DIXON William

William DIXON 1904 – 1940

1066828 Gunner William Dixon, 76 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery died between 31 May and 2 June 1940 aged 36.  He is commemorated at column 11, the Dunkirk Memorial.[1]

Family Details

William Dixon was born 5 February 1904,[2] the son of John Henry and Elizabeth Ellen Dixon.  There were at least 4 children, William, George, Amy and Thomas who died in infancy, all born at Evenwood.  In 1911, John Henry worked as a colliery labourer and the family lived at Vart’s Mill, Ramshaw.[3]  In 1937, William Dixon married Hilda Gregg.[4]

Service Details

1066828 Gunner William Dixon, 76 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery died between 31 May and 2 June 1940.  His service details have not been researched.  The following details are derived from a number of sources.

76th (Highland) Field Regiment[5]

On the outbreak of war 76th (Highland) Field Regiment mobilised in 51st (Highland) Division which came under the orders of the 3rd Division under the command of Lt-Col J.S.C. Sharp.  It left Aldershot and landed at Le Havre on 31 January to join the new British Expeditionary Force (BEF), deploying at Avelin near Lille.

Battle of France [6]

The Battle of France began on 10 May with the German invasion of the Low Countries. The BEF responded by executing the pre-arranged Plan D, advancing into Belgium to take up defences along the River Dyle. 76th Field Regiment, now commanded by Lt-Col W.E. Vaudry, left on 12 May for its assigned position at Diegem on the north west outskirts of Brussels, arriving to a great reception from the Belgians. At dawn the following day the regiment deployed at Berthem to cover Louvain, with Regimental HQ at Eegenhoven. The heavily wooded position was difficult to occupy but 303 Battery with 4.5-inch howitzers straddled the road running east from Berthem, while 302 Battery with its 18-pdrs was south of the main Louvain–Maline road. The Observation Posts (OPs) were with 9th Infantry Brigade on the line of the Dyle Canal. On the afternoon of 14 May the regiment did great damage to German units closing up to the Dyle. At one point the regiment fired 200 rpg in 1.5 hours. The Wehrmacht’s Army Group B had been ordered to break through quickly between Louvain and Namur, but the artillery concentrations caused the leading troops to draw back. In the evening they began a series of attacks on 3rd Division’s positions. During 15 May the regiment came under air attack, and there were several casualties in RHQ and 302 Bty.

However, the Panzers of Army Group A had broken through the Ardennes and threatened the BEF’s flank, so on 16 May it began to withdraw to the River Escaut. For 76th Field Rgt. firing continued throughout the day, with some of the troops taking up alternate positions at St. Veronique in the evening, but with B and E Troops still in forward positions. At 17.00 on 17 May the regiment was ordered to pull out and retire to Vondelin, about 13 miles (21 km) west of Brussels. It was a difficult night move along roads packed with refugees and under bombing but at dawn the regiment deployed in good positions in support of 9th Brigade on the River Dendre. After the rearguard (4th Division) passed through, the regiment fired defensive tasks. Its next move, under air attack, was 50 miles (80 km) back to the Escaut Canal line, where it deployed to support 7th Guards Brigade.

By 22 May the bulk of the BEF was cut off from the south and began to withdraw into a ‘pocket’ round Dunkirk from which it was preparing to evacuate (Operation Dynamo).

28 May: the regiment was ordered to move as soon as possible to Oostduinkerke on the Belgian coast where there had been an enemy breakthrough. It went into action near Coxyde, putting rifle parties on the canal near Westvleteren.

29 May:  They were ready by the morning and from 13.00, they were engaged in an infantry fight while the guns fired over open sights. That night the ‘riflemen’ joined the newly-arrived South Lancashires in a counter-attack that restored the situation somewhat. The regimental historian comments that “undoubtedly these Gunners saved a potentially critical situation by their rapid action.”

30 May:  The regiment remained in action, firing all day and receiving many casualties from shelling and bombing.

31 May, at 15.00:  Lt-Col Vaudrey was ordered to destroy all equipment and move to the beaches for embarkation that night. The regiment lost further casualties from enemy shellfire while marching along the beach to Bray-Dunes. Other parties got away from La Panne in small boats but sustained casualties after they had transferred to the Isle of Wight ferry Gracie Fields when she was sunk 40 minutes after sailing for England.

Gunner William Dixon wasn’t that fortunate and was killed in action some time between 31 May and 2 June 1940.

Commemoration

1066828 Gunner William Dixon, 76 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery has no known grave and is commemorated at column 11, the Dunkirk Memorial.  It was unveiled 29 June 1957 by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.  The Memorial commemorates 4511 Commonwealth servicemen who have no known grave.[7]

REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

[3] 1911 census

[4] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.1068 1937Q4 Chester-le-Street

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Expeditionary_Force_order_of_battle_(1940)

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_Forfarshire_Artillery_Volunteers#76th_(Highland)_Field_Regiment

 

[7] Commonwealth War Graves Commission