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The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)
Defence of  the La Bassée Canal Line
 25th-27th 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”."

In 1996, Les Back (Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London), interviewed Jimmy,

An interview with Major James Howe - Sound and vision blog

A broadcast of Dance Music by Jimmy's Dance Orchestra from Stalag 8B on repatriation in 1943 with wounded Prisoners of War.

Stalag Band by cherryred335 | Free Listening on SoundCloud

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.

Memorial to Major Rodney Watson DSO MC RS

Le Paradis Details

Maps, positions, locations and contemporary photos.

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.

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
Site of the
  Survivor O'Callaghan's Son
  Le Paradis Church,
Crucifix shattered by
shrapnel 1940
      Childrens's Tribute WWII Shrapnel
damage on WWI
  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:

MASSACRE AT LE PARADIS - HELL IN PARADISE - Hell in Paradise - Massacre at Le Paradis

Point du Jour International | GHOSTS OF 'PARADIS' (The), Hélène CHAUVIN

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

L’histoire du massacre de Paradis reste ancrée dans les mémoires - La Voix du Nord (2017)

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

Bob Brown - Le Paradis Dunkirk 1940 Royal Norfolk Regiment - YouTube


Lestrem : Les fantômes de Paradis, un documentaire diffusé sur France 3 - La Voix du Nord

May 2016

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

May 2017

  The Royal Scots
(The Royal Regiment)
Ceremony at the site of the Massacre of The Royal Norfolks Wreath Laying Dennis O'Callaghan son of Massacre Survivor Bill O'Callaghan and Ralston Ryder son of Major Ryder, acting CO of The Royal Norfolks
  L'Harmonie de Lestrem, leading the March to the Church   Halted at the Church Royal British Legion and Notre Dame de Lorette Colour Party
    Ceremony at the Church   Memorial at the Church
  Ceremony at CWGC War Cemetery     Memorial in the Church to The Royal Scots who defended Le Paradis and
Brigadier Charles Ritchie CBE

May 2018

Le Paradis 2018

  The Royal Scots Commemoration at Le Creton Farm The site of the Massacre The Harmonie de Lestrem leads the Parade from the Farm to the Church
      Wreaths Laid at the Church Le Paradis  Cemetery
  Wreaths laid at the Cemetery Three Generations at the Church Memorial    
  The Micro Museum Opening of the Micro Museum Next to Paradis Church  
  The Royal Scots
1939 St Andrews Dinner Quaich

May 2020

80th Anniversary of The Royal Scots Defence of the Dunkirk Perimeter: The Battle of Le Paradis

2020 was the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Le Paradis where The Royals Scots and The Royal Norfolks, ordered to hold the canal line to the last round and the last man, to protect the BEF's corridor to Dunkirk did just that.
Due to the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic a decision was taken to cancel the Association’s official participation with Lestrem Commune in the Commemoration. The Royal Norfolk Association and 1 Royal Anglian also cancelled.
Last year the Ville de Lestrem live streamed a scaled down commemoration which was live-streamed on their Facebook page.  The Maire, Jaques Hurlus and 1er Adjoint, Philippe Brouteele, led the Commemoration with British Forces represented by Colonel Andy McDowall, late RS.RS373, The Team tasked with recording memories of the Regiment of the 20th and 20th Centuries of the Regiment's 373 uninterrupted years of service until the merger of all the Scottish Regiments in 2006 hosted an online Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary on Tuesday 26th May 2020.

May 2021

The continuing impact of the Pandemic has again prevented a public commemoration.  Lestrem Commune have organised a limited Commemoration where we will be represented by Elected Officials and Veterans.  It will be live streamed on the Commune's Facebook page at 1200 (French Time) on Saturday 29th May 2021.

May 2022

Return to Le Paradis - 82nd Anniversary and Last Organised Visit

What Le Paradis is all about for us is enduring friendship combined with sacrifice. It started in 1940 on 26th May at Calonne-sur-Lys where The Royal Scots were in Brigade Reserve. “The Royal Norfolks, those old and firm friends of The Royal Scots, had gone forward to the La Bassée Canal four miles to the south and there was word of heavy fighting.” (Augustus Muir, The First of Foot: With the B.E.F. In France 1939-40). When news arrived of an Enemy Patrol across the Canal The Royal Scots moved up taking prisoners and began moving into the positions they would hold the next day until out of ammunition. Friendship with the people of Paradis began in the days after the Battle when they returned and buried our dead who they found in and around their shattered homes. The Pipes and Drums are rightly known for their stirring music but are primarily infantry soldiers and provide defence for Battalion Heaquarters. In 1940 Pipe Major Allan and his platoon died in that task at the Battalion Headquarters in Rue de Derrière outside the home of the Delassus Family. The Delassus Family on return buried The Royal Scots fallen and defied the Germans by guarding the grave whenever they passed  a high risk during occupation until reinterment in 1942. Grandson Christian Delassus is a member of the Harmonie de Lestrem which played on Saturday. Friendship continued in Paradis when the Commemorations began and among the first to attend was Major Jimmy Howe, a Bandsman with The Royal Scots in 1940, later a Director of Music. The Harmonie de Lestrem plays arrangements composed by Major Howe including “Pentland Hills”. Jimmy attended and played The Last Post beautifully on his Cornet into his ‘80s, shortly before his death.

The French Army Liaison Officer with The Royal Scots in 1939 and 1940 and a Prisoner of War with them until 1945 was Captain Michel Martell of the famous Cognac family. His grandson Thierry Firino Martell joined us at lthe Church. He  arranged for a special bottle of Martell to be delivered to our one surviving veteran, Major John Errington, 103 years of age who was greatly cheered to be reminded of his WWII comrade. (John died on 29th August 2022 shortly after marking his 104th Birthday).

Of course individuals will still visit Paradis and its Memorials. This year we wanted to continue to thank our friends in Paradis and Lestrem Commune for their many years of friendship and devotion to the memories of 1940 and hospitality for us since and presented a David Ogilvie Wrought Iron Bench with silhouettes of the 1940 Royal Scots, Poppies, Bleuets, our Cap Badge (St Andrew) , our Motto “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit” and a message of Dedication that will stay in the Commune.

Our Party was as usual  accompanied by our Piper and this year by our Standard Party.

We remember Le Paradis for the success of the action by The Royal Scots and Royal Norfolks in 4 Brigade. The Order “Stand and Fight to the Last Round and the Last Man” was given only twice in WWII, in May 1940, to delay the German Advance into the corridor that was to be held for the Dunkirk Evacuation. It was given again at Kohima in India in 1944 to stop the Japanese Advance. On both occasions the Regiments given that order did just that. The reformed 1st Battalion The Royal Scots and the 2nd Battalion The Royal Norfolks served together in 4 Brigade again at Kohima relieving the defending force and continuing and winning the Battle.

Lestrem Commune FB Le Paradis 2022



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"