- Contributed by
- The Stratford upon Avon Society
- People in story:
- Len Payne
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 July 2005
40 - Len Payne, born in 1924, was in the 6th Airborne Division and is a D Day veteran:
“The War came and I came along, 18, and I thought, I tell you what, I will volunteer for the Army and see what they say. So I went to Cardiff to join the Royal Corps of Signals, and they took me in, and I went up to Catterick, did some work up there learning to be a radio signaller, and I joined the 6th Airborne Division.
[Excuse me if I talk badly, but I have had a few problems with a stroke, I lost my words, for a long time and I still… I get through very well, but I do have problems with coming out with things.]
My preparations for D Day started in March ’42. Now in 1942 life was very different: we never heard of Macdonalds, we had pieces, and crumpets, we never had disposable nappies, and we never heard of FM radio or word processors, and a chip was a piece of wood or a fried potato you see, and we had no mobile phones, and in those days cigarette smoking was fashionable, grass was mowed, coke was kept in the coal house and a joint was a piece of meat we had on Sundays, and we had no sliced bread, no. And the top 10 used to be the 10 Commandments, and that shows how things were different then.
I was attached to the First Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles there, a pile of Irishmen, a lot of wild men, very good men. We moved up into the Oxford area in the middle of May ’44 when we were put into compounds, and there we had no contact with anyone outside the compound. In fact we had armed soldiers to keep us in strict isolation. And we were told there what we had to do, what our job was going to be.
We were to go in Horsa gliders, all wood. We were dropped before we got over the French coastline. I am just trying to get a name — Halifax Bombers! We were towed by Halifax bombers, and when the gliders have taken off, the glider is towed up and the glider takes off first before the aeroplane takes off. Our objective was to make the (Pegasus) Bridge secure, which we did. And of course when we landed on Normandy, we hit these poles which our Intelligence knew nothing about, and made us a bit of a mess when we landed, actually.
We took a jeep and a trailer in our glider. A glider would take about 38 men, plus a pilot and a co-pilot, and we had a jeep and a trailer and 3 of us men looking after it, with our wireless equipment. We only had sten guns. We then had to hold the higher country to the left of the bridgehead over the top of Caen. We were due to come out after a few days, but things didn’t go quietly as they should do, and we stayed up until August, and we went up to the River Seine chasing the Germans.
Whenever we went after the Germans we could always smell them. Now it wasn’t an unpleasant smell, but it was just peculiar, and we said it must be the soap they use. I talked to a German prisoner of war and he said the soap is carbolic soap with perfume, and mixed with stuff for cleaning bugs and things off, and every soldier was issued with it.
Back to our glider landing — we took a little while to get our equipment out because it was rather muddled up, so as we set off to find where the rest of the Battalion were, we passed two farms, and orders had been given that there would not be any looting, but having a look in the first farm, we found some amazing food, the like of which we had never seen in England. In their cellar was many hams, many cheeses, many sides of bacon, many wines and many jars of fruit; there was plenty of everything, so we helped ourselves to one or two things!
At the other farm they gave us a drink. Now Normandy was a great cider area, and from cider they made calvados which is a very strong spirit; that was what we were given as a drink, and it certainly gave me quite a shock going down inside, it was very scaly!
When we had landed on D Day, we had our own two days’ food on our own body at first, which was basically hard chocolate — a big block. You had two of these, one for each day, and you had biscuits and one or two things, little tablets for making tea in a thing, and after two days in Normandy, we were fitted out (the beach people joined us up pretty quickly) and in fact the British forces came through and were going to take over from us, and take on the Germans in front of them, and as things went . . .
Things went badly wrong; we were supposed to be packing up and going home, when suddenly troops came back and said must get back to the beaches, we are getting out, beaten up here, and the Germans suddenly appeared, and we had to stay and defend and sort these Germans out, because they came in anywhere and everywhere, and we were up there for what, a good six weeks with them in front of us, and we had quite a hectic week.
You see, although I was a wireless operator, you had to be trained to be a fighter, you understand what that means, and we were mucking around, shooting from a window one day, when another fellow standing next to me went ooh! And I looked at him and I didn’t recognize him, a bullet had gone in his face, in one side and out of the other; and I looked at him and I said do you feel all right? I thought that was a stupid thing to say — anyway, I shouted out for a bloke with a stretcher, and so things like that.
And after this two days’ food, they started sending these boxes in, what they used to call ‘fourteen men packs’…no, that’s right, on the third day after D Day we made contact with troops from the beach, and we were supplied with more food. Now that food came in big boxes which were called ’14 men packs’, and there were tins of stew, steak and kidney pudding, fruit, butter, jam, sweets, hard biscuits, cigarettes, matches and many other things. Now the tinned stew and the tinned steak and kidney puddings were rather special, because in those tins they had a little cap on top of the tin, which you pulled, and the tin produced a chemical action and the tin became very hot.
Now the hard biscuits, terrible things they were, they came in these big boxes, they came in a large tin and from these large tins we used to make little ovens out of them! And then we ground up the hard biscuits into something like flour, mixed it with water, put that into the oven and made it like a cake, a hard cake, and we put butter and jam on them, and that was more pleasant than the hard biscuits — the hard biscuits would make one’s mouth rather sore, as I say.
On about the 7th or 9th day, it was arranged for some of us in groups, to be taken back to the beach area where we had baths, and fresh underclothes,and that was very good and refreshing. It was amazing what they got on that beach on those things - what they got there, it was really fantastic. So we were also to keep ourselves clean, shaving every day, keeping our feet clean and generally keeping ourselves tidy.
And another thing, at about that time we were given bread, a half a slice, it was fantastic, it was really nice. And as time went on the bread increased and we got off the hard biscuits, and that was great!
[Here Neville Usher, the interviewer, reads Len Payne’s son’s letter printed in the Stratford Herald on the 60th Anniversary of D Day this year:]
“In the early hours of the 6th June 1944 my father took part in D Day. As his son, he’s only previously mentioned this in passing to me, with no real great detail, stating that many young men at that time were doing the same thing for King and Country. My father is now 80, and in view of the 60th anniversary celebrations of D Day, has written down for the first time his experiences of those events, and told the family what part he did as a 20 year-old man, back there in 1944.
My father was one of the first soldiers to land in Normandy as part of a special operation in the early hours of D Day. He was part of a very brave group of men known as the 6th Airborne, who landed in gliders. Many of my father’s friends and colleagues were killed and injured, and my father was shot in the legs, so I say this to this quiet, brave man, there were many like him — that was my father.
Simon Payne, Albany Road, Stratford.”
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