ID: OOD_101 / Edwin Sparrow

TitleGerald Edward Tatchell killed 31 May 1940
Major Service No. 24297
Lincolnshire Regiment 2nd Battalion "D" Company

Aged 37
Died 31 May 1940
Buried De Panne Communal Cemetery
Commemorated on Roll of Honour at St Mary's, Tollesbury.

Gerald was the son of Colonel Edward Tatchell, D.S.O., formerly of the Lincolnshire Regt., and Helen Tatchell of Casthorpe Lodge, Grantham. Gerald had married Cynthia Mary Hurlstone Hortin M.A. Hons. (London), whose parents lived in Messing but owned the Guisnes Court Estate. Cynthia's brother Julian was killed at Tobruk in June 1942 [ OOD_112 ]. After Gerald's death, Cynthia married, Sir John Willson Musgrave Eaton KBE CB DSO DSC.
Gerald had joined the Army before WW2.

Pre-war PALESTINE 1935

After the First World War the 2nd Lincolns were based at Dover until they moved to Catterick in 1933 until they moved overseas in 1935.

Lonely outpost in the hills. The road between Haifa and Tel Aviv can just be made out, running from left to right near the top of the picture

In 1935, Mussolini was seeking to extend the Italian Empire in North Africa and the 2nd battalion was sent at very short notice to Malta. They arrived two days after the Italians moved into Abyssinia. The 2nd Lincolns spent a pleasant winter in Malta, the Italians captured the Abyssinian capital, Addis Ababa, the weak League of Nations lifted sanctions and life returned to normal. But instead of returning home, the 2nd battalion was sent to Palestine where the Arabs had called a General Strike because of the immigration of Jews. The 2nd Lincolns were stationed at a small town halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv. The Arabs were sabotaging the railway line and sniping at traffic, and the Lincolns were given the job of escorting the convoy which ran daily between he two towns and keeping the surrounding hills clear of Arabs lying in ambush. They were supported by some armoured cars of the 11th Hussars and a pom-pom detachment from HMS Sussex, mounted on Lorries. Outposts were established for each platoon in the hills. There was a pitched battle with the Arabs in September, but the Strike ended in October and the 2nd battalion returned home in time for Christmas. In October 1937 the battalion moved to Portland Bill and were there when WW2 start.

World War 2

On the 31st May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force was being forced back to the beaches at Dunkirk. Many had already been evacuated to England .The evacuation lasted 26 May - 4 June 1940. He was involved in a rearguard action to allow so many to escape. 300 men were brought back by the Thames Barge TOLLESBURY built for the landlord of the "Plough & Sail" Tollesbury.

Sailing barge TOLLESBURY in later years with passengers enjoying a sail

2nd Battalion in action at Zuydschoote, 29th May.
The following is a description of his death from [ Note 1 ]

With the first streak of dawn, the enemy in strength could be seen advancing westwards; they were caught by the concentrated fire of the two forward companies and suffered heavily. The German artillery and mortars were soon in action and their fire increased the intensity as the day wore on, especially on the positions held by the Royal Berkshires and "B" and "D" Companies of the Lincolnshires. A considerable number of tanks were seen on the far side of the canal; these were engaged by our artillery, but results could not be seen. By midday artillery and machinegun fire had become really intense; considerable movement could be seen all along the front, and it was evident that the Germans were making determined efforts to push forward, regardless of casualties.

At 2.30 p.m. the C.O. was called to Brigade H.Q. whilst he was away, the Royal Berkshires were forced from their positions by intense artillery and mortar fire, leaving a dangerous gap on "D" Company's left flank. Major A.G. Lawe, the Second-in-Command, ordered "C" Company, Major H.M. Boxer, M.C., less one platoon, to counter-attack and close the gap. This they did, sustaining fifteen casualties in doing so. The C.O. returned from Brigade about 4 p.m., bringing orders to start withdrawing at 7 p.m. Time was short and the issue of orders was made more difficult by the fact that there were only two small unsquared maps in the whole Battalion. Furthermore, it was not considered advisable to call in the Company Commanders of the three forward companies as they were all heavily engaged with the enemy. It was necessary therefore to issue rather lengthy written orders. At 7 p.m. it would still be broad daylight, so it became a very difficult operation to disengage the forward companies, who were in really close contact with the enemy. Moreover there was no chance of artillery support, as the artillery had already gone in order to leave the roads clear, and the one remaining 3-inch mortar had been without ammunition for many days.

