Wormhout, May 1940

Also known as 'Wormhoudt'.

The 80th anniversary of The Wormhoudt Massacre, which claimed the lives of almost 100 British and French Prisoners of War (POWs), was remembered on 28th May 2020 by the Royal Warwickshire Regimental Association, even though their annual trip to France did not take place due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In Harry's effects and captioned "Wormhout 1980":

(Tom Nicholls, one of Harry's mates)

The day before Harry was captured north of Cassel the SS rounded up 80 Allied soldiers who had been defending Wormhout and herded them into a cowshed a short distance away near Esquelbecq. They threw a number a stick-grenades into the cowshed which caused many deaths and terrible injuries, the survivors of that being brought out five at a time and shot one by one. Amazingly 15 survived, including Bert Evans who had been brought out and shot after being injured by a grenade. The survivors were found in a very poor state by the Wermacht, treated, then incarcerated in prison camp. Some, including Bert who lost an arm, were repatriated before the end of the war because of their injuries. SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Mohnke was believed to be the perpetrator but was never brought to trial. The case was reopened in 1988 but a German prosecutor came to the conclusion that their was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

There are several memorials in the area, including 'The Sacred Tree' which stands next to a reconstruction of the cowshed (now referred to as a barn) down a track off the Rue des Dunkirk Veterans, which is off the D17 to the right as you exit Esquelbecq towards Wormhout.

The following photographs are from a personal visit made on 12th November 2017. As you can see, the paths on the site form a 'cross of sacrifice', with the mound at its centre. The 'Sacred Tree' and barn are lower right at 2 and 3

Entrance from Rue des Dunkirk Veterans, which is to the right just as you exit Esquelbecq on the Wormhout road, signposted 'Plaine au Bois'.

The Sacred Tree

Overall description of the site, with a photograph of the original barn at the top

The Sacred Tree with the reconstructed barn to its right

Plaques on the outside of the barn, this one reads: "In Remembrance of those soldiers of The Royal Artillery, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and The Cheshire Regiment who were slain by troops of the SS Leibstandart in and around a barn which stood on this site on May 28th 1940. This barn is a faithful recreation of the original building and stands as a monument to the memory of those men who died on that day.

"We remember them.

"This barn was constructed in the year 2001 by French and British workmen and with the financial assistance of the News of the World"

These plaques were originally on a brick plinth near the road. The lower plaque reads: "Here was the massacre of Esquelbecq 28th May 1940"

Interior of the barn, the large photograph is of Robert VANPEE, who surrendered and was shot to save the lives of the Bollengier family at their farm.

40 oak trees in three rows stand by the barn

At the foot of the main path

Sculpture mid-way along the main path

Plaque at the foot of the mound

Orientation table at the top of the mound

Looking back from the top of the mound along the main path, Sacred Tree and barn at the top towards the right

Towards the Mercier farm and pond

The pond

The continuation of the main path past the mound ...

... and looking back at the mound, silhouetted against the weak winter sun

Cassel from the massacre site

The mayors and other officials of Wormhout and Esquelbecq were presented with a tapestry that had hung for many years at a Royal British Legion Branch for The Royal Warwickshire Regiment in Birmingham. The branch has closed, and the members felt that the Esquelbecq museum would be a suitable home for it.

Thanks to Mike Scott for supplying the following pictures and the text of the BBC Midlands Today item about Bert Evans, in 2003:

The Sacred Tree. Undated but presumably prior to 2001 when the barn was reconstructed. You can just see the line of pollarded poplars continuing to the left, so the clear space to the right is where the barn now stands.

Memorial about 1.5km from the massacre site. I don't know where this is, but the hill partially concealed is Cassel.

The text reads:
"To the Glory of God and in memory of the men of The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, The Cheshire Regiment and The Royal Artillery who on 28th May 1940 were massacred in a barn near this spot. Also of the men who were murdered as they were being marched to the barn. We Will Remember Them. This Memorial erected by the Birmingham Branch, Dunkirk Veteran's Association."

The Dunkirk Memorial

Survivor Bert Evans, who had an arm shattered by a stick grenade but survived that and being brought out of the barn and shot, was still battling in 2000:

Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
War veteran refused operation
A World War II veteran who was denied a cataract operation by the NHS has had to have the operation carried out in private. Bert Evans, who only has sight in one eye, feared that the delay in his operation would result in the loss of his independence. The Warwickshire Regiment Benevolent Fund came to his rescue and paid for the operation to be carried out privately.

The 80-year-old, who is originally from Birmingham, first went to see a consultant about at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch in January 2000. He returned to the hospital in April this year, but was turned down for the operation.

Mr Evans, who survived a massacre by the SS in a French field in 1940 which resulted in the loss of his arm, said he had been "upset" when he was refused the cataract operation. He told the BBC's Midlands Today programme: "It made me a bit upset but what can you do?"

A spokesperson for the Alexandra Hospital said that for clinical reasons, the operation had not been worth the risk.

Bert passed away in October 2013, his obituary from the Birmingham Mail.

Video of the site commencing with the entrance off the Rue des Dunkirk Veterans, Esquelbecq, and the nearby military cemetery on the Rue du Souvenir off the D17 on the west side of Esquelbecq

An account from 'The Worcestershire Regiment'
Another from 'Dunkirk 1940'
The personal experience of Brian Fahy, for many years arranger and conductor for Shirley Bassey
An account of many Waffen SS atrocities including Wormhout
SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Mohnke from 'Canadian Soldiers'
Questions still being asked in the UK Commons in 1998/99 and 1990/91