As Christopher Nolan’s epic visualization of the evacuation from Dunkirk hits the big screen, it is timely to look briefly at the gallantry of the Corps’ soldiers during the operation.
The chapter of the book that deals with the nation’s second highest award for gallantry in action—the Distinguished Conduct Medal—devotes a large part to the actions in Flanders and France in May 1940 and the evacuation from the beaches.
Soldiers of the Corps were awarded 34 Distinguished Conduct Medals, of which 17 were for conventional operations, one was to an escaper and the remaining 16 to special operations forces of one kind or another. Somewhat surprisingly, of the seventeen awards for conventional operations, fully 12 were for gallantry during the actions in Flanders and France, two of which are known to be for gallantry during Operation Dynamo, the evacuation. Three of the other awards from this period have no surviving citation.
The first of the two ‘evacuation’ DCMs was to WO II Walter Page, who was the Superintending Clerk to the Signal Officer-in-Chief. Just prior to the evacuation, and after attempting to meet up with other elements of the Headquarters in Dunkirk, he found himself at the docks, where he took command of the unloading of an ammunition ship until it was bombed and set on fire.
The second award was to WO II Ronald Lundie who worked ‘under trying conditions…including heavy bombing’ organising men on De Panne beach, just to the east of Dunkirk (and actually in Belgium). The beach was the site of General Gort’s final headquarters and the site of three jetties made by driving trucks onto the sand at low tide and constructing wooden walkways along their tops.
In addition, a significant number of awards of the Military Cross and Military Medal (the latter mostly to linemen and dispatch riders) were awarded for gallantry in May and June 1940. Examination of all that material is not yet complete but 40 awards of the MM were for this period. They include that to Lance Corporal Ignatius Rowland-Jones, a dispatch rider of Beauman Divisional Signals, who was killed on 1 June.
As mentioned above, three citations for awards of the Distinguished Conduct Medal cannot be traced and I would be grateful if anyone could provide information about the awards to:
2319083 Corporal Joseph Simmonds Greenhalgh (captured).
2308424 Warrant Officer Class I (Regimental Sergeant Major) Percy William Phillp (later Major P W Phillp MBE, DCM).
817177 Sergeant Arthur Herbert Tracy (captured).
Finally, it is worth recording that the Corps lost over 200 men during the battles in Flanders and France in May 1940 and up to the final evacuation from at St. Jean de Luz on 25 June. Others died of their injuries in the United Kingdom or as prisoners of war. Ninety-six of these men have no known graves and are commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial (five others on the memorial died as prisoners of war). Amongst the casualties was the most senior officer of the Corps to be killed as a result of enemy action. Brigadier Geoffrey Ernest Mansergh CBE, MC, Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General, II Corps, was severely wounded on 1 June 1940 when HMS Ivanhoe was attacked during the evacuation from Dunkirk; he died of his wounds the next day, aged 47.
1. (Back) Replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross in 1993.