Cambs: Jock’s memories of Dunkirk 1940
JOCK Simpson joined the Territorial Army aged 17 in 1937. Now aged 90, a great grandfather and living in Ellington, he remembers being evacuated at Dunkirk, keeping his head down in the sand, hoping he was not going to be hit by German gunfire.
JOCK Simpson joined the Territorial Army aged 17 in 1937. It was his hobby, he worked as a civil servant at the Post Office in telecommunications.
He said: “I joined because it meant you got an extra two weeks off work, at the territorials’ training camp.”
Now aged 90, a great grandfather and living in Ellington, he remembers being evacuated at Dunkirk, keeping his head down in the sand, hoping he was not going to be hit by German gunfire.
A fleet of 850 boats carried out the rescue, becoming legend because it involved small fishing vessels, pretty much anything that floated, as well as naval ships and destroyers. Churchill thought that 30,000 might be saved, in the event it was 300,000.
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During the hours that Jock was on the beach they were being fired at the whole time by the Germans.
“As we reached the beach we lay on the sand hoping it wouldn’t be us that got hit. I waded into the water and held on to the side of a rowing boat out to the HMS Greyhound, a destroyer. The German aircraft were shooting at us and 14 soldiers got killed on the boat before they started. What shocked me was that they were buried at sea. I thought they would take them home, they were soldiers not sailors. They put a board on the edge of the boat covered with a Union Jack and they slid the bodies into the sea under the flag. I don’t supposed their families ever knew what happened to them, terrible.
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“The boat was so damaged that a Polish destroyer towed it all the way into Dover.”
“When we reached Dover, the Salvation Army was there with tea and buns and postcards all written out for us saying ‘safe and sound at home’ all we had to do was put our name and address on them and they sent them to our families. They were wonderful people.”
His family included his mother, father and two sisters. Jean was in the Army and Bessie, then aged 19, was in the fire service.
Jock had had been called up a week before war was declared on September 3, 1939. After training at a racecourse in Surrey, he was in France by October 2.
“It was a phoney war for the first few months. Then when it started Hitler quickly had the upper hand. I suppose we didn’t start the war until he attacked Belgium, we went straight into Belgium. About two days later, I was on the radio in the truck and we were told to go back down south into France. One day the children in Belgium were shouting encouragement at us – the next day they were booing us.”
By May 1940, French, Belgian and British troops had been cut off by the German Army and driven towards the sea. The rescue at Dunkirk went down as such a triumph in 20th century British history that by the 1960s people had forgotten that it was actually a defeat.
Jock is not a nick-name.
I was Christened Jock. I was born on Christmas day, my mother was Scottish. The vicar said I should be named Noel or Carol but my mother said Jock, the vicar suggested Jack but she said, no Jock.”
After Dunkirk, he served in England for the next four years as a soldier in the Royal Artillery. He went back to France as part of the D Day Landings in June 1944, moving through to Bochum in Germany.
“We looked after a camp full of Russians, we supervised them and took them swimming. They used to run their hands through the corn fields and collect the corn in their pockets. They made booze with it.”
He stayed in Germany until 1946. “I don’t think when we went home, there was a pig left in Germany, every pig we passed we roasted on a tree and shared it around, they tasted delicious.”
After the war, Jock returned to work for the Post Office, which had paid him all through his military service. He had married in 1940 and he and his wife Joyce lived in London between Holloway and Camden Town. They had a son and daughter.
After Joyce died, Jock remarried and he and his second wife, Alma moved to Ellington in 1981.
He has visited Germany since the war.
“I liked the German people. We spoke to them, it wasn’t a case of their being our enemies, more like friends, we are so much alike.
“There was a chap who made kettles and pans. I wanted to buy a great big kettle. He said, you give me the money and I’ll make you one. I paid him and it took about two years after I’d been home but it did arrive – that’s honesty.”