Troops entering Fontenay-le-Pesnel


D-Day and the Normandy campaign.

Preparation and Training.

John Crook did not volunteer his war experiences. He spoke little about his service to his sons. In relation to Normandy the most poignant observation he ever made was that the fishmeal factories of Boulogne reminded him of the smell of dead Germans. He also happily volunteered that he broke his leg when crashing his motorcycle into a tree in Normandy and mentioned that drinking Calvados did not help. In the undergrowth he found it was impossible to twist the steering away from the oncoming bark. This was typical of his self-effacing character. He seemed to think that any story about the war would be received better if it was embedded in a joke. When Second World War movies came on the television he would quietly retire from the living room and slip out to go to the pub.

So what was the nature of his experiences in 1944? The only way to reconstruct the narrative is to rely on existing records of his battalion's actions. The story is built up through the accounts of people in his regiment. An application to the Ministry of Defence for information about his war service, Regimental records, Official War Diaries, published books and museum records have provided further sources of information.

The historiography raises the curious issue that history tends to be published initially by a minority with immediate ideological or emotional agendas, and a more grounded and complex range of perspectives remains hidden by the reticence of the majority of potential witnesses.

The narrative has the advantage of two previously published histories on the Hallamshires in World War II. The first is the personal account by commanding officer Trevor Hart Dyke who led the battalion through Normandy, France to Arnhem, Holland. For its time 'Normandy to Arnhem- A Story of the Infantry' (1946) is well written, detailed and authoritative. It is constructed by a key witness who was there and had the overall command picture. He reveals his vulnerabilities, and prejudices. He also demonstrates affection for his men combined with military professionalism. It is also clearly subjective, but invaluable evidence and a key primary source.

The second is a brilliant history researched and written by Don Scott 'Polar Bears From Sheffield' (2001). It is a truly outstanding memorial to the officers and men of the Hallamshire Battalion during the Second World War. Mr Scott has recorded significant primary source interviews with surviving veterans, tracked down and studied important unpublished diaries, and archives and cross-referenced these with meticulous analysis and examination of the geography of the campaign in France. It is difficult to find a more moving and comprehensive historical study of a British World War II military unit.

The other sources consulted and quoted are primarily the official War Diary records that amount to the most contemporaneous written record of the events. They would be constructed by a combination of recollection and dictation by the battalion's intelligence officers, adjutants, and Lieutenant Colonel Hart Dyke himself. The additional sources are various. They include new interviews with the very few surviving veterans of the campaign, documents and family archives held by the sons and daughters of veterans who have passed away, and a jigsaw of information disclosed by various people who have been generous with their time and memories.

146th Infantry Brigade was selected to be on the front-line of the battle army group to invade Western France. It was regarded as a veteran formation. It had been bloodied in Norway, and trained in Iceland. However, the Arctic warfare tactics learned on the glaciers and its 'Polar Bear' identity may not have been appropriate for a division assigned to assaulting heavily defended beaches in the middle of Summer.

John Crook had impressed and performed well as a lieutenant during the three years of duty in Iceland and new training in the use of motorised and mechanised units. Brigadier Procter recommended his promotion to Brigade headquarters.

The Hallamshire battalion consisted of around 36 officers, 780 other ranks and 105 vehicles. When transferred back to the Hallamshires for the specialised training before D-day John Crook resumed his substantive rank of Lieutenant.

Normally he would have been a platoon commander but when casualties left "D" company depleted of Majors, he would be effectively second in command of "D" company from June 29th until the end of July,through August and into early September. He would have been responsible for the administration of the rifle company. This would be organised into a headquarters and three platoons (25 to 30 soldiers) each commanded by a lieutenant. Each platoon would have its own small headquarters with a 2 inch Mortar and would also be divided into three sections of fighting units commanded by a Corporal, a Lance Corporal and 5 or 6 men.

The battalion itself had 4 rifle companies, each commanded by a Major and a mechanised support company of six 3 inch Mortars, 12 Bren Gun Carriers, a wasp flame thrower, six 6 Pounder Guns for use against tanks, and an assault pioneer platoon which was equipped to detect and clear mines and trained to make rafts and carry out minor construction work.

By the time of the Battle of Vendes on 16th July "D" company had been battered down to just two platoons each with about 20 men. There were no platoon leaders or junior officers. "D" remained in this depleted condition during the rapid advance towards Le Havre in August and September. New replacements had to be quickly absorbed into platoons and sections. The key to continuity was surviving officers and NCOs- the latter always considered the backbone of the British Army.

The New Commanding Officer- Hart Dyke.

In the autumn of 1943 the Army assigned the battalion an aggressive and disciplinarian new Lieutenant-Colonel as Commanding Officer. His name: Trevor Hart Dyke. Hart Dyke was younger than the generation of First World War Officers who had started the Second World War in command of British Infantry divisions. He was perceived to be a more modern and professional commanding officer.

His takeover of the Hallamshires was the result of General Montgomery decreeing that all Commanding Officers over the age of 40 had to be replaced. John Crook was 28 by the time of D-day Like many of the civilian soldiers of his day, he was married and had become a father for the first time in March 1944. A constant anxiety for fathers in this situation was that their sons and daughters may grow up never knowing their fathers and their wives would become young widows.

Hart Dyke observed: 'It was more like a family I joined than a normal battalion. Three quarters of the officers and men came from Sheffield and had joined before the war commenced. They had served in Norway and Iceland and had by now been together for four years.' Hart Dyke swept in like a hurricane.

As far as he was concerned individual training had suffered and he had to change personnel. He transferred out officers he thought were 'deadwood' or men he took an immediate dislike to, and brought in and recruited people who impressed him or had served with him in previous postings. New officers arrived from Burma, the Middle East and training battalions throughout the country. Lieutenant John Crook survived the takeover.

In November 1943 the battalion found itself embarking and disembarking in landing craft and landing ships almost continuously in the rain at Inveraray, Scotland.

Training was with live ammunition. Simulated battles were organised in and around Loch Fyne. The training was hard and some soldiers were injured 'in friendly fire' and accidents. There were several weeks of intensive training in Combined Operations at Rothesay after encampment at Crieff. The battalion had to assault beaches at Tighnabruaich reinforced with mines, sea-walls, scaffolding and masses of barbed wire.

The officers were billeted in a palatial hotel in Rothesay and were often seen returning from night exercises sodden and caked with mud. Officers also attended a short course at the Infantry School at Barnard Castle.

At the end of 1943 the Hallamshires provided a parade through the City of Sheffield after the regiment had 'been given the freedom of the city'. All the rifle companies marched with fixed bayonets. After Christmas 1943 the battalion was stationed at Hopton Camp near Great Yarmouth.

In the new year, it was announced that General Montgomery was to command 21 Army Group into Western Europe. He had insisted that the first Assault division would be the 50th which he had recently commanded in Italy so that the Hallamshires in 49th Division would be in the second follow up wave after the initial landings.

Hopton Camp was the scene of yet more intensive training and exercises. 26 mile marches were not uncommon. Cross country runs and a football knock out competition culminating in a final at Norwich stadium.

General Montgomery and King George VI visited the battalion. 'Monty' said he was a staff officer in 49th division during the 1920s and remembered the Hallamshires well.

The senior officers of "D" company made a striking image and rather huge target for enemy snipers and mortars. Major Peter Newton was 6 feet 6 inches tall and to use the words of Hart Dyke 'a vast bulk'. Lieutenant Crook stood 6 feet 2 inches. They towered over their NCOs and soldiers. Many of the 'other ranks' were miners and steel workers from Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and other towns and villages in South Yorkshire.

John Crook's status as a law student before the war meant that he served on the panel of at least one Court Martial. This involved the case of 2 Hallamshires accused of trying to sell alleged War Office supplies in a police sting operation in Scotland. The court effectively acquitted them with 'no finding'. However, the commanding officers at Battalion, Brigade or Divisional level unjustly imposed custodial sentences and the feeling among some Hallamshire officers was that these man had been dealt a very raw deal.

How are we to evaluate Hart Dyke in terms of human character? It many respects his own writing provides the evidence. In the forward to his book he wrote:

'...it is sometimes forgotten that it is the infantry that in the past has had ultimately to win all wars and all battles on land. The infantryman not only has to take a prominent part in the battle by day, but also when it is over he often has nothing better than the muddy slit trench he has dug to sleep in. He is on guard for some part of the night, when he is not on patrol, and he stands to for an hour at dawn each day awaiting an attack, which rarely comes. His burden is also a mental one; for he is in constant danger of death by night and day. He sees his comrades gradually eliminated and knows that there is no relief from this mental strain until his unit is withdrawn from the forward area.'

There is no doubt Hart Dyke was tough and impatient of weakness. But there are flashes of pure humanity and introspection in his book. A selfish and unfeeling commanding officer does not break the rules of war and risk his life delivering a canteen through enemy lines to his men and then be modest enough to admit that he was completely lost and acknowledge the foolishness of his actions:

'Somehow it was all rather exciting, and everyone was in high spirits till the rain came down in torrents, and we realised we had no hot food and we were tired. No one seemed to think a runner would ever find his way to the road and back through the woods in the dark. Being the oldest soldier, I decided I had the most chance of getting the rations up, so I pushed off with my orderly Stenton. We got down to the Carrier Platoon and I checked up on their dispositions and tasks. But there was no sign of the rations. H.Q. swore they had been sent up ages ago. After waiting an hour, we pushed off down the road towards the village and found the 15 cwt (large lorry) broken down.

I remember being extremely angry that the rations had not been man handled up the road to my vehicle. I made up a carrying party and we eventually got going. The men found the receptacles very heavy and the uphill going very difficult. It was raining hard and very slippery. I could not help, as Stenton and I were the only ones able to use our Sten Guns. I decided we would never get through the wood and that a circuit must be risked. I was soon helplessly lost, but pretended I was not. The twenty odd men struggled on behind me, cursing under their breaths. I sat down and thought very hard.

We were easy meat for any enemy we might meet; we were obviously far beyond the Chateau, in country said to be occupied by two hundred of the enemy; the party was exhausted and it was about 1 a.m. I decided to cast back right-handed, and, just as I was giving up hope, we ran into a path and soon came on our posts. I always wonder whether that party of men ever knew how lost I was.' [page 36]

There is also clear evidence that Hart Dyke was in no mind to allow self advancement and currying to his superiors to get in the way of standing up for his soldiers and their families:

'I had had complaints from Sheffield of the dilatoriness and incorrectness of casualty reports sent to next of kin by the War Office. This was a most distressing state of affairs, and I was determined to do all I could to get it put right. A letter sent by me to the War Office nearly resulted in disciplinary action being taken against me and nothing else. So I decided I must flout the letter of the law. I wrote to next of kin immediately officers were killed, and told my company commanders to do the same for the men. We showed our appointments clearly on the letter, so that the notification could be taken as authentic. We therefore kept to the spirit of the rule on the subject and no one else was allowed to write until the prescribed time after the fatality. This step was must appreciate by the next of kin.' [page 26]

Hart Dyke came from a family more associated with 'landed gentry' but his sense of outrage at the needless 'pushing in ' of hierarchy is clearly marked in his book:

'Being the only bridge across the Seine in the British sector, divisions were given its use for specified periods only. One bad driver could hold up everything for at least half an hour, as the planks had of necessity been laid at all angles and slopes on the twisted superstructure of the original girders. Our whole division was held up for one hour by some engineers insisting on breaking off a girder by acetylene flare to enable one specialised breakdown vehicle to pass over.

Our men had been sitting in their lorries all night, and it was late in the afternoon when they eventually reached the assembly area completely exhausted. As I watched the stream of traffic cross this vital bridge I saw the car being put before the horse with a vengeance. It really needed some strong-minded officer with real authority to control the traffic, and decide as to who was or was not to cross, instead of two well meaning military policemen.

Although the bridge was definitely allotted to our division at this time, it lay, of course, on the Lines of Communication of the divisions which were even now pushing forward towards Belgium, and all the strange and innumerable hangers on of any army, looking immensely important in large cars, claimed priority over the fighting troops of our division, who had been without sleep or hot food for twenty-four hours.

Why is it that so many persons think that a job, however lowly, at a large headquarters is far superior to training and commanding the men who win or lose a war? For every keen soldier expends large quantities of energy during wartime trying to get away from the staff to command men, and large numbers of officers found unfit to command men in the field are relegated to staff jobs somewhere behind the lines.' [page 40-41]

Embarkation to Normandy

It is possible that John Crook was recruited along with other selected Hallamshires to form a special reinforcement group called 'First Line Reserve' in May 1944. They were transferred out to the south coast with the beach invasion troops. They were to be the first British troops to replace the ranks of the heavy casualties expected at 'Gold', 'Sword' and 'Juno' beaches. Fortunately for the British and Canadians, innovations in landing technology and excellent leadership meant that casualties were much lower than anticipated.

In the end the 'First Line Reserve' soldiers stayed in their reinforcement camp during the 6th June invasion and the period the Hallamshires arrived on 9th of June and fought the initial battles of the Normandy campaign.

The Hallamshires travelled by rail from Great Yarmouth on the 5th of June to two tented camps in the woods near Newick and Chailey North of Lewes. The camps were effectively sealed with pickets. There were cinemas, sing-songs and officers were briefed as to the place of landing and their role while the initial assaults on June the 6th were being made on the beaches.

Maps were issued and all the men received 200 French francs - the equivalent of 1 pound. Special ration packs, sea sickness tablets and bags were issued. On June 9th "D" company were bussed to Newhaven through Lewes. They were greeted with loud cheering from the people of Lewes although by the time they reached Newhaven bad weather meant they had to occupy evacuated houses on the Downs until the sea became calmer.

The Hallamshires embarked on infantry landing ships. One had been holed in the initial assaults 3 days before.

The Landing.

As they made their way across the choppy Channel their first glimpse of France was the Cherbourg peninsula and they also sailed past the huge floating concrete sections of the Mulberry Harbours. Most of the Hallamshires were put ashore at Ver-Sur-Mer.

"D" company were landed on the wrong beach and had to wade ashore chest deep.

In War it is common for plans to go wrong. The Hallamshires had been landed before the brigade headquarters. There was no information about the position of the front line, and no information on the progress of operations.

So the Hallamshires proceeded cautiously up to the village of Rucqueville. The battalion bought 3,000 eggs that had been packed for Germany. It was a beautiful summer's day. Those troops not on duty lay on straw in various farms to recover from seasickness and the damp of wading ashore.

The 49th Division had been landed to relieve the assault division which had been fighting for several days. Loss of landing craft meant that the motorised units were late. However, the Hallamshires were the first battalion ready to go in because they had been able to link up with their vehicles quicker than other battalions.

On June 12th the Hallamshires relieved the 7th Green Howards in some woods and orchards to the west of Lucelles 2 miles inland.

By this time the Germans had counter-attacked and Montgomery's initial optimism and intention to take Caen had been stalled.

The First Battle.

The Hallamshires' first battle was at the village of Audrieu. It was in this engagement that John Crook's replacement officer in "D" Company Lieutenant Frank Tett, a popular man who only had one eye, was shot and killed by a German sniper in the woods east of the Village. "D" company under the command of Major Peter Newton was given the task of attacking and taking the woods. The battle involved artillery laying down shells, with "A" company attacking Audrieu Chateau at the same time. "D" Company went in just as it was getting dark and under the cover of a smoke screen. They seized the woods. The Germans fled.

 

 

There were no casualties in "D" Company, but "A" Company had lost a Canadian officer Lieutenant Noiseux. Hart Dyke congratulated the soldiers involved in the Hallamshires' first battle in France. He said they had put up an excellent show, and had shown excellent maneuverability. The Hallamshires had been pitched into one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Second World War.

It was during the Hallamshires' first engagement that John Crook disembarked in France on 14th of June. There is very limited documentary evidence about his duties between his arrival and posting to the Hallamshires 15 days later. He was probably involved in managing the break up of 'First Line Reserve' into emergency postings to the accelerating casualties being taken by 49th Division.

