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John Charles Harvey
Rank: Bandsman
John Charles Harvey



1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment

Dunkirk, France


Survived the war?
Royal Berkshire Regiment

Royal Berkshire Regiment

Bandsman till the end

John enlisted at Brock Barracks at the age of 14. He served in Egypt, India, and the Sudan was sent to France with the Regiment with the British Expeditionary Force in 1939 and died in action aged 26 on May 16, 1940. I was born a month later and named in his memory.

His final undated letter, from HQ 1st Royal Berkshires, British Expeditionary Force, suggests that he has been home on leave recently and seems to think he will be home again soon, when he hopes to visit his brother in person.

‘I hope if I do get time I’ll be over to see you. Of course, anything may happen between now and then, but still we are hoping for the best………… Well, I suppose its 'Au Revoir' and don’t let the war get you down. There’s plenty worse off than you out here. Au Revoir.
From your Brother

The Royal Berkshire Regiment had been in France since September 1939, and by May 1940 had taken up positions along the river Dyle. On 13th May they made their first contact with the German forces and for two days held their ground. Later they were given the order to withdraw and make their retreat to Dunkirk. Among those retreating soldiers was bandsman, John Charles Harvey. On 16th May whilst carrying a wounded soldier on a stretcher, he was killed by a hand-grenade. A witness reported to his family some years later that there was no time to do a proper burial but they dug a shallow grave in a hedgerow and placed him there in France on the way to Dunkirk. His body was never recovered.  A search has found that his name does not appear on any local war memorials, though he is recorded on the Dunkirk Memorial which stands at the entrance to the Commonwealth War Graves section of Dunkirk Town cemetery. It commemorates more than 4.500 casualties of the British Expeditionary Force who died in the campaign of 1939 - 1940.

He was indeed killed during the retreat, we knew nothing about this until 20 years ago, someone from the regiment who was there when he got killed, found my dad Fred Harvey, John’s brother and came to see him, He told dad that, they had met the Germans and held on for several days, they were then forced to retreat. Charlie was killed by a hand grenade while carrying a wounded soldier on a stretcher, he was given a quick burial in a hedgerow in France on the way to Dunkirk

They had no time to do a proper burial, but dug a shallow grave in a hedgerow and placed him there, his body was never recovered, but he said he still knew the spot and would take my dad there, unfortunately dad was too upset and did not take up the offer.

Royal Berkshire Regiment

The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Miles Dempsey, was still assigned to the 6th Infantry Brigade in the 2nd Infantry Division, part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that was sent to France in 1939 after war was declared. They took part in the Battle of France in 1940 and were evacuated during the Battle of Dunkirk.

24 September 1939: Landed in Cherbourg, France.
December 1939: By now had taken up their positions on the Belgian border.
Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands on 10 May 1940
10 May 1940: Took up positions along the River Dyle.
13 May 1940: That evening they made their first contact with the German Army whilst on patrol.
15 May 1940: The main attack began and the battalion held their ground. Later were given orders to withdraw and to make their retreat to Dunkirk
John C Harvey died on the 16th May, so he may have been killed during their retreat close to Belgium border.

Maybe it was during severe enemy action and nothing could be done at the time and the body was left during the retreat. His body was not found due to many possible factors, like blown up and no parts identifiable; known or unknown mass grave when interred by German troops after evacuation, body lost in the many canals. There is a panel reference of 112 of CWGC's page. This I think would further indicate with only a panel reference on the memorial and that no gravestone position is mentioned, that he died in the 1939-40 campaign but his body was not found. There is a specific date of death which is odd-ish, as maybe it would seem to indicate that someone saw him die, probably during the initial retreat from Belgium border and the rearguard actions.

Veteran's personal medals
1939 -1945 Star
1939 -1945 Star
War medal 1939 -1945
War medal 1939 -1945
France and Germany Star
France and Germany Star
Veteran's personal file
Royal Berkshire Regiment shoulder title
Royal Berkshire Regiment shoulder title

Nicknamed; "The Biscuit Boys"

Personal photographs

Click on a picture for enlargement

  • 1940
  • Dunkirk

Remember each and every sacrifice, made for your freedom!

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