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Dunkirk by John Long

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project war veteran John Long reminisced about his time serving in the Army. This is his story, as told to Bob Smith:

John Long was born in 1913. He had always said that he wanted to make a clean sweep of it and move to Devon when he was old enough. So, at the age of 18, he travelled from West Hartlepool to Plymouth and enlisted as a private in the 5th Wiltshire Regiment. He served overseas during the two Northwest Frontier Campaigns and a tour of Garrison duty at Tanglin Barracks in Singapore.

“I was demobbed in the early August of 1939, three weeks later I was recalled and went out on the Sunday night from Catterick Barracks, near Richmond, with the forward elements of the B.E.F.

From there we went to Armentieres, on the frontier. Then, before the German invasion began, the 15th Brigade of the 5th division was marched back to Channel ports to embark for Norway. We walked 25 miles a day for four days and then they said turn round and come back to where you come from.

So we eventually arrived in Halluine, west of Brussels and fought our first action. Then blew the bridges up and went back into France, onto the banks of the river Scarpe. The 5th Division then attacked over towards Paris, but the French never came in at the other side and they left us to it. So we got knocked about a bit. So the word came through, every man for himself, get back to Dunkirk.

By this time I was already wounded, up on the ridge of the river Scarpe. I went back into our aid post. By then we had not had much sleep, so we all slept up. It was midnight when we all woke up and it was all dead quiet. It was funny that was, then a Corporal called Smith, who laid next to me said, “John there is something wrong here.” I said, “you can tell me, where’s all the guns gone?”

So we went out, he was wounded in the arm, so he walked out and had a look. He said, “There is no one here, only us. They have all gone.” We knew how far the unit was away, as they had been in contact. So we went back on our own, me helping him along and he helping me. I had a broom under my arm for a crutch until we got to Douai. Then some company or regiment, who were also in retreat, picked us up and they left us in Armentieres.

We got treated at the Aid Station and from there we were transported in an ambulance to Dunkirk. We were on the outskirts of the Docks area and there was hundreds there. We were there for quite a while. After four days, after every boat came in and got knocked about a bit. Then they blew the mole up and we left.

We went back on the dunes. We were there another two or three days, fired on, dive bombed and shelled from inland guns. Anyway, I finally got onto a little boat, the decks swilling with water. Then I got pulled up onto a big boat and I didn’t know anymore until I got to Dover. We left a lot on the sands, all around, worse luck.

I went by train to Blackburn and was admitted to Calderstone Hospital, on the outskirts of the town. My wife came down for three days and I have a lot of telegrams from the time I was there.

When I was discharged, I was transferred to the 4th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment, as my regiment had gone to Madagascar and then onto India. One of the men who joined up with me won the Victoria Cross at Anzio.

We went ashore on D-Day plus three, as we were escorting the Mulberry harbours. I was wounded again at Caen, then we fought our way up trying to get the boys out of Arnhem. We pulled some of them across the river on boats, but not many. We lost most of the boys. We had to fight all the way up. The Germans were on three sides of us.

We lost hundreds at Caen with the 43rd Wessex Division and then got made up. Only for it to happen again. I was hit a third time, this time in the right leg and evacuated to a hospital in Kent. I never saw any of the boys who I fought with again.”

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