The fighting in Normandy was to cost the allies 100,000 lives. Although most of the initial landings were successful the fighting to the North East would engage veteran German Army and SS units many of which had seen action in Russia. Audrieu was an unsavoury area with large numbers of dead and rotting cattle lying in the fields. The woods were eerie and dense. Soldiers feared mines, booby-traps and snipers up in the trees. Dead bodies littered the stairs of the Chateau.

The earlier fighting had been desperate and nasty. The Hallamshires were the first Allied troops to discover the massacre of 14 Canadian soldiers in the Regina Rifles in front of a hedge in one of the Chateau's orchards. They had two or three bullet holes in the forehead.

 

It has never been widely reported that both sides during the Battle of Normandy frequently failed to observe the Geneva Convention. A documentary made by CBC in the 1990s confirmed eye witness accounts of Canadian troops cutting the throats of German prisoners during the landings. Both sides often took no quarter in tit for tat reprisals. 18 Canadian officers and soldiers, including an 18 year old private who had joined at 15, were murdered in a garden of Ardennes Abbey, Normandy on 8th of June by SS officers. A total of 134 Canadian prisoners were executed by the SS during the Normandy campaign. The son of a Hallamshire veteran revealed that his father described to him how he saw Canadian tanks run over German soldiers standing up in their slit trenches with their arms in the air.

The Second Battle.

Operation Martlett.

Day One.

The Hallamshire Battalion was moved up to prepare for an attack on Fontenay-Le-Pesnel. The infantry had to dig themselves into slit trenches to avoid being injured and killed by Mortar fire. However with "D" company 300 yards behind the forward positions near the Audrieu-Tilly road enemy mortars did take casualties and artillery fire destroyed valuable stores, vehicles and signalling equipment. The Hallamshires looked down a hill and a slope upwards of about 1,000 yards to Tessel Wood.

Both 146 and 147 brigades were to be launched in a coordinated attack to capture the village and clear the wood. Hart Dyke decided to reverse his companies so that "B" and "C" were to lead with "A" and "D" forming the reserve and going into the attack for the final objective.

Hallamshire officers attended a briefing set out on a cloth model in a barn.

They were given encouragement by 49th Brigade's commander General 'Bubbles' Barker. The enemy was the 26th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Disciplined. Battle hardened and ruthless.

At 2.45 a.m. on the morning of 25th June Hallamshire soldiers lining up to white tape for what was known as 'the Forming Up Place'. 'H' hour was 3 a.m.

The darkness changed into thick fog as it became light. Visibility was down to 5 yards.

The fog made the artillery sound strange because of the way it distorted sound waves.

The fog added to the confusion of battle. Hart Dyke heard from "B" and "C" companies that they had lost contact with their platoons and had not been able to find their objectives. He ordered Major Newton and "D" company forward to take the far hedge of the orchards on the Fontenay-Juvigny road.

 

 

Hart Dyke found machine gun and tank fire opening up on the Hallamshires from all directions. He was out of touch with all companies who were probably behind his battalion HQ. The Germans also used rockets equipped with sirens which added to the terror and confusion.

Fortunately for Hart Dyke "D" Company loomed up out of the mist and could be ordered forward to clear the ground ahead as far as the river.

Hart Dyke was to confess later 'The situation was somewhat unorthodox'. "D" Company under Major Newton radioed to say that they had occupied 'Queen' the code-name for the river line. "D" Company was then ordered to push straight on to 'King' a code-name for the road on the far side of the river and the final objective on the right company sector. By this time the fog was clearing. Visibility was now 80 yards. Again "D" company showed its swiftness and effectiveness under fire and had already deployed its sections and dug in at their final objective in preparation for a German counter-attack. In this violent and confusing action the Hallamshires lost another popular officer. This time in 'B' company - Major David Lockwood (Third from left front row of Battalion photo).


Hallamshire Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, April 1944

John is in the middle, back row


Captain Bill Ashby took command. The Hallamshires was the first British battalion to successfully use sabot anti-tank missiles against German Panther tanks. Sergeant Williams was awarded a military medal in recognition of his marksmanship. Then inaccurate Canadian artillery file came crashing down on "D" company's position. Major Newton watched helplessly as men in his platoons were blown out of their hastily dug slit trenches. Hart Dyke described the 'friendly fire' as a disaster.

 

 

The 25th of June 1944 became a long and bloody day for the Hallamshires. The Germans concentrated shell and mortar fire on the battalion positions. Direct hits destroyed the mortar platoon carriers and killed many men and severely wounded Captain Abbott (Third from right back row of battalion photo). A bomb also blew up the battalion's South African officer Major Brinton (3rd from right front row in battalion photo) who was severely wounded.

Ambulances were knocked out so that eventually there was no transport to evacuate the wounded. Lance Corporal Penn saved the lives of 32 Hallamshires on this day before having half his leg shot away. Many thought he deserved the Victoria Cross. The Hallamshires suffered 123 casualties. Lieutenant O. Watson-Jones (2nd from left back row in Battalion photo) was killed in action and Lieutenant Jack Firth (Absent from the Battalion officers' photograph taken in April) was wounded so badly he later died from his wounds.

 

 

What Hart Dyke and his officers never realised at the time was that the Allied armies in this sector were severely under-strength.

The Sherman tanks were inadequate and too poorly armed to deal with German armour. The Shermans became known as Ronsons because of their tendency to blow up in flames after a direct hit. Most tank crews knew that if they failed to strike and kill first, they were doomed.

The Normandy countryside gave the Germans good cover. Bocage country consisted of high hedgerows. This was familiar ground to the German army and they were able to create enfilading traps for advancing Allied infantry. Officers from the Red Army were amazed to be told that the ratio of Allied soldiers to Axis forces was in the order of 2 or 3 to 1. On the Eastern front they had operated on the basis of a strength ratio of 5 or 6 to 1. General Montgomery's larger plan for victory involved attritionally wearing down Hitler youth and SS panzer divisions in the Eastern sector so that the American armies could eventually breakthrough in the West.

The Second Phase of the Battle of Fontenay-Le-Pesnel.

The Hallamshires' next role in this battle was to move forward, seize and hold the high ground south of Tessel Wood for three weeks. They were able to take up their position just before first light on June 27th. Vendes was only 300 yards away and heavily defended.

On the right the Germans also held the line of the road Vendes-Barbe Farm-Petite Farm-Juvigny in strength. This was a deadly position to be in and the battalion was subjected to an intense period of battle stress. Mortars, shells and rockets rained down in regular phases throughout the day. Movement between slit trenches was risky. Snipers and machine gunners would open up and accounted for Captain Bill Ashby as he was leaving battalion H/Q. He was hit in the spine and would die later from his wounds.

 

 

On the 28th of June a shell exploded in front of a wireless scout car severely wounding Battalion Adjutant Peter Turrell (standing to the right of John Crook in the back row of the Battalion photograph) and leaving splinters in the face of Captain Raymond Jenkinson (Last on the right front row of battalion photo) who had been resting underneath the vehicle. Hart Dyke concedes that sporadic enemy shell and Mortar fire caused daily casualties because they were coming in from three different directions.

They were daily augmented by what Hart Dyke described as 'stonks' of intense enemy fire between 9 and 10 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m. Lieutenant Crook joined the line and took up position in the front trenches at Tessel Wood with his senior officer Major Newton on June 29th. They had to lead their men through this attrition for 21 days. They were dug in to the South West corner of Tessel Wood and held the most exposed positions. Hart Dyke says "D" company had the worst of it, suffered severely, and courageously insisted that they would rather stay there than move into another company area.


Map showing Fontenay-le-Pesnel


Some of the casualties were battle stress caused by seeing comrades blown apart next to them or being completely buried by an exploding shell. The Regimental Sergeant Major suffered this unfortunate experience and had to be evacuated a month after the incident. During this period the battalion lost the regimental Medical Officer Gregory Dean (5th from left middle row of battalion photo) when a shell splinter hit him in the hand. And then within a day of replacing Adjutant Peter Turrell, his replacement, an officer called Kesby, was blown up and killed by a shell. He had a wife and children back in England.

The Hallamshires' War Diary for June 29/30th June states:

'Vigorous patrolling of "D" Coy occupied La BIJUDE FE and held until relieved by a stronger party. Enemy activity in area Le PTE FERME engaged by arty resulting in the destruction of 3 enemy tanks and dispersal under fire of 7 more.'

'arty' = artillery

The War Diary for 146th Infantry Brigade highlighted the following incidents:

'29/06/44 1500 Hallams stalked and killed enemy sniper at 867653. (Map reference) Snipers continued to be active on this front and enemy locality in orchards.

30/06/44 1800 Hallams reported that whenever our arty opens up, the enemy replies with fire on our fwd tps to give the impression that our own shells are falling short.

1/07/44 0105 Hallams reported a conc of tks and called for arty fire'

conc = concentration.

tks = tanks

fwd = forward

tps = troops

The Hallamshire Battalion War diary for the first two weeks of July reveals a situation more reminiscent of life in the First World War trenches. People dying and being maimed nearly every day. German veterans have written that this kind of warfare in Normandy was worse than the Eastern Front. The strain on soldiers was immense. Such close living meant close bonds of comradeship were inevitable. When comrades died by being blown to pieces the psychological impact on survivors does not bear thinking about.

As in the First World War, some Hallamshire soldiers have no identifiable grave. The destructive power of twentieth century ordnance could mean that men would literally disappear through explosive vaporisation or disintegration. 'Missing in action' could also mean that in battle bodies became unidentifiable and were separated from the their identity discs. Their bodies may lie under gravestones inscribed with 'Unknown Allied Soldier' but their names will be on the panels of memorials in the war cemeteries.

If a British soldier died behind German lines he could be buried by the Wermacht, but the location marked by helmet or other means could be destroyed in subsequent action. Sometimes soldiers would be evacuated home to Britain and not recover from the wounds they had received. They died in Britain and are buried in country cemeteries yet are still recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being fatal casualties in the conflict.

It is a fact that battlefield medicine advanced substantially in this campaign. The ground and climate were breeding grounds for infection and septicaemia. But penicillin and new sulphide antibiotics saved thousands. The Royal Army Medical Corps worked efficient triage and front-line field operating tents. Behind this was a fast ambulance, hospital ship and casualty handling infrastructure that also saved thousands of people who would have died in the First World War.

John Crook's broken limb was in traction and his other injuries were being treated at a hospital in Wakefield, Yorkshire within 48 hours of smashing into a tree in a wood on the outskirts of Le Havre. Penicillin had saved his life a year earlier at Leominster when a burst appendix turned to peritonitis.

There was also a more modern approach to the psychiatry of war. Shell shock victims were not shot at dawn after ten minute court martials. The British Army set up battlefield exhaustion centres behind the front lines for soldiers who had become 'bomb happy' and reached the end of their tether.

The mental strain in Normandy was immense because there was nowhere to hide and the enemy were nowhere to be seen behind hedgerows, concealed in the green foliage of trees, and at any moment soldiers could find themselves engulfed in the relentlessness of German automatic weapons and military efficiency. Hallamshire men in their late twenties and thirties with families at home would discover that this deadly enemy were 16 to 18 year old boys of the Hitlerjugend. It is not surprising that these experiences could engender deep feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Veterans frequently mentioned the awful stench of rotting flesh both animal and human, the flies, maggots, and squalor of battlefield rubbish, the surreal nature of war in terms of a feeling of boredom in one part of the battlefield turning to intense fear and confusion in another, the smell of cordite and blood immediately after a battle, the way the eyes of young men changed, and the overwhelming sense of sadness and pity when people had been killed.

Veterans also talked about the ambiguous and paradoxical attitude to the enemy. Attitudes could change from sympathy and a reluctance to kill when observing soldiers on the other side going to the toilet or running away, to uncontrollable anger and rage after comrades had died. Intense hatred seemed to be reserved for the other side's snipers.

Many Hallamshires were surprised to find Polish men in German uniforms. It seemed that the tragedy engulfing that country from 1939 to 1945 had placed many young Polish men with an appalling choice between survival in the German army, or starvation and death in a labour or concentration camp. They would often be the first to desert to the British lines and give valuable POW intelligence.

'1 July 44 The plan of the higher Comd at this stage was as follows. 49 Div was to remain in its present posns and, by its conc invite counterattack on that part of the front, thus giving the Americans on the rt a freer hand and an opportunity to complete the rapid capture of CHERBOURG. This plan was successful and by this time it had been est that 7 Armd Divs, of which 6 were S.S. now confronted 30 Corps. At 0050 a pat from the Carrier Pl reported that tks and inf were conc at Barbee Fme. At 0145 hrs 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. reported lines of tk harbours in the same area at 854659 and 855658. All pats were withdrawn and hy concs of fd and med arty were put down on these targets. No further activity was reported from these areas but it later became apparent that by the timely arrival of this infm an attack on the vulnerable rt flank of 49 Div had been broken up. On the left of the bn the enemy launched attacks all day but 49 Div held all its posns. Hy mortar fire was directed at the bn's posns during the night and counter mortar fire was called for to subdue it.

Cas: Offrs. NIL. O.Rs. 2 killed, 2 wounded.

[Lieutenant Jack Firth, who was 34 years old, died from wounds received in the Fontenay le Pesnel battle of 25th June.

Sergeant Robert Denver Haynes, 24 years old, was killed on this day. His parents, Albert and Adelaide Haynes, lived in Church Lane, Dinnington, Nr Sheffield. The inscription on his grave at the St. Manvieu War Cemetery in Calvados, France is: 'A smiling face, A heart of gold, One of the best the world could know.(The details of Hallamshire casualties are in the public domain and maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission on the Internet. The inscriptions from the gravestones were researched by Don Scott for his book 'Polar Bears from Sheffield)]

2 July 44 There was no major activity on the bn's front during the day. Pats were sent into Vendes but they were greeted with hy fire and suffered cas. The bn was subjected to sporadic mortaring and shelling.

Cas: Offrs. NIL. O.Rs. 3 killed, 5 wounded. 4 reported missing.

[19 year old Private Joseph William Holmes died this day. He was the son of George Wilfred and Esther Mary Holmes, of Newbould Road, Chesterfield, in Derbyshire. The inscription on his grave: 'Though you sleep in a far off land, Some day we'll meet then understand.'

Sergeant Paterick Joseph Joyce, 34 years old, was also killed on this day. His widow Mrs E. A Joyce lived in Knutton, Stoke on Trent.

Private Andrew Mackin, aged 26, was also killed. He was the son of John and Sarah Jane Mackin, of Windermere Road, Woodhouse in Whitehaven, Cumberland. The inscription on Private Mackin's grave is: 'Of your charity, Pray for the soul of Andrew, On whose soul, Sweet Jesus, have mercy.'

Private Peter Pacey, aged 20, was reported missing. His body was never recovered or identified and his name is on the Bayeux Memorial in Calvados. He was the son of William Pacey of Church Lane, Pudsey in Leeds, and of Elizabeth Ann Pacey, of Llanfairfechan, Caernarvonshire.

19 year old George William Pedel who disappeared in the raid on 1st of July was also listed as missing. Again his body was never recovered or identified. His father Albert Henry Pedel and mother Maggie lived at Beech Hill, Knaresborough in Yorkshire.

Another Hallamshire soldier reported missing in action on this day was 30 year old Private Newton Snarr who was survived by his widow Mrs Ada S.Snarr of Morley Street, Goole.

23 year old Private Jack Hardy was recorded as having been killed on this day. His widow Mrs Dorothy Hardy lived in Fairfax Road, Baghill, Pontefract in Yorkshire. He was the son of Walter and Edith Annie Hardy also of Pontefract. The inscription on his grave: 'He died for those he loved and those he loved remember.']

