Guardsman William Montgomery McMillan

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3324/5

 

Name: 2612351 Gdsmn. McMillan, William Montgomery.

Unit: 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, British Expeditionary Force.

Captured: near Rouen, about 9th June 1940.

Escaped: Nederbrakel, 18th June 1940.

Date of Birth: 27th March 1908.

Army Service: Since 13th June 1930.

Peacetime Profession: L.P.T.B. Police Force.

Private Address: 290 Glasgow Road, Blantyre, Lanarkshire.

 

1. CAPTURE:

 

I left the U.K. with my Unit for FRANCE in Feb 40. We were stationed at the village of HEM (N.W. EUROPE 1:250,000, Sheet 2, H 7837) near ROUBAIX from Feb 40 onwards. I was in HEM with the Battalion till 6 May 40, when I went on 14 days' leave. I spent my leave in LONDON. I reported at Victoria Station on 19 May, and the R.T.O. told me to return next day because of travelling difficulties. I reported next morning and was sent back to FRANCE to a base at ROUEN (Sheet 7, M 11).

 

At the base at ROUEN everything was by this time badly disorganised. After about two days the whole of the base moved, doing a forced march through BRIONNE (Q 8990) to BERNAY (Q 7979). After two nights there we returned to ROUEN and about two nights later moved to GRAINVILLE-SUR-RY (M 3417) where we were forming a rearguard. The Germans broke through on our left flank about 9 Jun and we were ordered to move back to a small village. On the way back I carried the anti-tank rifle. After about nine miles there were a lot of stragglers. I became one of them through hunger and weakness. I gave the anti-tank gun to my Number 2 and said I would join up when I had had a rest. I recovered about 15 minutes later and set off after my Unit. I saw a bicycle with a flat tyre and mounted it. Some other stragglers - a wounded man and two others - were passing and I took their packs. They accompanied me.

 

We went about a mile and a half together and were overtaken by a French water wagon on which we got a lift. After a short time we came to a road fork and turned right. In the distance I could see our Platoon Sergeant waving on the other fork. I shouted to the driver of the wagon to pull up, but he either did not hear me or did not understand. The wagon came to another road junction and turned left for ROUEN, but was pulled up by a number of men in French uniform, who said we could not go that way because the bridges were blown.

 

With the three others I decided to try to rejoin my Platoon. We got a lift in a Red Cross ambulance which was bound for the base at ROUEN. We told the driver it would be impossible to get through there and asked him to take us to my Unit. A few minutes later the ambulance was pulled up by me in French uniform. It turned left to try to make LE HAVRE, but after it had gone about 150 or 200 yards it was again pulled up. The back of the ambulance was opened and a German with a revolver in his hand said "come out. The war is over for you". There appeared to be at least a Brigade of tanks in the vicinity. This was about 9 Jun.

 

2. ESCAPE:

 

After capture we were taken to a farm for one night. Next morning we were questioned at a German headquarters four or five miles away. After about an hour there we were sent by truck to join a column of P/W, mostly men of the 51st Division from ST. VALERY.

 

On the march up into BELGIUM I noticed that the French were receiving better treatment than the British P/W. At a place where we stopped overnight I picked up a French greatcoat which a Frenchman had thrown away and joined the French part of the column. About 18 Jun, when we had reached the vicinity of NEDERBRAKEL (BELGIUM) (Sheet 2, J 2052), I escaped with Cpl. Charles FAGG, R.A.O.C. (S/P.G.(B)150, interrogated on 17 Dec 40). FAGG and I dropped out of the column just after two Frenchmen had escaped. We got into a field of corn and after running for about four or five hundred yards came on a Belgian who had a sack full of civilian clothes which he was giving away to escaping soldiers. We changed into civilian clothes and went back to the main road, the column having by this time moved on.

 

3. SUBSEQUENT EXPERIENCES:

 

The Belgian had given us a small map and advised us to make for ANTWERP. I discussed this with FAGG, saying that I thought it would be better to make for SPAIN. He, however, wanted to go to ANTWERP and I agreed to try that first. Walking on side roads we reaches BRUGES (H 89) after four or five days, being guided round the town by a Franciscan brother who spoke English. FAGG now decided that he wanted to go South, and we made for the coast. We wandered along the coast S.W. of OSTEND for four or five days, but could not find a boat because of the German sentries. We made our way down to NIEUPORT (H 49) and then came inland through DIXMUDE (H 58) and YPRES (H 56) and crossed the frontier into FRANCE at WERVICQ (H 6953) about 1 Jul 40.

 

I told FAGG it would be silly to carry on, as we were short of food and had no proper boots. On my suggestion, we went to HEM (H 7838), which we reached on 1 Jul 40. In HEM we were sheltered by one family for about four or five days. We then left HEM (on 5 or 6 Jul 40) on bicycles, accompanied by a daughter of the house and a French youth. We got as far as CAMBRAI, where a priest told the girl it would be madness for us to try to get to SPAIN. We returned to HEM.

 

The people with whom I was staying got in touch with a woman living at FOREST (H 7836) near HEM who had a certificate for having assisted British escapers in the last war. There was a scheme to get us back to ENGLAND by air, but this fell through, as did another scheme under which we were to meet and English officer who was alleged to be living in the district in German uniform. About a month after we had first reached HEM (perhaps early Aug 40) FAGG and I were taken by a Belgian to FIVES, a suburb of LILLE. We were here for about a week. The woman with whom we stayed brought us a paper with a list of names purporting to be a route to unoccupied FRANCE, which she had got from a priest. A young man also arrived at the house who claimed to be a Scots student who had lived for 11 years in FRANCE. He had a British passport which I thought was false, and I did not like him. FAGG, however, said he would go with this man and five or six Frenchmen. I decided not to go, and returned to HEM. I did not hear of FAGG again.

 

On my return to HEM I was joined at the house where I was staying by Gdsmn. AUNGER (S/P.G.(B) 191, interrogated on 25 Feb 41). AUNGER had just returned from PARIS, having been unable to get further. He arrived in HEM about 20 Aug. About this time I moved to another house in HEM, where the people told me that my previous hosts had been making money out of keeping British soldiers and would probably try to keep us there indefinitely. Next day I was asked to go back to my previous hosts and accompany a man who had undertaken to take AUNGER through to ALGIERS. The people with whom I was now staying said this was merely a trick to get me out of their house, and I decided to stay where I was.

 

I remained in this house till about 30 Aug 44, when British troops arrived in the district. I got in touch with the Monmouthshire Regiment and was directed to BRUSSELS, where I was put in hospital for 24 hours with gastric trouble. I was sent back to the U.K. by air, arriving on 5 Sep, when I was sent to WHITCHURCH hospital, GLAMORGAN. I was discharged from hospital on 4 Oct.

 

During my four years in HEM I was in touch at different times with various organisations, but none of them appeared to me to be reliable, and I did not leave the district with any of them.

 

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