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The Lost Commando

by stoke_on_trentlibs

Contributed by 
stoke_on_trentlibs
People in story: 
Pamela Kirkham
Location of story: 
Bruneval(Normandy)France 1942
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2309924
Contributed on: 
18 February 2004

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Stoke-on-Trent Libraries on behalf of Pamela Kirkham and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

The story spans more than 5 decades. The Staffs regiment was seconded to Black Watch Regt. and then a SAS commando unit.
My father (Frank Embury)who died in 1987 was one of a group of 10 commandoes who were dropped by parachute in Normandy in late February 1942 to "disable" a German radar unit which was situated on the cliffs of Bruneval just north of Le Havre.The radar was thought to be sophisticated and was causing major problems to the RAF on bombing and reconnaissance missions.THE British M.O.D. needed to know all about the equipment and therefore it was neccessary not to destroy it but bring back components for analysis.
the raid was a success,in that the radar was immobilised and the key parts taken and the "raiding party" suffered no casualties during the raid. However what happened next changed all that.
The soldiers were to reassemble on the beach at the foot of the cliffs where a landing craft was supposed to be waiting to transport them back to England.Three of them were killed making their way down the cliffs,five presumably reached the beach,but Dad and a comrade were cut off by enemy fire and moved inland across farmland.
Eventually they reached a barn and exhausted decided to hide there until daylight when they could reassess their situation.They were seen from the house by a 15 year old lad ,the son of the farmer,who decied to go and investigate.He spoke no English and they only knew a few words of French,however the boy realised that his family would be in serious trouble if they were caught harbouring the "enemy" but despite this took them into the house where they were given hot soup and local apple brandy(calvados) to drink,as by this time they were half frozen,it was snowing quite heavily and they knew if they moved on they would be easily "tracked down". The boy's mother spoke a little English and said they could be hidden in the attic of the farmhouse until the Resistance could be contacted to help them get back to England.
This,obviously would not be an easy task as,after the raid the Germans were everywhere searching for them.
Eventually they were moved by the local resistance movement ,clothing and forged Belgian papers were obtained and they were in a train south where they hoped to be able to get a boat back home.Unfortunately they were spotted as they left the train arrested and questioned by the Germans. their stories didn't "ring true"and they were moved to Paris for more questioning, particularly their parts in the Bruneval raid. and also about the French who had helped them
Eventually they were officially classed as prisoners of war and moved to Leemdorf on the German/Polish border where they remanied for the rest of the war.
After his realese and subsequent demob form the army Dad was invited back to Bruneval but by this time had met and married Mum(Ivy) and had gone into the butchery trade. Ny twin brother and I were born in 1948 so there was no opportunity to go back and we consequently lost touch with the French.
We always knew dad had been a POW captured in Frence but when ever the subject of the war arose,say after a film on Tv he always dismissed any questions saying it was in the past,best forgotten,over and done with,so we learned not to pursue the subject.
We didn't know the whole story until years later(1984) whan atiny piece entitled "Frenchman's quest" appeared in our local paper.It mentioned Dad by name but gave no details of why this person wanted to contact him.We were intrigued ,but as Dad had recently had a heart attack I was anxious that he not be stressed or upset by any of this.I wrote to the person and was informed that he was writing a book about the night of the Bruneval raid ,had discovered the names of some of the soldiers who took part and wanted their version of events. A period of intense correspondence followed during which time the leader of the Bruneval/Etretat resistance also made conatct. he was the one who was responsible for their planned repatriation. it was a very emotional time with the correspondence,maps etc and the whole fantastic story started to unfold.The comrade who ahd been with Dad was cintacted in the south of England and they were eventaully reunited.Sadly Dad'd health was deteriorating and he died in September 1987
I kept in touch with Alain Millet the author of the book with Christman cards etc and the occasional letter then "out of the blue"
in 1994 Mum was contacted by he british Legion to say that the Mayor of a village in Normandy had been in a celebration to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the french liberation from German occupation during which a plaque dedicated to the bravery of Dad and his colleague
would be unveiled. Mum,in her seventies and not in good health was hesitant but when they siad the family would be welcome toattend she agreed and I and my husband Jim went with her.The ceremonytook place on 2/9/94 and we had four dys of Right Royal treatment. It was very moving to be
able to talk to people who had helped Dad all those years ago and it transpired that the village mayor was the 15 year old farmer's son who had discovered themin the barn that Febraury night in 1942 and.appropriately the plaque was unveiled.
Pamela Kirkham, Stoke-on-Trent

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Operation Biting

Posted on: 14 March 2004 by Commando Veterans Association

Thank you for the information Pamela, your father’s story provides extra information on the men who were not evacuated from Bruneval. Some of the early details however, are not quite complete.

The raid you refer to was Operation Biting, conducted on 27/28 February 1942 by 120 men of C Company of the 2nd Battalion - 1st Parachute Brigade, commanded by Maj. John Frost. Two men were killed and six not evacuated but all survived the war. The original paratroops were to be air Commandos, the role assigned to No.2 Commando, @ 500 men, formed in the summer of 1940. The requirement for an airborne force of many more than 500 was clear, and the original force was expanded and eventually evolved into the Parachute Regiment in its own right.

Some in the War Office decided the Commandos should be formerly titled as ‘Special Service’ battalions, (a sentiment not supported by the Commandos themselves), hence some documents refer to ‘No.2 Commando’, and some to No.2 Special Service. In November 1940, during expansion and reorganisation, the men of No.2 Special Service, (No.2 Commando) were retitled II Special ‘Air’ Service, for logical reasons, and a No.2 Commando was reformed back among the other Commandos.

Most of the men drawn for this expansion of the paratroops came from Scottish Regiments, including the Black Watch, at which stage your father probably joined them? However, the title ‘II Special Air Service’ was short lived and in September 1941 was replaced by ‘1st Parachute Battalion’.

The lineage of the current SAS stems from David Stirling’s formation in North Africa mid 1941. Their title, ‘L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade’, was assigned them to add credence to a deception plan already employed in North Africa at the time to make the Axis believe the British had a Parachute Brigade there, (which it didn’t), and to give the impression Stirling’s new force was large than the 66 men it actually comprised.

CVA

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