Sapper George Machin 77th Assault Squadron A.R.E. 6/6/1944

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by BrianM59, Jun 5, 2014.

  1. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    It's been suggested by a couple of people that I post this photograph and some details about my dad. The 70th anniversary of D-Day seems a fitting occasion. We never did get my dad back to France, and he died, aged 87 in 2010; although my wife had him cornered for the 60th anniversary as he was invited to Hermanville to get a medal from the French government, but he ducked out from any limelight as usual. I would like to thank Michel Sabarly, who was so very kind enough to provide me with some after action reports, including one which I reproduce below about the exploits of my dad's tank, which was the bridge carrying AVRE, 3B in 3 Troop of 77 Squadron. I didn't know very much about George's military service until he retired from work about 20-odd years ago and it's only since researching a book myself that I have come to read much military history -and found this forum of course! He joined the army at 17, went into Boy's Service and had a spell in a bridging company before joining the 79th Armoured in 1943, when he was 19. He fought through France and Holland and into Germany, fighting at Caen, in Operation Bluecoat, at Walcheren and across the Rhine to end up near Hamlyn. He had signed up for the reserves as well and ended up in Korea for nearly 2 years.

    The photograph attached was taken, probably by Sergeant Nutley, but not sure, on 7th June - the squadron had harboured in an orchard near Beny-sur-Mer and lads being lads, they started to fling apples at each other. My dad hit Sapper Gill in the nose and they squared up to each other. He told the story that Nutley broke them up and told them to save it for the Jerries or something similar, while pointing out that they had just survived D-Day. It does seem daft that only hours before they had been disarming mines and shells under fire - he always said he must have been daft to join the army. My dad is on the left in the beret, Sapper Gill is on the right and that may be Johnny Farmer, the tank driver, in the middle.

    I'm immensely proud of George and what he did but I'm posting this not only to remember him, but all those people who served and fought so that I could be here today and write about it.

    My apologies for the report below, but I can't alter the layout for some reason.


    The journey across was rather trying, the whole crew was as sick as it was possible to be. At H – 20 approx, we saw rockets dropping around the craft and we had several near misses from "Shorts". We noticed several yellow rafts from DD and concluded that crews had to bale out.

    At H approx we got caught on a sand bank and waited for about 10 mins whilst the skipper got the craft off it. In the meantime an explosion occurred on 4 Tp's craft, which was on our left, and Capt CARRUTHERS called to me to help take off and throw overboard our B Bangalore. I heard whilst we were manhandling it that the one aboard the 4 tp craft had been hit and had exploded. The fire from shore at this time was moderate: at least they didn't seem to
    be aiming deliberately at us so were weren't unduly worried. We made another
    run ashore and came in on the left of 4 tp and could see clearly a hole
    approx 6' – 8' wide in the port side of the craft.

    The skipper beached and plumbed the depth of water : it was 4' so away went the first flail, Sjt TURNER, Cpl AIRD, Capt CARRUTHERS, Lt DICKINSON, 3B, and Sjt SNOWSHALL in that order.

    As we came off the ramp I could see it was going to be ticklish getting through the obstacles with the br, so we ran right through in first gear and had to stop several times for neutral turns. It was at this time that we lost sight of Capt CARRUTHERS and eventually contacted him about 10 mins later.

    We stopped just before gap No 12 and recced a site for the br,
    as we could see that Capt CARRUTHERS intended to follow the flails himself.
    At this time Spr SEDGEWICK came up to us and said that the crew of 3C (Sjt FREER's) had to swim for it. He was very shaken so I slipped him a drop of the Sjts’
    Mess whiskey. He was seen later escorting four GERMAN PWs down the beach at
    the point of his Sten, (some whiskey).

    L cpl THOMAS took the windsock from Capt CARRUTHER's tk and I also sent Spr MACHIN and GILL to mark the gap entrance.

    I left 3B complete with br at the entrance of the gap as Capt CARRUTHERS came running back with a damaged hand and asked me to see his tk through to the lateral. This I did, and left it at No 11 Gap in a bay, making that the tp rally.

    Sjt TURNER and Cpl AIRD flailed their way back along the beach but had to stop owing to congestion. On the beach a bty of SP guns had sited themselves and were just going into action.

    I made my way back to 3B along the lateral and could see that we had plenty to do up there so after dropping the br, 3B made its way along the lateral dragging a Sherman from the 13/18 out of the path of the following traffic. On arrival at tp rally we found that 3A had been sent fwd under Capt LOW or
    Capt McLENNEN. We remained on the lateral sweeping the verges for mines and had 3B standing by to pull out any vehs that got stuck.

    Spr MACHIN reported that some mines had been stacked in a gateway and on examination we found 286 Teller 42. We enlisted the help of some CMPs and moved them as the house was beginning to burn. We then went back to the beach to help in beach clearance as far as conditions would allow.
    Sjt ACKERMAN had just joined us so I sent him to join Cpl MORRIS 3D and Sjt BARCLAY 1D. We received orders from the OC to pick up the br; we were called away twice to pump besa and petard into houses that contained snipers. Incidentally we wounded one of the beachmasters and a gap offr with the petard; they were told to shelter behind the rec veh but insisted on looking round the corner of the veh and were wounded by shrapnel and blast as 3B was only a short distance in front.

