History - EY HistoryNORMANDY - 28th/29th June, 1944
This article was written by BSM J.V. Brown. Troop Sgt. Major of ‘A’ Troop of 413 Battery of 147th (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment RA on D Day, 6th June 1944 and during the subsequent fighting throughout the Normandy Campaign. He was awarded the Commander-in- Chief’s Certificate for Gallantry. Now aged 86, his memory of the events of June 1944 is still vivid.
‘Towards the end of June 1944, the Regiment was still on Point 103, and the rumour was rife that plans were being made for the 8th Armoured Brigade to attempt to break through the German defences between St. Pierre and Tilly sur Seulles. The attack would be spearheaded by the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry supported by 413 Battery (A and B Troops) of the Essex Yeomanry. In the late afternoon of the 28th June, ‘A’ Troop moved forward to a position about 1,500 yards from the road running between St. Pierre and Tilly, with St. Pierre to the left front. BHQ and ‘B’ Troop were some distance behind us. A range of trees about 50 yards in front of our position obscured St. Pierre, but what was left of the Church Steeple was clearly visible over the top of the trees. I remember telling the No. 1 not to use the Steeple as a gun aiming pointas its chances of survival were minimal! The right boundary of our position was a large stream, on the other side of which were tall bull-rushes and general thicket - the ground sloped up towards Tilly. The left was open, with clumps of trees - the ground sloped slightly upwards, but more steeply so to Point 103 on our left rear. Everyone instinctively had an uneasy feeling about the place - I know I did; we felt so exposed with very little cover and so near to St. Pierre!
At 9 o’clock that night (28th June) Lt. Hicks arrived at our position, as a replacement for Lt. Gregson who had been wounded on the run-in to the beach on D Day. I at once took him round our position and explained the general situation. By this time we had heard German voices coming from the other side of the stream to our right, and I had already arranged roving patrols in pairs. These patrols carried on all through the night, with no lights and as little noise as possible. Lt. Hicks “wanted me” to lead a patrol across the stream, engage the enemy and take some prisoners! I “managed to dissuade him”!! German tanks could be heard all night moving along the road between St. Pierre and Tilly - no-one in the Troop even thought of sleeping! Just after dawn, I stood down the patrols, so that they could brew-up etc. as the German voices had now stopped, as had the movement of the enemy tanks.
I had just started to walk round the Troop position and was talking to Sgt. Munson by his SP, when fire orders came through. His gun layer was not there, so I climbed onto the SP and acted as his No.3. I remember the original range was 1,200 yards but this came down rapidly and the last time I fired it was only 700 yards. The firing lasted about 10 minutes and when it stopped I ran over to the Command Post to see what was happening, as the last range was so close. Lt. Hicks and his signaller, Gnr. Forsyth, were in their slit trench, but before I could get any information I heard Sgt. King shouting to me from his SP.
I dashed over at once, and had just reached him when all hell broke loose. It seemed to be a combination of shells and mortars, and probably only lasted a few minutes, but the whole Troop position had been straddled. Fortunately we were well spaced out. The Command Post Half-track was ablaze, and although the duty signaller, Albert Jay, was pulled clear, he was badly wounded and lost a leg. The slit trench where Lt. Hicks and his signaller were had received a direct hit. I did not realise until some time later, that if I hadn’t gone over to see what Sgt. King wanted I would have been blown up with them. Our other Officer, Lt. Mitchell, had been wounded as had various members of the SP crews, some seriously. Help soon arrived from BHQ and ‘B’ Troop.
The Regimental Medical Officer, Capt. Sinclair, soon arrived, followed closely by Col. Phayre in his tank, and our Troop Commander, Capt. Warburton. The Colonel called me over to his tank and instructed me to withdraw the Troop to Point 103 at once. He was smoking a cigarette, and this was the only time in the war I ever saw him smoke. He stressed the urgency of the withdrawal - there was the possibility of a follow-up ground attack by the enemy, and we had no infantry support - in fact, there were no other British troops in sight! The Colonel’s actual words to me, which I remember very clearly, were, “For god’s sake get the men out of here, Sgt. Major – I shall probably be in trouble over it, but get the Troop back to Point 103 at once”.
After supervising the withdrawal and the last SP had gone, I suddenly remembered that I had gone on the recce there the day before on a motorcycle, which I had propped up against a tree near the Command Post! I had forgotten all about it, and momentarily I felt very vulnerable as by this time the rest of the Troop were out of sight and I felt really alone! I didn’t know whether the motorcycle had been damaged or even that it was still there. I dashed over to it and it looked OK - I was soon able to start it. I wasted no time in catching up with the rest of the Troop, just before they reached Point 103.
Something that worried me afterwards for a long while, was the fact that on that morning, just as it was light, a figure appeared from the row of trees to our left front and stood looking at us. Being suspicious, I went over to him and he claimed he was the local farmer -he pointed his house out to me which was just visible in the trees. I still didn’t like it, but on the basis that farmers do get up early, I decided to let him go. I have since felt that he gave our exact position to the Germans in St. Pierre. He was definitely a Frenchman but not all the civilians in Normandy were pleased to see us. This would, of course, account for the fact that the German fire accurately straddled our position.
To think that this Troop Position has ever since been referred to by members of ‘A’ Troop as Happy Valley!’
Sgt-Major – ‘A’ Troop
This is an extract from the EYA Journal 2001.