A Brief History to 50th Divisional Signals in WW2

Discussion in 'Royal Signals' started by Drew5233, Oct 14, 2010.

  1. Lieut Smith; “It was Turner’s job to drive or accompany the artillery commander – Col Lyall, a Regular, who had by now replaced Col. Mould Graham – whenever he went; and as artillery commander was normally in the company of the Brigade Group Commander. Turner and his partner Craik were right at the nerve-centre of all operations.”
    Sigmn Turner; “With daylight the enemy started to mop up, and the vehicles we were with scattered. At this point Jimmy and I were joined by…Godsmark..the LAD warrant officer. We decided to fall back towards RHQ, Jimmy and Godmark went on foot, running zig-zag fashion, and I took S4. At this time we could see small groups of our chaps being marched off under escort, and enemy tanks were much in evidence. About mid-morning a large formation of Stukas bombed 285 Battery, which had no ammunition left. We entertained the faint hope of remaining at large until darkness fell …but went into the bag about mid-day on 1st June.”.
    Malcolm Turner was taken prisoner on 1st June 1942 – taken to hospital at Derna the next day with Pneumonia and subsequently moved to prison camps in Italy. On 12 September 1943 he escaped and was back in England on 13 December 1943
    Lieut Smith; “When it became clear that we were not likely to be relieved, Lieut-Col Lyall had to order that the last two rounds with each gun were…used to blow up the gun. One round would be loaded d in the breach, and the other, nose downwards, into the mount of the barrel, and the gun would be fired with a long lanyard…..the result was sickening to see, especially …the great 4.5 inch Howitzers of the Medium Battery which was attached to us. Their tall, upward-pointing barrels were blown into hideous hour-glass shapes.
    So far as I know, only one member of my signal section was killed, a young operator called Cason, who was killed instantly by a shell fragment while he was helping our linesmen to keep pace with the battle damage to our telephone cables.
    When the guns fell silent, Col Lyall said he would have to remain for the formal surrender… for Brigadier Haydon was killed. He suggested that we try individually to hide up in the surrounding minefield until nightfall and then try to make contact with the nearest of our own troops. I had what I thought was a good hiding place in some tufty grass on the top of a tiny ridge, too small to be a commanding feature and, I hoped not likely to be searched. I was undisturbed for the rest of the day but unfortunately slept soundly through the night and was woken up next morning by Italian soldiers lifting the mines.
    Then - followed for me and most of ‘E’ Section – nearly three years in prison camps. For our Section Sergeant, Mick Henry, this was the second time he had been ‘in the bag’, for he had been a prisoner in Germany in the 1914-18 war.”
    Sigmn Dean; “During this period there were patrols through the wire and into ‘no man’s land’, sounding out the enemy’s positions. There were the usual air raids and artillery bombardments, which went on until May 1942 when the scene changed. The Germans attacked at the southern end of the line at Bir Hacheim and came round to the rear of Eighth Army. They were halted by our armoured forces at Knightsbridge. This action lasted for some days, with 150 Brigade ultimately being surrounded and captured.
    After some days we realised that events were not going in our favour and that we were in danger of being cut off. The plan was to break out and retire to new positions in the Sidi Barrani area. This journey of several days was not without its problems, as it necessitated going a fair distance south into the Desert and then circling back to the coast road. Progress was slow at times, vehicles becoming bogged down in soft sand and driving sandstorms making navigation difficult, but we eventually arrived at Buq Buq, where we gathered at the report centre.
    During the last few days I had been suffering from the early stages of dysentery, but owing to the situation I endeavoured to keep up with events. I was, however, at last forced to report sick. Having seen by a Medical Officer, I was despatched to a field dressing station...The following day I travelled to the rail head to join an ambulance train en route for the General Hospital at Heliopolis, on the outskirts of Cairo, where I was confined for three weeks, followed by a further two weeks at a convalescent camp in the |Canal area.
    Fully recovered I arrived at base Depot at Maadi Camp regretfully to find that as I had been absent through sickness for more than twenty-one days I was no longer a member of 50th Division Signals.”
    Captain MacVicker; “Shortly after the capture of 150 Brigade by the Germans, who were now behind us, we were ordered on a Sunday night to move south across the enemy L of C and then east to Fort Maddelana, a gap in the wire frontier between Egypt and Libya. I was in the front of a 30-cwt truck with about 20 of my Section in the back. Tracer shells and bullets seemed to be coming from all directions, when I heard someone in the back say ‘I wonder where that F....r Dimbleby is now?’
    We got through the wire and joined up with the rest of the Divisional HQ, but it wasn’t long before we were in a rearguard action along the coast road. At Mersa Matruh the Germans once again got behind us and once again we had to break out, south then east. It was exactly a fortnight after the previous Sunday trip. This time the ground was not so kind to us and there were numerous wadis to be negotiated. I got separated from my Section and took a lift with our LAD Officer, Captain B. Bowman. We ended up having to push our vehicle into a very steep-sided wadi and proceed on foot. We got a lift eventually on another vehicle (which) also broke down and we were stranded somewhere south-west of Fuka. We weren’t alone for very long as a German armoured carrier came to our ‘rescue’
    In 1945 I was released from POW Camp, still in the company of Bill Bowman, to whom I said farewell in Kings Cross Station on Saturday, 29th April.”
     
