IN MEMORy by Pierre Vandervelden

The visit of Commonwealth graves in Communals Cemeteries & Churchyards in Belgium & France

AUDRUICQ Churchyard and Extension (Pas de Calais France)

Rev. Timothy S. J. Carey
R. E. Hutton - Unknown - W. C. Tonkin - A. Weir
F. H. Austin - W. H. Prestage - E. J. Pothecary
Lt Col Walter Prestage 23/05/1940 aged 39
On 23 May 1940, nineteen men from the RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) lost their lives in the Audruicq/Zutkerque area of northern France, just south-east of Calais. Seven are buried in Audruicq churchyard and twelve in Zutkerque churchyard. All were members of the 14th Army Field Workshop, a unit attached to the British Expeditionary Force which fought its way back to the Dunkirk ‘pocket’ in late May 1940.
After training in England in 1939, these civilians in uniform – they were Territorials – arrived at Carvins, near Lille in January 1940, where they set up two operations, dealing with the repair and recovery of army vehicles. In essence they were non-combatant motor mechanics.
In mid-May 1940 Carvin was bombed and their CO, Lt Col Walter Hadley Prestage, moved his 250 men and 30 lorries to the Château Cole, near St Omer airfield. They then received instructions to fall back to Calais and to abandon their equipment, in the process moving on to Château Cocove at Reques-sur-Hem, a spot reconnoitred by their French liaison officer, Paul Nizan (a famous writer, buried in La Targette French National Cemetery, Neuville St Vaast). (right photo above)
They got there at 5.30 on the morning of 23 May 1940. At 10 am, German panzers were seen approaching and these tanks and infantry fired into the woods, hitting at least a dozen British men who, sadly, had received precious little training in combat and were under-armed. Realising the situation was hopeless, Col Prestage asked for French assistance to help cover their withdrawal. They decided to leave in army trucks, taking with them their dead and wounded as well as Paul Nizan. On leaving the château grounds, they were fired at again. Col Prestage gave the order that they should make their own way to the coast in separate groups, four in all.
Col Prestage and some of his men then ran into French machine-gunners who mistook them for Germans. He was killed outright at the wheel of his vehicle, with Lt F.H. Austin RAOC as passenger (both now rest side by side in Audruicq churchyard extension, having previously had temporary graves at the site of the tragedy).
Mr. Grenville Davies, now 88, is one of only two survivors.
The webmaster extends his heartfelt thanks to Lt Col’s Nephew, Mr. Tim Prestage for his assistance in compiling this summary.
Any additional information on these events will be gratefully received by Mr. Prestage via the webmaster.

7 casualties

United Kingdom Lieutenant Royal Army Ordnance Corps 14 Army Field Workshop. Age: 53 Date of Death: 23/05/1940 Service No: 100563

United Kingdom Chaplain 4th Class Army Chaplains' Department Age: 41 Date of Death: 27/02/1919

United Kingdom Private Royal Army Ordnance Corps 14 Army Field Workshop. Age: 19 Date of Death: 23/05/1940 Service No: 7588442

United Kingdom Serjeant Royal Army Ordnance Corps 14 Army Field Workshop. Age: 33 Date of Death: 23/05/1940 Service No: 1865176

United Kingdom Lieutenant Colonel Royal Army Ordnance Corps Age: 39 Date of Death: 23/05/1940 Service No: 99906

United Kingdom Staff Serjeant Royal Army Ordnance Corps Date of Death: 23/05/1940 Service No: 7590397

United Kingdom Private Royal Army Ordnance Corps 14 Army Field Workshop. Age: 21 Date of Death: 23/05/1940 Service No: 7607637

IF You have a casualty picture, please send me a copy, I'll be glad to show it on this page.

IF You want a king size copy of this picture (300/900 ko - 2592/1944 pixels) please e-mail me.

IF You want picture of a particular grave, in this cemetery, please e-mail me.

Casualties informations come usualy from Commonwealth War Graves Commission, see links for more informations © Pierre Vandervelden - Belgium