William Gordon CANTLAY, 14 Field Squadron, RE, attached GAD

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    Cantlay, William Gordon (Oral history) (22100)

    Object description: British officer served with 14 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers attached to Guards Armoured Division in GB and North West Europe, 1943-1945

    Catalogue number: 22100
    Production date 2001-08-17
    Subject period: Second World War
    Alternative Names: object category: IWM interview
    Creator: IWM (Production company), Cantlay, William Gordon (interviewee/speaker), Hatton, Philip (recorder)
    Category: sound

    This item is available to share and reuse under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence.

    See also 14 Fd Squadron RE Guards Armoured Division - bridges in Europe
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    Content description:

    REEL 1
    Background in Aberdeen, 1921-1941:
    plans to follow career in engineering;
    memories of outbreak of Second World War, 3/9/1939;
    family's military experience;
    membership of Home Guard in Aberdeen, 1940- 1941;
    duties and exercises with Home Guard.

    Recollections of enlistment and training with Royal Engineers in GB, 1941-1944:
    enlistment, 6/1941;
    reporting for training at Ripon;
    attachment to 49 Training Party for basic training;
    move to Newark;
    pattern of training at Newark;
    promotion to lance corporal and taking charge of next training draft, 12/1941;
    experiences of War Office Selection Board and pre OCTU;
    comments on officer training and selection;
    Royal Engineer organisation at formation and unit levels.


    REEL 2 Continues:
    posting to 14 Field Sqdn, Royal Engineers attached to Guards Armoured Div near Frome, 1/1943;
    memories of training exercise Spartan;
    experiences of working with Guards;
    awareness of German minefield capability;
    pattern of training during preparations for invasion of Normandy;
    posting to 143 OCTU as training officer;
    rejoining unit in Brighton area, early 1944;
    receiving news of D-Day, 6/6/1944;
    embarking at Tilbury, 19/6/1944.

    Recollections of operations as officer with 14 Field Sqdn, Royal Engineers attached to Guards Armoured Div in Normandy, 6/1944-8/1944:
    landing in Normandy;
    initial role of clearing vehicle routes;
    rotating of squadron personnel through front-line to gain experience;
    initial reaction to German mortar fire;
    initial experience of German mines;
    being left out of battle during Operation Goodwood, 7/1944;
    divisional regrouping in Caen area, late 7/1944;
    lessons learnt from Operation Goodwood;
    role as engineers to 2nd Bn Irish Guards and 5th Bn Coldstream Guards;
    introduction of policy of linking armour and infantry units.


    REEL 3 Continues:
    move to St Martin;
    divisional advance to contact at Estry;
    cutting off of unit in German counter attack;
    setting up booby traps and capture of German Kubelwagen;
    use of PIAT as mortar;
    question of absence of briefing on German troops;
    clearing roadblock for 1st Bn Grenadier Guards;
    problems 43rd Div had crossing River Seine at Vernon.

    Aspects of operations as officer with 14 Field Sqdn, Royal Engineers attached to Guards Armoured Div in Belgium, 8/1944-9/1944:
    regrouping of division into battlegroups;
    personal method of operating;
    advance to Brussels;
    entry into Brussels;
    advance to Albert Canal;
    fighting around Meuse Escaut Canal.


    REEL 4 Continues:
    reconnaissance role of Household Cavalry;
    capture of bridge over Meuse Escaut Canal, 10/9/1944.

    Recollections of operations as officer with 14 Field Sqdn, Royal Engineers attached to Guards Armoured Div in Netherlands during Operation Market Garden, 9/1944:
    divisional preparations for Operation Market Garden;
    assessment of strategic situation, 10/9/1944;
    briefing for operation;
    unit equipment during breakout from bridgehead, 17/9/1944;
    initial advance with lead armoured squadron, 17/9/1944;
    withdrawal to allow air strike on German positions, 17/9/1944;
    under fire at bridge;
    arrival at Walkensward [Valkensward];
    delays to advance, 18/9/1944;
    problems with German 88mm at Aalst;
    making telephone call to Son, 18/9/1944;
    constructing bridge at Son overnight;
    advance to Eindhoven;
    story of capture of Nijmegen bridge, 20/9/1944;
    comments on neutralisation of bridge demolitions at Nijmegen bridge, 20/9/1944.


    REEL 5 Continues:
    continuing advance northwards; repairing damage after German frogman attack on Eindhoven bridge.

    Recollections of operations as officer with 14 Field Sqdn, Royal Engineers attached to Guards Armoured Div in North West Europe, 1944-1945:
    constructing leave camp at Bourg Leopold;
    improving river crossing on River Meuse;
    use of dog platoon to find mines;
    divisional role during Ardennes offensive;
    leave in GB, 1/1945;
    preparations to provide support for 51 Div at Gennep;
    wounding during demolishing bridge;
    evacuation for wounds;
    rejoining unit, 3/1945;
    bridge building across River Rhine;
    tank commander's comments on Churchill tank;
    advance northwards into Netherlands.


    REEL 6 Continues:
    method of advancing into Germany;
    capture of German panzerfaust gunner;
    character of advance into Germany including clearing roadblocks;
    treatment of SS POWs;
    German use of magnetic mines near Cuxhaven;
    psychological effects of service;
    occupation duties in Germany from 5/1945;
    comments on fraternisation;
    mine clearing techniques.
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    REEL 1 (Reel 1, Side 1)

    William Gordon Cantlay, spelt with an 'A', C A N T L A Y, 13th December 1921

    Aberdeen, in Scotland.

    He was a Managing Director of a retailing organisation.

    In eh, outside Glasgow. A town called Rutherglen.

    Yes, well the first schooling was when we lived down in England, at Loughton in Essex and I went to a small school out there called Holmcroft, H O L M C R O F T, with my cousin who lived with us, a lady now, and my younger brother. Eventually we moved back up to Scotland, round about 1928 - and eh, maybe a bit later than that 1930-ish - and I went to Rutherglen Academy, which was quite a good school and my education I think, has been of a reasonably high standard. It seems to be much higher than my grandsons at the present moment in time. But there you go. Anything else you want to know?

    In Scotland one aimed for the Higher Leaving Certificate, the Scottish Higher Leaving Certificate and that included English, which included History and Geography, and Mathematics, and French, and Art. These were the four subjects - well these six subjects which I took, and achieved, and passed. I did in fact turn out to be second dux of the school. I always seemed to be pipped to the post by somebody who was there.


    My father had a friend who was an Engineer and it's very difficult to decide what to do when you you are reaching sort of 16, 17. So this friend introduced me into the subject. I liked Mathematics as a subject anyway so I thought Well I'll have a go at this. So that's why I ended up at Engineering.

    When did I leave school? Eh, 1939.

    Well, we'd gone through the Munich palaver. In 1938. My father decided we would dig an air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden and we found that the water table was about 3 feet down, so that that was cancelled.

    That was about all. When the war commenced in 1939 it really was a phoney war. In fact I remember that I heard Mr Churchill giving his oration which was quite interesting; and then the night arrived and all the street lights came on in the road in which we lived, which we all thought was very strange. However they went off fairly quickly after that.

    In effect there was no real palaver until the war really started in 1940

    Well I was pretty certain I was going to be involved. I think I was 18 at the time. It's likely that something would happen fairly seriously. I did start my Engineering classes at that particular stage but that was in 1940, I started the Engineering classes. But em, well I received a request from the King to go and help him fight the war.

    My father was in the Army. He had a bad heart, so he was in the Artillery. I had an uncle who served in the Gordon Highlanders, and another uncle who served in the Gordon Highlanders, during the war.

    In the First World War, yeah.

    1941. I joined the Army on the 19th June 1941.

    I joined the Home Guard, day one so to speak, to be told that nobody knew anything about it, but come back in a couple of days' time. This was with a friend of mine, a chap called Harry MacLean who is now deceased, and we served in the Home Guard for almost well, nine months I suppose, almost a year.

    Well, as you can imagine there was a mixture of old sweats and young lads. The old sweats were very good at bayonet drill and of course they knew the basic drill anyway. Strangely enough we were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas, who happened to be my Latin Master at school. So he knew me and I knew him.

    After that we eventually received our rifles from America, called the P something or another, I cant remember what it was. These were de-greased etc, we were all allowed to take this home with us, including five rounds of ammunition.

    The object of the exercise was that one became, you attended - I think it was on a Sunday - one attended a Parade all of the time, but during the week, in the evenings, you were down for duty at an air raid shelter which was just on the edge of the country and one used to spend the evening there with members of one's Section.

    I eventually reached the exalted rank of Lance Corporal and I mentioned I think earlier that on one occasion being in charge of the Headquarters, the police phoned up to say that there had been reports of a parachutist in waste ground near the back end of the hall. So I set off with a couple of chaps, leaving Harry MacLean sitting behind a Vickers machine gun - don't know why we had a Vickers machine but we did have - sitting in the hall with the Vickers machine gun.

    I went out into the dark with a couple of other chaps and I fell over this chappie in a hole in the ground. He was just as surprised as I was but he turned out to be a vagrant. We took him along to the police station and handed him over, but he was a vagrant. As I say, Colonel Douglas must have been told about this, so he arrived, opened the door, only to be faced with this Vickers.

    Otherwise we used to do Exercises. We were called out … there was an alarm, I think it was round about September 1941 - no, September 1940, yes September 1940 - when there was an alarm expecting an invasion and I was at home at the time and we were phoned up and called to report to the Headquarters. Which I did. And walking down about a couple of miles from my house to the Headquarters, in a lonely dark road and knowing there was an invasion scare, is not good for one's nerves. However we took up positions on the edge of this particular battle area, and nothing happened. We were dismissed after about a morning.

    We were in slit trenches, all I think we were supposed to do was to shoot the Germans if they approached these slit trenches. I can't recall that we were given any specific orders, other than to hold these slit trenches.

    Erm, you received the basic sort of Arms Drill, one received Bayonet Drill; we went to the Ranges and fired the rifles. In fact I remember now, I was appointed BAR man which is the Browning automatic rifle. So I had a chance to fire that as well. After that we did Exercises where the young people were sort of chased out into the wild blue yonder to act as parachutists, whilst the majority of the squad attempted to encompass them and hold them in position. We did quite a lot of Exercises. We did Route Marches as well. That's really about all.

    Oh it was taken very seriously. It was indeed you know, it was going to be … we were going to fight if we had to fight, there was no doubt about that. We were stiffened up by these ex-soldiers as you can imagine, and the youngsters who'd had no experience of it, but were quite prepared to have a go, were there as well. It was a good time, it was a very comradely organisation.

    You mean the Home Guard life?

    Oh, it was very pleasant because you know one met up with seniors, men much older than oneself and obviously broadened one's viewpoint.

    That's right yeah.

    The thing that I remember most was it was a call to report to Rippon, Harper Barracks in Rippon, and at that particular time we had all been issued with - initial instance in the Home Guard we started off with LDV armbands and that was one's uniform and then eventually one got issued with battledress and some of the battledress fitted in parts and some of it didn't fit. But anyway the orders came that when you left rather than hand in the battledress, you wore the battledress to the camp.

    So I met up in the railway train at Glasgow with about half a dozen other people, who were jointing at the same particular time. I didn't know them but I was the only one who was in so-called battledress and of course I had Lance-Corporal stripes on the sleeve which had been taken off, and the battledress fitted where it touched - ghastly thing it was - and we set off on this train and we got to Rippon. And we thought Well we've got an hour or two before we have to report so we'll have a splendid breakfast before we go. So we went into a hotel in the square of Rippon and had a nice breakfast and then we ambled up to the gate.

    Now the others were accepted because they were all in civvie dress but I was quickly quizzed - Where's my AB64? which I had no idea what an AB64 was to start off with. But having persuaded the guard commander that I was what I was supposed to be, and showed him my ticket to report, he said All right, go to the Company Office.

    Now this was me by myself, all the others had gone, and walking rather than marching along to the Company Office I met the Regimental Sergeant Major who was rather distressed at this scruffy individual. However we both explained ourselves and I was allowed to proceed with a flea in the ear. But I think both of us learned something from that.

    After that the - I was posted as a Sapper to one of the Sections - it was 49 Party if I remember rightly, 49 Party and our Section Leader was a Corporal Reynolds, assisted by a Lance Corporal Bellamy. I can't imagine how old these two gentlemen were, but I don't think either of them had war experience, but they were certainly older than - I was 19 at that particular time - than the rest of us. Now the Section comprised about 70 per cent youngsters like myself and 30 per cent much older men. I would think that they were probably in their 30s. Not many of them, but eh, much more reluctant to perform.

    The Huts we were in were the Spider huts, which were very pleasant: you had the accommodation quarter. I think there were six accommodation quarters and then in the centre was the ablution block. So it was all very comfortable - army biscuits to sleep on and this sort of stuff, but the actual training which we received was the initial three weeks to make us into soldiers. It's quite remarkable how quickly one does absorb basic training.

    And then after three weeks we were entitled to a long weekend but unfortunately just as we were about to go off on this long weekend, we were put on trucks and sent up to a place called Ramsgill near Pateley Bridge where the moors were on fire. We had to tackle these fires, but no sooner had we got started, beating out the blazing gorse, than the heavens opened and down it came and we were taken off to Ramsgill Church and introduced to Army rum, which was quite an experience.

    After that we got our Leave and then we came back and then we did our basic training, which I think was another - at least another six weeks and it was very good basic training. We'd started off at Rippon but half way through it we were moved down to Newark, Newark-on-Trent, into Bowbridge Road Camp. Bowbridge Road Camp was not Spider huts. It was individual hutted accommodation and the ablution block was out into the wild blue yonder. So it wasn't quite so comfortable in the wintertime. This would be I suppose sometime round about September, October, November. It must have been three months training rather than six weeks' training, yes three months training.

    Of the training?

    Well we did - they called it 'Sticks and Strings', which was associated with things like shear legs, and knots and lashings, and all this sort of stuff. We did main bridging which was dry bridging with the Bailey bridge. We did wet bridging which was pontoon bridging and rafting on the river Trent. We learnt how to row a cutter and the naval expressions with regard to tossing oars and all this sort of stuff. We did demolitions, explosives and eh I think that's just about all. In the meantime we did firing Exercises as well, associated with Bren gun and the rifle.

    We did do, we were required to give examples of bridging to the people of Newark, I suppose in order to encourage donations of money. So we built the odd bridge in the square at Newark, to keep everybody's morale happy. But in the main that was it, we did our Field works at a place called Beacon Hill, just outside Newark. But in the main it was a very good training and I must admit I learned a lot which I've never forgotten, associated with knots and that sort of ilk.

    Never. Nobody talked a big picture.

    We received … We received the basic training to make you into a Sapper but nobody sort of said certain Sappers do this and certain Sappers did that. We just all received the initial same basic training, wherever you were going.

    No, no, no. No.

    None of that nonsense. I can't remember if we got a great deal of that at OCTU either, but there we go.

