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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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    Snipers.
    Duel under the hot Norman Sun.

    We had moved up, and a small group of us were supporting an attack on a village in front of Caen, I cannot remember its name, all that I remember that it was on the high ground that rose up slightly in front of Caen. We were to pass through after the first wave of infantry and take up the attack and drive on. Mustering the platoon amongst some trees on the edge of a ripe cornfield. German wounded and prisoners were already filtering back, I stood there and happened to have a Bren machine gun over my shoulder and watched as three young Germans approached, two of them with their arms round a comrade, supporting him, he was a handsome young blond German and stripped to the waist, with a neat round bullet hole right through the centre of his stomach. As I stood there, an officer gave the order to move out and said to me “get out through the cornfield to that high ground on the left, ready to give us covering fire as we move in “.

    A beautiful sunny day, I slowly and very cautiously made my way out into the open and immediately captured a German in the corn, a poor specimen, he had no interest at all in the war, (who can blame him) all that I could get out of him was “minen minen” and he pointed in the direction of where I was going, he was terrified! Who isn’t? I pointed out the way and sent him back on his own with his hands on his head. Mortar fire came down in bursts of three or four at a time, just a little normal “hate” The corn was ripe and just about chest high, setting off again, I tried to run and keep my head down, as I got deeper into the corn I was singled out by a very persistent sniper. Each time I raised my head above the corn this sniper had a go at me, it was there that I discovered that a rifle bullet, as it goes by, near your head, makes a loud cracking noise. A few hundred yards to go he was very determined to get me, time and time again he tried. Now, I had the feeling that it had started to develop into something personal, he was so set on getting me that he ignored others! To my left, standing in the corn, was a Guards Armoured Sherman tank, giving covering fire in support of the attack. I watched with amazement as a Guards officer came striding up through the com, very smart, the tank commander got out of the tank and saluted the officer and they stood talking for a while. “Yea Gods” it reminded me of a Giles cartoon. For heavens sake! Here we are full-scale battle going on with vicious shell and mortar fire; this blasted sniper trying get me and in the middle of it, two Guardsmen saluting each other.

    When I reached the brow of the hill in the cornfield I must have been out of his line of fire, he did not bother me any more. Snipers were always a problem and I am sometimes amazed that they were allowed to kill and then surrender. I did not fire at anybody and did not have a clue where the Enemy was supposed to be anyway. Snipers were a continuing problem, they were very good at their job and we were always on the watch for unusual shapes in trees and hedgerows. The battle for the village was hard fought and at a time when the war had become very bitter, this was the period when it was reputed that not many prisoners were taken, the origin of this was the shooting in cold blood, by the I2th SS Panzer Division, the Hitler Youth, they murdered both Canadian and British prisoners. Then there were reputed instances of Germans offering surrender under a white flag, when approached to accept their surrender, another of them would pop up and cut down our men with machine gun fire. After taking the village there were many casualties from both sides, all of them propped up against an earthen bank where we had set up a field dressing station. It was the practice to treat all wounded the same; indeed, it was not uncommon to see a Jerry on one end of a stretcher and a Tommy on the other.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Pipes the Pipes.
    Stir the blood a little.​


    It is not only pictures that remain with one through the years, but also sounds, sounds that can remind one of times long past. We had now reached the high ground on the left hand rout into the City of Caen, this dusty road that looked down on the Colombelles industrial area on the outskirts of Caen, with the high building of the ironworks far below, all rusty and gaunt. From our vantage point it was possible to see for miles down below and the ground spread out all round in a wide panoramic view.

    Blissfully unaware that the area was still in German hands and that he was watching our every move, (we had been told that the 51st Highland div had taken it) After having a long look at the ground down below we the carried on sweeping and clearing our way forward, to ensure that the way was free from the Enemy and from mines.

    The Enemy soon put a stop to this, we had just entered and cleared a farm house when all hell was let loose, from the tall rusty looking steel works down below came a tremendous barrage of shell fire. Point blank shell fire, where one does not hear the shells coming until the last split second, when the incoming fire sounds like an express train with the scream of shells, with violent explosions and tearing. shrapnel, the farm house came down about my shoulders, the flying debris, the continuing whistle and flashing fire and explosion of the shells, the cries of those ripped and torn apart by the shell fragments, the pitiful calls of the mortally wounded, an intense barrage, the swirling smoke and pandemonium and ones whole being gripped with fear, my mouth dry and choked with dust.

    After the fire died down I started to extricate myself, covered in dirt and dust and splintered wood, the bitter stench of cordite. When in the distance, I heard the sound of the bagpipes, above all that noise, I could hear the skid of the Scots pipes, when I got out of the rubble I looked down the dusty track and there he was, nonchalantly marching slowly towards us, this piper, khaki kilt swaying from side to side, as he made his way forward concentrating on his playing. Sounds of war! Whenever I hear the pipes I must admit to having a great big lump in my throat, I have been into battle with the sound of the pipes and I cannot hear them without being deeply moved.
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Food.

    A better description!​


    During the early days of the invasion there was a period when getting supplies to the troops would be difficult, to that end we had been issued with little blocks of dehydrated meat and tea, one was supposed to take these hard little blocks and put them in your billy can and boil them over a little wire stove that was heated by a solidified, white, rectangular block of methylated spirits that we carried with us.

    We had been issued with a very thick and dark block of chocolate, contained in a brass tin; a sort of "iron ration" this was an emergency ration to be kept for the time when nothing else was available, for many of us, that was quickly eaten before we reached Normandy. I mean for heaven's sake! Chocolate was a luxury.

    To provide food for ourselves in the early hours of the invasion, we had been issued with a small camping stove constructed of wire, with a tray for a solidified block of white methylated spirits, this was our only heating and food source until the main invasion supply force arrived and set up the "Compo" food system.

