6 June 2019

D-Day 75 years on!

There are moments in time and history which have great significance. 6 June 1944 is one such day. I can never think of this day without thinking of my father. Were it not for D-Day I would not exist.

My father was a simple man coming from a working class family. His father had served in the Royal Engineers in Mesopotamia in the First World War. Dad left school at 14 and tried his hand at various things before getting an apprenticeship as a mechanic. Being a small man, only 5ft 5inches, he made his presence felt, by being a bit of a rebel. Had he been allowed to he would have joined up much earlier, but being small he couldn't lie about his age.

He enlisted into the Territorial Army on 18 March 1943, aged just 18! He joined 7th Battalion The Royal Hampshire Regiment which were part of the 43rd Wessex Division.

He never landed at D-Day being part of this Division, but on D+18 24 June 1945. By this stage in his career now aged 19 he was a Lance Corporal. 

I had the good fortune of going on a Battlefield Tour with him and we retraced his steps in Normandy. He told me that his battalion were issued with bicycles which on landing they all dumped in a field. Within 48 hours of landing the Division was involved in the fight for Hill 112. the 7th Hampshires fought their way through Maltot, but sadly were forced to pull back by a fierce German counter attack. It was at this stage that my poor dad was badly wounded by friendly fire! A Canadian Typhoon strafed his position instead of the enemy! 

He was evacuated back to Wales to convalesce and it was here he was forced to learn how to embroider to improve the functions and motoric of his arm and hand. 

He rejoined his battalion, now in Belgium in Autumn 1944. The 43rd Division were involved in the drive to reach Nijmegen and to link up with the 1st Airborne Division which had been dropped on the far bank of the river Lek west of Arnhem. And we all know how that went.

He took part now in the Division's crossing of the Rhine and the 150 miles dash in 18 days to Cloppenburg, which is where he was awarded his Military Medal for gallantry. He was a section commander now and when the lead section commander was killed by sniper fire trying to cross the bridge in Cloppenburg, his platoon commander ordered him to take that section and cross the bridge. There was nothing but open ground down to the bridge and though my dad tried to get this section to follow him, they all refused.
He returned to his platoon commander and told him that if he gave him his section he would get across the river and clear the far bank.

As I walked the ground with him many years later, he told me how his section did nothing but complain about being volunteered and then about getting their feet wet as they crossed the stream, because he took his section across to the left of the bridge in dead ground to the enemy. He was now fed up of their complaining, so after clearing a house on the far side by the bridge he made them take up a defencive position and went on alone to find the sniper. The said sniper was located in a tall building, then a hospital. He found and took him and a number of others prisoner taking them back to his section. As he had seen from the top of the building a German motor base plate position which was shelling his company, he now returned with the German's sniper rifle as he was only equipped with a sten gun! He now sniped and killed the base plate position, returning to his section once more for more ammunition for the rifle!! 

Sergeants of the 7th Hampshires taken in Winsen Luhe

The end of the War saw his battalion first stationed in Winsen Luhe and then in Soltau. The photo of him receiving his MM from Montgomery was taken in the Church in Celle.

It was at this stage in 1945 that he met my mother!

As he was a volunteer enlisted man, he did not return to the UK when his battalion returned to be demobbed, but was transferred from one battalion to another within Germany until his time was up.

Back in the UK he was discharged and rejoined this time the Parachute Regiment, serving a total of 26 years until he finally retired as an RQMS (WOII). 

Upon final discharge he emigrated to New Zealand because, "I did not want to fall flat on my face in civilian life in front of my comrades!" 

He didn't fall flat but made a great success of his life and enjoyed a fulfilling second career in New Zealand. I owe him my life and he has always been a great example of a humble, but strong, brave, patient and determined man.

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