William George Puddy lived with his parents, William and Ada Puddy of Burnt House, Yarrow, and was the eldest boy of three girls and eight sons. Little is known about his early life, except that he was single, had worked on the roads and was nicknamed ‘King’.
William enlisted in the Army soon after the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September 1939. As a member of 76 Field Regiment RA, he was sent to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) with Major-General Bernard Montgomery’s 3rd Division. The Regiment was equipped with 25-Pounders. When the German Army IX Corps attacked the BEF on 15 May, 3rd Division was about ten miles east of Brussels at Louvian, however by the end of May, had retreated with the BEF through France and were inescapably trapped against the sea around the port of Dunkirk. There was no alternative but to evacuate as many Allied servicemen as possible and, on 26 May, the Royal Navy commenced Operation Dynamo with about 600 vessels of all shapes and sizes, (the ‘Small Ships)’, sent to evacuate them from the beaches. 3rd Division defended the northern left flank of the BEF and, by the evening of 29 May, was under immense German pressure. Matters worsened when the troops reached the bridge over the River Yser at Elsendamme to find that it had been badly damaged by shelling; Royal Engineers were trying to bridge the gap. After a long delay, the Division crossed the river at Stavele and then reached the Furnes Canal where orders were given to wreck and abandon vehicles and heavy equipment, including the guns. Carrying whatever they could, the long columns of soldiers then marched about seven miles to take up positions to defend the perimeter protecting the beaches.
Gunner Puddy is recorded as having died during the night 29/30 May in circumstances listed as ‘uncertain.’ In any event, he was one of several 76 Field Regiment who did not make roll call the following day. One can only speculate. Probably very tired and hungry, he may have become separated from the Regiment on a chaotic night of roads lit by burning equipment and jammed by columns of exhausted troops with shelling and German attacks causing further confusion. It is conceivable that he was killed in some engagement. More likely, because his body was never found, is that he may have moved cross-country and was possibly drowned in one of the many streams criss-crossing the fields. No-one could give any details and thus his family always wondered how he had died.
Gunner Puddy has no known grave and he is commemorated on Column 14 of Commonwealth War Dead at the Dunkirk Memorial. He was aged 39.