- Contributed by
- People in story:
- John Farrell 'Jack', Thomas Horne 'Tom', Victor C. Ellison, Frank Rooney, James Branney, Patrick Fitzimmons 'Pat', Teresa Farrell.
- Location of story:
- English Channel, Luc-sur-mer 'Sword Beach', Caen, Falaise, Galmanche, Le Havre, Kiel, S'Hertogenbosch, Hotton, River Rhine, Lüneberg, Laboe, Hamburg.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 March 2005
After landing at Luc-sur-mer in Normandy in the afternoon of 6 June 1944, the East Riding Yeomanry moved inland in the direction of the small Normandy village of Cresserons, just north of Caen.
This article is submitted on behalf of Mr Jack Farrell from Cleator Moor, Cumbria who took part in the Normandy Landings, landing at Luc-sur-mer, Sword Beach Sector on the afternoon of D-Day, Tuesday 6th June 1944. Jack signed a form agreeing that I could write about his memories of the war, that it could be donated to an archive so that others can read it. The terms of "The People's War" website have been read and understood.
Jack is a member of the West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association and has participated in a number of commemorative services for the war. Jack has previously provided with information to help my university research about the Battle of Normandy and I am pleased to acknowledge this.
Crossing the Channel on D-Day
"We were almost the ‘First Wave’ of troops to land in Normandy, just after two o’ clock in the afternoon. We landed at Luc-sur-mer on D-Day, Tuesday 6th June 1944. Of course, going across we didn't really know. We got on the Landing Craft Tank, or LCT, at Gosport, Hampshire. The landing craft were spread all over the south coast and we were on the Tank Landing Craft. Because the weather was that bad the Landings were cancelled for twenty-four hours, from the 5th to the 6th of June.
At that point, we didn’t know if it was the real thing or not. In fact, when I look back at the Landing we did off the English coast just before then, which turned out to be a 'mock Landing' we didn’t really know whether that was the real thing or not! It was almost identical to the real day. But when we got on board the Landing Craft for the 5th of June we still didn’t know whether that was the real thing or not. Nobody told us for certain. But anyway, we were held up for the twenty-four hours and we eventually crossed over for the 6th of June. The weather was that bad but everybody was keyed up for it of course.
Well, the Channel crossing was really bad because the weather was terrible. Most people were seasick, although I wasn’t. I don’t know why that was, but funnily enough I wasn’t seasick. While we were on the Tank Landing Craft we had to make do with what we could get hold for meals, any bits of food you could. I don’t know whether you’ve ever heard of them or not, but we had tins of soup which had a canister down the middle of the tin. To eat this soup, you took the lid off and heated the soup you know. They were really good for us. I don’t know what happened to them afterwards because I’ve never heard of them since. I think they were just a one-off thing.
The crossing was really rough and everybody felt that bad, they were all glad to get landed. They couldn’t get landed quick enough to get off the sea, that's how bad it was. Obviously with the Tank Landing Craft, they couldn’t go right in to the beach, but they went in as near as they could. Then, they dropped the ramp, and then first thing that I saw was the water coming up to meet us through the periscope! Then, we went down into the water. I don’t know how deep it was, but as soon as you hit the bottom you put your foot down and got out as quick as you could. Obviously some of them didn't get out at all and didn't make it, especially these army recovery vehicles and things like that loaded with all sorts of stuff. Luckily, we did get ashore even if it was rather chaotic! .
Sword Beach and Caen
Well, we landed on the first day of the Landings. But landing in the afternoon, obviously there were some who had landed before us. This was at Luc-sur-mer on Sword Beach. The beach was littered with various tanks and other vehicles, burning or broken down and there was obviously still a lot of shelling and there was an aircraft bombing. This Luc-sur-mer was just like a small village really. Everyone has seen photographs of it and on the television. There was like a tower there and two or three buildings on the side.
Anyway, it was all arranged that we all ‘harboured-up’ with the tanks in this field as soon as we got ourselves organised. So our crew commander, a lieutenant, as we got ‘harboured-up’ the first thing he did as he got off the tank was he got a piece of shrapnel in his face or something and straight away he fell down. I forget his name now, but that was the last we saw of him.
