|"Don't leave me Sarge"|
"Keep 'em moving"
|St. Valery and Le Havre.|
In June 1940 the original 51st Highland Division was sacrificed in an attempt to keep the French army fighting, and so, 4th Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, including the original 152nd Brigade, was captured.
On 1st September 1944 the new 51st Highland Division moved on St. Valery-en-Caux, with 152nd Brigade leading. All along our route we were cheered by the local population, which did much for our spirits. I was one of the first to enter St. Valery, in “D” Company, lead by Major A. N. Parker. I remember we formed a circle in the town square with piper Chisholm playing his pipes, and Lt.-Colonel Lang was greeted by the Mayor. We spent two days in and around St. Valery, being made most welcome.
There were two French girls in St Valery, wearing skirts made from Cameron tartan. Kilts that they had guarded and treasured during their years of occupation by the Germans.
Cameron Highlander Pipers with a French girl wearing a skirt made from a Cameron Kilt. (right) George Sands 2nd Left The Square St Valery 1944.
We did not know it, but our deviation into St. Valery was the first part in our advance on Le Havre, which was still in German hands and defended by formidable “Siegfried Line” defences. Defences consisting of, Pill boxes, concrete obstacles and ditches.
On 4th September we set out for our first objective which was a cross roads just outside Epouville, about sixteen miles from St. Sylvian, digging in at about 1130 hrs that morning. Le Havre was about nine miles to the south west of us. We sent out patrols during the next forty-eight hours with no serious fighting taking place.
The 49th Division would attack on our left late afternoon and we were to attack that night. We reached our assembly area at 2230 hrs and waited for the armour to go in. The armour consisted of “Flails”. Tanks that had lengths of chain attached to a rotating shaft on the front. These were supposed to explode the mines before any damage or casualties were incurred. Bridge laying Tanks, “Fascines” which carried what looked like large bundles of sticks, which were used to fill in the ditches if the bridging tanks failed. Finally, we had “Crocodile” flame - throwing tanks and A.V.R.E. tanks that fired explosives.
The “Flails went first, flailing the ground exploding the mines but they were soon blowing up on mines buried deeper than their flails could penetrate, thus holding up the bridge laying tanks. By this time, we in “D” Company should have been well into the Jerry defenses. Major Parker ordered us forward and we advanced over the mines, suffering a few casualties, until we reached the gap. Jerry had ranged his defensive fire on the ditch and we suffered heavy casualties. We pressed forward, not waiting for the armour, and eventually got to the ditch and over it. To our surprise and delight we found we were no longer in the line of fire, reaching our objective and resting against a grassy bank.
As dawn broke there was a mist hanging about two feet off the ground and as I looked up, I couldn’t believe my eyes, on top of the bank was a Jerry having an early morning stretch and yawn. “Hande Hoche you bastard”. I don’t know who was the more surprised, him or me. When I got to him, I made it plain that he should persuade his comrades to come out. Not that he understood English but, he knew that the grenade in my hand was a Phosphorous bomb and he knew what the result would be if I threw it. When a Phosphorous grenade explodes the contents run and stick to whoever or whatever it comes into contact with, not a nice piece of hardware.
When we looked over the bank, we saw a long barrel of an 88mm gun protruding out of what turned out to be a German bunker. We got eighty-seven prisoners out of there. They even had a Grand Piano in there. We had to get a three-ton truck and load all the liberated supplies onto it, the majority of which was sugar, and sent it back to the Quartermaster. At least we would have sweet tea for a while. Some time later I found out that somebody had crated up a Grand piano and had managed to ship it home. He was rumbled, and had to ship it back. I do not know if it was “D” Company’s Piano.
The following day Le-Havre surrendered after Major Parker had managed to telephone the German Commander in Le-Havre to advise him if he didn’t, we would come in. He at first wasn’t too keen, but agreed once it was explained who exactly was coming in and what we would do. Unfortunately, we were just beaten into the Town by elements of the 49th Division.
We went back to the area where we had assembled before the attack on Le-Havre and carried out training and reorganization. We had about two weeks out of the line until we were ordered back into the line on 3rd October.
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