    Just try to imagine dear reader, what it was like! You have dug your fox hole, hunched down in the bottom of it, while all around you the war was at its height, shell and mortar fire that sometimes straddled your area, and you, a very green, 19 year old and innocent Dorset lad, scared out of your wits, sitting in the bottom of your dirty little fox hole, starving hungry. The Enemy shelling had already deprived you of one of your Billy cans and your knife and fork, with just the spoon and one Billy can left. You hunch down, trying to fill your billy can with a half a cup of water from your water bottle to start your first meal. Next, you placed into the billy can of water, a very peculiar, unpleasant and hard, rectangular shaped, "brownish" block of what was described as, "dehydrated mince meat", eventually, after many attempts, you manage to light the so called tablet of "fuel", then, desperately stirring the grey mess with your commando knife, as the tiny little flame flickered and struggled against impossible odds to heat and reconstitute the meal, after some considerable time, all hope of a hot meal vanished, in desperation and with your spoon, you eat this half cooked, brownish grey food with the lumps still in it.

    Oh! Lord. What a horrible mess, but now, having hungrily devoured the lumpy, half-cooked meat, the next part of the menu was to make some tea, putting a cup full of water into the same billy can, (not enough water to wash it first), we then added a small brown and white speckled cube, this magic little cube was reputed to be, dehydrated milk, sugar and tea. On reflection, I still have serious doubts about its composition! Again the same procedure as the tiny little flame flicked and spluttered in the wind with precious little chance of heating anything. Desperately stirring this brown and white speckled mess, while a thin film of grease floated on top of the water, all the while this horrible mess was giving a very poor imitation of a cup of tea. In the end, in despair of ever heating the water, the resulting mess of grey, brown and white speckled luke warm water, was drunk, with the unheated bits dry on the tongue. YUK! I have never in my life tasted anything like that, before or since.

    Ah! Dear reader, they say you will eat anything if you are hungry enough; in this case it was true. Unfortunately! Ah yes, unfortunately! This revolting brownish mess that you had eaten, before it had been properly reconstituted, then continued to expand and swell within your stomach, with the most unfortunate and dire results. Constipation! Oh Lord. Constipation so severe it made your ears ring, it was bad enough for these totally green and sea sick young men to be thrown in against an experienced, and battle hardened Enemy, but now we had to do battle with the added burden of our own tummy's.

    The results of this still expanding "Meat" clogged the system and made your ears buzz and your eyes pop, eventually, when at long last the call of nature came, (Golly! at last, at long last.) nothing was going to be allowed to interfere, nothing! It did not matter if the whole Bloody German army with the 21st SS Panzer division, or the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Panzer Division. (Hitler’s Personal SS Armoured Guards) came charging over the horizon and in the lead'

    Now then! Shall I ever forget that salvation came in this lovely field of green French cabbages, on the side of a North facing hill, exposed to the whole bloody invasion fleet!

    When we had control of the coast we were then supplied with the 14-man pack. This was a wooden box that kept 14 men for 24 hours. "Compo rations". No bread only biscuits. This box contained items like cigarettes, boiled sweets, toilet paper, and all the tins of food that would keep 14 men for one day, one thing we noticed about the tinned food, one never had the energy that young men ought to have had, too much tinned food, no fresh food, and we did feel the difference. The boiled sweets? Well, most of us kept some back to give to the French children on the rare occasions when we met them.
    Everyone smoked and some that were heavy smokers were at times short of a fag.

    We got fed up with the same old tinned food and it seemed our cooks were not very well disposed to serve up any fresh food, if it could be obtained, they were quite happy to open cans and that is all!
     
  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Bombing of Caen.

    We know now, it was murder.

    Awe inspiring, but we know now, that is was a complete waste of time and lives, but it must be said, we did not know that at the time. We were on the high ground and had a grandstand view as we were not far away from the City. The mighty fleet of Lancaster bombers flew low over our heads and a short distance in front of us unloaded their bombs. Caen vanished under a huge cloud of dust and smoke that rose in the air, even covering us with some of the fallout. The result? Caen was destroyed, the roads were completely blocked and had to be cleared to get into the City. This caused a great deal of difficulty for those who had the job of clearing a way through.

    There is one fact about the taking of Caen and the battles that took place before its fall, at that time there were Eight SS Panzer Divisions in Normandy; Seven and a half divisions to fight the British army, one half a division to fight the American army. The source of this information? From the book 'A Soldiers tale' by the American General, Bradley, in command of the American Army. The battle for the City that had raged for weeks and had taken innumerable lives, now petered out, ending in a pitiful anti-climax. About half a dozen of us entered the City first by the left hand rout, and with little opposition.

    The City we found was a shambles, destruction was so complete that the roads had disappeared and very many civilian lives had been lost, the destruction in itself caused the British and Canadians enormous troubles, troubles that required a great deal of work to open up the roads for transport, indeed, movement of any kind.

    The bombing of the City of Caen was a tragedy, it achieved nothing except the killing of the local population and made a mess that we had to spend a great deal of time clearing it all up. The Germans? Well there were only a few there, the fighting troops had retired to the other side of the Canal and River. I still do not know what purpose it served, one thing stands out, and that was that our intelligence was very poor, or we would have known that in bombing Caen, we would only be killing the French. A Tragedy! No sooner than we had taken the City, when we were withdrawn to prepare for further military actions against the Enemy across the Canal. So ended another phase in the battles for Normandy. Bloody Normandy.
     
  5. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Assault on Caen 9th of July 1944

    The Assault on Caen 9th of July 1944

    Captain Edwards’s description of the battle. Preparations for an assault on Caen were being intensified during the 7th 8th and 9th of July, 2 Platoon and Tac. HQ moved across to Beauville, 3 PI went to Blainville and 1 Platoon remained at Colleville with Main HQ. That evening there was a very heavy bombardment of Caen by over 1000 bombers and at first light the Royal Artillery began a very heavy barrage as the advance on Caen started. My first platoon task was to construct a diversion route for tanks on the left flank, filling in a partially constructed culvert using dumpers and lorries of hard core, and marking the route.

    The enemy artillery and mortars came to life very quickly and we became targets. In the middle of this, one of the dumpers blew up on what must have been a British mine, laid possibly on D. Day and 5 of my Sapper's were wounded. The mortar fire continued as we were trying to tend the wounded and get them back to the Field dressing station. In the middle of another mortar "stank" who should arrive but Major Gell, dressed as always with his equipment well blancoed, and he then went on his way. The sappers of 2 Platoon passed through us, sweeping the route clear of mines and they also ran into severe shellfire. They were later relieved by I Platoon. The effect of the bombing was very evident throughout the advance and the going through Lebisy towards Caen was slow at first but finally the advancing forces got their objectives, ready for the final drive into the city itself.

