The Tank Museum | Lt. Vaux - An Extraordinary Escape

Lt. Vaux - An Extraordinary Escape

The man who escaped from the clutches of the Germans in 1940

29th July 2019

“…we saw a large amount of confused traffic – lorries and tanks were all over the road and there were quite a number of men standing about. We were moderately amused at this until we suddenly saw on the side of one of the light tanks a big black and white cross…We then realised that we were intruding on a German traffic jam”

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These are the words of 2nd Lieutenant Peter Alfred Lincoln Vaux of Reconnaissance Troop, 4th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment. Vaux, who joined in 1938, was among the first tank crews to see action in World War 2. 

With a long standing connection to The Tank Museum, many of Vaux's personal belongings have already been donated to the Archive, including a meticulous scrapbook with letters and newspaper cuttings from mid-1941 to May 1943. 

During the Battle of Arras on 21st May 1940, Vaux, Major Stuart Fernie and Corporal ‘Bob’ Burroughs would become separated from the Battalion during the British counter-attack and face a gruelling 11 day escape to Allied lines.

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Their escape featured many close calls with patrols, steely nerves and sheer good fortune, including Cpl Burroughs rear-ending a lorry at the afor-mentioned crossroads which prompted a German officer “with true Teutonic efficiency” to clear the road and wave them on.

Hoping to swim the River Somme and reach safety beyond, the group was hindered by marshland until a courageous Belgian interpreter, Monsieur Gilis, found them and offered to help. Gilis who spoke fluent English, German and French, dressed Vaux in civilian clothes and claimed Vaux was a Flemish refugee he was escorting to repair fences. This story accounted for his poor French. In fact, Vaux cut a path to the River Somme through the fences, noting the German patrols as he passes.

Sadly, Cpl Burroughs would drown during the night crossing of the Somme and Maj. Fernie and Vaux would be separated by the powerful undercurrents. Vaux, who had left his supplies and uniform with Maj. Fernie as the strongest swimmer, was left to walk naked until he reached a roadblock defended by French troops.

Vaux survived the war, later rising to the rank of Brigadier. The latest edition to the collection, which features his medals and commemorative Kukri, have been loaned to the Museum by the family for the Second World War Re-display.