My Uncle Frank Brookes 1919-1940
Frank Brookes was born just after the first world war in 1919, his parents were Frank Brookes and Alice Eva Bishop.
He was born at his grandmother’s house 2 Wolverton Road, Worcester on the 12th of April 1919.
He went to St. Stephen’s school and on leaving got a job at Burtons grocer’s shop in The Tything. Worcester. He was well liked and became a traveller for the store visiting customers. He then moved to Beards grocers, which was a much larger and higher-class store and he was able to persuade many of his customers to move with him.
Frank and his good friend Paul Rider who owned a sports car, were both popular with the ladies. Sometimes Frank would ask his sister Dolly to walk down the street arm in arm, pretending to be a girl-friend in order to make some girl jealous. He kept a little black book with lots of girl’s names and addresses in his pocket.
Frank joined the Worcester regiment at the outbreak of WW2. Private Frank Brookes 5253731 was sent to France with 8th Batt. The 8th Battalion landed at Le Havre on the 16th January 1940, and moved up to a concentration area at Tourville before moving on to Moncheaux, near the Belgian frontier, which was reached three days later. At this time the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) was on the left of the Maginot Line, with a neutral Belgium to its front. The task allotted to the 8th Battalion was to patrol about ten miles in front of the Maginot Line. On the 24th April 1940, the 8th Battalion arrived back at Moncheaux with Brigade H.Q. nearby at Le Forest. It was to spend another month digging anti-tank defensive positions in this area and carrying out reconnaissance’s up to the Belgian frontier. The weather was dreadful.
The dreadful weather continued into the spring, so that digging became a slow, messy process, and in the event proved subsequently of no avail. Leaving behind many good friends among the civil population of Moncheaux, the 8th Battalion packed up and by daylight on 14th May 1940 was across the Belgian frontier. On the morning of 28th May the Battalion was still in and around the chateau of Wormhoudt. The march to Bray Dunes has been summed up as a nightmare. All transport had been destroyed at Bambecque. For many this involved the abandonment of a mass of trinkets, and of personal kit collected laboriously over the winter.
They arrived at Dunkirk on the 30th May. On the beach was a massive, military policeman who was sorting out arrivals by divisions. As far as the eye could see, there were thousands of troops, British and French crowded the beach. While at the time only one solitary destroyer and two small merchant ships stood a mile out to sea. Surely, some may have thought, here was no salvation but a death-trap!
Officers and men lay huddled together in the dunes, sleeping the sleep of exhaustion. Whilst others lined up in queues leading into the water, waiting for ships. Often German planes would fly overhead machine gunning the men on the beach.
That day on the beach the Battalion performed its last service for the welfare of its comrades in the B.E.F. It had been evident that there were no orders covering the arrangements for the rowing boats to come and go between the shore and the ships. The Commanding Officer and a Major of the Royal Engineers took the situation in hand. Volunteers were called for to swim out and bring in many of the boats which were floating idly in the sea, and rowing gangs from men who professed to row were organized. The men of the 8th Battalion formed three sides of a square on the beach facing away from the sea, and into this box parties for the boats were passed as they were made up. It was a fine job of work. Earlier the Colonel had decided that parties of waifs and strays without a unit should take precedence; so, it was that 8th Worcestershires came away having seen many others to safety first. They eventually boarded The Glen Gower.
The Glen Gower proved to be a paddle-steamer, familiarly known on the Bristol Channel ferry service. Her decks were packed with troops. Rifles were stacked to save space; and her captain had a busy time shouting instructions, in order to obtain an even distribution of weight on his decks. “Move right down the car, please!” In such a way he balanced his paddles evenly in the water. So far as enemy interference was concerned it was a lucky day. Only at Dunkirk a German plane straddled the Glen Gower with a stick of bombs and one caught it with a glancing blow. Of the 1,400 men on board, only four or five were hit.
And so, to Harwich; and for once “the Glorious First of June” passed uncelebrated! Frank was among over 335,490 officers and men who were evacuated from Dunkirk by the thousands of small ships that took part in the rescue of the BEF known as ‘Operation Dynamo’. At Harwich they had a chance to get clean and have a meal before catching a train to Derby. By the 4th of June they had made their way to Kington where they halted for some time and were given new clothing and equipment and joined by new recruits. On the third of July they moved on to Somerset and were billeted in two villages Castle Cary and Bruton. They were now part of the 48th Division and their role was anti-invasion. In this capacity they moved on to Cornwall and went to camp at Lanhydrock near Bodmin. On the 5th of Aug they moved to Penryn and Falmouth and were responsible for the defence of these places, digging and wiring around the coastal areas.
By now Frank was quite unwell. they had done a lot of marching and Frank collasped whilst on the march. He was diagnosed as having caught polio which infected his lungs. It was probably from standing in the dirty water waiting to be rescued by the ships. At first his symptoms would have seemed like flu, sore throat, head ache, aching muscles, sickness. It can take up to 21 days for all the symptoms to appear. But then it can attack the nerves and cause paralysis and if the breathing muscles are affected it becomes life threatening.
He was sent to Truro Hospital and was put into an iron lung as his chest was affected, but he died on Monday 12th August 1940. The nurse who was looking after him was very upset as she had grown quite fond of him and he had promised her that when he was better that he would take her out to the pictures.
He was only 21, his name is on the Roll of Honour at Worcester Cathedral and he is buried in Astwood Cemetery in the military section.
The details about the evacuation of the 8th Battalion is taken from the Worcester Regiment’s website.