Battle Honour DUNKIRK 1940

Event
Saturday, 1 June, 1940
2 RUR Dunkirk
Waiting at La Panne; the CO, Lt Col Fergus Knox DSO, is without a helmet. Note the improvised pier.

DUNKIRK1940The Battle Honour DUNKIRK 1940 is emblazoned on The Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment. The distinction was awarded to The Royal Ulster Rifles for the 2nd Battalion’s actions in holding ground and defending the perimeter of the embarkation area during the fighting from 26 May-3 June 1940, when over 338,000 personnel were evacuated from Dunkirk.

During the last two weeks of May 1940, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, along with many other units of the British Expeditionary Force, closed on Dunkirk. On 31 May, the enemy concentrated on attacking the Belgian half of the bridgehead that would be evacuated during the coming night. This area was held by the 3rd Division, including 2 RUR near Furnes (Veurne), where 2 RUR was in unfavourable defensive positions, and by the 4th Division on the east end of the perimeter, where the heaviest attacks were falling around Nieuport. Germans massing for an attack that evening were prevented from mounting a break-through by RAF air attacks, allowing the units of II Corps holding the perimeter to withdraw to the beaches at La Panne.

(Below, 2 RUR dug in near Furnes (© IWM HU 1133))

2RURFurnesIWMHU1133Having received its orders for the final withdrawal to the beaches and embarkation, the Battalion remained in its position until 0230 hours on 1 June 1940. The first stages of the withdrawal went according to plan, but as the Battalion approached the beaches, it was clear that, with the heavy enemy shelling of the area, confusion was rife. No one could find the reception centre and the movement control staff had ceased to exist. Some Riflemen became lost in the dark and made their own way to the waiting ships.

The Battalion moved from La Panne towards Dunkirk, heading for Bray Dunes where they paused at one of the improvised piers (submerged vehicles with duck boards on top) until it became obvious that there would be no ship lift. The Battalion then moved on towards one of the moles at Dunkirk were the first embarkations began mid-morning. The Riflemen, like the Irish Fusiliers, were returning to England with more than their complement of LMG Bren Guns and Boys Anti-Tank Rifles as the CO had directed the companies to collect such discarded weapons as a priority.

Lieutenant Bredin and around 50 from D Company began boarding an Isle of Man steamer, the SS Ben-my-Chree, the Captain of which announced that he could not take the whole party; however, he was persuaded and all embarked. Later, Lieutenant Bredin entering a saloon, saw a steward and asked, 'Would it be possible for you to produce a glass of beer for me ... ?' 'Yes, ... but I can't supply you with any alcohol until we are three miles out ...' was the astonishing reply, as bombs fell around the ship. His ship reached Dover in safety.

When 2 RUR reassembled at Yeovil in England, the casualties sustained were calculated as 34 killed, 70 wounded with 70 missing or captured by the enemy.

(Below; 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles awaiting evacuation from the beach at Bray Dunes near Dunkirk. (image from the collection of The Royal Ulster Rifles [Bredin])).