Dropping into Merville.....
Soldier:
Corporal Edwin G. Booth
Date: 6th June 1944
Location: Normandy, France
Unit: A Company, 9th Parachute Battalion, 6th Airborne

When I left the school at the age of 14 years I started work at a Building Firm the year was 1938. Not long after about July 1939, some of the men was called to the forces as it looked as if there was going to be a war. Building work dried up and a lot of the other men was paid off. So I left and started work in a Engineering Firm on a machine in their machine shop. War being declared, I was busy making parts for Tanks and Lorries, when in the summer of 1940 I got moved up to a airfield to help to repair Hurricane Fighters that had been damaged in fighting or crashed in landing.
I then moved down to Norfolk and Suffolk working on building airfields that was later used by the Americans.

It was 1942 and I was getting fed up so I went into Norwich and joined the army, Started my training in Nelson Barracks. Having completed my training I was posted to a young Soldiers Battalion who were the 70th Norfolk Regiment who was stationed at Wansford Camp near Peterbrough, it was there that I did a course for a Lance Corporal rank.
The unit then moved down to Leaton Buzzard under canvas, it was at this time that I was interviewed asking if I would like to go on a Officers training course but I declined as I had been accepted in the Airborne Regiment and was awaiting to join a Parachute Battalion. It was a short time later that those of us who had volunteered for the Parachute Regiment got posted down to Bulford Camp to join the 9th Parachute Battalion that was being formed this unit was the 10th Essex Battalion as all Parachute Battalions came from units that had been other infantry battalions.

Having completed the course and qualifying as a Parachutist we went back to the Battalion there I was in A Company, as the rest of the Battalion was getting their compliment of new recruits we was kept busy training. It was at this time that I reverted to the rank as all lance ranks do when they join a new unit. We had a few more jumps in full battle order, then we got to do one of Brigade strength that is the three Battalions plus signals and engineers and medical people, about 2400 people at one go.

The first time it had been done in Britain the place was called Winterbourne Stoke and a lot of top brass was going to watch, the American Pilots flew the planes, nine planes abreast, all down within ten minutes. Having emplaned near Oxford we flew around to get into formation then set off, the Americans have a dispatcher in their planes and as we were carrying two folding cycles we asked for him to let us know so we could put the cycles out on their parachutes and as we worked a five second red before the green he said: "o.k buddy!".

When the time came the red on we counted one, two, throw out first cycle, four, second cycle out, but no green came for the next ten minutes, we never seen those cycles since somebody in the home counties did not have to walk to work since. The wind was around about 25 miles a hour you double the speed of that when you hit the ground. But with the top Brass being there they let us go, some lads was in trees, some on roof of houses, I myself hit a fence wire between two fields that threw me on to my shoulder and head that left a dent in my helmet that never came out.
With us now using the American Planes we started to jump with a kitbag strapped to the leg, the bag had sixty pounds in weight equipment that we carried extra. The method was to lower it down on a 16 feet rope after you was airborne, it was this that I cracked my ankle when I could not get it off the fastener would not release, I spent three weeks in Hospital over it.

It was round about this time when Lt. Kippen who was the Liaison Officer gave me a rifle that was shorter than our normal one and asked me to go and try it out. The weapon had a flash illuminator on the barrel and thick rubber on the butt, he said don’t tell anybody as it is on the secret list. I went down to the butts, and tried it at 50 yds, then 100 yds, 200yds, 300yds, but found it was not as good as the old rifle, it had more of a kick in the shoulder the rubber did not cushion the recoil. I reported this to him and never heard any other thing about it.

We now started to do intensive training with units doing individual schemes and Bivouac all in controlled areas. Looking back this was what we had to do on D-Day, so it helped a lot when the time came. It was about ten days before the actual day that we went into concentration areas where we was confined to camp nobody aloud in or out.

We found out it was Normandy and that the Division had a very complex job to do, the 3rd Brigade in particular. First the 9th Battalion they had the task of storming a gun battery at a place called Merville that could fire its guns onto the Beach that the third British Division was to land on known as Sword Beach.

