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Denis Edwards
Rank: Private
Denis Edwards



D Company, 2nd Oxfordshire

Normandy, France

June 6th, 1944

Survived the war?
Oxs and Bucks Light Infantry

Oxs and Bucks Light Infantry

One of the 180...

Denis "Eddie" Edwards was born in Sundridge, Kent in July 1924. He had always intended to join the Royal Navy and became a Sea Cadet after leaving school, however he was unfortunate in the severity of the Petty Officers that were assigned to train his group and so the novelty of life at sea quickly wore off. On the 25th March 1941, Edwards applied to join the British Army and was posted to the 70th Young Persons Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

"There was great excitement when a notice was posted on the Battalion notice board calling for volunteers to transfer to the 2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Apparently this was something to do with the Airborne Forces, about which we knew very little, but it sounded interesting. The greatest part of the attraction, however, was the location, which our enquiries revealed to be at Bulford, on Salisbury Plain, and therefore much closer to our homes. Almost everyone volunteered... To join the Airborne Forces there was a requirement for a good standard of vision, and I knew that my eyesight was slightly below par. To overcome this obstacle, I plotted with a pal of mine, persuading him to get into the queue ahead of me, to memorize the critical line from the eyesight chart and let me know it before I went in. The scheme worked perfectly."

"The regime at Bulford camp was tough, consisting of hard work, long marches and poor food. I was assigned initially to the Recce Platoon of "S" Company and I have good memories of those times... I transferred from "S" Company Recce platoon into "D" Company after a while and life became even tougher. In "D" Company we had the hardest of taskmasters in Major John Howard as Company Commander... His Company had to be the best at everything, be it sport, marches, field exercises or physical and endurance training... Sometimes, without warning, we would be roughly roused from our beds at around midnight, loaded into lorries and driven several miles out into Salisbury Plain. With little idea of our precise whereabouts we were dropped off in Sections and told to find our way back to camp, avoiding patrols that were sent out to catch us. To get back to the camp we would have to cross the Artillery Firing Ranges, which would be in use, with live shells, from dawn onwards! Alternatively, in what were called Initiative Tests, we would be taken even further afield, dropped off in ones and twos, without money or food, and told that the local population had been advised to report any sightings of suspected enemy paratroops. Farmers tended to let fly with both barrels of their shotguns if they found us helping ourselves from their vegetable fields!"

"While "D" Company invariably appeared to be best at everything, we were probably no better or worse than the lads in the other companies. However, our extraordinarily zealous Company Commander insisted that his Company had to win at everything. This virtually ensured that when a Company from the gliderborne Airlanding Brigade - with a choice from twelve infantry companies from Ox and Bucks, Devons and Royal Ulster Rifles - was required for a special mission "D" Company stood out as the natural choice for the job. In fact, if "D" Company had an advantage over the other companies in the Brigade, it was simply because it was led by the most determined and dedicated Company Commander."

"Despite all the hardships, life was not entirely disagreeable. The tension of a grueling week of training was alleviated by a trip into Salisbury at weekends, where we would drink the pubs dry and engage in pitched battles with the Americans, who also converged on Salisbury for rest and recreation. The local people must have dreaded our forays into the city and we were surely seen as a bunch of hooligans as we fell upon the city..."

"Apart from flying training, we were continuously undergoing every other type of training for the skills that we should need when, eventually, we had to face a real enemy, so fieldcraft and rifle shooting were constantly practiced... we were constantly wondering when we would go into action. There were frequent rumours that this might happen soon, and the news constantly reminded us that the Russians were pushing hard for the Allies to open a second front in the West, to take the pressure away from them. We could never have suspected that, to ensure a successful bridgehead for that second front, "D" Company would be selected to carry out a daring and terrifyingly dangerous mission, a mission for which we were to receive the most intensive training."

"It was in the middle of May, 1944, when we were loaded into trucks, with the covering tarpaulins all tied down to conceal us from public view, as a security measure. We were transported to Exeter where we were briefed that we were to undertake an exercise to attack a pair of bridges with a view to capturing them intact. One of the bridges was over the River Exe, while the second crossed the Exeter canal just a short distance from it. Unknown to anyone, with the exception of Major John Howard, the two bridges at Countess Weir, Exeter, being very similar in appearance and positioning to two bridges near Caen in Normandy, had become an important part of the plans being secretly discussed for the invasion of Normandy. To us this was just another exercise of course, and we had no notion that our objectives bore any relation to anything else."

"Just a few weeks later, at the end of May, we were again loaded into trucks and were driven to an airfield "somewhere in southern England". We were instructed to remain concealed at all times while en route, and when we arrived at our destination none of us knew where we were or why we were there. Within a short time we would learn that our exercise at Countess Weir had been a dress rehearsal. Now the stage was set and the curtain was about to go up... A day or so after our arrival we were ordered from our Section tents, told to "Fall In" and marched to an inner guarded and wired-off enclosure in the heart of the camp... We entered a large tent and received a briefing from Major Howard. Later, by platoons, each consisting of about twenty-eight men, we went to smaller tents for more detailed briefings from our Platoon Commanders."

