When the KOSB were the rearguard

I am researching the wartime history of the 5th Battalion, KOSB, 1939-45, with whom my father served from 1941 to 1945.

I have been investigating the 5th KOSB’s deployment in Northern France in the middle of June 1940. They formed part of the 2nd British Expeditionary Force sent by Churchill to try and provide physical and moral support to the French armed forces, after the evacuation of Dunkirk. It soon became apparent that this was an illusory hope on Churchill’s part, in the face of the relentless German military advance across Northern France.

The battalion spent less than a week in France before taking on the role of covering rearguard (alongside local French forces) during the withdrawal and evacuation of remaining British forces in Northern France and Normandy via Cherbourg, an evacuation that was finally completed, in the nick of time, on the afternoon of June 18, 1940. Cherbourg surrendered to German forces under Rommel 24 hours later.

During the final hours of this evacuation, two platoons from the 5th KOSBs A Company were caught up in fighting on the southern outskirts of Cherbourg and sustained numerous casualties. Several men were wounded and many dozens were taken prisoner.

The majority of those captured were initially held in the former French barracks, the Caserne Bellevue, at Saint Lô in the south of the Cherbourg peninsula. After several months there, they were sent on to Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf in Polish Silesia at the end of 1940.

The dozen or more wounded men of the 5th KOSB spent the second half of 1940 under German guard but in the care of French medical staff at the Maritime Hospital in Cherbourg.

During this period they received considerable help from female representatives of the local Red Cross, amongst them Madeleine Levaslot and her two sisters. These three women later became active members of the local French resistance network. These ladies regularly visited the wounded KOSBs in the hospital, provided them with additional food and clothing, and secretly got news of their whereabouts to their families in Britain. Many of the men had been posted as missing by the War Office and their families had had little or no further news for several weeks.

At the end of 1940, these wounded men, like those in Saint Lô, were considered sufficiently recuperated and sent on to Stalag VIIIB as well. Madeleine and her sisters continued to correspond with them throughout the war and to send them regular parcels of clothes and supplies.

There is one local Kelso soldier from this group of wounded men about whom I would be particularly interested in finding out further information and, if possible, in making contact with members of his surviving family and relatives.

He was Private Douglas Wilson. I believe his parents lived at Station House, Kelso, and that he was a bank clerk in Kelso before the war. I know that Douglas remained in close contact with Madeleine Levaslot and her sisters while a POW during the war and for many years afterwards. He met two of the Levaslot sisters, Madeleine and Jeanne, when they visited Scotland in 1953.

I also know that he was in close contact with the family of another POW, from Jersey, whom he initially befriended during their time together as patients in the Maritime Hospital in Cherbourg in 1940 and who was also subsequently sent to Stalag VIIIB with Douglas. I understand that Douglas was a regular holiday visitor to Jersey after the war.

I would be delighted to hear from people who wish to make contact with me in relation to this inquiry.

I would also like to hear from readers if any of their relatives or family may have served with the 5th Battalion KOSB during the war.Perhaps relatives of wartime 5th KOSB soldiers and POWs may even recognize some of the details and events that I have outlined above.

Please note that my interest is specifically the 5th (Dumfries and Galloway) Battalion, and not any of the other KOSB battalions.

Rod Barron

POBox 67 Sevenoaks

Kent TN13 3WW

Tel/Fax 01732 742558