    That night reconnaissance patrols were made on foot into the rubble. While I was engaged In my recce, I was very fortunate to encounter a young French woman, a member of the Resistance who, knowing the area, gave me considerable assistance enabling me to find an adequate route through a number of gardens behind the main streets. She also showed me the Abbey catacombs where thousands of the inhabitants of Caen were sheltering from the bombing and shelling, and asked that 1 passed back the information to the advancing troops. As I withdrew along the routes we had marked, 1 made contact with the armoured bulldozers, of which there were nine in all, already working along the routes. They continued their task of breaking out the track where necessary and maintaining them fit for tank traffic right up to Battalion Headquarters of the Royal Ulster Rifles in Caen. Once everything was going ahead on this I then had to retrace my steps and report to the CRE there.

    Lt Col Robert Urquhart R.E. who had no further immediate tasks for me, and I was able to find n corner in which. I could get a quick nap. We were all pretty tired moving in Caen was very difficult because the streets ware blocked with debris from the bombing and everywhere the fires were still beneath the rubble, and buildings were unstable. We had occupied only that part of the City north of the River Orne, the enemy having withdrawn across the bridges and were now holding on to the south side grimly. For the rest of July 10th, the Company were trying to clear as much debris from the thoroughfares as was necessary for our vehicles to make contact with the forward posts, and then we all returned to Colleville where only 2 sections were required on the inevitable road repair tasks, the rest of us getting rest and a chance to refit. A number of our men were given the opportunity of a day at the Divisional Club which had been established at Luc-sur-Mer for relaxation. By and large, July 11th to the 14th proved to be a peaceful break for all of us.

    Peace did not reign for long, however, for on the evening of the l4th.July warning orders were received for the Company to move to the 185 Brigade area to the east of the River Orne. On the morning after, the whole Company moved to a harbour area with one 3 tonner per Platoon, because of the danger of damage from enemy shellfire in the area. That night we were shelled and one of the 3 ton lorries was damaged. We again fell foul of British mines in the harbour area but fortunately it was a stray one near Herouvillette, with limited transport, one M.14 half-track, one Bren Carrier and which blew up the RAOC Bath Unit as it was entering the harbour. Next morning the OC and the CRE attended a Brigade Order Group and then the CRE issued his orders, which resulted in our being engaged during the night on lifting mine fields previously laid by the 51 st. Highland Division. This proved to be rather a difficult task because of intermittent attacks by enemy fighters dropping single bombs from low level, causing no casualties but effecting some rather uncomfortably near misses. Back in the harbour area next morning 1 found that my persona] bivouac had been damaged by a near miss and my cooks cutting out steaks from a cow killed by a bomb fragment so, we had a promise of meat for our next meal Caen to find and mark routes suitable for tanks to get to the city centre. 1 took one of these patrols in and found that the bombing had devastated the built up areas and there were great craters everywhere. Many of the streets were filled with debris and fires were burning under the rubble.
     
  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Tilly

    Tilly.

    Or, what was left of it. ​


    Now! I have not the slightest idea what I was doing in Tilly, i cannot remember going there, or being on temporary loan, but I did get to Tilly, It may have been while we were on the move, whatever, I have a crystal clear recall of Tilly and could confidently walk down the slope that once was the main road today, without the need for directions.

    Tilly was in the centre of the British sector and the battles had raged back and forth over this little town until it was reduced to just a pile of rubble, I cannot remember how many times it had changed hands, all I can say is that the tank battles that took place there had reduced it as though it had been put through a mincer. As usual I was carrying the Bren machine gun and had set up the gun pointing down the slope of what was once the main street, with the Bren leaning on what was left of a windowsill, just a few bricks where the window had once been. I can remember kneeling down with the Bren and by my left leg was a severed arm still with the sleeve on it, and just a foot away, a boot with a foot still in it! All covered in the fine grey dust so typical of Normandy.

    I cannot remember anything else except the devastation, a friend of mine on holiday in France, went out of his way to Tilly knowing I had been there, he photographed several scenes of this now quiet little town, (Now returned to its normal pace of life) and I can pick out exactly where I kneeled down all those years ago, even though the buildings are new. This is the annoying thing about recall, some things I can remember crystal clear, others are completely gone, not surprising really, its over 60 years ago!
     
  7. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Prisoners

    Prisoners.

    Just a young man like me.​


    The war in Normandy had by now, become very bitter, there had been talk and rumours that had circulated, about the German SS shooting our prisoners in cold blood, both Canadian and British prisoners, and that feelings were running very high over this rumour. For the most part we treated Enemy prisoners very well and with some sort of respect, some of the poor devils had been through pure hell, most of them looked pleased to be out of it anyway, give him a fag, and send them back on their own! Nobody wanted the job of escorting prisoners all the way back. Except the fanatics of the SS, they had to be escorted back and watched, they, were a surly lot and one could feel their hate.

    The cost in lives had now become very heavy indeed, on both sides. So, at this time, there was a persistent idea that prisoners were not to be taken, I think it fair to say this did happen, though I do not think it lasted very long, but it did happen. Some attacks had an air of unreality about them. It was while taking part in the attack on another village in front of Caen that I remember this odd feeling of unreality.

    We had opened up our assault on this village and the road leading into the village sloped down gently until it was at head level with the surrounding fields. Sat in the middle of a ploughed field on our left was a tall naked infantry man, all by himself, sat bolt upright against his small pack and dead, without a stitch of clothing on him, I can still see him now, as clear as crystal. The pale waxen colour of his body stood out so sharply against the brown of the earth.

    The most bizarre scene that I have ever experienced, but that was not the end of this unreal feeling, half way down this sloping road a German had dug a small hole in the vertical bank and had got in there, unfortunately there was no way for him to retreat or fall back, he was utterly isolated, the hole he had dug was not even deep enough to put his rifle in, it stuck out for all to see. In front of him mines had been laid, but on top of the road and level with the enemy’s hole he had dug in the bank. Everybody, who came down the road seeing this German rifle sticking out of the bank, gently lobbed a hand grenade into the top of dugout. I think he was blown up or shot several times because his rifle was still sticking out of the bank when he had been killed, time and time again, all we had to do was to just lift the mines off of the road and the way was clear.

