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Sapper Brian Guy

Discussion in 'Brian Guy' started by Jim, Jun 26, 2007.

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  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    War44.com has been given permission from Sapper Brian Guy to use in parts facts taken from the book “Cameos of War” that he wrote regarding his experiences during WWII.


    Brian served with the 246 Field Company, Royal Engineers, Eighth Brigade, Third British Infantry Division during WWII and what you read here is in Brian's own words taken from his book, "Cameos of War".

    The Tittle of Brian's Book

    [​IMG]

    *Please note this thread will be closed, feel free to start new threads if you have any comments.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    'Cameos of War' This is a recollection of events that occurred a very long time ago, events that made a deep impression on a very young and inexperienced Dorset man in those far off war time days, a nineteen year old country man who was totally innocent in the ways of war. Like many young men in those distant days we were very patriotic and felt the need as young men to defend and fight for our Country. Against an evil Enemy, an Enemy that had rampaged across Europe, Russia, and Africa, murdering and killing innocent men, women and children in their millions, an Enemy that had brought about a new dark age into the continent of Europe.
    I happened to be, (as a young engineer) in a reserved occupation, but later, joined as a Sapper who served in 246 Field Company Royal Engineers. This Company was always in the thick of things, at the "sharp end" right from the word go, from the moment when they landed as three Assault teams on Sword Beach, right through to the end of the war in Bremen.

    Some time ago, while talking to Lionel Roebuck (East York's Regiment) about his memoirs, and in the course of that conversation, he insisted that we old Veterans have a duty to record for posterity exactly what happened back on D Day the 6th of June 1944, and following that, all the ensuing battles in Normandy, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. What it was like for the young men who served up at the "Sharp End" of war. Not only to record, but also to make the memoirs of ordinary fighting men available to the general public. i am deeply indebted to these friends and Veterans who allowed me to use parts of their memoirs.
    For these pages describe exactly what it was like to take part in the greatest invasion the World has seen, and the downfall of the mighty Nazi war machine, followed by the freeing of the peoples of Europe

    Dedicated, with great respect, to those who gave their lives in the conflict and to those who have lived with the burden of their wounds these many years.

    Brian Guy


    Brian Guy

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Field Company.
    The Band of Brothers.
    Once a Sapper, always a Sapper!

    Every Infantry division, or armoured division has its own divisional Royal Engineers, these are called Field Companies and are the companies that serve at the "Sharp end" I can only talk about my own situation and attempt to describe to you exactly what they consisted of.
    In the Third British Infantry Division we had three Field Companies. 17 Fld. R.E -246 Fld R.E .. and 253 Fld. R.E. these were quite small units but highly trained in assault work. For example; 246 Fld, Co RE, my own Co, was made up of three platoons, the same as the other Co's, they could be split up into smaller units of only 6 to 8 men, and they were called "sections"
    The strength was made up as follows and numbered one platoon two platoon and three Platoon, so you can see they are easy to move and quite mobile, but small units.
    The training of Sappers is the same as for any fighting soldier; we had to undergo basic infantry battle practice as well as training in bridging, use of explosives, mine clearance and all the other skills that Sappers have to learn, it is fair to say that when taught by the army, one never forgets! Today I am quite confident that I could set up and use plastic explosives as well today as I could over 50 years ago! It was drummed into us time and time again, that as Sappers, we were fighting men first, and Sappers after. It is also fair to say that some of us welcomed the chance to go out on fighting patrols, makes a change from having to take it all the time! Thus, there were several occasions when we fought as infantry in Normandy. In Holland we were able to go on fighting patrols at night on a regular basis in the small villages and hamlets round the river Maas.
    We were supported by two cooks and some RASC drivers, we also had a Field Park company, this company was usually behind the lines and was the place where everything was stored.
    246 Field Company Royal Engineers had been specially prepared as an Assault Company for D-Day, their task was to be one of vital importance in the early hours of the invasion. They had to land with the First waves of assaulting infantry and were allotted the task of opening up the beach, then clearing a rout off the beach on to the road that ran parallel to the shore.
    They had been trained to use explosives and flame throwers with the purpose of blowing up or burning out anything that stood in the way of this vital opening off the beach, they had also been trained as Assault mine clearing teams; their task was to clear a path through, and under intense fire if necessary
    Like all well laid plans something always goes wrong, they knew that there would be losses but their training was good enough, so that even though everything around them was complete chaos, they still stuck to, and completed their tasks. The platoons managed to open up the beach and a path beyond with the help of a 'Borrowed' armoured bulldozer.
    The casualties that a R.E. Field Company sustains is not that of a infantry unit, the disposition is quite different, sometimes we would be shared out with a few men with
    the infantry, sometimes on our own, but hardly ever as a complete Company. Therefore, because we operate in small groups the casualties are not sustained in large numbers, they were more likely to be a steady, but continuous loss, a 'drip, drip' loss of officers and men, an officer and ten men killed and wounded, then four more here, then six more somewhere else, before you know it, your casualties have become serious. The main reason for this was because of our operating in small groups; sometimes you would not see the rest of your comrades for some time!
    Their tasks are as follows, anything that comes within their sphere! And, sometimes outside it! Clearing of mines, booby traps, building bridges, ferrying assault craft, building infantry assault bridges. Keeping the roads open, and sweeping them for mines, assault crossings of rivers and canals, sometimes under heavy fire. Laying our own protective mine fields and trip wires. To be honest, anything that the war requires.
    Our transport consisted of three tonners (Lorries), plus Bren gun carriers and M14 armoured half tracks with the odd scout car, we also had armoured bulldozers, built just like a tank and its fair to say used in many ways that they were never designed for! We also used enemy transport, my pal "Spud" and I captured a large German staff car, like the one that Hitler used when he took the salute as he toured up and down in front of his massed troops! Still painted in the Western desert colours by the way!
    It would not be surprising to head an assault on the enemy one day, by clearing a path for the Infantry and tanks, and then be sweeping the roads for mines behind the lines the next day.
    246 Field Company R.E. always had the same motto; it was "Bash on”
     
