Remembering

Arnold 'Arnie' Mather

 

A (brave) Dunkirk Soldier's Tale

 

Arnold 'Arnie' Mather was a much loved member of WEBC. In 2013 he moved to Altarnun in Cornwall, to be close to his family. He died on 27th Aug 2019, just short of his 99th birthday. The following article was published in the June 2020 edition of 'Tre Pol Pen', the Altarnun community magazine. Written by the magazine's co-editor, Peter Allen (Arnie's son-in-law), it recalls the events of 1940 when Arnie was in Dunkirk. It is compiled from the tales Arnie told when he and the family re-visited the area about 20 years ago.

Peter says that he and his wife Tricia (Arnie's daughter) know how popular Arnie was and are glad that so many WEBC members will enjoy reading a little about his life as a Grenadier Guardsman.

 

 

Thanks to Peter and Tricia for giving permission to reproduce it here and to Colin Andrews for bringing it to my attention.

Webmaster: 4th July 2020

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Dunkirk - 80 years ago this month (June 1940)

 

 
 

The evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk occurred 80 years ago this month. Following the rapid advance of the German Army through the low countries the BEF had fallen back to the coast around Dunkirk. The evacuation of over 300,000 troops between May 26th and June 4th 1940 provided the trained manpower needed to re-build the army that would, eventually, invade Europe on the beaches of Normandy 4 years later as well as the men who would fight in North Africa, Italy and the far east. Last month there were very limited celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the announcement of victory in Europe on May 8th 1945. It seems likely that there will be little chance to get together to commemorate the miracle of Dunkirk so we will share the story of one man and his experiences in May and June 1940.

 

Many of you will remember Arnold (Arnie) Mather who moved to Altarnun in 2013 and spent the last 6 years of his life as an active member of the bowls club, history society and a staunch supporter of any event where there was tea and cake or preferably beer or a cooked breakfast. He also laid the wreath on Armistice Sunday from 2013 until 2018 and took immense pride in being able to do so as he said "I was lucky to survive a war, the least I can do is honour those who were not as fortunate".

 

Arnie went to France in 1940 as a professional soldier having joined the Grenadier Guards in spring 1939. His battalion were moved up to the Belgian border where they had their first skirmishes with the Wehrmacht experiencing the reality of Blitzkrieg. The Guards found themselves forming part of the rear-guard as the BEF retreated towards De Panne on the Belgian coast.

 

As his unit retreated towards Dunkirk they repeatedly dug in, fired a few shots before being pushed back yet again. It was in one of those firefights that a German bullet took the heel off his boot as he lay prone. It also took a big chunk out of his ankle which made the rest of the retreat somewhat painful. As his platoon marched along the roads towards De Panne, Arnold remembered seeing all the wrecked trucks and artillery, abandoned equipment and the medics trying to help the wounded. On reaching the coast his unit picked up stragglers including a sailor and when they got to the beach the sailor told them that the destroyer standing off was signalling them to a "proceed West for 10 miles and re-group at Dunkirk". The march took place with a battle raging to their left in which many French soldiers were killed attempting to keep the German army back from the beaches and the vulnerable retreating troops.

 

 

On arrival at Dunkirk it was chaotic, no water, no food, no shelter and the continuous sound of fighting and aircraft attacking. Arnold then spent a couple of days on the beach being bombarded and watching the strafing and bombing of the mole along which troops were embarking. He thought he might as well swim for it – drowning could not be worse than being blown up. As a good swimmer he was able to make his way out to the small naval vessels standing off and alongside one, treading water, he saw a sailor leaning over the rail. He shouted up "throw us a rope mate" and the surprised sailor opened his mouth and his clay pipe fell into the water next to Arnie. Arnie grabbed the pipe and the sailor said, "chuck it up, soldier". Arnie replied, "If you want the pipe you have to take me too" A rope came down and he was soon on his way back to Dover. Arnold could not remember at which port he was disembarked but did remember being given tea and a sandwich before boarding a train along with soldiers of all different units many of whom were, like him, walking wounded. The train went to Bath where Arnie was transferred to a hospital in Bath – the ankle wound was septic but after washing it out and fresh bandages he was released onto a ward with a lot of other wounded men. The shout went up "If you can walk to the end of the ward and back on your crutches you can get a weekend pass for home". Needless to say, he managed it and then set off for the Wirral needing help to get on and off all the trains, ferries and trams that took him back to his family.

 

Many years later we retraced his steps through Belgium to De Panne and into Dunkirk. It brought back many memories and, while in Dunkirk, we were in a restaurant for lunch and when I explained to the waiter that Arnold had last visited Dunkirk in June 1940, the owner, the chef and all the staff came to the table and gave him a round of applause. He wore his Dunkirk Veteran’s medal with even greater pride after that.

 

He was of course just one of the 300,000 plus who were there, each of whom had a story to tell. Many died without being able or willing to tell of those dark days but some like Arnold recorded their memories as part of the Imperial War Museum’s oral history project. Arnie recorded his memories when he visited the Cabinet War Rooms in London where he was a guard for a while and even exchanged a few words with Winston Churchill but that is another tale!

 

 

A bit quieter that last time!

 

Words and pictures copyright © Peter Allen and family.

 

 

 

 

 

Arnold 'Arnie' Mather

 

I am sorry to say that we have received the sad news that “our kid” Arnie passed away on Tuesday morning  (27th Aug 2019).  We offer condolences to his family on behalf of Windsor & Eton members.

 

Pam Andrew - Secretary

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A Memory by Pauline Hayward

 

We we’re very saddened to hear that Arnie has passed away, as we considered ourselves his friends.

 

We usually spoke around Christmas time. He and Harold were our team going to Potters. We spent many a night trying to keep up with them in the bar. Arnie would say “make it doubles, save going to the bar twice”.  He loved a whiskey nightcap. 


If you asked how he was he would say “well I woke up this morning, so I’m good ta”.


He was a gentle old soldier who was at Dunkirk. He didn’t talk about it much but did joke about it. We did a social for VE Day and finished with a tribute to Arnie. I believe Rob Gordon put it together for us. 


His daughter once rang and asked if she could pay for a party at the club for his birthday. Whereas everyone had the usual buffet meal, he had bacon, egg and chips, which he told me was his favourite meal. He didn’t half laugh when I put the plate in front of him.

 

As I said he was a lovely Old Soldier who loved his bowling. 

 

PH

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I understand that Arnie was just a few weeks shy of his 99th birthday.

Webmaster
 

29th August (updated 21st Sept)