  2. A/Lt-Col Percival; “It was in the latter part of May that the anticipated offensive was started by the enemy, who broke through the minefields between the main body of the Division and the 150 Brigade some eight miles south. This was as expected and our tanks were ready to meet it, but unfortunately they were outgunned and vital numbers of them were knocked out before they could get in range. Therefore instead of us surrounding the enemy the situation was reversed and the enemy first overran the Free French and then 150 Brigade, in the process of which we lost the whole of the Brigade Signal Section and the attached RA Section. It was not long before we were ordered to break out of the Gazala Line and return to Egypt – the SA Division along the coast, which gave them the use of the only road, and 50 Division to attack south into the desert and break through the enemy lines at night, hopefully, and luckily as it turned out, manned by Italians. So once again we had to destroy everything we couldn’t carry in dependable vehicles, and ... we set off in three columns, after two battalions of Infantry had gone ahead to form a bridgehead through ... the enemy’s forward troops. It was a night full of excitement and experience, and remarkably successful for our losses were very light, and practically all of my men reported in to the new Divisional area round Mersa Matruh. Here we had time to reorganise before the enemy caught up and surrounded us once more with our backs to the sea. This time he closed in all round and we had to fight our way out at different points with varying degrees of success and a good deal of resultant confusion, which ended in many going to allotted rendezvous and walking straight into enemy hands.
    Even when clear of the area there was sporadic fighting going on everywhere, and in one of these my car was hit by a shell at the back of the engine, killing my driver, Marshall, wounding my batman, Hill, and ending his Army career, and my W/T Officer who was travelling with me losing an eye. Marshall had been the CO’s driver since the war started and was a splendid character, totally reliable, calm and competent...with an amazing talent for remembering a route.
    What was left of the Division collected behind the El Alamein position, but in a couple of days or so was relieved and withdrawn to Mareopolis in the Delta to reorganise and count its losses. I had lost nearly half the Regiment since the start of the Gazala battle, the Division as a whole had nearly 9000 casualties. It was at this point in my life that my hair started to turn white, and it was a considerable time before I knew that none of my officers and remarkably few other ranks had been killed. All the same by this time I cannot recall that I still had serving with me any officer who was serving when war was declared, apart from that remarkable pair Norcross and Widgery, both Regulars. (Lieut QM & Lieut TMO).
    Mareopolis ... represented a return to civilisation, and a rather dirty one at that, and the lads were very tired and rather worn out, and full of clean living and fresh air. They went down like ninepins with almost every illness imaginable till one began to wonder if it wouldn’t be better to get back to the Desert without further delay.
    However, I was not to be with them when this took place, as GOC was promoted to Corps Commander and one of our Brigadiers succeeded him at this time. I was having an argument with the G1 who wanted me to demote Mackenzie in favour of a Regular officer. The new GOC sent for me and ordered me to do it, which he had no right as it was for Signals alone to decide, and I told him so. As a result I was sent for by the SO in C, who told me extremely kindly that I was to be posted to Syria. The move took place on 28 July 1942 and I was succeeded by Albert de Lisle.”
     
