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15 October 2014
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The Diary of Hector Buckland, L/Cp, May-December 1944, Part 2

by gmractiondesk

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Contributed by 
gmractiondesk
People in story: 
Hector Sinclair Buckland, Freda (wife), Valerie Lowe (daughter)
Location of story: 
Birkenhead; Normandy, France
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A5031316
Contributed on: 
12 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War website by Julia Shuvalova for GMR Actiondesk on behalf of Ms Valerie Lowe and and has been added with her permission. The author is fully aware of the terms and conditions of the site.

By this time there was a line of London buses stretching from one end of the camp to the other, and at 7.30 am feeling like pack mules we clambered on board, there being only one absentee, Cpl. Dunn, whose absence caused Lt. Allen some trouble at the last minute. We then started on our journey to the docks, and the early workers looked at us as we passed by, I often wondered if they realised where we were going. The docks were extremely quite, as all the vessels were already loaded. The buses dropped us near the entrance, and we had to march a considerable distance to Victoria Dock and the vessel which was to take us to our unknown destination. The various units were assembled along the quay side, and an officer on the gangway called the various serial numbers. Our turn came at last and we climbed up the gangway on board S.S. Samvern M.T. 12. Our quarters were in the tween decks, where after a great deal of commotion the Company eventually sorted themselves out, Charlie and I elected to sleep on palliasses in preference to hammocks, and we chose a spot opposite the staircase, just to be handy in case we were compelled to leave the vessel in a hurry. At 10.30 am the mooring ropes were cast off and we headed down the river. We spent practically all the day on deck viewing all the vessels loaded and waiting for the word ‘go’. I remember being puzzled by the number of large concrete blocks which we saw in course of construction as we sailed down the river. Little did we realise that they were a vital part of the invasion and that we should be seeing them again in the near future. At 8.30 pm we dropped anchor opposite Southend, where a vast fleet of all descriptions was already at anchor. Our food consisted of “Compo” rations but instead of hard biscuits we had really white bread. Fur supper we were issued with tins of soup. These tins had a wick in the centre which ignited a patent fuel in the centre of the tin, resulting in hot soup in a few minutes. Darkness came at last, and feeling tired after our long day we retired to bed and slept well on our palliasses. For the next two days we lay at anchor at the same spot while more and more ships came and joined us. Much to our amazement, and to our relief not a sight or sound of enemy aircraft disturbed us. What a target this would have been for hostile machines, and it will always be a mystery why they never took advantage of this opportunity.

Tuesday, 6th June dawned at last and at 7am the anchor was weighed and we sailed from the River Thames at last, our ultimate destination still being a well kept secret. The sun shone and the sea was calm and it was hard to realise that we were en route to force our way into the Fortress of Europe. We hugged the English coast all morning, and I spent nearly the whole day on deck as all this part was new to me and I wanted to see as much of England as possible. The convoy of Liberty ships was now spread out in two long lines with an escort vessel leading and another one “snooping” alongside, how small they looked to protect such a large convoy. Overhead a number of Spitfires and Hurricanes continually passed up and down the convoy and they gave one a comfortable feeling. Between 12 and 1pm we were opposite the white cliffs of Dover, the convoy now being in a single line, How beautiful the white cliffs looked in the sunlight with the green fields beyond, and the red roofed houses. A more peaceful scene it would be difficult to imagine, when suddenly without any warning there was the sound of explosion. The ship immediately behind had been struck amid ships by a shell from the German cross Channel guns, and a huge column of smoke rose into the sky. The vessel dropped out of the convoy and we never heard what happened to her or the men on board.

Later in the afternoon we slowed down and a balloon was taken on board. About 4pm the vessel was hove to, and we were all ordered to inflate the “Mae Wests” which we were wearing. Juts what the scare was we never knew, no doubt it was U boats. We continued to sail along the South Coast all afternoon. About 7pm we were attracted by the roar of aircraft, when away to our right we witnessed a spectacle that I shall always remember. The sky was literally black with aircraft, gliders and troop carriers. It was a thrilling spectacle and we all felt like raising a mighty cheer. During the afternoon an Artillery officer gave us a talk and we learned at last that the great invasion had commenced at 5 am that morning and we were to land on the French coast somewhere between Cherbourg and Le Harve. The vessel had now left the coast and turned south and I stood on the deck and watched the shores of England fade from sight, wondering when I would see it again, and what they were thinking at home in the absence of letters from me.

