Gravelines

German forces kicked off The Battle of France on 10 May 1940. They muscled their way through the Netherlands and Belgium and on the 20th their forward Panzer units could see the River Somme flowing into the English Channel. Eight days later they had pushed the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force to a small strip of land at Dunkirk.

William BIGGINS, born in Filey in the summer of 1913, was a Lance Corporal with 6th Bn The Green Howards, part of the 23rd Northumbrian Infantry Division under Major General W. N. HERBERT. In the Order of Battle (1940) the Division is listed as a formation “undergoing training and performing labour duties” but, with France falling about their ears, nowhere was safe. William was killed on the 24th.

A kerb inscription in St Oswald’s, recorded by the Crimlisks, revealed that he was killed in action at Gravelines. While Kleist’s 10th Panzers half-circled nearby Calais, Gerd von Rundstedt’s armour attacked Gravelines. I don’t know how many other Allied soldiers lost their lives in this encounter but, towards midnight on the 24th, von Rundstedt asked Kleist to pause the Panzer advance. Hitler gave a “Halt Order” that has long puzzled historians – but it allowed the refuge at Dunkirk to be defended until the armada of small boats arrived.

Without the old kerb source, I may not have discovered William’s whereabouts on his last day. It has been replaced by a new headstone.

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William is buried at Longueness (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, about 20 miles south of Gravelines.

His pedigree on FamilySearch Tree isn’t extensive but Filey Genealogy & Connections takes his mother’s line back to the 17th century in Fenland, to Christopher SCOTTOW and Lucretia FISH.

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