3 July 44 An unusual incident occurred at 1425 hrs. A British jeep containing four persons wearing British uniforms drove across the bn's front on the rd through VENDES. No explanation of this occurrence was ever forthcoming. Our patrolling during this period had very little success, the brightness of the moon making it almost impossible to get close to the enemy.

Cas: Offrs. NIL. O.Rs. 6 wounded.

4 July 44 Little activity on the front, other than sporadic mortaring and shelling. Our pats were unable to make contact with the enemy owing to the extreme brightness of the moon.

Cas: Offrs. NIL. O.Rs. 1 killed. The following offrs joined the bn. Lt. K. G. Lewis, Gloster, Lt H C H Chamberlain, Welch, Lt J. H Court, Norfolk, Lt H S Crowe Canloan.

[31 year old Private Jack Riley, formerly of the Lancashire Fusiliers, was killed on this day.

25 year old Eric Lambert was killed on this day. His widow Mrs Hilda Lambert lived at Langdale Road in Lancaster. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Lambert, also of Lancaster. The inscription on his grave: 'Now the battle day is past, now upon the farther shore rests the voyager at last.]

5 July 44 At 1125 hrs bren and mortars were used to emulate an attack. It was hoped that by engaging certain targets in this way, the enemy would be induced to put down his D def fire, or at any rate reveal his presence. As a result of this action a 5 cm mortar fired from Barbee Fme. At 1620 hours the Divisional Commander visited the Bn. Our pats were again hampered by the bright moonlight.

Cas: Offrs. NIL. O.Rs. 4 wounded. Lt. S.A. Lucy S.W.B. joined the bn.

6 July 44 Considerable shelling and mortaring of our posns occurred during the night. Counter mortar fire was called for and was effective in stopping fire. Infm was received that a new unit had taken over the sector in front of the bn. This was I/786 GR of 276 Inf Div. Bn HQ was reported to be in Vendes. An arty programme to harass the newcomers was arranged for the night and all patrolling cancelled. Some 2,000 shells were fired during this shoot.

Cas: Offrs. NIL. O.Rs. NIL.

7 July 44 No activity to report. This was the first day since the bn had been in close contact that there had been no cas. Our pats had nothing to report. At approx 2230 hrs the bn was able to watch a most spectacular air raid on the German posns to the NORTH of CAEN.

[24 year old Lance Corporal Walter Searle was reported killed or having died on this day. He was the son of Walter and Maggie Searle of Buchanan Road, Parsons Cross, Sheffield. The inscription on his grave is: 'With his sweet young life he paid the price, That we might live, God rest his soul.'

8 July 44 There was no activity during the day.

Cas: Offrs NIL. O.Rs. NIL

9 July 44 At 0245 hrs a Polish deserter from I/986 GR entered our lines. He was evacuated as a PW to the Div Cage. Later in the morning the I.O. went to Div HQ to take part in the interrogation. Much valuable infm was obtained. The PW belonged to a coy disposed to the EAST of VENDES. The coy consisted of three PL (platoon) which lay across the rt half of the bn's sector. These pls were very weak. PW also pinpointed his Bn HQ near the CHATEAU DE VENDES. However, arty sp was not available as required and the attack was postponed until 1900 hrs 10 JUL.

Cas: Offrs NIL. O.Rs. NIL.

10 July 44 "A" Coy carried out a major raid on the enemy posn EAST of VENDES with the objects of testing enemy powers of resistance and raising the offensive spirit in this coy which suffered badly at FONTENAY. At the same time a PL of "B" Coy recced in force EAST of the X rds.

Cas: Offrs. Lt. H E Poyner killed, Capt P.H Willis-Dixon and Lt. C Pease wounded. O.Rs. 4 killed, 16 wounded, 3 reported missing.'

[18 year old Private Leslie Claxton was killed on this day. He was the son of Horace and Mary Elizabeth Claxton from Pelgrave Street, Sheffield. The inscription on his grave is: 'Dearer to memory than words can tell.'

19 year old James Robert Robinson was reported missing with no trace of his body ever being identified. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Robinson of Napier Avenue, Southend on Sea, Essex. His name is inscribed on Panel 17, Column 1 of the Bayeux Memorial in Calvados, France.

24 year old Lance Corporal Arthur Warren was listed missing in action and his body was never identified or recovered. He was the son of Thomas and Isabella Warren, of Beighton Lane, Woodhouse, Sheffield.

19 year old Private Frank Reeve also died on this day. His body was never identified or recovered and he was the son of Alfred and Francis Minnie Reevenext of Hornsey Road, Kingstanding, Birmingham. His name is on the Bayeux Memorial.

30 year old Lieutenant Harry Edward Poyner was killed in action on this day. His widow Mrs Isobel Dorothy Poyner lived in Dulwich, London along with his parents George Edward and Elsie May Poynor. The inscription on his grave at the St Manvieu Cemetery in Cheux is: 'In proud and loving memory of Dear Ted.']

In his book 'Normandy to Arnhem' Hart Dyke recalled on this day a strong fighting patrol from "A" company sent out to capture a prisoner suffered 25 casualties without succeeding in their objective and the bilingual Canadian officer Lieutenant Poyner was killed outright by artillery fire. He had been enormously useful in gathering intelligence from local French people about the enemy's tactics and positions.'

'11 July 44 No major activity on the bn front.

Cas: Offrs NIL. O.Rs. 2 wounded.

12 July 44 No major activity on the bn front during the day. During the night exceptionally hy mortaring and shelling of the area took place. Many cas were incurred. During the counter mortar firing by the Mortar PL defective tail fins caused 3 bombs to drop short on Bn HQ wounding the M.O (Medical Officer) Capt Gregory-Dean and CQMS. Jackson of "HQ" Coy.

Cas: Offrs: Capt A.A. Gregory-Dean wounded. O.Rs 1 killed, 15 wounded.

[26 year old Private Robert Edward Sands was killed on this day. He was the son of Arthur and Margaret Sands of Blenheim Place, Eightlands, Dewsbury in Yorkshire. The inscription on his grave is 'Rest in peace.'

27 year old Private Thomas Ivor Val Morgan died on this day. He originally served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and he was the son of Thomas Hugh and Dorothy Louisa Morgan, of Rhayader, Radnorshire. The inscription on his grave: 'Always smiling, always content, Loved and respected wherever he went.'

28 year old Sergeant William Maloney is listed as having been killed on this day. His widow Doreen lived in Oxford Street, South Shields. He was the son of Arthur and Elizabeth Maloney, also of South Shields, Co. Durham.

27 year old Lance Corporal Ernest Hinchliffe was killed on this day. He was the son of George and Alice Hinchliffe, of Stubbs Road, Wombwell near Barnsley.]

13 July 44 Again no major activity to report. At a parade at 2230 hours the Commanding Officer presented the Div Comd's prize of £5 to the A.Tk PL for being the first inf bn A.Tk PL in the Div to destroy a Panther tk. This tk was destroyed by L/Cpl. Williams at FONTENAY. Our pats were having more success at this period. They had succeeded in dominating No Mans Land and and as far as is known, the enemy sent out no pats (patrols).

Cas: Offrs NIL. O.Rs. NIL. Capt J.D. Lavertime RAMC joined the Bn.

14 July 44 Preparations were now being made for an attack on this sector. It was intended that the bn attack BARBEE Fme - VENDES and the area WEST of VENDES in order to protect the rt flank of 59 Div who were to thrust SOUTH to NOYERS. Our arty began a process of "softening up" and shelled the enemy's posns very heavily. This brought a sharp reaction and the enemy, who clearly thought that these bombardments were the prelude to an attack replied with hy def fire on the Bn area. Lt. G.O Kesby was posted to the Bn as Adjt.

Cas: O.Rs. 1 wounded.

15 July 44 Hy shelling of the enemy continued with consequent counter shelling of our own tps. The final preparations for the attack were made and during the night coys moved to their FUPs (Forward Up Positions) . "D" Coy, 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. under the comd of Maj. O Dunhill was placed under our comd for this op.

Cas: Offrs Lt. G.O Kesby killed. Lt. A.S. Chantler wounded. O.Rs. 2 wounded.'

[Lieutenant Bernard Oliver Kesby who had been transferred from the Bedfordshire and Herefordshire Regiment was killed in an artillery bombardment on his first day in the line. His widow Mrs Laura Kesby lived in South Norwood, Surrey with his parents Edgar and Alice Kesby.]

The Battle for Vendes.

Having been under constant barrage for three weeks the Hallamshires were then ordered to attack Vendes and Barbe Farm in a frontal assault in broad daylight, and without any tank support. Hart Dyke knew that such action would be suicidal. He protested in vain. "A" company under Major Tony Nicholson had the task of leading the attack on the centre of Vendes with "C" company attacking a position on the left. "D" company of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry known as 'KOYLI" had to attack Barbe Farm on the right.

A complex battle plan was drawn up on 15th July 1944 by intelligence and senior officers. The British knew that the 1st Battalion 986 Grenadier Regiment held the Vendes sector with one company in the area of La Petite Farm, one company less a platoon in the area of Barbe Farm, one platoon and elements of a support company in Vendes Village itself and one company East of Vendes. Interrogation of prisoners had established that about half of the enemy battalion consisted of Poles 'who have no wish to fight but these are employed on subsidiary tasks while the guns and the principal equipment is manned by Germans who will fight well.' The British also knew that the remains of two battalions had recently withdrawn from in front of the 50th Division and about 200 each strong were available for the counter attack.

The intention of the attack was 'to capture and hold at all costs area 864653 - 864647 - Orchard 858647 - Houses 856652 - Orchard West of Barbe Farm.

The general plan was that simultaneous attacks would be made on Barbe Farm, Vendes Cross Roads, and the enemy company locality about the road and hedge at 863649 by "D" Company K.O.Y.L.I. and "A" and "C" companies Hallamshires. "B" company Hallamshires would on the capture of Vendes Cross Roads and capture the buildings at 858647.

All the companies were allocated code names for achieving their objectives and the order to reorganise if necessary.

John Crook's two "D" company platoons were to occupy the old "D" company area on vacation of "D" company K.O.Y.L.I. Their objective was to occupy the field at 862655 when clear of K.O.Y.L.I. with the codename 'Joker' and their reorganisation point was the field position 862655. The forty men of "D" company also had to be prepared to assist any other company onto their objective by a flank attack should this be necessary.

The battle plan organised the methods of putting down suppressing artillery fire and 4.2" mortar box fire. 3" mortars were also organised for fire concentrations. The attack had the support of Medium Machine Gun platoons from the Kensingtons. Antitank sections were available for defence on re-organisation, pioneer sections were available for mine clearing and the carrier platoon was available for reinforcing "A", "B" and "C" companies.

Breakfasts were available to all the men at 0500 hrs, but it is not surprising that many did not have any appetite. A half track ambulance vehicle arrived at the command post at 0530 hrs and the Battalion's Medical Officer allocated four stretcher bearers each to "A" and "C" companies, three to "B" company and two to "D" company. Each company was assigned 2 '18 Radio Sets' and the code-name announcing the start of the attack was "Rose".

 

 

Lieutenant Crook was now second in command of "D" Company which along with "B" company under Major Mike Lonsdale-Cooper were held in reserve. Lieutenant Crook's senior officer Major Peter Newton was now at Lieutenant Colonel Hart Dyke's side in the command post slit trench. The Battalion's transport officer Captain Colin Mackillip took over command of "D" company.

The Battle of Vendes

The attack began at 6.45 a.m. on the 16th July 1944. Six days earlier the troops had seen Allied bombers fly over to level the medieval town of Caen. The destruction had little strategic value as later there was no evidence of German casualties or loss of equipment. Since the Germans had high vantage points in Vendes church and Petite Farm and had had several weeks to establish a cross fire position the advance on Vendes became a killing ground.

The enemy machine-gunners were virtually invulnerable. Rubble also helped to protect the slit trench positions which were of course on higher ground. It was a bright and very hot day and "A" company were subjected to deadly cross fire. They could only advance as far as Bijude Farm.

"B" company under Major Lonsdale-Cooper were ordered to join the KOYLI company at Barbe farm and then attack Vendes from the West but the Germans began to surround "C" company by infiltrating into the orchards. In the hand to hand fighting two of "C" company's platoons were entirely wiped out.

 

 

The more reliable of Hart Dyke's descriptions of the action on this day is to be found as the Appendix "D" which he dictated and signed for the Battalion's War diary within days of the battle.

His account in the book 'Normandy to Arnhem' written several years later might leave the impression that this action lasted a relatively short time, but the battle started at Dawn and lasted the whole day and into the night. The battle was very confusing. Soldiers from different units found themselves in each other's positions.

The entry in the Battalion War Diary for the day:

'16 July 44 Action at VENDES. The Bn ended up where it started but withdrawal to original posns was made on instructions from Div Comd in perfect order and in our own time. At the termination of the action the Bn was relieved by 4 Lincolns in accordance with original plans, relief being completed by midnight. The Bn moved to rest area at DUCY ST MARGUERITE. After 33 consecutive days in close contact with the enemy, 33 Offrs and 460 O.Rs had become casualties, and reinforcements, trg (training) and reorganisation were badly needed.

Cas: Offrs. Maj. C.J. Good, Capt C.A. Mackillop, Lts G.H.R Jackson, L.F. Nobert and H.J. Allkins were wounded. O.Rs. 10 killed, 59 wounded.'

The entry in 146 Infantry Brigade's War Diary gives a day long timescale:

'16/07/44 0650 Hallams launched an attack on Vendes with under their cmd "D" Coy 1/4 KOYLI

0745 "D" Coy 1/4 KOYLI have taken Barbee FE

0800 "A" and "C" Coys Hallams held up in the area 863653 to 864651. Pinned down by Spandau fire from Orchard 865646 and Vendes.

1010 Coy of Hallams went to Barbee FM to reinforce "D" Coy 1/4 KOYLI.

1055 Hallams tried to push through Barbee FE to objective on rd at 858651 but were unable to do so owing to enemy shelling.

1300 Plan that "A" and "B" Coys of Hallams should attack Vendes with another Coy passing through Barbee FE at 1335 hrs. Hallams then reported that they were NOT ready and the attack was postponed.

Meanwhile E Lan R had been making difficult progress on left flank of Hallams.

During Afternoon enemy counter attacks dislodge E LAN R

It was considered that Vendes could not be taken unless the objective on left flank was held and assistance given from this area. The Hallams were ordered to withdraw to their original psns late in the afternoon and during the evening our tps in Barbee FE withdrew to rejoin their bns.

 

A clear map showing the route taken by the Hallamshires from landing to the Battle of Vendes from Volume III of the History of the York and Lancasters by Major Sheffield (1956)

 

4 Lincolns moved fwd 2300 hurs.

Prisoner Intelligence.

'5 PW taken by Hallams at Barbee FE. 4 PW taken this afternoon.

PW statements indicated gap between 1 and 2 Coy 986 GR being covered by MGs of 4 Coy. PW of 4 Coy said they were rushed up into Vendes this morning. This accounts for v heavy MG fire reported by the Hallams. Enemy resistance very strong and indicated Vendes considered a key point.'

 

A British intelligence officer interrogating a German POW

 

The most detailed account of this battle at this 'key' point is to be found in Appendix "D" attached to the Hallamshire War Battalion's War Diary. It demonstrates in detail the significance and purpose of the British Canadian Army's purpose in the Normandy Campaign and with tragic poignancy reveals all the handicaps and problems British soldiers had in Bocage country. As with the previously cited War Diary passages, the account is reproduced with all the original spelling mistakes, manual typos and military jargon retained:

' REPORT ON THE ACTION AT VENDES BY THE HALLAMSHIRE BN. THE YORK & LANCASTER REGIMENT.

16 JUL

1. The battalion with one coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. was ordered to capture on 17 JUL 44 [Clearly this should have been typed as 16 JUL 44] the enemy localities EAST of VENDES and at BARBEE Fm estimated as being a battalion less on [meaning one] coy in strengths with two SPANDAUS per sec as part of a a major operation. POW reported that the enemy had No 3 Coy in PETITE Fm. No. 2 Coy less one PL and SP coy plus a tk (tank)at VENDES X Rds and No. 1 Coy just EAST of VENDES.

