|"Don't leave me Sarge"|
"Keep 'em moving"
At the end of June, we moved from Herouvillette into some woods facing Bois de Bavent and the “Triangle”. The “Triangle” was a triangle of roads, occupied by the Germans and controlling the main approaches to Troarn, its capture was obviously our next objective. “D”- Day was to be 18th July. I was now Lance Corporal Sands.
At about 0600 hours our heavy bombers started dropping their bombs and the Seaforths went in about three hours later. We attacked at about 1100 hours and had finally stopped all resistance by about 4 p.m.
We were to spend ten lousy days in the “Triangle” being shelled almost non-stop causing a steady, daily drain of casualties. At the end of July it was with great relief that we were taken back to a rest area near St. Aubin.
We were resting in a barn after the “Triangle”, trying to catch up on our sleep, but were woken at regular intervals by American voices. “Any souvenirs Jock, where’s the shooting gallery”. They turned out to be American Air Force recovery crews. They were retrieving the gliders that had been used on D-Day. Apparently they would salvage the gliders and make perhaps one air-worthy craft out of three damaged ones. We were not too impressed with the disturbances, however, we proceeded to sell them various items. A S.S. belt was sold for £1, a Luger pistol £20. We would send them on their way with their purchases and tell them that if they come back next week we would sell them a live German. More money to change into postal orders and send home. Of course, we also got them to post letters to our loved ones when they got back to England, by-passing the censors.
In early August the 51st Highland Division struck out towards Falaise. The country consisted of small woods and orchards and every few miles there was a village, each one required a small action to clear it. Our morale was quite high at this time because we knew the Germans were on the run, it was still decidedly hazardous to your health, nevertheless, we began to get more and more confident.
During this time we were to receive close air support from medium Bombers of the U.S. Airforce. After too many instances of the Bombers dropping their loads short, on one occasion the Highland Division lost two hundred casualties, the Canadian Commander, General Carrera, put a stop to it. We by this time had Christened the yanks the “American Luftwaffe”. On one occasion we had put out large strips of luminous bright coloured material on the ground in the shape of an arrow to show where we were, and where the Germans were, we had coloured smoke blowing as well. The first bombs were hellishly short and we sustained a lot of casualties and we were unable to carry out our attack. I had to put the remnants of my platoon on parade to get their minds off what had happened. It didn’t work. We all felt lousy. In the troops eyes both I, but the officer in particular, were the biggest bastards to ever walk the earth, which, I suppose, was the point of the exercise.
On 6th August we moved out of our rest area by motor transport during the evening, via Caen, to Bras, a village just outside Tilly-la-Campagne. 152nd Brigade was to secure Tilly.
Our attack was preceded by stream after stream of heavy bombers passing overhead. A few minutes before “H”- hour the pathfinders dropped parachute flares followed immediately by the first bombs. It was both exhilarating and frightening, the parachute flares broke right over our heads and the noise of the bombs was deafening. Apparently a thousand heavy bombers took part.
As soon as the last bomb exploded the artillery opened up, our signal to advance, armour rumbled along beside us, mainly tanks and “Kangaroos”. A “Kangaroo” was like a tank with the turret removed and loaded with infantry. 5th Camerons were the only Battalion to go in on foot, bloody typical. Ten minutes after crossing the start line “Moaning Minnies” began their nerve jangling scream along with other guns, then Spandaus firing tracer joined in. It was total chaos to start with, the leading armour blew up on mines causing the followers to get off track and consequently lose their way. We took nearly two hours to reach the point where the different companies split up for their various objectives. Snipers were much in evidence again, lurking in the fields of green wheat, inflicting casualties. We entered Tilly with a fairly rapid but nonetheless hard and bloody fight, securing our objective by 0430 hours. I was now Sergeant Sands and a section leader. I had a new platoon commander, a young Canadian fresh out from officer training school, and I told him to do everything that I did. When I drop, you drop, when I run, you run, but he thought he new best, he only lasted eight hours before he was killed and I was back in charge. Some of the new officers we received would ask my and other old hands advice and consequently they would survive a lot longer. This wasn’t so much for their benefit, more a case of self-preservation, as we did not want some gung-ho idiot ordering us into some sort of suicide, death or glory situation. Those that asked for guidance gained the utmost respect and trust, and, likewise, we gained in return.