A mock Battery had been built at a place called Inkpen where the 9th had practiced how to clear the minefield cross anti-tank ditches and get through barb-wire then destroy the guns. They also had a party who was going to land by Gliders right on top of the Battery. An advance party was to land at 00.20 hrs then the main body coming in at 00.50 hrs the landing zone was called “V” that lay between Carburg and Varaville with Gonnerville on the South side the landing zone was also used by the Brigade Headquarters and the Canadian Battalion.

All of the landings of the 3rd and 5th Brigades was timed to go in at the same time, that was advance parties landing at 00.20 mins after midnight and main body coming in at 00.50 mins after midnight on June 5th but owing to bad weather it was delayed 24hrs to June 6th.

This was when things started to go wrong, first the flack that the Germans threw up put the Pilots off, so a lot of the planes missed their dropping zones. Then the Germans had flooded the ground at the river Dives, that resulted in a lot of our men landing in the water that covered a lot of ditches this caused a lot of men to drown as their equipment weight them down and they could not release it.

To make matters worse the signalling equipment was lost or damaged this stopped us being able to contact the main drop coming in. The advance party of the 9th Battalion made its way to the Gun Battery, where it cleared a path through the minefield without equipment as they had none, using prodding with their Bayonets and making a mark with their heels as there was no tape for guidance. When the Battalion got to the rendezvous all it could muster was about 100 men, the Commanding Officer Lt, Colonel Ottway had a leeway of time so he waited, and about another 50 men came in.

Then with about 160 men instead of a Battalion of 700 men he said lets go for he knew how vital this mission was. Meeting the officer of the advance party a Major George Smith and getting the latest information he reformed the groups and decided to go through the wire in two groups. Forming up at the given time they charged into the Battery, and after fierce hand to hand fighting the Germans surrendered where upon the guns was blown with anything that was available as no engineers was available with the equipment to do the job.

When the order was given to retire the walking wounded to make their own way and all other wounded and dead had to be left as we had to make the high ground to block the roads from Carburg down to the bridges that the Glider Company had taken, also the road down to Troarn. The first stop was at a monument called Calvary to regroup. Out of the 160men there was only about 65men left, but other men was coming in having struggled to get out of the water and fight their way to join up, what with 22prisoners out of 250Germans the boys did very well.

The rest of the day was spent fighting off German attacks and digging in (or gun pits) out dividing out ammunition between each post and keeping the upper hand. The landings that was coming in on sword beach the Commandos under Lord Lovat had the task to by pass all opposition and make their way to the Bridges held by the Airborne this he promised that he would be there at 12.00 am. He arrived soon after with his Piper playing as if it was a picnic. But to reach us he had about the same distance to go and it was later on in the day before we joined up.

The following day troops that was landing that was back up to the assault troops reported that they were coming under fire from the Battery, so the Commandos put in a attack where they found one of our lads lying more dead than alive it turned out to be a Pte. Mowatt who had 50 odd wounds from shrapnel in him they brought him out and as far as I know he is alive to this day a few days later we where relieved by a Battalion of the Black Watch from the 51st Highland Division who were one of the follow up Divisions at the landings, we moved back around Brigade Headquarters at Le Mensil for a rest, while moving back we was strafe by our aeroplanes and suffered some causalities some fatal.

We started to dig in as we was just off the front line and get some rest and cleaned up, as we had very little time since 24hrs before D-Day. It was later the next day that we were rushed back up to our old positions as the Black Watch who had decided to take out Breville a small village that could cause trouble, They ran into the Germans who was also putting in a attack to gain control of this village. The B Company of the Black Watch suffered a lot of causalities. The remnant of the 9th Battalion with a Company of the Canadians, plus two troops of Engineers who was pushed in to help moved back to regain our old positions. I had been detailed to act as escort to Brigadier Hill Commanding Officer of the 3rd Brigade Headquarters and along with five other men we set off, I carried the Bren gun this is a machine gun that is used by all Infantry soldiers. The Brigadier wanted to see for himself what the situation was like up there. Having regained the position and the front settled down, he left the Battalion and the other troops up there and returned to headquarters. The following day they pulled the Black Watch out to regroup but left the 9th up there.

