Veteran Stories:
George Tipton

Army

  • Mr. Tipton's service medals, including the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp, the Defence Medal, The War Medal (1939-45), The Territorial Long Service Medal.

    George Tipton
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"Well of course, when we got to Dover, they told us we couldn’t go ashore until they’d taken the dead off the top, off the boat deck and the promenade deck, whatever it was. And to my horror, all my friends seem to have gone, all been machine gunned."

Transcript

I joined the Territorial Army, which is the part time army in May 1939, after the stupid arrangement that [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain made with Hitler. And we knew that this was going to happen, that a war was going to come very soon. So those of us who were concerned, joined up either in the reserve or in the regular army. So in 1939, I was at camp at the Catterick camp in Yorkshire, which was the centre for the tank battalions. I was amazed that we were not, we didn’t even see a tank, let alone drive one or drive in one. There didn’t seem to be any there. However, we spent the time marching up and down and learning foot drill in the lane. Then, of course, at the end of the camp, it was two weeks, we went home, and then a month or so later, war was declared and we were called to the colours.

In February 1940, we were ordered to France and we went across on the train trolley from Dover to Dunkirk. Still, no sign of any vehicles. So the rumour went through the town that the tanks had been forwarded by rail from Calais or Dunkirk to Belgium. But then when we went back to Le Mans [France], which is very close to Paris, on the Seine [river], there was still no vehicles and no training. And when the Germans came through Holland and Belgium, we were told to move into Belgium. At that stage, the Belgians were not keen on our coming in because they had this stupid idea of not offending the Germans. So no preparations had been made, no planning, and as far as we knew, the tanks were in our marshalling yards at Edingen, which is just the west side of Brussels.

So we arrived there by truck to be entertained by the Luftwaffe who was dive bombing attack, but still no tanks. By the time we got on the road, we were told to fall back to Tournai [Belgium]. The roads were clogged with women and children and old people retreating with their belongings on hand carts and trucks and so on that they could find. But it was very difficult for us to move, and then about every half hour, we were subjected to dive bombing and the people, of course, were slaughtered and they impaired our movement.

So eventually, we got back to Arras [France] and there was a decision made there that we should make a counterattack. And the chap who was in charge of the German situation at that time facing at us was [Field Marshal Erwin] Rommel . However, he was taken quite by surprise and our men did an outstanding job in getting some casualties, but mainly scaring the hell out of the Germans, that they took off, they retreated for I don’t know how many miles, but they got out of the area. But of course, we couldn’t finish it off because our tanks had two pounder guns and I think the Germans had something approaching a 75 millimeter. But I’m not positive on that.

We were then told to go back apparently to Dunkirk, which we did. We moved back. One of the battalions in the brigade staged a rear guard action at Bergues which is a little village outside of Dunkirk. But it was a lost cause. It was quite a strafing attack by Heinkels [German aircraft]. The roads from Bergues down to the docks in Dunkirk were just clogged with trucks and vehicles of all kinds. And they just strafed, they came down very low, a machine gun there, anything they could see and there was blood and people dying and dead. And we were told to move down to the docks, and it was sort of every man for himself. And down at the jetty, we saw an Isle of Man boat, like it had been taken over by the Navy because the boat had been repainted and was the grey of the navy, of the Royal Navy.

So the boys said, “Well, we’re all going up on top, let’s go up and get some sunshine.” Because it was now beginning to clear and there was a lot of smoke, some oil tanks had been got on fire. So I said, “To hell with that, I’m not going up there because I want something between me and the sky with these bloody fools coming over again and they’re going to continue, when the ship gets out in the water, they’re going to give us hell.” We kept going and then these Heinkels came over and machine gunned the ship. And eventually we got to Dover. Well of course, when we got to Dover, they told us we couldn’t go ashore until they’d taken the dead off the top, off the boat deck and the promenade deck, whatever it was. And to my horror, all my friends seem to have gone, all been machine gunned.

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