Journey to Hazebrouck: BBC From Our Own Correspondent 54

I was honoured this weekend to be given the chance by BBC Radio 4’s great programme, From Our Own Correspondent, to tell the moving story of the death of my mother’s WW2 fiance, Martin Preston, nephew of the poet Robert Graves; and the heroic resistance put up by the Bucks Batallion at the siege of Hazebrouck in 1940, which allowed thousands of British soldiers to reach Dunkirk and England before the advancing German armies could engulf them.Their story has rather been forgotten but it was one of the most intense firefights of the Second World War. Martin’s young life was cut short at the age of twenty-two but it was not until nearly a year and a half later that my mother received definitive confirmation of his death. Like many women in her situation, she went on hoping against hope that he might still be alive. The man she married, my father, Philip Worrall, had been a member of SOE; and survived. The story contained in the box of love letters I found after her death will be become my next book, I hope, titled: The Very White of Love. Here is a link to the From Our Own Correspondent website:

About sworrall

Writer with @Natgeo; author of The Poet and The Murderer; and the forthcoming Starcrossed: A Romeo And Juliet Story in Hitler's Paris (2022)

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54 thoughts on “Journey to Hazebrouck: BBC From Our Own Correspondent

  • Val Chambers

    I heard your moving and interesting item yesterday. My father was in the 1st Bucks btn Ox and Bucks and was at Hazebrouck.

    So pleased to hear this on as the role of the regiment is, as you say, a story which has faded fast and almost forgotten. The regiment also played a siginificant role in the D Day landings.

    I have a copy of the regimental diary for 1940 and found the reference to 2nd Lt Preston’s patrol and his disappearance.

    There appears to be little formal recognition for the Ox and Bucks in local museums and I regularly tell myself that I will do something about this — not sure what — but hearing your piece has spurred me on.

    Thank-you and I look forward to the book.

  • Chris Inward

    Dear Simon, my family and I were deeply moved by your piece on Martin Preston and the Bucks Battalion at Hazebrouck, in particular because my wife’s father, Joe Cripps, who died 30 years ago, was a Sgt in the Bucks Battalion (1st Ox & Bucks LI) who was wounded and captured at Hazebrouck. Last year we made a pilgrimage to the town to try to find the Battalion HQ where he lay injured in the cellar with many other wounded, but failed to find it, and we were very disappointed that the Library and Town Hall Staff seemed to be completely unaware of the Battle, despite the many who fell and are buried in their graveyards. I would be extremely grateful if you feel able to let me have sight of any information which would help us to find the orphanage, and any other information about the battle not available in the book ‘Hazebrouck 1940’ by Michael Heyworth. We intend to return to pay our respects once more.
    My father-in-law was a fine man, and was a trombone player in the regimental band, also the pioneer Sgt, as he was a builder in his father’s firm in Waddesdon. He had no need to go to war, as he was well past the age group involved, but as you will already know, the Bucks Btn. was almost a ‘Pals Btn.’ with many relatives serving together. Indeed, it was Joe’s nephew who saved his life when he lay in the path of the circling Panzers with MG wounds to both legs, by running out of HQ under fire and carrying him back to ‘safety’. Subsequently, as he lay wounded in the cellar, his pal CSM Pat Badrick was leaning over him to light him a cigarette when shelling caused the roof to cave in on all the wounded, killing many, but Joe and Pat fortunately escaped, with Joe sustaining a further injury, a broken nose! They both finished as POW’s. I hope I have not bored you with my prattle, but, like you, I feel that this is a forgotten battle, which enabled others, including my own father, then a CSM in the QORWK’s, to escape through Dunkirk. Joe was repatriated in 1944 with only one leg, but led a full life running his building firm until retirement, and I shall always be grateful for the sacrifice that he, Martin Preston, and so many others, made at Hazebrouck.

    Thank you for reading this.

    C J Inward

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Val – thank you so much for contacting me: it’s always the most rewarding for a writer to know that something he or she has written has touched someone. Your father must have been profoundly affected by his experiences at Hazebrouck. Did he go on to fight at D Day? Is he alive still? I ask because I am trying to interview as many survivors as possible for the book. As to recognition: a person who has worked tirelessly to get the Bucks Batallion’s story out is Ingram Murray. He’s the son-in-law of the adjutant in Hazebrouck ( Capt. James Ritchie) and has devoted much of his retirement to the regiment. He has also been instrumental in getting some space at the Oxfordshire regimental museum. His email is: Best Wishes, Simon

  • Mowbray Jackson

    I just listened to your ‘Journey to Hazebrouck’. I found it a interesting and also very moving love story.I look forward to reading the book. Also am glad to have seen the other posts here which have added beautifully to your tale. Thank you.

