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Robert Owen Wilcoxon. An account of the last days at Dunkirk and the story of the heroic men and the `little ships`

Robert Owen Wilcoxon. An account of the last days at Dunkirk and the story of the heroic men and the `little ships`



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Published by Annette Edwards
An account of the last days in the life of Robert Owen Wilcoxon.
The tale of the `little ships` and their part in the rescue of men from Dunkirk.
An account of the last days in the life of Robert Owen Wilcoxon.
The tale of the `little ships` and their part in the rescue of men from Dunkirk.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Annette Edwards on Dec 20, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Robert Owen Wilcoxon
Sub Lieutenant, R.N.V.R.
1st April 1903 – 29th May 1940
Wednesday 29th May 1940
On 10th May 1940, following the invasion of the Netherlands, the allied French and Britishforces responded by advancing from France into Belgium. However, though they had advancedquickly, in a few days it was found that there was not the expected support from the BelgianArmy, the Dutch army had surrendered, and to the south the French army front had been broken by the main advance of the Germans, whose objective was to cut off the British and capture theChannel ports. By 20th May it was foreseen that there might have to be a compulsorywithdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force. Soon the port of Boulogne was surrounded andevacuated, and Calais threatened. On 23rd-24th May Calais was evacuated by all except thearmy, and the enemy was within 20 miles of Dunkirk. On 25th May all troops were evacuatedfrom Calais, and a day later there was an Allied decision to withdraw, though not to evacuate.What was then left could be described most simply as a semi-circular line of British, French andBelgian troops, a front line some 120 miles long. General Gort found the news from the Belgianfront “disquieting”. On the morning of 25th May, the Admiralty signalled “Operation ‘Dynamo’is to Commence”. The first ship with evacuees, the armed boarding vessel
Mona’s Isle
, returnedto Dover on 27th May. On the 29th May, the Allied forces were all within a defended pocketedged by Fort Merdyck west of Dunkirk and the Bergues-Furnes-Nieuport canal, and troopswere waiting on the dunes and beaches.
The Assault Landing Craft
The ‘little ships’ were needed to ferry soldiers from the beach through the shallow water to thetransporting vessels and hospital ships, though many returned to England laden in small convoys.Something more efficient and safe was needed. On 29th May the first trickle of the anxiouslyawaited motor craft began to arrive off the beaches. The most important were the assault landingcraft (
), which had been brought over on the Scottish Clan Line passenger ship SS
commanded by Captain R. W. Mackie. In charge of the
was Commander R.A. Cassidi R.N, and with him were S/ Lt. R. O. Wilcoxon, R.N.V.R., S/Lt. E. R. Ponsonby,R.N.V.R., S/Lt. G. B. Eyre, R.N.V.R. and 44 ratings. They could carry 50 men per trip. TheA.L.C.’s had the shallow draught needed for moving over the shallows between beach and ships.They had twin engines and steel armour which was to prove its worth.The
Clan Macalister 
left Dover the evening before and in the morning steamed eastward,following (map route Z) the line of buoys from a mile off Calais along the French coast toDunkirk. There were 8 assault landing craft aboard.
Two never left the ship owing to an accidentoff No. 6 W buoy, a mile west of Dunkirk, at about 1030: the first craft
was alreadyraised up on its derrick, and the destroyer 
passed at speed, causing the
to roll heavily. When the
swung to and fro one of the hands panicked,causing it to drop onto
below, rendering both craft unfit for service. The remaining six
however, did valuable work ferrying some thousands of troops from the beaches.Captain Mackie was not keen to take the large
Clan Macalister 
further east than Dunkirk harbour before unloading the
because of the shallow water: he did not have the rightchart and wanted a pilot. But Cassidi obtained a chart from another ship and insisted that he wenton. The weather was fine and there was a light north-westerly breeze blowing towards the shore.The beach was divided into three sections (shown on the map), with a mile clear of troops between each section. The first plan was that Cassidi would cover La Panne beach, 10 mileswest of the harbour; Wilcoxon to work off the middle section at Bray Dunes; and Eyre to cover Malo beach, between Bray and Old Dunkirk. Cassidi then acting on necessity told the coxswainsto go where they thought they were most needed. Wilcoxon took the first boat to hoisted out,
, and proceeded straight inshore to the nearest beach, near Old Dunkirk, where hestarted evacuating British troops. Cassidi took 
, Ponsonby
and Eyre
 Assault Landing Craft (A.L.C.) Troops dug into the dunes at Malo beach

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