"My platoon, No.25, was to fly in the first of the three gliders to go down on to the canal bridge... The latest aerial photographs were very useful, as they showed the bridges and surrounding terrain in great detail. There was also a large-scale model and we were assured that every house, outbuilding, tree, bush, hedge, gateway, ditch and fortification had been meticulously recorded. Even if a pane of glass in one of the windows had been broken, we were assured, it would be shown!... For this special mission we were fortunate in having been allocated the best pilots that the Glider Pilot Regiment could produce. They were cool efficient characters who informed us that although we may lose a wing or two, they were confident that they would be able to put us down close to our targets, and fully expected to finish the trip the right way up!"

"At 1700 hours we had tea and strolled over to a large tent to see a film show. There was little else to do because, now that our mission had been disclosed, the camp was sealed; no one could get in or out. Afterwards we rushed to the NAAFI tent where we queued for a glass of beer, but became fed up with the long wait, gave up and returned to our tent where we played cards, turning in eventually at around 2200 hours. It was hot inside the small tent and I suspect that, like me, few of the others slept soundly. On my mind was the thought that the task that had been allocated to us seemed so great for so small a force. To be the only Allied unit in France, even if for only a short time, facing whatever German forces might be thrown at us, seemed a daunting prospect. What if the Germans counter-attacked before the Paras came in to reinforce us? What if the seaborne forces didn't break through the German defences in time to take over the positions we were holding? Although everything was planned down to the smallest detail, it was clear to us that there we so many possibilities for everything to go badly wrong. I have never made a secret of the fact that I, like every one of my colleagues, thought that the whole scheme was little more than a suicide mission... Even if we succeeded in taking the bridges - which was in itself quite possible as we had surprise on our side - the task of holding them until reinforcements got to us by air or fought their way through from the beaches seemed like a pipedream. I smoked a great many cigarettes on the night after the first briefing, just about the longest night I can ever remember, and as such the most appropriate, if uncomfortable start to D-Day."

"We had an easy day, checking equipment and carrying out final briefings. Everyone was keyed up and the air felt charged with tension. Latest intelligence reports informed us that within the past few days the 12th SS Panzer Division and 21st Panzer Division (30,000 men and 300 tanks) had both been moved into the area around Caen, some five miles from our targets... Upon hearing this unwelcome news, the general feeling was expressed by one and all as "Just our bloody luck!""

"Fully equipped, we looked like pack mules. Everything that we would need during the next five days we had to carry ourselves... We clambered on to trucks that took us on the short ride to the airfield where we sorted ourselves into Sections and Platoons, drank hot tea and sat around on the edge of the runway smoking heavily and cracking corny jokes. The gliders were already in position behind their Halifax bombers, which were to be our glider tugs. Nervously we waited to clamber aboard. We kept busy, smearing our recently issued multi-coloured grease paint on our hands, necks and faces so that our white skin would not show up in the dark. Then, at 2200 hours, the order rang out "emplane" and we clambered aboard the gliders, wishing each other good luck, singing and joking. Once aboard the jokes continued, and on the surface there was an air of good humour but it did not cover the strong undercurrent of tension. As I strapped myself into my seat I became aware that I was becoming increasingly scared."

"At 2256 hours the steady hum of the bomber engines suddenly increased to a deafening roar. My muscles tightened, a cold shiver ran up my spine, I went hot and cold, and sang all the louder to stop my teeth from chattering. Suddenly there was a violent jerk and a loud "twang" as our tug plane took up the slack on the 125-foot towrope... I experienced an interesting psychological change in the few minutes before and immediately after take off. As I had climbed aboard and strapped myself into my sea I felt tense, strange and extremely frightened, much as I imagined a condemned man must feel on his last morning when he is being led from the condemned cell to the gallows. It was as if I were in a fantasy dream world and I thought that at any moment I would wake up from this unreality and find that I was back in the barrack room at Bulford Camp. Laughing and singing, each one of us attempted to show the others that we were not frightened, but personally I knew that I was scared half to death. The idea of carrying out a night-time airborne landing of such a small force into the midst of the German army seemed to me to be a sure way of getting killed, yet at the moment that the glider parted company with the ground I experienced an inexplicable change. The feeling of terror vanished and was replaced by exhilaration. I felt as if I were on top of the world. The hand of destiny had guided me to this point in my life and I remember thinking, "You've had it chum. It's no good worrying any more... the die is cast; what will be will be, and there is nothing that you can do about it", and so I sat back to enjoy my first trip to continental Europe."

