Monday, 18 April 2016

The War Diary of 140th (5th London) Army Field Regiment, Royal Artillery: Part 1: 10th May to 23rd May, 1940

In the middle of March Sue and I paid a visit to the National Archives, Kew. During our visit I managed to read the War Diary of the unit my maternal grandfather served with during the early part of the Second World War.

My grandfather – Arthur Jackson – had been a member of the Territorial Army before the war, and in 1939 his unit – 366th Field Battery, Royal Artillery – was mobilised.

My maternal grandfather, Arthur Jackson.
Along with the 367th Battery it formed the 140th (5th London) Army Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. It was equipped with 18-pounder Field Guns, and its role as part of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) was to provide extra firepower to formations that required it. It was not allocated to a particular Division, but was under the control of GHQ.

After the invasion of France and Belgium the Regiment was used to try to stem the enemy's advance. As a result the War Diary stopped being a general record of information about training exercises, troop movements, and personnel changes, and became a record of the fighting the unit was involved in. It is worth noting that the final entry in the War Diary (which I have transcribed below) was written in 1945 after the acting Commanding Officer was released from a POW camp!

Interview with Major N. Christopherson M.C., R.A., who was 2 i/c of 140th A.Fld.Regt.

The Regt. consisted of 366 and 367 Btys. and was an 18-pdr regt.

The following is an account of what happened between 10th May and 29th May, 1940.

10th May
On the morning of May 10th the Regt. was in a training area at TOUTENCOURT (N 27). We heard on the wireless at 7 a.m. that Belgium and Holland were being invaded so we cancelled our field day and packed up ready to move. The Regt. was at this time under comd. of the C.C.M.A. I Corps. Under Plan D we were to come under 1st Div. At 14.30 hrs. we started marching via ARRAS and DOUAY to FAUMONT (H 71) arriving about 21.30 hrs. and left for the river Dyle leaving the Regt. there and taking recce. groups to join the 19th Fd Regt. under whom we were grouped, at the Frontier. I was in comd. of the recce. group, so I cannot say when the Regt. left.

11th May
The group crossed the frontier at 0100 hrs. passed through BRUSSELS at 0500 hrs. and started my recce. on the west of the river Dyle around HULDENBRG (J 74).

12th May
Continued reconnaissance.

13th May
The Regt. arrived and went into action, between HULDENBERG (J 74) and OVERYSSCHE (J 74) during the night 13th/14th May.

14th May
First contact was made with the enemy in the evening.

15th May
At 1900 hrs. The Regt. opened a heavy bombardment on enemy Inf. Concentrations on the East side of the R. Dyle.

16th May
In the afternoon I was sent to report to the C.R.A. 1 Div. And on arrival was told that we were required to withdraw and defend the West of BRUSSELS. At 2000 hrs. the Regt. opened fire in answer to an S.O.S. and at 2100 hrs. the Regt. withdrew from their positions.

17th May
At 0300 hrs. the Regt. arrived at VEER BERGEN (J 4247). The Regt. had been delayed coming through BRUSSELS. The Regt. did not go into action. At 1930 hrs. I was sent off to recce. an area around STEENHOUT (J 3848). I returned to the Regt. and at 2200 hrs. the Regt. moved off and arrived at 2359 hrs' and went into action in the area between STEENHOUT (J 3848) and the main road ENGHIEN (J3839) - NINOVE (J3854). The Regt. did no firing and touch could not be made with either the enemy or our own Inf.

18th May
At 0930 hrs. the Regt. again withdrew and went into action near PEPERENDAAL (J 2150) with wagon line in BREUCQ (J 1848), some time during the day. The task of the Regt. was to cover the approaches to GRAMMONT (J 2848). I remained during the day at the wagon lines. About 1800 hrs' I went forward to the gun line to bring the Regt. out of action as we had been ordered to retire through TOURNAI (H 9232). The Regt. moved off at 2115 hrs. and marched all night. TOURNAI was in flames and many bridges had been blown and the city had three lines of traffic in the main road.

19th May
At 0200 hrs. the Regt. arrived at WANNEHAIN (H 8328) and bivouacked. At 0800 hrs. I was sent to a recce. position for the Regt. in the area East of ERE (H 9029). The Regt. followed later during the day and went into action as follows:- 366 Bty. about H 913288 and 367 Bty. about H 913292 with H.Q. in a farm about H 912291.

20th May
A quiet day was spent.

21st May
During the day the Regt. went into action. The enemy heavily shelled the gun line and 1 Tp. of 366 Bty. had 1 man killed and 3 wounded and 3 guns put out of action.

22nd May
The morning was very quiet. I was away all day recce. a new wagon line area and I do not know what actually happened. At about 1730 hrs. I reproted to H.Q. 42 Div. and received orders to recce. positions in the area SAIGHIN EN MELANTOIS (N 7530).

23rd May
About 0100 hrs. the Regt. arrived in SAIGHIN EN MELANTOIS (N 7530) and went into action as follows:- 366 Bty. in front of the wood about H 779307 and 367 Bty. about H 764312 with Regtl. H.Q. in the village. No contact was made with the enemy during the day. Late in the afternoon R.H.Q. and 367 Bty. were ordered to join MACFORCE. 367 Bty. was chossen because it had 11 guns in action and 366 Bty. had only 9 guns and their position was better than 367 Bty. At 1930 hrs. I led the Regt. and the Colonel left for ORCHIES (H 8117) to report to Gen. MASON MACFARLANE. R.H.Q. and 367 Bty. marched through LILLE - ARMENTIERS (luckily we were not bombed), and arrived at FORET DE NIEPPE at 2300 hrs.

6 comments:

  1. Bob- I cannot say I understand all that is written- though I am very pleased for You that you are finding your Grandfathers History and learning a great deal about his Regiment. Regards. KEV.

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    1. Kev,

      The problem with publishing the transcription of a document is that some of abbreviations and information are very specific to it. The place names all have map references, but without the relevant maps, they don't make a lot of sense.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. The clipped, almost terse and dispassionate tone is however very powerful and evocative. Given the time between the events and the recording it is also remarkably precise, pencil and note book to the rescue I suppose. Thanks very much for sharing this. I have spent much of this afternoon painting 20mm BEF vehicles so this was a great reminder of the context and of the people involved at all levels. I have recently been working with a gentleman who liberated a rowing boat and crossed the chanel after the fall of France and who then, aged 17 joined the army, ended up in the LRDG ? SAS through North Africa and Normany, very highly decorated and a real gentleman. Thanks again.

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    1. Chris Platt,

      Considering the length of time between the fighting and when the report was written, I think that the writer must have used contemporaneous notes to enable him to be so precise.

      I love reading war diaries as they are a great way to remind oneself about how actions were seen and reported on by commanders and staff officers; very different from the personal memoirs and official war histories.

      Your old soldier sounds as if he had a very interesting career, and I hope that it can be recorded and documented for posterity.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Thanks for sharing this. Interesting as well to note technical jargon, for example "going into action" means deploying the guns and getting ready as opposed to shooting and being shot at.

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    1. Ross Mac,

      I am very please that you have enjoyed reading this blog entry. The slightly different use of jargon is an interesting aspect of such war diaries, as is the often terse description of the actual fighting.

      All the best,

      Bob

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