    Some of us were then appointed Local Acting Unpaid Lance-Corporals. Now that gives a date because I received that appointment on the 13th December 1941 which was I think my 20th birthday. So that name sticks and that gives you a picture as to how long this training had taken - from the 19th of July to the 13th of December and we were appointed as the supporting NCO to the Section NCO with a new intake. In fact I didn't have a supporting NCO so I was responsible for the Section and training them through. So we took them through their basic training. In fact I think we probably took them right through. So probably with them - I was probably with them another three months. But this was on the understanding that we were potential Officers and we all were sent up to the WOSB in Marylebone sometime during that particular period of time.

    All I remember of that is being asked to give a dissertation on Martinique and giving a whole story on Madagascar instead. Towards the end I realised I had been talking about the wrong island and they said Oh that's all right.

    I got through that and then we went to pre-OCTU for six weeks, maybe less than that, down at er, what was it called, Bovey Tracey, somewhere down there near Andover stroke Winchester. There we - I can't think we did very much there - I think were were just waiting for a slot, or words for that sort of effect. Or even more that - they were combing the Field OCTUs, 141 and 142, into a single OCTU. And we went first of all to Aldershot for a very short period of time and then strangely enough we moved up to, back to the camp at Newark, Bowbridge Road Camp, which I knew quite well.

    There one became a Cadet and fundamentally the training which we received was more or less the Sapper training once again, but except that in this particular occasion individuals were picked out to represent the Officer in Charge of the Cadre or the NCO, as the case may be. Fundamentally that was the same sort of thing. You did the same old sweat, you pushed the same old Bailey bridge, you fired the same old weapons, etc, etc

    The thing which we didn't get has always puzzled me, nobody gave us any real Wireless Instruction and in fact nobody gave us any indication of Mess Procedures, which of course at that particular stage in the game one didn't notices but when one joined a unit one knew immediately what was missing; very quickly you were put into line. But nobody gave you any of the background stuff.

    Nobody also gave you any indication, as you were talking, of what was the role of the Sapper in wartime. It was just simply you were trained and you were trained to be an Officer, you were expected to respond to different problems which were put to you, you had TEWTs and all this sort of stuff. In the main as I say, the basic training was exactly the same as the Sapper training. You went through exactly the same sort of stuff but with this addition onto it of responsibilities which hadn't been imposed before.


    No, no, no.

    I don't know but … All of - I think virtually all of my intake were asked to, were put down as potential Officers. I think that's probably pretty true. That was the group I joined the Army with, not the whole of the Section, but the group I joined the Army with which must have been about maybe 7 or 8 people, we were fingered fairly early on. We weren't told that it was you know, that it was as a straightforward situation but when we'd completed our initial training which I suppose was their basic measurement of whether we were good enough, or not good enough, we were told more or less that were were taking this next Cadre through, which would give us experience of commanding men but we were down to go to - and during that period of time we attended this WOSB.

    Well remember this was what, 1941, '42 and all that was happening in the Middle East really was absolute bloody chaos. We had had the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, so we knew that the Americans were coming into the shooting match. But in the main one got Newsletters and this sort of thing but there was no sitting down and being lectured on what you might be expected to do or what you shouldn't do. You were concentrating upon your basic training again.

    Well this was a Field OCTU. So we knew we were going to Field. The other OCTU, 143, was the L of C OCTU and that was up in Scotland. I was sent up there later on but we knew this was a Field OCTU. But we'd no idea which units which we would be going to.

    When I say Field it was just, if you like, the opposite to L of C. We weren't going to become RTO's or words to that sort of effect. We were going to be in the shit somewhere.

    Well a Field unit is normally in support of a Division, as you know. In an Infantry Brigade there were three - an Infantry Division there were three Brigades. So there were three Field Companies, each Field Company supporting a Brigade. In an Armoured Division there were two Brigades, so there were two Field Squadrons: Field Squadron in an Armoured Division, Field Company in an Infantry Division. In addition to that there was a Field Park Squadron or Company as the case may be, which carried stores, 80 feet of bridging, and general support to the two Squadrons supporting the Brigades - each Squadron supported its own individual Brigade. We, I'll come to that in a moment or two, but that's the pattern with regard to Field. You could have Corps troops which were also Field and they were under command of the Corps Commander but they were also frontline troops. And you could have Army Troops which were at the discretion of the Army Commander but they could also be frontline troops.

    In effect when I was posted, I was posted to the Guards Armoured Division, 14 Field Squadron and I joined them round about January 1943. Yeah, and that Squadron supported the Armoured Brigade at that particular time, which comprised the 2nd Battalion the Grenadier Guards, the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards and the 2nd Battalion the Irish Guards. These were Armoured Regiments. In addition there was a Reconnaissance Regiment which was the, I think the 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards, but that was a Reconnaissance regiment which wasn't, if you like, a fighting group with regard to the other three.

    The sister Squadron, 615 Field Squadron supported the Infantry Brigade. These things changed in Normandy, and I'll talk about that later on. But that was the sort of pattern of the shooting match.

    A Field Squadron?
    There were three Troops: 1 Troop, 2 Troop, and 3 Troop and a Headquarters Troop. Each Troop was commanded by a Lieutenant, and he had a Troop Sergeant with him and he had three Sections. Each Troop had three Sections: No 1 Troop had 1, 2 and 3 Sections; No 2 Troop had 4, 5 and 6 Sections; and No 3 Troop had 7, 8 and 9 Sections. Each Section comprised about 14 men, so each Troop comprised of about between 60 and 70 men.

    The hardware which we had was an armoured car for myself, two of the Sections were carried in International half-tracks, the third Section was carried in a 3-toner. In addition to that there was a Stores lorry, … [continued on next Reel]
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    REEL 2 (Reel 1, Side 2) Lieutenant Gordon CANTLEY

    [continues from previous Reel]… there was a compressor truck and a cook's 15cwt whilst we were in camp and I joined the Squadron at a place Marston Bigot which is outside Frome. At that particular time our CRE was a chap called Dove, who was rudely nicknamed 'Wings' cos he was always up in the air. The Squadron Leader was Major Thomas at that time, I cant remember who the 2 i/c was. The two other Troop Leaders at the time were older than myself: a chap called Purdy and a chap called Williamson. Very quickly they were promoted to Captain and the thing began to grow into more like a fighting organisation, since the Guards Division had really only been formed round about September the year before in 1942, and it was picking itself up as it went along.

    Whilst we were training it was pretty much higgledy-piggledy. Our main objective was in fact to clear minefields and to build bridges as the case may be. That was really sort of the basic training. One would advance and then one would be called forward to build a bridge. Now normally a bridge is built by more than just a Troop, although a Troop can in fact build one of the smaller on its own and take a little bit longer to do it. But in the main it was Squadron effort building reasonable sized bridges. I cant say that I remember being specifically allocated to a specific unit in a specific Regiment during training. The training was not particularly applicable to the fighting that we had to do in Normandy. But nevertheless probably the prime object of it was to get us as an integral whole rather than disparate parts.

    And at that particular time, in Frome, we carried out a Bridging Exercise and I sufficiently impressed the OC to be given a Troop. So I was given one of these Troops which became spare as these older chaps were promoted. So I got a Troop fairly early on in life.

    The main thing after that, we did an exercise which was called Exercise Spartan which was an introduction to reality, in other words we were supposed to be travelling for 14 days, or 14 days and nights, experiencing the worst of the British weather in March, but also being introduced to the latest rationing system - the 14 man Compo pack. Which was quite excellent.

    It was there that my lack of knowledge of Wireless procedure came to the fore, because at that stage I was travelling - my allocated armoured car was Daimler 2 man Dingo, which is quite a splendid little vehicle, but damn cold and one would get a message over and reference was made to something called Slidex. I had no idea what Slidex was, so we had a lot of argument over the air. So I was made to learn all about Slidex when we came back from the Exercise, but nevertheless this revealed the lack of up-to-date-ness of the training at the OCTU.

    However, we did this exercise and my memory of the Exercise is: It wasn't particularly wet but it was bloody cold. The only thing that comes to my mind about that Exercise are two things:

    1. I was up front for some reason at one particular stage in the game, but not right at the sharp end and the bridge was reported blown so the CRE grabbed me - this was our friend Wings - and made me set out a bridge in a field at the side, to which the OC when he came up, he said: This is rubbish, I'm going to put it across the old existing bridge.

    But the other thing that happened was that I was getting so damn tired that I fell asleep and when I woke up I was with a Canadian Division. Passing through the place - where - what do you call the place where the woman with the white horse - Banbury - which was rather upsetting. However, I managed to get back to the Divisional Centre Line after that. I don't think anybody knew anything about this.

    The other thing that happened was that I had my armoured Section with me, we normally moved with an armoured Section which was either No. 4 Section or the No. 5 Section - they travelled in the half track; so there were the three of us vehicles in this Canadian Division Centre Line. Anyway, we got back on track.

    But then for some reason or other, out in the wild blue yonder - it might have been whilst trying to get onto the Centre Line - we were coming up to this bridge and I saw an Umpire up at the top and three or four armoured cars and suddenly realised that this was the enemy at a blown bridge. So I said: Quickly. Turn round. We managed to turn round but these armoured cars came battling up and the Officer in Command said: You're dead. I said: No No No I've been shooting at you with this Bren gun, you see. So there was an argument and then the Umpire agreed: All right, we'll take the Sappers out but you can go away. That was my experience of Exercise Spartan. Bloody cold.

    I don't know ...

    … No. Maybe they thought I could withstand the Guards Officers. I don't know but I went to the Guards Armoured. One or two others had volunteered Airborne, they went Airborne too, and one went to 9th Armoured but the others went to different Field units.

    Erm, working with the Guards was difficult, particularly on exercises. They were very good soldiers and highly disciplined but their idea of keeping you in the picture was pretty miserable. So you would attend an O Group during one of these exercises and you'd be told the task of the such and such, and the such and such, and such and such and when you asked: What is the task of the Sappers?, they'd look at you: What are Sappers? Nevertheless they developed and the Division was pretty good by the time it was ready to go Overseas.

    We had - Wings had disappeared - we had a chap called Jones, 'Splosh' Jones who had got an MC on the route to Dunkirk [1] and he was really very good. He cracked us into shape. We used to go on bridging exercises, you know, bridge until you dropped down absolutely exhausted. You know, Sappers would be launching an anchor and they'd go over the side with the anchor, so tired. It was good experience. It was a good Division, a good Divisional RE, very good Divisional RE. We knew what we were doing.


    We had descriptive rather than hands-on, but to jump ahead … We had moved up to Keldy Castle with the Division after our Exercise Spartan and there was a short period in Norfolk, but fundamentally we moved to Keldy Castle in Yorkshire and up there the Division began to become a whole, if you understand what I mean.

    We did our own practises in laying minefields and lifting mines but in the main they were they were British mines. The only time we had hands-on experience of German mines was when were were preparing to go Overseas, down in Brighton which was in 1944, when we received a selection of German mines including the pattern of removal and also their pattern of laying the mines. I'll come to that later on if you like. But that really was the sort of situation.

    We did demolitions, we built bridges using timber and RSJs and things of this sort of stuff, but fundamentally we were doing Bailey bridges, we were doing demolitions, we were doing mines. We did teach the Signals certain minor demolitions so that the could clear away broken telephone poles and this sort of stuff.

    But in the main the only time I ever came in contact with the Guards as a training exercise was as my Troop was sent to - I can't remember which Guards Regiment it was - but they wanted to do Bangalore torpedo experience and we were sent to support them on this particular Exercise. Of which my memory of it was: we put the Bangalore torpedo under the wire, we lit the bloody fuze and we retired and it failed to go off. So I had to dash forward with a lump of gun cotton and put it on the Bangalore and poop it off. Not terribly impressive.

    Yes that right.

    We had - in the intervening period of time in Keldy Castle, I had been posted to 143 OCTU as a Training Officer, so I was up there for three months, near my home which was quite pleasant because it allowed me to get home on the occasional weekend. Up there I was training L of C Officers who were much older than I was and the only sort of Field exercises we had was when we were - we had to cycle down to a battle camp near Peebles and that particular exercise they had a Sergeant who used to fire live ammunition at and around you and generally play at soldiers again. We used to throw grenades and fire live ammunition etc, etc.

    I think that I came up against the Commanding Officer of that unit because we'd thrown a couple of grenades and they hadn't gone off and this was in - down on the moors and I was sent back to find these bloody things. I couldn't find them, so I had to tell him I couldn't find them and he wasn't at all pleased. So I had only had one session with them. But I'm not sure that was the cause of it - I think the cause of it was that I really was not L of C, I was Field this time.

    So I was posted back to 14 Field Squadron and this would have be early 1944 and then eh - maybe a bit - yes, early-ish 1944. And then when the invasion took place, or part of the invasion, we were moved to a secure area outside Brighton a place called Peacehaven and the Squadron was in a house down there. It was at that particular stage we started to do fairly serious route marches. I think I mentioned 25 miles daily but I don't think that was right. It think we probably maybe did about 10 or 12 miles.
    We did a fair number of route marches to harden us up and I was delegated to give a Mines Course to the Squadron.

    So it was at that particular time we got all these bits and pieces. So I did a Mines Course which included everybody down the Clerks so that if they came up against a mine they knew what to do with it - and the Drivers. This was quite a good Course because we used to booby trap the mines with a detonator so if somebody made a mistake the bloody thing went off - the detonator. And we used to put people into gas masks with the thing, so they were all doing it blind. It was quite remarkable how people improved. You know the first two or three attempts they would poop the bloody thing off but after a bit they got wise to it. So it was a well-trained Squadron with regard to mines when we went Overseas.


    No. Not a thing. Not a thing as I recall it. I am not sure anybody except Montgomery knew what the hell he was doing at that particular time. Certainly we weren't told.

    We knew that as an Armoured Division we wouldn't be in the boats. The armour which was assisting the landings was the specialised armour. 79 Division which were the
    the Funnies. This included the flail tanks, the flame throwers and all these sort of Funnies - the floating tanks, the sea-going tanks as well. They were not us, we were armoured breakout - theoretical.

    Well on D-Day which was the 6th of June, as you may remember, we were in the middle of on a route march - at least my Troop was. We were right at the top end of the route march and somebody came out and said the BBC had just - so in our enthusiasm we belted back expecting to be put on the next transport. But of course this didn't happen. Ruined one or two feet I can tell you that, but nevertheless we got back.

    We were moved to the Holding Area at Wanstead Flats on the 13th of June. Wanstead Flats and we stayed at Wanstead Flats, now experiencing the first of the Flying Bombs - they didn't bother us - until the 19th of June. I think this was because the storm had occurred We were supposed to go earlier than that but the storm came and we boarded the ships at Tilbury I think on the 19th of June which was incidentally was my joining date of the Army. We lay off Southend for a bit because of the tail end of the storm and this sort of thing. So we didn't land in Normandy until about the 23rd I think it was, of June.

    I think 7th Armoured went to support at the beginning. 11th Armoured went in before us. Then we came in after 11th Armoured. 11th and Guards were 8 Corps which was supposed to be an armoured Corps at that particular time.

