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Sword Beach to Bremen., A Veterans tale. Sapper

Discussion in 'Honor, Service and Valor' started by sapper, Sep 18, 2002.

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  1. surfersami

    surfersami Member

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    Again Brian, I thought I saw a feather wisp by on the sea breeze as you described the cliffs and the bird rookery.
     
  2. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Cheers the feathers are not so plentiful now:)

    The Enchanted Isle.
    Now! The Gathering Storm.

    The idyllic life as a young man in the Isle of Purbeck was to end all too soon, as the war clouds grew ever darker over the European Continent. The film news reels followed the huge Nazi rallies. Meanwhile the German war drums beat out. As our attempts at appeasement faltered, and failed, as we stuck our collective heads in the sand of history.

    Understandable in a way, The great war ended only 21 years previously. The mass deaths and misery of that conflict, had affected every family in the land. Every day the black storm clouds grew even darker, as the threat of war grew in intensity. During that time the British tried to ignore the threat, hoping it would go away. Meanwhile the German war drums grew louder and louder. The news reels showed more and more of the rise of the military might of Hitler’s Germany.

    The magical days of boyhood were rapidly coming to an end. Names like Danzig. Sudetenland. The Saar, The Maginot line…Then finally. Poland, a Nation we knew very little about in those far off days. Despite the flights of our leaders on missions of appeasement, The waving of a bit of paper, and the announcement “We have peace in our time” The Country still tried desperately to think of anything, rather that the war that now loomed ominously in all the corridors of power.

    Then one day while riding my bike back home, I heard through “Dora’s” cottage window the radio and the words “We are at war with Germany”

    At the age of 14 the implications of the declaration of war did not strike home. Reluctantly the Country started to re-arm. But sadly the outlook of our armed forces.
    Their leaders, and the ruling classes, was still stuck in the first world war mode and outlook. I started work as soon as I left school, at the then “Home and Colonial Stores” A more unsuitable job for me was hard to find. Then later I worked in a bakery, but not for long.
    The phoney war then exploded into action. Our forces still fighting WW1 were overwhelmed, They put up a great fight, but never had what was needed to take on the enemy, or anything like it.

    Then ominous one day, arrogantly flying in low over the channel coast, came formation after formation of black bombers, in perfect flights. As though they were demonstrating their formation discipline. Then the Battle of Britain took place with the summer skies full of vapour trails as the life and death struggle continued. The odd Spitfire doing a Victory roll up the through the valley. Bombers and fighters down all over the place.

    TBC
     
  3. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    The Storm Bursts.
    It was now that danger that our country was in, came home in no uncertain manner. There was an invasion scare where all the men of the towns and villages were called on to report, and bring any weapon they had to repel the expected invading forces. My dad left with his shotgun and in the company of others was away for three days until the scare subsided. This patriotic young man (Idiot!) decided at the age of 15/16 that I had to do my bit, So I left the “Enchanted Isle”

    For Southampton, where I determined to be an Engineer and help build the arms that our land needed so desperately. That was while the blitz was in full swing all around the Southampton area. First night BOMBED. Escaped harm. Moved, and was Bombed again. I lodged in Waterloo road that ran along side the docks. I shall always be grateful for the care I was given by kindly folks. Each day I made my way to work across the wreckage of the last nights raids, travelling in the bumpy and frozen old trams. Stopping at the Civic Centre police station to read the casualty lists. The only food available and affordable was from the “British Restaurants”

    The Country now stood alone, entirely alone…It is fair to say that had we fallen at that time…Then Hitler’s war may well have had a very different outcome. For with Britain’s industrial capacity. Plus a huge slave labour force he could work to death for the Fatherland, and the prospect of our army coming under the Germans control. The German war machine would have become an even more powerful instrument to fulfil Hitler’s ambitions.

