St Malo evacuation

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St Malo evacuation


Troops being evacuated in St Malo in June 1940. Although many were expected to be taken to Jersey, they were eventually all shipped direct to England

After the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk at the end of May 1940 there were still large numbers of British and Allied troops in the west of France

William Henry Wilkinson, a St Helier lifeboat which was sold to W S Le Masurier in 1937 and converted into a motor boat. She took part the the Saint Malo evacuation, leaving Jersey on June 16 1940 at 2300, returning on Tuesday June 18. Ten days later she was destroyed by the German bombing of St Helier Harbour on June 28

Operation Aerial

The decision to bring home the remainder of the British Expeditionary Force (Operation Aerial) was taken on 15 June. The ports of Cherbourg, St Malo, Brest, St Nazaire and La Pallice were to be used; the evacuations from the first two were to be directed by Admiral James from Portsmouth. It was hoped to embark transport, guns and equipment as well as the men.

Admiral James considered that he had far too few flotilla vessels to organise a convoy system. He therefore arranged for a continuous flow of troopships and other vesselos to sail between Southampton and Cherbourg or St Malo. The few available warships patrolled the shipping routes. In all some 30,630 men were brought home from Cherbourg and embarkation had also been proceeding at St Malo. By the evening of the 17th, 21,474 men had been


On the 16th the authorities in Jersey received a telegram from the Admiralty asking them to send all available craft to St Malo to help evacuate the remaining British troops.

The potato season was in full swing and there were several large craft in St Helier Harbour which were sent to St Malo along with a flotilla of smaller vessels organised by St Helier Yacht Club Commodore William Le Masurier.

As recorded in the Memoirs of Lord Coutanche, Jersey’s wartime Bailiff, the first convoy consisted of the larger ships Hodder, Ouse, Fairfield, Corral and Alt; and the Duchess of Normandy, skippered by Frank Lawrence, a converted lifeboat (Bill Kent), Teaser (Sidney Perchard), St Clement (Ron Wagstaffe) and Klang II (Phil Le Marquand).

As the convoy was arriving in St Malo on Monday 17th, a task force of vessels reched St Helier, including a NAAFI canteen ready to cope with the needs of thousands of evacuated soldiers.

Second convoy

Meanwhile a second convoy was on its way to St Malo, comprising Clutha (Bill Glendewar), Mamie (Tommy King), Fiona (Bill Turner), Desiree (Bill Coom), Callou (James Langlois), Yvonne (Bill Mabey), Daddy (Charles King), Girl Joyce (Denny Mourant), Diana (Freddy Grenelle), Peirson (Reg Nicolle), Fleet Air Arm 113 (Bill Cox) and Lindolette (Jack Falle).

Fleet Air Arm launch RFC113, crewed by Bill Cox, Harold Le Boutillier, Ted Cox and Clarrie Glendewar


A plaque at St Helier Yacht Club gives a list of vessels including the following, not listed above as part of the first or second convoys: Laurie (J Girard), Le Noirit (J Mabey), Sibeele (J Brisset), Solace (L Stevens)

At the last minute the German Army stopped its advance on St Malo and diverted to attack Rennes Airport, giving the extra time necessary for all Allied troops to be taken safely to England without needing to go via Jersey.

A story of the evacuation

From WW2 People’s War – An archive of World War Two memories, written by the public, gathered by the BBC, Contributed by Harry Bilham

"In April/May 1940, my unit of the Military Police was posted from Dunkirk to St Malo, France, which had been designated the main supply and communications base for the forthcoming offensive.
Jersey boat crew at St Malo
"Weeks passed, and a group of 1000 British civilians were sent to us for evacuation to the UK. The evacuees were transported by train, and had to wait in the trains inside the shunting sheds overnight. In the dark and cold, they sat huddled, eight to a compartment. They were allowed no light, and were forbidden from talking or smoking. No one was allowed to leave the trains. The dark faceless figures were an eerie sight.
"During my spell of train duty, I heard a woman's voice call out 'soldier, something seems to be wrong! My legs are getting wet and sticky.' On investigation, I found that the man next to her had cut both of his wrists, and calmy placed them in his pockets, waiting for the end to come. I managed to get him transferred to the Red Cross Notre Dame Hospital, and they successfully patched him up. My colleagues had persuaded the boat crew to wait for him, and eventually he was transported to England
"I found out later, that the young chap (he was only about 30) had no relatives, no home to go to, and very little money. I don't know what happened to him.
"My unit was one of the last units evacuated from St Malo. A Navy launch appeared on 24 June, but they didn't seem to know that we were still there, and said that they had come to demolish the harbour installations. Eventually, the Navy found a flat bottomed Dutch fishing boat, and we set off on the last tide. We had been chugging along for about three hours when there was an incredibly loud explosion, and flames shot into the sky - the dock at St Malo had gone. We landed on English soil after 13-14 hours at sea on 25 June 1940. When we disembarked, we were met by the Sally Army with tea and buns - what a sight!"

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