During the 26th May to the 4th June in 1940 the evacuation of Dunkirk took place, where members of Cornwall’s own Army regiment, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, were part of the famous rescue mission which was made possible by hundreds of small boats.
During May 1940, the Germans had crossed the Belgian and Dutch frontiers, leading to Holland and Belgium surrendering. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Europe, of which the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry were part, was forced back towards the coast and became trapped. More than 330,000 Allied troops were rescued from the beaches over 8 days by over 800 ships and small boats under ‘Operation Dynamo’ although the British Expeditionary Force alone lost around 68,000 soldiers.
In the collection at Bodmin Keep Army Museum is a poignant reminder of this momentous event in the form of a Union Jack flag that was rescued from the Dunkirk beaches by an officer of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
On the 30th May 1940, the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) arrived at the French coast weary and hungry and we know that they were welcomed by a much-needed substantial meal. They were then moved back 4 miles inland but on the 1st June after coming under attack, they eventually made it back to Dunkirk from where they were rescued.
The soldiers and officers of the Battalion were split across numerous small boats, leaving the smoke and noise of Dunkirk behind them. Few of them remembered the journey home to England as they were so exhausted and many of them slept all the way. It was one of these evacuated men, a Captain J Hodgkinson, who brought back the large union jack flag that we have in our collection. He was originally with the Dorset regiment but was posted to the DCLI in France in early 1940. He was slightly wounded in the last days of the evacuation but lived in London to a ripe old until 1986. ‘We‘re so grateful to him for saving such a unique item that helps us to tell this story’. Verity Anthony Collections Manager Bodmin Keep.
Bodmin Keep, is a museum dedicated to preserving the stories of the DCLI, you can visit the museum Monday to Saturday 10 – 5pm where you can see more amazing artefacts from the Second World War, the First World War and much more.