The Tank Museum | Recipient

Norman Harold Philps

Sgt. Norman Harold Philps, 7879657

Service : 25 years, 279 days

Norman Philps was born in 1908 in Farnham, Surrey. He joined the Royal Tank Corps in his early 20's and did his training at Bovington. During his training King George V visited the camp. Norman and three others were chosen to be his 'bodyguard' [sic]. This was April 1928 and a very proud moment of his life.

As soon as war was declared, he and his unit were shipped out to France. On the retreat to Dunkirk his Matilda tank "Daffodil" had to be abandoned. He and his driver "Ginger" Rutledge headed towards the north coast of France. On the way they managed to acquire a 30cwt truck. They drove for two days and nifhts, picking up a load of waifs and strays on the way (other troops separated from their units). He said the chaos started several miles outside of Dunkirk. By the time he somehow got to the coast, the chaos was complete. Being Tank Men, they were ordered to put all the tanks into the sea. Where they were they could only see 5. The first 3 were put over the Quay. The others would not start. After that it was every man for himself. They could see the small boats half a mile or so away. It was only a matter of getting to them. There were several hundred men waiting patiently on the beach for some orders. Joining them did not seem a very good idea, just sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe! They dumped all their havy kit and encouraged other lads to do the same, and wade out with them. As it happened, a fair response. They headed into the very cold water. When they reached up to their necks, a lot turned back, unable to swim. The boats, still a way off. Norman and the other swimmers struck out. They swam what seemed like an eternity. As they swam along-side, the ship's crew hauled themin. While lying exhausted on the deck, he saw that the boat's name was "Monas Queen". They sat shivering on the deck untilshe was more than full, then headed full steam for Dover. As the noise and chaos of Dunkirk faded, a German fighter sprayed the boat with bullets. Many were left dead or wounded. They did what they could with what they had. Thank Gold the engine was still running. No one noticed at first that they seemed to be lop-sided. After a while, they all knew that they were sinking. The boat managed to reach the Quay at Dover, where everybody who could shoulder a dead or injured man ran for the Casualty Station at the end of the dock. The Redcaps then directed them to the waiting trains. before boarding, they took a last look at the boat, just to see her being towed out to sea to sink just outside the harbour "God Save the Queen".

After a long train and lorry journey, they arrived at a tented camp. Beds with dry blankets. "Bliss." This place turned out to be Tweseldown Racecourse near Aldershot. This pleased Norman, as he came from this area and knew where all the pubs were. After a good rest and the drama of the Cookhouse tent burning down, he wandered down to the nearest pub, and to his astonishment he found his elder brother Reg on his motorbike waiting for him. They then sped to Aldershot where his wife Alice and Baby son Robin lived.

Somehow Norman and his two brothers survived the war uninjured. Norman died in 1991. His wife Alice died in 1987. He is survived by two sons, Robin and Adrian, and grandson Luke.

1939-45 STAR