“When the war clouds gathered in 1938, I was called up, but only for six weeks,” he said.
He returned in time to take his university exams.
“But I was called up again in September, 1939, about a week before war was declared by Great Britain on Germany.”
The British Expeditionary Force, which had served in World War I, was started up in 1938 after Germany annexed Austria. When the German Army invaded Poland on Sept. 3, 1939, France and Britain, having pledged to support Poland, joined the fight.
“My regiment left for France to be deployed close to the border with Belgium. However, I was sent to the base depot. I was the only non-regular soldier.”
Eveleigh was assigned to the 3rd Military Artillery Regiment, which served with the expeditionary force’s I Corps.
He was stationed in the town of Saint-Nazaire, in western France on the Atlantic coast.
“I lived next door the well-known La Baule resort where I remained for five months in a very comfortable, furnished house. Not a bad way to spend a war.”
“But it didn’t last.”
Sometimes the dangers lurked in surprising places.
“I remember on Christmas Day of 1939 I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a mine being carried straight towards my home.”
The French, in an effort to create a defensive line, set mines in the water along the coastline. One of those mines broke from its moorings and was floating straight for the home, built right up against the ocean.
“It threatened to explode on the rock beneath me. By sheer luck, the wind changed when the mine was about 100 yards away and I never saw it again.”
“In May of 1940, I was posted to join my regiment close to the Belgian border. At the base, they told me to take off all signs of identity from my uniform. I removed the buttons, the cap badge, and my two lieutenant shoulder stars. After I had been on the train for about four hours, the military police arrested me on suspicion of being a spy. I claimed to be an English officer, but they were not satisfied and said I had no means of identification. I spent the next 24 hours waiting to be identified by one of my fellow officers.”
“Then the peaceful existence was shattered by the German’s invading Belgium.”
“By telephone I sent the order for the 3-ton lorries (3-ton trucks known as ’3-tonners’) to report to me. After a long interval, three gunners reported to me. The artillery man thought I had ordered three gunners, so we delayed our advance considerably.
“As we made our way towards Belgium, we encountered hundreds of civilians coming in the opposite direction —away from the invading Germans.”
Eveleigh was given the order to withdraw.
“I had to turn around and go in the direction I’d come from.”
He jumped onto the side of the 3-tonner to direct the driver, but he slipped and fell under the vehicle which ran over his right leg.
“Normally, I should have been directing targets for the guns, but instead, I remained at the gun position. Then some Messerschmidt’s (German fighter planes) machine-gunned us and I did the 100 meters in about two seconds,” he said, laughing.
Eveleigh, who usually carried a walking cane, dropped it when he made a break for cover.
“When I emerged from the ditch in which I had sought safety, I looked for my cane until my sergeant major said, ‘We broke it up, sir, we thought you did very well without it.”
“Subsequently, I took up position as a forward observation post on the edge of a wood forest.
Eveleigh and another soldier had missed their night’s sleep.
“We dug a hole in the ground in which we could crouch if attacked. We were in fact shelled and small trees around us fell upon us until we were released by our comrades when it was decided that we must join the forces withdrawing through Dunkirk.”
The Germans had pushed through France, and the British, having been pinned down — with no where to go but into the ocean — were forced to evacuate from Dunkirk.
“We destroyed our guns and immobilized the vehicles which we had to leave. The beach at Dunkirk was full of our men.”
Two of his men reported to Eveleigh they’d been on leave when the retreat was ordered.
“They had been three days catching up with us only to reach us at Dunkirk. An hour later, the Stuka bombers flew over, and they were among the dead.”
Dunkirk is full of little mounds, and the men raced to get down into a spot where the mounds dipped. Eveleigh was able to avoid getting hit by the explosions.
“Just over half-way through the evacuation, I was lucky enough to be able to join others embarking upon a paddle steamer for England. We had an uneventful passage to Yarmouth. I spent the next year in England until America declared war on Germany in December, 1941.”
“In June of 1942 I was sent to Canada — I traveled on the USS Monterey which was not yet turned into a troop ship. Myself and five other officers traveled from London to the Port of Liverpool when we boarded the ship at 7 o’clock in the morning.
“We went straight to the dining room for breakfast where we were offered almost everything from caviar to bacon and eggs.”
It was a welcome change from the British rations.
Eveleigh spent a year in Canada as an artillery instructor.
He returned to England and became a barrister (lawyer) and later, a justice (judge).
Sir Edward Eveleigh — he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II —— served as one of the justices of “Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice.”
In 1977 he was appointed by the Queen as one of the Lords Justices of Appeal on the English Commonwealth Appeals Court.
The court of appeals in the second most senior court in the English legal system. Only the Supreme Court of England is higher.
The notation in The London Gazette, dated Oct. 4, 1977, read:
Crown Office, House of Lords:
“The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal bearing date the 30th of September, 1977, to appoint Sir Edward Walter Eveleigh, Knight, one of the Justices of Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice, to be one of the Lords Justices of Appeal.”
Sir Edward Eveleigh
Birthday: Oct. 8, 1917
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: British Expeditionary Force; British Army; 3rd Medium Artillery Regiment
Years served: 1938 – 1946
Family: Wife Nell; two sons, Martin Eveleigh of Raleigh, N.C. and Richard Eveleigh of London; two grandsons, one granddaughter