  3. Background: Following the ‘Gazala Gallop’ the Unit was rested and re-enforced before taking over communication duties in the Delta. Sections attached to 74 & 124 Field Regts took part in operations around Alamein during September.
    In October defence of the Delta was transferred and the Unit moved up to Alamein.
    By January 1943 they were at Regima where Lieut. J.S Robinson joined them on 21st.
    Lieut. J S Robinson; “It was mid January. I was lucky with my timing, for we were just beginning to win the war. The famous Eighth Army at Alamein was then but a few weeks into history.
    The distance from Cairo to Benghazi is only about 800 miles, but it seemed a journey without end to me. However, our motley convoy of 3-tonners, ‘gin palaces’ and jeeps etc. eventually arrived without too much of a disaster.
    I had always imagined the desert was hot and dry – rubbish, at Regina up in the foot hills near Benghazi it was freezing cold with feet of mud all round and an icy wind. Rain had encouraged beautiful tiny flowers and even grass to appear in places.
    I was appointed 2ic Don Section under Joe Habberfield, from whom I was to learn how to ‘signal’ and survive in the desert. Our Section Sergeant was George Lowe, a superbly efficient man I was to respect and admire.
    Albert de Lisle was CO, Ken MacIvor – Adjutant, OC Ack – Andrew Stewart, OC Cables – Mike Davis, QM – Vi Page, MTO – ‘Widge’ and OC Cipher was Charles Kyle.
    My initial impression was of the remarkable efficiency of Don Section and indeed of the regiment and Divisional HQ – there was a place and a drill for everything. Discipline was extremely strict... I began to realise that the war was now for real.
    We trained hard at Regina for the next battle which was expected to be at Mareth. I was not prepared for the desert officers’ dress later to be immortalised by the ‘Two Types’ cartoon. Crushed SD hats, cord trousers with long pullovers worn on the outside, spotted neckerchiefs to keep out the ever blowing sand, dark glasses and of course ‘creepers’ .
    After a short while the expected order came for the Division to catch up with the front line again. News filtered back of the 8th Army progress past Tripoli towards the very formidable obstacle at Wadi Akarit.
    I was lucky to have my own jeep and a batman driver, George Woods, a tremendous chap. Our jeep carried all manner of things in addition to essential kit, such as the camouflage net, a coil of barbed wire, a jerry can for petrol, another for water and a ‘juggel’ – a porous canvas bag which cooled the water it contained in the hot winds. We carried a shovel but sand channels could only be carried on the bigger vehicles. We had hard tack rations ... our own kitbags, mapboards, binoculars, essential documents, not to mention our ‘tin hats’ and a spare wheel, etc. Sometimes some of it had to go elsewhere in order to carry a radio and batteries.
    For the move up, the Divisional HQ sometimes travelled in line or in a desert column formation. At night, we ‘harboured’ with all vehicles located in exactly the same position in relation to each other. No lights at all must be seen from the air. There were standard orders for everything.... discipline was very strict.
    It was a hell of a journey for maybe 900 miles with little rest. Mostly it was up the main supply line passing through ‘Marble Arch’, Sirte, and on to Tripoli, where we paused for repairs ... for a few days.
    On the way we encountered pot holes, craters, more pot holes and brewed up wrecks of all sorts. There were heaps of crashed and burnt out aircraft, tanks, vehicles, personal equipments. Notices that read – POWs this way, Cleansing Station, ...Town Major, Verges mined, etc. There was hot choking dust, the screeching noise of tanks and vehicles trying to move through treacherous sands. At any time we could be dive bombed... Rattles would sound and we would immediately stop and abandon all vehicles, scattering for a sand dune as the line of bombs and raking enemy machine guns travelled down the length of the stationery convoy – no time to dig slit trenches.... The beautiful little flowers which bloomed at Regina had soon become a distant recollection.
    Anyone who was in the desert war will recall the flimsies … throw away four gallon petrol cans- and what uses they were put to! A ‘desert rose’ no less, protective covers for this and that etc. Sadly millions of gallons were wasted and vehicles brewed up as a result of petrol leakages. We had no baths or showers, virtually no mail, no women, no papers, no time to read a book even if you had one. An old radio in the mess truck sometimes picked up Radio Newsreel and gave us the latest intelligence of ‘up front’. All the way from London and a signature tune one can never forget.
    Food was basic and sometimes it was a little more than mashed biscuits and condensed milk made into a porridge. Occasionally a genuine Bedouin appeared from nowhere and we bartered for his ‘eggis’ – what a delicacy!
    Although I had just missed Alamein, plenty of adventure lay ahead and I already had a deep sense of pride and purpose in being among so many war veterans. I was growing up fast and I now sported a second pip.
    Came March and we were well and truly joined in nbattle with Rommel’s forces at Wadi Zigzau at Mareth. All did not go well … our CO Albert de Lisle was killed. Bernard Stevenson (Steve) arrived to take over. Mike Davis, OC Cables, was later … awarded an M.C. for his good work here. … it was a fight to get over Wadi Akarit on the way to Tunis. Monty promised 50 Div we would be in the capture of this great 8th Army prize.
    We advanced to Enfidaville where a period of stagnation developed and morale dropped badly. One day, without any warning a FLASH ‘Burn before reading’ signal was received – 50 Div will forthwith hand over (to some unknown greenarse outfit) and marshall in the Delta to await further orders. Some shock and no Tunis victory party!
    Lieut-Col G B Stevenson; “I took over command of the Regiment in April 1943 after my predecessor had been killed at … Mareth. At the time the Division was resting in the area of Enfidaville in Tunisia.
    At the end of April the whole Division was withdrawn into Egypt to re-fit and prepare for the invasion of Sicily. The Signal Regiment was located near Alexandria. The Division and Brigade planning staffs flew back to Cairo, while the rest …. returned by road.”
    A/Capt. Robinson; “On the way back, or should I say forward, into Europe, I had my first real bath in six months in Tripoli. There was also an official brothel (which did) a tremendous amount of business….
    ‘Wog’ thieving was unbelievable and one night we lost the ‘A’ mess double EPIP tent and in our own small tent while four of us were sleeping we lost everything except what was under our pillows.
    We went on leave for all of two days and nights to Alexandria. The cinema was bedlam – if Rita Hayworth could only have known what we felt about her … the Gully Gully magic man, the ‘overworked’ nurses… It was the quickest two days ever.
    Back in camp and waiting for what? Guard duties, more boring training, morale ebbing – new postings and one or two old campaigners became mysteriously sick. Jack Serjeant was now Adjutant. I was given my third pip and at last was a Signalmaster in my own right.
    It was not long before we moved south near to the Ataka Hills which overlooked Suez. They were formidable to see at any time –to train up them from the coast in full kit was demanding. So Monty’s briefing, with no smoking and no coughing. We were just given the straight-forward job of getting back into Europe.”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson; “During May and June combined operations training took place at Kabrit on the Suez Canal. A number of exercises took place, culminating in a dress rehearsal….. at Aqaba, using ships which had already arrived at Suez for the invasion. Division HQ was embarked in the Winchester Castle which had a ship’s signal section to operate the Division’s communications while afloat. This presented some problems for the staff, who had to learn to use remote control equipment instead of being located close to the radio set and in direct contact with the operator.
    After this exercise all units returned to their locations in Egypt to make final preparations for the invasion, which was scheduled for 10th July.”
     
