Some 'Operation Dynamo' Memories, Part Three
Featured in the September 2010 handbook.
Thousands of stretcher cases and minor wounds were dealt with at the first-aid stations which had been set up at Dreamland and the Winter Gardens and, of course, it must be remembered that many men were suffering from exhaustion and dehydration after being so long in action. At the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital 500 serious cases were dealt with, and at Margate General a further 230. Many of the cases handled by the Hospitals were spinal injuries caused by compression when vessels the troops were on had been hit by bombs and blown out from under their feet. This was known in service parlance as ‘getting the hammer’.
Every effort was made to ensure that all troops were given either a postcard or a telegram form to notify their families that they had arrived back safely in England. Well over 40,000 postcards were distributed here in this fashion and delivered free of charge by the General Post Office. During correspondence with veteran Mr. Earnshaw in 1999. I learned that his mother had kept the one he had sent from Margate, and she very kindly sent me a photocopy. There on the back of a rather indifferent view of the promenade at Westbrook was a brief few lines to mother and, in the little box where the stamp used to be stuck, just ‘B.E.F.’ in pencil!
As the troops reached the Droit House at the end of their long trudge down the Jetty, those that still had their weapons were supposed to stack them on a pile and empty their pouches of ammunition. Dorothy Parker told me that some of the boys, no doubt in a mood of happiness brought on by their rescue, or perhaps because they were simply fed-up with things, and that is understandable after what they had been through and seen, didn’t wait to reach the weapons pile but dumped their rifles over the side of the Jetty into the water.
Eagle eyes amongst the locals had watched this with interest, and when the tide ran out the weapons were retrieved from the sand, not by the Army but by the men if the Local Defence Volunteers who, under the directions of their Commanding Officer, Colonel Witts, thoroughly dried and cleaned them. At the first parade of these warriors after the Dunkirk affair was over, I was told, instead of the broomsticks and a couple of ancient Canadian Ross rifles they had been accustomed to the whole unit proudly sported the Lee-Enfields recovered from the water!
For eight long days craft of all descriptions from the warships to mud-hoppers brought their weary and thankful human cargoes to the old Jetty. The people in Margate, just as those in other towns who heeded the call, had worked non-stop to meet all the demands made upon them. Very little rest had been possible and people were becoming as exhausted as the troops coming ashore, but that sort of thing always brings out the best in us British and they coped tremendously well. The last vessel arrived in the 4th of June and then, just as suddenly as the mad week had started, it was all over. Margate and its people could take a breather, they had certainly earned one.
It had been a great relief to all that the Luftwaffe had not put in an appearance during the operations at the Jetty, as the vessels unloading and those crowding the Roads waiting their turn would have been sitting ducks. The Luftwaffe was busy at Dunkirk and, contrary to the general perception, the Royal Air Force had made incredible efforts to combat them. It seems almost unbelievable but apart from the wonderful eyes of the Royal Air Force the ground based air defences available here at the start of ‘Operation Dynamo’ consisted of just two Bren-Guns on the Jetty, although by its end their number had increased to four! Had they known and not been so occupied oven in France the Germans would have had a field day! That has to have yet another Dunkirk miracle of deliverance.
Chaos reigned during ‘Dynamo’ and many of the figures quoted were wrong. Research has shown that the total of men landed at Margate was 49,346, the second highest total after Dover!