1857 - 52nd - joined the Punjab Field Force under Brig.-General Nicholson at Wuzeerabad, and by order of its Commanding Officer (Colonel Campbell) was dressed in khaki; the first Regiment so clothed.
1917 – 2nd Bn OXF & BUCKS LI – WILLERVAL.
1917 – 1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion – OUTPOST LINE.
Outpost Line – ENEMY ARTILLERY rather Quiet OURS shelled the SLAG HEAP AND WIRE IN FRONT.
Our OBSERVERS reported the usual movements of the enemy in their FRONT and SUPPORT LINES.
An Officers patrol went out with the object of locating a COPSE reported at K20 c 8.0 they discovered RIFLE PITS and an enemy post but reported that no such COPSE existed.
They met with no opposition and returned safely.
ENEMY MACHINE GUNS were active also their AEROPLANES.
Work on new posts was proceeded with during the night.
Weather: Very Warm.
Ration Strength: 23 Officers 614 Ors.
1940 – Three battalions of the regiment serving with the B.E.F engaged in heavy fighting covering the withdrawal to Dunkirk.
1st Bn Oxf & Bucks LI engaged in Defence of Comines-Warneton
1st Bucks Bn engaged in the Defence of Hazebrouck.
4th Bn Oxf & Bucks LI engaged in the Defence of Cassel.
1940 – 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion – HAZEBROUCK.
In the morning of the 27th the battle began in earnest. The weather had broken at last; it was cloudy, with a heavy shower in the afternoon. All day there was firing, and enemy movement was visible in some part of the Battalion’s area.
By 1100 hrs. B, C and D Companies had all been in action, but were not yet hard pressed. Another platoon of A Company was put under the command of D Company. There was steady shelling and enemy tanks and infantry attacked in several sectors. Numerous tanks were driven off by anti-tank-rifle fire.
At 1200 hrs. the enemy started a general attack on C and D Companies. The town was bombarded by infantry guns and heavy mortars, while flights of enemy aircraft flew over bombing and strafing. The enemy also found the range of Battalion headquarters, which suffered some damage. A Company nearby had heavy casualties.
At about this time a wireless message from brigade came in to Battalion headquarters ordering one company, B, the carrier platoon and an anti-tank gun to move to Hondeghem; a reply was sent that the enemy was already there and a further order was received to stand fast.
At 1600 hrs. C Company reported that five enemy light tanks had been put out of action by its anti-tank rifles and that one platoon and a section of another had been cut off or killed. A Company was then ordered to establish a fresh line in the buildings behind C Company while the latter withdrew through A Company.
D Company was also hard pressed. The enemy brought up infantry by troop-carrying aircraft and motor transport and assembled them behind the tanks. B Company was ordered to try to support D Company by overhead fire which it was hoped would prevent a threatened penetration of the town to the west of the railway station.
By 1900 hrs. Battalion headquarters was finding great difficulty in communicating with companies, as even orderlies were failing to get through. An hour later A Company (one platoon with the four composite platoons, the other two platoons being still with D Company) was in position, but only a few men of C Company had withdrawn through A. By this time, too, the shelling of Battalion headquarters and the former G.H.Q., which were large buildings and had probably been spotted, was so heavy that it was decided to move out temporarily to the houses on the other side of the street leading north. The intelligence section had to abandon its observation post in the church tower when it was hit by shellfire. A wireless message was sent to brigade explaining the position and asking for help if possible. Direct speech contact was no longer possible, but Morse messages got through. When an answer came it said that help was coming from the 44th Division from the south.
At 2030 hrs. the enemy broke right through D Company’s position with infantry and tanks, and pushed in towards the centre of the town and Battalion headquarters, at the same time working in to the rear and cutting that company off entirely from the rest of the Battalion. Others of the enemy worked to the right flank of A Company and established a machine-gun post covering the road running behind it.
It is difficult to piece together all aspects of the rifle companies’ fighting at this time, but the general picture is of a series of platoon battles; while the Germans, using tanks and infantry, gradually infiltrated through the gaps between company and company and between platoon and platoon. Nearly all platoons were heavily engaged, particularly those of C and D Companies; for them the battle had begun in earnest at 0900 hrs. and had continued all day.
From the direction of the main enemy attack it was C Company and, to a lesser extent, D Company which bore the brunt, but it was only the steady defence of all rifle companies throughout the day that enabled Battalion headquarters and H.Q. Company, having had no close fighting on the 27th, to hold out as long as they did.
That the enemy was able to make penetrations, albeit at heavy cost in men and tanks, was due to the inevitably wide frontages held by companies. Major Heyworth’s plan, and all credit must be given to him for it, was to have all-round defence of the town. To ask a single battalion to defend effectively a town of Hazebrouck’s size was at the very least asking a great deal. Even so, Major Heyworth succeeded not only in providing all-round defence, without depth it is true, but in keeping one company in reserve. This company, A, was used as planned when it went to the support of C where the pressure was strongest.
Meanwhile, at Battalion headquarters there was firing close by and suddenly a section of enemy went past at the end of the road, moving from west to east. They were fired on and scattered. Enemy fire coming from both north and west caused some casualties. Two carriers were driven into position as a roadblock to the north and immediately a tank began firing at the end of the street. It was obvious that headquarters were awkwardly placed and the order was given to return to the convent. The shelling had died down, although fires raged in many parts of the town and small-arms fire was coming from all directions. There was trouble in getting the wounded back, but eventually the regimental aid post was moved into the convent cellars, which were extensive; they ran the whole length of the building with an exit at either end. The wireless truck had to be abandoned and was put out of action.
The move was completed by dusk, when odd sections which had been cut off from their companies, having fought their way through, began to drift in to Battalion headquarters. All rifle companies had been overrun and cut off and very few men were able to reach headquarters. From the very nature of the battle rifle companies, with sections and platoons cut off and out of touch owing to the wide frontages held and the many enemy infiltrations, could withdraw only in scattered parties.
These scattered parties were greatly helped by the action of Captain Pallett, the quartermaster, and the transport officer, Captain Mason, who organised B Echelon drivers, cooks and sundry miscellaneous other ranks into a self-contained fighting force which fought a sturdy rearguard action and enabled many weary men to retire.
By nightfall all touch with rifle companies had been lost and Battalion headquarters were largely dependent for information on the garbled reports of the few men and sections which filtered in during the night. It was only too plain, however, that the Battalion had been split up into “penny packets,” some of which had been overrun entirely, while others were hanging on grimly until darkness gave them the opportunity to extricate themselves. The only obvious and established facts were that Battalion headquarters and H.Q. Company were surrounded; and that the Battalion as a fighting force had ceased to exist. In a final attempt to re-establish touch with the troops which had been nearest to headquarters, patrols were sent out soon after dark, one to B Echelon and the other to B Company. Second Lieutenant Preston’s patrol to B Echelon very soon bumped into the enemy in the square, where the French had surrendered earlier in the evening, and after a sharp skirmish he ordered his men to return while he tried to get through alone. He was never seen again and was afterwards reported killed.
Second Lieutenant Stebbings’s patrol to B Company succeeded in getting through to the station, but found it and the company headquarters deserted. When they returned it was realised at Battalion headquarters that it and H.Q. Company were the only parts of the Battalion available and capable of fighting another day.
In contrast to the day, the night was almost eerie in its quietness. All except sentries slept a weary sleep. Stand-to was ordered earlier than usual, as no risks were to be taken. Early in the morning parties went across to the G.H.Q. building foraging for ammunition and food. Some preserved stores were found, but not much ammunition. A hot meal was cooked and distributed soon afterwards.