could do for him.  The area was being shelled, but the truck driver managed to get to the porch, where I found the soldier had been left lying on a stretcher with his body severely mutilated.  It appeared to me that he had been hit with a mortar shell, and I could see that his life was ebbing away.  I made him as comfortable as possible, returned to the truck as there was nothing else I could do, and the driver took me back to the Regimental Aid Post.  The church at Le Paradis still bears the scars of shelling to this day.  The Germans were by now swarming around the area.  I was wearing a Red Cross armband and had a haversack of surgical dressings displaying a Red Cross slung over my shoulder.  In retrospect I feel sure it was this sign of the Geneva Convention that prevented the German troops shooting at me as I made the terrifying journey back to the RAP sitting in the back of the medical truck.

I reported to MO Captain Percy Barker who was tending several wounded men, when our band Sergeant said he could see some French troops coming near the house.  They were in fact Germans, and were attacking with automatic weapons.  The next thing I saw was a German soldier outside our window and his arm going back to throw a stick grenade which flew past my head and exploded at the back of the room, killing some of the wounded.  There were guttural shouts of "Come out, Tommy! Hande hoch", and as the building was now on fire, we had no option but to get out with our hands up.  The Germans screamed at us, tearing off our equipment.  We were then lined up, and used as a screen from the fire of our comrades further down the road who were carrying on the battle.  There was a Bren machine gun vehicle nearby, and half a dozen of us crouched behind it.  I was next to the Padre, who at this point was wounded in the thigh from what was British rifle fire coming from a barn some distance away.  I put my hand down to get a dressing for his wound, at which a German pointed a revolver, and screamed at me to get my hands back over my head.  The Germans meanwhile began taking cover in the surrounding ditches.  I saw how well armed they were, with Sten guns, a weapon we had never seen before, stick grenades and automatic spandau machine guns.  I saw one young German soldier with a machine gun lie in the middle of the road without any cover to fire on troops in our HQ when he was hit by Bren gun bullets from Pipe Major Allan's platoon one hundred yards away.  The German was killed instantly a short distance from me.  I have often since thought how well disciplined the Germans were, that they did not take revenge on us newly captured prisoners who were sheltering behind the Bren gun carrier.  The shooting died down, and the MO, the Padre, Band Sergeant and myself were taken behind what was left of the RAP, to be questioned by a German Officer.

That officer was dressed in a black uniform with a skull and crossbones badge in his peaked cap.  We later learned that these men were part of the SS Totenkopf Division, they had fought in Poland, swept through Belgium and France and their morale was high.  Of the four of us, the SS Officer, who was wearing a white silk scarf around his neck, chose a junior to interrogate, who was myself.  He asked me the whereabouts of our Battalion HQ which I didn't know anyway.  One of his men told him that the house they had just taken was the Regimental Aid Post.  When he saw the surgical implements and wounded men inside, the officer said that had we been displaying a Red Cross sign on the building they would not have attacked it.  We must have been very lucky as we learned after the war that another Battalion of the same SS Totenkopf Regiment had lined up 99 British soldiers only a mile away, and mown them down with machine guns, killing 99% of them, mostly from the Royal Norfolk Regiment.  The German Officer responsible for this murder was traced and brought to justice in 1949.  The full story of the massacre is told in the book “The Vengeance of Private Pooley”."

Corporal Billy Bell's Experience

In June 2010, after reading the above,  Mick Bell got in touch to advise that his late father, Corporal Billy Bell, also known as "Dingle", was a boyhood friend of Jimmy Howe in County Durham and, like him, joined The Royal Scots in 1937. Like Jimmy, his father was a musician and played alto saxophone alongside him in the 1st Battalion's band . They served together and were captured together at Le Paradis. Jimmy went to a camp in Germany and was repatriated as an escort to severely wounded prisoners in about 1942, but his fatherstayed in Stalag XXA at Torun, Poland until 1945. During his term of imprisonment he worked mainly on farms and was a member of the camp concert party. In early 1945 the prisoners were forced to march westwards to escape the advancing Russian army (the infamous Death March) – his father, along with a couple of others escaped and hid out until the Russians came (he described seeing waves of Cossacks on horseback charging towards them). At first, he feared being shot, as the Russians thought that he and the others were Italian troops, but he convinced them that they were British. He was sent back through Russia on a tortuous journey, which culminated in Odessa, on the Black Sea, from where a troop ship returned them to the UK.
He went on to serve until 1948, and remained close friends with Jimmy until his death. He and his wife stayed regularly with Jimmy and Avis, attending many of the annual concerts Jimmy organised at Croydon and visiting him when the Scots Guards were on ceremonial at Edinburgh Castle