The following night the strongest Battalion of the 5th Brigade of 6th Airborne took over to attack and take the village that had caused the trouble. The Battalion was about 270men strong but they took the village after fierce fighting. After this the rest of the 5th brigade took over our positions and we moved back to the north side of the river Orne where two Bailey Bridges had been put over the canal and river. After our rest we then moved up to the Bos-de-Bavant a large wooded area. T his covered the main roads from Carburg to Troarn down to Caen this covered the north sector of the British Army.

It was at this time that I rejoined my old Battalion going into 9th Platoon B Company under Major George Smith we stayed there until the army broke out of Normandy. When the word came to move out we set off down a track then crossed the river Dives at a mill by walking along the top of a weir onto a road that lead towards Dozulle, but instead of going on the road we took a disused railway track and left the rest of the Battalion to go up the road. While we was making for a village about 5miles away, Getting into the village we lost some causality. The Sgt. Major was one of them. During the night the Canadian Battalion had passed through and got to the Railway Bridge but it was blown up. Our Battalion who had joined us lead off that night over the River at the bridge that was blown following the disused rail track towards the road that crossed the rail track. A Company took up their position covering this junction, then C Company passed through and took up their defence position on the Railway Station leaving our Company to pass through and go down this rail track for about two mile and take up defence positions where another road crossed the rail track. The track at this time from the Station down to where we had gone had rails, having got down with no trouble and started to make defence positions the Company Commander gave me a order to take another man and go back to Battalion Headquarters and report that we was on our objective and consolidating but our wireless was wet and he could not get through but trying to dry out the batteries.

I took a lad named Gregory with me. Then set off the road we had come, meeting C Company on the station I asked where headquarters was, but they did not know, so we carried on to where A Company was and asked them, they said that it could be down the road near to the river, going down this road we found headquarters just off the road and reported what the Major had sent us to say. They was pleased as they was getting very worried for us, they then said to hang about while they tried to get dry batteries to take back.

After awhile they told us that the Company had got through, so we could go back, setting off we passed first through A Company then C Company now we had the long march of two miles to our Company. Going down this track I said it would be better if we went in single file as we did not know what to expect. I was in the middle of the track and he was about five yards behind on the side of the track. Not having a watch but it was still dark, and we were still wet through from fording the river early on we had covered about a half mile when I heard movement to my left and a little to my front so I whispered get down they was still coming our way so I said get over the bank and hedge I will cover you, so we did.

It was at this time that I heard the voices and knew that they were Germans and they was still coming our way. The best thing for us was to retreat back to the Battalion, so I said to Gregory you move back I’ll cover then you cover me we’ll get back and report. He set off along the ditch that was on the field side of the rail track and as I looked to see where they were they was coming closer so I open fire with the sten gun and the flames that shot out was enough to light up the night sky but being wet through I slide down the bank into the ditch it was a blessing in disguise as a burst of fire came cutting the hedge above me, so I threw a grenade in their direction and beat a hasty retreat hoping to see my Partner along the way but I could not find him.

So working my way back through the bomb craters I joined up with C Company and asked if they had seen my partner they said he has gone through about a quarter hour ago, but get off the platform as there was sparks flying off it. The Corporal in charge ask if I would give them a hand as they was expecting a attack but I declined and made my way back to Battalion Headquarters to report, It was there that I met my partner again, The Second in Command told us to hang about and he would let the Company know where we were.

As the light was coming in the Germans started to attack on A Company front and as all companies was only about half strength he moved us up to give a hand, during the German Mortar fire we moved up to the cross- road where the railway crossed and got into a house right on the side of the house and railway. There was some boxes of ammunition lying outside the door that had been drop off, and as I was needing a refill I reached out get that a bomb hit the ground in front of me, I was on my knees at the time so I just ducked back but felt a blow on my hand and the thumb started to swell, it was at this time that I lost my partner who was back in the room a bit. When things quieten down I visited the Doctor who opened my thumb and cleaned out the dirt that was all that was in it, saying I was very lucky. I asked about my partner and he said I just put him away to the Field Hospital he will be fine.

Edwin G. Booth

Personal Photographs



Edwin G. Booth

 

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