Major Toby Taylor, 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, recalls the backwardness of the British Army in 1940 and the spectacular but useless French border defences.
Toby Taylor
Major Toby Taylor

Were you confident that you could deal with the Germans?
Well people keep asking that. Looking back I don’t think it ever entered our heads that we were going to lose but you were still thinking about everyday things, you know. What time was the pub open or, you never thought much about the war, you knew you weren’t going to lose but you never thought much about, you thought you might not come back again, but it never worried you very much. You knew you were going to win but we knew we hadn’t, I think we were pretty certain even in those days that we hadn’t got the right kit. All a bit old fashioned and all our tactics were a bit old fashioned. The Germans were in Poland and in no time, all the Stukas and all that kind of thing and we still fighting World War One. You see the bren gun had just come in then and these old sweats reservists who came back had never seen a bren gun so when we got to France we had to start training with these new weapons. Luckily of course nothing happened in France.
But you weren’t allowed to go into Belgium because they were still neutral were they?
Oh yes, nothing happened in Belgium, no. The Germans flew over us dropping leaflets, “Stop the war” and pictures of Russian bears grabbing the world, “You are on the wrong side join us”. Amazing didn’t bomb us, dropped leaflets and that was October 1939 and then the war started in May 1940 didn’t it, or was it April 1940? But in February we went down to the Maginot line to have some experience of, well, front-line soldiering. But that was extraordinary because all the French villages, everything, had been emptied for miles back, just empty countryside, then in through the Maginot line and then there was a line of trenches called the line of recoil and then the line of contact, the front man, which we went in, nothing much happened, then you got back to the Maginot line about ten miles further back and the Maginot line was absolutely fantastic and of course the Germans never attacked it and never would attack it, they wrote about it once, said it was like a load of large battle ships sank into the ground all interconnected lifts going up and down and guns, it was absolutely fantastic the Maginot line. The Germans never attacked it. See it stopped at the Belgium frontier so the Germans knew they would have to attack, we knew they would have to attack through Belgium but the French were pretty hopeless. I don’t think the French were ever interested in the war.