"Although it will be very condensed, I will try to explain to you about Dunkirk, but first a few facts.
Winston Churchill was a brilliant man and for years he had been warning the government that Germany was rearming and preparing for war, but his warnings fell on deaf ears. All Europe, except for Germany, were totally unprepared for war. The men of our 23rd division, who were Territorials, had never done any training to turn us into fighting units. The same thing applied to other Territorial Army divisions. Belgium and Holland wanted to remain neutral so did not arm or prepare defences and would not allow our observers into their countries so as not to offend Germany.
Our divisions went to France early April 1940 as a labour division. None of us had even fired a rifle. We prepared landing strips for the RAF. Now when the war really started and Hitler attacked on 10 May 1940, our only real plan was to push into Belgium whenever Germany crossed the frontier and that is what happened. The Dutch were soon overrun and the Belgians capitulated soon after. British troops were moved anywhere to try and plug gaps along the front.
Our lot were constantly on the move, never in one place for more than two days. We soon got used to our weapons, trying to hold the German advance, but could never attack because we didn’t have the training or weapons. We just had to take all they threw at us and fired our rifles whenever we saw a grey uniform and square helmet!
The enemy all along the front were most powerful and used what was described as blitzkrieg tactics. Their bombers would give our lads a good pasting and straight away the tanks would attack, followed by a well-armed infantry. It was the infantry we went for.
When the evacuation from Dunkirk first started, all non-combatants were lifted by ships off the beach straight away to avoid congestion, and as the perimeter became smaller, less well-trained soldiers made their way to the beaches, while the better-trained soldiers held off the enemy to enable the ships to get men away.
Without going into detail, from May 10 to May 28 we were plugging gaps wherever we were sent to. Then we had to make our way to the beaches – being bombed and strafed all the way for 12 miles - and finally got away on 1 June. Some day, you will have time to read my war books and only then will you fully understand why and how it all happened as it did.
If our army had not got away from Dunkirk, some 340,000 men would have been finished because England was very short of manpower and could not otherwise have taken the aggressive action we took as the war progressed.
Hope this has made it all a bit clearer for you.
This note was drafted by Bill to give the family more background on the Dunkirk episode in his war diary.
Bill Cheall's book story biography and war diary is a hard back book by Pen and Sword.