Reply To: Fred Dearnley (1915-1969) [Private, Territorials]
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Huddersfield Examiner 29 June 1940, page 4:
BACK PROM FRANCE
Slaithwaite Man’s Thrilling Experiences
A young Colne Valley soldier, Pvte. Fred Dearnley, of 699, Wood Top, Slaithwaite, who was among the British troops surrounded by Germans at St. Valery-en-Caux, related to an “Examiner” reporter how he and several companions made their way to coast under intense enemy gunfire and aerial bombardment and finally embarked on a small steamer for England.
Private Dearnley described how he and his companions made their way under cover of darkness along gullies and over fields towards the coast, hardly daring to touch the roads in case they should come up against enemy forces. They had no maps, and relied upon a sense of direction to guide them to the point of embarkation. Once, when they were in a gully, they heard voices, and not knowing whether they were to meet some of their own comrades or the enemy, they went forward with rifles “at the ready.” “We were determined not to be taken prisoner,” he said, “and we intended to sell our lives pretty dearly if we met the enemy.
“In the darkness we later found ourselves in a graveyard surrounded by a prickly hedge, and as we were unable to find our way out again we had to help each other over the hedge. It was no easy task.
THROUGH A BLAZING VILLAGE
“We came to a village which was blazing and in ruins,” continued Private Dearnley. “There was nothing to be seen but a mass of debris and abandoned cars. We had been told that the Germans were in part of the place, but we saw nothing of them. After going on some distance, and climbing through bomb craters, we found ourselves on the promenade. In this respect we were much more lucky than some, who had to climb down the steep cliffs. As we reached the promenade we saw some figures approaching, and at first did not know whether they were some of our soldiers or Germans, so we prepared for a fight, but they turned out to be men of our own unit with transports.”
Speaking of the soldiers who found themselves at the top of the cliffs when they reached the coast, Private Dearnley said they used their rifle slings to make ropes with which they lowered themselves down to the beach.
SLEPT THROUGH SHELLING
A number of boats were waiting to take the troops off, he added, and British naval vessels kept up a heavy fire to cover their retreat. “As we were getting into the boats,” he said, “German aeroplanes came over and machine-gunned us. They also dropped some bombs. I had had no sleep for three or four days, and when I got into the boat I fell fast asleep. When I woke up I found that the ship had been shelled, though fortunately it was not seriously damaged. There was a hole through the funnel.
“I think I can only say what others have already said — thank God we have a Navy,” he went on.
Private Dearnley, who is twenty-five years of age, joined the Territorials in March of last year. He is married and has one child. For some time he has taken a great interest in the Scout movement, and in 1936 he went as one of the representatives of the Huddersfield district to the National Scout Jamboree in Norway. Until he was called up at the outbreak of the war, Private Dearnley was employed at the Colne Valley Tweed Company, Slaithwaite.