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- V W B Hiscock
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- 01 June 2004
Unedited extract from the diaries of my father, Victor W.B. Hiscock hand written during World War 11 - from just before D-Day
Well here we were in France, at Courseulled Sur Mer the CSm told us we had a “b… place to go where six men had been killed by shell fire.” We of the marching party set off with our kit and marched to Banville to bivouac in an orchard. We trod warily on the beach in case of mines, and all along the roads noted German and English signs warning against mines. I remember that I was surprised to see notices written in French! At the orchard we were told many tales of women snipers, and Banville church spire had sheltered Hun snipers until a Sherman tank had shot the spire away, but no sooner had we eaten our first meal from out 24 hour ration pack and looked at the first English papers to come over, than Capt. Sharpe from Survey came for us and we went by truck to a farm at S. Vigor le Grand near Bayeux and soon I found myself on guard, in the darkness, and wondering whether any Germans would try and get through the gates that the CSM had carefully locked up. Yet this night was quite quiet after nights on the ship and all the activities and all I saw was some distant ack ack.
Next morning we moved to Caugy Farm, a short distance away, and spent Saturday night in a ditch with Mullins and Dawson, the next day moving into a room at the farm. Quite a lot of artillery fire near us, and ack ack at night, but during the day it was the sound of our planes that filled the sky. Fatigues was our only work here except for the Repro sections.
30th June we moved east to S. Babriel near Creully, in the grounds of the chateau les Mares, where we were under canvas which can mean anything from a groundsheet to a tent RA, or if one holds a commission, in the chateau. The nights are usually noisy with artillery fire (ours) but so far have not seen a German plane except one or two ‘possibles’.
So far, the 6th July, all the technical work I have done is draw two grids, but topo commenced outdoor work today. Daily rifle inspection, and already there are general complaints about the standard of saluting. Varied reports re Benson maps. 7 July we are watching at 10pm hundreds of our four engined bombers going safely through the Hun flak, seemingly at Caen, and a marvellous sight it is with plenty of fighter cover overhead; one plane however was hit and dived vertically into the Channel as it tried to make its way back to England: we saw at least five men bail out.
Sat.8th: I went via Army HQ at Creully, to an orchard near Putot en Bessin where I was supposed to supervise, but actually did most of the drawing of, a defence over print for 43 Division. It was of the Caen Evecy area and the details were gained from patrols, air photos and statements from Hun prisoners. We were about three miles out of Caen and I saw a dense pall of smoke over the town caused by last night’s bombing. Over our heads shells whistled from our artillery and blast from their firing shook my trouser legs as I worked in the tent. About 3pm I saw photos of the Caen bombing. In the evening I went to 8 Corps ADIS at a wood near Lantheuil, additions, and in the OPS room heard of the battle reports. Left here about 1am in the eerie small hours and on the way saw glow worms in the grass, vying with the star shells over Caen area: transport by the wayside, attended by the dim outline of sentries, squeezed, in our jeep, through traffic jams, low commands in the darkness, noticed a large Red cross ambulance speeding to the front. When I arrived back a few solitary raiders were over, causing one hell of a barrage from our ack ack as they flew to the coast where flares were dropped. On the road, one sometimes wonders why the traffic keeps to the right: intense clouds of dust, and uneven roads that one would call mere tracks in England.
Sunday 9th: We are told that Caen has fallen, but still our artillery rumbles away in the distance.
Wed 12th: During the small hours an enemy plane flew over firing its guns: it was too low for our gunners to fire at it at first, and it seemed to me as I lay in the tent, that the perisher was picking out our tent especially, but probably it was some distance away, but most nights I lay wondering, with my heart beating overtime, in case the flak came through the canvas. I went sick today and went by ration truck to Bayeux. We passed an ‘Ammo Issue Point’, a very large area of stacks of things dispersed over a large area of cornfields and pasture land by the road side, often no fences and no barbed wire to enclose it. Red sign boards ‘Tank and Anti Tank’, ‘Infantry’ etc. Dust, white dust, everywhere, in billows, coming up over the back of the truck, and covering the hedges so thickly as to look like snow. Traffic jams in plenty, and I heard it said that there is enough transport over here to have one truck to every five men. (As a matter of fact Winston Churchill also said this sometime later). The MO was a unit of about 20 or so. One man complained of his stomach, “Is it better than it was?” This is where he went wrong because he answered “Yes”.
