This is a short story about one man of many, who were sacrificed at Dunkirk in 1940 so that over 300,000 men were saved to fight another day. His name was Samuel Harold Renney; you will not find his name etched in the annals of history, because he was an ordinary man just doing his duty.
Samuel Harold Renney was born in 1909 at Barrow-in-Furness. He lived in King Alfred Street on Walney Island, where he grew up. Like the rest of Great Britain, times were very hard with the First World War and the depression that followed. On leaving school work was hard to find and just the same as many others he joined the Army at the age of 19. Samuel enlisted in the Royal Artillery on the 4th April 1928 Army number 780142. After various postings and training courses he was sent to Meerut in India January 1931. Meerut in the state of Uttar Pradesh is the 17th largest city in India where he served for just over 4 years. The temperatures could rise to over 45 degrees centigrade in the hot season; prickly heat was random amongst the troops which was no picnic. As the saying goes a mad dog is an Englishman, who goes out in the mid-day Sun
On arriving home from India, Samuel was honourably discharged on the completion of his service and was put on the Army Reserve in February 1935. He met Edna Parker in his home town of Barrow-in-Furness, they married and later had a son named Raymond who was born in 1939
It does not end there, because of that evil Hitler and his infamous henchmen. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany. Samuel had been on the emergency reserve since leaving the Army in 1935. The British government quickly mobilised its reservist to join the regular army and join the British Expeditionary Force being sent to France. Samuel was back in the Royal Artillery.
After a quiet start to the war, Germany invaded France and Belgium. The speed and might of the German forces pushed back the poorly equipped French and British forces very quickly. As history shows Belgium capitulated leaving the B.E.F. stranded in the Dunkirk area. A rear guard action had to be employed to save the many men stranded at Dunkirk. Those picked out for the rear-guard knew their war was over. Being told you were in this action must have been agonising, knowing you would be killed or taken prisoner. The British Army prides itself with discipline, and bravely these chosen men were men indeed. The rear-guard formed by many regiments and Corps, held back the Germans for days on end, until they were overrun and taken prisoner. For the rear-guards brave action, over 300,000 British and French troops were safely evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches in Operation Dynamo. In the evacuation, there were 11000 men, who lost their lives during and being in the rear-guard and sadly 40,000 troops were taken prisoner. Samuel Harold Renney was one of those forgotten brave men.
The overwhelming majority of prisoners were marched away in columns some were beaten, starved and in some cases if the SS were in charge, murdered. At the end of being force marched the POWs were sent to various Prisoner of war camps throughout Germany and Poland. The officers went to Oflags the rank and file were sent to Stalags. It was StalagXXB which was in Marienburg, Poland that Samuel was sent has POW 7716 L/BDR. He spent the next four and a half years at this camp, with his fellow internee’s. All suffered through lack of food, care, cold nights and the list is endless. Most of all, the worry of loved ones back home prayed on their minds.
In the early months of 1945 The Russian Army were making big gains in Poland. With this happening the POWs of StalagXXB were sent on a forced march into Germany, in what was the coldest winter on record. One must remember these POWs on the march, had no transport, insufficient clothing and survived on little food. The march which lasted over 8 weeks, where they slept in open fields at times, with groups huddled together trying to get some warmth in the cold hostile weather. Many POW’s were left behind if they fell ill and most certainly died of exposure. What these men went through must have been horrendous. The march was known as the Death March and lasted a long eight weeks or more.
The nightmare that Samuel Renney and his fellow Prisoners of War endured came to an end in late April early May. They were thankfully liberated by American troops in Germany. Samuel was repatriated to England and spent quite a long time in hospital before being demobilised in early 1946.
Returning to his loving wife Edna and his son Ray, They all felt strangers as one can imagine, each trying hard to pick up the pieces of being away for such a long time. His son Ray was 2 years old last time he saw his dad now he was seven, but pick up the pieces they did. Samuel settled down and went back to working as a bricklayer; he and Edna had two further children Michael and Jeanette. Over the years his health never fully recovered due to the ordeals he had been through and sadly Samuel Harold Renney died in 1959 at 50 years of age.
Like thousands of others the war ruined his life, there was no counselling during those post war years, it was in the army one day and demobilised the next. There was no help for heroes or any hand outs; it was you’re on your own Jack. All the ex-servicemen returning from the War were just glad to be out of uniform and from that day on many struggled, with the main struggle being their health.
The men of the rear-guard who fought and held the Germans back at Dunkirk. They gave just enough time for the saving of 328,000 men during Operation Dynamo. History hardly mentions these brave men who sacrificed their own freedom and endured hardships, so their fellow countrymen could carry on the fight against Nazi Germany, until ultimate victory.
Samuel Harold Renney was only one of the 40,000 true heroes of Dunkirk. Those true heroes should never be forgotten for the debt they paid, in keeping this great country of ours free.
