6th , 1944
6th Assault Regt. R. E. - 82 Assault Squadron - 284 Assault
I joined 6th Assault Regt.
R. E. shortly after my eighteenth birthday, having joined up on
a Territorial engagement at the age of seventeen in the Spring of
1943. In March of 1944 the Division was ready to move to the South
Coast in preparation. The Adjutant told me that I wouldnt
be going to France as at that time you had to be 19 to go abroad
on active service, so I spent perhaps two weeks brooding in Felixstowe
with the old soldiers etc. Parliament amended the age to eighteen
and the Adjutant sent for me to join my unit, hidden in a pine forest
near Calshott Castle. I was very pleased to meet the tank crews again
at the final briefing,and wondered which crew I would be assigned
to. Much to the amusement of my comrades, I was to man two radio
sets on the C. O. s vehicle which meant traveling in a separate
landing ship from the LVTs used by the AVRES.
After the delay for the
weather we finally set sail about midnight on the 5th. Edging our
way across the Channel we passed one of our largest battleships,
just before first light. As we drew to the shore side of the monster
it fired a broadside of its sixteen inch guns. It clearly
moved sideways in the recoil. Our war was on! We also passed rocket
launchers, never seen before, the shore line emerged in the distance.
Everybody forgot about being sick in the rough seas and prepared
to land. We were trying to make out what was happening on the beach
when our ship hove to. There were a number of heated exchanges between
our C.O. and the American Captain. Eventually, he allowed us to
land from a raft. I could see and hear only the loudest explosions
with a crackly headset on.
Thats how we landed
on Gold beach when most of our Acres were already off the
beach and on their way to Ver sur Mr. were fortunate, we owed our
lives and a fairly uneventful landing to the AVRE and the
Flails. Major Elphinstone, who was in command of all three lanes,
opened his turret to deal with a problem and was immediately killed
by a sniper. Our first casualty. We made our way to the rendezvous
with 82 Squadron in an orchard south of Ver sur Mer. I was asked
by an officer to look at a monastery which had been used as a barracks
by the enemy. The Mess still had all the pictures of Hitler on the
wall. The tables were littered as though it had been suddenly vacated
and in the entrance hall was a dead body. I went to turn it over
to identify it and the officer shouted Dont touch that,its
That night I slept under
the stars. The AVRE to which I was assigned already had a five man
crew. This was because they had a demolition NCO on board so there
was not room for six under the tank I had a piece of canvas that
I found on the ship so with two pieces of rope I rigged up a hammock
tied to the towing eye and a convenient fence. In the morning the
crew thought it funny to start the engine. I jumped out as the tank
moved forward and tore the hammock from the fence. However,I got
my rightful place as the demolition NCO was reassigned.
These men had a tough job.
They were in charge of the special explosives carried in the panniers
of AVREs for special jobs. This is why, when an AVRE brewed
up the heavy armoured side plates were completely blown off.
Bayeux was captured intact and throughout the following weeks the
nightly battles for the villages like Tilly sur Seulles and Hottot
took up a lot of our time. Bocage country could be a nightmare, you
could only see as far as the next field and in the lanes, only as
far as the next bend. At night, German self-propelled guns stalked
the hedgerows. The role of AVREs and the other specialised
tanks in 79th Armoured Div. was to be assigned to troops engaged
in specific tasks. Late June and early July was a time of assignment
and days of standing down. It was times of the latter when the more
bizarre experiences of war seemed to happen. One morning a squadron
of Bostons flew overhead dropping bombs no more than half a mile
from where we parked which shook us into the reality that the Germans
were not far away. On one night a Fokke-wolf fighter flew low over
our orchard and a comrade and I fired at it with a bren gun. We
were immediately shouted at by a more experienced NCO who knew the
folly of such action. The farmer however, came across to the bivouacs
with a medicine bottle of the fiercest Calvados I have ever tasted.
The Bostons and the Typhoons
that accompanied them meant only one thing, an enemy advance. We
knew that Hitler had prevented Rommel from bringing up Panzer Divisions
until now. The showdown was the most important battle of the campaign
for northern France, Falaise. We moved during the night to an FUP,
still surrounded by Bocage country, you couldnt tell what
was the other side of the hedge. The next morning, a truck arrived
from 6th Assault HQ with a number of staff who really didnt
need to be there. We brewed up and I was taking a mug to my tank
when a mortar bomb landed right on the spot at the back of the truck.
I was blown several yards and when I came to I saw a hole near my
groin. I took out the field dressing and was applying it when my
crew arrived. I must have passed out again because when I regained
consciousness I was in a medical half-track with three young Germans,
two of whom were already dead. I was taken to an advance medical
post in a farm outhouse. The young doctor, with a carpenters apron
covered in blood, asked me to get up onto an old trestle. When I
couldnt he put me back on the stretcher and I was taken to
Field Hospital near Bayeux. Two of my comrades visited me next morning
and told me I was off to Blight. In an un-insulated DC2 it must
have been at least 90 degrees, while airborne, it was freezing
We landed in an Oxfordshire
base with a Hospital, where I spent several hours in a corridor.