We old hands had got to the stage where we could predict where a shell would land, to within a few yards. It was quite comical at times to see the novices diving for cover with the old hands standing grinning at them. On the other hand, some guys just didn’t seem to realise the danger they were in, usually costing them dearly. Perhaps it was a deliberate act, to get a wound that was bad enough, though not fatal, to get out of any more fighting.
Because of the casualties we had suffered, we received reinforcements, mainly from the Bed’s and Hert`s, who had been split up because of lack of numbers, again due to casualties. So I met, Sergeant Ken (“Porky”) Hearn, who was to be a constant companion and good friend.
We were moved forward again on 9th August to help clear some woods in the Sequeville area. This was duly completed with fairly light opposition; the hot weather was more of a hindrance than the Germans. That night we moved on to occupy the village of Poussy, we were secure by about 0400 hours and dug in. We were to stay there for three or four days, during which time we were subjected to the usual shellfire, which caused some casualties.
On 16th August we entered Pierre-sur-Dives, taking several prisoners, and were greeted as “Liberators” for the first time, which did much for our morale. The bridge over the River Dives had been blown up. Two days later we left St Pierre with orders to get across the River Vie. During our move to St. Pierre we were fired on by our own Machine guns and then we were strafed twice by our air cover, first by Spitfires and then by American Lightnings. Despite the fact that we lit yellow smoke canisters to distinguish friend from foe, the RAF went round again to swoop and strafe our positions. I don’t think we lost any personnel, but we did lose a couple of vehicles though. We spent an uneasy night, in which carrying parties managed to get food to the forward companies; next day we withdrew to a position behind a place called St. Julien, beginning in the evening and completed by about 0200 hrs.
After only two hours sleep we were moved forward again to cross the River Vie only to find that both the bridges had been blown. “B” Company managed to secure a bridgehead, at a heavy cost in casualties, allowing us in the forward companies to pass through. Our advance continued supported by Tanks of the East Riding Yeomanry. Progress was slow but steady, mainly due to the strain of battle and tiredness, and we gained our objectives just before dusk and we dug in for the night. We remained in this area for four days rest. Rest? We made an improvised rifle range to zero our guns, and carried out route marches.
On 26th August we were once again on the move until we eventually reached the Seine River on 28th August. We had consolidated on some high ground from which we let loose with all available fire power at the Germans still trying to get across the river. Germany lost a lot of its sons that day.
Porky and me had a run in with our Company Sergeant Major about this time. We had taken our company for morning parade and just handed them over to the C.S.M. and then we went off to breakfast. Ten minutes later the C.S.M. comes in and informs us that he has put us on report, and that we should accompany him to the Company Commander. I told Porky not to worry because we would beat the charges. Arriving in front of the Company Commander he winked at me as if to say no problem. The C.S.M. proceeded to explain that we had left parade without permission. The Company Commander asked me for my version and I told him that there wasn’t anything posted in company orders to the effect that we were required to stay on parade. Case dismissed.
When we got outside the C.S.M. offered us cigarettes. I told him that if he came near me with his cigarettes I would shove them down his throat. This guy had come to us from the South Staffordshire Regiment. He had had it in for me since the first time he went into battle with us. I had told him he was a coward. He had disappeared when we went in and reappeared after the fighting. It was not to be the last time he did it either. He was soon to be transferred. Good riddance too.
I knew we would get off the charges, even if they had been legitimate. I used to lend the officer concerned money when he ran short of cash. When we came across a Field Post Office he would repay me with a Field Postal Order which I would send home to my wife in England. I always had spare cash, as did all the boys. When we took prisoners we would search them and take their valuables, including their money and watches. It was rumoured that the 51st Highland Division cashed more Field Postal Orders than any other Division in the British Army.
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