For major reasons the attack could not be undertaken either under cover of darkness as requested or after a pincer movement by 59 Div had been completed. The enemy was therefore fully prepared. Moreover, a previous large scale raid on the coy EAST of VENDES by "A" Coy HALLAMS had caused him to tighten up his def fire in that area. The three tks [meaning tanks] asked for to SP (support) our attack were also not available.

2. Cmd of 197 Bde, 59 Div had been advised by Comd HALLAMS on his recce not to attack the VENDES battalion frontally but to pinch him out from the EAST, and then clear him from VENDES by an attack from that direction. It was therefore with some dismay the battalion learnt that this plan had been adopted but that the HALLAMSHIRES were to carry out the frontal attack in conjunction with it.

3. Moreover before going into the action the battalion had lost 23 offrs and about 310 men mainly from rifle coys, one of which had lost 7 offrs and 65 men, [This is a reference to John Crook's "D" Company] and had been in very close contact with the enemy for five weeks without a day's rest. Pls were 20 strong while "D" Coy had only two pls and no PL comds.

4. The considerable arty and 4.2" Mortar SP was handicapped by the close proximity of our men who could not be withdrawn nd then redeployed on account of the bottle neck SOUTH of TESSEL WOOD. Also on account of the tall tress which made close arty SP even more difficult.

5. Nevertheless the battalion went into the action with good heart having always achieved its purpose in the past and impressed by the great weight of arty SP given to it. The fact that so many offrs and men had been lost by mortar and spandau fire from the area to be attacked was also a great incentive to capture their objective if this were needed.

6. During the preliminary action by 59 Div all coys were kept under cover in covered slit trenches and as a result no casualties were suffered in spite of considerable enemy arty and mortar fire. When fwd coys moved to their covered start lines, they suffered casualties and "D" Coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. lost all three PL comds and one PL sgt before leaving the S.L.(Start Line)

7. The arty SP was in the form of previous med "stonks" followed by conc by 7 FD Regts on enemy posns from H - 8 to H and H -3 to H. PETITE Fm was neutralised successfully then and throughout the day by 3 inch mortars of K.O.Y.L.I. And occasionally HALLAMS and M.M.G. of 2 KENSINGTONS. POW subsequently stated that 3 Coy moved on 16 July to the area just EAST of X rds EAST of VENDES which accounted for the lack of enemy activity against BARBEE from this area.

8. The attack on the left by "C" Coy was half up on the rd and one PL practically wiped out by fire from the EAST and from VENDES. On the rt of "C" Coy on PL (one platoon) crossed the rd successfully and reached within 150 yds of the enemy locality EAST of VENDES before being stopped by spandau and mortar fire. "C" Coy never got any further. "A" Coy in the centre similarly lost a PL trying to enter VENDES. At the same time POW later stated that No. 1 Ciy 986 GR facing "C" only had from 25 - 40 survivors.

9. On the rt "D" Coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. With pls commanded by the Coy Comd, Major Dunhill, and the C.S.M. reached their objective and pushed fwd to the re-organisation area in the orchards WEST of VENDES. A POW later stated that one PL of 2 Coy 286 GR in this area only had 1 sjt and 12 men surviving.

10. All coys had lost heavily and asked for more men and SBs (Stretcher-Bearers). Comd Post at SOUTH end of TESSEL WOOD was during the day almost continually under arty and mortar fire from the SOUTH and from the front of 50 Div.

11. It was therefore planned to exploit success and push "B" Coy HALLAMS down to BARBEE Fm and then for "B" Coy to adv SOUTH into the WESTERN side of VENDES. "A" and "C" Coys were ordered not to try to adv again and to hold as many enemy as they could by fire in order to assist the higher plan. The med half-track and an amn carrier were sent up to "A" Coy under fire. Under cover of arty, mortar and MMG fire, "B" Coy HALLAMS and one sec Carrier, 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. succeeded in reaching BARBEE Fm.

 

Hart Dyke's sketch of the campaign route from landing to Vendes

 

12. "A" Coy then reported that they thought that the enemy had withdrawn from VENDES and if further reinforcements were sent VENDES Church area could be occupied. It looked as if at last success was to be achieved. "D" Coy (two weak pls only) (under comd of the Coy Comd and 2 ic [Lieutenant John H Crook]) were therefore despatched to BIJOU Fm. On their arrival however, "A" Coy Cmd sent a further report that the enemy had now been reinforced and had some 9 spandaus in VENDES. He could therefore NOT adv without hy casualties. He was ordered to re-organise where he was. A POW later stated that a tk was covering the VENDES X Rds, that No.1 Coy was wiped out but that reinforcements were sent fwd in the form of No. 4 Coy during the morning. This incl three MMG pls.

[This contemporaneous account does not square with Hart Dyke's later book narrative in which he claims that after ordering Crook to take the 2 platoons to join "A" Company under the command of Captain Nicholson, Nicholson informed him that half an hour later the "D" platoons had not arrived. Hart Dyke said he ordered MacKillop to 'go himself with his company at once and that no further delay could be accepted.' Hart Dyke also alleged: 'Alas, he was too late. I subsequently discovered from prisoners that Tony's [Nicholson] reading of the battle was right. The enemy actually withdrew from Vendes and then their last available reinforcements, in the form of some heavy machine gunners and administrative personnel, were brought up and re-occupied the village.' (At page 27 'Normandy to Arnhem' 1991 reprint)

These claims are not consistent with the evidence of Hart Dyke's original War Diary and the War Diary of 146th Infantry Brigade. There is no evidence that the Germans had been wiped out or withdrew from Vendes. The German machine gun reinforcements were sent to Vendes earlier in the morning. (see 146th Brigade POW intelligence) 146 Infantry Brigade's timetable of events indicates Nicholson's call for reinforcements may have been at 1300 which would have been after the Germans had reinforced Vendes with spandau machine-guns.

Hart Dyke's claims have resulted in a 1995 account of the Battle of Vendes inaccurately stating that the "D" company platoons never arrived to reinforce Captain Nicholson's "A" company. (See page 110 'The Polar Bears' Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995).

Hart Dyke's book narrative is also inaccurate about the timing of his report on 'Modification of Organisation and Tactics of the Rifle Platoon to Meet Special Conditions in Normandy.' He claimed they were developed and applied after "A" company's raid on July 10th. (See page 23 'Normandy to Arnhem' 1991 reprint) War Office records indicate the new tactics were developed after the Battle of Vendes during re-organisation, retraining and re-equipping. Hart Dyke's report was submitted 22nd July 1944 as is clear from the Hallamshire War Diary: '22 JULY 44 Reorganisation. New tactical doctrine formulated as a result of experiences. Appx E.'

The author has received further evidence that at least two surviving Hallamshire veterans thought Hart Dyke's book was somewhat partial and unreliable in parts.]

13. Later when tks were reported in the EAST LANCS area "A" Coy was ordered to send o (over) one PL of "D" Coy to the old "B" Coy area EAST of the rd FONTENAY - MONTS to SP the A.Tk guns sent fwd to this locality. A sec of pnrs (pioneers) were also sent with a P.I.A.T. to hold the X rds and a further P.I.A.T. sent fwd to the Comd Post from BnHQ. The A.Tk def was complete and entry of enemy into the area NORTH of the rd VENDES - TESSEL BRETTEVILLE could be looked fwd to with relish.

 

 

14. On the arrival of "B" Coy at BARBEE Fm, enemy reinforcements began to appear both WEST and SOUTH of BARBEE wokring [sic] their way towards our coys under mortar sp. Further exploitation was therefore impossible though O.C. (officer commanding) "D" Coy, 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. hoped to hold out till dark and asked for amn (ammunition) and med evacuation. The med (medical) half-track and 3 amn carriers were brought fwd and covering fire arranged (THORN). D.F. tasks were arranged on their flanks and front and was put down on request on a number of occasions thus breaking up the enemy adv.

15. Meanwhile Comd. 146 Bde had infm (informed) me that the capture of VENDES and the retention of captured ground was not vital and that the C.O. was to use his discretion as to withdrawal and was to try to avoid further casualties.

16. On the left flank EAST LANCS had failed to deal with the ground on the WEST of the rd FONTENAY -MONTES as arranged or to reach their objective on this rd. (The presence of No. 3 Coy ex LA PETITE Fm see para 7 must have caused this holdup.) At this time another coy arrived at HALLAMS HQ without arms. Enemy TIGER tks approached the Xrds and knocked out two SHERMANS SP EAST LANCS, another SHERMAN being knocked out by a 17 pdr SP that unit. Enemy spandau teams worked their way NORTH of the rd VENDES - TESSEL BRETTEVILLE moving up behind the withdrawing EAST LANCS. I was luckily not fully aware of this serious situation on my left flank.

17. As a result of the situation on the left it was decided to withdraw "A" and "C" coys right back to Bn HQ where enemy mortar and arty fire was less intense and to hold the SOUTH of TESSEL WOOD with the Carrier PL, and two pls of "D" Coy. This was successfully accomplished as the country is close. It was not considered that withdrawal from BARBEE was advisable by daylight.

[This is clear evidence that "D" company soldiers were engaged in desperate fighting to block the growing German counterattack]

18. Just before the move fwd of the amn to BARBEE, infm was received from "D" Coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. that they felt that they might be unable to hold out till dark. It was therefore decided to take the risk of withdrawing the two coys at BARBEE Fm and cross the open intervening ground before dark. A factor in making this decision was that the battalion was being relieved by 4 LINCOLNS and we could not honourable withdraw until at least "D" Coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. were oit (out) or secure or safe.

19. The relief of the battalion by 4 LINCOLNS was then commenced and was complete by midnight. In this action HALLAMS lost 5 offrs and 114 O.Rs and 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. 2 offrs and 40 O.Rs. Throughout the day Major DUNHILL, comd "D" Coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. showed brilliant leadership and superb courage while Major LONDSDALE-COOPER, comd "B" Coy and Padre THOMAS showed outstanding bravery under fire.

20. The HALLAMSHIRES did not reach their objectives for the first time but it is hoped that their losses were not in vain and that by busing (busting or busying?) up enemy reserves they did much towards the success achieved elsewhere. Two days later without further attack it was found that the enemy had withdrawn from VENDES, BARBEE Fm and PETITE Fm the previous night, 24 hurs after the end of our attack.

21. The admiration of this battalion for the outstanding bravery and discipline of "D" Coy 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. will always be remembered. It is believed that this admiration is mutual.

22. LESSONS.

(a) Arty SP in close country and buildings does not liquidate enemy machine gun posts unless very large quantities of amn are available.

(b) A few tks to make up for this would be invaluable.

(c) Silent night attack timed to take place so that mopping-up and re-organisation is carried out in daylight is the best form of attack under such circumstances.

(d) It is best to by-pass areas such as Vendes which has been occupied by the enemy for some weeks.

(e) Great value of a half-track ambulance, two of which should be provided per battalion if possible.

(f) Handicap a battalion suffers going into action after suffering by casualties without time set aside for re-organisation and replacement of offrs and NCOs.

Some dramatic personal accounts of this action have been reproduced in the media and publications. The following is from pages 109-112 'The Polar Bears- Monty's Left Flank' by Patrick Delaforce (Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995)

Corporal Graham Roe "C" Company Hallamshires:

'My Coy CO reported to the Colonel that the enemy was filtering back behind us and that we were now engaged in close hand to hand fighting. The CO told the Major that the South Lancashires (59 Division on the left flank) had suffered many casualties and had been over-run in places. We were given permission to withdraw under a huge covering fire plan. We had to traverse a very long open slope. Many of my comrades were hit on the way back and we helped each other as best as we could, first at a trickle and the CO met us, shouting for us to double in before we were knocked out by shellfire which was pouring in from every angle. The walking wounded were gathered into the jeeps, but above them were two stretchers supported by metal tubing. I tried a rough count of the survivors with me from "C" Coy. Those I could see totalled 17. We had started with about 100.'

Private John Longfield in the 1/4th KOYLI "D" Company wrote:

'The Hallams were attacking from the north and we, "D" Coy, from the east. It was a very hot day. We carried all our usual equipment including water bottles full of water. As Bren gunner, both I and my No. 2 carried full magazines. Our attack went forward with the usual mortar, artillery and small arms fire landing on us. I was firing the Bren from the hip and eventually we got to, and took, Barbee farm. We fired at the Germans and our Corporal threw a 36 grenade at them. Unfortunately it blew all the flesh off his face. Within 2 or 3 minutes I was the only one of us left alive (at Barbe Farm). Then to my astonishment a Hallamshire Bren gunner dashed across the orchard and jumped in the ditch with me. Battles got very confusing at times.' The Hallamshire gunner was shot in the head by a German soldier. Longfield found that his Sten gun jammed and 'the German smiled. This really enraged me. But he did not have a bullet up the spout. I hurled the Sten gun at him, pushed the dead Hallamshire off his Bren, pulled the trigger and really blasted the Boche with what was left in the magazine.'

 

A larger campaign map showing the greater plan of invasion, battle and break-out. Initially the Hallamshires in 49th Division were in General Dempsey's Second Army. But after Vendes they were assigned to the First Canadian British Army for the push to Belgian and Holland.

 

Personal stories by Hallamshire soldiers also appear in 'Polar Bears from Sheffield' by Don Scott (Tiger & Rose Publications, 2001) on pages 232 to 235.

Captain Chris Somers: 'It wasn't long before we got the order to make for Barbee Farm to assist the Coy. Of KOYLI who were already there. We followed the hedges down through the cornfields and some of the leading platoon succeeded in getting to the farm. But the Boche spotted them and covered a gap of 30 yards pretty thoroughly with Spandau fire, killing anyone who attempted to run for it or crawl through the corn. The Coy. Was temporarily held up and the Boche opened up with small mortars. He seemed to follow us round the hedgerow - unfortunately there were no ditches. Eventually, after the Coy. had reorganised, the C.O. put down a goodly barrage on Vendes while we rushed across the gap and made for the farm. [...]

The situation elsewhere was not too favourable and after the padre had collected the wounded into the half-track, a heavy barrage was put down to cover our withdrawal back to Tessel Wood, unfortunately leaving many grand chaps behind who had been killed during the fighting, including Cpl. Watkins, Pte. Crowther and MacIntosh, an SB who was shot while collecting in a wounded man. However, to make amends, a German prisoner went out and brought them in. It was a hot run back loaded up with spare shovels and helping to carry the 18 set, but if one goes the only thing is to go quickly. We learnt later that the Boche in that area were also at the end of their tether and had thrown in cooks and all sorts to hold out.'

Private Doug Catley was one of the 40 soldiers in the Hallamshires' "D" Company: 'On the Vendes attack we went across one field and into the second towards the road and we got badly shelled and I remember getting blown over by the blast. Then Major Mackillop, who was now our Company Commander; took us back to a great big ditch and that's where we got orders to contact the KOYLI officers on our right in Barbee Farm and liaise with him on the wireless.

We got back to our own trenches and then we got another signal to move back to the other end of Tessel Wood because we were being relieved. So we came out of the slit trenches and I was holding the 18 set for my mate to strap it on. All of sudden it was like an express train bearing down on us and we flattened and that's when we got it. It had got my mate across the arse and all his trousers were ripped. We tended to him with these special bandages, you know, and they said to me, "Are you all right?" and I said "Yes, I just got blown over again like I did this morning." Ten minutes after that I fainted with a deep penetrating wound and Eric Goodliffe fetched us out and we got back to a tented hospital in Bayeux.'

On the BBC's 'WW2 People's War' web-site KOYLI veteran Pat Strafford has written a dramatic and vivid account of his experiences during this battle in which he was seriously wounded. He has kind and respectful words to say about Padre Thomas who tended to and comforted him after he was wounded.