  • sworrall Post author

    Thanks very much for contacting me, and for your generous words about the broadcast. For a writer, there is nothing more uplifting than to know that something he or she has written has touched the reader ( or in this case the listener). And I am glad that the other Posts here on the website have been of interest. Are you or your family somehow connected with the Bucks Battalion? I am trying to assemble as many stories as possible for the book. With best wishes, Simon Worrall

  • Michael Heyworth

    I heard your moving piece and share your sentiments about the Bucks Battalion.I have been interested in the story for some time. My father was CO at the end and died on the 28th. If my book would be of interest to you or your correspondents please let me know. Best wishes Michael Heyworth.

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Mike – I have tried repeatedly to reply to your several emails. I think your Inbox may be full? All my replies come back saying there is a Permanent Fatal Error your end. Will keep trying. Hope you get this. Simon Worrall

  • michael heyworth

    Sorry youhave been bombarded.My messages came back as having failed. My in box was full so that is the answer. I will fix it…Mike

  • Val Chambers

    Dear Simon
    Thank-you for the suggestion with regard to Ingram Murray. A couple of days ago I sent an enquiry to the Milton Keynes heritage dept which was passed to Ingram and he has kindly emailed and offered some advice and support.

    My father was captured and was not part of the regiment’s later exploits. As with many others he spoke little of his war time experience.

    I do believe that my father’s reticence was due both to the depth of his experience in 1940 but also the perecieved ignominy of PoW status. He died in 1999 but I think would appreciate the growing recognition of these less talked about but hugely significant events.

    Michael, I would love a copy of your book -how can I obtain one?

    Thank-you to everyone for the interesting posts.

  • sworrall Post author

    No worries. I will resend my email once I hear from you that the logjam is cleared! Am very interested to learn more about your father. Best Wishes, Simon

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Val – I am glad that you are in touch with Murray. He is very much the man when it comes to knowledge of the siege at Hazebrouck – and has made an enormous contribution to keeping alive the memory of those distant events. Your comments about your father’s reticence are very interesting. I suppose, as you say, there was a certain degree of (undeserved) ” shame” attached to having spent the war in a POW camp. I hope that my own contribution will also serve the cause that your father fought for. Thanks, Simon.

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Mike – I just tried to send you an email again and it came back. Please let me know when you have sorted out the problem and I will reply to your original email. Simon

  • Stephen Nelson

    Dear Simon,
    My father,William Alan “Bill” Nelson was a lieutenant in command,I believe of D “platoon on the day.It might have been him who was ordered to make the patrol and I would not be here.He spent 5 years as a pow but hardly ever mentioned Hazebrouck although I remember he was scathing about some of the weapons especially the Boyes anti tank rifle.I have a booklet entitled”A study ofExperiencesand perceptions held by the soldiers of the 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion”By Ian Watson.A Dissertaion for M.A.War studies.This has a map and other interesting info.I have some photos and one has GHQ building written on the back.If you are interested in seeing these let me know.My tel no is 01273 542145.My father died in 2007.

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Stephen: thanks so much for contacting me. The broadcast obviously rekindled quite a lot of memories, as I have heard from a fair few people. I am sorry for the loss of your father. That great generation is becoming more and more rare. Like everyone at Hazebrouck, those events must have left a deep impression on him. ” D” company was the one at the station, was it? Thanks very much for the offer of seeing those materials. I actually have the Watson study. But I would be interested in seeing the photos and perhaps hearing more about your father. The more ” characters” I can bring to life, the better the book will be. Unfortunately, I am now on the other side of the Atlantic, in the States, until the end of the summer. But I will contact you when I return, if that is okay? Best wishes, Simon Worrall