    This was not the end of this odd period, there then followed a very tragic scenario, as we entered the village there were British and German wounded laying on a bank waiting for treatment for their wounds, a field dressing station had been cut into a steep bank and among them was a young German grey faced and badly hurt, waiting for the medics attention, I remember him so clearly he had a green scarf with light green squares round his neck, This young German was in great pain and it showed on the poor devils face.

    Nearby were a group of three infantry men, all at once one of them went berserk and in an insane and terrible rage, swearing and cursing, he went for this young German, got hold of his scarf and throttled him with it, all the while screaming with rage, his mates grabbed him and tried desperately to drag him off, but they could not hold him, I am sure he killed him. This was the only time that I know of prisoners not being treated well or properly in the prevailing circumstances.
     
  8. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Goodwood

    Bloody Goodwood​


    This was it! This was to be the great attack that would lead to the break out, we were to smash though the Enemy lines in one great armoured left hook round Caen, then into the open country beyond, in this position we could employ our tank strength and engage the Enemy on our terms. Well! That is what was supposed to happen.

    Lots of preparation had taken place, we had moved away from Caen and on July the I5th we crossed over the Orne, where the company harboured in a field near Heronvillette, to be immediately greeted by a barrage of shell fire during the night, not a lot of damage as we were now well dug in.

    Mr Trench our platoon officer gathered us together and briefed our little band of brothers on exactly what was to take place, Now! I remember this briefing very well because it was interrupted by the sound of approaching tanks. The noise got louder as they appeared round a bend in the road, first came a Sherman tank followed by a captured German tank with another Sherman behind. After this little episode, a sigh of relief. The briefing from Mr Trench gave us a complete run down of our objectives in the coming battle. We were to move out to the left flank and take the scattered villages and then try to take Troarn, but the main task was to secure our left flank from any incursions from the Enemy.

    The night before this attack, mosquitoes descended on us in great avenging hordes and created absolute mayhem. Men with swollen faces and infected arms and legs, desperate to get some relief, I poured the paraffin out of a storm lantern over my arms legs and head, got in my foxhole, and as night came, so did the shells.

    I have taken the trouble to describe this battle in more detail because for some reason I found this action more frightening than anything that I had experienced before. A beautiful summer's morning, on July 18th RAF and USAAF began a bombardment of the ground in front of us, two thousand heavy bombers. Lancaster's and Flying Fortresses pounded the Enemy areas, supported by seven hundred and twenty artillery guns, plus two thousand fighters and fighter bombers, as this mighty attack went in, the ground trembled and shook as a huge cloud of dust and smoke rose over the target area. The enemy by now, saturated by bombing and shelling.

    Eighth brigade, with our platoon up, led off as usual. We moved out with our half tracks and carriers through what looked like a "moonscape" we felt that with that bombardment, nothing could stop us, we took the Chateau De Escoville, then took Touffreville and Sannerville and the lateral road to Touffreville, we then consolidated in the area of Touffreville-Sannerville- Bannerville before our attack on Troarn.

    I remember this time as one where we were shelled and mortared constantly, with the added discomfort of a barrage of moaning minnies, and machine gun fire, but most of all, what I found so frightening, were the shell airburst's, I do not think that I have felt so much fear before, or after, I do know, that there are many others who looked back on Troarn with dread. In the middle of this battle, harboured in an orchard where we had been under fierce fire we had to unload boxes of explosives, they were brown in colour and rolled up in grease proof paper, unfortunately, they had become unstable and had started to show small beads of liquid explosive on the outside, very dangerous and to be handled with great care!

    Then the trouble really started, stonked and straddled with Enemy fire, above ground at one time was suicidal, It seems that the Enemy had retired before the bombardment and then had come back in again.

    Dense green country side around us, harboured in an Orchard, we were subjected to a severe pounding, in the middle of this one of our men went off his head with fear and had to be restrained, he had his commando knife in his hand and presented a danger to all of us! Small arms fire was coming in and our officer was striding up and down exhorting us to fight back, that is until a lump of shrapnel took off part of one hand. He then took cover with the rest of us. Not cowardice! Just plain common sense, when the stonking is that severe it is impossible to live under such saturating fire. The object of battle is not to give your life for your country; it is to make the Enemy give his life for his country.

    This hammering continued for a few days, our objective of taking Troarn was never realized. This part of Normandy, it appeared, the Enemy was going to defend at all costs, while we were gathered together, a moaning minnie mortar landed right amongst us, but fortunately exploded with a split in the casing, so that it produced no shrapnel. I have talked to others who were there at Troarn and their response is "don't mention that bloody place".

    All the while three British Armoured divisions raced for the high ground of the Bourgebous ridge, behind Caen. Infantry travelled on the back of the tanks, as these three armoured divisions raced for that high ground, on the way they got caught up in a horrendous traffic jam, trying desperately to get through the "Moonscape" with a very narrow clear path through the mine fields, the leading tanks were miles ahead, while the tail was caught up, unable to move.

    The tangle was so severe that not even wounded were allowed back, they had to wait until it could be cleared, as the tanks approached the ridge, they were met with the withering fire from a screen of tanks and anti-tank guns, 88s. The bombs had not reached the forward positions and the Germans round the Bourgebous ridge were not touched. As the tanks drove on through this narrow spearhead, they were attacked by anti-tank guns from both flanks. Then attacked head on, by the defensive fire of the 88s from the defensive shield.

    The thrust forward faltered, and then died out after a day or so. I have heard it described as the "death ride" of the armoured divisions. We did not have enough infantry to clear up as we went and our tanks paid a terrible price! Our losses? Never given officially, but it has been reliably given as 400 tanks lost, some were recovered, but at the same time the whole area was covered with the black oily columns of smoke that rose into the sky from all our burning tanks.

    There was one great saving grace about this battle; the Germans were forced to bring their armour around Normandy from the American battle front to the British army sector, because of the danger of our breakout, thus stripping the American sector of German tanks, leaving it easier for the yanks to break out. When the Americans broke out, their flying columns spread out across France with no opposition, and then in conjunction with the Americans, the British turned North to envelope an entire German army in what was to become known as the "Falaise pocket" but more of that later in these memoirs. After the attack had broken down we were withdrawn and returned to our old harbour area the other side of the Orne. I remember very clearly, how quickly the Company left that accursed place, we came out at speed! I rode out in the back of three ton lorry. Bumpy! When we inspected our gear we found that the anti-tank mines loaded in our transport were useless, they had been shot through with shrapnel and bullets and the yellow explosive had trickled out onto the floor.