    We landed dry although we'd spent all our time although we spent all our time waterproofing vehicles but the landing craft which my Troop was put into - the sublieutenant decided he'd had enough for the day - I think that the enthusiasm was wearing out - and he was going to dry out so we landed. We waited till the thing dried out and then we moved up into a Holding Area in Normandy. My memory of that was that we were - I'm not particularly fond of onions but the cook thought that I was and I was given an onion to eat every night. Which wasn't too good, but there we go.

    Arromanches is one of the beaches of the British Zone, you know that don't you? Yes, yes. I don't know where it was but the 2 i/c of the Squadron - no he wasn't the 2 i/c at that time but he became the 2 i/c - he said he landed at Arromanches but I think we landed slightly to the left of Arromanches. I can't remember any town. We landed on a beach anyway. No problems.

    A Holding Area, yeah.

    Somewhere near Bayeux.
    When we got there, when the rest of the Squadron had gathered together again, we started to do Tank Tracks because the roads were allocated to the vehicles, so we would set off and do Tank Tracks associated with the movement of the Division between A and B, when the Division moved. This meant preparing ditches for the tanks to cross over and things of this sort of ilk and getting hedges out of the way, you know, and general route marking and that sort of stuff. We did quite a bit of Water Points as well at that particular stage, though to be quite honest I can't remember doing a single Water Point myself but I think some of the Squadron was involved in Water Points. We seemed to be doing Tank Tracks more than anything else.

    And then fairly early on in the game the CRE decided we should hear what incoming fire was like. So we were all sent down in bits and pieces towards the Front Line at that particular stage of the game. My memory is taking the Troop down to what was called the Scottish Corridor An attack had been made by 15th Scottish Division and they'd gone down, I think it was to the Udon, rather than the Orne, but a very small river. We got to a level-crossing and things looked a bit sort of quiet and I decided we would stop there. But no sooner had we stopped than incoming Mortar fire. Fortunately there were a lot of slit trenches round about so we were fairly safe but it was our first experience of incoming Mortar fire. Rather disturbing.

    I wasn't particularly happy. But - the first time you've no idea but you very quickly learn the stuff that's coming close and the stuff that's not coming close. So you very quickly are able to determine what is the dangerous shell, shell fire, mortar fire, or nebelwerfer fire and that which is going for somebody else. So you very quickly learn.

    The other thing which the CRE decided was he would give us experience of minefields and we all had a shot at a German minefield which in fact was Schu mines, rather than that and there was a path on the cliff with S mines. I think I mentioned that I was walking with one of my mad Corporals, Corporal Pratt, and he stood on this S mine which only came up to waist high and as you know it bursts and scatters then but it failed to go off after that. So that was all right.

    But during the exercise with the Schu mines, which you have to do with prodding because your instruments, your mine detectors, won't detect it and it was in cornfields, one of our Sappers in 1 Troop lost his foot. So that was our first sort of mine casualty. We had started to pick up shelling and mortar casualties, once or twice. Looking at the War Diary, reference is made to two Sappers being hospitalised with erm … what do they call it, we used to call it being bomb happy, you know - unable to withstand the pressures. But I don't remember - I certainly - none of my Troop were affected by this. I think they were probably Headquarters Sappers anyway.

    That was the beginning of the shooting match. Now this took us from about the 23rd June to the early July. And then Montgomery by this time - we were then being put more in the picture. We were being told that the British Army was on the left and this was going to take the weight of the German effort, to allow the Americans to break out in due course of time. We were told all this but there was this Exercise - not Exercise - this Operation Goodwood which was to involve three armoured Divisions - the 11th, Guards and 7th, in that order - on the far left of the Front to drive through to the Falaise plain and then break out from there. We were never told that it was to be a breakout but the intention was, as far as I can remember, that having achieved our objectives, if the thing was right enough, then people would go on ahead. We were never given sort of Paris or the like, as an objective. We were given objectives which were just beyond Caen, on the left hand side. Now on that particular Operation I was Left out of Battle and another Officer from 615 Squadron was Left out of Battle. LOB. That was the only time that any of the Sappers were Left out of Battle. I think that some of the armoured regiments and the infantry regiments of the Guards did leave some of their people out of battle on more than one occasion.

    After the fiasco of the first attempt I rejoined the Squadron and I was sent forward to the Grenadiers who were up in a place the other side of Caen. But by that time the Germans had got everybody pinned down and we weren't going to go anywhere. In addition to that the heavens opened and the ground just turned to mud and one couldn't move at all. It really was terrible. So that sort of shooting match sort of collapsed. And that was the only time I was Left out of Battle.

    We came back from there and we hung back behind Caen because there was an intention that the Canadians might have another shot and they did try and we were sent behind them to break out if they go through, but they got held up as well. So that petered out, and this must be somewhere around about the middle of July, I suppose.

    We then moved back and at this stage the Americans had started their breakout and they'd taken Caen and they were trying to get further round. They weren't round - they hadn't achieved the breakout but they were moving towards it and the were advancing more readily than we were on the left. Although, the British were constantly making little assaults, to take little bridgeheads, with Divisional troops.

    We were hitched on to 11th Armoured again to form a Corps and we were on the left of the Corps troops. This must have been about the, I suppose, towards the end of July.

    Oh no problems. We were losing people, we got shelled, we got mortared. We lost the odd people. One unfortunate occasion in 3 Troop - they were showing some newly joined Sappers what not to do with a Riegel mine and somebody did what they shouldn't do and the bloody thing exploded and killed the NCO and two other Sappers. But these things were just what you came up against.

    Morale was fine. The food was reasonable, the weather wasn't bad, people knew what the hell they were doing. And that was about it.

    Then we came to - Well one of the lessons of Goodwood was it was no use trying to operate as an Armoured Brigade and then expecting the Infantry Brigade to trot up at night time and hold the position. The Armour was too far in front, the vehicles in which the Infantry Brigade moved were soft vehicles and they weren't capable of cross-country work,
    so they were restricted to road. So there was quite a lot of palaver on the first two nights up front with the tanks being thoroughly exposed and no infantry protection. So the General decided that this was not on and he would link his Infantry Battalion to a corresponding Guards Armoured Battalion.

    Now it just so happened that the 2nd Irish and the 5th Coldstream were in adjoining fields. So they were linked together as a particular section and I was nominated to look after that little lot. Now the 1st Grenadiers and 2nd Grenadiers - infantry and armour battalions - was another Group and Tony Jones [2] of No. 1 Troop looked after that. And that's the way the Division operated from then onwards: with the tanks, and the infantry mostly riding on the backs of the tanks. There would be the lead Squadron with no infantry on it and the next two squadrons had infantry on their backs, so the infantry were right up front with the tanks. This was more of the way of the German Army but they had proper vehicles. They moved their infantry in armoured vehicles as well as their tanks - the Grenadiers, Panzer Grenadiers.

    The Canadians at the breakout for Falaise - their Commander - they were very good the Canadians - I can't remember his name, I think it was Simpson, took his guns out of his armoured ...

    [1] http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=D7357032
    127 Inf Bde, 42 Div
    Captain Charles Phibbs JONES, ROYAL ENGINEERS

    On 29th May 1940, when enemy tanks broke through neighbouring formation, and approached Brigade H.Q., this Officer displayed initiative, courage and skill to a high order in organising immediate resistance from an Anti-Tank Troop in the vicinity. He personally directed the subsequent operations in which, after one of the enemy tanks was put out of action and another damaged, the others drew off. He set an example of determined resistance to tank attack with all Anti-Tank resources available, which was followed by other units of the Brigade during the subsequent operations the same eventing.

    Signed JG SMYTH, Brigadier Commanding 127 Inf Bde.

    Awarded Military Cross, LG 22.10.40

    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 14.00.49.png
    [2] http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C9059886
    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 20.49.02.png
    Jonathan Ball likes this.
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 3 (Reel 2, Side 1)
    [continues from previous Reel]

    So the Divisional Commander reorganised his Division following the lessons learned at Goodwood. On this particular operation - I can't remember the name of the particular operation - then the lead battalion was the 2nd Battalion the Irish Guards with the 5th Coldstream, and I was in support of that. And we moved up through the 15th Scottish Division at Caumont, to a place called St Martin des Besaces, and we stopped there overnight which was the normal sort of procedure with the Division.

    As I say there was always two - there was always a left Centre Line and a right Centre Line, where possible, and there was an armoured battalion with an infantry battalion on both Centre Lines. With that group the lead Squadrons were always supported by a Sapper Officer with an armoured Section. I used to support the Irish and the Coldstream, and Tony Jones supported the Grenadier Group.

    We went forwards, we were right forward with the armour, in support with an armoured Section. The rest of the Squadron would be back, and the rest of the armoured Battalions would be back - in other words there was the lead Squadron and the lead Company. So if a bridge was blown or words to that sort of effect, the Squadron could move forward and build the bridge, if you understand what I mean. But the immediate support was offered by an armoured Section of sappers and a Troop Officer. I worked on the right side and Tony worked on the left. He worked with the Grenadiers and I worked with the Irish and the Coldstream.

    Now the other Division, the other half of the Division was supported by 615 Field Squadron and they had the Coldstreams and the Welsh and they operated in the same way. One of their Troop Leaders and an armoured Section would work with the lead groups of those. We all had different patterns. I used to work very far up. I used to work, not immediate at this particular stage - this developed as the thing went on, so we'll pick that up perhaps later on.

    I was with the lead Squadron at this particular stage and the lead Company and we got to St. Martin des Besaces and there they harboured for the night. In that particular stage the Germans were very wide awake and they knocked off one of the Irish Guards very well-liked Captain [1] who was up in the front at the time at the particular time. He'd in fact been with the SOE in France and he'd come back to the Division so they were very sorry to lose him.

    But anyway we parked there for the night and the next morning, the three - the lead tanks moved off and the first three tanks were brewed up straight away in a cornfield. So that was the end of that move. I did make a sortie by myself by going down and along a stream to see if I could see this particular tank, but I couldn't see anything. Anyway to cut a long story short, the other Centre Line moved away and the Germans moved back from where we were being held up, so we moved on. We came down what was eventually called Mortar Gulch where the lead Squadrons were heavily mortared but they weren't seriously damaged.

    Then we got to a place called - well we all thought it was St Charles de Percy but it wasn't it was La Marvindière. The name on the map was wrongly placed. It was La Marvindière - LA M A R V E N D I È R E [sic] - and this was just a field with two or three houses. We got there in the late afternoon only having been mortared or shelled. We'd made an advance of five or six miles I suppose, maybe a bit more than that, without any real opposition. But we got there.

    We knew that the town on the left hand side was fairly held - a town called Estry - but we could see it but we weren't involved in it. We were to the right of that particular town. We stopped for the night, as was the wont, to await the arrival of the F Echelon - the petrol, and the ammunition and all this sort of stuff and suddenly discovered that all the smoke that we could see was in fact the F Echelon going up in flames. The Germans had got behind us. So there we were, out in the wild blue yonder, the lead Squadron and the lead Company and myself and my half track of Sappers.

    There was a sort of a T-junction, well it really was a heavy elbow in the road there, with a track leading up to another house. This was down on the, what might be called one front of the laager. So I suggested to the Squadron Leader that I would look after that particular corner if he'd let me have a tank, which he very kindly did. So this tank moved down on to this particular corner and we prepared a booby trap. We rigged up a rope across the road, fastened it down to two 25lb tins of Ammanol which is an explosive, with pull igniters, on the theory that if anything drove into this rope it would bring the Ammanol alongside and the pull ignitors would poop off the Ammanol.

    We also - this house which I say was adjacent to the thing was unoccupied at the time, so we put explosive into that and mined it and this track which lead off from the elbow. We had our meal and with the empty food tins we put 36 grenades into these and rigged trip wires. So we were all right down in our little corner, I thought, with our tank. Come the following morning we had got in the trap a German jeep - one of these Kübelwagens. He had on it British rations, so he had been doing quite well for himself. But there was nobody killed and no anything so we just took the Kübelwagen into custody. He'd obviously not ignited the mines but he'd got a hell of a fright when he'd come across this rope, so he decided to abandon it and he got out.

    Anyway, things began to warm up after that and we began to get shelled and mortared; not my particular corner quite so badly. But the Germans did put in some form of an attack and at that particular stage of the game we pooped off the house, with a rather nice effect, increased morale quite a lot and we started to use the - I started use the PIAT as a mortar down by the tank. At this particular stage the tank had been hit and the Commander was dead and the tank was abandoned - but it hadn't burned, just a solid shot had gone through the turret.

    So we were firing off this PIAT as a mortar. It works perfectly well as a mortar actually, but as you know with a PIAT it's spring loaded and it's got a very sensitive fuze. We got off about three and then the fourth one just ambled up the tube - you watched it frozen stiff - and then they darn thing drifted over like this and the fin caught the end and it landed on its back. If it had landed the other way that would have been curtains. However shoved the damned thing back in again and pooped it off. And it was quite good.

    But after that things quietened down. I think we were there about three days. The pressure was beginning to build up on the Germans and they were beginning to withdraw.
    So they had - the Guards had taken quite a lot of casualties in the hospital area which was near us and was getting quite filled and they eventually managed to paint red crosses on some 3 tonners and drove them like mad up and took the casualties away.

    It was normally - as you say: Were we ever briefed? We were always briefed that: The enemy in front of you is eh such-and-such a Division - generally an SS Division - but don't worry about that because there're filled with Eastern Europeans whose one object in life is to surrender. Now nobody ever told the Eastern Europeans this, but that was always the briefing. Nobody paid the slightest bit of attention to it after a bit. We were normally - It was certainly an SS Panzer Division; there were two I think, there was 9th and 10th were involved with us, round and about. Sometimes we got 21 Panzer as well. We got Infantry Divisions as well, but these were the sort of bad boys.

    So anyway we moved up this hill to cross the road which was the escape route out of Estry for the Germans and we crossed this road. I moved forward to have a look at things and there was an Irish Guardsman lying pretty well comatose, so having done my job I put him on my back, piggy back, and took him back to his people. But that was really towards the end of the shooting match. There was one other incident - that must have been getting up towards the end of July - the middle of August, the end of August.

    We had had one Operation before that which was rather a messy operation and in that particular case I was sent up to assist the Grenadiers. They'd got stuck at a road block, so I was sent up. We weren't operating terribly efficiently at that time. I was sent up to help clear the road block and up there the road block was trees with mines on either side. The half track, no, a Bren gun carrier, had gone up and killed one of their Sergeants. So we used one of the tanks to pull the timber off the road. It was an embanked road and unfortunately this tank backed over the embankment and turned upside down, which caused a great deal of palaver because it's not easy to get people out of an upside down tank. So anyway, we left them to get it out and we pulled these trees out of the way.

