7th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment
1939-1940
Stevenson E

Royal Sussex Regiment Crest
7th Battalion

Private
Ernest ‘Ernie’ Stevenson

We arrived on the Amiens/Poix Road, on the evening of 19th May. We were told to settle down for the night in an Orchard. We’ll call it Orchard A. There was very little cover, so we were moved to Orchard B, across the road. This was a bigger orchard and was divided into two with high hedges. The Officers, about 17 of them, took the smaller half and the rest of us took the other half.

I put my blanket down and prepared to have a good sleep but I was near the dividing hedge of the Officers. I could hear them talking and the thing that stuck in my mind was that one of them said “I think you had better do it Tom” and Tom said “I think Dick or Harry have had more experience in this sort of thing than I have.” Anyway, I think it was decided that Bill should do it - whatever it was. This made me wonder what was in store for us in the morning.

I had a marvellous sleep that night. It is surprising how fresh you can feel after sleeping out in the fresh air. We had two biscuits and half a tin of bully beef for breakfast. I remember, we moved out of the orchard about 3 or 3.30pm and were told to go in single file and to take as much cover as possible.

20th May 1940, about 3.30pm the battle began. We took up positions in the ditch alongside the Amiens/Poix road.

A road block was set up somewhere near or beyond, where the 7th Sussex memorial now stands. We had to keep opening it to let refugees through and to let a French tank regiment through. I believe one of our Officers tried to get them to stop and help us but after a lot of arguing they left us one tank and fled on their way.

There was a rumour that parachutists had landed across the fields and we had one lorry in the middle of the road, which was being loaded up with volunteers to try and get behind them. I just got my foot on the tail board when the Officer said “No, that’s enough.” Perhaps that saved my life? I did hear that the lorry had been blown up before it got near the Jerries.

At first, the Jerries started throwing just a few mortars over, which were mostly dropping on the road. Then the Germans showered the road with trench mortar and machine gun fire. We had very little ammunition and only smoke bombs.

I was detailed to set up an anti-tank gun in the right-hand corner of the field with two other men. Being in the Royal Signals, I had no idea how to set it up so I just helped as best I could. Once it was set up, the Jerry bullets flew around us like hornets. We only had about 5 or 6 rounds of ammunition for it and I think it was an officer that fired it. I believe that afterwards, when we were taken prisoner, he checked the German tank to see what damage had been done. Very little, I believe!

After that, things hotted up a bit as the Jerries increased their fire and were getting direct hits in the ditch. Two men left the ditch and ran across the road. An Officer stood in the middle of the road - legs apart, gun in hand and said “The next man that runs away, I will shoot him down.” I don't think the two men were running away, I think they were trying to get better cover behind the brick building across the road.

Just after that, a Sergeant or Sergeant Major gave the order “Fix bayonets!” Being in the Royal Corps of Signals we do not have bayonets, so when the next order came “Over the top!” 1914 style, I was prepared to let the lads with bayonets go first but I wasn’t prepared for the speed and enthusiasm that they put into it.

I know I still had my greatcoat and full pack on, but they left me standing. I think they all deserved a V.C. Sorry to say, most of them were killed. With a little more help from behind or, perhaps, if the French Tank Commander and his tanks had stopped to give us a hand, it could have been a different story.

The one French tank that did stop, only got half way across the field and it was knocked out.

I found myself half-way across the field, with no ammunition and crawling towards the German lines. I saw a small hillock to the right and in front of me, so I crawled there as fast as I could.

There were two other lads there, one had his handkerchief held at his throat, covered in blood. He said a bullet had just grazed his throat. I said to him “Have you any ammo left?” and he said “Only what I have in my rifle. You can borrow that if you like.”

I had just got settled down with his rifle, when I saw a tank bearing down on us. I took aim at the ventilator grille, more in anger than hope, but it was useless and the next minute, I was hit in the left arm with a force that threw me straight on to my back. The bullet, or shell, had gone in at my wrist and out at the elbow.

There was a Major just behind us and he said “It looks hopeless now. Stand up lads and put your hands up.” One or two rifles across the field were still firing, so he shouted to cease fire.

The German tank stopped right in front of us. The turret opened and the Jerry motioned for me to get on the back of the tank with some more wounded, and he took us back behind their lines. Thank goodness we had been taken by this Division. They were quite friendly and a lot of them were students and spoke good English.

After an inspection of our wounds by a German M.O., we were taken in a staff car to the Chateaudun Hospital in Amiens.