D-Day - Bénouville, Tuesday, 6th June

"As we drew level with the thickest of the flak and were beginning to make out the coastline, there came the familiar "twang", and jerk of the tow-rope, followed by almost total silence which, from past experience, told us that we had parted company from the towing bomber. While in tow there had been a continuous high-pitched scream of wind forcing its way through the cracks and crevices in the thin fabric covering of the wooden fuselage. The noise was increased by the fact that the door had been opened to facilitate rapid exit once we landed. As we approached the coast the order was given to keep quiet. Hardly a sound could be heard as the bombers flew onwards on a diversionary inland bombing mission."

"Immediately after cast-off we had gone into a steep dive, a manoeuvre that had more than one purposes. Firstly of course the pilots knew exactly where we were and exactly the point we had to reach. Having no alternative to descent, they had to lose height at a rate which would allow us to arrive at the landing zone alongside the bridges with no further height to lose. To arrive at the landing zone while still too high, and then circling around to lose height is not a good idea when you are being shot at. Secondly, the German flak was ranged at the bomber formation, and rapid descent took us away from the immediate danger of flak damage. Thirdly, it was hoped that observers on the ground would assume that the rapidly descending glider was a crippled bomber on its way down. From around 6000 feet we plummeted earthwards at what felt to us like breakneck speed until we were within 1000 feet of the ground, where we levelled out to glide more slowly down and take two sweeping right-hand turns to position ourselves for the run-in to the landing zone."

"With our bodies tensed and weapons tightly gripped, the Senior Pilot, Staff Sergeant Jim Wallwork, yelled, "Link Arms", and we knew that at any moment we would touch down. The time was 0015 hours as we all held tight and braced ourselves for touchdown. There was the usual slight bump, a small jerk and a much heavier thump, as the glider made contact with the ground, but only for a moment. It jerked again, shuddered, left the ground for a second or two, bumped over the rough surface and lurched forward like a bucking bronco. We sped forward, bouncing up and down on our hard wooden seats as the vehicle lost contact with the ground, then came down again with another heavy thump, a tug and a jerk. For a few moments it appeared that we were in for a comparatively smooth landing, but just as that thought flashed through my mind the darkness was suddenly filled with a stream of brilliant sparks as the glider lost its wheels and the skid hit some stony ground. There followed a sound like a giant canvas sheet being viciously ripped apart, then a mighty crash like a clap of thunder and my body seemed to be moving in several directions at once. Moments later the crippled glider skidded and bounced over the uneven ground to slide finally to a juddering halt, whereupon I found myself perched in a very strange position at an uneven angle."

"I peered into a misty blue and greyish haze. From somewhere out in endless space there zoomed towards me a long tracer-like stream of multi-coloured lights, like a host of shooting stars that moved towards me at high speed. I realized after a moment that I was not being shot at. I was simply concussed and seeing stars! The noise from the landing had ceased very suddenly and was replaced by an ominous silence. No one stirred, nothing moved. My immediate thought was "God help me - we must all be dead". The peace, after all the din and commotion, was unexpected and eerie. Then some of the others began to stir and the realization that we were not all dead came quickly as bodies began unstrapping themselves and moving around in the darkness of the glider's shattered interior."

"The whole interior of the glider erupted into a hive of furious activity as everyone sought their various weapons and equipment. The exit door had been right beside my feet. Now there was only a mass of twisted wood and fabric across the doorway and we had to use the butts of our rifles to smash our way out. When it was my turn, I clambered out and dropped to the ground. I glanced around from beneath the glider's tilted wing and saw the canal bridge's massive steel superstructure towering above me. The pilots had done a fantastic job in bringing the slithering, bouncing and crippled glider to a halt with its nose buried into the canal bank and within seventy-five yards of the bridge. As I moved forward I glanced back towards the glider and saw that the entire front had been smashed inwards - almost back to the wing... I had been very lucky, but I thought that those who were forward of me must have been badly smashed up or killed. There was no time to think about this, however. The medics would take care of the injured. A few of the lads were already up ahead and, not wishing to be left behind in this exposed place, I made haste to join them. Major Howard was already on the approach to the bridge and shouted, "Come on, boys. This is it!""

"Charging forward, we reached the wide steel bridge, letting fly with rifles and automatics, and threw grenades, shouting at the top of our voices to frighten the German defenders and to boost our own morale. An enemy machine gun on the far side of the bridge chattered into life. We returned fire and kept going, with our Platoon Commander Lieutenant Brotheridge, leading the way. The machine gun was firing long bursts as we charged, and Brotheridge, who was at the very front of the charge, was hit and fell to the ground mortally wounded. Later, when we heard what had happened, every one of us was really distressed that Lieutenant Brotheridge should have been killed in that way at the very start of our mission. He was a man for whom we had the greatest respect. Like all our Airborne officers, he had never asked us to do anything that he would not do himself. As we neared the far side of the bridge, still shouting, firing our weapons and lobbing hand grenades, the Germans jumped to their feet and ran for their lives, scattering in all directions. Relief, exhilaration, incredulity - I experienced all these feelings upon realizing that we had taken the bridge."