    There is a very important point to be made here. As an Assault company we had all been issued with commando knives before the invasion, but we had to bear in mind that there was a great danger in being captured with a knife. First the Germans did not like knives and secondly- Hitler had issued an edict that any commando's captured should be subject to summary execution, Shot out of hand! This edict was still in effect. Digging in the bottom of a fox hole where our lads had been captured would sometimes bring up a commando knife. We were not commando's, that did not matter we were carrying commando knives. Troam? Well, we never got there, but talking to others who had fought there, they all say the same thing. Troam had a sinister ring to the name and I would not go back there today! The name still makes me feel uncomfortable, even today. Ominous. The most dangerous thing that I ever did with my commando knife was to open tins of soup; even then I managed to break the point off!
     
  9. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Battles round Vireo

    The Fluid war. The reluctant Hero's. ​


    After the abortive Goodwood attack we were switched away from the death and destruction of the Caen front. Glad to leave that devastated killing ground on August the 2nd we moved across Normandy to the American sector and harboured near St Honorine de Ducy. Heading for the town of Vire. There was a great change in the general atmosphere, things seemed much brighter and not so menacing, a feeling that was soon to be dispelled. We arrived along-side of an American unit to be greeted by the Yanks who seemed were genuinely pleased to see the British. With their normal great generosity as soon as we arrived they came over and gave us a large towel full of goodies! K rations, they made our food look like rubbish. We had never seen such luxuries, cans of meat, Cigars, Sweets, and Chocolates, untold goodies! After our soup and biscuits we had lived on, it was absolute heaven. The brown coloured American towel I kept for myself, it was so much better than the skimpy little white thing we had been issued with. Later, to get a right old dressing down for having a dirty towel, would you believe? Near were we had harboured there was a hill that looked down on the Enemy position, far away at Vire there was a "railway gun" a huge thing, it was too big to put on the road and when fired it hurled huge shells at this hill, it was possible to hear it coming for some time before the mighty explosion occurred. Huge amounts of earth were blown sky high every time the shell landed. About this time our CRE came to see this unkempt and scruffy bunch.

    Tiger Urquhart, DSO. R.E. A fine imposing gentleman was our Tiger, his reputation of conducting a private war with the Enemy was well known, sometimes to be seen crawling back to our forward troops, who were amazed to find Tiger had been out in front of them. "How do you men feel about staying at the front line all the time so that you can get into action quicker"? We told him "Fine, if you can sustain the casualties". Yes! Tiger had his way. We moved right up in front of the Enemy and dug in on the side of the hill that was being bombarded. In full view of the German paratroopers below who gleefully watched as we made ourselves sitting targets, give them their due, they did at least wait until we were all there before proceeding to blast us with everything they had. We spent the next few hours cowering in our foxholes that were dug in record time, while all around us, all hell was let loose. A continuous rain of fire right over the top of us. While crouching in my foxhole, head between my knees, another Sapper jumped in on top of me, shaking like a leaf, "Lets run, lets run" he yelled. Now I do not know where he thought we were supposed to run to, how he managed to get into my hole without being killed I do not know, but he kept trying to get me to join him! No way' A little while later he fled. Now, that was the only time I saw a soldier break and run under fire. I do not know where he thought he was going, but I understood his reasons only too well. This was also the time that I discovered that there is a very infectious disease called "Panic". I did not succumb to this infection, but I did feel the fear he was transmitting, it was a powerful infection that one so easily could catch. After being missing from the Company for some hours, he rejoined the company, nothing was said. After that severe bashing, we were withdrawn to our old harbour area; we could then sally forth into what ever was required, from a secure base. Glad to get out of that hell-hole alive and in one piece, my cosy idea that life was to be easier and less menacing was fast disappearing, not helped by the knowledge that we had facing us, a German paratroop company, we knew from past experience that they would give a good account of themselves.
     
  10. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Who Needs the SAS?​


    That night, a small band of Sappers had been selected for a night patrol, a patrol that was to penetrate through the front line, and then venture deep inside the Enemy territory, the purpose of this little band of reluctant heroes was to check that a viaduct? Was free from demolition explosives, (it's such a long time ago), but I know it was a bridge inside Enemy territory. Now! Some 54 years on it all sounds cloak and dagger, but not then! Patrols into Enemy territory are by their very nature, horrible, it's very dangerous and can be guaranteed to set your teeth on edge, night patrols are even worse, seldom do you know exactly where you are going! Lf you arrive at the right place it is more by good luck than judgement. In fact it is a mystery to me that one survives at all, after blundering about the country side, doing your best to keep quiet, but in fact, making enough noise to awaken the dead. As dusk fell, this brave little band of reluctant heroes, half a dozen strong, set off up this leafy lane that led into Enemy territory, dark and overgrown with trees that cut out what little starlight there was.

    To cut a long story short we had completed out task. Fine! We then set off back, but before we reached our own lines, all hell was let loose on us again, this time by our own men. The Middlesex regiment, they were the heavy mortar and heavy machine gun group. Now! I have heard it said in boast that a prize crew from the Middlesex regiment could get I8 mortar bombs in the air at one time, I believe them! I believe them.

    After this stonking we carried on down the lane that led us back to our area and as we skirted a farmhouse someone fired a star shell into the sky, we investigated with a great deal of caution and I found an English officer in the dark, leaning on his right elbow on the farmhouse steps, one of his legs was severed at the knee with just a little sinew and ligament between the top of his leg and the lower limb. When I discovered him his first words were "Please take my orders and cut this bloody leg off". I had never disobeyed an order before, but I did this time! A brave man, I wonder what happened to him? I wonder if he survived? I also wonder if he would recognize himself from this story? I never knew what happened to him and probably never will, I just hope that he will remember a very young and frightened teenager who came to his aid on very dark night in August and inside Enemy territory.

    While we were there we heard other sounds from another part of the farmyard, and after investigating we found several wounded, some of them severely. Realizing we were not equipped to deal with this, we hurried back to our base area where our medical officers were, at that time we had a German paratroop doctor who had helped with the wounded, it was this German doctor that accompanied us back to where the wounded were situated. Let me break off for a moment to describe this man.