    Then the CO - what his name was I can't remember at the present moment in time - of the 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards, the Infantry Battalion, asked to see me. So I went up to meet him and he was sitting washing his feet in a basin of water and he said that he would be grateful if I would walk with him up through the road block to join his Battalion. I said That's fine. So I did this and we got up to his battalion which had obviously gone through and taken its objective which was Viessoix. The Grenadiers, they called it Old Socks - Viessoix. Then I was asked to report - return to the Squadron but in doing so I took the fuzes out of the Teller mines in the field. I had no time to lift them because I'd too many people about and if they'd been booby trapped that wouldn't have been good. So we demobilised [sic] them and I was sent back. Tony Jones came up to join them for any further advance and he always claimed that he demobilised - immobilised these mines but I kept on telling him I'd done it. That really was about the end of the battle in Normandy.

    We hadn't - my Section and myself - hadn't any casualties up to that moment in time. The Troop had one or two casualties associated with mortar fire and other stuff but the Troop remained with the Squadron and only the advanced light Section - armoured Section and myself moved up front. So we come to the Breakout so to speak and this must have been about the latter part of August and we moved forward. The tanks were carried on transporters.

    We'd had a spell after that previous exercise I was telling you about, around Estry where the Division was pinched out. 11th Armoured was still moving on our right, but the Division was pinched out. So the Sappers did two or three days, two or three nights on the front line in case the Germans came back, to relieve the Infantry. The only thing about that No. 3 Troop Leader remembers being sent on a patrol and again having trouble with a trip wire but they knew enough, how to deal with this on this particular occasion, so they had no casualties.

    OK. Now we're moving forward again to the Seine. We move up to Vernon and at this particular time of course there is a great deal of triumph in the response of the French and they're shaving the hairs of the ladies who had consorted. It was rather unpleasant but one can understand what it was all about.

    We got to the Seine and we crossed the Seine on the latter part of August, on a Bailey bridge which was in place. There is a story there which I learnt from a Private of 43 Div. 43 Div had been the Infantry Division with 8 Corps. and they had gone in front and they had gone up to the Seine and cleared the, the - which bank it was - of the Seine, and then they had attempted to bounce an Assault Crossing. As I remember it was the Dorsets on the right and the Somersets on the left and their Brigadier had thought: Well we'll try and bounce this river. They'd got up there and they'd been briefed as to what they were going to do: The Somersets would cross to an island and then wade ashore from the island to the bank and carry on. And the Dorsets would move on the right upstream of the blown bridge and come across.

    And he said: We were told we were getting Assault Boats. Well we all knew the British Army rubbish canvas Assault Boat. So were were expecting this, but lo and behold it was Storm Boats that came up and we'd never seen a storm boat in our life so we topped the first one. The second and the third one we launched nose-down into the river and they went straight down. You can imagine this happening at night, you see. So he said his Section - not much more than one Section - was the Dorset attack on the right side. So off they went and they got to the other side and then they moved up. They started to get shot at and everything. He said you know: We were waiting for the rest of the Battalion to come across but nobody came across, he said, so we were put in the bag. He said: My own experience of this was that the Germans kept throwing stick grenades at us. But he said: They were most ineffective. He said We eventually surrendered because we couldn't do anything else, and he said: I was put in the bag.

    And the story of the Somersets was that when they got to this island and dumped their boats, the water between the island and the other bank was so deep … that they captured the island and that was that. So that was the shooting match.

    The Sapper who was with me at the time of that particular visit, he'd been with 43 D Field Company and they'd built a folding boat equipment, Class 9, which was the weight for an Infantry Division. They'd built a folding boat bridge across, one of the early ones. He said they'd no trouble at night putting it across but he said that during the day there was a Spandau on it which made it a bit awkward. He said that a New Zealand Officer who was attached to them was severely wounded. That was it.

    Now we'd got to this particular river. By the time the Corps Troops or Army Troops had built a Class 40 Bailey. So we passed over the river and off again. We had some trouble with the odd tank or Self Propelled gun on the way but we moved quite steadily. We got to a place called Corbie, C O R B I E, which is on the Somme and the bridge down there - the Germans had started to prepare it for demolition. They put bombs into the abutments and this sort of thing but we lifted those bombs out; they weren't connected up in any way at all. So we lifted the bombs out.

    Then we proceeded to Arras where the Irish Guards received a tremendous welcome as did the Coldstream. Again it was the Coldstream and the Irish. Then we moved on - the Irish Group was pushed on to Douai and I was on to Douai airfield where we removed some bombs again which the Germans were preparing to crater the airfield, but which hadn't happened.

    Now - we're getting now to about the early part of September - the 2nd of September - and at this particular stage in the game the General decided that he would unscramble his rapid assessment and grouping of battalions and would now work: Irish with Irish, Coldstream with Coldstream, Grenadiers with Grenadiers, and Welsh with the Scots. So the Group that I was working with then became the 2nd Battalion the Irish Guards the armoured battalion, and the 3rd Battalion the Irish Guards and that was called the Irish Group.

    Now as I say my mode of operation was to work was to work very far upfront. There'd be the lead Troop which in theory comprised four tanks, but normally they were at least one short. Then there was the lead Squadron Leader and then there was myself in an armoured car which at this particular stage, now was a Humber 3 man armoured car. So in that I carried a Wireless Operation, a Driver and myself and the wireless was then efficiently operated. He used to sit in the turret with a Bren gun and the wireless stuff on his ears because I found I liked my ears clear, to be watching and listening to things. Whereas Tony Jones of No. 1 Troop who operated with the Grenadier Group, in 5th Brigade, he used to sit in the turret with the stuff around his neck. Just different ways of doing it. I used to work about 4th in the lead and he used to work behind the - with the Battalion Headquarters so that they were able to tell him what they wanted him to do as a general picture. But I used to work right up front so if we hit a road block we could deal with it right away. Just different patterns. Normally it was a bloody sight safer to be upfront than it was to be further back, if you were all right.

    So comes the 2nd of September and we're told to prepare to assault Brussels, at least to run for Brussels. This was quite a long run, I can't remember what it was. In order to introduce some sort of competition into the exercise the Divisional Commander had put the Irish Group as the lead group of 5th Brigade on a Centre Line and the Welsh Group of, now of 32 Brigade, on the right hand Centre Line, so to speak. So there'd be a race, because as you entered Brussels these two Centre Lines coagulated [sic] and there was a single road in.

    As I said earlier, because of the change of Brigade structures, the 5th Brigade which originally had been Armoured was now a conglomeration of armour and infantry, and 32nd Brigade which originally had been Infantry was also a conglomeration of armour and infantry. Normally the Division operated on two Centre Lines, of which one of the Armoured Groups would be the lead group and the other - and they would zig zag - the Irish would be leading on 5th Brigade and then the Grenadiers would be leading on 5th Brigade, and conversely on the other side.

    Anyway it was the Irish that were navigating this. We set off. We had a little bit of trouble, we had to shoot up some German infantry, etc and then we came to a bridge, which was a pretty dicey old bridge but we were all excited. So we reckoned it would take the tanks and we went and it took the tanks. So off we went. Unfortunately the Welsh beat us to the crossroads, so they got the honour of getting into Brussels first. We got into Brussels about twilight I think, and my memory of it is driving down this long street with three storey, four storey flats on the side and all the lights on and every gramophone with a record playing Tipperary. It really was quite astonishing.

    So we got into the middle of Brussels and the population was out and clambering over everything. Sappers were having a splendid time. But my OC came up and he and I set off to have a look at all of the bridges on one of the canals, to see whether they were mined or not, and they weren't. So we got back and we stayed in Brussels. I think we got there on the night of the 3rd. I think on the 4th the Grenadiers moved forward to Louvain which is further up, to capture the bridges there, with Tony. I stayed in Brussels with the Irish Group. They had liberated quite a lot of champagne and other wines, so each unit received its allocation of booze.

    Now I don't know what I was doing but I was driving through Brussels again with this armoured Section of mine and somebody waved us down and said the war was over. Now quickly my Sappers were into the nearest cafe and were being roundly boozed up but I hadn't been told about this. You may remember there had been an attempt by I think it was one of the Swedish Princes or something, to establish or something of that particular order at that particular time. Anyway I persuaded the Sappers that the war wasn't yet over so we started off again.

    Now round about the 5th we started off again. We moved up, without a great deal of difficulty, up to another river line - no it was a canal line. I can't understand what it was, but we couldn't get across this canal. There was a high level lock so I clambered up onto this lock to look over and on the other side I could see the Germans in their slit trenches. There was an open area and there was a house which was obviously the Company Headquarters or words to that sort of effect. So I came back and revealed this information but em, we couldn't get on.

    On the other Centre Line, 32 Brigade was being led and they had captured a bridge partially intact. But the Squadron - 615 Field Squadron - had put a 110 foot Triple-Single and a small 40 foot Single bridge over the top of it and they were tired, of course. So I was delegated to join the Coldstream Group when they crossed the bridge that morning to advance. I had worked with the 5th Coldstream but I'd never worked with the armoured battalion of the Coldstream at that particular time.

    It was really hard going, it really was hard fighting. We were getting shelled and mortared all the way. There was a big coal heap and it was obvious that the Germans were using this as an Observation Post and they could see everything that was going on. So we were working round to the left to try and get to this particular next canal the Meuse - Escault Canal. That canal which we had just crossed was the Albert Canal, quite a big canal. So we were now trying to get to the Meuse - Escaut and we were working round the the left. The Welsh were working up through the middle and they had a hard time of it, the Welsh, because the Germans had decided they were going to hold the Albert canal as their defence line and they put paratroopers and some heavy tanks across the Meuse-Escaut, up to the Albert but we were already across it. But this was what we were meeting - their attempts to retake this bridgehead and to form that as the line and our attempts to get through it.

    So the Welsh had a hard time with this bunch. The Coldstream had also had a hard time. But we were moving slightly to the left near a place called Bourg Leopold and we were getting on not too badly having broken through this crust. But on the road to Bourg Leopold there was an anti-tank gun further up the road which was stopping the tanks. So I went up and had a look under the road to see what the - whether the culvert was blown up or not. There was a German tank buried up to the top of its tracks in the mud on the left so the ground was very soft, and not really able to get off the road.

    Anyway we decided we would by-pass this anti-tank gun which in fact put a shot through the middle of a 15 cwt which incautiously had come round the corner. By this time I had learnt, quite soundly, that if everything was quiet, you were too near the bloody Germans. Nobody told you that you were at the Front but you knew very quickly that you were near the Front, if everything went dead quiet.

    Anyway we moved round again and we were on sand at this particular time and one of my sister officers - or brother Officers - in 615 Field Squadron came bashing up saying: had I seen the Irish Group and I said No, normally I work with the Irish Group. But because of the palaver with the building of the bridge we were - 14 Field Squadron were supporting 32 Brigade at this time and 615 Squadron were obviously there to support … [continued on next reel]

    [1] http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2062461/
    DORMER, HUGH EVERARD JOSEPH, Rank: Captain, Service No: 104106, Date of Death: 01/08/1944, Age: 25, Regiment/Service: Irish Guards, 2nd Bn., Awards: D S O, Grave Reference: I. C. 9., Cemetery: ST. CHARLES DE PERCY WAR CEMETERY, Additional Information: Son of Capt. Kenelm Dormer, and of Josephine Dormer, of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

    Attached Files:

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  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 4 (Reel 2, Side 2)

    [continues from previous Reel] This chappie Ron Hutton had been delegated to catch up with the Irish and help them because they had gone on on their own. The Household Cavalry had discovered a bridge which was unblown at a place called Lommel - no, near Lommel. It was on the Meuse - Escaut Canal. They'd carried out quite a good reconnaissance. They'd borrowed some Dutch clothing and got on bicycles and cycled along this road and had seen the bridge was unblown and gone back and reported this to the Irish - reported to Division and Division had reported to the Irish. The Household Cavalry were the Corps Reconnaissance Regiment and they used to go out into the wild blue yonder. And they really did. One of my Sections - the other armoured Section with Corporal Pratt - used to be sent out with one of their Sections, out into the wild blue yonder and they had a splendid time. But they didn't do any fighting. They just wandered around.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Anyway, the Irish had been told this and at that particular time the Commander of the 3rd Irish was a chap called Joe Vandeleur and his cousin Giles Vandeleur was in fact commanding the armoured battalion, the 2nd Irish. Joe Vandeleur decided he would have a go at capturing this bridge. To cut a long story short, they bounced this bridge and they captured it intact and Ron Hutton removed the demolition charges and got an MC [1] for that. The story - the cruel story in the Division was that he lost his wire cutters and he had to use his revolver to break the wire. But that's another story. He did well.

    The other story which comes up in a little bit of the History of the Irish Guards is that either the lead tank across, or the second tank across, they had the had knocked an 88 out of the way on getting there, and they'd pushed another one which was being towed out of the way on getting over, and when they got across there was a German Army lorry burning, and they could smell tobacco, so they stopped, filled up their tank with cigars before proceeding. That's true but it's not something which eh … Anyway, the Brigade - the Irish crossed and they formed a bridgehead over this particular river. They kept on increasing this sort of bridgehead, a little bit here, to keep the Germans on the move during the time we were there.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Now this was the 10th of September. So we'd reached Brussels on the 3rd of September. The Grenadiers had moved forward to Louvain on the 4th of September. We'd started off again about the 5th or the 6th September. We'd had four days of very heavy fighting getting to and capturing this bridge. So the Germans were on the ball again and it was at this particular stage that Montgomery elected to try the Arnhem business. So we were told to stop at this crossing and hold on.

    Now the Airborne Army as it was, had been briefed three or four times for the Seine Crossing, for the airfields at Douai and Amiens and possibly the Albert Canal and they'd all had these things cancelled so they were all getting a little bit sort of uptight and this one was going to go, whatever happened.
    So that's one background which doesn't get …

    We knew that they were getting a bit uptight but eh, that was not our problem.

    The other thing was it took from the 10th of September to the 17th of September to organise this particular shooting match. Which isn't a long time considering everything which had to be done. At that particular stage then we were on Water points. I remember building a water point on a house and taking a chance on the quality of the roof and just managing to get away with it. We put the self-supporting water tanks on the flat roof and it just managed to stay up without falling through, but that's another story.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    The Irish were in front and they were trying to get a little bit further forward all the time with their bridgehead or keeping the Germans on the move. Now at this particular stage the 11th Armoured had got through to Antwerp on the 4th of September, as we had got to Brussels on the 3rd September. 7th Armoured had got to had got to Ghent or Ghent as the case may be, as well, and the whole of the German 15th Army had been retreating up the coast. So they were stuck between Ghent and Antwerp with the Scheldt estuary in front of them. Now, it always puzzled me that they were not - that they were allowed to escape over the Scheldt. I read stories of this and they couldn't move at all during the day but during the night they used to get their barges and swing their bridges across, and their rafts and they shifted basically the whole of this damned Army across into Zeeland. Of course that gave an awful lot of trouble in the capturing of the, and opening up of the Antwerp ports, because they had to land there and move down and push this army back.