    I then joined the Southampton Redbridge Home Guard…. Dads Army, But at the time it was deadly serious. Life now became a full time round of long hours of work, a dash back to the lodgings and change into HG uniform. Training and helping out during the raids, by dragging folk out alive and dead. Searching for “land mines” that had got caught up in the trees. Looking for unexploded bombs…..You always knew the sound of the UX bomb falling then the sickening THUMP as it struck home
     
  4. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Through the short summer nights the bombers arrived at dusk and departed at dawn, If we were out helping. sometimes the Waterloo working mans club would open at night so that we have a brief rest and a drink. War had arrived. Long hours of work long hours on HG duties. One of those duties was to defend the Totton/Redbridge flyover, the main road into the City, We had three rounds of 303 to defend that vital area, sadly one round got fired accidentally; so we went forth bravely with two rounds of rifle ammunition…. Determined to do our bit…..OH LORD! Did I really do all those things? Yes. I most certainly did.

    Surely this period in our Nations history, must be what Churchill described as “the finest hour” We all knew that had we fallen; then a new dark age would engulf us, with little hope of seeing freedom again in our life time. So the blitz continued night after night. Whole areas of Southampton were destroyed, a land laid waste. Long hours of work, coupled with the dash home to change in to HG uniform. Out again, sometimes all night. The bitter cold mornings on the clanking old trams to work. Cardboard in the shoes to cover the holes. Clothes bought at second hand shops. Not enough money to buy new, certainly not enough clothing coupons.

    Then out of the blue, I was moved from Southampton to Poole, with what was then known then as “In the public interest” In other words they moved you about where they wanted you to go, and you had no say in it…..None.
    TBC
     
  5. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    If anyone is interested? they can listen and watch this old buzzard blathering on, in a programme for the
    "Yesterday" channel. It is due out on the 29th of November next. More info when I know more.The name? "After the war was over"
    Cheers
    Sapper
     
  6. Glyn Lockett

    Glyn Lockett recruit

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    Will look out for it Brian you old Buzzard:)
     
  7. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    I reported on the Monday morning to an Engineering company that I was to spend the next 21 years with. But split into three periods. During that time at Pool I transferred to the local Home Guard and spent many long night hours down on the new quay, mine watching. With a large arrow on a large circular compass to indicate where the mine splashed down. That sea mines were dropped there was no doubt, as later, a
    Catalina flying boat came into land in Pool harbour, on the Brownsea island side of the harbour. As it touched down it blew up so that there was nothing left, just an area of floating debris. I continued to work for the same company making my way through the various machines. Gaining more skills.

    All the time I wanted to join the army to fight for my country (idiot) Eventually I got my calling up papers. Two of us both had the call up at the same time George and myself. We were immediately called into the Managing directors office where he berated both of us for trying to join the army. The discussion got a bit heated where he told us “You would be doing more for your Country here, than in the Forces” The job was a reserved occupation. After, George decided to stay, and went straight back to work. Despite a very bad atmosphere I decided to join the army. With bad grace from the Company, not even a “Good Luck”

    While living in Poole I was very fortunate in having very kindly folks to look after
    me. I recall them with great fondness and gratitude. Through them, I made many friends. One Johnny Fairley, an RAF rear gunner. I wonder if he made it? With him and other friends I got to learn all the local pubs and places of entertainment. The favourite was Saturday after noon’s after the mornings work. A visit to the George Hotel at the top of Poole High street, a few pints of bitter, then on to Boscombe Hippodrome to watch the real “Jane” from the Daily Mirror…Unimpressed!

    Note Johnny Fairly did get through the war and died a few years ago. How I wished I had found him earlier….

    The local dance halls, For now Girls were becoming increasingly interesting. Despite the occasional raid on Poole, I shall always look back on that period as one of discovery of the pleasures of life.
     
  8. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    To return to the call up. I received my instructions to report to Newcastle on Tyne and in my HG uniform. The trains then were chaotic, I arrived in London only to find the next train to Newcastle was not till next morning. What to do? Got no money and it was in the depth of Winter. Sitting miserably on a bench when I was approached by the “Sally Ann” Bless them. They asked me where I was going, and when I explained, they took me to the local police station where they gave me a cell to bunk down in for the night. Set off for Newcastle the next day. Arrived at Gosforth training battalion “in the snow” The basic infantry training, Mostly by Northumberland Fusilier Sergeants.

