La Plaine au Bois

Source : Commune d'Esquelbecq


World War II Memorial Site in Esquelbecq (Nord department – 59)

As part of Operation Dynamo, which was supposed to enable the British and French troops, driven back to the sea, to evacuate Dunkirk, battalions of British soldiers were deployed in the sector of La Plaine au Bois with the mission of delaying the German troops’ advance for a few hours. After 9 hours of heroic fighting known as the Battle of Wormhout, most of the British were wounded and out of ammunition and had to surrender to the enemy. Unfortunately for them, their adversaries were the brutal SS from the Führer’s personal guard who, in total disregard for the Geneva Conventions, herded them into a barn and executed them in cold blood by throwing grenades inside.


Source : Commune of Esquelbecq


Eighty British soldiers and one French soldier were thus slaughtered on 28 May 1940 at 5.30 pm.


Thirteen British soldiers survived and were rescued by the farmers who lived around the site until medical help arrived.


Source : Commune of Esquelbecq



This massacre had remained unknown for a long time until some of the survivors of this tragic episode, who were among the British veterans who had come to commemorate the anniversary of Operation Dynamo, went to look for this site of the massacre and told of what they had lived through. Based on these harrowing stories, a local amateur historian Guy Rommelaere, wrote his book titled "The Forgotten Massacre" (*).



Source : Commune of Esquelbecq


In 2000, after consolidation of the farmland, the pasture where the massacre occurred was nearly turned into ploughland. This was without reckoning with the desires of the elected officials in the three communes of Esquelbecq, Ledringhem and Wormhout, where the events of 28 May 1940 took place. A Franco-British association was set up with the goal of preserving, restoring and maintaining this site fraught with history. The association acquired the pasture and has since built a barn identical to the original, as well as a lookout with an orientation table to be able to locate the various elements of that tragic day and, more recently, a stele of peace and friendship among peoples was inaugurated for the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo.



Source : Commune of Esquelbecq



(*)All income from the sale of this book is donated to the association. It is available at the tourism offices of Esquelbecq and Wormhout for 20 euros.


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