The Drill Hall, Llandudno
Before the Second World War, Llandudno’s Drill Hall was home of the part-time volunteers of the Territorial Army. In July 1939 it became headquarters to a regular unit, the 69th Medium Regiment (Caernarvon & Denbigh Yeomanry) Royal Artillery. As well as volunteers from the TA, there was a massive recruitment drive across North Wales in order to reach full strength.
Many of its soldiers died in the Wormhout massacre, in northern France, in 1940. Llandudno was formally twinned with Wormhout on 14 April 1989.
The photo on the left, by John Lawson-Reay, shows the last TA gun being removed from the Drill Hall in September 1966. Since January 2004 the hall has been used by C Detachment, 203 (Welsh) Field Hospital for training and preparing members of the Unit to deploy on operations in support of the Regular Army. The unit has been deployed to provide medical support to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ground floor is used for training by Gwynedd Army Cadet Force.
The 69th regiment, including Llandudno’s ‘D’ Troop, was mobilized on 1 September 1939, two days before war was declared, under the command of Lieut-Colonel Clement Arnold. He had received the Distinguished Service Order in the First World War and later joined the TA at the Drill Hall.
The regiment landed in Le Havre, France, in May 1940 just as the German army swept through the Low Countries and into France. The soldiers found themselves subjected to intensive aerial fire and suffered their first casualties. Like the rest of the British Expeditionary Force, they were ordered to retreat to the port of Dunkirk and wait on the beaches to be taken to Britain by the Royal Navy.
Some of the soldiers were caught up in an SS ambush at the town of Wormhout on 28 May 1940 and about 90 taken prisoner. Some, badly injured, were squeezed into a barn at nearby Esquelbecq. The Germans threw in hand grenades and raked the barn with machine-gun fire. Those who weren’t killed were taken out, five at a time, and executed. The dead included a grandson of Llandudno’s “Postcard King”.
Amazingly, two men survived – see Footnotes. The photo shows a reconstruction of the barn at Esquelbecq.
The soldiers who returned to Britain from Dunkirk spent two years training, before being posted to North Africa in July 1942 as part of the 8th Army. They travelled to Egypt and fought in the battle of El Alamein before crossing North Africa to Tunis. After landing in Sicily, they fought their way through Italy into southern France before returning full circle to Dunkirk, where they had to dislodge the German army from the same positions they had abandoned five years earlier.
Postcode: LL30 1DF
Footnotes: Wormhout survivors