"We expected the Paras to reach us within an hour and, with the bridges now in our hands, we had to defend them against whatever counter-attack might be made. Still operating to the detailed plan rehearsed at the briefings before our departure, we took up our prearranged defensive positions. Our seven-man section moved a short distance down to the west side of the canal and took up positions astride a single-track railway that ran from Ouistreham to Caen along the top of the embankment. We removed our heavy equipment and unstrapped our small lightweight entrenching tools. These had a short wooden shaft, with a metal head having a small pick and spade... This was our only digging equipment - not the most effective tool, but just about the maximum that we could carry on top of everything else... Apart from the scraping and chinking noise of our entrenching tools against the ballast stones all was surprisingly quiet until the peace was suddenly interrupted by the sound of powerful engines from the west, somewhere around Bénouville. The accompanying clanking, rattling and squealing noises heralded the movement of tanks, and very obviously they were coming our way."

"For tanks to arrive so quickly was terrifying and we stopped digging as they drew nearer. Our main concern was their size, as we had nothing to stop larger tanks. No doubt the guards who had fled from the bridge had been able to warn a nearby unit of our arrival and the tanks were sent to investigate. By now they were less than fifty yards to my rear and moving towards the bridge. Suddenly I heard the familiar crack as one of the lads by the bridge fired a PIAT weapon... We had all been trained to use these weapons and, frankly, we were thoroughly skeptical about their effectiveness against real tanks. To our utter amazement, however, within a second or so of the PIAT being fired there was a mighty explosion quickly followed by shouts and screams, and it was obvious that an effective hit had been scored on the leading tank... The tank that was hit was a light machine, fortunately for us all, but still it burned very nicely, illuminating the bridge structure with a huge blaze of orange, red and yellow. There followed the sound of exploding ammunition as the tank "brewed up"."

"After the tanks were driven off we settled down to await the arrival of the Paras. All was quiet again until the parachute transports came overhead, when the German anti-aircraft guns and ground forces began firing into the night sky. The first few planes flew over with little opposition, but those that followed ran into heavy flak and at least one took a direct hit, was set on fire and came hurtling down like a comet from about 3000 feet. I couldn't see anything of them in the darkness but I hoped that the Paras and aircrew had been able to bail out before it crashed, since it hit the ground with such force that no one on board could possibly have survived the impact... The Paras should have been with us within an hour but it was obvious from the way that they were being carried by the wind that they were being scattered over a wide area and not within the compact dropping zone that had been planned. The result of all the confusion was that it was around 0230 hours before the first of them arrived, and the only in dribs and drabs."

"It became very tricky as figures suddenly appeared in the darkness. It was impossible to tell whether they were friend or foe until they got to within whispering distance and we challenged them with a pre-arranged password. We whispered "V", and the correct response was "for Victory". A German patrol which came close to us was challenged, then cut down by the light machine-gun fire when they failed to respond with the password. Killed with them were three of our Paras whom they had taken prisoner, and who obviously had declined to supply the password at the appropriate time, and so paid with their lives, along with the German patrol that had captured them. It was tragic bad luck, but a hazard of war."

"Generally the night was quieter than we had expected but with the dawn came Germans in droves and from all directions. Under cover of darkness their snipers had climbed into tall trees and buildings and from daylight onwards began firing their high-powered rifles with deadly accuracy. My first indication was the distant "crack" as they fired and, almost instantaneously, one of our lads would crash to the ground. They were fantastic marksmen and seldom let off a shot without hitting what they were aiming at... With no ammunition to spare we knew that there was no point in blazing away at every high tree and building in the surrounding area. In any event we were reluctant to disclose our defensive positions and firepower. We knew that the Germans could still have had little idea of our strength, so we were not keen to help them revise their estimates. All we could do was to lie doggo and keep a sharp eye open for a definite target. When we had to move it was a case of crawling rapidly across open spaces and, when we thought that we were reasonably concealed from view, jumping to our feet and running for dear life!"

"Later in the morning our seven-man Section was ordered to leave the comparative protection of the bridge defences. It was to the small village of Le Port that we were directed, on the higher ground just to the north-west of the canal bridge. During the night Le Port had been occupied by units of the 7th Parachute Battalion who were now under intensive attack by elements of the 21st Panzer Division. Moving with great caution, our of respect for the German snipers who appeared to have every inch of open ground well covered, we reached the outskirts of the village... Before becoming involved in the fight around the village of Le Port, we found a quiet spot beneath a tree to have a bite to eat. I had eaten nothing since leaving England and was glad to open my twenty-four-hour ration pack which consisted of a few dry biscuits, boiled sweets and a bar of unsweetened chocolate. I chewed a hard biscuit and sucked a sweet. It was not much, but for a short time it took my mind off the thought of food, until suddenly our "meal" was interrupted by a long burst from an enemy heavy machine gun."