The withdrawal was to start at 7 p.m.; rifle companies were to be clear by 8 p.m., after which the Carrier Platoon was to remain for one further hour and then cover the march north until the Battalion passed through the 5th Division, some eight miles further back. "C" Company, after their counter- attack, was by this time also heavily engaged, and the Royal Berkshires, who had had very heavy casualties, had only three carriers left. The Carrier Platoon, under Captain P.J.E. Rowell, was ordered to move to positions from which they could cover the Royal Berkshires' front, and it was arranged that the Royal Berkshires' one remaining carrier - the other two had since been knocked out - should come under his command. The withdrawal started on time, but the forward companies, who had already had considerable casualties, lost many more men in the process of disengaging. The Regimental Aid Post, in a farm near H.Q. Company, had been under machine-gun fire the whole afternoon. When eventually it became imperative to withdraw, the ambulance became ditched. The Medical Officer, Lieutenant E.A. Karsteadt, R.A.M.C., elected to remain with his patients and was taken prisoner, but the remainder managed to get away across country and rejoined the Battalion at the cross-roads that was the rendezvous. Captain Goulson, who had been hit in the foot, was safely evacuated; Major G.E. Tatchell, commanding "D" Company, was badly wounded whilst getting away, but he too was evacuated on a truck. He was later transferred to the Padre's car, but died soon after admission to the Main Dressing Station. Soon after 8 p.m. the Commanding Officer had checked away most of the Battalion with the exception of one platoon of "D" Company, under Captain J.A.H. Cartland, who had remained behind to cover the remainder of the company. After repulsing repeated attacks, Captain Cartland was himself surrounded but, refusing to surrender, picked up a Bren gun and fought on until he was eventually killed.*
(* This information was obtained some time later from two men of "D" Company in a prisoner-of-war camp, by R.S.M. Martin, who was himself taken prisoner that day. Confirmation has since been vouchsafed by Private John Stanger, made prisoner earlier in the day, who was sent by the Germans to call on Captain Cartland to surrender. Captain Cartland, the sole survivor still fighting from a slit trench, replied that he would surrender to no German and continued to fire his Bren. During the parley, another German had made his way round to the back and short Captain Cartland dead from behind).

Dunkirk under fire 1 June 1940.
A Street in Dunkirk under heavy bombardment during the German attempt to take the town before the evacuation of the allied armies. A column of British troops march through the exploding shells

The situation on the Royal Berkshires' front was still so critical that "A" Company was ordered to remain in position until 8.30 p.m. to back up the Carrier Platoon. At about 8.30, when the enemy shells were falling 100 yards short of the Carrier positions, Captain Rowell fired a white Very light as a signal for his platoon to close. Unfortunately, this was also the German infantry signal for their artillery to lift, which it did, right over the Carriers, who, realizing what had happened, remained where they were. A few minutes later two German infantry companies advanced on the Carriers' positions, and the platoon closed with them, inflicting very heavy casualties at extremely close range. In fact, they actually ran down a machine gun and its crew who had worked round to their flank and were threatening their line of retreat. Meanwhile, the Commanding Officer and the Adjutant, captain Hefford, moving across country to catch up with the Battalion, ran into intense shell fire and were both .hit, the Commanding Officer in the hand and the Adjutant in the leg. They did, however, manage to get back to the main road where transport was awaiting them. The Carriers withdrew at 9 p.m., continuing to cover the Battalion, and shot up enemy motor-cyclists who were following up the withdrawal. On their way they picked up several wounded of the R.U.R. and eventually, aided by the five remaining carriers of the East Yorkshires (8th Brigade), picked up the whole of "A" Company, for whom no other transport could be found. On arrival at Elsendamme, the bridge was found to be blown and they had to make a long detour westwards to find another crossing. Although the road on which they were moving was under heavy shell fire all the way and was at times almost blocked with wrecked and broken vehicles, the Battalion passed safely through the 5th Division during the night, having accomplished successfully a most difficult operation, though unfortunately not without considerable casualties. As this was the last time the transport was to be used, it may here be stated that during the whole of the withdrawal not one vehicle broke down owing to mechanical defect. Some months later the Commanding Officer was told by General Sir Alan Brooke that on this day, the 29th May, the 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades held up the advance of two German Army Corps for a whole day, thereby materially helping the evacuation of some thousands of the B.E.F. from the beaches of Dunkirk .Early on 30th May at the Brigade rendezvous at Bulscamp, Major A.G. Lawe took over command of the Battalion from Lieutenant Colonel Newbury, who was subsequently evacuated to England from La Panne on Ist June. Soon after dawn the Battalion began to arrive, but owing to heavy casualties suffered and the dispersal of companies, due to the congestion on the roads, they were unable to take up the positions assigned to them on the Adinkerke-Furnes Canal and were withdrawn to Brigade Reserve some 900 yards east of Adinkerke. The K.O.S.B. took over the right forward positions, with the 6th D.L.I. of the 50th Division on their right and the R.U.R. on the left. Later that day it was learnt that the 9th Infantry Brigade might be called on to cover the withdrawal to the very end. The 2nd Battalion was therefore reorganized in three companies, 'A', 'B' and a composite "X" Company, commanded by Captain J.G.M.B. Gough, composed of the remnants of "B" and "D" Companies - about 45 all told - and portions of H.Q. Company. That evening, Captain Bell and his party of the 6th Battalion joined up and formed a welcome reinforcement. The Commanding Officer's car, five trucks and two motor-cycles were all that remained of the first-line transport. On withdrawing from the River Yser, "A" Echelon had taken a wrong turning and driven through the German lines into captivity; "B" Echelon had got out of touch with the Battalion and on arrival in the Dunkirk area had been ordered to destroy all their vehicles. The personnel under the Quartermaster, Lieutenant B.O. Kime, formed a platoon and came under the command of a battalion of the lst Division. Of the carriers, only eight were left and these, under Captain P.J.E. Rowell, M.C., were placed directly under 9th Brigade H.Q. The Germans put in several small attacks on the Brigade front during the day and shelling continued without intermission.