Night came at last and so to bed. We were up early the following morning and on reaching the deck we could see the outline of the French coast. We sailed slowly nearer and at 8.30am dropped anchor. All around us and as far as eye could see lay thousands of ships of all description, whilst overhead squadrons of fighters roared inland. Wending their way among this huge mass of shipping were destroyers of the British Navy, and they gave one a feeling of comfort and assurance. The men in my party were most anxious to get to work and before the vessel had dropped anchor they had all the hatch covers off and the winches ready for action. There was the constant noise of gunfire on shore and to our right a battleship was firing broadsides inland all day. All day long we waited for a craft to come alongside. I had received orders to go ashore with the first load to Jig beach in company with Sgt. Fitchett in order to get the Dock Office established. At 4pm the first landing craft came alongside, but as all the vehicles loaded on her were for King beach Lt. Allen ordered us to remain on board. Night came without any further craft coming alongside, and so the hatches had all to be put back again, so that we could settle down again for the night. All day long we had not seen or heard an enemy plane, however as soon as darkness fell he was over, but not in force. A terrific barrage was put up, and I was amazed that so much A.A. could have been assembled in so short a time. it was anything but pleasant lying on our palliasses listening to the water lapping against the ship sides, whilst at intervals the ship was shaken by the explosion of bombs.

Morning dawned at last, and from what we could observe no damage had been done during the night. Once again the hatch covers were removed and we waited all day for landing craft that never came, so at nightfall the hatches had to be replaced again. we were kept awake most of the night by Jerry, he was evidently too shy to come in daylight, but we were mercifully preserved to welcome another day. At about 8 am a landing craft came alongside, and although the load was for Kin beach Sgt. Fitchett and I elected to go ashore. The sea had now become rather rough, and some difficulty was experienced in landing the vehicles on the heaving craft below. At last it was time for us to leave the ship, and loaded with kit and with a rifle slung over our shoulders we made our way to the ladder. I did not relish this part of the business at all, making one’s way down a ship’s ladder absolutely loaded up with kit. However, we made it, and helping hands grabbed us below as the craft lifted with the waves. At last the time had come for us to set foot on foreign soil and we wondered what we should meet. We were some miles from the shore, and when within about 500 yards our craft dropped anchor. We were informed that they had to await orders to land. During the time of waiting I had a conversation with one of the crew, a splendid American, who told me the beach was covered with mines. The previous day they had picked up two with their anchor. At last the Control boat came within hailing distance and told him to make his way in and pick his own spot. I held my breath until we felt the ship run aground and stop with a jerk. The ramp was lowered and we walked ashore on dry ground. Our difficulty now was to link up with the advance party who we believed to be ashore. The beach was a seething mass of activity, with hundreds of vehicles coming ashore and making their way slowly inland. The beach was littered with all sorts of equipment and smashed vehicles. We decided to make our way to Jig beach. We were very careful to keep to the tracks, as there were still lots of mines about and R.E.’s were busy exploding them. It was now about eleven o’clock and after walking for about an hour in full kit we decided to have a rest. All our enquiries for 1026 or 6POG were without success and we wondered which way to turn. Away in the distance we could see some large buildings so Sgt. Fitchett volunteered to make his way there if I looked after the kit. He left me at about 12 noon and it was 5pm before he got back, I was getting very anxious about him fearing he had stepped on a mine. Fortunately, he had been successful and had discovered the Company’s location, which was in Meauvaines. We were advised to make our way to Crepon and then make further enquiries there, and at the same time we were warned to watch out for snipers who were very active. During that day the Pioneers had cleared all the dead bodies from the beach, so I was spared that horrible spectacle. We managed to get a lift on a lorry to the village of Crepon, and stopped at an R.E. dump. It was now after 6pm and as we had not eaten all day we decided to make a cup of tea from our 24h. pack. After a brief rest we left our big packs with a unit billeted in the field and set out to try and find Meauvaines. The road we took was littered with parachute equipment, Mae Wests, ground sheets, and all manner of equipment. We had not been walking very long when we came across two wooden crosses on the road side marking the graves of a Sgt. And L/Cpl. of the Green Howards, it made one realise the horror of war, and its utter waste of human life. After walking about 2 miles we got a lift on the back of a water cart and eventually found ourselves in the village of Meauvaines, a pretty little place lying in a hollow. No one seemed to know anything about 1026, and after wandering about the place for a long time we contacted an R.E. major who said he though they were in the vicinity. Just as we left him, who should come out of a doorway but our cook Sgt. Bonetti, I have never been so pleased to see anyone as I was to see him. The Company were juts around the corner and in about five minutes I was shaking hands with some of my pals from the Orderly room, it was a happy moment.

We then unloaded our kit, and then trailed back to Crepon for our big packs. Fortunately, we met Bobbie Martin in a lorry and he gave us a lift part of the way, and then brought us back from Crepon village. It was in the latter village that a sniper had been very active, and the steeple of the church was riddled with shell holes, for it was there he was eventually discovered. On arrival back at the camp I found that Bert Sharpe and Arthur were sharing a dugout, but as Arthur was on night duty at Group I was invited to share the dugout. Sleep was impossible for a long time owing to air raids, and I found the ground very hard.

For parts 1 and 3, see the IDs A5020444 (P.1) and A5031352 (P.3).

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