This is to be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A2725544 and there is also an interesting associated forum discussion including a message from a relative of Padre Thomas.

The Official History of the York and Lancaster Regiment Volume III for the period 1919-1953 by Major O.F.Sheffield (Aldershot Gale & Polden Ltd 1956) provides the following account of the battle at Vendes on pages 131 and 132:

'The Hallamshires, with one company of the K.O.Y.L.I. Under command, were given the task of assisting the advance of capturing Barbe Farm and Vendes. In order to conform to the plan of the 59th Division, the Battalion had to carry out a frontal attack in daylight without the aid of smoke. This they did under artillery support with the company of K.O.Y.L.I. on the right and "A" Company, under Major Nicholson, on the left, Barbe Farm and Vendes being their respective objectives. "B" Company, under Major Lonsdale-Cooper, was in reserve, while "C" and "D" Companies held their positions as a firm base.

 

John Crook's pocket prayer book that he had with him during the Normandy campaign open at the page for communion prayer.

 

The K.O.Y.L.I. company secured Barbe Farm, but "A" Company was completely held up about fifty yards short of Vendes church. "B" Company, covered by an artillery barrage, was thereupon pushed forward to Barbe Farm with orders to attack Vendes from the flank through the K.O.Y.L.I. position. Although it successfully reached the farm, its further advance was soon brought to a standstill by heavy enemy resistance.

In the ensuing fighting, often hand-to-hand, the two companies in the Barbe Farm area became at times virtually surrounded. The Chaplain, Captain H.S.G. Thomas, with great courage took the Battalion's ambulance across the open to the farm under a barrage and evacuated some of the wounded. For this he was awarded the Military Cross.

Soon afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel Hart Dyke was informed that the advance of both the 50th and 59th Divisions had been finally checked, at any rate for the rest of the day, and that under these circumstances it was left to his discretion whether to withdraw his forward companies from the areas of Barbe Farm and Vendes or not. It was a very difficult decision to have to make. Finally he decided to leave "A" company in position in front of Vendes, but to withdraw "B" company and the K.O.Y.L.I. Company from Barbe Farm, as he considered that if left there they might be overwhelmed after dark.

To cover their withdrawal, a heavy box barrage was put down for half an hour by all the mortars of the Hallamshires and the K.O.Y.L.I., two platoons of medium machine guns of the 2nd Kensingtons, the Divisional Machine Gun Regiment, and by two regiments of the Divisional Artillery.

It was a nerve-racking time for those of Battalion Headquarters who watched it, as a single enemy machine gun could have killed every man trying to cross the open slope back from Barbe Farm. Both companies, however, got back to safety. Among the last to return were the two Company Commanders, Major D. Dunhill of the K.O.Y.L.I. And Major Lonsdale-Cooper, both of whom had stayed behind to assist the wounded.

 

A medic taking a break from operating on wounded soldiers during the fighting in Normandy in July 1944

 

That night the Hallamshires were relieved by the Lincolns and went back to a rest area at Duchy St Marguerite. In due course, renewed attacks by XXX Corps made some progress, and as both Vendes and Barbe Farm were evacuated by the enemy without further fighting, the sacrifices there of the Hallamshires and the K.O.Y.L.I. Were in the end not made in vain.'

Lieutenant John H Crook played a small role in this complicated action. He had to help lead "D" company's platoons in an advance under heavy enemy fire. In order to reach Nicholson's position, since all the other brigade attacks had failed, many more Hallamshires would be subject to deadly enfilading. And this is what happened. The soldiers in "D" company faced murderous fire.

The Germans could see everything from their forward observation posts including the tall steeple of Vendes Church. They could bring down accurate mortar, rocket and artillery fire on the "D" company advance. The heavy and medium spandau machine guns could sweep up and down and across the fields in front of them.

The prisoner intelligence as recorded by 146th Brigade's intelligence officers prove that there had never been any German withdrawal from Vendes. There was even a Tiger tank dug in and camouflaged at the crossroads in front of the village.

The "D" company platoons got to Major Nicholson despite heavy losses and much faster than the earlier advance by Nicholson's company earlier in the morning. The 146th Brigade War Diary reveals that this battle started at dawn and lasted all day. "D" company's advance took place after 12 noon long after the Germans had sent machine gun reinforcements to Vendes.

The son of one veteran in "D" company recollects his father telling him that the two platoons did advance from their start line into heavy mortaring. Lance Corporal Ken Law was sent back to retrieve a rum jar which had been left behind in an earlier position that day. This involved running back across an exposed area in which at least the odd mortar shell was landing. One actually blew him over and temporarily dazed him.

The huge German counterattack at Barbe Farm took place at 5 p.m. Padre Thomas's courage by using a half track to evacuate wounded soldiers from Barbe Farm contributed to his award of the Military Cross. Even though the companies in front of Vendes and at Barbe Farm had to withdraw under covering fire by dusk, the Germans abandoned the positions overnight.

Hart Dyke comforts himself by observing that the heavy casualties had not been in vain. He also concedes that the strain of the 16th of July affected him more than he realised. He and his officers and men had been in the line for 33 days. Hallamshire casualties were now 33 officers and 460 other ranks. This was out of an original officer strength of 37 (2 officers had not been included in the battalion photograph taken before D-day) and 780 men.

Rex Flower a K.O.Y.L.I. soldier in a burial party observed: 'The bodies had been in the hot sun for six days. The stench was awful, indescribable. It was a terrible thing to see that these had been young men in the prime of their life. It was a charnel house'. (page 112 'The Polar Bears- Monty's Left Flank, 1996)

Major Richardson of the 69th Field Regiment AA with the Lincolns recalled: 'Vendes was indescribable. It had been bombarded very hard for nearly four weeks and the damage was frightful. Dead cows, horses and a few dead Boche were lying about. Telephone wire, tiles, glass, stores, bricks, and abandoned equipment lay in the streets. We found time to look at the Boche positions at Vendes and Petite and Barbee Farms. The reason for our high casualties at Tessel Wood was plain. The whole position was very badly overlooked.' (page 112 'The Polar Bears- Monty's Left Flank, 1996)

Hart Dyke had a heart breaking job gathering the metal discs and personal possessions of his dead soldiers who littered the area.

Captain John Wollerton states: (page 235 'Polar Bears From Sheffield', 2001)

'After it had been finally cleared, I went back to Vendes with Mike Lonsdale-Cooper and one or two more to help with identification of the dead we had left behind there. It was a bit messy and nowhere to wash your hands. They were all lying where they'd fallen and hadn't been there for very long, but bodies soon went black and maggots attacked the eyes, ears, nose and mouth very quickly, in fact my batman's first remark on seeing a dead German earlier in Fontenay was how much he could get for the maggots down Attercliffe. The vulgarity of war!.'

In fact the losses at Vendes were more than 100 per cent than actually disclosed in the Battalion's war diary. At least 20 men were killed, 7 others appear to have died later from their wounds, and many others had been maimed and seriously wounded.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission information on the Hallamshires who died on 16th July or later reveals that these men were more than soldiers in uniform. They were sons, fathers, brothers and husbands:

Private Horace Brook, aged 33, married to Elizabeth Brook of Bretton Street, Darton West, NR Barnsley. He was the son of William Henry and Clara Brook living in West Darton, Yorkshire.

The inscription on his grave: In Memory of Horace, A beloved father and husband of Elizabeth, ever to be remembered. (Died on 16th July 1944)

Sergeant John Charles Catley, aged 23, unmarried, He was the son of Charles William and Sybil Mary Catley of Western Road, East Dene, Rotherham.

The inscription on his grave: Went the day well? We died and never knew, But well or ill, Freedom, We died for you. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private George Crowther, aged 31, married to Grace Annie Crowther of 'Rose Bank', Great Cliff, Grigglestone, NR Wakefield. He was the son of George and Emily Crowther also from Great Cliff.

The inscription on his grave: Themselves will fade but not their memories, Loving wife Grace and daughter Maureen. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private Reginald Alick Fishpool, aged 29, married to Mrs Mary Margaret Fishpool and son of Alick and Emily Fishpool, from Gorsey, NR Ross-on-Wye.

The inscription on his grave: In loving memory of my dear husband Reg. From his loving wife and son David. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private John Fothergill, aged 29, unmarried, and the son of Frank and Harriett Fothergill, of Duke of York Street, Wakefield, Yorkshire. (Died 19th July 1944)

Private John Henry Gollin, aged 19, unmarried, He was the son of John Henry and Florence Jane Gollin, of Foxhill Road, Carlton, Nottinghamshire.

The inscription on his grave: In everlasting and glorious memory Of a dear and beloved son. R.I.P. (Died 23rd July 1944)

Private Ralph Janes Gray, aged 27. He was the son of Robert and Elizabeth Ann Gray, of Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham, and husband of Evelyn Vera Gray, of Hume Street, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham.

Inscription on his grave: He gave his life that others might have freedom. (Died 22nd July 1944)

Private Edward Roy Hampson, aged 28. He was the son of Edward and Ada Ellen Hampson, of Causley Heath, Warminster, Wiltshire.

Inscription on his grave: A true brave heart in God's keeping, Forever in our thoughts. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private John William Hill, aged 23, married to Nancy Elizabeth Hill of 'Cliffeholme' Corton, Suffolk and son of George Henry and Eliza Jane Hill also of Corton.

Inscription on his grave: Loved and remembered by his devoted wife and daughter, Wendy. "Fold him in thine arms". (Died 16th July 1944)

Private Ronald Hindle, aged 23. He was the son of Edith Hindle; nephew of Doris Bolger, of Burnley, Lancashire, and his grandfather lived in Barnoldswick, Yorkshire.

Inscription on his grave: At the setting of the sun and in the morning we will remember. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private William Hooley, aged 19. He was the son of John William and Florence Hooley of Marsh House Lane, Warrington, Lancashire.

Inscription on his grave: God must have a beautiful garden. He picks out only the best. Mum, Dad, and Sisters. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private Ernest Jones, aged 23. He was the son of Thomas and Annice Ethel Jones of 16 Mandall Street, Sheffield.

Inscription on his grave: Forever in our thoughts. (Died 27th July 1944)

Private Charles William Mackintosh, aged 25, married to Mrs Dolly Mackintosh of Duffield Road, Rotherham. He was the son of Charles William and Emily Matilda Mackintosh, also of Rotherham. Don Scott records that he was a stretcher bearer and was killed when attending a wounded man during the attack on Vendes south of Tessel Wood. (Died 16th July 1944)

Lance Corporal Albert Marsden, aged 23. His brother lived in Foxwood Avenue, Sheffield. He was the son of Henry and Gertrude Marsden, also of Sheffield.

Inscription on his grave: In our hearts you are near. We who loved you sadly miss you as it dawns another day. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private Henry Charles Mears, aged 25. His sister lived in Tyers Street, Lambeth, and he was the son of David and Alice Mears, of Vauxhall, London.

Inscription on his grave: Not gone from memory, not gone from love, But gone to the father's home above. (Died 16th July 1944)

Sergeant George Herbert Morley, aged 28. He was the son of Ernest and Nora Morley; husband of Joan Lee Morley, of High Street, Horbury, NR Wakefield,Yorkshire.

Inscription on his grave: Beautiful memories treasured ever, of happy days we spent together. (Died 28th July 1944)

Private Eric Potter, aged 22. He was the son of Thomas and Rose Hannah Potter who lived in Oakville Avenue, High Lane, Bursle, Stoke on Trent.

Inscription on his grave: Peace Perfect Peace, He died that we might live.(Died 29th July 1944)

Corporal William Alfred Rose, aged 36. He was married to Mrs Ivy Rose of Yew Tree Lane, South Yardley, Birmingham. He was the son of William and Margaret Rose, also of Birmingham.

Inscription on his grave: No verse can say, no wealth repay, For the dearest one we lost this dark day. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private George Arson Shorrock, aged 19. He was the son of Mr Thomas and Mrs Annie Shorrock (Parents) of Blackburn, Lancashire.

Inscription on his grave: Will always be remembered by his mother, Twin brother Don and sister Jessie. (Died 16th July 1944)

Lance Corporal Colin Singleton, aged 31. He was married to Mrs Margaret E Singleton of Monks Wood, Upper Haigh, Rawmarch, Rotherham. He was the son of Son of Frank and Maud Singleton, of Parkgate, Rotherham (Died 27th July 1944)

Private John William Smith, aged 18, He was the son John A. and Louisa Smith, of Johnson Road, West Croydon, Surrey. His body was never recovered. He was listed as 'Missing in Action' during the attack on Vendes. It is assumed he was obliterated or vapourised in artillery fire on 16th July 1944.

Private James Albert Turner, aged 20. He was the son of Albert John Harris Turner and Ann Emily Turner who lived in Watford, Hertfordshire, and Mrs Edith Irene Turner, of 30 Priory Road, Warwick, Warwickshire.

Inscription on his grave: We loved him, we miss him, in our memory he is so dear, His loving wife and son. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private William John Twigg, aged 25. He was the son of J. W. and Ada A. Twigg, of Sheffield; husband of Audrey Twigg, of Carwell Road, Woodseats, Sheffield.

Inscription on his grave: For all of us he did his best. God grant him eternal rest. (Died 16th July 1944)

Corporal Frank Watkins, aged 27. He was the son of Fred and Edith Watkins, of Hemsworth, Pontefract, Yorkshire; husband of Violet Watkins, of Holgate Crescent, Hordworth, NR Pontefract.

Inscription on his grave: Treasured memories of a darling husband To live in loving hearts is not to die. (Died 16th July 1944)

Private George Henry Willder, aged 30, married and living at Detlin Road, Northfleet Kent. He was the son of James and Edith Annie Willder; husband of Jeanne Willder.

Inscription on grave: Best Beloved, and sleep, Yours has been the suffering. The memory, ours. (Died 16th July 1944)

Lance Corporal Arthur Winstanley, aged 24. He was the son of Arthur and Gertrude Annie Winstanley of Carlton Avenue, Worsley, Wigan, Lancashire.

Inscription on grave: In Loving memory of a dear son, Arthur, Worthy of everlasting remembrance. (Died 16th July 1944)

Recovery and Replacements.

It is assumed Lieutenant Crook and the few remaining officers in the Hallamshires were taken on a tour of the enemy's positions by Hart Dyke and the hopelessness of the frontal attacks became obvious. Hart Dyke accepted 'it was impossible in daylight and without tank support'.

Hart Dyke writes: 'On my return I found a small farm nearby and fixed up an officers' mess, so that we could all get to know each other. There were very few of our originals left and, of course, our companies kept very much to themselves in the line.'

Hart Dyke adds: 'Hallamshires were a forward battalion in the line for 33 days. They took a prominent part in the battle of Fontenay Le Pesnel, remained under spasmodic fire continuously for another three weeks, and before leaving the line took part in the grim struggle at Vendes. By day or by night there had been no such thing as one moment's complete security.' At his first parade Hart Dyke 'ran through with the men all we had done since we landed in Normandy. I explained the whys and wherefores and told them what a grand job they had done and how proud I was to lead them.'

Lieutenant Crook had been in "D" Company Hallamshires and endured some of the bloodiest and hardest fighting in the Battle of Normandy. He had not won any medals for gallantry, but it cannot be denied that he had done his duty. He had done his best to keep his platoons together under constant bombardment and had helped lead them in a nasty battle against a crack German division. Unlike 33 officers in his battalion he was still alive and uninjured. He had survived, which, given the fact that his battalion had 80 per cent officer casualties, was something of a miracle.

A historian of the British Army, Sir John Fortescue wrote: 'It is, I believe, a fact that even the bravest men cannot endure to be under fire for more than a certain number of consecutive days, even if the fire be not very heavy'. Remaining in the forward slit trenches of Tessel Wood exposed to enemy fire from three sides between 29th June and 16th July is almost unimaginable.

