Volume 3, Chapter 35
“Boom!” A violent explosion sounded. Wakening Sergeant Henderson from his nap.
“What happened?” Henderson rubbed his face and stood up from the sand dune that he slept against.
The explosion blew a hole in the fog. Henderson could see a pillar of black smoke rising on the beach. Standing up, he could see three soldiers lying near the crater. A faint groan could be heard over the still silence.
“Hell, they still want to bomb us.”
Henderson hastily kicked his men up.
“Quickly now, someone’s injured, help me. Quickly, don’t be sleeping right now.”
He yelled at his men as they climbed out of the dunes.
“Where is it Sergeant?” A soldier asked as the fog had shrouded the beach. Leaving the vast expanse indistinguishable.
“In that direction, two hundred feet. Come with me, careful with your footing.” Henderson ran down from the top of the dune. His soldiers carefully followed behind.
“Ah Sergeant, we can’t see the situation right now. It’s really dangerous.” A soldier called out.
“Yes, it is, yesterday we saw a group of men get blown. In order to save them, a few engineers won’t ever be leaving this beach.”
“Yes, didn’t the higher-up’s order that the beach is forbidden to anyone besides the engineers? Now everyone’s lying on the dunes. Besides, we haven’t reported that we’re out here to the company commander yet.”
“It would be too late by then. They are still currently alive, if we go and report now, it’s likely they’ll be long dead. There is no reason to watch people die while doing nothing.” Henderson quickly ran onto the beach, his eyes constantly scanning the ground.
“These damn Germans!” Henderson cursed in the heart. This is simply a nightmare, a bloody nightmare. And it all started yesterday afternoon.
– – –
On the morning of the 28th, the weather was as bad as it is now. The fog had been mostly dispersed by the afternoon, but the weather was still dreary. The gray sky gave those under it a depressed feeling.
Henderson was taking his squad to the harbor. More specifically, their task was to clean up the obstacles and debris from when the Germans bombed the port two days ago. When they arrived, the port was already beyond recognition. In three days, it was blown into a ruin, even now it would be sporadically shelled. Preventing any real efforts at repairing it.
Yesterday afternoon they blew up the last relatively usable dock. Henderson is somewhat puzzled, what where the Germans doing? Did they think we could cross the strait back to England? He really could not understand the mindset of the Germans. Originally the entire port is eight kilometers long, you can dock any large ship you wanted. But now the concrete levee was collapsed and the berths all destroyed. Leaving the last suitable place to dock on the far side of the port. Just a single bridge on remained.
The French had once constructed the bridge, enough to let eight people walk side by side. Its length was quite long as well, more than a thousand meters. It’s a wonder why it was the last thing that remained. Perhaps the Germans thought it was useless. Henderson had no hope for that wooden structure. However, he knew that if he wanted to leave, it would be his last shot.
Two days ago, Henderson heard some rumors about the Command withdrawing the Expeditionary Force. But just recently the higher-ups issued a series of commands that essentially confirmed the authenticity of these rumors. In fact, when they became surrounded by four German divisions, Henderson knew that it wasn’t going so well. A complete withdrawal would be the only option. General Gort spent an entire day returning the army back to Dunkirk. Now, the Expeditionary Force was tightly trapped in a corner.
Hearing that the Command back on the British mainland was trying to save the army, Henderson found himself praying for them to quickly think of a solution. The dire state of the army could be easily seen. Henderson’s rations have been reduced to a quarter of the usual size. He was even forced to consider how to spread a can of beans over three meals.
“Sergeant, help us.” A soldier called to him. They were working on pushing a ship’s chimney from the middle of the road.
“Alright, we’ll get this.” Henderson ran over yelled.
“One, two, three, Push!”
Collectively, the soldiers managed to push the steel chimney to the roadside.
“Haha, damn, that was heavy.”
Henderson wiped the sweat off his face and picked up his canteen.
