Eighty years ago, more than 300,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26th May and 4th June 1940 as part of “Operation Dynamo”. On arrival in England the soldiers were dispersed all over the country; around 600 of them ended up in Badsey.
Dunkirk Soldiers arrive in Badsey
One morning in June 1940, the residents of Badsey woke up to find the whole churchyard full of sleeping soldiers. Ten-year-old Roger Savory, who lived across the road at The Little Cottage in the High Street, looked in amazement at the scene. The men were soldiers who had been evacuated from Dunkirk. Meanwhile, six-year-old Terry Sparrow, who lived on Brewers Lane, took the circuitous route to school, as word had quickly got round about the new arrivals. Instead of going down Chapel Street, he and his friends went down to the High Street so they could see the mass of soldiers spilling out from the churchyard and sitting outside The Stone House (known today as Badsey Hall, 42 High Street). The men were waiting there until they could be allocated accommodation.
Some men were billeted at The Wheatsheaf, others in barns and houses all round the village. Some stayed in Sharps Row, the terrace of cottages that had not been occupied since 1933 and were due for demolition. A hut was put up in the yard of The Stone House and the Nissen hut on The Stockey was also pressed into use and used as a billet (in the lee of the shed in Stanhope House gardens). Some soldiers slept under canvas at South Littleton; from there they used the facilities at the newly-opened Blackminster School for showers. Most of the men possessed only the clothes they wore.
A local military structure was soon introduced with Headquarters set up in Brewers Lane in a building which had been unoccupied for some months. This was in the house known today as Rusholme, No 29 Brewers Lane. A guard was posted outside. Terry Sparrow recalls that he and the other children who lived down the lane would stand at a distance away each holding a broomstick and practising guard duty.
A guardroom was established in the old cottage next to Malvern House (on the site of the late 20th-century house called The Rock), a canteen was set up in the old school (now The Pub in a Club) and the troops’ cookhouse was in the block behind The Wheatsheaf Inn. As well as the canteen, local people rallied round and found food for the soldiers. The Recreation Ground was used for army transport parking.
Ted Wheatley (1921-1996), in his memoirs, describes the arrival of the soldiers:
One night just after Dunkirk, a convoy of lorries full of tired dirty soldiers arrived in the village. The officer in charge was soon all round the houses looking for help with baths and hot water and for farmers with barns and clean straw for the soldiers to sleep on. My mother soon stoked up the fire and lit fires under three big furnaces that were in our large out kitchen. Soon there was a long line of soldiers queuing up our stairs waiting to get into the hot bath. Mother and my sisters got out all the towels we had for them but there were so many I think some of them had a job to dry themselves. Other people in the village were all helping to take care of the soldiers in all sorts of ways and soon after the army came and issued all new kit to the men. After a few days the troops and their transport were moving around the village getting reorganised. They took over one petrol pump in the village and there was an endless queue of lorries being filled up. They opened up the old manor which had been closed for years. It was nice to see it come back into use again after being closed and overgrown for years. [NB - Ted Wheatley's memory may have been slightly at fault here. The Manor was unoccupied in the 1920s when Ted was a young child but, from at least the mid 1930s - mid 1940s, it was occupied by John Kelland Jones and his wife, Winifred, and by Winifred's sister, Betty, who married William John Knight. They were in residence at the time of Dunkirk, so may have opened up a part of the Manor House for the soldiers.]
In the mornings my mother would cross the road into our front orchard to feed her poultry and the soldiers used to call out to her, "Watch out for them chickens, missus, of we will have them in the pot for dinner." Some time later during the night, all the troops moved out of the village and so did our chickens! Luckily they never took mother’s turkeys, geese or guinea fowl.
Most of the soldiers stayed in the village for about three weeks until they could be assessed and returned to their own regiments.
Staying on after Dunkirk
But for some men, they were too ill to return to their regiments. The Manor House was used to house families of men who were too ill to look after themselves.
One of the last soldiers to be evacuated from Dunkirk was Sam Thornhill of Sheffield. Because of his injuries, he stayed on for three months in order to recover and was joined by his wife Elizabeth and daughters, Margaret and Joan. In total there were four or five families staying in the Manor House. The families came from all parts of the country and several of them had children. Nearly 70 years later, Margaret Poole (née Thornhill) visited Badsey and was invited to take a look round the house where she had lived briefly as a ten-year-old.
Two of the Dunkirk soldiers stayed for much longer in Badsey - a whole lifetime, in fact, having fallen in love with local girls:
- Cheshire-born Samuel Gresty (1911-2003) met his future wife, Janice Allard, when she was gardening. They were married the following year in St James’ Church, Badsey, and went on to have six children.
- Cornishman Francis Glanville (Glan) Williams (1918-2010), who served with the Royal Army Service Corps, was posted to an RASC unit based at South Littleton after being evacuated from Dunkirk. Some three weeks later he was sent to a billet in Badsey, in Marshall’s barn (close to the present Manorside). After a few days, his eye was caught by Muriel, the daughter of market gardener, Arthur Taylor, of Synehurst. However, towards the end of September Glan and his companions left the area as they were headed for the Middle East. It was not until he was demobbed in July 1946 that Glan was able to see Muriel again. He returned to Badsey and married Muriel on 21st September 1946. Tony Jerram gives an account of his war-time experiences on page 114 of Aldington and Badsey, Villages in the Vale, a Tapestry of Local History.