  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Sword Beach!
    246 Field Company R.E. ​


    Among the Third Divisions own Engineers, 246 Field Company, R.E. affiliated as usual to 8th brigade, landed one Assault demolition team with each of the Assault companies of infantry, and a mine clearance team with each of the reserve companies of these two battalion's. it was one of the platoons of 246 Field company landing at H plus 10, that made the first exit off of "White" beach with a "borrowed" bulldozer, before proceeding, according to plan, to search, clear, and mark a forward rout to Hermanville. (It all sounds so matter of fact, doesn't it?)?


    246 Field Co R. E. was to be the first of the Assault companies ashore, split into three Assault teams, led by Lieutenants M. Edwards. R. A. C. Trench, and R. A. Fields. There was another small recce group with the task of getting to, and securing the lock gates at Ouistreham. These three groups were made up as follows, Assault mine clearance teams armed with "Beehive" explosive charges for demolition purposes and flame-throwers if they were needed. A platoon from this company was the first to open up a path to the lateral road beyond the beach and then proceeded to open a path to Hermanville. Later, the Assault mine clearing teams of 246 R.E were used to force open two gaps through the minefields in front of the Enemy strongpoint code named "Hillman" this was inland from the beaches and entailed clearing a path for the infantry under close Enemy fire. Later another path was cleared, an 8 yd wide mine Fee path, this time, for the passage of tanks, again under close Enemy fire.
    These were the task entrusted to Assault teams of 246 Field Co. R.E. All were successfully completed. Later still, the leading elements of 246 Field Co R.E. were engaged in rafting tanks across the river Orne and Canal sites (Pegasus Bridge) between the 6th Airborne and Third Div, having to break off now and then to defend the site from determined Enemy' attack.
    The above Compiled from official R. E. records. "The Route forward"


    Thus, the stage was set for the bitter and murderous battles that followed and consequently laid low the beautiful towns, villages, and countryside of Normandy. For many of us, battles that we relive many times, over and over again, never to be free from the memory of our fallen comrades, or the terrible wounds suffered by many in the cause of freedom. What follows are the personal memories that stuck in the minds of five young and inexperienced, but patriotic servicemen, who were privileged to have served with that noble band. The Eighth Brigade of the Third British infantry Division. "Monties ironside's" The original “Band of Brothers”
     
  5. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Cameos of War.
    June. 1944. Another World? ​


    Many years have passed and much has been forgotten, but for many of us, some memories stand out crystal clear, as though it were yesterday. Little things take me back, the smell of burning wood on Summer mornings, the sound of distant guns on the army firing range, miles away, still have an unsettling effect, odd events that remind me of long departed friends who never lived to see the end of the war. There are few days that pass without something reminding me of those times, so long ago. 1 am sometimes deeply saddened by the thought of all those young men who gave their lives for freedom, some of them so young, far too young, to make the ultimate sacrifice.
    This then, is a very personal record of impressions and events that happened to a very young, and very green, country lad, sometimes, a very frightened young man, just one of many thousands who fought in Normandy. Bloody Normandy for freedom and their Country. While writing these memoirs, I am reminded constantly how the mists of time can dim the recall of some detail of those days, dates and timings cannot be put into a logical sequence, but! Some are as clear today, as they were back in 1944. Sadly, some parts of my memory, unfortunately, have been wiped clean and I cannot recall anything about certain periods. Fortunately, this record of those times is helped by the experiences of others, who were serving in the same brigade as me and have recorded what happened.
     
  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Country Boy
    Langton Matravers and Village life​