"The stream of bullets ripped through the tree, inches above our heads, showering us with twigs and leaves. At that moment the 7th Para Battalion's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Pine-Coffin, accompanied by a young officer, appeared next to our tree, crouching to keep below the line of the machine-gun fire, and busily looked all around, taking in the picture. The two of them paused momentarily, glanced up at the splintered tree and the Colonel said to his companion, "That is not too healthy old boy. He's firing just a shade too close for comfort. We had better deal with him, eh?" With Stens tucked under their arms, they wandered southwards in a leisurely manner and disappeared through a gap in a nearby hedge. A few moments later came the rat-a-tat tat of two Stens, followed by complete silence. Soon they reappeared with broad smiles upon their faces, looked towards us and the Colonel said, "Well lads, that's fixed him up"... Years later I realized that the young Officer who had accompanied the Para Commander was Richard Todd, the film actor, who resumed his career after the war and appropriately played the role of Major John Howard in the film The Longest Day. No other actor could have had quite the same feel for the role as he had!"

"The village of Le Port was not large, but when we arrived only a small part of it was still under our control. The Germans had already gained the western and southern areas and the centre was a no-man's land... On arrival at the outskirts of the village we made contact with the Paras who directed us to defend a short row of cottages just to the south of the church. It was inside one of these cottages that I found a partly used laundry book which I stuffed into my tunic pocket. This was the notebook in which I was to scribble my daily recollections during the coming weeks and months of my stay in Normandy. Having gained access to one of the cottages from the rear, two of us went upstairs while the others stayed below. Peering through the front window, we realized that the Germans were occupying a cottage directly across the narrow street. We lobbed a couple of hand grenades through their window and scampered downstairs and waited until they retaliated with their stick grenades. As soon as these exploded in the bedroom above, we ran back up the stairs and repeated the process."

"Because of the danger of being pinned down we soon found it necessary to vacate the first cottage by nipping out of the back door, over the side garden wall, and entering the next one... With Germans occupying buildings on either side of ours we decided to carry out a fast withdrawal by running down the back garden and out through a gate in the end wall. As we did so the garden was raked by machine-gun fire, but we all got clear without being hit. We moved into a small field on the eastern fringe of the village and immediately to the south of the church. In our new position it would be difficult for the enemy to carry out a surprise attack as we spread out and lay down in the longish grass... Soon a German peered cautiously through the gateway. We ducked down and kept still. Then another appeared and, obviously assuming that we had vacated the area, they both stepped out into the field. Despite our shortage of ammunition, all seven of us opened fire with everything we had... The two Germans could hardly have known what hit them and they crashed to the ground and made no further movement."

"At the front, the church was separated from the road by a high wall. We could hear Germans on the other side barking orders to each other. Two of us slithered through the tall grass to climb over the low wall that separated the south side of the church from our field. Once within the churchyard, we darted from gravestone to gravestone, until close enough to the much higher front boundary wall to lob over a couple of grenades, before turning and running back to the field. As we ran back into the field the grenades exploded and we had the satisfaction of hearing screams from someone in the roadway. Suddenly, in perfect English, a German shouted, "You English in the church. You are surrounded and cannot escape. Leave your weapons behind you and come out through the church gate and no harm will come to you." Two of the others jumped over the wall along the southern edge of the churchyard to hurl the last of our grenades over the wall, shouting, "Have these, then. That's all we're giving up.""

"After all the earlier din of battle it suddenly became very quiet. Even the Germans had stopped shouting to each other, when suddenly, in the uncanny stillness of that spring day, I heard a sound that will live with me for the rest of my days... One of the lads shouted "It's them - it's the Commando!" and we all let out a cheer as the noise grew louder and we recognized it as the high-pitched and uneven wailing of bagpipes!... Shouting and cheering, we all expressed our joy together and, abandoning all caution, were up on our feet and leapt over the wall into the churchyard again, yelling things like "Now you Jerry bastards, you've got a real fight on your hands." Suddenly, as if in response to our lack of caution, and from just above our heads somewhere up in the church tower, a fast-firing enemy machine gun burst into life. We dived for the cover of the nearest gravestones, but then realized that he was not firing at us, but towards the Commando... From the churchyard we could see nothing of the machine-gunner, so we ran back to the field and fired our last few rounds at the upper part of the church in the hope of keeping him quiet. He ignored us and continued to fire long bursts towards the Commando. After a quick discussion we decided to rush the church, get inside and dislodge him from there. However, just as the decision was made, we heard the Commando in the street beyond the churchyard's front wall. They were accompanied by two Sherman tanks which halted, swung their guns over the wall and fired with a deafening crash, blasting away the top of the church tower. When the firing stopped we went back into the churchyard, out through the front gate, and greeted the Commando and assisted them in clearing out the few remaining Germans. Most had fled once the reinforcements had arrived and we were ordered to return to our Company."

