FROM DUNKIRK TO WENVOE
FROM DUNKIRK TO WENVOE
The film Dunkirk, currently on release in cinemas, tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation between 26 May and 4 June 1940. This is the story of the miracle of Dunkirk – the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in northern France, an evacuation code-named Operation Dynamo. In the film a group of soldiers manage to cross the English Channel to Weymouth and are placed on a train. The trains were known as ‘Dynamo Specials’ taking troops to temporary camps. It reminded me that Wenvoe played a part in Operation Dynamo, well in the receiving of Dunkirk evacuees at any rate, with the Wenvoe Camp that had been set up that year. A camp later used by the US Army between 1943-4 in the run-up to the D-Day campaign and later used for German and Italian prisoners of war (see ‘Wenvoe at War’). Wenvoe Camp occupied the site that would be occupied by the golf driving range and now the crematoria.
I’m not sure how long the camp was occupied by Dunkirk veterans, it appears to be occupied mainly by Royal Army Service Corps men as one letter dated 31 July 1940 to a Pte A J Hopkinson, gives the address as; ‘No. 2 Base Petrol Filling Centre, R.A.S.C., Wenvoe Camp’. A later letter to Pte Hopkinson is dated 9 October 1940. Another soldier; John Edwards, was also with the RASC, he recalled; ‘At St Malo docks, we drove the lorries into the sea and some threw in their weapons too …The ship set off for Weymouth (the journey took all day!) and we arrived there to be met by the Salvation Army who gave every man a tin of Bully beef, a tin of Mackerel, hard tack biscuits and a tin mug full of tea. …My wife (whose neighbour had helpfully told her that "we would never see any of them again") eventually got news that I was in a camp at Wenvoe in South Wales and my brother in Law (who lived in Newport) managed to find me and confirm that I had survived.’ Another RASC man was Pte Edward Anthony Clarke, whose story; ‘Tony Clarke's World War II’; ‘Jul-Sep 1940 – Tony's unit in a big camp under canvas at Wenvoe, 7 miles west of Cardiff, manning road-blocks and checking everybody's identity (why??), with Boer War Ross rifles and a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle …’ The story notes that in Oct 1940 Tony's unit was to move to winter quarters in Caerphilly.
The brother of the famous author C.S. Lewis; Major Warren Hamilton, would also spend time at Wenvoe. Before the war the two brothers had been inseparable, sharing their thoughts and observations on the countryside, literature, and the changing world. He was a noted scholar in his own right and had served in the First World War, being recalled to active service on 4 September 1939 and posted on 25 October 1939 to Le Havre. In May 1940 he was evacuated from Dunkirk and transferred to the Reserves on 16 August 1940. He then left Wenvoe Camp and headed for Oxford where he promptly joined the Sixth Oxford City Home Guard Battalion.
It would be interesting to know how much interaction was there between the camp and Wenvoe and if any readers can add anything please let us know. Parry Edwards has noted that in 1940 there were two weddings from the RASC Wenvoe Camp; one couple being Beryl Fairchild who married William Shakespeare of the RASC at St. Marys Church. No doubt these were engaged couples who had decided that with one of them having survived Dunkirk they should get married!
Stephen K. Jones
BBC WW2 People's War Lost in France, May/June 1940: With the RASC by John Edwards http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/45/a2598645.shtml
Tony Clarke's World War II, http://www.rogerclarke.com/Family/AW4/06/2/WWII.html