Among the 647 identified Commonwealth war dead at Hotton War Cemetery is one of the first British MPs to be killed in action during World War II, Major Ronald Cartland, the brother of novelist Barbara Cartland.
Before being elected a Conservative MP in 1935, Cartland had worked in the Conservative Party Central Office. He was a strong supporter of Winston Churchill who later called him “a man of noble spirit who spoke fearlessly for Britain”. After the Munich Agreement in September 1938, Cartland belonged to the group of Conservative MPs who opposed the British Government’s policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany. In his last speech in the House of Commons in August 1939, he openly criticised Prime Minister Chamberlain, with what turned out to be prophetic words for himself: "We are in a situation that within a month we may be going to fight – and we may be going to die."
As an officer in the 53rd Worcestershire Yeomanry Anti-Tank Regiment, Cartland went to France in January 1940. Early in May 1940, Sir Basil Bartlett met him at Lille. He described him as “a man of enormous vitality who had become, within a few months a Major in command of a battery”. Cartland was one of the very few MPs mobilised in the Army and, according to Bartlett, his services in the field were better appreciated than in the House of Commons. He was given the task of organising the anti-tank defence of Cassel, a hilltop site near one of the main roads leading to the Channel port of Dunkirk, France.
On the evening of 29th May 1940, Cartland and his unit split up, and joined the retreating British Expeditionary Force heading for Dunkirk. The next day, while reconnoitering his position, he was shot and killed. A fellow officer gave the following account: “All our guns were out of action and word had been given to make for the coast. Early on 30th May we were about twenty miles from Cassel, making our way about two miles east of Watou along a ditch bordering a lane, but we were not moving very fast as mist was rising and the country was getting open. Ronald called me forward. While with him, we saw German tanks going into action against other troops half a mile ahead. We decided to conceal ourselves, but later three tanks converged on us and we had to get up. As Ronald rose he was hit in the head by a bullet and killed instantly. I was about five yards away with fifty men following …”
When Major-General Sir Edward Spears, MP, read in the Times of 8th June 1940 that Ronald Cartland was missing in action, he imagined that Cartland was fighting the Nazis with the same smile which he had had when he fought for what he believed in as an MP. Anthony Eden, the then Secretary of State for War, appreciated Cartland as a brilliant speaker who shared his beliefs with passionate conviction. “He had everything before him and would have had a great part to play in the world after the war” he said.
On Ronald Cartland’s tombstone at Hotton is an inscription from the hymn Jerusalem: “I will not cease from mental fight”. To his mother Ronald Cartland had once said “that he had no fear of death and that he would fight to the end and never surrender”. She did not learn of his death until the following year when she received a letter from one of his men then in a German POW camp. He is buried at Hotton War Graves Cemetery, Belgium; he was just 33 years of age.
source : Rainer Hiltermann
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