Move to Dunkirk's Beaches

Event
Wednesday, 29 May, 1940 - Friday, 31 May, 1940
Abandoned equipment at Dunkirk

The last action for the 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, in 13 Infantry Brigade, was to hold a bridge position at Loo before its demolishion to delay the advancing Germans. The Inniskillings would then make their way to the beaches, arriving with only eleven officers and 204 other ranks by 31 May 1940.

On 29 May the main body of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles had moved some 40 kms from Tourcoing to Woesten, arriving at 0430 hours. The new position was exposed with approaches that presented no natural obstacles that could be reinforced and covered by fire to prevent a frontal attack by an approaching enemy. The only defence, despite the fatigue, was to dig in and dig deep, before withdrawing that evening to positions at Bulskamp near Veurne. The actions in defending the perimeter around the Dunkirk beaches would be marked by a Battle Honour for The Royal Ulster Rifles and 2 RUR would fight on until the last companies moved to the beach on 1 June before embarking and crossing the Channel to safety.

Already having parted with the Battalion's transport bearing its essential stores and equipment, the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers (Faughs) awoke in Watou on the morning of 29 May with no rations and little water. Marching towards the beaches they did find some biscuits and bully beef before reaching the edge of Dunkirk. There the Battalion halted as the CO and the Commander 25 Infantry Brigade set off to find a headquarters to integrate the Brigade's remnants into Dunkirk's defensive perimeter. Eventually, the news was that the Brigade was to embark as soon as possible, but the Battalion, in the CO’s absence, had been moved forward to the beach to join the massive queue, in some places more than twelve abreast, that stretched into the distance across the dunes to the beach. Fortunately, WOI (RSM) Preston caught sight of the CO, Lieutenant Colonel G F Gough MC, and led him towards the Battalion. The following morning, the Faughs, through the application of good discipline and organisation in the early morning by the CO and senior officers, arrived in a compact group at one of the harbour’s Moles. One third departed across the Channel in a Royal Navy destroyer that landed them in Dover. The bulk of the remainder arrived at Ramsgate. The small number of Faughs who were not with the main body returned in some of the many small craft that played a heroic part in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Arriving back in England, it was discovered that many Faughs had picked up abandoned weapons, including LMG Bren Guns and Boys Anti-Tank Rifles. They therefore returned with more of these weapons than they had landed in France with in 1939. When the Faughs reassembled in June 1940, the Battalion numbered 19 Officers and 576 other ranks.