“Ah, you are getting better then; time is a healer in all things.” And that piece of advice he gave to several of the men, and I have an idea that his medical supplies were rather low, and he tried to make up for lack of stock by telling the talk; a cheery soul however, and he greeted each man, “Well, what can we do for you?” I saw little of Bayeux, spending all my time getting a very overdue hair cut, and the two French hairdressers talked so very much, and always stopped work when they did so, and it seemed their contention was that those who were not attended to today, would come tomorrow. Probably this is the wrong thing to say, but my only description of the town is that it is old and dirty. I notice that most small French boys wear a pinafore-like smock over their clothes. We had a quarter of a slice of white bread today.
Fri 14th: We saw our chaps shoot down a Hun plane this evening and the pilot baled out, and later a Hun flew low, whipping over our tent, and we had a lively spell with low flying flak etc. Mon 17th: Bottle ale today and another half slice bread. Sun 23rd: Thundering noisy again in the small hours. One hears, unexpectedly, church bells: I should like to hear the sound of a good old English train. Mon 24: The MO at Sommerville syringed my left ear today. Wed 26th: Csm Keep, orderly officer of last night, put me on a charge for rust on my rifle at guard mounting, but OC in a rather informal interview tore up the charge sheet. Sun 30th: Film show ‘The Sullivancs’ at the old workhouse in Villiers le Sec.
Sat 12th August: We came in convoy via Coulambs, Andrieu, Villers Bocage, to a farm near Bieville, 3 K West of Villers B. - some places such as Tilly and Villers were completely desolate and I believe we did not see a civilian the whole way. In V.Bacage a person, handing us a couple of apples, nonchalantly told us that he was burying Germans, but he did not know where he was, except that it was France. Dead ewes in the fields, smashed tanks, burnt out lorries, brown and broken trees and hedgerows where bullets and shells had passed through them, mines along the verges and in the fields, dust, dust everywhere. At once messes were made for officers and sergeants, and the men did not think this right on active service. Three of us had to see the OC because of matters in our letters, although he let mine through, saying he would not stop me writing, but I must not talk about such things. Our section is in a barn, sleeping upstairs, working below. A few rats disturb our slumbers, but we are gradually catching them with the aid of Vearncomb’s special traps. There are villages close by, in which quite a number of the houses are undamaged, but all the people have gone, and their belongings are scattered over the place in great confusion, and some of our chaps drink of the large stocks of cider, though this is called looting, but officers and sergeants drink it from this farm, and now we have been told that we may buy it at 3f per pint, but I do not imagine many will avail themselves of the offer.
Fri 18th: We went by truck to make our way to a mobile baths, but got lost, and we began to wonder whether we would finally fetch up in the German lines. Though Villers is demolished, Aunay is even worse, except for its church, and is a mound of dust and small stones. Practically every house that we passed in this area is damaged, as seemingly the Huns used the houses as defensive points.
The dust on the roads is colossal, flying about only to settle in some other place where it considers it can turn to better account as mud, when the rains come. It jollies along behind vehicles on the road, making so as to pass, but then cunningly, quietly, pours into the back of the truck, embracing with overwhelming affection anything and everything. It ascends, billows along with great inquisitiveness: it is the evil spirit of earth’s crust, a whip-poor-will, flying from its birth-place, a plaything of the winds, dancing in whirls at road corners, grates on ones teeth, and in five minutes makes a clean rifle the mere shadow of its former self.
Wed 24th: To Villiers le Sec to the cinema again, a two hour journey each way. There, some French ATS were telling the old people of the fall of Paris, and there was much joy, and the oft repeated word “Paree”. En route, at one point, at the edge of a wood, at the bottom of the hill, next to a smashed farm house, bomb craters in the road, battered tank in the gate-way, brown and broken trees, a pond, and a hell of a smell, making one think of dead bodies in the water. Roadsign “Casualties have been caused in this village by booby traps.”