    A big man, dressed in paratroop smock with a large white square back and front of his tunic, both emblazoned with a red cross, He had a black spade beard and was a striking looking fellow, this man had been with the company for a little while, treating both German and British wounded. What happened to him? again, I will never find out, later we noticed that he was no longer with us, probably in the cage, but I do know that he was a dedicated medical man and one that some British wounded were grateful for his tending their injuries. Sometimes I think of him and wonder, what happened to him? did he survive the war, and would he recognize himself from this story? I also kid myself that he may just recall that dark night in August. 1944.

    The next day, the water wagon, while trying to find us, took the wrong turning and had gone straight into the Enemies territory by mistake, realized his error, he reported that the enemy had pulled out during the night; it now became obvious why we were able to get into his lines without being killed on our night patrol. It is quite possible that the Enemy left the wounded behind for us to find and treat. Within hours the company had loaded up and chased after them, it did not take long to find him again!
     
  11. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Diary of a Wounding.

    Boots full of blood.

    Divisional Engineers, the Field companies, tend to be used in small groups, often with infantry units, in that way we were sent all over the place to help those who needed our skills on the battle field. It was not uncommon to be sent to different areas where an attack was to take place. Not always with ones own group. Sometimes getting back to our own company lines, only to be dragged out again to go off to another part of Normandy.

    Very often under close Enemy fire, sooner or later the odds catch up with you, and your name is added to the casualty lists. The weather this day, was beautiful, bright, sunny and warm, as clear as a bell, a day when it is good to be alive.

    Wc arrived at the foot of this very steep hill, somewhere in the vicinity of Vire, the hill stood by itself, it stood out very prominently in the country side and one could see trees were growing on the crest. Three of us were detailed to get up there as the top was infested with S Mines and had already caused some casualties, we were also told that the enemy where just over the crest of the hill. These mines had to be cleared as they were holding things up.

    The three of us made our way to the top and it was all to obvious why the hill was so important, even under the most trying circumstances the view from the top was spectacular, it was possible to see for many miles around and in all directions. It was little wonder that both sides wanted this hill.

    Each one of us took on a task each, I was to operate the mine detector, Wass Thomas was to lay out the white tapes showing exactly where wc had swept, and made safe, while another sapper from London was to get down and disarm the mines. Not easy under the prevailing circumstances. Especially as it is necessary to stand up and be exposed to the Enemy's fire!

    The Germans had a genius for mines, these were the most evil of all those we had to deal with. S Mines, they consisted of a steel barrel about 5 inches across and inside of that was another steel barrel with a small charge underneath, The inner barrel had a Y shaped detonator, it could be set off by trip wires, by touching it, and sometimes by even more sophisticated means, one things for sure, they are very difficult to deal with. We normally carried some "panel pins", in our pockets, if one could get the pin into the detonator it could be made safe. Sounds easy, does it not? But under those conditions it most certainly is not! You are looking certain death in the face as you bend over to make it safe. Ones hands are not as steady as you would wish as you get down on your hands and knees looking for the mine in the long grass, at the same time you must watch where you put your hands and feet, outside the tape in one unguarded moment and it is "Goodnight nurse " while all of this is going on the Enemy may well stick his five eggs in and open fire on you.

    Concentration! Utter Concentration! Oblivious of all that is going on around you or all is lost. When detonated, the S mines small charge is set off, propelling it up to head height, whereupon it explodes, inside of the casing arc row upon row of steel balls that radiate out in all directions. The effect is absolutely devastating and causes casualties over a wide area.
     
  12. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The American.

    The most willing prisoner. ​


    Always on the move. The British and Americans had broken through into the French country side and then their tank columns had turned North, to enclose the Enemy in what was to become known as the "Falaise pocket". We were pushing at the back of the pocket, driving the Enemy towards the ever tightening noose at the head of this great

    The Germans in some places were running for their lives, in others they stayed and fought it out, in some skirmishes, they fought like demons. During this time the line between our forces and the Enemy had become very fluid, one was never sure if we had passed the Enemy, or whether he was still in front. To pay tribute to the Germans, they put up a fierce and spirited resistance in some of the rear guard actions that took place, actions that were fought with the purpose of giving their comrades time to get away.

    Our Company was battling down the Vire-Tinchebray road in hot pursuit and had stopped for the day for food and refuelling. We set about digging our fox holes and needed something to keep the rain off; doors keep you dry and also give one a false sense of security Spud! Now there is a name to conjure with, Spud Murphy our D.R and myself always tried to share the task of digging our holes! First back from that day's operation would start the hole for both of us.

    We both decided that a door over our hole would improve our creature comforts and set off for a farm a short distance away, when we got there, all seemed safe and quiet, no sign of the Enemy, we started to look for our door, no sign of civilians, they had long departed for safer areas, while looking for our door we found the farm cattle in an enclosed yard, all suffering from wounds that had been sustained by setting off booby traps, this had an immediate effect of making us a great deal more cautious, still in search of our door for the night we came to a farm outhouse, this was one of those typical Normandy outhouses where they kept the great cider barrels up on racks at the back and on the cobble stone floor.

    Spread-eagled on the cobbled floor was a dead German officer, resplendent in full uniform with sword and Nazi dagger, his medals pinned on his chest, including the iron cross. Knowing the Germans and their dirty tricks, we were only too aware that moving him would set off a booby trap of some description. Spud and I talked about "making him safe" by putting a rope round his feet and giving him a pull from a safe distance, to set off the very loud bang we knew would follow, in the end we decided against it, some else could do it, it would be far to messy.

    Now with even greater care we moved on to a hay loft, a door that had very narrow steps leading up to the loft from the outside.

    Now! I can still see those steps, worn from constant use, the treads of the stairs hollowed by years of scuffing farmer’s boots, a nice door. Just what we wanted! We had both decided that we would get it off its hinges when we heard footsteps coming down the loft steps and a pair of German jackboots appeared. Spud pointed his empty Sten gun at him and I drew my trusty Bowie knife that the Yank had given me prepared to do this fellow some very serious harm, when a voice called out. "I want to give myself up " in a voice with an American accent, in these unusual circumstances and with great caution, we let him come in, having seen what they were prepared to do with their own officer, we took no chances. None! I have never seen anyone so keen to give himself up, he told us that he was the son of an American mother and a German father, while they were on holiday in Germany the war had broken out and he was unable to get home, subsequently he was called up to serve in the German army, sent to Normandy, he told us that his mum had told him to stay behind and give himself up to the Americans.