  4. Lieut-Col Stevenson; “Early in July embarkation began. Most of the vehicles were loaded at Alexandria, while personnel, accompanied by some small vehicles like jeeps, returned to Suez and embarked there. The ships then sailed up the Canal to Port Said, where one or two days were spent making final preparations.
    Three or four days before the planned date we sailed from Port Said in order to rendezvous with other convoys which had sailed from Alexandria and Tripoli. During the voyage there were severe storms and ... those in the Landing Craft had a very rough time. .... the weather moderated just in time for the assault to go ahead as planned.
    The 50 Division landing area was near Avolo and Noto ... one of the objectives being to capture the ports of Syracuse and Augusta which were needed for landing the larger vehicles.
    At this time the Division comprised 69,151 and 168 Brigades, the latter being detached from 5 Division.
    The landings went well and the Division pushed on north from the beaches, taking Syracuse, but was eventually pinned down on the plain south of Catania..... a very unhealthy marshy area where the forward troops suffered almost as many casualties from malaria as from the enemy.
    Capt Robinson; “Someone had thought up the most impractical piece of equipment possible – a wireless handcart. It was just like the two wheeled heavy abomination found - if you were lucky – on a London railway platform. On to this we had to load a WS 22, batteries, assault cable, a small switchboard, telephones etc. – almost everything you could think of. All part of the assault wave for Tac Div HQ! The weight was crazy – how the hell could we get it up a soft, wet sandy beach? Suddenly on the eve of landing I realised we did not even have any ropes. Fortunately the purser of the Winchester Castle was a splendid chap and he did us proud.
    In the very early hours of dawn the next day we could see the flashes of the bombers and Naval gun fire ahead. We were not far off the beach of Avala. It was, I believe, the morning of 9th July, 1943, but dates had long since lost any meaningful importance. The bows of our tiny A.C.I. opened. I charged off to the fore and by great mischance jumped straight into a shell hole and the wretched cart landed on top of me. I was sure I would drown but somehow the chaps got me ashore, plus the cart and most of our important kit.
    Sicily is a beautiful island and 50 Div. ‘explored’ with others, and with various interruptions, the right hand side. We captured Syracuse, Catania, the famous Primasole Bridge and moved on to Taormina which is quite beautiful. On our way we saw lovely orchards, corn on the cob still growing, luscious vineyards, fascinating mule carts. There were friendly peasants, high stone walls, narrow cart tracks, but there was also terrible carnage. Monty gave out V cigarettes. There was the 8th Army news sheet and we read that we were firmly in Europe! German and Italian prisoners became an embarrassment. They were almost left to their own devices. There were the inevitable mined booby traps, blown bridges and the dive bombers etc. There were all the horrors of war which had become so familiar to me while in the desert.
    The front line moved to the mainland of Italy. We stayed behind. I had a double bedroom with a four poster bed and lace in the San Dominica Hotel in Taormina – but not for long. Monty came to see us again and we learnt there was a little matter of crossing the English Channel sometime next year. There was however still time for an occasional celebration and we enjoyed some good beach swimming. Nat Gonella with his famous trumpet came to give us a concert. I still get a thrill when I hear his gravel voice rendering of ‘Georgia’.
    We explored some of the nearby ruins and there was the wonder of Etna. It was distant, majestic, mysterious, unknown. I had never seen a volcano before, let alone climbed one. About 3 am on early morning when the moon was still up and we had enjoyed a good p.u. in the mess, I looked again with fascination at Etna. I felt I must see what was up there and so in about half an hour, with three other chums, we were in a jeep plus the Officers Mess sign. Aim – to top Etna by 9 am before the clouds came down. We did just that by about 15 about minutes, having carried the heavy mess sign with us. But of more fun, we also picked up one of the many signs seen all through the desert days and almost everywhere we had travelled – BEWARE CRATER AHEAD. On the very volcano lip we stuck both signs in the smouldering lava and just had time to marvel at the island all around us down below before being somewhat overcome by sulphurous fumes. We scrambled to safety, but nobody in their right minds should really attempt such a hazardous ascent.”
     
  5. Lieut-Col Stevenson; ...the next operation was a landing on the mainland of Italy across the Straits of Messina. This was carried out by 5 Division supported by most of 8 Army artillery, which ... included the 50 Division artillery. I recall that HQ RA was located in a vineyard which provided excellent grapes. Soon after the landing... the Italians surrendered. This resulted in five Italian Divisions being separated from their Corps HQ which was still behind the German lines, and without much transport or supplies. HQ 50 Division was ordered across to the mainland to act as ‘Corps HQ’ to control the Italian Divisions. CR Signals, with elements of No.1 Squadron, went with Division HQ to establish communication with these Divisions with the help of the Italian PTT. 50 Division HQ was established in Catanzaro. My main recollection of the place is that all the buildings were flea and bug infested. I cannot recall how long we stayed.... but we had returned to Taormina by early October ... we began to hand in all our vehicles and equipment preparatory to returning to the UK with the rest of 30 Corps.”
    Capt Robinson; “Soon we were to leave this ‘holiday’ island. Unrecorded so far is the bravery, guts, resourcefulness of my DRs, linesmen and others who time and time again did not know whether they would return safely from the routine missions. I recall the repugnance of having to censor letters to their families, wives, sweethearts and to learn of despair in the hearts of some and even cheerfulness of others. It was not of course just our lives alone which were disrupted as well I recall an old Sicilian farmer who offered us his fruit, wine, almonds, even his mule and his barn with tears of gratitude for the freedom we had given him.
    I had very mixed feelings when we left behind the warm sunshine for a cheerless winter at home. Sailing on the high seas was still hazardous, but after leaving the Sicilian shores near the end of October, we called briefly in at Malta and tangier. Soon we would be home again and we would be welcomed as heroes!
    “Liverpool has never exactly excited me and on a cold, filthy wet November day we could just as well have arrived from the Isle of Man. Except for the odd Port official and an RTO, nobody seemed to know who we were or where we had come from, nor did anyone seem to care. Hardly a hero’s welcome .... maybe there was a band on the quay, I cannot recall, but by the time we had sorted ourselves out in a drippy cold nissen hut in the middle of a Suffolk wood, the warmth of the desert and the wine of Sicily were halcyon days.”
     