Before that, all the camouflage was all geared-up and electronically controlled, except the tank engine. That was fastened on with bolts shackled down. For all the rest, all you did was press a button and it all blew off. That was to get us into action as soon as possible. A little while later, our crew commander a chap called Tom Horne, he also got wounded with a similar shrapnel injury. So, we lost two wounded in a short space of time
Then we got ourselves organised a bit and got going. Nobody seemed to know exactly where we had to go or what was happening but the idea was to take Caen in the first week. Well, of course, it took six weeks to take Caen as you know. Eventually, they bombed Caen until there was virtually nothing left of it. The night before we took Caen, in July 1944, they got us all together for a bit of a conference. They told us there would be all these bombers coming over that night to bomb Caen and the surrounding area and the following day would be a 'piece of cake'.
When we saw the bombers come over, it was unbelievable. Can you imagine all these hundreds of bombers coming over? They were not in formation, but spread out all over the sky. We watched them dropping their bombs. They all came in left, dropped their bombs and came out on the right. When the first one came in, the anti-aircraft fire was tremendous. However, by the time they’d finished coming in there were practically no anti-aircraft guns left.
Because of this, we thought it was great and it would be easy the next day. We went in next morning at first light, and the Germans there were as large as life! They must have been well dug in and they were firing at our tanks with rifles or trying to throw grenades into them. It was unbelievable after all the bombing of the night before.
Our tank was hit
Our tank didn't get hit during the Battle for Caen. But later on, during the course of the war we were hit twice. Our first time was at a place called Galmanche, which was after Caen, when we were in the Falaise area I think. What happened was there used to be five tanks in a troop We all took it in turns, if we were going to go on an attack somewhere to take first place, the lead tank in other words. So, this particular day, we were the leading tank and we had to go down a road and we knew at the bottom of the road there was likely going to be Germans there. There was a château there and they were likely going to smash that up with guns. Anyway, we set off down the road and as we went down, we’d to turn a slight bend, in the road. We had just got turned round the bend and as I was on the left-hand side of the tank driver, I could see these Germans going across the road. I automatically got on the 'mike' and said, “There are Germans at the bottom of the road, you know!” So, we pulled forward a bit and I helped my co-driver who had a Browning machine-gun in the front, and together with the other tank with us, we started firing at them.
What should have happened was that the infantry had been in and they were supposed to have knocked out all the anti-tank guns. Well, as we pulled further round the road, next thing a shell hit right about where my head was in the tank! Luckily, we had spare track and spare bogeys on the front of the tank so that protected me a bit. Anyway, it hit the tank, knocked these spare track and bogeys off and took about the width of a finger and thumb out of the front of the tank. Incredible really, that all that happened but nobody was hurt. However, all the white paint that was on the inside of the tank came over my face.
For the moment I didn't know what had happened. Straight away, the crew commander said, “Reverse! Right?” So, I reversed but I forgot about the bend and as I reversed, the tank went up a mound and we were almost lying over. So, I thought, “What do I do here? If we pull forward they’re going to have another go at us.” Anyway, the engine was 'revving up' and we couldn’t stop it. So I knocked the engine off and we all baled out, into this ditch and then up the road to get away. The Squadron Leader in charge of us saw what was happening. They called the tank commanders 'Squadron Leaders' and he asked what had happened. We told him and then he said, “Get down that road again and get that tank out! Now!”
So, we had to go back and retrieve the tank. We waited until it had quietened down a bit. I ran over the road, jumped in to see if it would start up again and luckily it did! Then we pulled it down and got it on the level. All the other four lads jumped in and then we had to pull back, because it needed repairing. That was the first time we were hit.
Because the tank had been hit and the controls were a bit haywire we had to pull back and to take it to the maintenance area they had established by then. We got sorted out in a couple of days. We all took it in turn to be the lead tank whenever we were attacking. The war progressed, there was a lot of hard fighting and later on our tank was hit a second time.