    All the injections. The long pre breakfast runs in army boots shorts and vests. The 21 mile routs marches and the battle practice. Running round Newcastle race course to get fit! The Spud bashing. Eventually we were “Basic Trained” After being moved about to various holding stations, I was moved as a Sapper (what I wanted to join) to Number One Training Battalion. Clithero Lancashire. An old mill that was built alongside the River Ribble. All the usual bull of kit inspections all lined up with white tapes. The “Free from infection” parades. Lines of stark naked men all lined up for a close inspection of all our precious bits and pieces.
     
  9. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Double bunks all lined up precisely! The bottom bunk occupied by Sapper B Guy. The upper bunk with Sapper G Guy. George. Bless him, was a great mate at that time. Came from London.
    The training at Clithero was intense. The obstacle course was long and arduous. Up one side of the Ribble, down the other side. Only the fittest were able to tackle the course. We started off in PT kit and each time we tackled it, we had to carry another bit of uniform and equipment, until the final course when we tackled the course in FSMO.. (Field Service Marching Order) Everything we owned, including the rolled blanket round the large valise. That was accompanied with the use of explosive charges. And the crossing of deep water on a Kapok float, infantry assault bridge. You ran across the floats, for if you stopped, they sank, and you with it straight into the deep end of the Ribble..

    If you lost your rifle in the deep water of the assault crossing, you were charged for the one you lost and the new one. A Kapok float bridge was controlled by 4 ropes held by training NCOs on the banks. They waited until you were in full flight across, then they gave the steadying ropes a tug to make the floats “Snake” The man running half way across could not suddenly change direction …Straight into the drink in deep water. We got our rifles back by forming a small band intent on recovering the lost rifles. and it worked.
    What was interesting was mines and explosives. Learning the various ways to use HE with the different fuses, the different types used by the RE, .fascinated me,. Even more so, was the Gun cotton fishing trips the lads made in Scotland, while preparing for the invasion on D day. Somewhere I have a photo of them showing off their "catches"
    While were at Clithero everyone got the crabs, That spread round in that enclosed area like wild fire, with the double tier bunks. so close together. Everyone was shaving their tender little areas and spreading on what they called "Blue Unction" What a performance ! This little innocent lad did not know such things existed (Naive idiot)
     
  10. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    The exit gate from Number ONE training battalion Royal Engineers had a huge mirror near the gate with the legend.” Are you are credit to this battalion”? on the top. You had to stand and inspect yourself before leaving. Occasionally they would stop and check things like having 13 studs in your boots, if you were one short? back to get another!

    Sunday mornings the RE band played on a raised dais of the parade ground. I once had to walk across the parade ground with the band playing, and half way across passed an officer and instead of saluting. I wished him a cheery “good morning Sir” To his eternal credit, he smiled and answered “good morning Sapper”
    The passing out parade, and soon on our way to more holding postings. Eventually to arrive at an enclosed camp site guarded by men with bayonets, to keep us in rather than letting anyone get in.

    Festung Europa.
    Now imprisoned by our own troops. Shortly after, we were issued with French invasion money. With the advice “get off the beach fast”
    So now we come to the realisation that the British are going back into Europe. Now the last out, would the first back. This late arrival on the scene, had not even had a single leave. And was not going to get one now. “The Enchanted Isle” was now a very long way away. And getting further away day by day.
    To give a little colour to this narration, and as an intro to the events that follow. let me quote this Citation be the officer that took on the bravest act on the whole of the invasion coast. Lt Arthur Heal RE C de G.
     
  11. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    So the story has turned full circle, for we are back to the time of this narrative in its earlier days, Eventually after a very long time recuperating from my war injuries. I settled down again, back in the enchanted Isle…But sadly, although it still is a place rare in theUK these days .In many ways its has lost its magic…… many of the old places have vanished along with the red squirrels‘.
    Swordman
     
  12. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    An introduction by Lt A Heal. R.E. C de G.

    Tuesday, 6th June, 1944 was to be, for me and many others, a defining moment. Our first taste of active service face to face with the enemy, and life would never be the same again.
    It was the climax of months of arduous training, mainly in the North of Scotland, often in atrocious weather conditions. During numerous amphibious exercises I was invariably seasick, and I could hardly realise my good fortune that I was one of the very few who was not sick on D Day, despite being tossed about in a L.C.A. on the run-in.