Local men involved in the rescue of troops
The following two Naval men are known to have participated in the rescue of troops from Dunkirk:
Rupert Ivor Hewlett (1899-1949), known as Ivor, was born at Kidlington, Oxfordshire, but moved to Badsey in 1926 when he married Nora Mary Ballard. According to Tony Jerram on page 115 of Aldington and Badsey, Villages in the Vale, a Tapestry of Local History, Ivor returned to Badsey on home leave in June 1940 to see his wife and sons. He found the village full of khaki-clad Dunkirk survivors. On his arrival in the village wearing a sailor’s uniform, the soldiers gave him a cheer and swept him off to The Wheatsheaf Inn in gratitude for the role played by the Navy in getting them off the beaches. Ivor’s obituary in The Evesham Standard of 11th March 1949, confirms that he took part in the rescue of troops from Dunkirk.
Wilfred Andrew Padfield (1921-2004) was born at Badsey in 1921, the eldest of six children of Henry Clement Padfield and his wife, Jessie May (née Crane). The family moved to his father’s home town of Portsmouth in 1931. At the age of 15, Wilfred joined the Royal Navy. According to a newspaper report of 1944, he rescued his uncle, Hubert Crane (the youngest brother of his mother, Jessie, and just four years his senior), at Dunkirk, and they then met up again four years later in Italy. After the war, Wilfred returned to live in the Evesham area.
Local men evacuated from Dunkirk
The following local men are known to have been evacuated from Dunkirk:
- James Henry Chamberlain (1917-1941) of the Worcestershire Regiment was born at Wickhamford, then moved to Willersey, but was living in Badsey on the outbreak of war. At Dunkirk, he received two wounds in his right leg. He was killed the following year in a tragic accident when attempting to save some children.
- Hubert Victor Crane (1917-1989) was born at Badsey in 1917, the youngest of ten children of John Albert Crane and his wife, Charlotte Emily (née Perkins). According to a newspaper report of 1944, he was rescued by his nephew, Wilfred Padfield (the son of his eldest sister, Jessie), at Dunkirk, and they then met up again four years later in Italy.
- Charles William Haines (1919-2005) was born at Penarth, South Wales, in 1919, but moved to Badsey in 1933. As a member of the Territorials before the war, he went with either the 7th or 8th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Seven months after Dunkirk, Charles married Iris Annie Smith at St Andrew’s Church, Hampton, on 4th January 1941.
- Norman Hall (1920-?) was born at Badsey in 1920, the youngest of three children of Arthur Richard Hall and his wife, Mary Eleanor (née Holder). In 1927 he moved with his mother and sisters to Cleeve Prior. Before the war he joined the 9th Lancers. He went to France in 1940 and was evacuated from Dunkirk. According to a newspaper report, he was wounded the following year.
- John Frederick William Hartwell (1918-2006) was Badsey born and bred, the second of three sons of John Hartwell and his wife, Winifred May (née Hill). He volunteered for the army in 1939. On 24th January 1942 John married Ada Maud Smith at St Leonard’s Church, Bretforton. The newspaper report had the heading, “Dunkirk hero weds at Bretforton”.
- William Charles Sandford (1910-1982) was born at Badsey in 1910, the seventh of 11 children of William Thomas Sandford and his wife, Alice (née Knight). William was aged ten when his mother died of the Spanish flu in 1918. During WWII, William served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. Just a few months before the Dunkirk evacuation, William married Rose Ellen Rachell. According to his grandson, Philip, William Sandford received the Dunkirk Medal and was a member of the Dunkirk Veterans’ Association.
- Thomas Morton Taylor (1887-1955) was a veteran of both the First World War and Second World War. Born at Hampton, Evesham, he married at Wickhamford in 1913 and spent most of his life there. During WW2 he served with the Royal Engineers. His obituary informs us that he was evacuated from Dunkirk.
Maureen Spinks, May 2020
Because of reporting restrictions at the time, The Evesham Standard of June 1940 was silent about the arrival of several hundred soldiers at Badsey but, over the years, we are fortunate to have had the oral and written testimonies of a few people who could give us first-hand accounts: Terry Sparrow, the late Roger Savory, the late Ted Wheatley. The Tony Jerram (1938-2008) was able to interview Glan Williams and Mike Hewlett (son of Ivor Hewlett) before their deaths, and was thus able to record their stories in Aldington and Badsey, Villages in the Vale, a Tapestry of Local History.
Finally, the British Newspaper Archive was of assistance in finding the names of local people who either helped with the rescue at Dunkirk or were evacuated from Dunkirk. There were probably a number of other local men who were evacuated but, as far as we know, there is no list of names, and the Dunkirk Veterans' Association, which might have been able to assist, was disbanded in 2000. If you know of someone from Badsey, Aldington or Wickhamford who was a Dunkirk veteran and is not included in the list above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with details and we shall be happy to add this in.