    Having listened to him for some time, I was quite convinced that he was telling the truth, we gave him a cigarette and had quite a long chat before turning him in, he was not far away from the American sector, they were quite close, but not close enough. For many years I have wondered what happened to this man? One cannot be anything else but curious when faced with such bizarre events. I would give a lot to trace this man, just to find out what happened to him afterwards? Sometimes I lay awake, and wonder about these people. Did the officer who asked me to cut his leg off live? What happened to the German paratroop doctor? Where did the American prisoner end up, was he telling the truth?
     
  13. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Food, Glorious Food

    An even better description..​


    Living on “compo” rations is all very well for a little while, but biscuits, soup, and tinned food are not much to keep a healthy young man of nineteen going. Many of us were often hungry, so the addition of some fresh horsemeat and spring onions cooked in freshly made Norman farmhouse butter was something that tasted out of this world! Cooked in a billy-can all mixed up together, it did not look all that appetizing, but to us it was a feast, washed down with strong army tea all out of the same can. Nectar sheer Nectar, never had anything like it since.

    Bit of a shame, I lost my knife and fork and the second part of my billy-cans in action, the Germans took a distinct dislike to my eating tools and blew them up, all my meals and drinks came out of one tin and with one spoon.

    The redoubtable Spud was an artist at finding a nice little pig, he chased them into the most inaccessible place before dispatching it, he then brought it back to our harbour area where our cooks hated the sight of him! The very last thing they wanted to do was cook fresh food, all they ever wanted to do was to open tins and dish out biscuits.

    One short and one tall, they seemed to spend their whole time moaning. Shortly after, we moved on and Spud had given them another pig to butcher and cook, that night as we dug our holes and settled down for some rest, we heard Germans whispering amongst themselves a short distance away, too damned tired, we left them alone, in the morning they had fled leaving behind a sack full of schnapps, one brave fellow volunteered to try it and found it much to his liking.

    First light we were away, returning that night tired and hungry, we found that the two cooks had been drinking our schnapps, passed out and rolled down a steep slope, about thirty feet down from the cook tent, dead drunk and laying in a stream at the bottom. Out of this world. We got our own food that night. We have heard talks of revenge in the battlefield; I have never seen it, but at times like that. Well, it makes you think.
     
  14. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Falaise. Blood soaked Falaise.

    Carnage! Just Simple Bloody Carnage. ​


    For here is war at it's most evil, this is where all the press reports and tales of courage in war, are stripped naked of any kind of veneer of patriotism, or humanity. For this was the real horror of war, and at its bloodiest.

    Destruction, utter and complete destruction, it is very hard to describe the scene in words. The roads blocked with dead horses still harnessed to the carts they were pulling, swollen with feet stuck up in the air. German soldiers dead, sometimes one on top of the other, further on, groups of German dead lying in twisted and grotesque positions. Tanks that finished tilted in crazy angles against the side of buildings, mobile guns and armoured troop carriers destroyed. Artillery twisted and abandoned. The whole paraphernalia of war turned into a massive mangled mess and covered with Normandy dust. Some soldiers burned as their vehicles caught fire.

    Religious statues destroyed, one very poignant sight was that of a life size statue of Christ with his hands spread wide in supplication. But, with both hands blow off. This went on for miles as we chased the fleeing Enemy towards the hell that awaited them at the neck of the Falaise gap.

    The Germans used any method to try and escape, in some areas it was not possible to cross the road for German dead. The mighty Tiger tanks blown to smithereens and scattered in every direction. Wall to wall death, smashed houses and buildings with the roads between with so many dead it was difficult to walk, men half out of tanks and cars, burned alive before they could get out, blackcncd figures fixed in the position of trying to get out their vehicles, some even had their hand on the car door handles and fixed in that position as the flames overtook them.

    The stench of death hung over everything like a sickening pall, the sun had already begun to cause early decay. An inferno beyond comprehension! Covering everything was a thick layer of grey dust, almost as though the scene had been sprayed with grey emulsion.

    I remember very clearly, a young dead German sat on the road with his back to a grassy bank, just as though he was taking a rest and a short sleep, feet spread, hands in lap, head on chest covered in this thick grey dust, he looked as though he, and his uniform were fashioned from grey clay. But, his sleep would last for all eternity.

    All this, as a complete German army had been caught in the terrible trap of the Falaise pocket. As the noose closed round the top of the bag, the way out narrowed. The German army desperate to escape streamed through the neck of the bag, only to be fired on by our guns over "open sights". Sometimes at point blank range.

    Meanwhile the rocket firing Typhoons had a turkey shoot, the Enemy was subjected to continuous air attack with no help or protection, and caught in the open, the carnage was complete. For me personally, there was no satisfaction, "There but for the grace of God go 1". Carnage on this scale was something we had not expected. I do not wish to see anything like that again.

    The fact that the German army was able to retreat, reorganize and reform in Holland pays great tribute to their discipline and organization. Even so the Germans did not give in easily, some of the fire fights that took place at the rear of the bag were bitter and hard fought. Much fierce fighting took place as we pressed forward down the Tinchbray road.

    All of a sudden it was over, and the great chase began. Glad to leave Falaise and Bloody Normandy behind. The company packed everything into their vehicles and headed North, A headlong chase all the way to Belgium, only short stops one had to use a German helmet for a toilet.

    Waving crowds, cigarette for Papa? Exciting in its way but being out of action has its drawback, its that much more difficult to get back into it again. After Falaise, the chase was almost none stop, all of our vehicles plus the German staff car we had captured, set offheading towards Northern France and Belgium.

    Cheering crowds and pleasant green country side made a wonderful change from the death and destruction of Normandy, just to see normal people walking about and the undamaged villages was heartening indeed. Girls in summer dresses after the desolation of Normandy. What a pleasant change! All the way the French made us very welcome, genuinely pleased to see us, it was a shame that we could only stop for short periods, the pressure to follow up the German retreat kept us going all through France.