  6. Lieut-Col Stevenson; “Division HQ was located in a large country house near Bury-St.-Edmunds. The Signal Regiment, less Brigade and Regimental signal troops, was at Sudbury. The Brigades were all in the same area – 151 Brigade in Long Melford and 69 Brigade at Clare. 168 Brigade did not return to the UK but re-joined 5 Division in Italy. In its place we were eventually joined by 231 Brigade from Malta, bringing with it its own Signal Troop. Soon after arrival in UK all ranks went on leave, but not before they had been issued with their campaign medals – Egypt Star with 8th Army clasp and Italy/Sicily Star.”
    Capt Robinson; “Just before Christmas I was granted a few days leave after being handed a small strip of ribbon with a tiny ‘8’ in tissue paper. It might not seem much of an event, but it was in fact a terrific moment. I was among the first to be awarded the famous ‘blood and sand’ 8th Army star – my very first medal! I headed for London, where I celebrated my 21st Birthday in hazy surroundings. During darkness some cosy comfort was not amiss and some well built girl off Piccadilly looked after me as the sirens wailed and the searchlights weaved about the sky to the droning sound of German bombers. ‘London Opinion’, an entertaining magazine that was on sale at the time used to have some quotes ‘Heard in the blackout’ – one was ‘Don’t be stupid darling, it’s a hook not a button!’ This notable event in my life therefore passed with little more than a prayer for continued good fortune.
    Back again in the damp wood, it was bloody cold and miserable, with no hot water – the pipes had burst. Christmas proved to be more civilised as we moved from the wood at Chadwick Manor to Long Melford Hall, Sudbury, which was close by. In the New Year there began a period of intensive training, the issue of new equipment and vehicles etc. What did ‘OVERLORD’ mean?”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson; “Early in 1944 a planning HQ was set up in London, with accommodation in Ashley Gardens, near Victoria Station. At the same time new vehicles and equipment began to reach the Regiment in Suffolk and intensive training was set in motion. This was followed by a number of Brigade and Divisional signal exercises ... followed by combined operations training, culminating in assault landings on the beaches at Studland in Dorset. For these .. HQ communications were provided by HMS Hilary, a converted passenger ship, with its associated ships section. These communications were more sophisticated than ...in Winchester Castle in Sicily, and presented few problems.
    After the London Planning, Divisional HQ moved to Weymouth to get to the Naval Staff of Force ‘G’ under command of Admiral Douglas-Pennant, who were responsible for all the Ships and Landing Craft and fire support provided for the 50 Division.”
    Capt Robinson; “Sometime in the spring we moved again and this time it was the New Forest. We managed to throw one terrific party and every Wren and nurse etc in the Southampton area was recruited. Pleasures with the fair sex in those days were just about limited to the back of a ‘tilly’!”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson;“Division HQ was located in the Balmer Lawn Hotel at Brockenhurst and the Regiment was billeted at Minstead Manor near Lyndhurst. Apart from checking and loading equipment, the major tasks at this time were working out loading tables to get the necessary signal personnel and equipment into the correct landing craft at the right time; and the preparation and issue of the Divisional Signal Instruction, in particular the frequency allocations (three alternative lists). This was finalised during an all- night session by CR Signals, his Adjutant, and orderly room staff, and was completed at 0600 hours.
    By the end of May all preparations were complete, though vehicles and equipment were still arriving. Much of this was equipment which had previously gone astray and already been replaced. ...assault troops had all been moved into their concentration areas and embarkation began during the first few days of June. Divisional HQ embarked on HMS Bulolo, which was Flag Ship of Force ‘G’. This ship had been operating ...during the landings in Sicily .... and was not available for earlier rehearsals, but all the equipment was similar to that in HMS Hilary.
    For the landings 50 Division had been reinforced by 56 Indian Infantry Brigade, 8 Armoured Brigade, and specialised elements of 79 Armoured Division. As each of these Brigades had brought their own Signal Squadrons with them, 50 Division Signal Regiment was a very large unit at the time.”
    Capt Robinson; “ – another beach landing ahead. There were wireless carts again, but this time ‘waterproofing’ was the name of the game. Planning, planning and more planning! There were complex loading tables to work out, aerial photos to study, umpteen frequencies to learn etc. We will land at Le Hamel, the GOC’s jeep will touch down at...the officers’ mess will come ashore on D+3 etc. H-hour minus this and H hour plus that. The Avala landing in Sicily was clearly a little picnic, but some lessons had surely been learnt! Through the final briefing cages and not a word to Bessy, then on board and the waiting began. Will the bad weather clear? Will we go?”
     
