Hunts’ heroes of Dunkirk and WWII
Norris Museum curator Bob Burn-Murdoch takes a look at Dunkirk and the men from Huntingdonshire who played their part.
EVENTS were held recently to commemorate the anniversary of Dunkirk.
The evacuation continued into early June and it was 70 years ago this week that the full impact of the campaign struck home in Huntingdonshire.
The Huntingdonshire Territorials were among those caught up in the �fighting. Technically the 5th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment, they became the first territorial unit in the front line when they went out to France in the early months of the war.
Those who got safely home told their stories in The Hunts Post of June 6, 1940. �Lieutenant Anthony Brown, of Huntingdon, swam a quarter of a mile to reach a minesweeper. Sergeant Geoffrey Hiscock, of St Neots, was hit by machine gun fire and had to walk 10 miles with a bullet in his side.
Not everyone made it back. The Hunts Post reported the deaths of two officers, Captain John Johnson and Colonel W E Green, both from St Ives.
Captain Johnson was the son of �Alderman Johnson whose family firm ran a grocer’s shop. Colonel Green, the Battalion’s commanding officer, was a dentist, a member of the colourful dental practice of Brown and Green (later joined by Mr White!)
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The deaths of two such prominent men must have had a big impact in St Ives. Its population of 3,000 made it the size of a village nowadays.
And the St Ives war memorial bears the names of only three officers killed during the Second World War – to lose two within days of each other was grim news.
The Dunkirk evacuation came home to St Ives in another way as well. The town was then an �important railway junction and some of the troops evacuated from France passed through on troop trains.
They were well looked after. On June 1, the St Ives joinery firm of Scotneys had provided a wooden canteen building in the cattle market, where the bus station is now. It was intended to offer hot meals and home comforts to troops stationed in the local area, mostly RAF personnel and searchlight crews.
Within days of the canteen’s opening, troops from Dunkirk started to arrive and it stayed open until the early hours. In its first year of operation up to June 1941, the volunteers �manning it served more than 120,000 meals.
Among the organising committee drawn from the town’s churches was Mrs Green, widow of the colonel.