  • christopher coade

    Simon: in the emails below is a message from Chris Inward about his Father-in-Law Serjeant Joe Cripps. A back-story of Hazebrouck is that prior to the battle 13 of the Bucks Battalion Regimental Band’s musical instruments were left with L/Corporal Herbert Fowler’s elderly French Landlady in the nearby town of Wahagnies where HQ Company were billeted – Fowler was in the Regimental Band. The French Landlady hide the musical instruments under the floorboards of her house cellar, and she was later mistreated by the Germans for 4 days but she refused to tell them where she had hidden them. L/Corporal Fowler escaped back to England at Dunkirk. In October 1944 (70 years ago) Fowler had been promoted to Serjeant of the Pioneer Platoon, and the Bucks Battalion were back fighting in Northern France. Serjeant Fowler went back to Wahagnies and knocked on the front door of his old billet. The French Landlady opened the door and recognised him and gave him back the 13 Bucks Battalion Regimental Band instruments – I love the story because it showed that the French Lady believed that one day the Bucks Battalion would come back to Wahagnies.
    I am trying to find out more about Herbert Stanley Fowler – could you forward this email to Chris Inward – thanks
    Christopher Coade

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Chris – sorry to have taken so long, I saw you got my email, thanks for getting in touch. The book is still in search of a publisher, tho strong interest in the US &UK, but it won’t be out before Xmas 2015 at the earliest, I expect. All best, Simon PS Say hi to Chris ( Inward)!

  • Sue Hatt

    My father was a captain in the 1st Bucks batallion and was captured at Hazebrouck. He had become engaged to my mother on Boxing Day 1939 shortly before the 1st Bucks went to France. They planned to marry on his first home leave due in April or May but once the invasion took place all leave was cancelled. I have all the letters my father sent to my mother from the time he returned to his regiment in Newbury early in January 1940, through his months in France and Belgium and from POW camps where he was held until liberated by the Americans in April 1945. They were married in May 1945, 5 years after they had originally planned the wedding.

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Sue – thanks so much for getting in touch. What an interesting story! And how good that it ended happily and that you have the letters. What was your father’s name? My book, The Very White of Love, is coming out in the UK next autumn (2015) so I hope it will bring to life for you the ordeals and courage of those men. It ends with the siege of Hazebrouck. My mother’s fiance was killed there. So thank your lucky stars your father survived to tell the tale. I will be posting here in the run up to the book’s publication and will hope to have a number of readings, so I will look forward to meeting you, perhaps. All best, Simon

  • Sue Hatt

    Dear Simon. Thanks for getting back to me. I shall eagerly await the publication of your book to find out more about my father’s war experiences. His name was Brian Dowling and I know very little about his experience in action as he rarely mentioned it. He was more forthcoming about life in various POW camps but I realise now that I was given a very edited version of funny incidents with the suffering, boredom and pain erased from the account. He was lucky to have survived and once home he immediately became absorbed in building a home and family. I was born in March 1946, less than a year after his release. I hope at least one of your book readings will be in Wales. All the best Sue

  • sworrall Post author

    Hi Sue – thanks for the information. I knew Dowling was a name I had come across in the researches. It turns out he gave testimony to the ICRC search committee about the night of the patrol when Martin was killed as they tried to establish what happened. Your father was actually in the unit that went out with Martin at midnight on the 28th May- I name him in my description of the incident in the book – but he was sent back by Martin with the others, when they encountered the Germans at the end of the street. So, it could be said that Martin saved your father’s life that night. Amazing.
    Unfortunately, I don’t have the ICRC report to hand at the moment, as I sent it to the publishers with other materials, but will have it back sometime, and will copy and forward it to you.
    I would love to do a reading in Wales. Where are you? Any suggestions?
    Best wishes, Simon

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Sue – I have just gone back into my notes and I’m afraid to say I got it wrong about the night of the patrol. Your father was NOT on the patrol himself, but as a captain was one of the officers who was asked to give testimony to the ICRC while in the POW camp about the incident. I am so sorry to have misled you. I am sure my earlier email prompted many emotions. So I am sorry to bring you crashing back to earth. Mea culpa.

    I did, though, find my transcript of your father’s testimony to the ICRC. It’s very brief, but here it is. I believe I have the ICRC copy of his original handwritten note, which I can forward to you at a later date. But, as I said, it is not to hand right now.

