Private Alexander Binnie

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3324/63

 

Name: 3058478 Pte. Binnie, Alexander.

Unit: Seaforth Highlanders, 51st (Highland) Division.

Captured: 12th June 1940.

Escaped: 1st July 1940.

Left: France, 21st September 1944.

Arrived: U.K., 21st September 1944.

Date of Birth: 23rd July 1918.

Army Service: Since 15th July 1939.

Peacetime Profession: Motor driver.

Private Address: 6 Hillhouse Terrace, Kirknewton, Midlothian.

 

I was taken P/W at ST. VALERY-SUR-SOMME (N.W. EUROPE, 1:250,000, Sheet 4, M 69) on 12 Jun 40. We belonged to the rear guard before the evacuation of DUNKIRK. About 50,000 of us, British and French Colonials, were marched back towards BELGIUM. There was practically no food. Those who were not able to keep up were whipped by the Germans. We went through LILLE towards the Belgian frontier.

 

Just before crossing the Belgian border six of us escaped by hiding in a ditch by the road. It was about 1 Jul. We moved into a wheatfield until next day, when we were picked up by a French farmer, who gave us food and clothing. We were near WILLEMS (Sheet 2, H 83). Our intention was to get back towards the coast and try and get a boat to return to U.K. With me was Pte. G. FRAME, Seaforth Highlanders; Pte. W. GUNN, Pte. R. RANKIN, Pte. A. ANDERSON, and Pte. A. CAMPBELL. We moved Westwards on our own, by-passing most of the inhabited places and receiving food from farmers along the road. We followed the AIRE Canal towards ST. OMER and arrived there towards the middle of Jul, and moved on to GRAND FORT PHILIPPE (Sheet 1, H 08). On the way we met a lot of German heavy equipment, all moving towards the coast. We tried to get a boat, but were seen and fired on by the Germans.

 

We made our way inland again and arrived at WULVERDINGHE (Sheet 2, H 16) on about 18 Jul. Here we were picked up by a farmer. All six of us stayed with him on the farm for about nine weeks doing farm work. In Oct a man took us to his home in ST OMER. The farmer with whom we had stayed was afraid to keep us any longer as the Germans had moved in nearby. At ST. OMER I met Fus. WEIGHTMAN (M.I.9/S/P.G.(-)2553), and we remained together until our return to U.K.

 

The other four who had been with me were put into other houses in ST. OMER. Pte. FRAME was picked up by the Gestapo in Jan 41 and taken with a number of civilians before a tribunal in ARRAS. His identity as a British soldier was established, and he was sent to Germany as a P/W.

 

Pte. ANDERSON, Pte. CAMPBELL, and Pte. SIMMS, who had been with WEIGHTMAN, left in Jan 41 for the South, and were caught by the Germans. We have not heard from them after they left.

 

WEIGHTMAN and I stayed in St. OMER until 25 Nov 40, when we were moved to MERVILLE (Sheet 2, H 43). We were taken there on bicycles by the son of our host in ST OMER. The situation at ST OMER had become difficult, as the town was full of Germans. At that time we were not able to speak French. At MERVILLE we were put on a farm where we remained until 23 Jan 41. We kept in hiding more or less all the time, as we found that the neighbours were talking too much about us. Eventually the farmer, who had a family of four children, was afraid to keep us longer, and we moved to another farm, about ten minutes away, near MERVILLE, run by two girls. We remained there until 15 Jul 42.

 

The girls treated us just like brothers. They had two other farm labourers working there at the same time. We were concerned to get away from that place, as we were afraid that our stay at the house would compromise the girls. At that time, however, there was no organisation which could help us, and our French was not good enough for us to move around freely. We did odd jobs around the house, but did not dare to go out into the fields.

 

During Sep 41 many Frenchmen who had helped British soldiers in ST OMER, including the man who had sheltered WEIGHTMAN and me, were taken before a tribunal in ARRAS. Some of them were sentenced to death, but that sentence was changed and they received up to 15 years' imprisonment with hard labour. (See Appendix C).

 

The Gestapo was looking for British evaders and escapers all the time. On the morning of 15 Jul 42 we were alone in the house, the girls having gone to town. A car stopped and two German Gestapo men came and knocked at the door. We were hiding in the top of the house. When no one answered, they searched for us through the outhouses and in the fields. One of the girls returned about 1000 hrs while the Germans still were there, and the Germans searched the house from top to bottom without finding anything. They took the girl out to a shed and threatened to shoot her if she would not tell where we were, but she did not give away any information. We left at once and returned to the farm where we had previously stayed. We remained there until 1 Oct 42. Several attempts were made to get us back to ENGLAND, but all fell through.

 

We moved again from the farm on 1 Oct 42 to another house on the outskirts of MERVILLE. We remained there about 22 months - until Aug 44. In the meantime we had received French identity cards. Our French had by now improved, and we were able to move around a little. Our hostess was very kind to us, but very much afraid of our being caught at her home and she would have nothing to do with the F.F.I.

 

The farm of the two girls near MERVILLE became a Headquarters for the local F.F.I. In that house we came in contact with the F.F.I. for the first time, and we tried to help them as much as possible. We met there two of the organisers. We received arms which had been dropped by the British. On several occasions we helped to sabotage bridges and other objectives, specially in cases when it was wise that none of the local people should be seen. One of the F.F.I. organisers was caught by the Gestapo in Apr 44, taken to prison, and sentenced to seven months' hard labour.

 

In Aug 44 the German members of the Todt organisation arrived at the house where we were staying and tried to get billets. We had to move out once and stayed with a nephew of our hostess until British troops arrived on 1 Sep 44. We helped a British patrol to the FORET DE NIEPPE (H 34), where we knew that the Germans had some flying-bomb sites. We gave an Intelligence Officer information regarding the German troops which had been passing through.

 

On 16 Sep we reported to Canadian troops in MERVILLE.

 

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