My Dad, Charlie Smith, 6895456 Rifleman, joined the Queen Victoria Rifles Territorial Army ‘D’ Company in 1936. Consequently, at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, he was called up immediately. He went for further training in Kent before being sent to Dunkirk on Wednesday, 29th May, 1940.
During late afternoon, on Sunday, the 2nd June German troops filtered into the harbour from the north and had managed to get into the sand dunes between Charlie’s battalion and the harbour. The Queen Victoria Rifles were experiencing trouble with their automatic weapons due to the mechanism becoming clogged with sand and this resulted in the capture of Charlie and many other soldiers.
They were taken to a church in the northeast of the town, which was being used as a preliminary collecting centre. During the walk to the church, the Germans, many of whom spoke English, gave them food and an officer in the church let the prisoners wash. The Germans were friendly, being more anxious to tell of their experiences ‘in many cases of holidays in England’ than they were to discuss the war or politics. As soon as the church was full, the prisoners who numbered about 20 officers and 300 from other ranks were marched out of town.
The War Office reported to the press at the time:
What a tremendous value the Battalion were – their stand enabled others to escape from Dunkirk. Also the fact that reinforcements were needed by the German troops after military attack on the south of the town no doubt delayed their advance sufficiently. All the men fought magnificently. The men were never downhearted and even at the end, on the Sunday evening when the Germans attacked, after a shattering bombardment during the morning, they were still full of spirit and made light of their exhaustion and the pain which they must have been suffering.
Charlie was taken to Stalag VIIIB (later known as Stalag 344) Lamsdorf in Silesia and remained there for the rest of the war in Europe. He worked in the forest cutting down trees and also laboured on building sites. Albert Latter (Charlie’s friend from the Territorial Army) was also was taken prisoner at Dunkirk and they spent the five years together in the camp.
Charlie often talked of the hunger he experienced whilst in the Prisoner of War Camp. He and the other prisoners were extremely grateful for the food parcels sent by the Red Cross, family and friends, without which, Charlie thought many more prisoners would have died.
On the march to Stalag VIIIB in 1940 and on the long walk from Silesia to Berlin in 1945 he ate ‘pig-swill’ in order to survive.
Charlie married his sweetheart Edith, on June 3rd 1945. They enjoyed a happy marriage and had three children: myself Joan, Ray and Pam. Sadly Charlie died in 1965 from stomach cancer aged 48 years.
Received: December 2004
From: Joan Flanagan
On behalf of: Her late father, Charlie Smith