Friday, 07 August 2020

Henley Army Cadets

Henley Army Cadets

CADET Sergeant Jamie Forehand, of the Henley detachment, Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force, has spent his corornavirus lockdown researching the Battle of Cassel, which took place in 1940.

Henley locals formed A Company of the 4th Battalion, the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, which played a key role in the battle and included veterans such as Richard “Dick” Charlton, who now lives at Chiltern House Care Centre in Henley.

The cadets had planned to host the Royal British Legion, dignitaries and veterans with a presentation by Colonel Ingram Murray to mark the 80th anniversary but, sadly, this was cancelled due to covid-19 outbreak.

The Battle of Cassel is important to the cadets, not just because so many Henley men fought in it but also because they are affiliated to the Rifles, an amalgamated regiment which includes the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Many of the men who fought in the battle would have paraded at the Drill Hall in Friday Street where the cadets still parade to this day.

Cdt Sgt Forehand has put all his research together and produced a short information video so other cadets can be made aware of the sacrifice that was made by so many from southern Oxfordshire.

He also wants to share the battle with the community of Henley.

The battle started on May 25, with the 4th Ox & Bucks, along with a few other units, defending the town of Cassel, while the 1st Bucks defended Hazebrouck 10 miles to the south.

Cassel was a walled medieval town on a steep hill, 12 miles from Dunkirk.

The 2nd Gloucestershire Regiment held the western side, while the Ox & Bucks held the eastern side.

Three German divisions of tanks, motorised infantry and light foot infantry tried multiple times to break into the town for four days.

Having failed, the German army then withdrew and began to circle it instead.

The defenders also suffered continuous air attack from the Luftwaffe.

On May 29, orders reached the troops at Cassel that they were to breakout that night.

As dusk fell, they moved out, leaving the wounded behind in the care of volunteers.

Unfortunately, when dawn lifted, they found out they were surrounded. Most of the garrison were captured and spent the next four-and-a-half years in prisoner of war camps.

Even though they were captured, the Gloucestershire and Ox & Bucks had prevented the German tanks from cutting the withdrawal routes to Dunkirk. Sadly, only six of the defenders of Cassel got back through Dunkirk.

Brigadier Robin Draper, of the Ox & Bucks Association, says: “Without the sacrifice of battalions such as the 4th Ox &Bucks at Cassel in May 1940, far fewer of the British Expeditionary Force would have been evacuated at Dunkirk and, without them, there might not have been the victory as we know it.”

The Army Cadet Force is a national youth organisation for
12- to 18-year olds, sponsored and supported by the Ministry of Defence. Normally, the Henley Army Cadet Force parades at the Drill Hall in Friday Street every Wednesday from 7pm to 9.30pm.

To join the cadets or become
an adult volunteer, email
AUO Mel Haynes at 3360haynes@armymail.mod.uk

Mel Haynes

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