I am very lucky that my grandad had begun to write his memoirs before he died. Whilst he didn’t complete them, his time serving as part of World War Two was captured.
Here is his extract that tells of his experience of D Day. ( It also captures his wicked sense of humour and wonderful disregard of authority!)
“After a few weeks the whole unit was moved to London and we were housed and worked in blocks of requisitioned flats in Westminster known as Ashley Gardens. Our work was of course “Top Secret” as we were planning the order of battle and (vitally important) the allocation of landing craft to the numerous assault and follow up units. I should explain that at this stage of the planning (early Spring 1944)
it was by no means certain that sufficient craft would be available for the troops. The Navy was desperately short and it is now generally known that without Churchill’s personal appeal to Roosevelt the whole operation would have been jeopardised. The American difficulty was that Admiral King, the American Naval C-in-C in the Pacific reckoned that he was very short of the craft necessary for their island hopping campaign against the Japanese and therefore he refused to cooperate with the loan of any craft whatever for the D-Day operation. Churchill recognised the danger, flew to Washington, and persuaded Roosevelt to get King to hand over the necessary landing craft.
On the subject of security, it always seemed rather strange to some of us that , although we naturally worked in uniform, we also always wore our regimental badges and of course badges of rank. We used to troop out of our block of flats twice a day for lunch and supper in a requisitioned ABC Cafe hard by Victoria Station. Any intelligent ‘enemy 5th columnist’ could have stood at the cafe entrance, made sense of the military insignia and obtained a fair idea of the order of battle!
Again, some of our offices including my own were on the fifth floor of the block of flats and were directly opposite the long side of Westminster Cathedral. Naturally, members of the public were freely admitted to the Cathedral and , on payment of a small fee were able to take a passenger lift up to the roof of the clerestory where they could perambulate at will with excellent views of the whole district.
Our office windows were immediately opposite this public perambulation and it was time before one of us realised that the large scale map of the whole landing area , bearing clearly marked details of the troops to be involved, could be studied in detail by any ill-disposed person standing on the Cathedral roof and armed with a pair of binnoculas. The map was moved and blinds were drawn!!
As the planned assault date approached we were all dispersed and moved to secret “concentration areas” to wait for the signal to wait for the ˜landing craft.
I was in camp just outside Felixstowe Harbour and our group of ships were to move down the East coast and run through the “Pas de Calais” before concentrating with the rest of the shipping just south of the Isle of Wight. This manoeuvre was designed to add weight to the powerful radio deception plan that in fact did much to persuade elements of the German High Command and in particular Hitler, that the main assault would be coming in the Straits of Dover.
So there we were all ready to sail in a Landing Ship Tank and only waiting for favourable weather before we could move over the “Start” line. My own task was slightly complicated in that although a Staff Officer on 1st Corps Headquarters I was ordered to land with 30 Corps Headquarters so that I could be what was described as a “Live” link between the two in the event of breakdown or enemy jamming of communication. In other words I was to be used as a messenger boy between the two generals in the event of total radio disaster. For this purpose I was to land with a jeep and driver and report to the forward HQ of 30 Corps as soon as possible. The officer I was responsible to was the “G2” Major John Lewes, now the Marquis of Abergavenny. When I eventually achieved contact he turned out to be totally charming and most helpful in every way.
As to the actual landing, that was very nearly disastrous. Not because of the enemy but due to the absurd craft on which I was supposed to reach the shore. I should explain that the LAST being fairly deep draught vessels were only able to go inshore a certain distance in the comparatively narrow waters. The bows were designed to open up not unlike a modern channel ferry and then the troops had to disembark into smaller crafts of all sorts. In my case I had to take my jeep onto a steel raft called a “rhino-ferry”.
All went well and I manoeuvred the jeep safely onto the ferry at same time as fellow officer Charles Ferrel with his jeep. (Charles also had a liaison task, in his case with the advance headquarters of the 6th Guards Tank Brigade). We looked around and noticed all sorts of heavy vehicles were being coaxed onto this ferry most of them being graders and bulldozers, required to be some of the first elements to land because their job was to create advance air landing fields for the RAF.
After we were all aboard the ferry Charles and I noticed that the sole operator of this unwieldy craft was a very worried looking Lance Corporal from the Royal Engineers. Loaded with our two small jeeps and about fifteen huge bulldozers this extraordinary craft was merely powered by two small outboard motors. I later discovered that the only trials that these ferries had had were in calm Scottish lochs – quite another thing from the stormy waters off the coast of France on D-Day. However, the Lance Corporal did sterling work and very very slowly he managed to get our bucking and bouncing craft closer and closer to the shore. At this moment I suddenly realised that the gale was steadily blowing us further and further up channel and away form our proper landing place. Naturally the latter was in the cleared beach area – beyond this there were continuous stretches of heavily mined shoreline and it was obvious that unless we could reach the cleared area we should all be blown sky high as we touched the coast.
What saved us can only be described as “the hand of God” in the shape of a powerful naval cutter which had been blown of course by a particularly large wave and its bows had crashed into our remarkably solid iron flanks . The cutter’s bows were stove in and , much to the dismay of the crew they had to lash up to our hideous craft.
With the added power from the cutter we just managed to counteract the drift up channel and achieved a landing on the cleared area of beach with about ten yards to spare before the mines began.
The enemy was still around in the air to a minor degree and one or two scattered planes dropped the occasional stick of bombs but these were not nearly so worrying as the sea had been.
The next chapter in my D-Day saga prompts me to remark that many observers in the past have noticed that the English, when they go to war, sometimes seem to get their priorities strangely confused. This thought has occurred to me as I place on record the hilarious confrontation that took place very soon after we had beached our hideous ‘rhino-ferry’ and were confronted with the difficult problem of how to get the huge bulldozers and graders off the craft and safely onto the shore.
The unloading ramp was at one end of the rectangular ferry platform and on a normal beaching programme all that had to done was to lower the ramp to the ground and the vehicles could just move off. In our case, however, we had been quite unable to beach our “bucking bronco” normally and the only way we would get her ashore was sideways and slightly tipped up at an awkward angle . The result was that it was only possible to get the vehicles off by building up a ramp of some sort on the long side of the ferry and by judicious reversing and manoeuvring we hoped to be able to squeeze them off one by one.
Charles and I explored the beach for a little way on either side of our landing point and – hey presto! what did we find but a large pile of long roles of Sommerfeld Tracking. (this was the steel perforated ‘carpet’ material used by the RAF when contriving emergency landing strips on soft ground).
We got the men together and then with great enthusiasm, we began building up a suitable ramp with the roles of tracking. We were doing fine and were just beginning to ease off the first bulldozer when I glanced along the beach and saw advancing upon us a tall and immaculate officer in beautifully creased battle dress wearing a regulation service cap graced with an impressive red band and carrying a smart little swagger cane under his arm. He wore the badges of rank of a brigadier.
He advanced upon me “who’s in charge here” he demanded.
“I am”, said I, deliberately omitting the “Sir” on the basis that it is no use meeting trouble half-way and this was undoubtedly trouble!
“What on earth do you think you are doing?”
“Getting these vehicles off the ferry so that they can get on with their job as soon as possible”
“But”, said he with great finality “ do you realise that you are using Royal Engineer stores?”
“Yes” I said “and we are absolutely delighted to have found them”
“In that case I must have your Army rank and number” and he pulled a little book out of his pocket and inscribed my particulars. Not to be outdone I asked for his name but he only deigned to declare that he was the beach commander!
Some people may wonder how we did win the War!”