An historical summary of two campaigns and the life of a young man


The Evacuation of Dunkirk

The Fall of Singapore

Bio of Idris James Barwick


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The Evacuation of Dunkirk

On September 3, 1939, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, declared war on Germany after Adolph Hitler's troops invaded Poland and refused to withdraw. Other countries followed with their own declarations of war and the Second World War began.

Units of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) began landing in France on September 4th. In the months to follow, the English and French troops journeyed northward through France and Belgium in an attempt to check the German onslaught. In early May 1940 they advanced in to southern Holland where they met the armies of the swastika. The Allied Troops were unable to hold the German forces for long and were forced to retreat from Brussels back to LeBassey. The weakened BEF was then chased back into Belgium by Hitler's Army, which had advanced through Luxembourg and down to Abbeville. Finally, the Allied troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

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Surrounded on three sides with their backs to the English Channel, the BEF's only alternative to capitulation or destruction was a bold evacuation by sea. In the evening of May 26, the order was given to begin "Operation Dynamo" and British ships set out for France, 15 miles across the Channel to rescue the troops. For the next several days, the BEF held off the German troops long enough for the evacuation to be completed. Finally, on June 4 the last of the troops were removed.   Early in the morning of June 4, the Germans entered Dunkirk and captured the remaining French soldiers. In the end, the official figure of troops evacuated was 338,226, 112,000 of which were French. Because of the haste of the evacuation, the BEF left behind all remaining equipment making it a total loss.

Despite the frantic retreat and loss of equipment, the evacuation has generally been considered a success. Originally, only 50,000 troops were expected to be saved, but several factors combined to create a successful evacuation. The Germans, despite the brilliance of their campaign, did not fully utilize their strength and air support thus providing English troops with just enough slack to carry out "Dynamo". But the credit for the unexpected success of the operation must lie with the precise planning of British Officials, and the swift response by Naval and civilian shipping. The participation of English civilians was quite impressive. It has been said that when the people of Great Britain heard that "their boys" were in trouble, everything that could float was put to sea and the men were brought home. This stern determination and sense of unity sustained the British through the remainder of the war and despite their tactical defeat in Europe, the returning British troops were hailed as victors.



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This photo was taken on the beach during the evacuation


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The Fall of Singapore

On December 8, 1941, the United States and Great Britain declared war on the Empire of Japan after several surprise attacks by the Japanese, the most well-known being those at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Through this offensive the Japanese hoped to take advantage of the distractions in Europe to seize the rich resource-producing areas in Malaysia and the East Indies, colonies of the British Empire. By gaining control of these areas, the Japanese aim was to become self-sufficient enough to defend their conquests in China and Indochina. By attacking the United States, they hoped to disable the U.S. Navy long enough to set up their defenses in the Far East. Japanese troops would move southward from China conquering Burma, Thailand (also known as Siam), Malaya and finally Singapore, and eventually the Philippines, Hong Kong, Guam, Wake and the Makin Islands. These operations began simultaneously following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The invasion of Malaya began in the early hours of December 8, 1941 with landings at Kota Bharu. Invasions at Singora and Patani in Thailand also took place. The Japanese advance was swift despite a desperate attempt by British troops to hold them back. Over the next two months, the British troops were forced southward through Thailand, Burma and Malaya to the Island Fortress at Singapore where British and Australian forces were trapped. In spite of the desperate situation, British reinforcements were poured into Singapore in an effort to hold off the Japanese until Allied troops were built up. It has been speculated that British Officials concentrated troop build up on Singapore -even though it was considered suicidal- to force the Japanese to focus their offensive on Singapore and not begin an invasion of India. In that one sense, the British succeeded.

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Despite the destruction of the causeway from the mainland to Singapore by Allied troops, Japanese forces began landing on Singapore after dark on February 8, 1942. An Allied counterattack was attempted which failed and the Allied troops fell back even further, then confined to a very small area around Singapore town. Defenses slowly weakened until the Allied commanders were forced to capitulate on February 15. The Japanese had originally expected the campaign to take 100 days, but in reality was completed in 70. During the entire Malayan offensive, the Japanese lost a total of 10,000 men while the British lost 138,000. At the time, it was considered to be the greatest disaster in British military history. British and Australian troops became prisoners of the Japanese.


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Idris James Barwick

Idris Barwick was born on March 25, 1907 in Neath, Wales.

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He was one of 12 children born to William Barwick and Bessie Naish Barwick. The family was poor but very loving. Idris was a happy, impish young man who completed an elementary school education and then followed his father and brothers into the coal mines. While in his twenties, he moved to London, became a bus driver and married his sweetheart, Ruby Jones. They began their family in 1931 when Isobel was born. Anne and Bob soon followed. With the storm of war brewing in Europe, Idris joined the Army Reserves. He had been too young to fight in the first war, but his Father and brothers had fought, and thanks to God, returned unharmed. The Second World War would be Idris' war, and at the age of 32, he was one of the first men to go ashore in France to face the Germans and later the Japanese. In the early years of the war he was part of an Ammunition Supply Company. But, by no choice of his own, he would soon change his area of expertise to medicine. His pals called him "Taffy".

"In the Shadow of Death" is his story.

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