    In addition to that this Army was now on the left hand side, up towards the coast, and we were in the middle and Germany itself was on the right. I've often wondered about the wisdom of that, whether it was right to do this, or do that. But off course war is always a choice of different decisions. I think that in principle the Arnhem decision was quite well-conceived. If we had got as far as we had got, and got right round over Arnhem to the Zuider Zee as was our brief, our objective, then that would have eliminated the whole of the Siegfried line and all that rotten battle which took place between the Meuse and the Rhine after Arnhem.

    But forgetting about that - we are here on the 10th September, the German Army is busy crossing on our left, which we don't know anything about. The Airborne can't go in until the 17th of September, so all we can do is keep nibbling away and keeping the the bridgehead alive. So, comes the 17th of September, and we're all briefed you know: Bash on, press on regardless sir. No stopping, no nothing.

    So up we go and I get briefed by the CRE and he says: The Irish are leading, so you're with the Irish. You have under your command a bulldozer and two tipper loads of Armco culverting because before you reach the next village there's a little stream - whose name I forget - and if that bridge is blown you are to deal with it and I'm giving you this equipment upfront. - Fine. Thank you very much Sir.

    So the plan then is that the armour will lead, there will be no infantry assault, it will be an armour breakout to get going as quickly as possible behind a First World War barrage. Now by this time the 3rd Irish had been taken out of the line and one of the - I think it was one of 50th Division's battalions - or maybe more than one had been put into the bridgehead.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    So 3rd Irish were now back on the tanks with the 2nd Irish. So off we go at half past two on the Sunday afternoon. We're the lead tank, two lead tanks, - the lead Troop Leader - the lead Troop leader was normally the lead tank - then his two tanks, normally three tanks, but normally there was one out of operation, the lead Squadron Leader, me, two half tracks of Sappers, two tipper loads of Armco culverting, a bulldozer on a trailer and the rest of the Guards Armoured Division. So off we set, and as I said, my wireless Operator sat in the turret, and I sat down and you could see out through ports on the side. As we were going along I saw these Germans popping out of the ground and running to what was obviously an 88 - and it was sitting up - an 88 sits high - and it was sitting up there and I saw them running to this. We were trotting along quite nicely and I thought somebody must be shooting at them but I didn't see any shooting.

    So off we got and we were belting along quite steadily and all of a sudden we stop. There's open ground on the right hand side and there's a rabbit fence on the left hand side with trees - more like young conifers than anything else. A ditch on the left hand side and and a ditch on the right hand side and the road width was probably about fifteen feet. This was the Centre line fifteen feet of road and not very good road at that.

    So we stopped and I get out and I asked the Squadron Leader: Why are we stopped Sir? He said: Well look behind. Behind the bulldozer was one more tank and further down the line we could see more smoke because they had brewed up, I think it was either the next six tanks or the next nine tanks. So that was the Division at a halt. We stayed there - this must have been about three o'clock I suppose in the afternoon - we stayed there for a bit, the Sappers were out in the ditches preparing for any sort of difficulties.

    The OC of the Squadron said: We got to go back about 500 yards or so because they want the Typhoons to strafe the woods and I said: Well that's fine but it's not going to be easy turning a bulldozer on a trailer on a fifteen foot road. He acknowledged that but he said: You've got ten minutes to do it. Fortunately we were able to get the damn thing onto this flat field and turn it round and we all got back. We got back, I don't know how far we went back. I never saw any Typhoons firing but we went back so far and we stopped again and we managed to turn the bulldozer round again so the thing was on. And we sat there for a bit and eventually they cleared the Germans out of this hold-up, fairly quickly - fair number of casualties though when you read their battle that took place there and they broke out again.

    So we set off again. Now it was still daylight and part of the plan had been that the lead tank would stop a couple of hundred yards short of this supposedly, possibly damaged bridge. The Medium guns, the 4.5s and the 5 inches, would fire on this target in case there were some Germans there. So we got there and we stopped. I pulled the dozer into a turning off to the left and my two half tracks of Sappers and told them to get the dozer off and let it amble down to the bridge.

    Corporal South who was the Section leader at that particular time and I we started to walk down to the bridge. The tanks stopped about a hundred yards short of the bridge. We got down to the bridge and it was a timber bridge but we could see it was all right for Class 40 and it seemed to be all right. The Germans had been doing some road works at that particular stage in the game. They were obviously going to double up this bridge and they had started to make a road to the side to double up and it was sand bed only. Now no sooner had Corporal South and I said: Well this is all right, when these bloody 4.5s and 5 inches started to come in and there we were right on the target. So, I don't know about him but I had my steel helmet on and I was dug-in pretty quickly in this sand bed.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    But anyway, it stopped and there was very little damage to the bridge. The 4.5s were pretty ineffective but they had killed quite a number of cattle in the field or wounded them - they weren't terribly happy. One of my Sappers had told me later on that one of them had damaged the trailer for the bulldozer - the dozer was off and he was wandering down to the bridge at this time and he'd stopped of course. But I left my Section there - half of the Section there - to repair this minor bit of damage. I'm told by one of the Sappers that the last he saw of the bulldozer was it was towing its trailer back towards Brussels. He'd had enough.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Anyway we got into this place called Valkenswaard and this was in the evening. Why we didn't press on, I don't know. But remember that the 3rd Irish had been pretty heavily involved in this battle to break out of the bridgehead, the 2nd Irish had lost six or nine tanks and done a lot of firing. So the probable reason for it was that they wanted to be replenished by the F Echelon for the next day. That's the probable reason for the stop at Valkenswaard. Anyway we stopped there. The OC came up and he and I toured around the place having a look at different things but no problems.

    During the night a German vehicle - I forget what it was - came through, but I didn't see it. He came through breaking his way out for himself and he was hurling grenade out of the doings. But I don't think any real damage happened. So the next day came along and this was Day 1 gone. We'd got two days to get to Arnhem and here we were, we were about 10 miles north of the breakout, we had about another 40 or 50 miles to go.


    So we started off the next morning again with the Irish leading and we got - we knocked out a tank on the way or a self-propelled gun, I remember that. Again remember I'm about 4th vehicle in the line. The lead tank spotted it this one before he spotted it, knocked him out get to this village called Aalst - A A L S T - and we stop again. The reason why we stopped is there was a battery of 88 guns round the corner and they can't get the tanks around them. So we stopped again and there was another culvert at the entrance to this village so I went out to have a look, to see if it was prepared for demolition and it wasn't. As I got out one of these Daimler Dingos of the Household Cavalry came belting backwards with his smoke pots discharging. He'd tried to go forward and the 88 had had a shot at him, so he came back. The Grenadiers tried to get to the left and Tony tried to pass them over a bridge and the third tank fell through, so they were stuck. Eventually the infantry got round and they moved these anti-tank guns out of way. This time we were sitting in Aalst.

    See thread: Irish Guards Group / Guards Armoured Division, Aalst, nr Eindhoven, 18 September 1944
    See images in Gallery
    Irish Guards Group / Guards Armoured Division, Aalst, 18 Sept 44 | WW2Talk

    Now this was the afternoon in Aalst and there are two things you do in the Army - you either sleep or you eat. I was having a nap on the bonnet of my Scout car. This chappie came out of a house at the side and he said: I just had a telephone call from Eindhoven, are you interested? I said: I'm not interested in Eindhoven, but can you get through to Zon, which was the bridge further up the line. That was the bridge that the American Airborne - 101 - was supposed to capture. That was the next major bridge, the Queen Wilhelmina canal.
    Can you get through to Zon? He said: Well, we'll try.
    So I went in to his house and I spoke to the Operator at Eindhoven: Can you through to the Operator at Zon? She said: Well, we'll try.
    She got through to the Operator at Zon and I said: Well look, can you get an Engineer Officer to come to telephone and she said: We'll try.
    So I went back to sleep on the top of the car and the OC, Major Thomas came up, cos I'd told the CRE what was happening. I was on the CRE' s net, the lead, the two lead Officers - myself and Tony Jones - were on the CRE's net - right back to the CRE so we kept him fully in the picture. I said: Well, we'll see.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    This chappie came through and the Engineer officer came on and talked to the Squadron Leader and he said :Yes
    Well what size of bridging do we need?
    110 feet. Right.
    Will you clear the site for us? Yes

    So there we were in the afternoon the 18th of September: We knew it was 110 foot Triple-Single, we knew that the site would be cleared and we knew the bridge was blown. So one of the things the CRE did was he cleared the Centre Line and when the Irish started off again and we got through Eindhoven, still in the daylight. We got to Zon which was about I suppose five or six miles beyond Eindhoven - the Wilhelmina canal. There we were.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Now on my two half tracks I used to carry Assault boats, British Army canvas Assault boats, so we were always able to cross a wet obstacle. So we were able to set out the bridge before the rest of the Squadron arrived and the bridging arrived. That night when I was OC Bridge and we built that bridge - 110 foot Triple-Single. My memory of it is that we were supposed to have it finished by 6.30 I think it was, in the morning and we'd started about 8, 10 o'clock at night. It's a ten hour job so it must have been 8 o'clock at night and it was 6.30 and we were just finishing the end ramp which was on the other side of the bridge to get it down. The Section that was there was my armoured Section who'd been awake for two nights and they weren't as bright as they should have been, but the CRE came storming over and he was yelling his bloody head off at these people not working hard enough. So I pointed out to him: This is the armoured Section, etc etc etc. So he understood.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    We got the Grenadiers away - they were on lead. The Irish had been on lead for the two days. The Grenadiers with Tony Jones went through. By this time we were into the territory of the 101st Airborne. Now all I did from then on was follow behind the Grenadiers with the Irish Group and we were pushed round to the left of Eindhoven, round towards the railway bridge and the power station. The Grenadiers in front of us were pushed through into Eindhoven to try and capture - if it hadn't already been captured - the main bridge over the lower Rhine - the Waal.

    But we learned by this time that the American 82nd Airborne hadn't managed to capture the bridge. They had concentrated on keeping the Germans off the Centre Line, preventing them coming through from the Reichswald Forest and they hadn't managed to capture the bridge. There was some argument that eh - I forget whose name the Divisional Commander was - but he'd ordered one battalion to go for the bridge and they had hesitated and stopped short.

    Anyway here we are on the third day and the Grenadiers belting along. There is a connecting canal between the main river, the Waal and the Meuse, called the Maas-Waal canal and it's got a big bridge over it as well. When they got to there they found that it was badly damaged; a partial demolition had taken place and it was drooping. But the Airborne had captured a bridge over a minor canal further round to the right so that the Group was passed over that bridge and they got up to Nijmegen.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    I don't know the details from there on onwards but the fact is that they tried to capture the bridge and they didn't get it. They didn't get anywhere near it because the reaction of the Germans had been such that they'd put somebody over on the South side of the river very quickly. They'd put their guns on to those particular targets very quickly. They knew what the pattern was very quickly from you know, the landings of the Airborne Division. So anyway the Grenadiers attempted to go at it on the first day and didn't get anywhere.

    Now we're not on the 19th. This is the afternoon of the 19th. They're trying to capture this bridge, they can't do it. Tony sends one of his half tracks with a Lance-Sergeant round to the left with some tanks to try and take the railway bridge which is on the left hand side and downstream. They get shot up and in fact Lance -Sergeant Berry is killed. [1] Tony remains with the main group. After very hard fighting and some good fighting by both the 1st Battalion of the Grenadiers who lost some good people and the battalion of the Airborne, they get to the end of the bridge but they still can't get across the bridge. So the Airborne decided that the only way that they can do this is to put a water assault downstream and come in from the other side. This has been planned for some time because of the difficulties of getting the bridge but the difficulty of getting the Assault boats up this single Centre Line has been enormous and they haven't arrived till fairly late on the afternoon of the 20th.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Now by this time the south side of the bridge has been taken but not the river, not the crossing. The Americans are supported by the Irish, whom I told you were round on the left hand side and the Irish lined the embankment and fired smoke and supporting fire for the Americans rowing themselves across. In fact my Troop was down to ferry them across and that's one reason why I was round there but they decided they would do it themselves for which I am very truly grateful. Nevertheless they did it themselves and they did a splendid job.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    I was very lucky one time running into Morris - some peculiar name - Burrell Moffett I think his name was, or Burris Moffett [T. Moffatt Burriss], some sort of name, who was the chappie who was the leading Company Commander crossing that particular thing on that particular assault. We met up with him on one of these visits to Arnhem with Tony Jones and they had a long argument as to who had cut the wires on the bridge. Because when the notice was given that the Americans were at the far side of the bridge, the tanks dashed across.

    Now Tony's memory of this briefing is - it was with Lord Carrington who was I think the Second in Command of that particular lead Squadron of Grenadier tanks.
    Sergeant Robertson or Robinson as the case may be, pointed out that this should be the job of an Officer. In fact he was told: Not in the Grenadier Guards. Tony remembers this quite well.

    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com

    Anyway off shot Sergeant Robertson, or Sergeant Robinson [3], Robertson I think it was, with his two tanks belting across and Tony was briefed to follow with his half Section to cut the wires. Off they went and they bounced their way through a roadblock of concrete blocks which I think had been there for another purpose but which were there. Tony says he threw about half a dozen Teller mines into the drink and he got started on cutting the wires. This is of course where our friend from the American Army says he was cutting wires but I'm sure there were plenty of wires for him to cut, signal wires and all sorts of wires. The reason why it went up was nae because they cut the wires it was that they decided that they could nae blow it, or something went wrong. Anyway.

    The other story is of course that when Robertson got over the bridge with one tank - because one tank had been damaged - they stopped under the railway. Now as I said the railway was down below and the road bridge was here, so the railway crossed over and the road passed under this railway bridge. So he got as far as this railway bridge which I suppose was about a couple of miles up and they stopped. The Americans were quite excited because they wanted the tanks to go on. Now remember the Grenadiers had been fighting quite hard to clear this bridge, they'd taken a lot of casualties, the tanks had taken casualties and these two tanks were on the right side of the river with no infantry to follow. But the Americans said but Well we'll put our people on. This has always been the argument.

    But remember we're now on the evening of the 20th of September and eh I know now that our friend Frost had surrendered on the afternoon of the 20th of September and he was - they were taken off on the afternoon of the 20th of September. So the bridge had gone at Arnhem and even if it hadn't, the purpose of belting up there with a couple of tanks or … [continues on next reel]


    [1] http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C9059885
    32 Gds Be, Gds Armd Div, 30 Corps
    615 Field Squadron ROYAL ENGINEERS

    269055 War Substantive Lieutenant Ronald David HUTTON

    On the night of 10 September 1944 Lieutenant HUTTON advanced with the leading platoon of the assault part to capture the De Groote Barrier over the Meuse-Escaut Canal. The bridge was covered with three enemy 88mm Anti-Tank guns and many Spandaus. In spite of this opposition Lieutenant HUTTON, with total disregard for his own personal safety, examined the firing mechanism of the bridge in the glare of a blazing ammunition lorry on the bridge site, and successfully neutralised all of the charges. The initiative and gallant conduct of this Officer was instrumental in enabling the column following up to maintain a bridge head and keep the Centre Line open for further movement.