Fri 25: On the move again, through Villers B ( a destroyed tiger tank still sprawled by the road in the town’s centre) Aunay. The hilly country through which we now passed was in direct contrast to the flat Normandy in which we had lived till now. Over a Bailey Bridge, that replaced a demolished stone bridge At Croiselle Harcourt, and so through a district of wooded ravines, the ‘hilly country’ and ‘high ground’ of the war reporter’s recent despatches. Thury Harcourst, a name that will be remembered by the Canadians for a long while, a and eight km farther, a village with a pond and an awful smell. Above a group of high beech tress towered above a wooden observation post: in the cornfields posts had been erected to deter our airborne landings, and I wondered with what good grace the French farmers saw the Germans puts them there.
Clair Tizon, Ussy. After leaving here we were caught in one of the many traffic jams, and this one on a hill top in open country, an excellent target for the Luftwafte, if there was a Luftwafte. The boldly written MARIE in black letters on a white painted house in Villers Capivet. We did not stop for food, Capt Relton being in charge, and all we had were the biscuits that we brought ourselves, and as I doled some out in our truck, I thought of Gail handing out sandwiches at picnics in England.
Falaise, a ruined city that must once have been a fine city: the cathedral still bearing a certain dignity as we approached it up the hill of the Rue de Caen. A notice in the city said “The Penalty for Looting is Death.”
Fresne la Mere. Open country again, looking very peaceful, except for an occasional overturned and burnt out German vehicle, these signs of the watchfulness of the RAF. Several captured Hun vehicles were being driven by our own men, and some chaps shewed evident delight in snorting noisily along in a car that a very short while ago housed a jerry officer. In towns one noticed adverts of British commodities such as Shell petrol and singer Sewing machines etc. Groovy. After an expanse of peaceful countryside one comes out of town to the village of Chambois, and here is the awful carnage caused among the Germans by the RAF Racket Typhoons. Smashed lorries and tanks, very many dead Germans and parts of Germans, one hanging grotesquely from his tank, upside down, and some one had tied a traffic notice to his remains, grotesque bloated creatures, dead horses, hundreds of steel helmets and equipment, and fearful stench of putrid flesh. Here we passed some of our infantry, marching to the front, in shirt sleeves looking hot and dirty, but then everything and everybody on the roads are covered by the insinuating grey dust.
Avenalle. We were held up again in our convoy to allow priority traffic to go through, which included the 43rd Wisler Division. Here a small POW camp, Gace. Echauffor, and so to the Chateau Castelnau in the Foret D’Evroult. The Huns left here four days ago, and there are tales of snipers in the woods. We are the nearest Survey Corp to the front, and now we hear that we are no longer needed as surveyors, as the advance is so quick, and we many be disbanded. The GS Section is too far back for us to get daily mail.
Sept.3: The fifth anniversary of the war and we left the chateau and proceeded through Evroult at 11am, where some of us were offered cider. The church bell called the people to worship, and women wearing black, with black veils, like widows weeds hanging from their hats, made us wonder whether they are all widows, or so dressed for church. One notes glass insulators on telegraph poles.
LAIGLE, which is in a badly damaged condition, including the bridge which has been replaced by a Bailey construction. Hotel de Paris in the main street, and quite a lot of bunting from the houses. The road leading to S. Michel de la Fôret is tree lined.
CHANDAI is at 12.15, is slightly damaged, and then to a district of open country and cornfields. Refugees on the roads, walking, cycling, in trucks and carts, and most of them wave cheerfully, to my surprise. A good many FFI, Free Forces of the Interior, and Maqui, are noticeable. Vermeil is undamaged, as is Tillins Sur Aure. By one of the many destroyed and burnt out trucks by the roadside, was a grave, on the cross of which, was a burned Hun helmet.
Rousset D’Ason. Same signs of conflict, road craters, over which our truck driver ‘Shorty’ carefully picked his way, with regard for us nine or so chaps in the back, perched on the drawing section and Coy. office stores.