    My family lived on the estate of a preparatory school, Durnford, Langton Matravers, where my father was employed as the head gardener, on this estate we lived in a very old stone cottage, a cottage with a sway back roof, it leaked water and was always damp, the walls of the cottage were constructed from what appeared to be mud, rushes, and horse hair, the walls were virtually hollow and had been whitewashed, the windows of the cottage were quite small and could only be looked out of by sitting in a wooden shelf that was built in to the thickness of the walls. This was very old house.
    The downstairs floors were made of flag-stones and we had a very large pantry that had whitewashed walls, a pantry that had wooden shelves all round and where all manner of pickles and preserves were stored, in the corner was a huge earthenware container with a wooden top about three feet across, this was where the wine was brewed from the black and white grapes that had been thinned out from the grapevines. When we were young we lay in bed at night and listen to the gentle popping and gurgling noise of the wine brewing. Eggs were stored for winter use in isinglass liquid, jam was made and stored with many large jars of runner beans that had been salted down and preserved, soft fruits were bottled, and I remember that the pantry was a place of great richness.
    Not only did the cottage have stone floors but also very steep stairs, the toilets were earth type and the buckets had to be emptied at regular intervals, the estate was large, stretching from the main road down to the valley below, and from the church to the village school.
    The grounds of this school were a sight to behold and my father took great pride in his work, both in produce and in the flower gardens, there was an old terrace of houses in disrepair near by that were used for storing fruit and vegetables, (Now rebuilt and inhabited) the bottom, or northerly end was used to keep ducks, Khaki-Campbell ducks, my job was to fetch the eggs everyday.
    There were orchards of apples and plums, with great areas planted with every kind of vegetable, we also kept poultry for eggs and for the oven, and this was sometimes supplemented with rabbit. Now and then when there had been a pheasant shoot, my father who had been in a gang of beaters would hide a shot pheasant and come back for it later. The wages for this job were bad, and often the owner would forget about paying his staff, causing a great deal of distress, we kept young pigs and fed them on school waste, sometimes my father would slaughter a pig and the village would share in the spoils. .
    For a young boy, the life was ideal, I went fishing from the cliff edge and at many other coves along the cliffs, I climbed the cliffs for miles and played truant far too often for my own good.
    When it was wet in the summer and I was not at school, I would sometimes go and knock on the door of the lighthouse, where I was always made welcome (after being told off for playing truant). I attended the village school, though it must be said that I learned very little there, I spent far more time with the prep school boys of the estate and there was imbibed with my love for cricket from one of the tutors and the other prep school teachers.
    This was a life of pure magic and one I look back on with great deal of satisfaction.
    This young mans idyllic existence of roaming the woods and hills, exploring the cliffs and fishing off dancing ledge in the summer was shortly to be brought to an abrupt halt. I left school at the age of fourteen and started work at the "Home and Colonial stores" as a counter assistant, a job that never suited me, I felt it was a complete waste of time, then one day, on the way home on my bike, I had got as far as a mile from home when I heard through a cottage window, the Prime Ministers broadcast on the wireless that war had been declared. At first it did not seem to be important, though I had always taken a great deal of interest in current affairs, the import of what had happened did not really strike home.
    Later, when the Germans started their bombing raids, the message did get borne! We watched them as they came over the coast, low, and in black formations. Coming from country stock, the family were patriotic and took pride in Britain and the Royal Family; it was then that I felt that I had to do something to help my country in the coming struggle.
     
  7. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Off to War!
    First time away from home. ​


    My home town, in those days, had a cinema and one day there was a short film being shown, asking young men to train as Engineers to help with the war effort. I felt that here was my chance to do my bit, I promptly signed on, left home, and travelled to Southampton where I took a course in Engineering. Billeted at Shirley, I was quickly introduced to the realities of war, at that time the "Blitz" was on and the first night there, our living quarters were bombed. I then realized that we needed to give everything, if we were to survive as a Nation. I then joined the Home Guard. Later I moved again to Waterloo road. They looked after me and I was made very comfortable, I sometimes look back at that time with gratitude. When not on duty I spent the night in the Air raid shelter in the garden with the landladies married daughter, her husband being on night shift at the Spitfire factory.
    Life now became an existence of long hours of work, coupled with a quick dash back to our lodgings to change into Home Guard uniform before the nightly raids started, most times, the sirens would wail at dusk and the raids continued for many hours through the short summer nights, sometimes not getting the "All Clear" till dawn. During the night and while the raids were on, we helped rescue those who had been bombed and were often given the task of searching for unexploded bombs, or time delayed bombs, searching behind the dock area and down the railway line. Not only looking for where bombs had dropped, but also looking in the trees, as sometimes a "Land mine" on a parachute, would be caught on the branches.
    In those days it was the practice to move people about where they were needed, (something like a move in the public interest). A letter arrived one day telling me to report to another Engineering workshop in another district. Lodgings were found with for me with a local couple and where, "Bless them" they looked after me very well, I started work in the Engineering workshops immediately. The working hours were long and I continued with my Home Guard duties. Those Guard duties at that time were mainly to keep a "mine watch" at night, on the end of the new quay in Poole harbour, then to record the compass bearing of the splash of the mine as it hit 'the water. Coupled with other training, life was all work and duties. Our only time for leisure being Saturday, after work, when my friends and I would go out for a drink, then on to a theatre, cheapest seats!
    During my time at this workshop I worked very hard and got on very well there. I gained many skills, eventually being given two men to work under me assembling the engineering components, we were paid by piece work and it was the practice for the senior man to make his apprentice's an allowance from his own wages. The going rate was two and sixpence, I paid my two men five shillings, (in those days worth having) In doing so, I was able to earn more myself! All of the time, I felt that I had to join the army and fight for my Country, I had no illusions, but like many young men, I needed to do my bit for freedom.
     
