Tuesday, February 14, 2012

June 14-20, 1940

In a special edition published on Friday June 14 the Advertiser announced that French troops had withdrawn from Paris and that the city was in German occupation.

As fires burned across the city skyline the civilian population of Paris escaped in an endless procession of cars and carts. “Free men everywhere on the earth must know what they owe to France,” French Premier Paul Reynaud said in a radio broadcast following the capitulation. “The time has come for them to pay their debts,” he pleaded.

And two days later Monday’s headlines in the Advertiser declared that it was all over – France Gives Up the Fight. “It is with a broken heart that I tell you today that fighting must cease,” said Philippe Petain, the 80 year old recently appointed Prime Minister following Reynaud’s resignation.

In just 39 days the German army had conquered and occupied Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and finally France. The Advertiser published a diary of events from the beginning of the Nazi offensive on May 10 and the Battle on the Meuse on the 16 to the heavy fighting at Boulogne on the 23. On June 4 Churchill revealed that 335,000 Allied troops had been rescued from Dunkirk with the German occupation of Paris following on the 12.

As Petain made his surrender the German High Command claimed that troops had reached the Swiss frontier and had captured the much contested Alsace and Lorraine. Although the BEF remained in Normandy there were no details to say exactly what they were doing and in an official statement from the French side the situation was described as ‘extremely grave.’

Meanwhile, reports continued to be published of local men lost or reported missing following the Dunkirk evacuation.

Private Joseph Bonner of 48 Bright Street was reported killed while serving in the BEF. Pte Bonner of the Seaforth Highlanders, a reservist with eight and a half years service, was called up on the outbreak of war.

Engineer Lieutenant Thomas Graham aged 58 and married to the former Uffington born Ellen Norris, was reported missing following the loss of his ship HMS Grive during the Dunkirk evacuation. Another reservist, Engineer Lieutenant Graham had previously served on a destroyer during the Great War. His elder son was serving with the Royal Corps of Signals. Also reported missing was former Chippenham Rovers footballer, Pte Arthur Farmer.

Recovering in hospital from his wounds, Driver Walter Crofts RASC wrote of his dramatic swim for life during the Dunkirk rescue in a letter to his parents Mr & Mrs Joe Crofts of The Butts, Chippenham. Driver Crofts wrote how following the sinking of his ship, “we had to swim about until a French destroyer picked us up. I think it was only the fact that I am a good swimmer that I managed it, for there were only a few lifebelts and I didn’t have one, and swam all the way, bar a few moments, when I had hold of a piece of wood.”

Carnival week in Swindon kicked off on Sunday June 16 with a parade led by the Swindon Prospect Silver Band.

Members of the Auxiliary Fire Brigade, St John Ambulance, Red Cross, ARP Services, Sea Cadets and Boy Scouts joined ex Servicemen in a parade from the Town Hall to the Town Gardens and a service led by the Bishop of Malmesbury.

Eileen Gordon, the 18 year old daughter of Mr & Mrs J Gordon, 87 Tydeman Street was crowned Carnival Queen at the Playhouse. Presented with the Evening Advertiser rose bowl, a surprised Eileen told how she had not entered the competition and she did not know who had put forward her name. The first she know about it was when she was invited to appear before a preliminary selection committee, she told the Advertiser.

The four finalists, Rose Ward, Dorothy J. Johnson, Edith Fuller and Gladys Smart were appointed ladies in waiting to the new crowned Queen with Mrs Norman Thomas acting as chaperone to the girls during their reign of office.

One of the first engagements for the newly crowned Carnival Queen was the Concert Talent Competition held at the Playhouse on Wednesday June 19 where Eileen presented the prizes. Sponsored by the Swindon Press Alliance, organiser Mr Sutton said the event had met with encouraging success and had served to reveal a lot of talent in the town. He expressed the hope that it would become an annual event in the Carnival Week programme.

The Mayor of Swindon’s Cup was won by the Nom-de-Plume Dance Band beating the Children’s String Quintette conducted by Dorothy E. Sprittles into second place. Gladys, May, Joan and Violet Dewe, ‘Fours Sisters in Harmony,’ came third.

And against all odds the annual Carnival Week Parade took place as hundreds of people turned up at the Town Hall to watch the procession set off. The Advertiser reported that although there was none of the brilliance of a peacetime carnival, there was a smart turn out and ‘a few children turned up in carnival dress, thus adding at least a little of the carnival spirit.’

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