La Madeline de Nanancourt is undamaged. Next a destroyed Hun aerodrome, smashed hangars and shell and bomb pocked airfield. Coudres, and near here a grave by a smashed Hun gun site, marked “Adolf S Hitler”. Farther along the route and yet another aerodrome pitted bomb craters, but now occupied by the RAF.
Andre de L’eure. Boisset la Pavanchees and a railway station, then through a land of woods and vales.
Pacy Sur Eure Fresney, very little damaged. Over the River Eure on a Bailey bridge. After Brecourt we met a convoy of ducks carrying German POW, a great many of whom appeared to be of the Mongol type; only two smiled, but they all smelt horribly and looked to be very dirty and exhausted. Across the Seine on a Bailey bridge (that was constructed in 8 hours) at Vernon. The ‘natives’ are friendly and nearly every body waved, and flags were hung out everywhere.
Next a land of open plains, to Corbie and along the usual avenue of trees to Les Thillins en Vixen and leaving here one gained a fine panoramic view of distant undulating country.
Gamaches and more bunting. Etrapagny, Heudicaourt, Mainneoille, Newfmarche, Gourrey en Bray. In a valley Gerberay, Larquere at 8.30pm. Merseilles en Beauvoises, Fontaine, Halloy and at Grandvillier saw a FFI bring in a Hun on a bicycle, and the Frenchman carried one of the Hun’s boots: this town was much damaged.
Sommeraux. Darkness now fell and somewhere here we became lost, but our route lay through Beaudeduit, Belleuse, Country to a crossroads at 0034215 where it was decided to bivouac for the night, as some of the convoy had also fallen by the way, but by the time we had been served a little warm tea DR found us and we moved through the dimly moonlit countryside that appeared in the bad light to consist of large plains devoid of fences and hedges, with the eternal tree lined roads. Eventually we arrived at 1.30am close to Saleux about 4 miles wet of Amiens, where in a grey half light we were told to fall in with bedding and rifles and ammo and the OC told us that we were on our own, and that the woods contained desperate Huns, and that our arms should always be to hand. We trailed in double file up steps out in a high bank, nobody making much noise, as we had already heard how one of our hoards had shot a German the night previously, but I was soon asleep in a bush so recently vacated by a German.
Mon 4th: I awoke to hear the CSM declaiming that “there are 15 of the bastards in the village” and just afterwards saw 3 Hun prisoners coming in under escort; the FFI had captured them and handed them over to us. This place is reported to have been an HQ of Rommel and took two years to build, but was used only three weeks. It comprised a group of five large huts, excellently camouflaged on a small ridge covered with trees and camouflage netting with extensive underground shelter and passages linking the whole area and even the cookhouse and mess or concert hall, some 500 yards away. We had half dozen Russians helping us, they were prisoners of the Hun’s from Stalingrad and were forced to labour for the Germans under very bad conditions. The 519, 521 Coys and 1,2,3GS Sections are with us in the same area. The chief Maqui in the village is an Irishman.
Thurs 7th: Arose at 4am and left about 6.30 through cobbled streeted Amiens. At Albert an imposing red brick cathedral at the top of which is a figure that looked something like the statue Liberty — but may not be! Pozieres and a military cemetery, wall enclosed and inscribed in English to commemorate the British dead of the last war. Tree lined roads, the trees looked as if they had been planted since the last war. No guide posts etc. have been removed, so I wonder whether the Germans really expected invasion. Another English cemetery. Cultivated land here and an absence of fields and hedges. Narrow red and white poles at level crossings. Red brick houses predominate in Bapaume, a famous name of the last war. Still tree lined roads, as indeed most of the roads are. Aanother cemetery near Loweral, “Les Cooperateurs” the local Coop, at Fontaine Notre Dame. Cambrai and canal; old and new war damage; one could see the ‘patches’ on the cathedral.
Tray, Lien Stanard, collieries in the distance. Light railway at Rowignies, propelled by overhead cable. Valencienmes and canal. Well kept park. Here a funeral, plumed horses, open hearse, preceded by cross bearer, clergy and choir boys, and at the rear, quite a lone procession, and the houses front was covered with a large black cloth and cross. The showing of Belgian flags commences. S.Sauleve and much waving.
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