In the British Army, the infantry Regiments march behind their bands quite often. When I was a young boy I often watched soldiers marching behind their bands through the streets of my home town. Sometimes it was the brass band other times the kilted Scottish pipe bands. There were many army camps surrounding the Furness peninsular during the war years. All youngsters in fact everyone young and old, love to see marching troops and my family were no different.
During my national Service days with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. I proudly marched behind the regimental band on many occasions. The main parades when we returned from the Cameroons were Arroyo Day parade, which involved all the regiment. Also our regiment The King’s Own Royal Border was given the freedom of York in the autumn of 1961. All Companies of the regiment with a spring in their step marched behind the band through the streets of York. The trouble was, I was on a 24 hour guard that day, so consequently I was not on the parade. Believe me I was very disappointed, because all the lads who took part, said it was brilliant. Back in those days as other ex- servicemen will tell you, one had to be bulled up in your best uniform. All personnel involved looked smart and were drilled to perfection by the senior NCOs
I mention all this because the Kings Own Royal Border Band played “Corn Rigs are Bonnie” as a quick march. Although the Scottish tune, which was composed in the 17thCentury? The title and words were written in the latter part of the 18th Century, by no other than the great Robbie Burns. Prior to this tune, like many other British regiments the Lincolnshire Poacher was played.
The interesting slow march music adopted by the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, Just after the amalgamation of the Border Regiment with The King’s Own Regiment. Was “The Song of the Western Men” It is also known as “Trelawny”? The music and lyrics were written by Robert Stephen Harker. He wrote the song in 1824 depicting events that happened in 1688. John Telawny was one of seven bishop imprisoned in the tower of London by King James 11 for petitioning against the Declaration of Indulgence. Due to the imprisonment of John Trelawny a march on London was organised, but before they reached London the Bishops were acquitted by a jury and set free.
The song is taught in Cornish schools and is sung at all big occasions where Cornwall is involved. The line of the famous song that warms the hearts of Cornish people is. “And Shall Trelawny Die There’s 20,000 Cornishmen Will Know The Reason Why”.
One might ask why a Northern England Regiment plays a Cornish tune. I can only assume, because two Colonels of The King’s Own Regiment 1688 to 1692 were brothers Maj- General Charles Trelawny and Brig-General Henry Trelawny. They were also brothers of John Trelawny the imprisoned bishop. I hope all this is not too confusing.
The song, being sung by a Cornish choir is quite good listening and can be heard on different websites.
I cannot leave this article without mentioning another tune that in my opinion was the best of all. The name of which is D’Ye ken John Peel, a tune and song very significant to Cumbria. The Border Regiment which mainly recruited from the then Cumberland County made this tune into a quick march. When the Border Regt amalgamated with the Kings Own to Form the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment the tune went with it. I personally love the tune, because on returning to England with the King’s Own Royal Border Regt after our service in the Cameroons. The regiment came home on the Troopship S.S.Devonshire. While entering the dock complex of Southampton, in the distance caught in the wind, we could hear faintly D’Ye ken John Peel being played and as we got nearer to the ship’s berth, the tune became louder and louder. The cheering by my fellow soldiers was quite deafening to say the least. The tune was being played by the band of the Lancashire Prince of Wales Volunteers who were stationed in the South of England. It was a moment in my life that will be with me until the day I die. As I write this, I have a tingling feeling that brings back that wonderful day. So you the reader will understand why I love the tune D’Ye ken John Peel. I am also sure also, that many readers of this article will have had similar homecomings as this and I am also sure it would have been one of the happiest days of your life.
Hello Everybody, There was another poet who I have greatly admired over the years, his name was Rupert Brooke. He was born on the 3rd August 1887 educated at Rugby school and Cambridge University and later became a fellow of King’s College Cambridge. Incidentally this was his old college
Rupert was a much travelled man visiting America, Canada, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, just to name a few. Having, returned to England, from his travels abroad. The First World War in 1914 broke out. Rupert quickly joined up and was commissioned in the Royal Naval Division. This division took part in the unsuccessful Antwerp expedition in 1914. Rupert Brooke wrote many poems during the early years of the war, but for me there is one poem that stands out more than the others. I will write the first lines of his poem “The Soldier,” of which I am sure you will have heard at some time or another.
If I should die, think only this of me.
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
in that rich earth a richer dust concealed
I know it sounds very parochial, because many brave Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Commonwealth servicemen lie buried in foreign fields with no recognition of who they are. The beautiful words Rupert Brooke wrote in my way of thinking, was really meant for everyone.
In February he set sail with his division for Gallipoli in the Dardanelles. On board ship during the voyage he developed poisoning from a Mosquito bite to his lip, which had turned septic. He steadily became very ill and died on a French Hospital ship in the bay of the Greek Island Skyros on the 23rd April 1915 he was aged 28. With very close friends in attendance and with the Fleet sailing early morning the next day. Rupert Brooke was buried in an Olive Grove on the Island of Skyros at 11pm.
In the early part of the 1990’s a Royal Naval party sought out Rupert Brooke’s grave on Skyros and found it very overgrown. The naval party due to their endeavour made the grave immaculate as it is today. A man may die, but his work lives on for all to see