Some contemporary historians are seeking to counter the tendency to sanitise the reality of war with the mythology of 'heroism' and 'entertainment'. Scriptwriters appear to be conditioned into representing individuals as either 'good guys' or 'bad guys'. 'To the Victor the Spoils- D-day to VE Day, The Reality Behind the Heroism' by Sean Longden (Arris Books, 2004) puts many aspects of Normandy into a more sobering and realistic context. Chapter 9 'Too Scared to be Frightened' pages 161 to 184 includes moving accounts of the impact of battlefield stress on soldiers worn down by the conflict.

After Vendes was over and for the first time since landing in Normandy John Crook had an opportunity to do some sightseeing. The battalion had packed a second battle dress so with a clean uniform complete with badges and insignia he and his men were able to visit an undamaged Bayeux and see the famous tapestry. He would tell his sons in later years that seeing the tapestry so soon after the horrors of real battle gave the pictorial account of invasion and the Battle of Hastings a completely different meaning.

Hart Dyke wrote that 'Owing to the amount of Camembert cheese being purchased in Bayeux by those units out of the line in the area, the purchase of these cheeses was forbidden!' John Crook would retain a taste for Camembert for the rest of his life. Perhaps the frustration of not being able to sink his teeth into a baguette and Normandy's famous cheese at this time meant that buying Camembert in France and bringing it back to his flat in Chelsea took on an extra significance.

The Final Phase of the Battle of Caen

The Hallamshires rested, re-organised, re-equipped at Ducy St Marguerite for a week in preparation to be sent back into the line for the Battle of Caen. Replacement officers and men were sent over from holding camps in Britain. The 146th Infantry Brigade was being moved from Bocage country to the open plains South East of Caen.

The Hallamshires were quickly moved into the front line to the east at Troarn. Apart from sniper fire and the odd skirmishing by patrols the battalion was involved in little action and soon moved through the rubble of Caen to Soliere.

 

A 49th Division soldier helping a civilian in Caen after the devastating allied air raid on the medieval Normandy town

 

They observed with astonishment 'a friendly fire' raid by a squadron of American B4 bombers on the Polish Armoured Division, Canadian Corps Headquarters and an ammunition dump. No explanation was ever given for this ghastly mistake.

 

A map showing the Hallamshires route from Caen to Le Havre during July, August and September 1944 from Volume III of the History of the York and Lancasters by Major Sheffield (1956)

 

The poor sanitation at Soliere resulted in virtually the whole battalion going down with amoebic dysentery. The Hallamshires were moved further forward to take over positions in woods west of Chicheboville. In the process a jeep carrying Majors Nicholson and Lonsdale-Cooper was blown up. Nicholson was thrown 30 feet into the air and he had to be evacuated.

 

 

The unfairness of war was cruelly demonstrated by the death of Lieutenant Bone who was killed by harassing fire. He had been with the battalion less than 7 days.

As the Hallamshires moved into the village shell fire landed in the middle of "D" Company headquarters. Colour Sergeant Major Simpson was severely wounded. After limited action and more casualties among the Bren carrier units, the battalion was relieved and learned that the German Army had faced partial annihilation in the Falaise gap. Its remnants were pursued towards the Seine. At this time the Hallamshires had not been engaged in any major attack as a forward battalion, but when carrying out active patrolling and taking over from other units they suffered a number of casualties from shell and mortar fire.

 

 

Hallamshire War Diary August and September 1944

[These extracts are presented as they exist in the archives. They are written in 'military-speak' replete with acronyms and shortened representations of words. They also include map references so that veterans and their relatives have an opportunity of retracing the campaign with accurate positioning. Some of the representations such as 'bn' for battalion are obvious. When they may be obscure, the full word or expression is given in brackets. The transcript is interspersed as with the July War diary with Commonwealth Graves Commission information on fatal casualties.

The next 6 weeks represent a helter skelter of violent action, death, battle, confusion, rapid advance, and the agony of losing comrades in arms for Lieutenant John H Crook and the soldiers serving with him. Hart Dyke continued to use him as a platoon commander or second in command of company during these weeks. The passage of time and paucity of documentary evidence makes it impossible to determine all the names of the people serving with him.

The presentation of this material has resulted in contact from Mr Philip Law whose father Ken Law was a lance-corporal in "D" Company headquarters platoon. He was a radio operator in "D" Company and assistant company clerk. He was in the line from the time of the Hallamshires' landing in Normandy on 9th/10th June 1944 until being twice seriously wounded in Belgium and Holland later in the year. Ken Law had been a factory time-keeper in civilian life. On his last return to action in Holland after convalescence from his first wounding, he discovered that "D" Company had been wiped out and he was posted to another company before being seriously wounded again within 24 hours and evacuated to Britain for hospital treatment.

He started to write a detailed account of his experiences in Normandy and managed to complete his reminiscences up until the digging in at Tessel Wood. The clerk in "D" Company Headquarters platoon was Corporal Pat Collins, a distinguished sports journalist in civilian life, who miraculously survived the campaign without physical injury. Lance Corporal Law and Corporal Collins were close friends.

Lieutenant John Crook would have shared these men's experiences, helping them in battle, and working closely with them in the managing of an infantry company that had to continually absorb replacements for wounded and fatal casualties. It is more than likely that all three men would have been involved in the movements, activities, and actions associated with "D" Company cited in this campaign. He had been trained to help lead a mechanised infantry company in this style of warfare.

The battalion was led through this period by the advance of the carrier platoon. The rifle companies would follow in the battalion's transport vehicles. During 1942 and 1943 John H Crook had attended motor transport officer and Loyd carrier courses. He had also been trained in chemical warfare at Glenridding.]

1st August 'The bn remained in its posns to the SW of Troarn. During the early morning "A" Coy infiltrated two pls Southwards across the rd running SW from Troarn, thus winning valuable elbow room for the bn and stopping the sniping from across the rd from which our predecessors suffered.

Cas: O.Rs. 1 killed. 2 wounded'

[Private Frederick Alfred Davies, aged 25, is listed as dying from his wounds on 2nd August. He had been transferred from the East Surrey Regiment. His widow Mrs G.M. Davies lied at Stow Uplam Street, Stowmarket in Suffolk.]

2nd August 'Bn HQ, which had hitherto been almost within earshot of the enemy in the locn taken over from 3rd Div, moved back to 147680 (map reference). The new posn was in deep gully and dugouts were built into the sides and into the railway embankment nearby, making an almost perfect layout. The quarry was a favourite haunt of mosquitoes on whom a determined attack was launched. The undergrowth was cut down and much use was made of mosquito cream and Flit.'

3rd August 'Two Polish deserters surrendered to "A" Coy. They gave much infm regarding the disposns of the enemy along the rd running across the Southern flank of the bn. The Div Comd visited the bn during the day and stated that he was very pleased with all he saw.'

4th August 'Four deserters surrendered to "B" Coy. Otherwise nothing to report.

Cas: O.Rs. 3 wounded.'

5th August 'In view of the number of deserters being taken by this and other units, it was decided to use more shellfire still further to lower his morale. Accordingly, a bombardment of his known posns was arranged and fired at irregular intervals during the day. In addition, noticeboards were erected in front of "A" and "C" Coys, who were in close contact, inviting the enemy to surrender.'

6th August 'During the afternoon a report was received from an RA, O.R that 30 enemy were approaching "C" Coy's posns. "A" Coy the reported that enemy had entered "C" Coy's posns, that firing had taken place and that the enemy were in flight. This report was eventually found to be erroneous.

A programme of raids to cover the whole Div front was arranged for night 6/7 Aug. The whole was to be covered by smoke screens across the whole front, the purpose being to deceive the enemy regarding operation "Totalise" which was to be launched by the Canadians and 51(H) Div towards FALAISE. The bn snipers and pats had prepared the way for the raids during the last few days by infiltrating fwd and dominating no-man's land until it was very narrow, thus providing good starting pts for the raiding parties.'

 

Hart Dyke's sketch of Hallamshire movements after the Battle of Vendes. Crossed swords indicate battle engagement.

 

7th August 'At 0445 hrs a smoke screen was laid by bns across the whole Div front and the raiding parties made their way fwd. A pat of "C Coy reached its objective but found it unoccupied. While returning to our lines the pat missed its way and walked into a fd of trip flares. The pat comd, Lt Sankey was injured by a flare. A pat from "B" Coy reached its objective, after having been delayed by some new entrenchments, which had to be investigated before the pat could proceed. The pat reached the FD in which its objective lay, but found it ringed with spandaus. The pat was unable to make progress and began to withdraw. On the way back it encountered a German carrying a spandau, who was clearly trying to get into posn to cut off the pat. He was shot. One member of the covering party was wounded and could not be found. A pat of "A" Coy was, however, able to recover him in the early morning under cover of the heavy mist, which was a feature of this low-lying swampy country. During the morning the bn was relieved by Nos 41 and 47 Commandos and conc at HEROUVILLETTE, where it spent the night.

Cas: Offrs 2/Lt. R.V. Sankey wounded. O.Rs 1 killed. 3 wounded.'

[32 year old Private Francis Carney was listed missing in action on this day. His body was never identified or recovered. His widow lived in Mann Street, Liverpool, he was the son of Lucy Carney, and his name is on the Bayeux memorial.

24 year old Private Wilfred Frank Pearce died on 7th August 1944 and is buried in Warminster Baptist Chapel Yard, Wiltshire. His widow Margery Doris Pearce lived in Erlange Road, New Cross, London. It is presumed he died from wounds received in action during July and August. He was the son of Edward George and Alice Pearce, of Warminster.

18 year old Private Ernest Graham Pitcock was killed in action on this day. His family lived in Broadway West, Walsall, Staffordshire. He had been in the General Service Corps.]

8th August ' The bn left HEROUVILLETTE and moved to SOLIERS. This place had been taken by 51(H) Div during the adv. The unit occupying it had moved on before the bn arrived, but with the help of the CQMS's of the outgoing unit the Bn was guided into the posns at FOURS and SOLIERS. The whole area was fly infested due to previously bad sanitation.'

9th August 'The bn was ordered to adv to the woods S.W. of CHICHEBOVILLE to take over from 51 Div units and be prepared to capture the village next day. On arrival it was reported that the village ahead was not held and permission was received to push on at once. The bn proceeded by the Carrier PL, succeeded in occupying the village just after dark. During the move fwd to the woods, Major Nicholson's jeep was blow up by a mine. Cas were also caused by shellfire near LA HOGUE and while entering CHICHEBOVILLE.

Cas: Offrs. 2/Lt. J.W. Bone Killed. Majo J.A.H.Nicholson wounded. O.Rs. 2 killed. 15 wounded.'

[21 year old Private John Frederick Mounsey died on this day. He was listed as 'missing in action' and his body never recovered or identified. His widow Mrs A Mounsey lived in Lewin Street Leicester. He was the son of John William and Ursula Mounsey, of Greenhead, Carlisle. His name is inscribed on the Bayeux Memorial.

24 year old Private Albert James Smith died on this day. He was the son of John and Sarah Smith, of Cumber Lane Whiston, St Helens, Lancashire and is buried in La Delivrande War Cemetery in Douvres. The inscription on his grave reads: 'Sleep on dear soldier, Take they rest. May all those dear to thee be blessed.' He had been transferred from the Royal Corps of Signals.

28 year old Second Lieutenant John William Bone died in action. His widow Mrs Lena Bone, and parents Francis William and Ellen lived in Middlesbrough The inscription on his grave in the Banneville-la-Campagne war cemetery reads: 'Into the mosaic of the world went this piece that is for ever England.']

10th August 'Pats reported enemy posns in woods to East of the village. Carrier PL carried out some excellent patrolling during the morning. One carrier was lost, but afterwards retrieved. Exploitation Eastwards was attempted ith SP of two tps taks. One one PL was used under comd Lt. Chamberlain. The new infiltration tactics used by the bn were utilised. When half the PL was across the open ground between CHICHEBOVILLE and the woods enemy DF fire came down for 10 minutes and 11 out of the 12 men were casualties. The tks successfully neutralised all LMG fire and on the cessation of the DF fire, Lt. Chamberlain was able to withdraw the wounded. In the afternoon orders were received to verify that the enemy still held the woods EAST of CHICHEBOVILLE. In view of the open ground to be crossed and the DF fire previously med this was not an easy task. Smoke was put down across the front and tks used to neutralise enemy LMG fire from the woods to simulate a frontal attack. A pat under Lt. Bardwell then crossed 1000 yds to the NORTH where a certain amount of cover was available. His pat came uder LMG fire in the woods after he had crossed the open ground. One casualty was suffered in thus obtaining the infm required. Enemy was hoodwinked, his DF fire coming down as expected were the smoke screen was laid.

Cas: Offrs. Capt E.G.Wake Wounded. O.Rs. 6 Killed. 16 Wounded.

The bn was relieved by 1 Leicesters in the evening. '

[27 year old Lance Corporal Harry Alcock was killed on this day. His widow Gladys lived in Charles Street, Hanley, Stoke on Trent. He was the son of Harry and Mary Ada Alcock, of Goldenhill, Stoke-on-Trent. He had transferred from the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. His grave in the Bayeux War cemetery reads: 'An evening star shines over the grave of one we loved but could not save.'

18 year old Private Edward Frederick Batchelor died on 10th August. His father Frederick Batchelor and mother Kathleen lived at Homefield Gardens, Mitcham in Surrey. His grave is inscribed with the words: 'We loved him sell, In his love for us he gave his life. Mum, Dad, and Barry.'

23 year old Lance Corporal Norman Bradshaw was killed on this day. He was the son of George and Florene Bradshaw, of Jackson Terrace, New Street, Dinnington, Sheffield. The inscription on his grave at Banneville-la-Campagne war cemetery reads: 'As the days go by you are in our hearts, Lost but not forgotten. Dad and family.'

Private Roland James Luton, aged 25, was killed on this day. He had been transferred from the Wiltshire Regiment and his father Mr W. Luton lived at Winscombe Hill, Winscombe in Somerset.

26 year old Private Percy Nuttall, formerly of the Royal Engineers, was killed on this day and he left a widow, Mrs Emma Nuttall, who lived at Holmfirth, near Huddersfield. He was the son of Richard Farr Nuttall and Marie Nuttall, also of Holmfirth. The inscription on his war grave reads: 'Resting where no shadows fall.'

25 year old Norman Parker died on this day. His father Orlando and mother Hannah Elizabeth Parker lived in Albion Street, Morley, Leeds and the inscription on his grave at Banneville-la-Campagne cemetery reads: 'For all of us he did his best. God grant him eternal rest. R.I.P.

27 year old Alexander Francis Wilkins was killed this day. He was the son of Percy Harry and Emma Victoria Wilkins; husband of Ivy Sybil Wilkins, of West Dulwich, London. He had been transferred from the Royal Sussex Regiment and his war grave has the inscription: 'My beloved husband, Always. Love so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.']

11th/12th/13th August 'The bn remained in res in the area of woods 115600. On night 11th Lt Chamberlain and Padre Thomas collected and buried the dead. Lt Chamberlain was wounded by accident on night 12/13 AUG by one of the crew of an A.Tk gun of 49 Div Recce located in his PL area.'

14th August 'The bn moved to POUSSY 1356 to take over from 5 CAMERONS of 51(H) Div. The village was subjected to considerable shellfire during the preliminary recces and the surrounding area to an air raid during the relief at night. One one O.R was killed.'

15th August 'Major T. Nodwell joined the bn. The enemy was now withdrawing leaving strong rearguards. Today the bn was ordered to seize Hill 160575 and Wood 164585 clearing the village of BILLY en routes. No contact was made with the enemy during this adv, but the carrier PL encountered enemy posns to the NORTH of the village of AIRAN. "D" coy pushed fwd to the village and successfully occupied it, but were withdrawn later on order from Bde, due to their exposed posn. 8 PW were taken during the day. Cas: O.Rs. 5 wounded.'

