In Some Corner of a Foreign Field …
In Memory of
6143059, 2/6th Bn., East Surrey Regiment
who died age 21
on 10 June 1940
Son of George Edward and Evangeleen Kathleen Riley, of Teddington, Middlesex.
Remembered with honour
Alfred Edward 'Sandy' Riley was born 22 November 1918, at the end of one war, and died at the beginning of the next.
I first encountered Riley in 1999 when I read my father's story as told in the book 'Conscript Heroes'. Riley was Captain Alec Thomson's despatch rider. During the withdrawal of the 2/6 East Surreys from their positions near Aumale, they ran into a French unit being pursued by German tanks. In the subsequent confusion, Riley was accidently shot by a man with a Bren gun. My father records seeing Riley slumped over his motorcycle as they drove off. In 2003 I posted part of the story, including the incident with Riley, on the BBC People's War Site.
In February 2006 I was contacted by Brian Riley, asking if this could be the same Riley as his father's cousin Alfred Edward who had been killed in France in 1940. If so, did I have any more details about his death. Originally all Brian had known was that Sandy (aka Teddy) Riley had joined the BEF but never returned from France. Having already started research into another family member, Brian then checked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) internet site for details of all soldiers named Riley killed in France in 1940 and narrowed his search down to Alfred Edward (hence Teddy) Riley who died 10 June. Subsequent internet searches found the BBC entry and so Brian emailed me.
Sandy's untimely death devastated the Riley family and Brian's initial concern was not to tell his father that his cousin had probably been killed by a fellow soldier rather than direct enemy action. It had always been assumed that Sandy died in an air attack or something similar, which was tragic enough, but to be told at this late date that he died as result of 'friendly fire' was too awful. Brian asked if I minded him passing on a slightly amended version of the diary extracts to avoid any direct mention of the Bren gunner - of course I didn't mind, and nor I assured him, would my late father.
In 2007 Brian emailed me again: he was planning a trip to France to visit Sandy's grave and to see the various places that Sandy would have been and asked if I had any more details of the various actions that the 2/6 Surreys had been involved in. I sent him copies of two maps that Alec Thomson produced on his return to England (kindly given me by John Redfern) along with details of my own visits to the area. On his return, Brian then sent me some of the pictures he took, along with more details.
Brian knew that Sandy was buried in a tiny churchyard at Dracqueville - originally two French soldiers killed that same day had been buried alongside him, but they had subsequently been moved, and now Sandy lies alone. On his visit, Brian met the Leroux family who have taken on the responsibility of caring for Sandy's solitary grave for the last sixty years. He was also shown the point on a nearby road where Sandy was first buried, believed to be where he and the two French soldiers died that Monday afternoon in 1940.
The lonely grave of Pte Alfred Edward Riley at
St Pierre-Benouville (Dracqueville) Churchyard
Brian Riley (centre) and the Leroux family who
take such good care of Sandy's grave
This is where Sandy Riley died as the East Surreys
paused during their withdrawal from Aumale
Pte Graham Eric Richardson and six other soldiers
rest here at Lannoy Cuilliere Cemetery
In Memory of
6145481, 2/6th Bn., East Surrey Regiment
who died age 20
on 10 June 1940
Son of Gerald Graham Richardson and Kathleen Mary Richardson, of Putney, London.
Remembered with honour
Buried nearby, and also mentioned by my father, is Pte Graham Eric Richardson. Graham Richardson died the same day as Sandy Riley, he was just twenty years old.
"Richardson, the best looking lad of the Army class ... I looked at his rifle. Called up for Service he had never fired a shot, never in practice and never in war. He was in the front line with clean gun. Next to him was a French policeman, one clean bullet hole on the bridge of his nose, laying peacefully on his face".
I asked Brian if he could visit Richardson's grave as well and he sent me pictures of the little CWGC site in the Lannoy Cuillere Cemetery where he rests with six other British and Commonwealth soldiers.
Not far away is yet another another 2/6 East Surrey man lost during that chaotic retreat. Twenty-four year old 6141719 Cpl George Wells was killed on 11 June 1940. Today Cpl Wells rests together with an unknown soldier, in their own immaculately maintained plot surrounded by French graves in the churchyard at St Oeun-le-Mauger.
I have posted this article as a memorial to two men that my father knew briefly, and as a reminder to readers of the tragedy of war and how it can still affect our lives today. I was particularly moved by Brian's story and even more so by the photographs he sent me. I have used some of Brian's own words in the text as I couldn't better their sentiments. The memorial texts are taken from the CWGC website.