"Once darkness fell it became quiet around the bridges. I slid into a roadside ditch and immediately fell asleep. Between 2200 and 2300 hours apparently over a thousand pairs of hobnailed boots and an assortment of vehicles passed along the road within a few feet of my head, but I heard nothing of them."

D+1 - Hérouvillette and Escoville - Wednesday, 7 June

"Apart from my profound sleep in the ditch, which had lasted all too short a time - only an hour or so - I had been virtually without sleep for forty-eight hours. None of the other lads was in any better shape because most of them, like me, had slept very little during the last night at Transit Camp, as we were full of apprehension at the thought of the daunting task that lay ahead. Since then we had been in continuous action of one sort or another, but, despite this, soon after midnight we were ordered to "fall in, ready to move off"... At around 0300 hours we arrived at what we assumed was Ranville. Here we were to rendezvous with the rest of our Battalion... As we approached the village we came under fire. Although surprised at this reception, our officers concluded that a few Germans had infiltrated the area so we shot our way through the light opposition only to meet heavier fire-power in the village centre, which forced a hasty retreat and a hurried discussion among the officers. They concluded that in the dark we had somehow by-passed Ranville and entered Hérouvillette, which was to be the Regiment's battle objective at dawn... Tired to the point of total exhaustion, we were allowed to get a little more sleep near Ranville, but were roused before dawn to make the short journey into Hérvouvillette, but now in full battalion strength."

"As our Company had already been in action, it was placed in reserve, but we gathered that the lead units met little opposition and were then able to continue southwards to the next village, Escoville... It was quiet and peaceful when most of us reached the centre of the village, and we were congratulating ourselves for having gained the Regimental objective without a real fight, but our self-satisfaction was premature. It was about 1100 when all hell broke loose. The Germans were dug in on wooded and rising ground to the south of the village from where they had been watching us move into their trap. They opened fire with a massive bombardment. Most of our Platoon was in a small coppice that formed part of the château's grounds and, as shells and mortar bombs exploded in the trees above, we were showered with bits of trees, whole branches and red-hot shrapnel... All around me I saw men falling to the ground, killed or wounded; it was sheer murder, trapped as we were in what was effectively a killing-field."

"The 88's were not very far away and were firing through open sights in much the same way as we used our rifles, and they were wreaking havoc. As the barrage continued, one of our six-pounder anti-tank guns was wheeled into the gateway of the château's drive with the intention of knocking out the SP's... but unfortunately for us our gun didn't even get a shot off before it received a direct hit from one of the 88s... As the blue-grey smoke cleared around the gateway I saw that the little gun had suffered a direct hit. It had been blown backward about six feet, and all that was left were the shattered remains of gun and crew."

"The noise of the shelling and mortaring stopped quite suddenly and was replaced by small arms fire - sporadic bursts from machine gun and sub-machine gun - and uncoordinated rifle fire. The German infantry were moving forward through the orchards and wooded area along the south side of the village, firing their weapons as they advanced... As the enemy advanced bullets were chipping the tree trunks just above our heads and bits of stone and dust were coming off the top of our low wall. From the first salvo our position had been hopeless... Peering around the stone gatepost I was horrified to find myself looking at hordes of German infantry advancing down the track opposite the gateway! They saw me immediately and a hail of small-arms fire spattered around the entrance to the gateway, but with little accuracy as they were firing from the hip as they advanced. I dived behind the wall, severely shaken by what I had seen, and, shouting to the others, I took out a No.36 hand grenade. In my panic and haste I fumbled with the safety pin and nearly blew myself up as I released the firing pin before I threw the grenade. This meant that the very short fuse was already burning while the grenade was still in my hand. As it transpired, this was an advantage for there is only a few seconds' delay between the release of the firing pin and the explosion of the grenade... Some of the others also hurled grenades, which caused a succession of explosions, which were certainly effective as we heard screams of pain from injured Germans."

"As this was happening I turned my head and glanced along the wall, where to my amazement I saw our Section Lance Corporal Minns standing up with a Bren light machine gun propped between his body and one of the larger trees. As cool as can be, he was carefully firing long bursts towards the now disorganized enemy infantry. Seeing him standing there without being hit encouraged me to leap to my feet and open fire with my rifle, giving Minns the opportunity to load another magazine and fire another long burst... For the moment we had halted their advance, but with their superiority of numbers it was obvious that they would soon be coming at us again."

