Unknowns washed up along the Dutch coast

The burial of a unknown soldier at Vlieland, probably 1940  (http://www.vlieland.waddengebiedindeoorlog.nl/zeeoorlog/)
The burial of a unknown soldier at Vlieland, probably 1940 (http://www.vlieland.waddengebiedindeoorlog.nl/zeeoorlog/)

Through out the period 1940-1945, the bodies of those killed at sea, washed up along the Dutch coastline. In most cases they are still buried at these places.

 

Were possible I placed these unknown graves at their units; Airforce, Army, Navy, when not possible I made a unknown topic of the places were they washed up, with as much as possible information I could/can located at the local archives.

 


Dunkirk 

 

The War Office made the decision to evacuate British forces on 25 May. In the nine days from 27 May–4 June, 338,226 men escaped, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch soldiers, aboard 861 vessels of which 243 were sunk during the operation.

 

The docks at Dunkirk were too badly damaged to be used, but the East and West Moles (sea walls protecting the harbour entrance) were intact. Captain William Tennant—in charge of the evacuation—decided to use the beaches and the East Mole to land the ships. This highly successful idea hugely increased the number of troops that could be embarked each day and on 31 May, over 68,000 men were embarked.

 

The last of the British Army left on 3 June, and at 10:50, Tennant signalled Ramsay to say "Operation completed. Returning to Dover". Churchill insisted on coming back for the French and the Royal Navy returned on 4 June, to rescue as many as possible of the French rearguard. Over 26,000 French soldiers were evacuated on that last day, but between 30,000 and 40,000 more were left behind and captured by the Germans. Around 16,000 French soldiers and 1,000 British soldiers died during the evacuation. 90% of Dunkirk was destroyed during the battle.

 

Numerous ships were destroyed during and in the days before the evacuation, which were not only military vessels, but also, trawlers,cargo ships,canal boats, tugs, steamers,fishing boats,passenger ships, and also a hospital ship.

 

This can explane that along the Dutch coast not only men were found but also women.

 

It is estimated that 125 British civilians were killed.

 

Reaction on my question about British civilians killed/missing during Operation Dynamo, to Dunkirk 1940 Museum in Fort Luton, Kent. (Mr P. Bristow) 

 

Thank you for your question. The number which you reference in your communication is I believe sourced from a debate in Parliament on the 18th June 1940. In response to a specific question from Sir Adrian Baillie about civilian casualties during the Dunkirk operation, Sir Victor Warrender, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, gave the following figures:

 

125 civilians killed

81 wounded

 

However, he also went onto say that of these numbers 4 of the killed and

2 of the wounded were civilian volunteers, while the remainder were serving in the merchant navy. Merchant navy personnel would have formed the bulk of the crews of cargo ships, passenger vessels, tugs, ferries etc which were used extensively during the evacuation.

 

So the response above is the official version. But as ever, things are never quite as simple as they might initially seem. The implication from the answer is that the response relates merely to civilian casualties amongst the crews of vessels involved in Operation Dynamo. Therefore it ignores the loss of Merchant Navy personnel / civilian volunteers who were evacuating service personnel and / or civilians from Dunkirk, or other Continental ports, before or after the strict dates allocated to Operation Dynamo. It also is a set of figures as at a point in time, by that I mean, were the records complete by this date? The number of killed cannot of course take into account Merchant Navy personnel or civilians that may have died of wounds subsequent to this date. It also ignores any potential casualties amongst UK citizens seeking to evacuate the continent either on-board ships or in the battle zone itself. There are simply no records to establish the numbers in this regard. Although it is correct to categorise Operation Dynamo as military operation a small number of civilians were also evacuated. We know this for a fact as we have met one and reliable accounts exist of other civilians evacuated.

 

Then we have a further conundrum. While the bulk of the crews of the so called "little ships" were crewed by Naval personnel, there were numerous civilian volunteers who also participated. The official line was that any "civilian" volunteers needed to sign Form T124, which effectively signed them up to 90 days short service in the Royal Navy and put them under Royal Navy command and discipline. So if any of these men were killed of wounded, which category were they recorded under?

Royal Navy, Merchant Navy or civilian. If it is the latter, then based on just a narrow selection of known casualties, it can be reasonably concluded that the figure of 4 is too low. Furthermore, in the chaos and confusion of the evacuation, did every civilian crew member sign form T124, in which case it is impossible to know officially which "civilians" were there and potentially became casualties. We also need to differentiate between vessels and boats which are officially recorded by the authorities as participating in Operation Dynamo and "freelance"

civilian vessels who merely responded to the growing crisis by sailing to Dunkirk without any communication with the military authorities.

Their participation was never officially recorded, but they were there and it is hard to believe that all of them and all of their crews returned safely. It is highly questionable that such casualties would have formed part of the official figures that were quoted in Parliament.

 

Apologies for the length of the response and that we do not have a definitive answer for you. It is a bit like the statistics for the numbers actually safely evacuated. There is a discrepancy in numbers, dependent upon the official sources that you may choose to use.