    Signed JOE Vandeleur, Lt-Col. OC 3IG
    Awarded Immediate Military Cross, LG 1.3.45

    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 20.48.49.png

    see also 615 Field Squadron, RE

    [2] http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2645105/
    Rank: Lance Serjeant
    Service No: 1876119
    Date of Death: 21/09/1944
    Age: 30
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers
    Grave Reference: I. D. 2.
    Additional Information: -

    [3] http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C9081276
    5 Gds Armd Brigade, Gds Armd Division, 30 Corps
    2613912 W/Sjt Peter Thomas ROBINSON, 2nd Armoured Battalion GRENADIER GUARDS

    Sjt. ROBINSON was in command of a troop of No. 1 Squadron, 2nd Armoured Battalion Grenadier Guards which at about 1600 hours on Wed 20 September 1944 was ordered to assault and cross the bridge at NIJMEGEN. The bridge is approximately 700 ids long and has an embankment of equal length on the far side which makes it impossible for tracked vehicles to get off the road even when across. The bridge was known to be prepared for demolition and as the far side was in the hands of the Germans it could be blown at any time.

    Sjt ROBINSON started to lead his troop across the bridge and had just reached it when Anti-Tank guns open up from the far bank. Showing great coolness, Sjt ROBINSON quickly withdrew his troop to Hull Down positions and engaged the enemy. At this stage it was reported to him that it was thought that the road across the bridge was mined. As the light was failing, he was ordered to make a dash across the bridge at all costs with his Troop Serjeant leading. This was successful done under heavy fire from 88 mm Anti-Tank Guns, and firing from the other bank and from a SP A/T Gun firing down the bridge. Enemy small arms fire from the bridge itself in the girders of the bridge, as well as Bazooka Fire directed at the Commander made this extremely hazardous.

    On reaching the far side of the bridge Sjt ROBINSON took the lead on his own initiative and knocked out the SP Gun which was firing down the road. He then continued down the road for 1500 yards under very heavy A/T & Bazooka fire until contact was made with the American paratroops. This Sjt showed outstanding bravery and initiative in crossing such a formidable obstacle against such defence and there is no doubt that but for his courageous action the bridge might not have been captured intact.

    Signed JNR MOORE, Lt-Comd 2 Armd Gren Gds
    Awarded Immediate DCM, LG 1.3.45

    Screen shot 2013-09-30 at 12.44.10.png
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    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
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  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 5 (Reel 3, Side 1)

    [continues from previous Reel]

    So the purpose of getting to the bridge had probably gone. We certainly weren't going to get to the Zuider Zee. But at that particular stage of the game the remainder of the 1st Airborne were having a bit of a battle around about Hartenstein, I think it was called, on the other side, but they were much further downstream, opposite or very near to the Heveadorp ferry near a place called Driel.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Now the next day which is the 21st the Irish were in lead again and we again crossed over this bridge - well we didn't cross it till the early morning of the 21st and we'd gone about eh, oh i don't know, two or three miles, rounded a corner and the first three lead tanks were brewed up. Bang, bang, bang. We could see the Polish airdrop taking place and they were taking place to the left round about Driel. So they were dropping to support the Airborne on the other side of the river. But we were on this embanked road with polder on left and right, and nothing, no cover whatsoever and we turned round this bend and the first three lead tanks were burning. So we stopped and we got out, the Squadron Leader got out into the ditch, I got out into the ditch. I'd picked up an American Garand I think it's called, which is a self-loading rifle. So i had a shot or two at a farm which I could see just over the field, which produced an immediate response of a burst of Spandau, at which I was asked to desist, which I did very quickly.

    We stayed there for a bit and then we moved back a bit - not very much - just a yard or two to get out of the way and whilst we were there the half track containing the RAF Controller for the Typhoons was there. Now, I can't remember the Typhoons being brought into action, at all. I don't know whether they were or they weren't, maybe the weather wasn't good, maybe they couldn't fly by at least a fella was there. I was talking to him and I heard a barrel of incoming mortars on its way and I knew this lot was coming close. So in two seconds flat I was under the tank but he wasn't aware of these sort of things, so he was left standing. Fortunately he wasn't hurt but he decide he was a bit too close to the sharp end and withdrew. Very wise.

    Anyway we stayed there. My only memory of that particular area is that - we moved off the side. My only memory of that particular area is that the 25-pounders were starting to fire and there was one gun was dropping short - there's always one bloody gun dropping short - and he was dropping into our laager, so people were getting a bit excited about this. But anyway, we stayed there and we had nothing more to do with regard to the relief of the Airborne Division. The Armoured Division was drawn back and we were drawn back to the side.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    We had some more exercises in helping to maintain - what do you call it - the thing that was stretched across the river to stop the Germans sending stuff down the river. But in fact the Germans sent down a squad of frogmen and they attempted to blow both the railway bridge and the road bridge. In fact they put a charge alongside one of the piers of the railway bridge and they dropped a span into the brink, so that went well for them. At the road bridge it didn't damage the pier but it blew a hole in the bridge. So we had to put a couple of Bailey bridges across this gap to keep a two-way traffic. But that was that.

    I understand also that the Navy got involved in producing a proper boom and they put a proper boom in up upstream after this particular exercise. But I also understand that the Germans knew about this so they launched a haystack into the drink. Now you wouldn't believe it but a haystack when it picks up the water, it still floats but its a fairly massive thing. This made a real mess of this boom as well. But that's another story. Whether there's any truth in it I don't know.

    Anyway we were now out of the line. This was September, getting towards the end of September 1944. Now, what did we do after that? We hung about in that particular area for some time and during November I was sent back with my Troop to Bourg Leopold to build a transit camp for the Leave personnel. So I was down in Bourg Leopold for about six weeks building this transit camp - at least knocking into shape damaged buildings and this sort of thing as a transit camp.

    No. No leave had been granted to the Army at that particular stage. Now we then moved down to a place called - near Sittard which was on the Meuse and we took over there from the Americans. The Squadron was put into the Line for a short period of time and we had an awful difficulty with American minefields which they hadn't mapped at all. So we had a job with that.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    But however, we were down there. On that particular station it was wintertime, the Meuse was flooded, they'd opened the dams at the top end and the whole country was flooded. The Maas was running mad and full and there was a Bailey bridge over the Maas at that particular time. I was briefed to put a steel wire rope across the Maas to enable in emergency DUKWs to be hooked onto it to go across.

    So I thought: Well we'll have a job getting a cable across here so I'll borrow a tug from the Engineers up at the Bailey. So I went up and I asked the CRE if I could borrow his tug and he said yes. Thank you very much. I took it out into the stream and we picked up a rope and lost all power and drifted broadside down onto this Bailey. On the pontoon the thing just went under, turned upside down, and they stove in the bottom and away it went. I just stepped bone dry on to the top of the pontoon to the great delight of the Sappers involved. I then went back to the Squadron and the Squadron Commander said I hear you sunk the ... Yeah, yeah. He said: You'd better go back and apologise. So I went back and apologised and he was quite reasonable.

    Anyway I must have got another one from somewhere because we got this cable across and we watched for the first DUKW to come down. The object was to put the cable across, above the stream - we put it on two trestles on either bank, one on either bank - and you hooked on the bow and stern of this DUKW - this waterproof, this amphibious vehicle and off she drove across you see with her propellors. The minute she hit the stream she shot up to about 45 degrees. She staggered across but nobody was particularly happy about that. So, so that was the end of that little operation.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    From there we were moved into an old coal - it wasn't a coal mine, it was something to do with the coal, probably they manufactured oil or something from the coal because it was the coal mining district, Geleen or something it was called, and there were showers there and it was quite reasonable. Now this was about the beginning of December, no beginning of January. Now at that particular time - and this must have been slightly earlier than that.

    Anyway, to tell you the story of that then. We were in that particular place, it was quite comfortable, it must have been shortly after we moved from Sittard, it must have been some time in December. Anyway, there we were in this particular place and then there was going to be a rough old attack, a really rough old attack and we were given - I was given a Dog Platoon. Now I never met a Dog Platoon in my life before but we were going to be the lead Troop, in front of everybody else, clearing the mines so that the infantry could come on. These dogs were going to smell out the mines. Now we did two or three exercises with them and I was very impressed. We set up a modus operandi etc etc with my Sappers in support and minesweeping going on as well as the dogs and we laid out these things here. These dogs found these mines, there's no doubt about that, but fortunately his mad exercise was cancelled and the Leave roster was established.

    Mixture, mongrels, all sorts of things, little ones and not so little ones.

    They all had a Dog handler, who of course knew what it was all about, but I don't think he knew what he was letting himself in for, but this was the name of the game. My blokes were very pleased this operation was cancelled. Anyway Leave was going to be granted from the beginning of January. According to the OC it was drawn by lot but I was fortunate in getting the first Leave and I was supposed to go on leave on the 8th of January. I not really sure if they felt that I needed this bloody leave, whether I'd earned this Leave or whatever. Anyway, I got the first Leave. But in the meantime the Germans had started their Ardennes offensive, so the Division was sent down to act as a blocking Division at that particular time.

    Now we had been allowed weekend or two or three days Leave in Brussels occasionally and Tony Jones, his father was a Brigadier on Montgomery's Staff and Tony Jones and I had been given this particular weekend. Probably he was just as weary of the war as I was. We got there and his father said" I'll take you for dinner to the Senior officers Mess. That's fine, lovely. So we're sitting there, we're just about to have the First Course and a message comes through for both of us: Rejoin immediately. So off we went. We didn't know where the hell to rejoin but we were told where to join, so we dashed off down to the stop point where the Squadron had been formed up, to act part of a stop if the Germans got through the Ardennes. This was fairly quick. I don't think the Germans were going to get very far with that Ardennes operation quite honestly because our Division was strung out, the Maas bridges were prepared for demolition by the Americans and our job was to sit on the bridge at Liège and blow it if the Germans came. So eh, my Troop was down on the Liège and it was bloody cold weather.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    We were based in a place called [?] Dornmal which was about five or six miles short of Liège and it was very, very cold weather and we'd managed to have a Christmas dinner before we moved down. The German attack took place on Christmas Day, we must have been in place by Boxing Day. But em, we had a Christmas dinner before we moved down. We moved down from there and sat on that bridge just waiting, nothing happened. The only thing that happened was the Germans were using flying bombs on Liège so that was a bit unpleasant. But after that, when the thing finished, we moved back to Dornmal again.

    This must have been early January I suppose and then I was due for Leave, so I went on Leave. I think you had a week's leave - you had ten days, they allowed you three days to get home and to get back, and seven days at home. I remember we got - the camp was all right cos I'd built it myself, but the trains were - no had no windows in and it was bloody freezing. So we got to Calais and got on the boat, we got across to Dover and we were put up overnight on Dover Castle. Then the next day those who were bound for Scotland were put on this train and we set off and it seemed to go on for ever and ever and ever, and then stopped dead at Morpeth. I'll never forget this: we're all fed up by this time and somebody got out and promised to shoot the engine driver if he didn't get moving. I can't remember if that persuaded him to move or not but eventually we eventually we got home. Quite a pleasant leave. I'd just missed my brother unfortunately, he was serving with the Royal Marines and I'd just missed him. He'd gone away about a couple of days before I got home. But anyway, the leave went off and we went back, back to the Squadron again.

    This would be towards the latter part of January. It was at that time that the battle for the Reichswald was going to take place in February. So we were briefed for that particular battle: that the Guards Armoured would be the breakout Division if the Canadians, with the addition of 30 Corps, managed to make a crack in the Siegfried Line. So we formed up at Tilburg awaiting for the breakout and the attack went in on the Reichswald Forest on the 8th of February. The first battles went quite well, they broke through the initial crust and broke through, but there was no operational call for the armour at that particular stage because the ground was in a terrible state and the roads weren't far enough opened up.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    But the Sappers were sent forward and we were sitting, round about the 10th of September [sic; February?], outside a place called Mook waiting to assist. It was a dirty filthy night, sleet and everything. I was sleeping in the back of a truck and got a message from the 2 i/c saying that I was down for a 'VC job' the next morning, would I please come up for a briefing. I said: Well, well, well, well, well. I went up and was told that we were going to be supporting the 51st Scottish and they needed a bridge over a stream at Gennep, which is a stream, I think it's the Neve or something [? Niers] which flows into the Meuse, at Gennep. Of course everything was flooded.

    So off I go with my armoured Section early the next morning, telling the Troop to follow on and I get to this bridge at Gennep and there's not a bloody kilt in sight. Very quiet, not very nice at all. Anyway, with these Assault boats on top of the half tracks, I get a Bren gun and a team over the other side and we can't can't see anything at all. We start to prepare for the arrival of the Troop and the Troop arrives and then we start to prepare the demolition. We get on with that and we know it's going to be an 80 foot Double-Single bridge, so the bridging starts to arrive and we've got the charges on the bridge. It gets - we'd probably been there for about three or four hours by this time, by the time the bridging starts to arrive, so it's round about eleven o'clock or twelve o'clock.

    See VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest

    We start to bring the bridging up to unload and then the Germans become well aware of what is happening. We start to get mortared and fortunately the whole surround of the place is either the town which is on the far bank of the river, or the polder which is flooded so the only hard spots near the bridge are the approach roads on our side of the bridge which is on an embankment. The nearest houses are 400, 500 yards back on that side and the town starts just on the north side. So any mortar bursting in the polder wasn't doing any harm and any bursting in the town was not doing us any harm anyway. But the stuff that was bursting on the road and the bridge was doing us harm and we were putting these bloody charges on. So we had to stop unloading the bridging lorries. We just carried on with the charges and we got all these on ready to blow. Right, we were ready to put the detonators in; until that time you string up your detonating fuze and all that, and your detonators are on that but until you put that into the charges very little will happen. If something really does hit a charge it might go off, but the chances of it are not so much, but immediately you put the detonators in, you're in trouble. So Sergeant Dixon takes the the left hand girder, and I take the right hand girder, and we're both crawling up this girder putting the detonators into the charges and we get stonked. That's not terribly happy when you're lying on that with that happening. Fortunately nothing happened. So we get off and we light the fuzes and ambled back to Squadron Headquarters - 400, 500 yards down the embanked road. Wait for the bang and the bang goes nicely so Sergeant Dixon and I wander back up to the bridge. He's about ten paces behind me and I get to the bridge and it's quite a nice demolition but there's a couple of railway - tramway tracks which we hadn't charged before and they're sticking up. So I turn round to say to Sergeant Dixon : We're going to have to blow those, and as I turn round this bloody mortar bomb bursts between us. Never heard it coming. I'm down and he's down. The chappie on the other side of the bridge said: Did you not hear it coming? when I talked to him afterwards. I never heard a thing.