Mick took his father back to Le Paradis on one occasion in around 1987/8 and he was truly overcome. As he walked along the lines of graves, he remarked  “I carried him in”, "I buried him”, "I treated him".

While they were in the area, they visited another bandsman, Ginger Patchett, who escaped after being captured in 1940. Ginger went back to the village where the battalion had been stationed during the “Phoney War”, moved into the home the French girlfriend he had acquired at the time and stayed there until the area was liberated in 1944.

After the war he was when being debriefed by a British officer in Brussels he was asked why he did not join the Resistance? Ginger’s reply was that the Resistance did not have a space for a ginger-haired Cockney trumpet player. After being discharged he retuned to France, married his girlfriend and lived in Lille until his death.
 

Links to The Royal Norfolk Regiment's experience at Le Paradis:

Rolls of Honour Overseas - Le Paradis - France

Le Paradis 27 May 1940

BBC Website: WW2 The People's War

Wormhoudt Massacre, 28th May 1940

Also unknown to Jimmy at the time, a massacre of approximately 80 men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Cheshire Regiment and The Royal Artillery took place three days later  at Wormhoudt by another SS Regiment. It also appears that, unknown to Jimmy, some 21 Royal Scots suffered a similar fate.

YouTube - Dunkerque & The Wormhoudt Massacre

Le Paradis May 2006


Le Paradis War Cemetery 21st May 2006 © Alan Howe

Major Jimmy Howe MBE's ashes were laid to rest in Le Paradis War Cemetery, close to the Cross, in accordance with his wishes, during the2006 annual
Service of Remembrance.

Jimmy made a pilgrimage every year to Le Paradis to remember his fallen comrades, and played  the Last Post on the cornet well into his 80s.
He died  on 16th March  2005, aged 87.

75th Commemoration 2015

 
  Le Creton Farm,
Royal Norfolks
 HQ
Site of the
Massacre
  Survivor O'Callaghan's Son
   
         
   
  Le Paradis Church,
Crucifix shattered by
shrapnel 1940
     
 
      Childrens's Tribute WWII Shrapnel
damage on WWI
Memorial
 
         
   
  Commonwealth War Graves, behind the Church      
 
  The Royal Scots Association at Le Paradis 2015      
  "Dors min P'tit Quinquin"
  Hélène Chauvin's Film "Ghosts of Paradis", "Fantômes de Paradis" 2015 Clip from Hélène's film providing orientation Hélène Chauvin's Film "Ghosts of Paradis", "Fantômes de Paradis" 2015 The Harmonie de Lestrem plays "Dors Min P'tit Quinquin" at
the end of the March to to Church

Further references:

Point du Jour International | FANTÔMES DE PARADIS (Les), Hélène CHAUVIN

La Voix du Nord: Lestrem "Les Fantômes de Paradis"

Pictanovo, la communauté de l'image en Nord-Pas de Calais

Mai 1940 - 3° Nos villes et villages de Flandre sont occupés. - Sapeurs Pompiers - Fils de France

 
  Men of 
The Royal Scots 
April 1940
16-21 May 1940 -Fall Gelb 21 May -4 June 1940 -Fall Gelb 26 May Positions
     
  SS Totenkopf 
cross 
La Bassée Canal
SS Totenkopf advance 
on Béthune
   

1st Bn The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and 2nd Bn The Royal Norfolk Regiment were part of 4 Bde, I Corps,BEF  in 1940

3 SS Panzer Division Totenkopf in May 1940

3 Panzer Division (Wehrmacht) (Heer) May 1940

May 2016

     
  March to the Church Service at the site of the Massacre    
       
  Laying a wreath at the site of the Massacre      

This page is dedicated to the memory of  Major Jimmy Howe MBE

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."

"Nous nous souviendrons d'eux"