  8. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Real Army.
    Why so far away? ​


    Eventually, and even though in a reserved occupation, I got my calling up papers. I had always wanted to join the Royal Engineers and had stated that quite forcibly when interviewed by the military. Two of us had our calling up papers, when the managing director heard about it he sent for both of us, and in a heated exchange informed us that we would be doing a great deal more for our Country by remaining at work. The other fellow agreed, the Director lifted the phone and made a call, after a short while his call up was cancelled and he went straight back to work. I refused and explained that I wanted to do my bit, the Director was quite angry, but I insisted and he gave in with very bad grace. I was told to report to Newcastle and in my Home Guard uniform, the journey was an adventure, I had never been far from home and with the trains being held up by bombing it took me 36 hours to get there. Having to wait all night for a train that left in the morning I was helped by the Salvation Army who found me somewhere to sleep, (good old Sally Ann).
    Gosforth! Newcastle. Basic training, then on to Clithero in Lancashire for Royal Engineer training at No 1 Training battalion in an old mill.
    All of a sudden this innocent and unworldly youth found himself in this old Mill, The beds were bunks, two tier, and there I met someone who I became good friends with, George Guy. George took the top bunk and Brian Guy took the bottom, we got our late passes together and more or less stuck together the whole of our training time.
    Everything was run efficiently and always by Bugle. The Assault course was long and difficult and really only for young men, the older fellows could not cope with the difficulties of walking on 2 inch wide catwalks, I2 feet high and slippery, or all the other obstacles that had to be crossed, later, the course entailed crossing the river Ribble twice, once over a kapok assault bridge and the second time lower down the bank where we had to cross slippery tree trunks while the instructors threw explosive charges underneath you while you were crossing.
    Route marches were carried out and every morning before breakfast we had to run 7 miles in boots and PT gear. I did not mind the running; I had taken part in 220, 440 and 880 yard races before, and had won medals at Poole stadium. But! Having to run in step and in boots was a completely different matter. During the route marches I often marched behind George and can still see the sweat on the back of his neck!
    Training included being sent out on to the moors to live on what we could find, The high moors are absolutely desolate and a truly God forsaken place. The only sound being the weird howling of the wind and the continuous cry of "Peewits”. Luckily we found an old cow shed building high on the moors and used that to sleep, We had to use the straw that was available and to the end of my life I will remember that terrible stench of cattle in the straw. While we were on this exercise no one had told us where we should not go, so we made our way down across the moors and found a village where we bought beer and food.
    George and myself became separated on draft (He came from Balham by the way) When we were in Normandy I made several inquiries about his whereabouts, and one told me that he had lost his life when a shell landed in his landing craft.
    The training there was comprehensive and thorough, but nothing could ever take the place of real action, so in some respects, we were unprepared for what was to come, we had not really come to terms with, or had any real idea, of what war was really like, to be honest we were very green. Worse still, most of us were country lads and were not "Worldly wise" After our R.E. training, off down to Kent, somewhere near Hythe, we spent some time in what were known as concentration camps, under canvas and guarded, and not allowed to speak to anyone. We all lined up with our jam jars at the back of the village pub for a drink of beer, but were guarded while we waited. Later we were issued with French invasion money and none of us had any illusions of what lay in wait for us.
     
  9. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    For me this is where I couldn't put the book down and had to read pages several times just to make sure I really understood what Brian had wrote, it really is an enthralling book that I felt I was reading about a soldier and not the War.
    I hope you enjoy these abstracts as much as I enjoyed reading Brian’s book.

    Shall we see England again?
    Many young men would not ​


    We embarked at Newhaven, inside the harbour the sea looked reasonable, but as we left the entrance the picture changed, and it was rough, very rough. I shall always remember the sight of hundreds of self-heating soup cans floating inside the harbour where they had been tossed overboard.
    We sailed our way first to Southampton, then after joining the huge circle of ships known as Piccadilly Circus, straight across the channel to Normandy, I was happy enough in this weather being used to boats and the sea, but Oh dear! Many of those aboard wanted to die from sea-sickness. When someone called, "tea up ", I hurried down below and when I returned I found a Soldier kneeling in front of my kit being sea-sick all over it, I thought at the time "this is a fine way to free Festung Europa."
    In this narrative, I shall try to relate only those things that made a deep impression on the minds of a nineteen-year-old Country-man and his friends, caught up in the greatest military invasion the world has seen! I shall try not to write about the planning of the invasion, or repeat what has been described time and time again. I shall concentrate entirely on memories and events that stuck in the minds of very ordinary young men. Just five of many thousands of ordinary men and women, who went off to fight for their country, in my case, a Sapper who was fortunate to serve with 246 Field Co R.E. That valiant band of brothers. A tiny, insignificant little cog, in a very big war machine.
    The excerpts from the pen of my Friends, serve well to describe war and it's horrors, and in all it's phases, much better than I. For many of us Veterans, there are names that are virtually engraved on our soul, Queen Red, Queen White, Hennanville, Benouville, Blainville, Lebisey, La Londe, Caen, Goodwood, Colombelles, Troarn, The river Orne and Canal. So many names that will never be forgotten by those who fought in Normandy. Bloody Normandy.
     
  10. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Invasion Warning to Occupied Europe.
    At Last. At Last

    Prior to our landings there had to be adequate warning to the people of occupied France Belgium and Holland of the coming invasion. There had been messages passed over the radio in code to resistance groups for some considerable time during the years of occupation, messages that made little sense except to those who knew the code. "Uncle amos lost his teacups". "The river runs high today". "Francoise is thirty one". In preparation for the coming invasion the early warning message was to be a verse from a French poet. Verlain.
    The first warning to be broadcast was to inform the population that the invasion was to take place shortly. The second broadcast to inform the people the invasion was to take place NOW. There has seldom been a broadcast with such momentous import, signalling the death of thousands of men and the destruction of the Norman Countryside.