  7. Lieut-Col G.B. Stevenson; “50 Division landed on a two Brigade front to the east of Arromanches -231 Brigade on the right at Le Hamel and 69 Brigade on the left at La Riviere –with 56 and 151 Brigades as follow-up. 231 Brigade encountered strong opposition in the Le Hamel area, which was not entirely eliminated until the afternoon of D.Day. 69 Brigade encountered rather less opposition and by midnight all objectives had been reached and the leading troops were up to five miles inland and close to the Bayeux-Caen road.
    The Signal Regiment had sustained few casualties and lost remarkably little equipment. Most of those landing after about H+3 hours, e.g. Division HQ, even got ashore without getting their feet wet!
    Communications provided by HMS Bulolo and the Beach Signal sections worked excellently, though it was not found necessary to use the latter to any great extent as most of our sets in jeeps and handcarts survived the landings. By the end of D. Day, Division HQ was firmly established near Ryes with all communication working well.”
    Capt. J S Robinson; “On the morning of 6th June it was go and I was in a fair sized LST with some very brave Hampshires – hardly any of them were still alive at H+1 let alone D+1. After a dicey change of craft a mile or so off the French coast into a small LCI – that was it for the landing. When finally the bows went down, I pushed the wireless cart out in front of me this time and for a few seconds watched everyone else jump. Success, only waist high water! The landing was no joy and as quick as possible we followed the tapes which the beach sappers had laid through the minefields and got to hell out. We landed at H+3 – everything seemed to be chaotic. Cries for stretcher bearers, curses through the loud hailers from the beach masters. All over the place there were strange beach obstacles, massive barbed wire implacements, then one saw a lost mess tin, a tin hat, a shattered limb. The noise of destruction was frightening.
    I was lucky to find a safe way off the beach about 300 yards to the east of Le Hamel, our target area, with all my signallers. Although we came through a most anxious period pretty well according to plan. By evening of D+1many of the signal vehicles had got ashore including my own important jeep and kit! We were once again in business, but there was indeed a new technique to master. Far away now were the rolling sand dunes and even experiences in the Sicilian countryside did not seem much help.
    We were amongst high hedges, a tightly knit countryside and no fields of view – certainly no need for any harbour drills at night. We came up against place names which will never be forgotten by those who then tried to pass – Villers Bocage, Tilly Sur Seulles and Tracy Bocage – to mention a few. Progress was blocked, but behind on the beaches of Arromanches, vital stores and equipment were being landed through the magnificent man made Mulberry Harbour.”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson;”During the next few weeks the Division faced fierce opposition, including tank attacks. Progress was slow, and there were many casualties. Fortunately Signal personnel escaped lightly, though OC ‘C’Troop was killed by shell fire on Mt. Pincon. During this period extensive cable network was established, which put a heavy strain on the cable troop.”
    Capt. Robinson; ““A frustrating period of close combat developed. We all became irritated by the lack of progress. It was hot and I recalled those fragrances of the Middle East! Now we suffered from the smell of stinking, dying cattle all blown up and grotesque on their backs! Fortunately we did come across the occasional Camembert cheese to compensate. Lines shattered by mortar and shell fire were routine and more lines were called for every day. Coding on R/T was such a bore. Wham – another 88 landed too close for comfort. Another Tiger reported down the track –no doubt with a full tank! Our brens versus the Jerry spandaus. Villages were crushed and shattered by the most terrible RAF bombing, leaving desolate heaps of rubble. There was rubbish and more stinking rubbish. Animals with no masters in the hot summer weather – hay fever and sneezing – fruit on the trees unpicked. Buttercups, bombers and bulldozers –crazy. What price liberation?
    One day we had a real banquet in the mess truck. Our ever resourceful mess corporal had obtained fresh milk and vegetables, eggs and a couple of chickens etc. from a local deserted farm. Also some cigars appeared from a jerry bunker which had been captured. It was a brief moment of relaxation.
    Suddenly for me it all changed when I unexpectedly received instructions to take over 151 (Durham) Brigade Signals. It was terrific news and I felt it was a great uplift to be succeeding Dick English and to be joining a brigade with such a tremendous reputation. I was sad to leave my Don Section after so long – a great deal had occurred in so short a time. From Benghazi to Tunisia and Sicily, back home and now to the fields of Normandy. All with one command, it seemed a little surprising on reflection.
    I was soon made most welcome at 151. Desmond Gordon had just taken over command from Ronnie Senior. Viscount long was the BM and Bill Teggin the IO – other names regretfully escape me. I was proud to be wearing the black and green Durham flash and it took a little time to appreciate that everything now had to be done that more sharply, and no wonder with the 6th, 8th and 9th Durham Light Infantry battalions to serve.
    It was becoming clear that the Normandy landings had been successful, the bridge-head had been well established and the build up for the vital break-out continued apace. Caen was bombed to near destruction and the Americans began their fantastic armoured advance from the right flank. The Falaise Gap was closing fast and my most exciting experiences started to unfold. The big Mount Pincon was now behind us and we crossed the Seine at Verdun (no gay Paris to enjoy even for one night). Onward through Amiens, Arras and Lille. It was all wireless again now and the linesmen had only locals at night to lay.
    We advanced at an incredible rate – desert days again, but no HD signs to be seen. (Flashback to the Normandy beach where the famous 51 Highland Division, the Highway Decorators, came ashore on D+3. Our MP wags put +3 after their illustrious signs. It was said that Monty was not amused!). The speed of the advance meant unprotected flanks and worries about supplies. Trouble certainly came our way. Maintenance of any sort became very difficult and batteries could not be efficiently charged. We lost good men and my 2IC Kim Kirkby was wounded. Also it was about this time that I was dismayed to learn that my Don Section Sergeant George Lowe had been killed by a shell. As the war progressed, one by one the great pre-war Durham Territorial Army soldiers gave their lives. As a young and inexperienced officer I owed many of them a great debt for their willing help, guidance and friendship.”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson; “By 31st august we had reached Amiens and then pushed on to Doullens and Lens. On 3rd September the Guards Division began their advance on Brussels, 90 miles away, while II Armoured Division was directed to Antwerp. 50 Division was ordered to prevent any interference from the direction of Lille on the left flank. We then moved to Alost to the west of Brussels, crossing the frontier near Tournai
    Resistance became stronger along the Albert Canal and the Division was once again involved in some heavy fighting, establishing bridgeheads over the Albert Canal and Escaut Canals.”
     