    So I moved to - just away from Sergeant Dixon and I see the OC and the Sergeant Major running up. The OC comes up to have a look at Sergeant Dixon, and the Sergeant Major comes up and he starts to go by : No no no, take me. By this time I'm feeling blood running down all over the place thinking: Christ I'm bleeding to death here. So I say: Get me back. He took me piggy-back down to the Squadron Headquarters. I remember lying on this table and the CRE came up and I said: Not particularly keen on this type of war. I much prefer building huts in Bourg Leopold. However I was moved back and at the Advanced Dressing Station they gave me tea and took my watch and my revolver off me, I remember that. Then I was moved back to the eh Casualty Clearing Station which was in, I think, an old monastery or the like. I was dumped on a very cold marble slab. Oh I had blankets on, I was on a stretcher I suppose, but it was bloody cold and I remember I was shivering like stink which was probably a reaction or whatever it is. Eventually, it seemed an awful long time, I was taken, and moved into a ward.

    Now we'd been taking casualties on this bridge, from this mortar. I'd lost about four or five Sappers from wounds and you know, when you're working with 30 people that's quite a percentage, and the other Squadron had been coming along to have a look-see. One of the Troop Leaders of the other Squadron, Ray Beeson [2], had come along just in time to be wounded by a mortar. So he was - so, and as the OC of the other Squadron had come along and I'd walked back down with him and we'd got sniped and the crack of the bullet had been very close so it was a near miss. But anyway coming into this ward now, on the first bed on the right hand side, was Ray Beeson. I was put at the bottom end but later on that night I was shifted out, I wasn't badly wounded. They weren't going to evacuate me to England, I didn't know that at the time but I was put on a hospital train and the hospital train ambled through the night down to somewhere to near Ostend - I didn't know this until later on. I asked for a bottle cos I needed a pee and I couldn't pee, this didn't bother me at the time But I got to this hospital and I couldn't pee for three days, you know. And you know, I thought: Christ I got to tell somebody about this and I didn't bother but eventually I was able to pee. When you think of it that was quite dangerous, I could have burst my bladder and it was quite surprising that the orderlies didn't ask: Why are you asking for a bottle and you're not using it? But however that's another question.

    Mostly in my right leg, a bit in the face, a lump out of the ear and some on the right side. But it was - the bomb had obviously come down and the most of the stuff that I'd got was the scatter, the heavy stuff had gone and taken Serjeant Dixon in the chest. He was dead. He's buried in a place called Mook.

    Anyway, so there I was, and there were quite a number of other Officers in the war, mostly from initial casualties associated with the Reichswald forest. Most of them had shrapnel wounds associated with bursts in the trees - that seemed to be the trouble. But I was there I suppose for about six weeks. They took out the bigger bits of stuff - I still got some stuff left in me which bothers me in the cold weather but that's all. They took out the bigger bits and that was that. Right, I did write to the OC asking that if he was willing to have me back after my rude remarks, I'd be very pleased to come back. So he said: OK. So after about six weeks in hospital, I rejoined - maybe a bit longer than that - I rejoined the Squadron about the middle of March and they'd been very busy maintaining roads and things during the shooting match. But the Division itself hadn't got off although the Infantry had been used and sustained quite severe casualties in some of the operations in the Reichswald. But anyway I rejoined just before in fact the Rhine crossing.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Just before the Rhine crossing I was asked to build a bridge. It was to support another Tank Brigade - Guards Tank Brigade - the 6th Guards Tank Brigade and they were in Churchills. The time given was X , the bridge was supposed to be open by such-and-such a time, but nobody had told me that they wanted the flush decked. Now to flush deck a Bailey you've got to dig out a lot of the embankment and that takes time and also we were getting shelled by phosphorous shells. I think somebody, some tank or gun was running out of ammunition and he was using his phosphorus shells - they weren't bad but they slowed things up a bit. So we put this bridge across but we were about an hour late so they eventually shoved up the name of this bridge as Spat Bridge which is S P A two dots on it T - Spät Bridge which is Late Bridge, which didn't please me at all.

    However I asked - whilst I was waiting for it to be finished - I asked one of these Churchill tank commanders: What's this tank like, they're not particularly keen on the Sherman, the Tommy Cooker? He said: Oh no, this is quite a good tank. They said they told us it would keep out anything the Germans would throw at us and that's pretty right. They didn't tell us if you got hit in the turret, it takes the turret off. So anyway that was that.

    Then we come to the Rhine crossing. Now my brother was in the Commandos and I missed an opportunity to speak to him there, because I was doing something. I happened to see 46 Commando but I was too busy. I couldn't stop and his Commando was the people that crossed on the buffalos at eh Wesel, I think it was, and he was killed there [3]. So that was a sad business, but however.

    We crossed over - we didn't cross over till about I suppose - it was the night of the 23rd was the assault - we didn't cross over till about the night of the 25th. We had to break out and it was quite hard breaking out again. The Germans are quite quick at pushing across the Rhine Again I was upfront with the Irish Guards again and we came through Enschede, the Dutch town, E N S C H E D E, or words to that sort of effect. They were all waving and cheering like mad. I thought: Christ this is stupid. These bloody Germans shouldn't be waving and cheering like mad. It was only when we were through it that I discovered we were passing through Holland.
    Copied & pasted from WW2Talk .com
    Anyway we got up to this - after this it's just a series of eh - loss of time and just a series of things. The first thing after that we came to an anti-tank ditch with a bridge over it which was blown and we were stopped. I happened to see in the column about five or six tanks back was a Valentine bridge layer and it was possible to get off the Centre Line and move up a cobbled road to where they had taken out the bridge, and there was nothing there except. So I moved my Section down there and we took this Valentine bridge-layer, put the Sappers into the ditch with their Bren guns and all that sort of stuff, and put this Valentine bridge-layer over the deck and got the Division moving again.

    And then after that it was a series of trees, more or less, and you learned - what I used to do: I used to persuade the lead tank to move as close to the trees as he could because the threat of him opening fire on anybody was then quite severe and then I would go forward … [continues on next reel]


    [1] - http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2961810/
    Rank: Lance Serjeant
    Service No: 2000545
    Date of Death: 11/02/1945
    Age: 25
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: II. A. 11.
    Additional Information: Son of Peter and Ada Dixon, of Haydock, Lancashire.

    [2] - http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=D7402181
    Name Beeson, Raymond B
    Rank: 1st Lieutenant
    Service No: 289758
    Regiment: 615 Field Squadron Royal Engineers (Bombardier)
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: Foreign to British: USA
    Award: Silver Star Medal
    Date of announcement in London Gazette: 14 May 1948

    [3] - http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2035447/
    Rank: Corporal
    Service No: CH/X116216
    Date of Death: 23/03/1945
    Age: 19
    Regiment/Service: Royal Marines, No. 46 R.M. Commando.
    Grave Reference: 62. A. 18.
    Additional Information: Son of William Leith Cantlay and Alice Mary Cantlay, of Burnside, Lanarkshire.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
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  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 6 (Reel 3, Side 2)

    [continues from previous reel]… if there were mines in the verges or that sort of stuff, we used to either go and lift them or if they were Schu mines we would blow them with corded and generally get the thing moving again. Now, one our, our sister Squadron, they had lost one or two people and one of their new Troop Leaders was a chap called Campbell [1] who was the son of the Chief Engineer. He hadn't learnt this lesson long enough and he approached a road block and he got shot to pieces. So you did learn your lessons fairly quickly as to how to go about this particular exercise. Whether the others did what I did, I've no idea, but that was my modus operandi. We did this for tree blocks fairly regularly.

    There was one time when we came up to a blown bridge with a railway, and the railway was in a cutting obviously with a blown bridge, and doing the same sort of operation suddenly out of a ditch appeared a chappie with his bazooka but the tank had put the wind up him. So he surrendered to me and that was my first and only prisoner. Now, at that particular one I couldn't do anything with the bridge, it needed bridging, but I noticed on my map that the railway of course passed out on to open ground, down to sides and about a mile or so down the track there was a level crossing. So I went to the leading Squadron Leader and I said: Look this is a level crossing. He looked at me in utter surprise. I don't think he realised it was a level crossing. The skill of map reading of some the Guards wasn't so good.

    Anyway he said: The Brigadier's just back there. He said: Go and tell the Brigadier and get yourself an M.C. So I trotted off down there but by that time of course the Brigadier had disappeared, but obviously he'd told his Battalion commander. So all of a sudden they all turned right and we trotted across this thing and we moved across this level crossing, and we caught the German column going out the back end, which pleased the Commander of the Irish Guards quite a lot. Anyway, that was that.

    Then there were other occasions - there was one occasion where we'd been stopped for some reason or another, I don't know why and my Sappers had gone into the house and I'd stayed outside in the armoured car with the wireless on, and all of the sudden I was getting shot at, by shell fire. This one gun was starting to pick on me, so when it eventually rattled the armoured car and broke my windscreen I thought: This is time to move. So I moved along from there. That's the only time that the Germans really had their eye on me. Least to my knowledge

    The other thing which happened was that later on in support of the Grenadiers. Tony was withdrawn because he Regular - he was going to be Regular - he was going the the Far East so it must have been getting towards the end of the war. I pushed up to support the Grenadiers and they were stopped by a road block which was a timber road block - they used to put timbers into the road and then close it off with vertical and horizontal ones. There was mines, Schu mines and everything round about here so I said: If you're passing your infantry round, pass them wide. This young Grenadier Officer hadn't listened so one of his blokes walked into the Schu mines and lost his foot, which I then gallantly went in, and put him on my back, pulled him out and stuffed him full of morphia. Then we blew the road block and went away.

    We'd another occasion where, again, it was a double roadblock of this sort of form and we'd been stopped at the lower road block and it was obviously on under fire so I wasn't doing anything about it till it was cleared and happy. The 3rd Irish put in an attack up the right hand side. But before they did it, the CRE who was now my old OC - Major Thomas had now been appointed CRE and 'Splosh' Jones had been appointed to Staff at 30 Corps. He was very good 'Splosh' Jones, so was John Thomas. He gone: Why aren't you clearing this road block. I said: Because it's under fire. He said: Oh, walk with me. So we walked up and we got a burst of Spandau between the two of us so, that was enough, not a word was said. We just walked back.

    But anyway, when the Irish had gone up to the second road block by attacking on the right hand side, we cleared this one. Then I moved up again to the next one and it didn't look too good either; cos nobody had been working on the left hand side and it was a high bank on the left hand side and trees on the right hand side and there was a house down below. So I put my Sappers into the house, put a Bren gun on the table and said: Look out there in case the Germans are coming down the way whilst we clear the roadblock. I could see these bloody Germans moving through these bloody trees. So I moved back and picked up my driver - Driver Todd he was a mad devil, little man - and he took the Bren gun out of the armoured car and I took a handful of 36 grenades. He fired the Bren - dashed up and fired the Bren and I dashed up and threw the grenades, none of which exploded, so we carried on like this for a little bit and nothing happened and then it all seemed to quieten down. The OC came up and said: Let's get the road block cleared. So we cleared that. That was another day gone.

    The whole operation was: you would go along and you would lose your lead tank, if not the lead first two, three; you would lose them and you would be stopped because the Germans would have a tank, or an anti-tank gun, judicially located and when they stopped you they would move back and do the same thing the next day. So you were moving between road blocks or knocked-out tanks and it was very distressing and very tiring.

    Anyway, one day they managed to get this bloody tank and they brought in these four, very young, black-clad German youths. Black-clad not because they were SS but black-clad because they were armour, I think. But anyway they gave each of them a shovel and told them to dig their own grave, cos they were cocky little bastards. They dug their own grave and they were not quite so cocky before they were shoved away. That was one other thing which happened.

    Then there was another exercise which occurred towards the end of the war, where, I think - we were having an awful lot of trouble. Our Division was moving up between Bremen and Hamburg, up towards Cuxhaven. We were fighting 21 Panzer, we were fighting the German Marines and the German Navy. They were using magnetic mines, ship magnetic mines, so that if x number of tanks would go past and the next one would go up
    lift that tank into the next field, a really bloody great big hole it would make. There was one road with nine of these holes in it and I remember the sign said: "For one mile this road is bloody". It really was true.

    But anyway, to cut a long story short then, we were having all this trouble and the Household Cavalry had discovered a bridge which was blown but which was not guarded round, way round to our right, again within this peninsula. The object was then to pass an armoured column round over that bridge and get behind the Germans which were sitting and blocking us on the way. I was sent out with my armoured Section again, out into the wild blue yonder, in the daylight. Nothing to be seen and I got to this place and I saw this Household Cavalry commander, another Lieutenant and we looked at this thing here. This bridge was down a sort of an embanked road, with fields on either side, 50 to 100 yards and the bridge was blown further up. So the place was very quiet and didn't look good at all. I suggested we go down in his Dingo - he had Dingo Armoured cars. So we got into this and he was driving and then all of a sudden there was a hell of a bang. I looked at him and said: I don't know about you but I'm getting out. So out I got and he followed very quickly and we got back.

    To cut a long story short I did eventually walk up to the bridge and had a look at the gap, and measured it up and decided it was going to be an 80 foot Double-Single. Now I was preparing to walk back and I looked down and I saw these bloody mines. These mines instead of being anti-tank had been converted to anti-personnel by putting a push igniter on top. So if you stood on the thing you really were going to heaven. Anyway, I was much more careful walking back down.

    So, back I go to the CRE and say: it's an 80 foot Double-Single. He said: So that's fine, you take a bridging Troop out tonight and built it. You see. I said: Oh that's all right. So we pick up this Canadian bridging Troop and I've now got my whole Troop with me - 3 Sections of Sappers, about 30 or 40 Sappers. Off we go out into the wild blue yonder, at night, and we get to the bridging point and this bridging Troop has a crane with it. Now the British Army never let you use a crane, you were used to doing it by hand, but this bridging lorry had a crane on it. Now unfortunately the first thing we did was we backed this a crane over a mine, which wasn't very good. However we then set to it, we cleared the mines, then we built the bridge and we were all ready to go back home again. This was late at night, early morning.

    On the way up, there had been a crossroads with a village on it - very quiet - and then not very far away from the bridge, within a mile or so of the bridge there'd been an incoming T-junction road. So I said: Look I will lead with No 5 Section - which was the other armoured Section, Corporal Pratt's Section - and when we get to that bridge Corporal Pratt will drive into that and he will block that road if anybody comes to shoot you up as you come past. So we went off like this and we were driving along quite steadily and then all of a sudden, there was a hell of a bang. We'd passed this and we were getting up towards this crossroads. So I thought: Ah, something's gone. So I carried on, followed by a Section of Sappers and some of the bridging lorries and stopped in the town crossroads and told my Sappers to get out and form a hard point around this crossroads.

    As I was doing this of course a DR - we never had DRs either - a Canadian Despatch Rider came belting up and said: We've lost a lorry. I said: I heard that. So I got on his pillion and we went back up there. He'd either gone to sleep or something when he'd gone off onto the verge and he'd blown a wheel. So we swept for mines, pulled them to the side and laid them to the side marked "Mined Verges" and left this blazing lorry and went on. Went home. Was ready to go to sleep and was told: You're joining the Irish Group, we're going across this bridge that you've just built. So my armoured Section and myself set across there, and we got up. Although we got round towards the back of the Germans, they had withdrawn from that particular position so although it was an exercise, it was just an exercise

    That really is getting towards the end of the war and I think by that time I was getting a bit sort of - I know I had eczema on my chin, which is of course a symbol of stress and strain. I think that most of us were eh - in fact my lead Section was getting so weary that they made me take - well they didn't make me - they asked me to take the other armoured Section - Corporal Pratt's Section - on a couple of advances to give them a rest, which I did. But we also built one or two bridges out there.

