Since I Bore Arms by Robert Holding [book review]
Since I Bore Arms is an anonymised personal account of the France 1940 campaign by an infantry private soldier. The author was a private in an infantry battalion sent to France in late April 1940. The account is unusual in that very few ordinary soldiers wrote about their experiences.
Since I Bore Arms
The narrative is a day by day account from getting orders to embark for France until his return to the depot in the UK after being evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk.
Holding doesn’t name his battalion, and he has changed the names of all those mentioned. As an ordinary soldier he didn’t know much of the big picture, and usually didn’t know where his unit was. What he does cover is how far they marched. What they ate (he thought the food was good). How much sleep they had, and their ammo states. Key bits of bigger thought come in too. When he knows where they are it’s mentioned.
It’s a warts and all story. Holding’s battalion marched from near Lille into Belgium and ended up in the front line. His first experience of war was being shelled running through a village near the Dyle. They were followed by Storch spotter planes for days, and shelled regularly, never seeing friendly aircraft or getting artillery support until much later. There’s a relentless feeling to the experience, of marching to and fro, digging in, and holding off wave after wave of German attacks.
I did some cross-referencing after I read it, because there are a number of specific instances that I thought I could find. Since I Bore Arms covers the progress of a battalion of the Gloucester Regiment, and it was a creditable service. They took the brunt of a panzer division attack, and while it destroyed their unit as a formation, they delayed the Germans for a day. After that Holding walked back to Lille before finally getting a lift in a truck to the Dunkirk perimeter.
He slept on the beach through the shelling and bombing. Twice he queued in the water for a ship and got to the front of the queue before the destroyer was too full. Eventually he got on the boat, and was forced to dump his rifle. He felt the loss of a friend that had saved him when he dropped it overboard.
Since I Bore Arms is one of the best first hand accounts from the point of view of a private soldier that I’ve read of the France 1940 campaign.