  8. Capt. Robinson; “On towards Brussels – and one morning while way ahead on a swan, I saw the outskirts of this great city in the distance. That afternoon we actually enjoyed a civilian traffic queue and people were waiting on the pavements for the next tram. Unbelievable – I even had the chance to buy myself another pipe!
    It was then about the end of August and that night we made harbour in one of Brussel’s lovely squares. We were heroes this time – the shouting crowds, the flowers, autographs and kisses. Girls on all the tank turrets! I had a fantastic invitation to be the guest at a celebration party of a small resistance cell. I fell for Liane Colet, a beautiful blonde whose father was the head man.
    Sadly and within 48 hours, we were away again and up to the Albert Canal and very close indeed to disaster. When 88 shells started picking off the command vehicle aerials, it was time to get to safer places. A brave officer, who I believe was Pluto Hampson, 8DLI, probably saved me, the CV itself and the BM etc. by hitting a particular Tiger tank where it hurts most. A bad night all round for morale. Heavy infighting took place and the German snipers up the church steeple at Gheel succeeded in holding up the main advance in no mean manner.”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson; “On 17th September the Airbourne Corps was dropped to capture the bridges over the Maas, Waal and Nederrin and the advance continued into Holland via Eindhoven, S’Hertogenbosch, and Nijmegen, in an attempt to join up with the 1st British Airbourne Division at Arnhem. On the way we met up with elements of US 82nd and 101st Airbourne Divisions at various points on our route before reaching the German frontier east of Nijmegen, where it was thought that the Division was going to halt and rest. But no sooner had the cable troop established an extensive line network so that the radio could be closed down than we were ordered to join 43 Division on the ‘Island’ between the rivers Waal and Nederrrijn, to the west of Nijmegen.”
    Capt. Robinson; “Advance again we surely did. If OVERLORD, the D.Day landing is reckoned to have been quite an operation, then MARKET GARDEN, Monty’s planned thrust to Arnhem, runs a good second. What controversy and post-mortems were to follow! What responsibility for Brian Horrocks and the other senior commanders. Off we went up another single track. I could hardly remember a secure flank since we broke out from the Normandy bridgehead. We did not get far as Jerry put up a colossal resistance with dug-in tanks. Our sappers were nevertheless fantastic – setting up Bailey bridges and clearing mines – again and again. This was an advance with no return. Barrage and air strike followed another each day. Air liaison was of major importance. We crossed, river and canal, then canal and dyke.
    Everyone was at full stretch. It became very difficult to get spares to far flung wireless terminals or to the battalion signals officers etc. The charging of batteries was again a major problem. Road and tracks jammed and any movement was hazardous. At night, on shift duty in the command CV, one had to deal with many a panic. The control wireless operators on the main Brigade net did a tremendous job. If one was not doing something, one was moving – sleep was indeed a luxury. Somehow we got to Nijmegen.
    There were incredible sights overhead. Planes and gliders by the hundreds bringing in the airborne troops. The US contingents in the air and on the ground gave one a great sense of purpose for we were surely not alone. Jerry shelling from our unprotected flanks never stopped and I just prayed that ‘my number’ was not known.
    Nijmegen was not too healthy as all likely harbour areas had been well logged before Jerry pulled out. The battle for the vital bridge was intense and really frightening but in due course we moved across and onto the ‘island’. Oh for the desert! The low lying ground was surrounded by rivers and cut by canals and dykes in every direction. Any worthwhile view was interrupted by the many ‘bunds’. No joy for tanks and vehicles leaving the straight and narrow. Very soon we were stuck fast – ‘A Bridge Too Far ‘ indeed. From the top of a farmhouse at the little village of Elst, I could just see the curves on the top of the famous bridge at Arnhem. It was all very demoralising –we could make no more progress. It was cold and miserable wet October/November and the REME boys did a terrific trade in’ winterising’ all the jeeps by fitting wooden doors to them!
    Sometimes we were drafted back to Nijmegen itself for the occasional parade. Around the town, for a can of bully, a packet of tea etc, a grateful family would do our personal washing – but you had to find the soap too. For one long weekend, three of us set off on a monumental swan back to Brussels. There we swapped all our guilders for Belgian francs on the free market which was way above the official rate and had a ‘ball’. I saw Liane again. Such happy diversions were rare indeed.
    What now? We were all pretty well worn out. One thought how lucky one was to be still around, but there always seemed to be a next time and no escape. You just could not talk to others about one’s hidden fears or family problems at home and all that. So it was get fell in and pray. Anyway, what about all the splendid resistance people who waited years for us to come to their aid. They had always been in danger.”
     
