|"Don't leave me Sarge"|
"Keep 'em moving"
|Battle of the Bulge.|
The German 5th and 6th Panzer armies attacked through the Ardennes, opposite Liege, a little before Christmas 1944. Their attack fell on the American 1st Army front. The first Americans we saw were running away, there were as many as ten to a Jeep, throwing their weapons away. We were disgusted and dismayed. They were leaving their own people to whatever fate decided. It looked to us that they would have fitted twenty or thirty to a Jeep if it had been possible. These guys were not at all like the 101st we had met earlier near Nijmegen, or the defenders of Bastogne, who, though surrounded, refused to surrender.
We reached Liege on the last day of December and the Battalion occupied a hill above Liege itself. We moved into Liege on new years day. I was billeted in the casino, which had been stripped of everything of any value. Next day three others and I were billeted in a house with a Belgian Family, Walter, Margueritte, Nicolas and Georgette and little Pol, in the Chaudfontaine area.
A platoon of “D” company received a direct hit on their billet from a “V.1”, which blew the house to pieces. Amazingly no one was hurt, though a little dazed.
The next two days were spent carrying out old familiar routines indicating an impending battle. We were faced with Arctic conditions. Snow covered the ground, and the roads were ice-bound. Tanks and carriers slithered across roads, and often into ditches and their tracks had to be fitted with special shoes to keep them mobile. Anyone who experienced these conditions will tell you that they have never felt so cold.
On 8th January we were on the move towards Marche. We arrived at Hotton at 1030 hours to find that the Battalion area consisted of two ruined and burnt out villages. It was decided that a new location was needed so we proceeded to Marche, the first of the Battalion arriving at 1930 hours with the last vehicle arriving at about midnight.
On 10th January we carried out an attack across the main Laroche - Marche road. Reveille was 0600 hours, breakfast 0645, with the advance commencing at 0900. We advanced in lorries to Hotton, and picked up our support tanks at Bourdon. We were to proceed down the La Roche road through Rendeux, Hodister, Genes to Halleux. Between Hodister and Genes we came under shellfire. We were advancing across bare hillsides in full view of Jerry observation posts. There was no alternative.
I was sitting in the cab of the lead lorry with Lieutenant Bowen sitting between the driver and me. We were just cresting a hill when we took a direct hit from a German 88mm gun. I got out without a mark on me. When I had regained my senses I realised that Lieutenant Bowen wasn’t with me. I managed to pull him clear but he had received a face wound. It looked as though he had lost an eye. The driver was killed along with three others in the back. There were also ten wounded. Luckily some shells were landing in the snow and failing to explode, otherwise the casualty figure would have been much higher. We were extremely unlucky as we were the only vehicle to be hit, and we were some way behind the lead Battalion of 152 Brigade who had gone through unscathed.
When we set out a young lad had asked if he could have the tailgate of the lorry down to allow more air into the back, to which I gave the OK. When the shell hit, it blew him and his mate clear, causing them minor injuries. It transpired that the young lad, George Thompson, of East Ham, London, was only seventeen years of age and not old enough to be on active service. After treatment at an aid station he was returned home, a lucky to be alive young man. I, on the other hand, had to carry on with the attack. Lieutenant Bowen was a sad loss to me. He had become a good friend, someone to talk to in the blacker moments. He had written comforting letters to my wife, and was always supportive. I believe his family came from the Northampton area, his Father owning or running a shoe factory or shop.
As we approached the lead Battalion, (2nd Seaforth), in Halleux, we came under shellfire again. We debussed and went in on foot. Our objective being the small village of Ranchamp. “B” company were in the lead, well off the road to some woods on our right. We in “A” company advanced up the road, which we soon discovered, was heavily mined. We had one tank and one reconnaissance car blow up on mines. I led my squad along a ditch on the left side of the road and, Sergeant Kenny (“Porky”) Hearns doing the same on the right. As we approached our objective we came under shell and mortar fire. Within a few seconds we were subjected to Spandau machine gun fire with everybody hastily diving for cover. I managed to dive behind a small monument or shrine in the shape of a cross with machine gun bullets chipping the concrete away just above my head. I was pinned down well and truly. I shouted to “Porky” to make sure he was OK.: Porky had the radio set in his squad and called up tank support. When the tank arrived the Spandau fire ceased and we nervously made our way forwards. We could see a farmhouse ahead of us and saw the gun flashes as the Jerry artillery fired. We advanced with the “Honey” tank and then made a mad dash to the farmhouse. We lobbed grenades through the windows and entered the house. It wasn’t a house at all, but a fortified bunker made to look like a house. As we entered the building the Jerries ran out the back. We saw them disappearing into the distance. They obviously didn’t fancy taking the tank and us on. We finally reached our objective at 2130 hours without sustaining any casualties. It must have been the day for miracles. We received our meal just before midnight.
Lt. William 'Bill' Bowen
Over the next few days prisoners came in readily, they were not the best troops that the Germans had, and there was a remarkable lack of officers taken prisoner. Their best troops had obviously withdrawn ready to fight another day. The Battalion was finally established in the village of Rendeux, from there the scout Platoon linked up with patrols of the American 101st U.S. Airborne Division
We were given a few days rest during which time we went stalking Stags. The result being that we all enjoyed a Venison dinner. We also enjoyed some real coffee courtesy of the Yanks.
5th Camerons meet up with American troops
A long journey began on 18th January, via Laroche and Liege, through Eindhoven and Best, once again reaching Vught on 23rd January.
Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, 30 Corps Commander (of which 152 Brigade was a part) visited 5th Camerons on 27th January.
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