16th August 'At first light the bn moved fwd, in conjunction with 49 Recce Regt to clear the village of AIRAN. The enemy hd withdrawn from the village, but were encountered on the outskirts by "B" and "D" Coys. Some fighting took place as a result of which PW were taken and the enemy posns successfully occupied. The enemy continued to withdraw and the bn pursued them NE to PIDOUZE, preceded by carrier PL and with "C" Coy and one tp tks as adv gd. A brief rearguard action was fought and PIDOUZE occupied. Meanwhile the 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I, two thousand yds on our left were held up before the village of LE MESNIL. The carrier PL with the sec of tks in SP was therefore sent to take the enemy in the rear with the hope of obviating a staged attack by the K.O.Y.L.I. This operation was successful.

The village was found to be unoccupied and an enemy post with spandaus on the high knoll above was taken in rear by one man of the carrier PL an the enemy surrendered. Much amn and time was thereby saved. The K.O.Y.L.I. later relieved the carrier PL on the knoll.'

[25 year old Private Thomas Victor Mercer is listed as having died on this day. He had been transferred from the Lincolnshire Regiment. His parents Thomas and Emmer lived at Cemetery Road, Low Brumby, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. The inscription on his war grave reads: 'One we shall never forget, His memory a treasure, His loss our lifetime regret.']

Chasing the Germans Across the Rivers towards Le Havre.

17th August 'The Div continued to adv EAST across R. DIVES, 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. leading. our Carrier PL swept the country to the NORTH of the axis running through LIO D'OR mopping up, searching for PW and endeavouring to find crossing places which had not been blown. Rifle coys followed up. Carrier PL entered MERY CREPON on foot and were followed by "C" Coy who took 9 PW. "A", "B", & "C" Coys were then ordered to make a sweep of the orchards between MERY CREPON and the main rd running through LION D'OR village. Coys were moved up rapidly in bn tpt which dumped its loads. The operation was completed by dusk but only 8 PW were taken. Meanwhile the carriers were got across the river at MERY CREPON by a ford and pushed NORTH to the brs (bridges) over the river which were found to be blown. The bn then conc (concentrated) in the area LION D'OR. Capt E.G. Smalley joined the bn as adjutant.'

 

 

18th August 'The bn continued the adv, passing through 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. With the intention of crossing the R. VIE. "D" coy progressed to the river bank and succeeded in fording a PL across with the aid of smoke, although they were in extremely close contact with the enemy. "B" Coy met strong opposition from Spandaus and were unable to move fwd beyond 280613.

Orders were received for a night attack in which the bn was to adv to the line of the rd excl (excluding) X rds 305603 - inc X rds 294618 and exploit to BUTTE du HAUT PARC and HILL 312625. The attack was to be carried out in conjunction with 4 LINCOLNS and 147 Bde (Brigade) on the rt. (right). 2 PW were taken during the day.

Cas: O.Rs. 4 Killed. 15 Wounded. 1 Missing.'

[Private Alfred Thomas Churchill, aged 18, was killed on this day. He was the son of Alfred and Emily Amelia Churchill, of Chaucer Avenue, Richmond, Surrey and the inscription on his grave reads: 'God takes our loved ones from our home, But never from our hearts. Mum, Dad and Family.'

25 year old Corporal William Lack is listed as having been killed on this day. His widow Nora lived at Audrey Road, Sheffield. He was the son of William and Elsie Lack, of Sheffield. The inscription on his war grave at St Desir Cemetery reads: 'A Silent thought brings many a tear, For one we miss and loves do dear.'

32 year old Corporal William Henry Oxley was killed on this day. He was the son of William and Hannah Oxley, of Northern Avenue, Arbourthorne Estate, Sheffield and husband of Annie Oxley. The inscription on his grave at St. Desir War Cemetery reads: 'Your duty done, we can never forget, Love, Ann, Mum, Dad, and Family.'

Private John William Robson, aged 36, was killed on 18th August 1944. He had been transferred from the Royal Artillery. His widow lived at Hindle Street in Lancaster.

33 year old Lance Corporal Bertram Wood was killed on this day. His wife Ann lived in Harborough Street, Denaby Main, Yorkshire with his parents. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Robert Wood. The inscription on his grave at Bieville-en-Auge Churchyard reads: 'Thy Will Be Done.']

19th August. '4 Lincolns were held up in their attack on our rt (right) and a satisfactory crossing of the river was not made. The attack by Hallamshires was therefore postponed and the bn was ordered to rest in its present locn (location) which was shelled by the enemy.

Cas: O.Rs. 1 Killed.'

20th August. 'Pats (patrols) EST (estimated) that the enemy was thinning out along the R. (River) VIE. The Bde accordingly continued to adv (advance) with the objectives of the 19 AUG. The Hallamshires were ordered to try to capture the key point to the posn (position) BUTTE DU HAUT PARC (SNIGG HILL) which dominated the whole posn and from which a view could be obtained as far as the sea. "A" Coy forded the river and quickly reached CREVECOEUR, which was found to be heavily mined. "C" Coy also pushed across the river and made for the high ground further to the left but were halted by fire from BUTTE du HAUT PARC (SNIGG HILL) "D" Coy were sent fwd to come in on their left but were also held up. At the same time "B" Coy on the left crossed the river and made for CARREFOUR ST JEAN.

Meanwhile a br (bridge) was constructed by the Pnrs (pioneers) across the river using 4 telegraph poles which had been previously obtained for this purpose and planking from German dug-outs. By this means the whole F (forward) Ech (Echelon) tpt (transport) was able to cross the river and support the rifle coys (companies) much to the surprise of our RE (Royal Engineers) and fmn (formation) HQ.

As "C" & "D" Coys were held up "A" Coy was ordered to capture SNIGG HILL supported by a sqn of 9 R TANKS (CHURCHILL Tks). The top of the orchards was reached with only one cas (casualty) and one tk knocked out by the 88 mm gun which was in turn liquidated. "A" Coy then pushed on into the woods crowning the high hill and cleared the chateau and the surrounding woods on the tableland. "C" Coy were ordered to move fwd to assist in the re-organisation as over 100 of the enemy had staged a comeback. The Commanding Officer then moved fwd through CARREFOUR ST JEAN which was being heavily shelled and then ordered sqn 9 R TKS to withdraw for replenishment. "A" Coy then reported that an enemy counterattack on the BUTTE du HAUT PARC was likely. Night was falling fast and so the Comd (Command) Post moved on foot to the Chateau on the summit where "A" and "C" Coys were directed. It was placed in a stage of def. (defence). The steep hill and dense woods, pitch black night and pouring rain prevented food, rations and amn (ammunition) from arriving up until the early hours in the pouring rain. Ration parties were found from a PL of "C" Coy which had been isolated below and was led up by the Commanding Officer with considerable difficulty.

Cas: O.Rs. 2 Wounded.'

[19 year old Private Thomas Randall Houghton was listed as a fatal casualty on 20th August 1944. His mother Elsie Houghton lived at Llanvair Road, Newport, Monmouthshire. The inscription on his grave at St Desir War Cemetery reads: 'One of the Dearest, one of the best, God grant to him eternal rest.'

32 year old Corporal Frederick Joseph Barnard died on 20th August 1944. His widow lived in Winchester.

31 year old Private Robert William Demer was killed on 20th August. He was the son of Amy Maud Demer, of Leytonstone, Essex, and his widow Rose lived at Aylmer Road, London E11. The inscription on his war grave at St Desir W Cemetery reads: 'Sleep on dear son and take they rest. They miss you most who loved you best.'

24 year old Lance Sergeant William Freeman is listed as being killed on 20th August. His father lived in Leslie Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield. His mother was May Freeman, of Middle Herrington, Co Durham. The inscription on his grave at St Desir War Cemetery reads: 'He died that we might reign for all, With faith in God we must not fall.'

27 year old Private Arthur Linley is listed as having been killed on 20th August 1944. His widow Rose Anne Linley lived at Olivers Mount, Pontefract, Yorkshire. He was the son of Arthur and Lily Emma Linley who lived in the same town. The inscription on his grave at Crevecoeur-en-Auge reads: 'I was not there when you said goodbye, But in my heart you will never die.'

Private Charles William Broadbent, aged 29, was killed on 21st August 1944. His parents Thomas Leslie and Elsie Broadbent lived at Selly Oak, Birmingham. The inscription on his grave at Hermanville War Cemetery reads: 'He gave his unfinished life, the greatest gift of all. Mom, Dad, Brothers and Sisters.'

29 year old Sergeant Eric William Wood died on 22nd August 1944. He son of Ernest William and Jane Wood; husband of Eileen Ada Wood, of Queen Street, Worthing, Sussex. The inscription on his grave at the Bayeux War Cemetery reads: 'Not just today dear, but every day in silence we remember.']

 

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The architect of the complex, costly and exhausting Normandy Campaign. Cultural and political tensions between Great Britain and the USA have masked his achievements in controversy. It can be argued that his insufferable hubris and confidence were vital to maintaining morale. But his arrogance provoked the Americans and made him enemies. It was always his plan that the British-Canadian armies would draw and exhaust the panzer divisions to enable the break out of the US armies. When the plan was realized and ahead of the anticipated schedule, Eisenhower as Supreme Commander, egotistically took over command of the field armies. It was after he took over that the Allies failed to end the war by Christmas 1944. Historians continue to argue somewhat bitterly that had Montgomery remained in command of the Allied armies, there would have been a successful punch-through into Northern Germany and the Western Allies would have reached Berlin before the Soviet Red Army. Montgomery had to persuade Eisenhower to approve the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden. If he had had the initiative himself he would have concentrated on an immediate push in the north two months before when the Germans were still in flight and had not been able to consolidate or rally their forces for the defence of their country.

 

23rd August 'The attack by 1/4 KOYLI was abandoned and it was decided to exploit the Br (bridge) head already secured by 147 Bde South of COQUANVILLIERS 5493. The bn was to move Southwards as rapidly as possible in MT (Motor Transport) to cross the river on 147 Bde sector and move Northwards along the East bank of the river to take CE BREUIL from the rear. The bn moved off in record time and cross the river by boat opposite the Chateau Du Boutemont without cas, thanks to the laying of a smoke screen across the left flank into which the enemy directed his fire. The bn moved Northwards with "B" Coy on the left along the rd and "A" Coy on the rt on the high ground.

The Comd Post moved with "B" Coy. MG (machine gun) fire was encountered by "B" Coy from X tracks at 547935. This proved very difficult to dislodge because of the very close country. Lt. Lucy was killed while gallantly leading his men to the attack. "B" Coy continued to infiltrate fwd and by 1540 hrs reported that the enemy had been destroyed. The Mortar PL and an MMG PL were in action on the west bank of the river and support was given by the Mortar Pl. Enemy shellfire cause cas among the MMG and Mortar Pls.

"D" Coy moved up between "A" & "B" Coys in order to carry out a turning movement against the enemy still holding up the adv. They were met by further MG fire however, and were also fired on by a 2 cm AA/A.Tk gun. 2/Lt Pugh was killed by this fire while leading his PL to the attack.

At the same time an enemy AFV was reported to be to the rear of the bn and a counter attack was launched on 147 Bde in its rear. Very hy (heavy) guns had also been located on the high ground at 5593. It became apparent that the bn was in an awkward posn, being surrounded by the enemy on the bank of a river at a point where no crossing existed.

At 1630 hurs 6 PW incl 1 Sjt Major, were taken by "A" Coy. On interrogation the Sjt Major stated that he had been ordered to hold the posn to the last round, but that when his coy was surrounded, referring tothe outflanking action carried out by a PL of "B" Coy, those who could do so withdrew to the high ground above the bn's posn. Hy shellfire was brough down on this posn and on the gun and mortar posns which had been located.

Enemy activity gradually lessened and at dusk demolitions could be heard by "B" Coy from the high ground 5593. More shellfire was brought down on this posn. Veh (vehicle) movement was also heard from this area, but was found to be 49 Recce Regt. News was also received that 2 GLOSTERS were going to pass through the bn's posns at first light, using the Br which had now been constructed at the 147 Bde brhead, where the counter attack had been driven off. It was later discovered that the bn inflicted 25 known cas on the enemy during the day. The 2 cm AA/A.Tk gun was also captured by the bn next day where it had been abandoned.

Cas: Offrs. Killed Lt. SP Pugh, Lt. S.A. Lucy.

O.Rs. Killed. 8 Wounded 20'

[24 year old Private Cyril Aistrop was killed on this day. He was the son of Clara Ann Aistrop, of Lansdowne Road, Sheffield. The inscription on his war grave reads: 'God shine thy brightest star on his grave, For he was good. Mother.

Private Harold Coupe, aged 28, was killed on this day. His widow Mrs Ivy Sabina Coupe lived in Slater Street, Sutton in Ashfield, Nottingham. He had been transferred from the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Acting Corporal John Dale, aged 27, was killed on 23rd August. His widow Elizabeth Caroline Dale lived at West Ella, near Hull. He was the son of William Henry and Jane Dale also of West Ella. The inscription on his war grave reads: 'He died that we might live. Loved always by his wife Betty and son John.'

Lance Sergeant Jack Richard Harry Durham, aged 28, died on this day. His wife Agnus Eileen Durham lived at Baring Road, Lee in London. He was the son of Richard George and Ada Emily Durham, of Bromley, Kent. The transcription on his grave at St Desir War Cemetery reads: 'In loving memory of our dear son. Though absent, always in our thoughts.'

23 year old Lieutenant Stephen Alexander Lucy was killed on this day. His parents Stephen and Brenda May Lucy lived at Trecynon in Aberdare, Glamorgan. The inscription on his grave at St Desir War Cemetery reads: 'Jesus, Mercy! Mary, Help. Lux Perpetua Luceat et Domine.' Lucy had been attached to the Hallamshires from the South Wales Borderers.

26 year old Private Herbert Parkinson was a fatal casualty on this day. His widow lived in Oxford Road, Gomersall Near Leeds.

21 year old Private Edward Walter Phipps had been in the Royal Artillery and died on 23rd August 1944. His family lived in Henley Road, Edmonton in London. He was the son of Frederick John and Caroline Phipps. The inscription on his grave at St Desir War Cemetery reads: 'We shall always think of you dear and miss your face. Your loving Mum and Dad.'

20 year old Lieutenant Stanley Robert Pugh was killed. He had been attached to the Hallamshires from the East Surrey Regiment. His parents Stanley Robert and Florence May Pugh lived in Bow, East London. The inscription on his grave at St Desir Cemetery reads: 'Sadly missed by those who lived him.'

Private Frank Dowell Sneyd, aged 21, was a fatal casualty on this day. He had been transferred from the Border Regiment. He was the son of Frank and Margaret Sneyd, and lived in Patricroft, Lancashire.

Lance Corporal John Withnall, aged 29, was killed on 23rd August 1944. His next of kin was his sister Mrs Rodbottom living in Bloxwich, Walsall, Staffordshire. He was the son of Josiah and Lily Withnall. The inscription on his war grave at St. Desir reads: 'With his right hand shall he cover them, And with his right arm shall he protect them.']

24th August 'At first light pats EST that the enemy had withdrawn, and the carrier PL penetrated to LE BREUIL where they found no enemy. 146 Bde was thus able to cross the river. 2 GLOSTERS passed through the bn and continue the adv towards CORMEILLES 6598. The bn was ordered to rest and bn HG moved back to the CHATEAU DE BOUTTEMONT, a beautiful house near COQUAINVILLIERS, where the dead were buried. The Bn was congratulated by the Brigadier on the previous day's fighting and on the celerity of the flank move in MT (motor transport) to the crossing places.'

25th August 'The bn remained at BOUTEEMONT.'

26th August 'The Bde moved along the axis to catch up the remainder of the Div. The bn harboured at LE PLESSIS 7101. 2/Lt. H.P. Toon joined the bn. '

[21 year old Private James Richard Hooker died on this day. He was the son of Frank Thomas Hooker and Clarinda Hooker, of Combe Gardens, New Malden, Surrey. The inscription on his grave in Banneville-law-Campagne war cemetery reads: 'In Loving memory of Jim. Silent thoughts and memories keep you forever near.']