    Brian Dowling,POW no. 765 dated 13.06.41:
    “ I can add nothing to Major Viney’s reply to your enquiries ..of 13th November. Rgarding 2/Lt Geoffrey Rowe, capt. RFT Barry, now POW also of 1st. Bucks Bn., reported at about 18.00 hrs 27th May 1940 that 2/lt Rowe had been badly wounded but no further information …”

    Sorry again for the mix-up,

    Best wishes,


  • sworrall Post author

    Michael – just to let you know: The Very White Of Love will be published by Allison and Busby in the UK in mid-September. I look forward to meeting you at one of the readings that are being planned. Best, Simon

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Mowbray – just to let you know: The Very White Of Love will be published by Allison and Busby in the UK in mid-September. I look forward to meeting you at one of the readings that are being planned. Best, Simon

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Stephen – just to let you know: The Very White Of Love will be published by Allison and Busby in the UK in mid-September. I look forward to meeting you at one of the readings that are being planned. Best, Simon

  • Sue Hatt

    Hi Simon

    Thanks for your information about my Dad and his testimony. It’s interesting trying to piece it all together and that the ICRC approached POWs for evidence. Any news of the book and its publication?


  • sworrall Post author

    Hi Sue – thanks for getting in touch. If you go to my website you will see a new posting about the book’s publication next year. I am very excited. Keep checking the website for updates.


  • Ingram Murray

    Mrs Hatt, Simon, Michael, Chris, Ladies and Gentlemen – the Defence of the Orphanage in Hazebrouck by the HQ of the 1st Bucks is commemorated by a magnificent bronze plaque we put up in 2008 on the wall of the building which replaced the Fondation Warein after the war – some of you were there. The school (for that is what it now is) stands in the Rue de la Sous-Prefecture. A lot of the garden (where the dead were first buried) has been taken for housing and the front garden has been encroached because of the need to create parking space in the road. Persons wishing to find out about the battle can contact the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum where we will endeavour to answer your questions – for a modest fee. James Ritchie, my wife’s father was the Adjutant and like Brian Heyworth was killed in the final defence on the evening of the 28th may 1940.

  • Tricia Lewis

    We look forward to reading your book. My father Eric North fought with the 1st Battalion Oxford and Bucks in Hazebrouck at the Orphanage and was wounded and captured. We visited Dunkirk and Hazebrouck in May 2017 and although the tourist information was shut (again) we did manage to find our way around. We found the orphanage (now nursery), plaque for “men of steel” , headquarters, and cemetery. We shall be going back to lay flowers, is Martin buried there? Would really be interested to know if there is any record of my father in the records you have seen.

  • sworrall Post author

    Thanks for getting in touch, Tricia. The book is coming out in June 2018. Do hope you will enjoy it. Martin is indeed buried at the Hazebrouck municipal cemetery along with many other Ox and Bucks men. I have sadly not turned up any references to your father. But you can probably find out more from Ingram Murray, the unofficial historian of the battalion. His email is: Tell him I sent you.Good luck! Simon

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Chris – the first hard copies of the book arrived with me today. Very exciting! I also have a new FB page dedicated to the book, where I will be posting regular updates:
    Also: I wanted to invite you and your wife to the book launch party on June 21st. It also runs through Facebook but I need an email address to invite you. Can you provide? I hope you are both doing okay and enjoying the spring weather ( at last!)

  • sworrall Post author

    Dear Michael – an update: my book will finally be published, as a novel, by Harper Collins on June 14th 2018. It’s been a long haul! I have a new FB page dedicated to the book, where I will be posting regular updates: All best Simon

  • Gayle Spiller

    I would love to hear more about the story told by Chris Inward as I believe the Pat Badrick he mentions is my late Grandfather.

  • Christopher Bryant

    I’ve been research Michael Shewell, who was a 2nd lt at Hazebrouck and received the MC for his actions there. Have you come across him at all?

  • sworrall Post author

    Hi Christopher – I haven’t come across him, but can look a bit more closely. Let me know what you find out?
    Best simon

  • Nigel Clark

    I don’t know if this site is still live but: my father survived the battle at hazebrouck and spent the rest of the war in numerous camps across Europe. Towards the end of the war as the Russians advanced they were marched back to Germany (the death march) where he was repatriated by Patton. All of this and more is all I have of my fathers story as I didn’t take the time to ask him before he died. I would like to know if the information I have is correct and where if anywhere I can find out more. His name was John Charles Clark (known as Dabber to his friends). He was one of the ‘Dunkirk Veterans’ founders.