The bravery of a Second World War tank hero whose actions held up the German advance towards Dunkirk for three days has been revealed 81 years on.
Sergeant Eugene Strickland’s fearlessness during the Battle of Arras on May 21, 1940, helped enable the evacuation of over 330,000 Allied troops just a few days later.
During one engagement Sgt Strickland of 4th Royal Tank Regiment – known simply as Strick – even captured dozens of German troops with the help of one French soldier.
Writing about it later, he said: “I saw some German troops run into the door of a sort of metal barn.
“Telling Jacques to move down the cul-de-sac, I put a number of rounds into the door of the barn.
“Hearing shouting from the barn, I was surprised to see a white cloth waving from the door.
“Shouting out ‘come out’ I was astonished to count something like 80 German troops come out with their hands up. At a sign from me, they fell into ranks and marched off back to the main road.
“I was convinced that these enemy troops would realise that they could easily overpower us, especially if my Vickers [gun] refused to fire.”
After Arras his tank was destroyed by friendly fire but he crawled out of the wreckage and reached Dunkirk.
There the evacuation went ahead after the Germans were forced to order a three-day halt to their advance, due to the counter attack by 4th and 7th Royal Tank Regiment near Arras, combined with resistance from the French 1st Army at Lille.
Sgt Strickland’s actions earned him the Military Medal. He later rose to Major-general, which was unusual for a man who began as a Private.
Of the evacuation, he wrote: “How well I remember the burning oil storage tanks of Dunkirk, the beaches to the east of the town dotted with clumps of troops, the extraordinary calm of the sea, the efficiency of the Royal Naval beach parties, but the principal impression was a strange calmness in the air.” Maj Gen Strickland died aged 69 in Winchester, Hants, in 1982.
Now his story has been told by his archaeologist son Tim Strickland, 78, in his book Strick: Tank Hero of Arras.