“Yeah, I didn’t expect that the German bombs could blow it up so far.” A soldier patted the steel chimney.
“Yeah.” Henderson nodded, and then looked back at the tall pillar of metal.
From which boat was it from? To that Henderson was not clear. When the three small cargo ships arrived last night, it caused a sensation through the soldiers. Everyone all thought that we were saved. The great Royal Navy had opened a supply line for us. Perhaps, with sufficient materials, they could continue to fight.
The three boats were docked along the now destroyed berths. The soldiers were extremely excited as they unloaded the supplies. Then as the day grew dark, the three cargo ships were ready to return the first thing in the morning. General Gort had ordered that the heavily injured be loaded and withdrawn to Britain first.
But no one thought that tomorrow morning. No, rather this morning, the harbor would be filled with the sound of planes. Followed by the pounding of German artillery. Each of the cargo ships suffered at least three direct hits. Soon, sinking into the bottom of the sea within ten minutes. All this occurred within several hundred feet of the coast, and the watchful eyes of the British soldiers. When Henderson arrived at the foot of the beach, the wreckage of the ships was already on the ocean floor. Only the mast and planks of wood remained drifting in the current. The poor wounded soldiers and sailor had no time to escape. That is if they were not killed by the explosion first.
Many who watched this horrific scene broke down in tears. But Henderson knew that some of them were not crying for the dead. Man becomes selfish in times of dire need. They were crying for the future of the Expeditionary Force.
After lunch, Henderson received the order for his team to clean up the obstacles from the past bombings. This obviously meant that they were preparing for a withdrawal. Now only the east bridge can be used. However, the trestle was damaged and the wreckage needed to be removed to allow forces through. When Henderson’s group arrived, there were already hundreds of people at work. A group of soldiers were dragging away the large piles of concrete and gravel. The sound of shouting filled the busy scene. Henderson and his men immediately rolled up their sleeves and joined the ranks of these soldiers.
“What time is it?” Henderson said. It seemed to be several hours since they started and he felt that his team should take a break.
“Three forty-five, sergeant.” A soldier carefully took out his pocket watch and said.
“Alright, we’re taking a break. Everyone go get some water from the tent and rest for a while.” Henderson put down the crowbar that he held in his hand and patted the dust off his clothes. Then proceeded to walk to the water station beside the wharf. His soldiers were chatting merrily as they followed.
When they had just reached the entrance of the tent, an air raid siren rang out.
“Air raid!” Henderson just shouted it as a soldier rushed out of the tent, knocking him to the ground in the confusion. He was quickly helped back up but his head was already pointed towards the skies.
“Air raid! Sergeant, quickly look for cover!” The soldier shouted at Henderson.
“Hell, you daredevil, what where you’re going!” Henderson scolded.
As the siren continued to play, the sound of rumbling aircraft engines could faintly be heard. Henderson did not hesitate to drag that soldier as he hurried to the trenches behind the beach.
“Ah! Sergeant, you almost stepped on me.”
When Henderson arrived, his team was already waiting for him.
“I’m sorry, boy, next time I’ll be more careful, haha.” Henderson then patted the soldier’s head.
“What do you think it is this time? I’m saying it another one of those “flying pencils“. I bet fifty shillings.”
“I’m saying it’s a Stuka. I bet a pound.”
“Don’t be uttering those words. If it’s a Stuka then we’re really in trouble. I’m saying a Heinkel. I also bet a pound.”
Henderson looked at the men with a satisfactory smile. At least that silly boy could raise the morale.
Henderson looked up from the anti-air trenches toward the enemy. The sound of the planes was getting closer and closer. The British anti-aircraft batteries began to fire into the skies. The sound of small-caliber machine guns also joined in. Then he saw a group of fierce black dots appear out of the dark clouds above. Screaming towards the port below.
“I said it is Stuka! Give me my money! ” A soldier was pleased to call out.