    I was further pleasantly surprised having moved off the beach and inland towards Colleville-sur-Orne to find myself and my party of Sappers still in one piece. Before embarking at Southsea we had been told that casualties on the initial assault were likely to be very heavy!
    My unit 246 Field Company, R.E. 3rd British Infantry Division was scheduled to support 8 Brigade in its assault on Sword (Green) Beach. The company provided each of the three battalions with small teams of 4 or 5 sappers and I found myself in command of mine clearance teams supporting 1 Suffolk, landing at 08.25 hours. Each team carried mine detectors, plastic H.E. and grenades. Two of my colleagues Lieutenants Edwards and Trench gave similar support to the assault battalions 1 South Lancs and 2 East Yorks respectively, with mine clearance and demolition teams.

    1 Suffolk’s principle objectives were the clearance of the village of Colleville-sur-Orne, and the capture of the two German strong points code-named ‘Morris’ and ‘Hillman’. The day’s events have been well documented throughout the years, particularly by Lt.-Col. Lummis, an officer in the battalion on D-Day in his “1 Suffolk on D-Day”

    “Morris” surrendered very quickly, but the initial assault on “Hillman” having failed, I was ordered, in the nicest possible way, by the C.O. of the battalion, Lt.-Col. Goodwin to clear a path through the perimeter minefield so that tanks could enter the locality.

    During training in Scotland I made sure that we could all recognise and disarm any mine we were likely to find. I was therefore disconcerted that I could not identify the first mine that I uncovered. It turned out to be an obsolete British Mk.11 anti-tank mine left behind at Dunkirk in 1940. However, lying flat. on the ground, and with the help of covering fire and smoke from the tanks of the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the assault company this was achieved by the early evening. “The final clearance of Hillman” is described in Norman Scarfe’s “Assault Division” as a “grisly business”. It was only much later that it was appreciated what a formidable obstacle “Hillman” had been.

    Now, more than fifty years on, I feel great pride in having played a very small part in what is now recognised as the greatest combined military operation of all time. Pride is tinged with sadness at seeing so many friends killed and wounded, in many cases before even reaching the water’s edge. For example Eric Lummis “1 Suffolk” records that of the 43 officers and warrant officers in the battalion on D-Day, 13 were killed and 26 wounded by the end of the campaign.

    I am also privileged to have played a small part in the restoration of “Hillman” to provide a permanent memorial to those of the battalion and supporting arms who lost their lives on D-Day and subsequently. There is now a strong continuing link between the village of Colleville-Montgomery and the Suffolk Regiment which is formalised by regular exchange visits and by the naming of the road leading up to “Hillman” as Rue du-Suffolk Regiment.

    Events on D-Day show yet again, that in time of war ordinary individuals perform extraordinary deeds.

    CITATION

    CROIX DE GUERRE WITH SILVER STAR


    W.S. / Lieutenant Arthur HEAL, 259749, 246 Field Company,

    ROYAL ENGINEERS.

    During the attack on COLLEVILLE-SUR-ORNE, FRANCE, on 6th June 1944, it was necessary to clear a forty yard lane in the perimeter minefield to enable tanks to enter the locality. The gap was under enemy small arms and mortar fire. This officer commanded the assault engineer platoon supporting the attacking Battalion. He organised and personally carried out the clearing of the gap under very heavy mortar and machine-gun fire, from short range.

    During the whole of this period the work had to be carried out lying flat on the ground. It was entirely due to his work that the tanks were able to enter the locality and destroy the enemy. Throughout the operation he set a splendid example to all ranks, his exceptional courage and determination in this action being a major factor in its ultimate success.
    The End.
    Cheers Sapper
     
  13. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Member

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    Brian,first of all i think your posts have been simply wonderful,because it has allowed me timeout to just read some of the best writing I've ever had the privilege of even seeing.When I've felt cheesed off or ill or just get the urge to read,I invariably find myself here,before these superb posts.So much pride about the allied side of the war,the way it was fought,the candour with which you write..I'm having difficulty finding the right words to say mate,I really am,warmth,honesty.I feel almost like I know you,quite moving this is.Thankyou for giving me the freedom to do as i wish(not much now) but free none the less.You are Great bloke Brian,thankyou for your service,and of your mates.cheers,Lee.
     