The night brought waves of bombers to bomb Dunkirk, but otherwise all was quiet. The problem of feeding the Battalion had again become acute, but a number of pigs were found in the battalion area; unfortunately, these were never eaten, for at 7 p.m. orders were given to withdraw to the beaches at La Panne, as the 3rd Division was being relieved and would embark for England. The Carrier Platoon was to cover the Brigade through Adinkerke, blow up the bridge there and then report to the lst Division. Whilst inspecting the charges on the Adinkerke Bridge between successive bombardments, Captain Rowell was severely wounded.

2nd Lincolnshires evacuated from Dunkirk, 31st May/1st June.

By 10 p.m. on 31st May, the whole Battalion was away. On reaching La Panne, it was quite dark except for burning vehicles. The town itself and approaches to the beach were crammed with troops of all regiments. Shells fell intermittently and no orders or information could be obtained concerning embarkation, owing to casualties among the embarkation staff. The Battalion were eventually directed on to Bray Dunes, a mile further on. Here they formed up with 100 men per guide, who led them another four miles along the shore to a jetty made up of Lorries and duck-boards. As the tide was right out, it soon became clear that no one would be able to get aboard for several hours, and it was finally decided to march on into Dunkirk, another nine miles. Heavy shelling came down at that moment, causing casualties and breaking the jetty. During the night march, the Battalion became split up and some men waded or swam to whalers and other craft off-shore.

Palestine 1939-45 War Star

General Service Medal - Palestine; 1939-1945 Star; 1939-1945 War Medal

London Gazette promoted 2nd Lieutenant 3rd February 1925
London Gazette promoted Lieutenant 3rd February 1925
London Gazette promoted Captain 28th May 1935
London Gazette promoted Major 15th September 1939


De Panne Communal Cemetery east of Dunkirk. Plot 2. Row A. Grave 18.

The British Expeditionary Force was involved in the later stages of the defence of Belgium following the German invasion in May 1940, and suffered many casualties in covering the withdrawal to Dunkirk. De Panne village was the site of the final General Headquarters of the BEF in 1940, and there was a Casualty Clearing Station on the beach, which was an embarkation beach for the evacuation. From 27 May to 1 June 1940, the Germans strove to prevent the embarkation of the troops by incessant bombing, machine-gunning and shelling. The first German troops reached the village between 14.00 and 15.00 hrs on 31 May, and after heavy fighting, the commune was completely occupied by about 9.00 hrs on 1 June. The Commonwealth plot in the communal cemetery was specially constructed by the local authorities in August 1940, so that the Commonwealth graves might all be together. More than 200 of the burials were moved by the Belgians into this plot from other locations in the cemetery and from scattered sites on the beaches and roads of the commune. The remainder were casualties later washed ashore, airmen shot down by the Germans, and others who lost their lives at the time of the liberation in 1944. There are now 259 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the Second World War in this cemetery.

Note 1 a link to this site is no longer usable because of security problems.

AuthorEdwin Sparrow
SourceMersea Museum