    The first warning in French was as follows:
    "Les sllnglots longs des violons de Autumne"
    Translated as:
    "The long sobs of the violins of Autumn"
    The second warning telling Europe that the invasion was to take place now was:
    "Blessant mon coure d,un langouer monotone"
    Translated as:
    "Bless my heart with monotonous langour"​

    Somehow these words seem to reflect the magnitude of the events that were to follow.
    The invasion by a mighty fleet, valiant deeds, many that went unrecognized, and the freeing of the enslaved peoples of occupied Europe. For us elderly Veterans who took part it was a great endeavour.
    What ever happens to us, we shall always be aware that we had a part in the shaping of history, we took part in those mighty battles, battles, where men died for what was right! Eventually, resulting in the freeing of the enslaved people of the continent from the evil disease of the Nazi yoke. Seldom in our long history could there have been a better cause than this. i am very proud to have taken part in this great crusade.
     
  11. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Normandy.
    Lay this idea to rest!

    For many years it was claimed that we had it easy on Sword Beach, not true, the following from one of the assault ships log, lays this misinformation to rest, what follows is Stan Hough's record taken from the log of one of the ships that carried the Assault craft. Princess Astrid. Bless her! She hit a mine in the channel after the war and sunk!
    The Princess lost 4 out of her 8 Assault landing craft. Princess Charlotte lost 7 out of 8. MV Victoria lost 5 out of 6. Prince Henry lost 5 out of 8. Finally Prince David lost all 8. On reflection, the loss of 29 Assault craft out of a total of 38 with only 9 saved, hardly bears out the idea of an "Easy landing" But, such is the power of propaganda that these myths are assumed to be true and become fixed as part of the Legend of D-Day.
    The Company landed on "Sword Beach" Queen Red and Queen White sectors, as part of leading Eighth Brigade, with the three Assault teams armed with Beehives 361b explosive charges, designed to blow up concrete Enemy strong points and with flame throwers to burn those out we could not blow up. For these three highly trained teams, their role was crucial in opening up the beach exits, (due to the wind and rising tide the beach area was shrinking all the while). Nothing was to be allowed to stand in the way, nor did they, all the tasks were completed successfully.
    The next task was to open up a route forward to the little town of Hermanville. This was accomplished and this allowed other units to pass through and advance.
     
  12. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    From this part of the book Brian introduces several of his Friends who he fought with during WWII and relates the part that they took during the early days of the invasion, sadly i do not have the authorisation to write about these accounts. If you see that we have side tracked along the way it is due to Brian writing about his friends fighting in battles he was not involved with, he will then return writing about himself a few days later leaving days missing as he picks up stories where he then came in, it is then that i can continue with his story. :thumb:

    Hillman.
    Not one Shell or Bomb!​


    Having heard what Richard Harris had to say lets go back to Hillman. We had now fought our way ashore and opened up the route into Hermanville. The German position code named "Morris" had been taken, and many Enemies captured, The Company had also been given the task of getting to, and capturing the lock gates at Ouistreham, in doing so they captured officers and men.
    But now, before us, lay the huge Enemy defensive position code named "Hillman" and a very tricky problem it was going to be, quite a large area with underground passages, and with the whole front covered with artillery and mortar fire, with machine gun fire criss crossing everything, it could not be by-passed it was far to big, and far too dangerous, it had to be taken. The problem being how to get in among this defensive position.
    My company had been given the job of opening up a path through the barbed wire and mines. Lt Heal with Sappers, worked their way through the mines under very heavy fire, dealing with the mines by blowing them in situ as they opened up a "Sheep track" right into the heart of the position, in doing so, earned himself the French V.C. Later we spent the night at this position, only to find in the morning that a large crowd of Germans came up from the underground passages to give their selves up, with their officers.
    During the taking of "Hillman" there had been some very unpleasant fighting down in the underground passages! Once we got the infantry through the Sheep track, the battle was won, then the company opened up a wider track to get the tanks in, high explosive charges were put down the ventilation shafts causing absolute mayhem down below! My old friend Richard Harris's memoirs of D Day as an infantry man describe the scene and pictures the mood in his recollections.
     
  13. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Pegasus Bridge!
    Tiger was wrong.​


    Pegasus Bridge, The Bridge that spanned the Orne Canal and River was of vital importance, it was the only link between the Airborne forces and Third British Infantry Division that had landed on "Sword beach" the most important conduit between two separated fighting groups in Normandy. Absolutely vital that tanks would be available to assist the Airborne to repel any Enemy counterattack, without armoured support, they would have been overrun for certain.
    When we arrived at the bridge the bodies of the Airborne were still laying about where they had fallen, I can recall how impressed I was by how close to the bridge the gliders of this task force had landed in pressing home their attack. Indeed, one of the gliders was very close to the actual bridge approach on the far, or East bank. I have seen films about D Day, and the scene where they assaulted with gliders was not right! One of those gliders landed much closer to the bridge than in the film! In the early of the invasion, there had been some doubt about the capability of Pegasus Bridge to support the weight of tanks, and indeed, whether the bridge might have collapsed under the strain of such heavy loads.