27th August 'The Bde moved on again to cross the R. RISLE and take part in the clearing of the SEINE pocket. The bn harboured SE of APEVILLE 8602. The SEINE pocket now consisted of the FORET DE BROTONNE, the villages immediately to the SOUTH of it and the country to the West between PONT AUDEMER 7608 and QUILLEBOEUF 7821. The bn remained in res while 4 LINCOLNS and 1/4 KOYLI proceeded with the clearing of the QUILLEBOEUF peninsular. During the night a sdn of 40 Recce Regt was attacked by inf in the area 7416. "D" Coy was sent to relieve them, but the sit (situation) was restored and the enemy made off as they arrived.'

[Corporal Albert Edward Pellatt, aged 30, is listed as having been killed on this day. His widow Rosaria Pellett came from Hull and his parents William George and Martha Frances Pellatt lived in High Street, West Bromwich, Staffordshire. The inscription on his grave at St Desir War Cemetery reads: 'In loving memory of my husband. Always in our thoughts. Wife Rosaria and Margreth.']

28th August 'The bn moved to BOURNEVILLE 8412 and took over from a bn of the Queens, of 7 Armd Div. This bn proceeded with the clearing of the area South of the FORET DE BROTONNE, while the Hallamshires moved up towards AIZIER 8516, clearing that area. Little opposition was encountered until the afternoon when the Carrier PL, approaching from the direction of VIEUX PORT 8416 encountered enemy at AIZIER. "A" & "B" Coys moved up to the two rds leading to AIZIER from the South, but also encountered opposition and were unable to make progress. Pressure was maintained, however, and the enemy were harasseed by shellfire. During the night the enemy withdrew, but as contact had been maintained, the bn followed up quickly and occupied the village immediately. 64 PW (prisoners of war) were taken during the day.

Cas. O.Rs. Killed 3. Wounded 4.'

[18 year old Private George Morgan is listed as having been killed on this day. His father and mother, William and Edith Morgan, lived at Vale Road, Colwick, Nottingham. The inscription on his grave reads: 'Sweet are the memories silently kept, Of a son I loved dearly and will never forget.'

26 year old Private Martin Coyne died in action on 28th August 1944. He was the son of John and Elizabeth Coyne, of Bent Street, Blackburn, Lancashire. The inscription on his war grave at St Desir Cemetery reads: 'Eternal rest give unto him O Lord, And let perpetual light shine upon him.'

Private Harry Clayton, aged 27, was killed in action on this day. His widow Hilda lived at Parkgate, Rotherham. He was the son of George and Emma Clayton of Rotherham. The inscription on his grave at St Desir reads: 'Deep in our hearts, A memory is kept of one we loved and will never forget.'

19 year old Private Dennis Albert Biscoe died on this day. He was the son of Reginald Edward and Cicely Mary Biscoe who lived at Harrods Depository, Arundel Terrace, Barnes in London. The inscription on his war grave reads: 'Our Dennis we will not see until our race is run. Unto that morn - Our Son!'

24 year old Sergeant Peter Bene died in hospital from jaundice on this day. He was the son of Andrew and Mary Bene and his family lived in Bramley Street, Sheffield. The inscription on his war grave reads: 'We did not hear your last goodbye, So in our hearts you will never die.']

29th August 'At first light the bn continued adv along the Western edge of the FORET DE BROTONNE. The Carrier PL and "A" Coy encountered enemy MGs at LE FLAQ 868175. Interrogation of PW EST that a body of enemy about 100 strong were in posn in the village running SW from LE FLAQ. They were said to be defending the river crossing there and waiting for boats to come and rescue them. "B" Coy were sent through the woods to cut the rd at VAQUERIE 8717. "B" Coy were sent through the woods to cut the rd at VAQUERIE 8717. "D" Coy followed up, with the intention of moving down the valley at Le FLAQ. It was hoped to take a large number of PWs in this way. A firm base was EST in the woods by "C" Coy and the Comd Post set up there.

"B" Coy reached the rd successfully, but "D" Coy were delayed by losing their way in the forest. During the delay "B" Coy were pushed back and the enemy were able to escape along the banks of the Seine, which runs below the rd at this point and is obscured by trees. "C" Coy moved into the posn and found that the trap had been sprung, although a considerable quantity of eqpt, incl hors and motor tpt was found there. The adv was renewed by "C" Coy and the Carrier Pl. Opposition was again encountered at 892202. This was being dealt with, when the Bn was ordered to withdraw and consolidate at AIZIER in case any enemy tried to escape from the Eastern part of the forest, which had not yet been cleared, and use the crossing at AIZIER. The bn accordingly moved back, 13 PW were taken during the day.

Cas: O.Rs. Wounded 3.'

30th August 'At first light the Carrier PL recced as far as NEUVILLE 8921 and collected 39 PW who were hiding in the village. During the afternoon the BN moved back to a very pleasant area at VIEUX PURT to rest. A recce party crossed the SEINE and obtained infm that the far bank was unoccupied, thus the Hallamshires were the first tps of 49 Div across the SEINE. A limited number of bottles of champagne were obtainable, this being the first wine drunk by anyone in the unit during the campaign.'

[27 year old Lance Corporal Eric Stanley Benn MM (Military Medal) is listed as killed in action on this day. His mother Ada and father Edwin Stringer lived in Charlton Place, Leeds. His war grave inscription at St Desir Cemetery reads: 'Sheltered by the rock of ages.']

31st August 'The bn remained in rest at VIEUS PORT. During the afternoon Capt. Cowell and Cpl. Harding were travelling in a Jeep which struck a mine. Both were seriously wounded.'

[Private Arthur Parkin, aged 39, died on this day. His widow Evelyn Parkin lived at Old Park Road, Sheffield. He was the son of Arthur and Lucy Parkin, of Sheffield. The inscription on his grave at St Desir Cemetery reads: 'Peace Perfect Peace.']

The Attack on Le Havre

1st September 'The Bn was at rest in VIEUX PORT, when it was ordered to cross the river SEINE and to concentrate in the area of AUBERVILLE 8428 with the object of taking part in an attack on LE HAVRE using the railway bridge at ROUEN for M.T. and the ferry at CAUDEBEC for marching tps. As this meant a long march for marching tps permission was applied for to cross in local boats which had been found and patched up by the Pnrs at VIEUX PORT thus saving 8 miles of marching. Permission was given for one Coy to cross in this manner. This was successfully accomplished in spite of a swift current which meant haulage on either bank between journeys.

As a result when the Bn was given the option of moving the rest of the marching tps this way, provided they completed the crossing by 2100 hrs, it was decided to cross only the Comd Post and 'O' Gp with a man-handled 19 set at VIEUX PORT as the time of crossing was so dependent on the tides. After an adventurous journey in leaky boats competing with a fast current, the Comd Post and 'O' GP moved inland in a charcoal burning lorry which was put at our disposal by the F.F.I. (French Resistance Forces) This veh could not climb the steep hill on the direct road and thus the Comd Post and 'O' GP liberated LILLEBONNE en route after dark, receiving a great ovation.

It then joined "C" Coy in the concentration area to wait for the rest of the bn. The rest of the marching tps were placed on the unit and supporting arms vehs while the other bns of the brigade had to march.'

2nd September 'At 0700 hrs the Bn had not arrived in the conc area. Accordingly, the Commanding Officer went to ROUEN to meet them. It was found that the bridge was an improvised affair built on the ruins of a blown railway bridge. Crossing was very slow, furthermore, the "B" Echelon of all units moved with their unit's vehs, several other fmns were also using the Br which had been allotted solely to 49 Div. Although it had started to move at 2000 hrs the previous evening, it was 1300 hurs before the bn's first veh crossed the Br at ROUEN 28 miles from VIEUX PORT. The Bn was complete in the conc area 27 miles beyond ROUEN by 1700 hrs, having had no sleep. It moved fwd behind 4 LINCOLNS to take up a posn at ROUTOT 6228, while 4 LINCOLNS cleared the enemy from their outpost posn at GAINNEVILLE 5928. It would have been much quicker to have crossed all marching tps by ferry at VIEUX PORT although this might not have been completed before dark, or alternatively, to have marched.'

3rd September '1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. now moved fwd on the left of 4 LINCOLNS, both bns patrolling fwd to discover the locn and extent of the LE HAVRE defs. In the afternoon HALLAMSHIRES came under comd of 56 Bde, who were advancing on LE HAVRE from the NORTH EAST. As 56 Bde had only 2 coys of one Bn across the SEINE, the Bn, with one sqn tanks under comd, moved via ROLLEVILLE to probe fwd onthe axis FONTENAY 5534 - Pt 685330. The Bn stopped in the farms and copses at 540330 for the night, without having made direct contact with the enemy. During the night patrols were sent to MONTIVILLIERS Sta, X tracks at 542317, LES MURETS Fm, X rds at 535234 and FREVILLE. No contact was made with the enemy and the Pnrs commenced clearing the minefd at X rads 535234 in the dark.

The bn was ordered to continue to probe fwd the following day if this could be done without casualties, preparatory to handing over to 2 GLOSTERS. In the afternoon the Corps Comd issued an ultimatum to the Comd of the Garrison. This was rejected. 8 PW were taken during the day.

Cas: O.Rs. Wounded 2.'

4th September. 2 PW were brought in by a first light patrol from "B" Coy. One PL each from both "A" and "B" Coys moved fwd towards pt 68, each supported by one tp tks. Soon after crossing the Start Line the tps came under observation from the main enemy defs. The enemy DF task was brought down and the tps were ordered to withdraw. The Brigadier subsequently confirmed that no further move fwd was to take place. The Bn then remained in observation locating enemy posts and bringing down mortar and arty concs on them from a perfect O.P. (Observation Post) Shelling of the Bn area also took place with shells of heavy calibre. In the evening 2 GLOSTERS took over, and the Bn returned in MT to ROUTOT, in the pouring rain, arriving at midnight.

Cas: O.Rs. Wounded 8.'

5th September 'The Bn remained in Bde res at ROUTOT. LE HAVRE was bombed by the RAF.'

 

49th Division soldiers preparing the assault on Le Havre

 

6th September 'The Bn remained at rest in the area at ROUTOT and now had to consider the possibility of carrying out four roles in the assault on LE HAVRE.

(a) To pass through a Bn of 56 Bde, who were attacking from the NORTH.

(b) To pass through a Bn of 147 Bde, who were attacking from the NORTH EAST via MONTIVILLIERS.

(c) To pass through the fwd Bn of 146 Bde, who were attack from the East.

(d) To carry out a left flanking movement on LE HAVRE, i.e. moving along the low ground beyond the canal along the NORTH bank of the SEINE.

In view of the possibility of (d), the Commanding Officer carried out a recce of the area Br over the canal to rd junc 614262. The Br was found to be blown. Conflicting reports from the F.F.I. who were observing the buildings in area 5726 - 5826 regarding the strength of the enemy in these buildings made it necessary for a recce patrol to be sent out that night. Capt A.C. Somers commanded the patrol, which cross the canal by night. The buildings were found to be unoccupied.

The following offrs joined the Bn:-

Major J.A. Boucher. D.L.I.

Capt. G.B. Murray. D.L.I.

Capt. S.H. Smith R.WARWICKS.

Lieut. R.E. Judge. W.YORKS.

Major J.H. Mott left the Bn.'

In the preparations for the attack on Le Havre, the Battalion held a parade service in an open field. It was taken by Padre Thomas. A photograph was taken of the Padre in his dog collar and cassock. Ten to twenty yards away Lieutenant John H Crook can be seen talking to another officer - the only image existing of his time in Normandy in 1944.

 

John Crook can be seen standing in his beret just to the left of Padre Thomas' right arm.

 

John Crook was injured during the preparations for the full assault on Le Havre on 10th September 1944. It was while liaising between "D" Company's position and the Battalion's Command Post that he crashed into a tree on an army motorcyle. The accident occured on 9th September and so he missed the action.

[The action at Le Havre resulted in very few casualties compared to the advance from Chateau le Boutemont to Le Brueil.

28 year old Private Stanley Walter Dicker died on 1st September 1944 and is buried at Gloucester Old Cemetery. He was the son of Walter Edward and May Dicker; husband of Claryce Joan Dicker, of Gloucester. It is possible he died from wounds received in an earlier action.

25 year old Lance Corporal Wilfred Field died on 5th September 1944 and is buried at St Maries Church Yard, Le Havre. His wife Anna lived at Hove Edge, Brighouse, Yorkshire.

Private Ronald Lion Harding, aged 25, died on 7th September. His family lived at Tom Lane in Sheffield. The inscription on his war grave at St Desir reads: 'Sleeping in Heavenly Rest.']

The Hallamshires participated in the capture of the town and harbour of Le Havre. They encountered limited resistance. "B" and "D" companies were the first to reach the docks area. The Hallamshires also took on the role of preventing the Germans from making the port and its harbour installations unusable by demolition.

As "C" Company crossed the canal bridge into the docks, enormous explosions took place, parts of the lock gates and rubble were hurled high into the air and crashed down among the men. After several hours of hard and hazardous work, "C", "B" and later "D" Companies successfully dealt with the whole area with the exception of the South Mole. This was a strip of land about a mile long and a hundred yards wide, studded with large concrete pill-boxes.

As darkness was coming on, Hart Dyke with a platoon of "D" Company crossed the wooden railway viaduct on to the mole. Most of the pillboxes were not defended and over 80 German officers and men surrendered. By 2200 hours, when it was quite dark, the whole mole had been cleared and with that the capture of Le Havre was complete.

A total of 1005 P.O.Ws, one submarine and three Dornier aircraft were captured. The Battalion War diary states 'It was fortunate that the enemy offered little resistance.'

However, one officer, Lieutenant H McNeile was shot through the head by a sniper. There are conflicting accounts about the fate of the sniper following his capture. Given the brutal nature of war, it can now be assumed he was probably executed summarily.

15 other ranks were wounded although 5 were able to stay on duty. During the shelling that accompanied the assault Hart Dyke received a shrapnel wound to his hand and Major Peter Newton also took a splinter in his buttocks.

It is only right to state that Hart Dyke proved himself to be a brilliant and effective infantry battalion commanding officer. His impatience with battlefield stress (made clear in his book 'Normandy to Arnhem'), and eccentric disciplinarian manner are not untypical of the esprit de corps of soldiers who have to lead other men in war.

Vendes must have been one of many desperately horrific days in the Normandy campaign. He had been forced to lead his battalion in a suicidal attack planned as a diversion and attritional 'drawing off'.

Stephen Spielberg's screenplay of "Saving Private Ryan" contains a silly reference to Montgomery's army not breaking out quickly enough during the Normandy campaign. The reality is an entirely different story.

The British suffered more casualties than the Americans or Canadians in Normandy. That is not to diminish the significance of any Allied casualties. Montgomery's 21st Army group drew in and engaged the German armoured divisions in a battle of attrition so that a breakout by General Patton's American army, and General Horrocks' British XXX Corps could take place.

 

The Second World War Cemeteries of Normandy

 

The people who had to fight that depressing attritional battle included the Hallamshires and many other civilian territorial regiments of the British Army. The action at Vendes was a classic example of what Normandy was all about. Heavily defended positions in close ground. Alternating and disorientating explosions of noise, shouting, screaming and sudden silence. The most revolting smell of death from human and animal bodies. The clouds of flies and mosquitos.

So many good men died in this bloody battle and the bloody skirmishes and engagements during the pursuit of the Germans North West of Caen towards Belgium and Holland.

It has to be said that the experiences of the brave Hallamshires and their comrades in "D" Company 1/4 K.O.Y.L.I. give us some idea of the awful sacrifice they made for their country and the future of Europe.