"With bullets chipping the tree trunks only a foot or two above our heads, we could only slither along the ground as fast as possible. One lad who was crawling alongside me became panic stricken and shouted, "I'm not stopping here to be killed I'm going to make a run for it". As he began to get to his feet I reached out to grab him, cursing and shouting, "Keep down you bloody fool. You haven't got a chance." They were the last words he heard. Before he could get his body into an upright position there was a long burst from an enemy automatic and he crashed back to the ground with a line of bullet holes across his back and shoulders, his blood splattering over me as I lay prostrate just behind him."

"The 88s, as well as mortars and machine guns, opened up again soon after the infantry attack had stalled, and as we crawled away two of the others were hit, either by shrapnel or bullets, and our seven-man Section was now down to four... We came to an alley that connected with the main road. This was just beyond the built-up area of the village. Some of the lads from No.22 Platoon were sheltering in ditches on either side of the road. As soon as they spotted us they shouted a warning that an enemy machine gun was firing directly into the alley from an opposite track to the south... The lads of 22 Platoon were obviously pinned down but the prospect of getting into one of the roadside ditches seemed to be a better idea than staying in my present somewhat exposed spot, so we dashed across the alley and dived into the nearest ditch."

"Suddenly I heard tanks moving to our east... As they came up the road I had a good view of them, and to my delight I recognized them as our Airborne Light Reconnaissance tanks. Some of the lads from 22 Platoon beckoned them to come forward in the hope that we could use their cover to allow us to withdraw. They moved towards us cautiously but after a short distance they stopped, then went into reverse and were soon back to the fork junction where they swivelled round and sped away northwards. Confused, I eased my body up the roadside bank and, looking eastwards again, I now saw more tanks. They were coming up from the south and were much larger than those that had just disappeared, but I could not identify them positively... Behind the two leading tanks I could see two or three more. Then I noticed that around these tanks and moving from the south fork and into the north one were long lines of infantry... This was enough to convince me that we were in danger. The tanks suddenly revved their engines and began moving slowly toward us. I shouted across to the others, "I don't know about you lot, but I still think they could be bloody Germans and I'm getting out of this road until I know who they are." "Please your bloody self," responded the Platoon Sergeant impatiently, underlining his point with an emphatic "but my platoon stays here." The other three in our little group of four agree with me that, as this was not our Platoon, our safest option was to be found in making ourselves scarce until we had established the identity of the new and strangely reticent arrivals."

"Being now reasonably concealed, I got to my feet and looked back towards the sunken road. I saw that the lead tank had its offside track in the north side ditch and the one following had its track in the south side ditch and both were firing their machine guns. The lads from 22 Platoon didn't have a chance. Those still in the ditches were being run over by the tanks. We were glad to see that some were standing in the road with their hands above their heads, so we hoped that they might at least get away with being taken prisoner... We moved off rapidly westwards across the orchard, in case the tanks came looking for us. Approaching the row of cottages, and taking great care not to be seen by whoever might be in occupation, we progressed cautiously from one end of the row towards the other, scanning the cottages from a respectable distance and from behind cover as we looked for signs of activity. About halfway along we spotted movement in an upper window and froze to the spot. After a while the figure reappeared and we recognized him as one of the lads from Company HQ. Now our problem was to make contact without being shot at by our own side... We crept forward until we were level with the back of the occupied cottage which was separated from the orchard by a high boundary wall with a tall and solid gate. Then I called quietly to the soldier by name. After a short pause a voice from the back garden called back. "Is that you Eddie?" "Yes," I replied, "There are four of us and it ain't healthy out here. For Christ's sake open this bloody gate..." The gate swung open and we dashed inside and found some of our own Company HQ people and a few remnants from other Platoons, all under the command of Major John Howard, whose head was swathed in blood-stained bandages, having been hit by a sniper earlier in the day."

"With the arrival of the four of us, the cottage now contained about a dozen men of various ranks, and we all busied ourselves barricading the lower windows and doors with whatever furniture was to hand. As far as anyone knew we were the only British left in the village and presumably the attacking Germans had bypassed us. The time passed slowly, but to our great relief towards the end of the afternoon a counter-attack was launched on the western side of the village... We got out from the east side and without making any further contact with the enemy we made our way carefully back to Hérouvillette where we rejoined the Regiment. It was estimated that we had suffered about sixty casualties, which was worrying. Our only consolation was that we were sure that the Germans had incurred even higher losses."

"With everyone pulling out of Escoville in such a hurry, a fair amount of equipment, ammunition, weapons, medical supplies and rations had been abandoned... Early in the evening a group of us were detailed to go back into the village to salvage whatever we could. We approached it with a great deal of caution, but were relieved to discover that the Germans, not wishing to make artillery targets of themselves, appeared to have pulled out... The first thing we found when we got there was our old cart, which we loaded with anything that we could conveniently grab, and there was a lot of it to be had. With our heavy load of salvaged supplies, and with plenty of sweating and swearing, we manhandled the heavily laden cart back towards our new area. In the gathering dusk when we were about midway the two villages an enemy fighter plane spotted us... It was very fortunate that no one was hit, because if we had taken a single casualty it is doubtful that the survivors would have had enough strength to get the heavily laden cart back to our lines."