They operated on me but didnt tell me that they were unable
to reach the shrapnel. The next day they took me to Dudley Hospital
in a ward of casualties from France. After another operation they
also didnt mention that they had not extracted the offending
metal. It was finally discovered by an enthusiastic radiographer
in 1991 and it remains where it has been for nearly sixty years.
After Dudley, it was a
brief yet idyllic stay in a recuperating establishment on the banks
of the Severn near the Wrekin. Soon I was off to a transit camp
in Storrington, Sussex. In a few days I
boarded an LVT which debarked us on the old quay at Boulogne. Lucky
me! I was put on a 30cwt. and told that I would be joining my Unit
near Antwerp. It was late September 44. Driving through the Escault
tunnel, which had been bombed, we finally found elements of my unit
on the other side. The very first person I saw was the RSM who said
Get back on the truck were going back through the tunnel.
The advance being temporarily reversed.
It was a couple of days
before we were back through the tunnel again and on towards Holland.
82 Squadron played their part in the attack on Walcheren, a fairly
heavily defended island in the mouth of the Scheldt. I, in the meantime
was part of the forces which took over from the Canadians in that
part of Holland west of the Scheldt. The invasion of Walcheren was
mounted from Breskens where there was a small level of resistance
actually in the town We were able to deal with that and the owner
of a Cigar factory brought us cigars. The Buffaloe which was an
amphibious troop carrier, played a very large part in capturing
Breskens and in the much wider operation on Walcheren. The most
lasting memory of this part of the campaign is of the weather. The
country around Breskens was very cold and wet in November 44.
We occupied some hollowed out hayricks with the inevitable rats.
When the snow came I managed to develop trench feet.
Fortunately the medicos were able to cut off my boots and socks
and within a week I was walking again. About this time we received
our first delivery of Tank Suits. That was the first time we had
adequate clothing for the weather conditions. I didnt take
it off until Nijmegen.
Nijmegen in midwinter was
a collection of 2nd Army and American troops. The failure at Arnhem,
which was predictable, was as depressing as the lack of activity.
Montgomery wanted the combined force to cross the Rhine but the
Americans thought that the time was not right. Montgomery and Churchill
undoubtedly thought that Arrnhem would be a great propaganda coup
but failed to see that there were very experienced German troops
in the area who sadly finished 6th Airbornes expectations. With
the diversion of the Ardennes, where 79 Armoured troops were asked
to support the defence, the winter dragged on until the advance
to the Rhine. Breda,Tilburg, s Hertogenbosch and Weert. We
made friends in Weert, our Signal Officer, the son of a Welsh Minister,
studied Catholicism at night and later married his Dutch fiancee.
The Reichwald was perhaps
the most depressing part of the war. We were not liberating
any more, the weather was atrocious and some of the villages we
passed through were the most deprived that I had ever seen. East
of the Maas the 31st Armoured Brigade supported by elements of 79
Armoured Div. set out for Geilenkirchen. On the 20th of November
a troop of Avres destroyed five pillboxes in the Seigfried
Line, worthy of historical mention. 16 Assault Squadron launched
the first Skid Bailey bridge over a crater in the main road to Heinsberg.
My Squadron also launched a Skid Bailey North of Wheezes wasnt
involved in that operation but had every respect for the tanks that
did this, usually under fire.
One vivid memory of this
period includes getting bogged down and then frozen in overnight.
The flat bottom of the Churchill made a perfect bond with the ice
and it took all day to free it. On the 5th of February 1,000 guns
started a barrage that lasted five hours as the leading troops to
cross the Rhine crossed the start line. We supported the 51st Division
by laying two bridges and some fascines and petarding a pillbox.
One bridge was useless because of the soft ground but the right
hand one held up. On another lane two Avres broke their tracks,
one with a facine and another lost its bridge. The mud and
soft ground was a feature of the Reichswald. In the flooded parts
the Canadians were reliant on Buffaloes. The flooding was part of
Without the Buffaloes the
advance would scarcely have possible. Nevertheless, Goch and Cleve
were taken. Flame from our Crocodile tanks was used in this advance.
The Advance through Westphalia and up to the Baltic ports was a
succession of major confrontations in which tanks of 79 Armoured
were involved. From a personal view, the burning down of the gallows
in Belsen was a moving experience. 10,000 bodies lay unburied and
a further 13,000 died in the following days. I had the job of encouraging
prisoners who had wandered off to return to the camp for registration.One
group, in the bushes outside the perimeter, couldnt be moved.
They just sat there,expressionless.I just gave them some sweets
and cigarettes that I kept in my map pocket. Meeting up with the
Americans at the crossing of the Elbe, close to Luneburg heath,
marshalling hundreds of prisoners and ironically, enjoying the Spring
sunshine,was really the end of my war. Excepting driving through
the ruins of Hamburg and ending upon VE day in Lubeck.