    But eh that really is about the end of the war. When the war came to an end we were up heading towards Cuxhaven and that's really where it all finished. We had, I remember, as good a meal as we could possibly have on the night of VE - before VE Day, only to be told that for VE Day I had to take my Troop up and fill in some bomb craters near - these enormous mine craters, near Stade, so I didn't see very much of VE Day. But that was the end of the war.

    Is that it?

    The war finished in April 1945 [sic]. What did we do then?

    We stayed for a short time up in that neck of the woods and then we moved to a very pleasant place called Königswinter which is near Bad Godesberg on the Rhine. In that particular place - this would be I suppose in May - in that particular place we were briefed to open up the motorway. So we spent some time, not working at night, but working by day, in getting the motorway open, putting in bridges, putting in diversions, etc, etc. I always remember there was one bridge which was a reinforced concrete bridge, which had been demolished or an attempt at demolition by putting a couple of bombs on top of it, so they'd blown a couple of holes in it, didn't look a big gap at all. But Corporal Pratt was put on this bridge to clear it away and before he had finished he got - some of us called it "Pratt's Gulch". We had to put a Bailey across it after his efforts. Pratt's Gulch - he was a hell of a man. Anyway, we did that for some time, it was a very pleasant Mess that we had there; first time we had an Officers Mess really since the beginning of the war.

    Eventually then - I was posted in June or July - I can't remember which - to 7th Armoured. Guards Armoured were reverting to Infantry and one of the things which happened before we had moved down to Königswinter was the 'giving up of the armour', which was very cleverly done. It was done on an airfield and there was a bit of a bank, so the tanks drove over this bank and then everybody marched back.[2] So they went out as Armour and they came back as Infantry in front of Montgomery. It was quite well done, as they did - they did these things very well, the Guards. You're never frightened being with a Guards Regiment, a Guards Battalion. You knew that they weren't going to run, you know, that was it. They maybe they weren't the fastest movers, but they weren't going to run. That was it.

    But anyway, after that Königswinter, preparing the bridges, I was posted to 7th Armoured. 7th Armoured was stationed up on the Kiel canal in Schleswig-Holstein. I was given a Troop of one of the Squadrons up there. I think it was 4th Field Squadron and I was with them until, I think, round about Christmas. Then I was sent on a Field Engineering Course to Rippon. I think the thought process was that I would be posted to the School of Military Engineering which was going to be formed at Hameln, Hamelin, you know, the rat place. When I was at Rippon doing this Field Engineering Course I was promoted 2 i/c of the Field Park. So I went back to join the Field Park Squadron, as 2 i/c but in fact we never had an OC so in fact I was OC, 2 Iic and general dogs body of the Field Park for the rest of the time I was in the army.

    We moved to near Hamburg at one particular time but then we moved down to the Elbe. The Field Park was the first British unit against the Russians - just round the corner was the Russian border - but we'd never any trouble with them. Whilst we were there the Divisional RE, the 7th Armoured Division RE, built a bridge across the Elbe further down towards Hamburg and being Field Park we had to supply them with all their
    kit and equipment.

    That was about the end of it. We had some quite pleasant weekends - not too many - at the Atlantic Hotel in Hamburg and we could go up to Hamburg and have a meal, again at the Atlantic Hotel. Even visited the Opera occasionally. so it became a bit more civilised towards the end of the war. We were of course dispatching people, discharging people. I remember at the place where we were stationed near the Kiel canal, a miserable little hole called Lockstedter Lager, two things happened there.

    There was an old German dump of ammunition which was under the charge of the Ordnance people, and they were collecting ordnance and bringing it to this sort of dump. All of of a sudden the CO - I was sitting in my office in this requisitioned house - this CO of this Ordnance unit
    came tearing in. He said: It's all going to blow up, it's all going to blow up. I said: Well, we'd better open the windows. At which he turned round and went away. It seemed that they'd brought in a lorry load and something in it was smoking and he'd got frightened. Better open the windows - that calmed him down.

    But anyway, the bridging equipment was in a wooden hut, a big long wooden hut and that caught fire. It was freezing. Although there certainly was no fraternisation, obviously, as was the rule in the Guards, there was plenty fraternisation in 7th Armoured. We had an awful lot of trouble with the people making friends with the better-looking Germans. In fact when the first party of Sappers was due to be discharged - the first large group, I said: All right you can have a party in the Mess, the Corporals' Mess, they will let you have a party in their Mess for that time and it got out of hand completely. There were a lots of things said there. So I said: That's the last time we have a party.

    In September.

    I went back to University.

    We had mine detectors and generally the mines we were after were anti-tank mines. The anti-personnel mines were merely supplementary. You might get anti-personnel mines in the verges at a road block but we soon learned this and we kept off the verges. You could recognise them because they didn't have a great deal of time to prepare them so you could see the little pockets if you understand what I mean. But eh, the main ones were anti-tank mines. We had mostly Teller mines which were fairly easy but we used to pull them. We didn't - We would take the fuze out and then we would hook on a wire or a cable and pull it in case they had booby trapped the mine. So we normally pulled rather than lifted.

    Another mine which we came across was the Riegel mine - R I E G E L I think it was called - the Riegel mine which was a long box about a metre long, about six inches by six inches and it was a very sensitive mine. To lift that was a bit of a problem. You had to lift that was a bit of a problem. You had to carry it away by laying it on somebody's arms and somebody would take it off you again. We had a bit of fun with that. When we got those we used to take them to the side and poop them off and if the Germans were wide awake as they normally were, then they would normally shell that first, which was quite interesting.

    Then towards the latter end of the war we were coming against wooden box mines but we didn't get many of those because normally we were on hard roads and you could see where the mine was, in the hard roads. It was the Schu mines that gave us trouble in the verges but normally we could see where the mines were so we could deal with them fairly easily.

    As I say if we were poking for mines then we had to use a prodder - we had a prodder thing which you prodded for the mine but that was a dangerous old business.


    [1] The Troop Leader named Campbell is possibly this casualty below. Found using Geoff's Search Engine he was the only Sapper officer of that surname who died in NWE between the months of March and May 1945 .

    - http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2042634/
    Rank: Second Lieutenant
    Service No: 337644
    Date of Death: 12/04/1945
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers
    Grave Reference: 12. A. 16.
    Additional Information: -


    War Diary, 2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards
    9 June 1945
    The last day of the Armoured Battalion had come: By ten o’clock the whole DIVISION was assembled on the aerodrome at ROTENBERG (South-West of HAMBURG).
    Just before eleven Field Marshall MONTGOMERY arrived by plane and touched down on the runway behind the parade ground.
    He then drove around to the Saluting Base where he was met by General Allan ADAIR.
    The General Salute was given - on the GRENADIER and COLDSTREAM infantry Battalions presented arms as these two were the front Battalions.
    The Massed Bands of the SCOTS and WELSH GUARDS played the salute.
    The Field Marshal the mounted a White scout car and followed by a host of Generals and Brigadiers he drove around to inspect the Battalions.
    During the drive the Bands played.
    The whole Parade was indeed a splendid sight.
    The tanks were formed up in a half circle facing inwards with the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY, the Anti-Tank Gunners, the ROYAL SIGNALS and the Services forming the centre portion of the semi-circle.
    The tanks were all painted a battleship grey with the outside fittings red.
    The inside of the turret and drivers’ flaps were white.
    Perhaps the most striking feature on the tanks was the burnished gun muzzles - these could be seen sparkling in the sun.
    The inspection finished, Brigadier Norman (GWATKIN) gave the Armoured Battalions the order to mount.
    Following this came the order to “Start up”.
    Immediately there was a roar as nearly three hundred A.F.Vs leapt to life.
    This was a very anxious moment for the tank commander - “will my tank start up”.
    Now came the signal from the Brigadier to advance.
    The Battalions started their last drive - each Battalion driving straight to its front so that every single tank had to pass in front of the saluting base (perhaps the diagram included will give a better picture). [N.B. There is no diagram filed in War Diary]
    As the tanks passed the saluting base, they traversed their turrets and the tank commander saluted.
    In ten minutes the last vehicle was disappearing out of sight behind the crest of the hill and the Band struck up “Auld Lang Syne”.
    This was the end of our armour - we had finished one very glorious phase, the next must now start.
    As the last sound of a tank died away and the Band stopped playing the GUARDS DIVISION appeared over the top of the crest marching in column of threes.
    The Band now came in with the Regimental Marches.
    Despite the fact that we still had our black berets one might have easily thought that we had been infantry the whole of the war.
    When the massed Battalions reached the Saluting base the Major General gave the order to halt.
    The Field Marshal ordered the Division to gather round the based and delivered a very satisfying oration.
    He thanked us for our contribution to the success of his armies and welcomed us back to infantry soldiering.
    This marked the end of the Parade - the men now dispersed for a meal and most of the officers went off to attend one of the very sumptuous luncheons laid on either by Brigade or Division.
    Jonathan Ball and 4jonboy like this.
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    Reference:WO 373/55/252

    Name Coulson, Raymond
    Rank: Serjeant
    Service No: 2137343
    Regiment: 14 Field Squadron Royal Engineers
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: North West Europe 1944-45
    Award: Military Medal
    Date of announcement in London Gazette: 11 October 1945
    Folio: 358-359

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    Reference:WO 373/55/473

    Name Thomson, Archibald
    Rank: Serjeant
    Service No: 1886162
    Regiment: 14 Field Squadron Royal Engineers
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: North West Europe 1944-45
    Award: Military Medal
    Date of announcement in London Gazette: 23 August 1945
    Folio: 742-743

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    Reference:WO 373/56/687

    Name Campbell, John Inglis
    Rank: Lieutenant
    Service No: 217521
    Regiment: 14 Field Squadron Royal Engineers
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: North West Europe 1944-45
    Award: Military Cross
    Date of announcement in London Gazette: 24 January 1946
    Folio: 1064
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    Reference:WO 373/56/671

    Name May, Walter Anthony Holland
    Rank: Captain
    Service No: P/86961
    Regiment: 14 Field Squadron Royal Engineers
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: North West Europe 1944-45
    Award: Military Cross
    Date of announcement in London Gazette: 24 January 1946
    Folio: 1036
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    CWGC records located for 14 Field Squadron RE using Geoff's Search Engine:


    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 2122126
    Date of Death: 04/05/1942
    Age: 29
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: Grave 353.
    Additional Information: Son of George W. Wilson and Janet Wilson, of Gorebridge, Midlothian.

    Rank: Corporal
    Service No: 1948199
    Date of Death: 06/06/1942
    Age: 29
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sgn.
    Grave Reference: Grave 10.
    Additional Information: Son of Henry and Violet M. Cann; husband of Ida Cann, of Ushaw Moor.


    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 2019550
    Date of Death: 18/01/1943
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: 5. G. 11.
    Additional Information: -

    Rank: Driver
    Service No: 2012995
    Date of Death: 04/05/1943
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqdn.
    Grave Reference: Sec. F. Grave 124.
    Additional Information: -

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 2191860
    Date of Death: 24/10/1943
    Age: 35
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqdn.
    Grave Reference: Sec. B.B. C. of E. Grave 1417.
    Additional Information: Son of John Edward and Miriam Moulson, of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester; husband of Jean Moulson.

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 14334114
    Date of Death: 22/11/1943
    Age: 19
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: Compt. 171. Grave 158.
    Cemetery: LOUTH CEMETERY
    Additional Information: Son of Alfred and Edith Burgess, of Louth.


    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 14229300
    Date of Death: 31/07/1944
    Age: 22
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: Sec. A. Cons. Grave 485.
    Additional Information: Son of Albert Edward and Ethel Evans, of Bradford; husband of Margaret Elizabeth Evans, of Eccleshill, Bradford.

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 5958836
    Date of Death: 08/07/1944
    Age: 22
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: I. A. 7.
    Additional Information: Son of Vincent and Mary Elizabeth Odell, of Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

    Rank: Driver
    Service No: 2150657
    Date of Death: 01/08/1944
    Age: 34
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: I. F. 14.
    Additional Information: Son of Frederick Dyson Clubb and Margaret Clubb; husband of Jane Thompson Clubb. of Aberdeen.

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 2070450
    Date of Death: 01/08/1944
    Age: 28
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: I. F. 15.
    Additional Information: Son of William Richard and Helen Haywood; husband of Winifred Haywood, of Hornsey, Middlesex.


    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 14603489
    Date of Death: 01/08/1944
    Age: 36
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: VIII. A. 7.
    Additional Information: Son of John and Drusilla Holt, of Watford, Hertfordshire; husband of Lilian Holt, of Garston, Watford.

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 2072224
    Date of Death: 21/08/1944
    Age: 26
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: XI. G. 10.
    Additional Information: -

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 1949486
    Date of Death: 21/08/1944
    Age: 26
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Coy.
    Grave Reference: XI. G. 8.
    Additional Information: Son of William and Elizabeth Jenkins; husband of Sarah Gwyneth Jenkins, of Cwmgwili, Carmarthenshire.

    Rank: Corporal
    Service No: 1948560
    Date of Death: 21/08/1944
    Age: 24
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: XI. G. 7.
    Additional Information: Son of Charles and Annie Webb, of Norton, near Shifnal, Shropshire.

    Rank: Lance Corporal
    Service No: 3456387
    Date of Death: 09/09/1944
    Age: 24
    Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: 6. C. 12.
    Additional Information: Son of Arthur and Edith Courtis, of Blackburn, Lancashire; husband of Rena Courtis.

    Rank: Lance Serjeant
    Service No: 1876119
    Date of Death: 21/09/1944
    Age: 30
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers
    Grave Reference: I. D. 2.
    Additional Information: -

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 6151365
    Date of Death: 19/11/1944
    Age: 22
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: X. 26. 176.
    Additional Information: Son of Charles and Charlotte Linge; husband of Lesley Linge, of Wimbledon, Surrey.

    Rank: Sapper
    Service No: 1885666
    Date of Death: 19/11/1944
    Age: 39
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: VI. B. 15.
    Additional Information: Son of William and Kate Jane Marsh; husband of Jane Marsh, of Cleethorpes, lincolnshire.


    Rank: Lance Serjeant
    Service No: 2000545
    Date of Death: 11/02/1945
    Age: 25
    Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers, 14 Field Sqn.
    Grave Reference: II. A. 11.
    Additional Information: Son of Peter and Ada Dixon, of Haydock, Lancashire.
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    Lt. William Cantlay's brother

    Rank: Corporal
    Service No: CH/X116216
    Date of Death: 23/03/1945
    Age: 19
    Regiment/Service: Royal Marines, No. 46 R.M. Commando.
    Grave Reference: 62. A. 18.
    Additional Information: Son of William Leith Cantlay and Alice Mary Cantlay, of Burnside, Lanarkshire.
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