“No, it’s not Stuka. They’re not that fast… Good God, it’s a fighter.” Henderson said as he finally saw the shape of the planes.
“What? Sergeant, did you see incorrectly? Are the Germans not using bomber, instead bombing us with fighter planes?” His men also stood up, looked into the air.
‘Huh, they are flying really high, they really are fast. Huh? Bomb! Lie down!”
Then the soldiers could see a black bomb be ejected from the plane. Drawing a beautiful arc across the sky towards the beach.
The soldiers who were working there were quite far away from the anti-air trenches. Although they heard the air raid sirens, they had no chance of making it in time.
The soldiers also knew the predicament that they were in and quickly fell to the ground. Clinging onto their heads, praying that the falling bombs don’t fall near them.
The bomb was still falling rapidly towards the beach, but once it was two hundred meters above. Its shell suddenly opened, spewing countless little black jars. Then the jars opened its two halves. Like two wings that slowed its descent, hanging underneath was an ominous black orb.
“What is that?” Henderson and the other men on the beach watched as the little things fell.
Suddenly the rapid series of explosions rocked the air. A portion of those bombs blew up five meters from the ground. The fragments came as a storm, cutting into the soldiers lying below. Henderson and his men quickly retracted their heads into the anti-air trenches.
“God, what was that? It’s too horrible. Sergeant, have you ever heard of a bomb that explodes in the air like that?” A soldier yelled as he trembled slightly.
Henderson was also scared, his face pale.
“Do not ask me, I do not know. I’ve heard of shells exploding in the air but never like that.”
Then, the fierce howling of pain finally came from outside the trenches. Henderson quickly got up and looked out. The open space had been turned into an area synonymous with Hell. The little bombs had carved up the soldiers and stained the ground in red. There were several surviving soldiers dragging their bodies towards the trenches. Calling out, before collapsing.
“Come, let’s help them, Sergeant!” Henderson’s men said to him.
“It was useless, they’re gone.” He said solemnly.
Then their gazes turned to the bloody soldiers lying motionlessly on the ground.
“Damn it! Damn! Damn!” Henderson cried out as he lifted his pistol and shot towards the German planes flying overhead. His soldiers rushed over to keep their commander from running out.
“Sergeant, calm down! We know that you want to help them, but we can only blame the Germans.”
“The bombers are coming, a lot of them. They should be about to start a large-scale bombing run. There were a lot of them flying towards the beach.” A soldier shouted. Henderson and his men looked up towards the sky once more.
A dark mass of German bombers flew over the port. Swaggering out of range of the anti-aircraft guns.
“We cannot stay here, we’ve got to leave. If they keep throwing this kind of bomb, the anti-air trenches will be helpless to stop it. We have to get out of this area… Yes, to that house.”
Henderson shouted, and then jumped out of the trench. His men following behind. The group crazily sprinting towards the nearest cottage. The soldiers of the other groups sobered up and quickly followed Henderson out of the trenches.
Henderson took the lead in the front. He heard the screams of German bombs falling. Faster, almost there. Hope it’s wasn’t too late.
“Bomb!” Not far away, came another burst of explosions.
“A hundred more yards!” Henderson roared to those following him. “Come on!”
“Ah, they’re above us!” A soldier gave a miserable shout.
Is it over? Henderson thought as he ran desperately.
“Plunk. Plop!” The sound of the bombs hitting the ground came from all around them. More than a dozen smashed into the mud in front of Henderson.
“Haha, it’s nothing! Follow me!” Henderson smiled as he ran past the bombs. The frantic sprinters ran past the countless bombs yet there was no explosion. There were a couple of unlucky soldiers who had tripped and fell next to them. But they remain unscathed as they quickly picked themselves up and ran away.
Henderson finally reached the house, his body forcing open the door. The plopped onto the floor in exhaustion. Behind him, the soldiers also stumbled into the room and collapsed. Finally, the last soldier made it into the house.
The door was tightly shut and the room burst into crazy cheers.