King's Own Royal Regiment Museum

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Regimental History - 20th Century

Second World War 1939-1945

7th Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster

Formed in February 1940 the 7th Battalion went out to France in April 1940 in order to assist with the construction of defensive works. Following the German invasion on 10th May the battalion was ordered back to Dunkirk and the UK. On their return to the UK they were employed on anti-invasion duties whilst they awaited the expected German invasion. In June 1942 the Battalion went to Gibraltar and then onto India in March 1943, where it remained until after the war. Despite intensive training it was never to see active service.

14th February 1940 Battalion formed at Dover

25 April 1940 7th Battalion arrive in France

10th May 1940 German advance begins

German aircraft bomb the 7th Battalion but they receive no casualties.

26th May 1940 Battalion withdraws from Belgium

27th May 1940 Battalion under attack

The 7th Battalion come under attack from the German forces across the River Lys. The battalion are successful in shooting down an aircraft with a Bren gun and capture the pilot. The order to withdraw is later received.

29th May 1940 7th Battalion withdraws from Dunkirk

Captain William Shuttleworth's account of the 7th Battalion, King's Own in 1940.

Five of the King’s Own Battalions were in France during the early years of the war. The 7th Battalion was typical of many units of the British Army at the time.

The Battalion was formed on 14th February 1940 at Dover. Soldiers were drafted from many different units. The lack of experienced men was a problem. Many received rapid promotions and anyone with specific skills was quickly assigned suitable duties. Civilian clerks, for example, were used to staff the Orderly Room. Officers were transferred to the Battalion from at least ten other regiments. William Shuttleworth was transferred from the Royal Norfolk Regiment.

Training took place at Braintree in Essex, in March. HQ was established in the local drill hall, with the officers’ mess in the White Hart Hotel. The Companies were billeted about the town. In April the Battalion moved to France and, on 10th May, were bombed for the first time. Second Lieutenant Samuel Peter Fawcett and his platoon went forward on a ‘hush-hush’ mission - they were one of the first bodies of troops to be in contact with the enemy. They did not rejoin the Battalion until the evacuation. Fawcett, from Lancaster, was later attached to The Green Howards. He was killed on 1st June 1941 and is listed on the El Alamein Memorial.

The Battalion moved up into Belgium. It guarded bridges near Brussels and had orders to blow them as the enemy approached. With the enemy twelve miles to the north the Battalion retreated - but not before B and C Companies had come into contact with an enemy patrol, exchanging fire. The Battalion moved to Tournai to build up defences. There were rumours that the Germans had captured Arras. On 22nd May the unit took up position on the Bethune-La Basse Canal, but again they were ordered to withdraw. New positions were established at Estaires and Merville.

“At Estaires an aircraft was brought down by light machine gun fire. The pilot, who told us we might as well surrender, was brought into Battalion HQ and given a drink, most probably the wrong thing to do, but we were very green in those days” recalled Shuttleworth.

The enemy broke through between Estaires and Merville. The Battalion lost contact with both Brigade and Divisional Headquarters but an order did get through - bridges were to be blown at 4 am on the 29th May - whether the rearguard were through or not. The message also said;

“... MAKE FOR THE SEA, IF POSSIBLE D U N K I R K .”

The Companies withdrew to Poperinghe and each moved to Dunkirk as best it could. The Battalion did not form up again as a single unit - there was no time. It was absorbed into various other units defending Dunkirk. Soldiers of the Battalion were evacuated from Dunkirk and reformed as a unit in Devon on their return to England.

Captain Shuttleworth was promoted to Major and later became second-in-command of the Battalion. He served with the 7th in Gibraltar and India but was posted to another regiment in September 1943. He retired from the Army in September 1949.

June 1940 Home Defence begins

7th King's Own arrive at Newark in the East Midlands and begin a home defence role operating in camouflaged buses.

September 1940 Move to Northern Ireland

In the autumn of 1940 the 7th Battalion moves to Northern Ireland.

21st June 1942  7th Battalion sails for Gibraltar

The 7th Battalion sails from Greenock on the River Clyde, Scotland, to re-enforce Gibraltar, they return to the UK three months later.

More on the 7th Battalion in Gibraltar

19th March 1943  7th Battalion, King's Own arrive in India

 

The King's Own The Story of a Royal Regiment Volume 3 1914-1959 by Colonel Julia Cowper - the best history of the King's Own in the Second World War.  On a CD-rom, viewable through a computer with Internet Explorer or similar.  Price including UK postage £12.75

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