    The CRE of Third British Infantry Division. Colonel Tiger Urquhart. DSO. RE (A name he richly deserved) had forbidden tanks to use the bridge in case of its collapse, the argument being that if the bridge were to go, then the supply line into the Airborne areas would be cut, leaving them stranded. Tiger Urquhart was renowned for having his own private war with the Enemy, sometimes to be seen crawling back towards the forward infantry, and legend has it, without his driver and signaller.
    Elements of 246 Field Co R.E. because of the danger to the bridge, were drafted in and assisted in rafting and building tidal bridges over the Orne, as a back up to the existing bridge. The Enemy wanted that bridge back, no matter what. To that end, there was a lot of sniping, shell and mortar fire, making the rafting and bridging a very hazardous operation, not helped by Luftwaffe pressing home very determined and continuous air raids, carried out at very low level, air attacks that resulted in I7 planes being shot down in the area, mostly by ground fire.
    In one instance during this operation, one of the platoons engaged in the bridging came under such heavy fire that they had to withdraw, 2 platoon took up the challenge and finished the job. The Enemy shell and mortar fire succeeded in holing some of the pontoons, but someone had the foresight to fill them with empty Jerry cans before we left England, this prevented them from foundering completely, and enabled us to replace the damaged pontoons much quicker while still under artillery fire.
    One of the bank sites for a "tidal" bridge came under such severe artillery fire that we were forced to move to a different site. To make things even more difficult while we were engaged in the rafting and bridging, we had to break off at times and defend the bridge from direct Enemy attack.

    I dug my fox hole on the Western bank and about 40 yards to the South, when watching TV one day; I saw that the bank has trees growing along the bank so my foxhole can no longer be there! Shame! I have heard how the family from the cafe close by, took part in helping our men, with great respect and from what I can remember, I never even saw the place, we had little time to pay attention to civilians, let alone cafe's.
    Later, and while the bridges were being constructed, the Germans put in a determined armoured counter attack to drive the Airborne into the sea, those under attack needed tank support desperately, a squadron of tanks arrived at the bridge to give them armoured support, only to find themselves staring across a road over the bridge they could not use.
    Lieutenant M Edwards R.E climbed down under the bridge and investigated the end supports to see if the bridge had "end packing" finding that the Germans had strengthened the bridge, he told the tank commanders that they could cross. The tank men still not happy about the situation, hesitated, then, when Lt M Edwards R.E. offered to sit on the front of the leading tank, they were convinced, they all drove over, Lt M Edwards sitting on the front of the lead tank! Later, the armour returned with their Hessian camouflage smouldering, having driven off the counter attack.
    During the assault bridging operation sniper fire was a constant menace, one of our R.E units tired of being subjected to small arms fire, broke off the bridging operations, located the whereabouts of a sniper in a church spire, sent out a fighting patrol and got him, much to everyone's satisfaction.
     
  14. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Bloodiest Square Mile in Normandy!
    The Chateau.​


    Modern war is not fought by massive lines of troops who line up and advance in the face of withering shell, mortar, and machine gun fire. Having said that, strangely enough, there were times when we went into battle "En-mass" But for the most part, modem war is a series of local, but bloody actions that are fought out virtually face to face.
    When one hears of huge losses incurred in battle, the total is usually made up of the casualties from many local actions, 100 here, 200 there, 350 somewhere else. It is the total of local actions that so often make up a large casualty list.
    There is another factor that one constantly comes across, and that is; 500 yards away from a violent and fiercely fought, hand to hand battle, there can appear to be an entirely different war.
    What follows is a description of a very violent and bloody, hand to hand battle that became known as the "Bloodiest square mile in Normandy". A battle that is still talked about in hushed tones by those survivors who fought there.
    The Chateau stood fair and square in the centre of Third British Infantry Division's thrust towards Caen. It had to be taken. What follows are the personal memories of men who took part in that battle.


    This is what happened!​


    On the night of June 22nd the South Lancs with two sections of 3 Platoon, 246 Field Company R.E. attacked the Chateau without a preparatory artillery barrage and "walked in" and took the Chateau. But something went very wrong after that, for some reason that has never been explained, the anti-tank guns were not brought up to support our troops. At about 4.30 am the next morning the Germans counter attacked with tanks and drove our infantry out, without anti-tank guns there was no defence against armour.
    We later found out that the Germans had been called over the coals for the disgraceful loss of the Chateau and that they would have to "Fight to the death" to regain it. They then set about strengthening their defences, ready for another attack. First they were reinforced by a company of tanks about 30 to 40 strong, plus 5 Company of 192 Panzer Grenadiers and a Platoon of Sappers backed up by the H.Q. Company of 22 Panzer Regiment, fighting as infantry, A force of considerable strength!
    Our intelligence did not know about these enemy reinforcements, the weather had been very bad with thunderstorms that did not allow for good aerial reconnaissance, at the same time our patrols had not managed to get close enough to check on the enemy strength. There then followed operation, "Mitten" the retaking of the Chateau, this operation was to help the Canadians who were preparing to make a "Pincer movement" round Caen. The attack opened with the Divisional artillery laying down a barrage that our troops had to follow up close behind!
    On the evening of June the 27th, the South Lancs led the 8th Brigade and attacked first, not knowing of the superior enemy strength, they were slaughtered, every avenue was covered with tremendous enemy fire power. They were beaten back but managed to hold on to the wood at La Londe
    The Suffolk and East Yorks with 2 Platoon of 246 Field Company R.E. in support, were then thrown in to the battle, cold food was brought to them at about 1 to 2 am and they attacked at 4 am. The barrage came down and what followed was a terrifying experience. An experience so bad, that those who were there will remember it to their graves. It is beyond my feeble attempt at description!
    The battle was confused and violent. To give an example, an officer of the Suffolk's trying to consolidate his defence was harried by a Spandau, seeing two tanks in the half light, he asked one of them for fire support on to the Spandau position. A head appeared from the turret and these two looked at each other in silence. The gun began to swing round; the British officer ran for his life and just managed to reach a slit trench before the German tank fired at him.
    Lieutenant Woodward knocked out one with a PlAT; the other was knocked out by Private Crick, who was killed immediately by shell fire.
     