    We finally erected the br after taking about a dozen nose dives under the tk. Jerry was shooting up the beach and bombing the bay all night. We reached harbour at 0600 hrs to learn the br could be dumped. On examination
    3B was found to have blown a cylinderhead and one exhaust pipe was broken.

    Attached Files:

    mark abbott, Guy Hudson, CL1 and 4 others like this.
  2. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria. Patron

    Excellent post Brian cheers for sharing this account of your dad a very interesting read. My granda was in the 80 assault Sqd. and i would love to just get a snippet of information that you have found about your dad. They may have trained together ?

    Regards Michael.
  3. ritsonvaljos

    ritsonvaljos Senior Member

    Thanks for sharing this interesting story.
  4. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    :poppy: good day brianm59,sm,yesterday, george machin 77th assault squadron a.r.e.6/6/44.thank you for sharing your fathers story,may he rest in peace,regards bernard85 :poppy: :poppy:
  5. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Thank you for posting the lovely story Brian

  6. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    Interestingly enough, on one of the occasions when called upon to use the petard and besa on snipers firing from houses, George used to relate that the blast knocked the tank commander, Nutley, unconscious. Now, the after action report reveals that it was a beachmaster and gap Officer who were wounded. Shame I couldn't tell him that, he'd have seen the funny side, as the first petard round or 'flying dustbin' they fired against a house had failed to detonate. Johnny Farmer, (I don't think this was his name, but a nickname) the driver, told me in a telephone conversation that when they hit the house, a whole bunch of Germans came running out and George failed to fire the besa at them, too stunned by the explosion perhaps?

    I always wondered about that - was he simply too inexperienced or couldn't fire at men running away? These were young men, youths really, who had failed to recognise, as Nutley intimates, that anyone was shooting at them. I also realise I have no idea as to the mechanics of firing the besa in a Churchill - it was hull mounted, but fired by a trigger or a pedal, I don't know? I do remember that the loading of the petard, through a hatch and pushing a round up into the 'broken' mortar, was pretty hairy under fire. It's always good when history - as related by participants soon after the event, agrees with the story, which survives 70 years.

    Deacs - I'll have look in my notes, but stupidly, a relative lost our only copy of his war record - very silly of me not to have photocopied it and I'll have to go through the rigmarole of applying again. I know he went to the army proper on his 18th birthday - June 23rd 1941, but he can't have joined the 79th Armoured until May 1943. He was based at Perham Down in Wiltshire. He talked about training to embark and disembark at Fort George near Inverness, when they had men drown while training and suffer from exposure. He also remembers training in Suffolk, probably at Butley Camp. Trouble is, as is often the case, he never spoke more than a few scattered sentences about the war - often if we were somewhere on holiday or a trip, he'd say, "Oh yes, remember that place, so-and so happened there'. And that was it until until he was in his late 70's when the RE Association provided a catalyst, but even then, he'd shut up when I was there. He was better with the daughters in law and even granddaughters, but he was terrible at keeping in touch with anyone - I often had conversations with his old pals from army days becaiuse he was hopeless at chatting. As a lesson in how to do history from memory, he's been a real example.
  7. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria. Patron

    Brian i will have a look at my grandas service records over the weekend and i will let you know where and when he was training.

    Regards Michael.
  8. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    Cheers Michael, look forward to that.

    This would appear to have solved my dilemma about the besa. The hull mounted gun was indeed trigger operated. Now I'm not so sure that ws the gunner/mortarman's job, but the co-driver's and I'll have to check the crew seating layout but George may even have been on the other side. Still, I think pulling a trigger -while peering down the sighting telescope - is a different sort of action than stepping on a pedal with your foot. We directly associate 'trigger' with 'finger' and it's more difficult to disassociate yourself from your hand than your foot I think. When I was a kid playing war in the street, I was mortified when I asked George, coming home from work, how many Germans he'd killed. "Never even saw any' was the (then) humiliating answer. As the technology of war increasingly strives to remove the human element from the moral/immoral act of killing, it's interesting to say the least, to consider my own father's part in killing.

    It's been a strange few days, much more emotional; than I thought and thanks to everyone who read and/or commented.
  9. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria. Patron

    Hi Brian, I have been rereading my granda's war diaries for the 80 Assault Sdn., and have found these in with them i think you will be interested.

    Regards Michael.



    I think you may have already seen this but never mind.
  10. mark abbott

    mark abbott Junior Member

    77 6 June 44 1.JPG 77 6 June 44 2.JPG 77 6 June 44 3.JPG 77 6 June 44 4.JPG

    Extracts from 77 Assault Squadron War Diary for 6 June 1944
  11. mark abbott

    mark abbott Junior Member

    77 Flag.jpg
    This flag was acquired by 1572596 Sgt Kenneth Fowler (77 Assault Squadron) and embroidered by him during 1944/45.
    dbf likes this.

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