Stand, fight to the last man, and allow the Dunkirk evacuation to happen; the untold story of the 1st Battalion The Royal Scots at Le Paradis 80 years on.
On the 25 May 1940, the remains of the 1st Battalion The Royal Scots, less than 400 strong, prepared for their last stand at Le Paradis, 30 miles from Dunkirk in North East France. Their orders, to “Stand And Fight To The Last Man”, played a pivotal role in enabling the withdrawal of 337,000 Allied Forces and equipment from the beaches of Dunkirk. However, this valiant three-day rear-guard defence against overwhelming odds led to the Battalion’s destruction.
At the start of the operation on 10th May 1940 the 1st Battalion were some 770 strong; at the end of the operation on 27 May 141 had been killed and over 350 wounded. A handful escaped back to the UK. There were many acts of outstanding bravery. By the end, 292 Royal Scots were captured and became prisoners of war (POW); most were wounded. There were many acts of outstanding bravery, in all 2 Distinguished Service Orders, 3 Distinguished Conduct Medal, 2 Military Crosses, 1 Military Medal and 16 Mentioned in Dispatches were awarded.
1st Battalion The Royal Scots landed in France in September 1939 as part of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
For the next eight months, The Royal Scots prepared and manned defences across northern France, even taking a turn in the massive concrete fortresses of the French Maginot Line.
When the German attack, in the west, finally began on the 10 May 1940, the Battalion crossed into Belgium and had their first contact with the enemy west of Brussels at Wavre.
As the Allied forces were pushed back by the German Blitzkrieg, The Royal Scots withdrew across the French border. Meanwhile, the Germans raced for the Channel coast, splitting the BEF off from their Allies. Plans for its evacuation were prepared.
As the Germans turned north, it became vital that their advance was delayed long enough for the main part of the British Army to reach the beaches at Dunkirk. The BEF were up against a far better equipped and a much stronger enemy, which made their phased defence and withdrawal actions even more difficult. The Battalion had defended four major river lines in their withdrawal from Belgium. They were constantly under attack by the German’s; for example, on the 21 and 22 May, defending the line of the River Escaut, they suffered 150 casualties in two days.
Their withdrawal culminated in a last stand at Le Paradis between the 25 and 27 May 1940. They were exhausted, low on ammunition and very lightly equipped to defend against an armoured and air attack. On the 25 May, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Norfolk Regiment received the full weight of the enemy attack on the La Bassée Canal, receiving heavy casualties. Then for two days The Royal Scots fought a very determined and valiant rear-guard defence against overwhelming odds. Eventually, through constant attrition, they were reduced to isolated small units. Only the very brave, but fatal action of Pipe Major Allan avoided this Battalion headquarters to being overrun. He held up the German advance single handed with a Bren gun until he was killed. During these three days, there were numerous other acts of considerable bravery.
Their ferocious defence at Le Paradis inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, and seriously damaged the confidence of the SS “Totenkopf” Division they fought. Most importantly, it delayed the German’s advance, allowing thousands of British troops to reach the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Scots’ contribution to the battle of Dunkirk was vital, yet most of the survivors of Le Paradis would spend the next five years as prisoners of war.
Though the Royal Scots had been in continuous action for seventeen days, had travelled over 200 miles and had suffered heavy casualties, their fighting spirit was undaunted. Those who escaped through Dunkirk would live to fight another day, through the courage and sacrifice of The Royal Scots.
Afterwards, at a hospital, a German officer, on handing over some wounded Royal Scots to a Chaplain stated, “They fought like lions”. Sometime after the war, the captured French liaison officer, Lieutenant Michel Martell, attached to The Royal Scots (a POW ) wrote “..during the five years of waiting for our freedom, after living with The Royal Scots, I could never despair of seeing Germany beaten.”