  15. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    War! Bloody War!
    It stinks!​


    Like Dick Harris, one of my abiding memories, is that of incredible noise, heavy battleships were firing over our heads into the Enemy areas, the noise, as the shells screamed overhead plus the noise of our artillery and mortars gave me a headache so bad that I was glad to move forward.
    As we moved inland and captured enemy gun positions we were surprised to find just how efficient the Germans were, they had oil paintings near their guns with a panoramic picture of the country side and with all the ranges laid out in detail
    This part of Normandy is a mixture of corn fields and "Bocage" little fields with sunken lanes and high dense hedges, undulating and twisting dusty roads with trees and lots of cover, for the infantry, a nightmare, and for the Enemy, a fortress easy to defend, at times the fire was intense, without our "Foxholes" we would not have lasted and a terrible price paid for each move forward. Every yard had to be fought for; it was now, that we quickly learned to be Veterans! There is nothing like the threat of death to instruct one in what is necessary to survive.
    One always had the smell of death, it was with you continually, the sweet sickly smell of death, Humans, and animals, bloated, with their legs stuck stiffly in the air, our soldiers did not always get buried, dead cattle were a continuing problem, the stench was overpowering and the sound of wounded cattle in pain was pitiful. I still have a picture in my memory of the pale orange coloured faces of those recently killed; they quickly bloated, and then turned black as corruption overtook them.
    I hated the sound of Spandau fire; it always reminded me of someone tearing a dry bit of canvas. The sound of the Moaning Minnies or multiple mortars was something else that I have not forgotten, it started out like the moaning of a banshee in the distance and then the sound grew as the missiles approached. Oh yes I remember! The concrete gun emplacements, the barbed wire, the expert use of Enemy mortars, they always knew where we were. Having to live and sleep with the dead all around you, my most abiding memory is that of exhaustion. Sleep was at a premium.
    It takes very little time to make a Veteran, I remember an event that was typical of Normandy, one night I arrived back to our area after being in contact with the Enemy all day, so tired that I did not dig a hole, I just lay down and fell asleep, when I awoke in the morning I found that I had slept with Germans buried all around me, so shallow that their boots stuck out of the ground, the telling thing about this is that I thought nothing of it at the time.
    No sooner had we dug our hole to get some rest, than we were dragged out again to go somewhere else. Normandy was a murderous place, a murderous place! One other memory I recall was the superiority of the German weapons, while we were armed with the "Sten" a gun that fired when you did not want it to, and would not, when you did! My Sten fired on its own when I put it on the ground and nearly shot my best pal Harry Grey we learned not to keep it loaded for fear of killing your own, something that nearly had a tragic outcome later.
     
  16. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Battlefront.
    The Smell of Death. ​


    In the ensuing weeks before the capture of Caen the platoons were much in demand, engaged almost continuously within striking distance of the Enemy, more often than not under shell, mortar, and small arms fire. Most of our tasks were clearing mines and booby traps, and laying and lifting our own mines, very often out in front of our forward infantry and in close proximity to the German lines.
    Teamwork, and the ability to lay mines in front of the Enemy in what could be describes as 'no mans land' without being detected, had been brought to a very fine art indeed. At this point, I must say that we became very skilled in these "No-mans land" night operations. Lifting and laying mines under the nose of the Enemy always incurred casualties, especially when trying to clear Booby trap mines such as “S” mines and 'Schu' mines, the very nature of these operations always caused casualties and this had to be expected. Nevertheless, we learned when to stop and keep quiet under enemy fire and when to get going again. Without this skilled teamwork I am sure that many more Sappers would have had to get up and take the place of the fallen.
    One of my abiding memories of those times was one of exhaustion; we always seemed to be on the go! The duties of a Sapper are very simple, they are required to take on anything that happens to come along, to this end the Company were often spread far and wide a few Sappers with the infantry, a few more out in front of the troops laying trip wires with explosive charges, another group may be off blowing up an obstruction to our advance. Other times, like the crossing of the Rhine, we had to prepare the river banks for the launch of the crossing, all the time under the direct gaze of the Enemy.
    The battles for Overloon and Venraij that took place months later are a good example, in some cases opening up a path for infantry and tanks while at the same time trying to bridge a stream that was infested with Booby traps. Sometimes we would not get together as a Company for a considerable time.
    Once in a while it was necessary to lift a mine field in broad daylight, and within sight of the Enemy, in these cases casualties were accepted, there was always another Sapper to put out his fag and take the place of the dead and wounded. It will come as no surprise to learn that for some of us, the opportunity to go out on a fighting patrol and get a bit of our own back was eagerly grasped. This period then, was a time when we were in great demand and continuously busy, a time when we had little rest being constantly dragged out again.
    It is difficult to recall all of the operations at that time, the Chateau de la Londe.
    Libesley wood, Cambs, Le Landle, I need go no further, we seemed to have covered the whole area in front of Caen and had taken part in all the operations in the approach to the City. Images of that period are as clear today, as they were all those years ago, I can still see the events and places just like coloured photographs, sharp and clear, I do not think the images of Normandy will ever leave the Veterans; they are too deeply engraved in our minds!
     