    On the way, we were ambushed by a rear guard, we had been caught between a high stone wall on one side and stone buildings on the other. From some woods in front of us the Enemy opened fire as we came through this narrow road, my very good friend Jock, and myself were travelling in our half track.

    Jock, a Scot, was killed along side me and tumbled out of the door, rather than run over his body two of us jumped out and sat his body against the wall, before taking violent evasive action. We just could not mangle him under the tracks of our vehicle, even under fire. I believe he is now buried in Belgium.
     
  15. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Brussels, Beautiful Brussels.

    The Bridge Too Far.

    Chapter Two.
    Belgium!



    Over the border and straight on, in fact we never stopped until we had swept right through Brussels and arrived in a wood a few miles the other side of the city. Our officers decided that the men ought to get the chance to see Brussels. "Just one day men, we have to move on ", recently I managed to get hold of the Company history and in there I discovered that officially, and I quote: September the 13-16th "Company training in unit location, with one platoon at a time away for a day and a night on assault rafting in Brussels". What a wonderful excuse to cover our 24 hours in the big city! I cannot imagine for one second where we were supposed to go rafting?

    All of a sudden, out came uniforms, dirty old denims that we wore nearly all the time were discarded, and this scruffy bunch with long hair. (Not the cleanest of Her Majesties Service Men,) having lived in holes in the ground for three months, tried their very best to smarten up, I even saw gaiters being scrubbed and boots polished! We had always tried to keep as tidy as possible in action, though it is difficult, living in holes in the ground in all weathers.

    For the first time for three months we began to look like soldiers again, some even looked smart! One fly in the ointment that threatened our trip to the fleshpots of Brussels was that some men had to stay behind to guard the company vehicles, the half tracks, carriers, plus that captured from the Enemy, all that goes to make an R. E. Field Company. It was decided that men would gather in groups and toss coins to see who would stay as guards, about ten men were required for this duty. Yes! Who else but me would manage to lose the toss all the way through.

    One of the men keeping his mates in mind drove back to our harbour area all the way from Brussels in a taxi, with a prostitute! Great big wench! Not pretty either! This great Big lass offered her services free to those staying behind. Me, an innocent Nineteen year old country boy from Dorset, knew all about war, but nothing about the Ladies! Not a damn thing. This lady tried to convince me that all would be well. Yours truly was not too sure! I decided that rather than make a complete fool of myself, I would try my hand with the female sex in my own good time.

    In those far off days 54 years ago things were very, very, different! The mind boggles when you see what happens today. In passing, it is well to mention that Hitler robbed our generation of its youth, long gone those times when we worked I2 to I4 hours a day in the Engineering workshops, then dashed off to change into our Home Guard uniforms and out half the night when the night raids were on.

    Next day our men arrived back full of the tales about Brussels and of the good time they had, our officer’s then decided that the rest of us could have day in the city and make our own way back, or catch up with the company in the morning.

    We set off full of excitement, the great big city of Brussels to explore, on my own, and not knowing anything about Brussels I decided to stop for a drink in a cafe and there fell in with a cut throat band of the Belgium secret army. I believe they called themselves the White army" they where a real load of ruffians and well on their way to being roaring drunk.

    It was there that I met an elderly gentleman who tried to communicate in what could only be described as fractured English, eventually, I found out that this old gentleman wanted me to go with him and meet someone, not wishing to hurt his feelings, I agreed, and went with him, he took me to a department store in the centre of the city where his wife worked behind the counter. It seemed they wanted to invite me to their home and share a meal with them. They were so keen I never had the heart to say no. Looking back I would not have missed this old couples invitation for anything. They were absolutely wonderful. The Lady, quite elderly spoke some fractured English, just a little better than her husband, they made me very welcome in their home and shared what little food they had, to be truthful I think that I was given all they had, when I protested, they told me that they had been waiting for the moment of freedom when they could entertain an English soldier, and it had been a very long time coming, in all those years they had been saving up for it.

    They told me how Grandmother had flown round Brussels on her 90th birthday and a lot about the family, (the things one remembers!) later, they took me on a tour of Brussels, into the main square where all the architecture of the buildings is different, I was also taken to sec the Manikin, that's the little boy having a wee, very realistic! They were very proud of their city, with good reason, it was a very attractive place.

    In the evening they took me to a cabaret and treated me to a steak dinner, very expensive! Can you imagine how I felt? Eating the food? I could not refuse to eat it they would have been very upset, they would not hear of my protests and again told me they had been saving up for years, just for this moment, though I must admit it did stick in my throat a bit.

    That night I slept in a real bed with clean sheets! Just think for a moment how this felt after so long living out in the open and in fox holes. Glory be, without the sound of war. When I awoke first, I looked out of the upstairs window to remember my bearings just in case I would be able to return and thank these wonderful folk for their great kindness, to my left was a very imposing building that I would remember, even today, their house was in the "Forest" area of Brussels to a treated very hearty breakfast, this wonderful old couple actually apologized in case I had been prevented from spending the night with a woman!

    The name of these gracious people? Something like: Charles and Lucia van Dusselaire. or something very like that. Like most service men little things trigger off memories of past kindness' and I remember those very kind folk who tried to help a young soldier on his way with deep gratitude. I wish that I could have returned to thank those gentle folk properly Unfortunately I had been wounded so severely later, that it was difficult to get back into employment, therefore it was not possible.

    Yes! I remember. I remember. Nor am I likely ever to forget.

    That next morning a mad dash to catch up with the company, they had moved on to a small village preparing to go into action again, the name Thielt comes to mind, but I am not sure. The local folk invited us to the village hall where they had prepared an evenings entertainment, they had on offer Belgium beer, I am sorry to say that we found it absolutely awful, but we drank it anyway. Music was provided and this band of "clod hopping young men" got to dance with the local village girls in our army boots, not very romantic! They did not mind, the girls taught us this dance and at the end of the dance, you got to kiss the girl you were with. I thought it was great, the girls liked it and I wished we could spend more time there.

    In no time we had moved up again, this was the period when the Airborne had landed at Arnhem, miles ahead. Operation "Market Garden" the drive to relieve the troops battling it out in Northern Holland, we had to press ahead as fast as possible to get them out.
     
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