  9. Lieut-Col Stevenson; “As it was obvious that there would be little movement on the ‘island’ an extensive line network was once again laid out, and we settled down to spend winter there. However, by this time the Infantry were very tired, and had suffered a great many casualties in the continuous fighting since D. Day. In addition the provision of reinforcements was becoming a problem; consequently it was decided to disband the Division in December 1944.”
    Capt. Robinson; “One day my thoughts suddenly went back to the flash signal that arrived at Enfidaville in Tunisia as a similar signal had again been received, but this time it was to move back to Belgium. So at the end of November we left our soggy island by the way we came in. It was not by way of Arnhem bridge. We had failed to achieve the ultimate aim of MARKET GARDEN.
    Back in Belgium, at Dixmude, we learnt that the fighting days of 50 Div had at last come to an end and some would return to the UK to pass their expertise to others. I had the chance of joining another divisional signals, but after two years with 50 Div I could not face it and decided on a complete change of theatre. I volunteered for the Far East. The break- up of the Division, our Signal Regiment and in particular for me, the Durham Brigade Section, was hard to believe. Nevertheless, the terrible loss of life suffered by so many of the Tees and Tyne villages had at last been recognised.
    I managed to get home for Christmas just for a few days, but by the time February ’45 had arrived, I joined 218 (Indian) Combined Operations Signal Squadron near Bombay. Soon I was working up for my third ‘beach landing’ but by great fortune, the need for Operation ZIPPER disappeared. So did one helluva lot of Japan – ‘the bombs’ had gone off.”
    Lieut-Col Stevenson;”I personally handed over command of 50 Division Signal Regiment in November to Lieut-Colonel C. Ommaney on posting to the war Office, and it was left to him to carry out the disbandment of the Regiment. Equipment and vehicles were all handed in to Ordnance, some personnel were put in drafts for the Far East, others had already served long periods overseas were sent as reinforcements to Signal Units in 21 Army Group or returned to the UK.
    Thus ended 50 Division Signal Regiment’s wartime story”
     
  10. Kev1

    Kev1 Member

    Mel,
    Just finished reading the history. Marvellous stuff.
    You've both done a great job.
    I should have the final piece of my jigsaw regarding Alex MacKenzie in a couple of weeks.
    Thanks for all the effort you have put in
    Regards
    Kev1
     
  11. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

    Thanks for this outstanding work, which gave me almost everything I needed in order to tell the family of Driver Rowland Thompson Marshall what happened to their beloved father and Grandad
    Grateful Regards
    Tim
     
  12. 50 Div Signals – Silver left at Dunkirk.

    From the unpublished archive of Officers and Men of the Signals Regiment

    Captain Wally Lee recalled that he was appointed Wine & Silver Member of the Mess Committee in 1935. This required he check and maintain the Officers’ Mess Silver.

    “A previous Regular Adjutant – Captain Percy Jennings, MC, a rather eccentric batchelor – had encouraged the Mess to build up a collection of silver..... (most of it pure silver and not plate).”


    Officers were encouraged to present pieces to the mess on joining or to celebrate promotion.

    He recalled;
    “Before leaving......the North East I was ordered by the Commanding Officer to deposit the Mess Silver with our Bankers (the Midland, in Darlington) and give the bank receipt to a former C.O. Colonel Alistair McLeod, for safe keeping. However, Colonel Sheffield decided that we might as well take the canteen of Crested Officers’ Mess Cutlery with us. Now, near Dunkirk and with evacuation imminent, it was buried in a field on the site of our last Divisional HQ.”


    This was open ground at Lleffringhouke, between Dunkirk and Berques, and according to War Diary of G Branch the move here took place in the early hours of 1 June and is referenced as H38. The Diary continues;

    "Therein the complete absence of cover, vehicles were distributed among the many derelict vehicles which were to be found quite literally in every “hole and corner”, and although many enemy aircraft passed over during the course of the day, the location of Div H.Q. appeared to remain undiscovered or at least, despite the appearance of a “hedge-hopper” was not dive-bombed. During the morning G.O.C. attended a conference at 1 Corps H.Q. and later issued verbal instructions for embarkation of 50 Div.
    These were confirmed in a message issued at 1455 hrs.”

    As Wally wrote “I often wonder whether it is still there or ...in use in a French farmhouse”
     

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