  14. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Hi Lee.
    It is entirely my pleasure my friend. I am also pleased that in some small way it affords you comfort. As you may well know. I am very severely war disabled myself and know just how difficult it can be at times.
    I am constantly amazed that anyone would like to read what this old fellow posts. But like it they do.
    This old Bod sends you my very best wishes
    Take care...
    Cheers
    Sapper
     
  15. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Remembrance day is once again nearly on us. With that in mind just a little snatch of verse to recall the ones we left behind.

    On D Day the Church bells if Hermanville rang out across the countryside accompanied by the monstrous sounds of battle. The church bells had been shelled but were the first bells of freedom.I have a recording of them given me by a French lady, and as they are now.

    Freedoms Bells

    On darkened, late, Mid-summers night.
    With restless dreams, before dawns light.
    Familiar faces gather, call my name.
    Come! for Freedoms Bell, lets fight again!
    Then into battle, with troubled dreams.
    Watch men die, scream, curse, blaspheme.

    For we, who are old, the guns still roar.
    And long forgotten, young voices call.
    Searching mortars, for humans seek.
    To maim and kill, and wounding's wreak.
    Hear the screams of men, in mortal pain?
    Are those the Bells? That dread refrain?
     
  16. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Frt all my friends of that distant world of long ago.

    Quietly! Quietly! Whisper my Name.

    So many long years ago I died, under Norman apple trees.
    But now my Spirit wanders, as a warm and gentle breeze.
    Hush! Quietly, Whisper my name, in that long forgotten place.
    Then feel the warmth of my Spirit, caress lightly on your face.

    For now, I am the jewelled Summer Lark, that soars on high.
    Bright in heavens concert hall, my song will fill the sky.
    I am the tumbling cloud’s that rise, to touch the face of Joy.
    No longer held by earthly bonds, a once young and vital boy.

    In an instant life was swept away, in a brutal savage war.
    Look not for me in Normandy, for I am there no more.
    I am the peace in woodland glades, in veiled cascades of green.
    Feel me close, in your times of joy, sensed, but never seen.

    Whisper my name, and hear my voice, in cascading woodland spring,
    Or England's flowered primrose banks, wherein the bluebells ring.
    Don’t mourn for me, quietly call my name, I'll visit in your dreams.
    And, fill your mind with the beauty, of heavens joyous scenes.

    Hush! Hush! Just whisper, quietly, call my name.
    Whisper quietly.

    Brian Guy.
     
  17. surfersami

    surfersami Member

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    Lee,
    I also read these posts, and I wait with great anticipation for the next. Brian, I thank you for your willingness to share, and in this politically correct world we live in, for being honest and open in sharing your pride in what was accomplished. I mean no disrespect for those who fought for the Axis countries, but I grew up in a free America, where my grandparents fought and died along side of you in Europe, and I am so proud of the accomplishments of people like yourselves in providing that opportunity for me. I pray for your health and enjoyment of life.
    John
     
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  18. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    You are spoiling me friends!....
     
  19. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    The taking of Caen.
    There is an interesting document that describes very clearly the violence in the approach to the city, and the actions that took place before our entering what was left of the City.
    Sapper
     
  20. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    July 1944 was the month that we (Third British Infantry) captured the city of Caen. Jointly with the Third Canadian Division. An operation where the Sappers played a prominent role.

    Oddly enough, the attack on Caen was preceded by the three RE companies laying 2000 mines out in front of the troops. In this instant, we (246) got away with laying mines at 2 mines per yard. Recorded and fenced.
    253 Field Company laid more mines than the other companies together. A great many anti personal mines were laid in front of 9th brigades positions. They had lost Lt Boddie RE on the attack on Cambs, 253 Fld co were harboured at Beuville and suffered more than their fair share of shell and mortar fire. Although vehicles and men were well dug in, The shelling periods were in the afternoon and at night, Very annoying indeed. Although dug in casualties steadily mounted up.. During this time many other tasks came the way of the Field Companies.

    One achievement was the building of a “Heath Robinson hot water shower! The envy of the rest of the |Div RE.!

    Then great excitement! A Sapper arrived back from the beach with a piece of real white bread…..The only bit of bread that we would see for many long weeks to come.

    Although satisfied with the “compo” rations, we all longed for a bit of bread instead of the interminable biscuits…..
    TBC
     

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