  17. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Germans Smell

    Germans Smell !
    Ah! But so did we! ​


    Germans do actually have a very different smell! When we took over his dugouts or rooms where he had been, this smell was nearly always present. It was a sickly, scented, pungent smell, very distinctive, and one that I have never forgotten. Lots of suggestion on the cause of this smell from other ex service men, but nothing conclusive, Captain Edwards R. E. of my old company, suggested it came from the oil he cooked his bread in; others have put it down to his Ertzats soap. I have heard so many other causes, such as a preservative on his uniform, but none that can be proved, even today, after all these years, I can still recall that smell and I do not think that I will ever forget it.
    Near the Chateau de la Londe, we found, quite by accident, a German dug out, it had been constructed as a square room dug into a steep bank of earth, in it, he had made a complete home from home, it had a table with chairs and bits of furniture with a stove, all dug out of the earth with just a small door for an entrance, the roof was earth with a bit of support, just a room inside the bank! But, most of all, the German smell, in that room it was very strong, while we were there, we found in one corner of this room quite a large amount of 303 type, rifle ammunition, all with bright red wood bullets, since then, I have talked to other Veterans who have seen the same thing, nobody has yet come up with an answer to what they were used for?
    The smell of Germans in the vicinity is not that surprising when one considers the smell of our battle dress after it had soaked with rain and sea water, any service man who wore battle dress will be only too aware of the smell if he has ever entered a Nisson hut after battle training.
     
  18. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Doodle Bug

    The Doodle Bug.
    On its way back.​


    I know it's silly what we remember, some things that really are of no consequence at all. We were on high ground where we could look out over the channel, the site was incredible, I must admit to just standing looking at the thousands of ships of every description, spread as far as the eye could see, it looked as though it would be possible to walk back to England from ship to ship. I still have a clear picture of that view.
    What we saw next was a bit of pure theatre, a Buzz bomb, Doodle bug! came throbbing overhead, heading straight for England, no one fired at it, and as it approached the coast a spitfire dived on it and turned the wing so that it chugged steadily away, back where it came from, on it's return trip, all of our anti aircraft guns started firing at it. Now, why for heavens sake?
     
  19. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Death.

    Death.
    Comes unexpectedly.​


    During my time in Normandy I have seen death in all of its guises. I know that we soon learned to accept it, but even to day I still have feelings of sadness that so many young men had to give their lives. We all got hardened to seeing bodies, life would have been impossible without. But. I still found it upsetting when our troops were killed, the sad mangled bodies that were once lively young men, especially when we came across armoured cars and light tanks where the burnt and blackened bodies of the crew were hanging over the side, halfway out of the top, so near to escaping, but then overcome by the flames and burnt alive. This is a scene that I have witnessed too many times. Other instances is when a tank had burst into flames, trapping the crew inside, the men down in the bottom of the tank had no chance of escape, later, when the tank was opened up, the crew were still sitting in the seats, the skeletons of the crews bones burned white with the tremendous heat. Their tanks were also superior, the Mk4s-Panthers and Tigers were so much better than ours, the Germans called our Sherman’s, Tommy cookers, when the tank brewed up it cooked the Tommie’s inside, our tank men called them Ronson lighters, (the best cigarette lighter at that time!) guaranteed to light up every time! It seems we went for quantity, the Germans went for quality, and it showed.
     
  20. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Destruction.
    Are we all destined to die in front of Caen? ​


    During the months of June, July, and August, the destruction of Normandy continued unabated, both sides fought and lost men, more and more died under the hot summer sun in the dusty lanes and hedgerows, those who were wounded in the tall cornfields were in the greatest danger, if they dropped down wounded there was a good chance that they would not be found and they would die of neglect. Sadly this was made even worse when the cornfield caught fire under the shelling and some of the wounded were burned to death. The cattle ceased to exist, and I never saw a burial party. As it got warmer the smell of the dead increased. Slowly the bodies of our soldiers vanished in the ditches and hedgerows. First they turned black and became very swollen, then mother earth mercifully reclaimed them as they slowly melted back into the ground, the only sign that they had ever existed was a little bundle of khaki uniform and a steel helmet laying beside the road.
    All over Normandy lay the scattered remains of battle, burnt out tanks, German rifles strewn about, the remains of battle dress webbing, personal belongings and photographs, unused shells and mortars, some foxholes still contained the bodies of troops where they died, all the paraphernalia of war.
    Above all of this, the dust, the ground was so dry that the movement of traffic both wheeled and tracked, raised great clouds of dust, as the height of summer approached signs were put up on the verges. “DUST KILLS” the problem became so bad that drivers would drive slowly trying not to raise dust, knowing full well that Jerry would shell any cloud of dust, while the troops would wear handkerchiefs round their faces to stop from choking. Dispatch riders were covered in dust from head to foot and many used scarves round their faces to try and stop the dust when inhaling.
     
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