When war was declared in 1939 I was exempt from call up because of my job, but I felt that I had to answer an appeal over the Radio for all trained soldiers to report at once to their unit and not wait to be called up.
Within a very short period we were in France where we enjoyed nine months of ‘Phony War’ waiting for Hitler to attack. On May 8th, I received a letter from the War Office ordering me to report back to the factory. On May 10th, Hitler attacked and we were at war in earnest.
On the 31st May, I was evacuated from Dunkirk on the old destroyer HMS Icarus whose crew were superb, packing about a thousand on her deck, tending our wounds and feeding us with thick bread and butter and sweet hot tea. Never was a feast more enjoyed by Kings. All this time HMS Icarus dodged about to avoid low flying attacks from the air.
A strange event happened during the evacuation. I had been fortunate enough to shoot down a German Junker 88 bomber with the Bren gun. The plane came low over our gun site at sunrise and I saw his starboard prop was feathering. I aimed for his port engine and was lucky. We captured the crew who confirmed that I had brought them down. I was very lucky indeed, since the German gunner on the aircraft had managed to hit my Bren gun stand. Because of this, I got the name of ‘crack shot’ so that when the Major called for volunteers to go back and assist the infantry to hold a bridge outside Dunkirk while our troops retreated across it, I had to go to save my face.
One of the youngest infantry men to be at Dunkirk, Mr. Leonard Heath, crossed over the bridge while I was there. He later became my son-in-law and we discovered the above while comparing notes much later.