Troubador From a Hard Place to a Rock

Released: 28/06/2022

ISBN: 9781803131924

Format: Hardback

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From a Hard Place to a Rock

First-Hand Accounts of Soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force on the Run in World War Two


Cousins, Captain Chris Waters of the Royal Engineers and Captain Jimmy Johnson of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were with the British Expeditionary Force in the defence of Dunkirk. In late May 1940, Jimmy (son-in-law of Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Keyes) was shot and captured near the Belgium border. Chris was captured after his regiment, which was attached to the 51st Highland Division, was forced to surrender at St-Valéry.
Both men managed to escape their German captors and, accompanied by fellow officers, began separately to work their way through France into Spain. Having crossed the Pyrenees they were both re-captured but by an extraordinary coincidence met up in Barcelona.
Chris and Jimmy recorded their escape in journals with Jimmy also writing many letters home from internment in France. Eventually the escapers, now in a large group, were released and arrived in Gibraltar. It was not the safe haven they had hoped for. One last cruel twist of fate would deny some of them a return home.

In this tale of courage and determination, four remarkable soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force escape their German captors. Running the gauntlet of French and Spanish authorities who are treading a thin line of neutrality, they make their way across war-torn Europe to Gibraltar and so to England. The men’s first-hand accounts provide the reader with rich personal insights into wartime conditions. Told with good humour and in a spirit of old-fashioned British ingenuity, the escapees ultimately prevail against extraordinary dangers as they blaze a path to freedom, but not until events throw them one last cruel twist of fate.
The story of brave men and remarkable World War Two ‘home runs’. And a decade later, one of these chaps was to become my commanding officer in Jamaica.

by William ‘Bill’ Roache MBE Actor, Captain (retired) RWF

I remember Jimmy Johnson in later life, bowed but never broken. In 1997 he came with other veterans to the dedication of the memorial at St-Venant, where he had been wounded and captured in 1940. I thought then that whenever I and my generation considered we had had a tough time on operations, even in Iraq and Afghanistan, we had seen nothing compared to what Jimmy and his contemporaries went through. This book is a vivid and at times humbling reminder of just what those men did - it was courage like theirs that brought our country through the war and to the defeat of Germany and Japan.

by Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley CB DSO Late Colonel, The Royal Welch Fusiliers

Jimmy Johnson’s daughter Sara was a chum of mine. We shared a flat in London. On our visits to the family home in Tingewick for weekends, Jimmy was invariably hospitable, funny and unflappable but underneath you could detect the steel will that had barred him from settling for life in a PoW camp. Nothing would stop him getting home to his beloved wife Diana and to his regiment so he could get back into the war. Sara was immensely proud of her father’s epic escape, accomplished in spite of his near-fatal injuries.
This book is an affectionate and thoroughly researched tribute to a small band of brave and determined men. It’s important for their story to be told.

by Chris Serle Writer-broadcaster

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