D+2 - Hérouvillette - Thursday, 8 June

"In our new positions we quickly settled into a routine. The first night was divided into spells of guard duty and digging out new defensive trenches... To be effective, a trench suitable for two men needs to be about six feet long, two feet wide and over five feet deep. It was no easy task to dig out such a trench with a small implement like the entrenching tool supplied to airborne troops... An hour before daylight everyone was alerted and watching the front in anticipation of a dawn attack. When this did not materialize at daybreak we were permitted to leave our trenches in ones and twos to make our way to Company HQ which was located in a nearby caravan."

"In the evening I went out with a five-man patrol to explore the area to our east. We made our way slowly to a farmhouse about 500 yards from our positions. We could not risk entering as the Germans were known to be around and it was more than likely that they would be in occupation. We moved eastwards until we came to a road and wooded slope, where we settled down for some time to watch and listen for any sign of enemy activity, but heard and saw nothing so returned quietly to our lines."

D+7 - Hérouvillette/St. Come - Tuesday, 13 June

"In the early hours we were roused and ordered to pack everything and be ready to move out at short notice. Because the 51st Highland Division had just moved into our area, some of the lads got the bright idea that we were being pulled out and taken home... At around 0400 hours we were quietly ordered to fall in in sections, ready to move off. We advanced eastwards up the lane towards the higher ground of the Orne river valley. This was a very odd route to be taking if we were being pulled out!... As we trudged up a track we passed some of the Paras who were being pulled out. They had been badly mauled. Most had blood-soaked field dressings covering various parts of their bodies and they looked badly shaken. It took about three hours to cover the mile or so to the top of the east bank of the Orne, arriving around 0700 hours. For the first time we saw the carnage of the night-time battle as we met up with the shattered remnants from those units that had been involved. All around was evidence of brutal warfare such as I had never seen before; it was horrific, a scene that will stay with me for the rest of my life."

"Before long we encountered the lads of the Highland Division, and here was shell shock on a massive scale. The poor devils stood around in groups, staring at us through vacant and bewildered eyes. I had never seen the result of warfare so grimly demonstrated, with every ditch, gully, hedgerow, track and roadway strewn with dead and shattered bodies of both British and German soldiers of various units... We moved up the drive that led to the Château St. Come, stepping around what the day before had been Sherman tanks and armoured troop carriers. Now they were simply twisted, smouldering and burnt-out wrecks. Beneath one burning tank were the shrivelled and blackened remains of two burnt bodies."

"The scene was horrifying but the smell was even worse. The air was heavy and sickly with the small of burnt or burning flesh and clothing, wood, leaves, grass, petrol, oil and cordite. The night-time rain had stopped soon after dawn and been replaced by warm sunshine which was already having its effect upon human flesh... There {near Bréville} I saw many other horrific sights, one of which was a weird tableau in which one of the Canadian Paras had been run through the middle of his body by a German bayonet, pinning him to a tree. At the instant that this was happening he had reached over the bent German and plunged his dagger into the middle of his opponent's back. The two had died at some time during the night but in daylight they were as they had been when they died together, still propping each other up."

D+8 - Château St. Come - Wednesday, 14 June

"The day began with the normal stand to, followed by heavy and accurate shelling and mortaring from the enemy. Soon after breakfast I went out with an officer who led small recce around the hedgerows to the front. He wanted to see the area and plot possible routes from which an attack might come, in particular the route along which tanks and self-propelled 88s might approach our positions. German snipers still infested the area and taking a fair toll of men that we could ill afford to lose. To discourage their activities we snipers were sent forward in small groups to find a secluded spot from where we could watch the taller trees in which we guessed enemy snipers would be located. When a sniper fired a telltale wisp of smoke could be seen. His position would then be given a real pasting, but they seldom worked alone, so that when we hit one, another would fire at us, so it was a case of firing and quickly moving to another location. Sometimes it was a matter of hurling a smoke grenade or two to cover our move. Using smoke was often a problem, however, because it worried Jerry, who took it as a prelude to an attack, and he would usually retaliate by mortaring and shelling the whole area."

D+9 - Château St. Come - Thursday, 15 June

"We took turns in going out to the front on patrols and sniper hunts. One team decided upon an ingenious innovation - they took a PIAT with them. When a sniper was spotted a PIAT bomb was fired at the top of his tree. We had no way of measuring the success of their effort other than from the fact that several of us thought that fewer snipers were bothering us after this incident!"

"We were delighted to receive some more fags - a present from Monty - a nice thought since we understood that our British Commander neither drank alcohol nor smoked. I guess that he understood that we lesser mortals were in need for the nerve-soothing weed!

From the book "The Devil's Own Luck by Denis Edwards

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