Some memorable moments of the war
Sometimes if there isn't much on the television I like to look back at this book about the East Riding Yeomanry ('Europe Revisited' by V.C. Ellison). It brings back some memories and is a reminder what we did and where we went. When they broke out from Caen we were left behind as one of the various Regiments to bombard Le Havre. There were a lot of German troops in Le Havre and we fought there. We bombarded Le Havre until eventually they surrendered. I think we took something like 2000 prisoners there. Then we moved on again, and this commemorative book I have explains it all. It really gives you a good remembrance.
While I was over in Europe I came across a few local fellows from the Cleator and Cleator Moor area. One I met was a fellow used to live across the road from me called Frank Rooney. He's no longer alive, unfortunately. I met him during a lull in one of the battles. I was in a place I think was called Eiselon and went to the canteen there. Then, I heard this voice shouting to me, “Farrell! Farrell!” I looked round a few times and I couldn’t see anybody. Eventually, this fellow put his head up and it was Frank Rooney! We had a real good ‘craic’, a good drink and a good night out! Then I met another fellow, a cousin of mine actually, called James Branney, who’s also dead now. I met him after the war was over, really, in a place called Kiel in northern Germany where all the submarines were.
Then I met another fellow who was a good footballer. He played professional for the Dumfries side Queen of the South. He was Pat Fitzimmons and funnily enough he lived in Birks Road, Cleator Moor, only two doors from where I lived at the time. Again, he’s also dead now. Those are some of the locals that I met during the war.
The people who looked after us the best were the Dutch people. They were definitely better than the French and Belgians towards us for some reason. I don't know what it was with the French, but the Dutch people were very good. If they could help us, they did. We had a big battle in the Netherlands at a place called S’Hertogenbosch. This was near to Christmas time 1944 and we were getting ready to have a good time not actually in S’Hertogenbosch but somewhere nearby.
We had all the tanks stripped down and were doing maintenance on them, and we had organised a Christmas party. Then, that's when the Germans broke through the Ardennes in the 'Battle of the Bulge'. We got orders to get all the tanks prepared, work all night, get them all on the road for the next morning. I'm not exactly sure of the date without looking it up in the book, but we went right back down to Belgium to stop the Germans at all costs if they got that far. In the event, they didn’t get that far. But we were prepared for that battle. There's a photograph in the book that shows the ‘B-Squadron’ waiting to move out of Hotton”.
We were in that Battle of the Bulge and the snow was three feet deep. The conditions were very hard. Anyway, we shoved the Germans back and then there was another battle. It was more-or-less keeping things under control at various places. We made sure there were no more breakouts and then we advanced slowly until we crossed into Germany.
The Buffaloes charge into Germany
Eventually, they took our tanks off us. They told us we were going to get ‘Buffaloes’ for when we crossed the Rhine. So, we got these Buffaloes and had some training on the River Maas, in Belgium. We actually lost a couple of fellows there who drowned during the training. When we crossed the Rhine we saw all the Airborne gliders and the aeroplanes. The sky was full of them.
Then while that was going on we were shipping stuff across the Rhine in these Buffaloes. We took off and went downstream and landed. It was like a circular tour all the time. We carried whatever stuff we could: troops, small armour, small guns, anything like that. Anyway, we did that for about three days I think it was. After that, they took the Buffaloes off us and we got our tanks back. They progressed quite fast after they got across the Rhine and into Germany.
When V.E. Day arrived we were in Germany. At the end of the war we finished up in Lüneberg, which was where the Peace Treaty was signed and the Germans surrendered to General Montgomery. We went from there to this place I mentioned earlier, Kiel. Then there was a place across the water from Kiel called Laboe, also in Germany. They told all the Germans in this little town, “You’re getting out! We’re taking over!” So they just gave us all the German houses and we lived in them. It was a lovely seaside resort, and we had a good time there just after the war had ended. We also stayed in Hamburg for a short while during the war. They pulled us back and we stayed there to have a break. Then after the War, I was demobbed from Lüneberg in 1947.”
After Jack left the army he began work for John Laing construction firm at various sites in West Cumbria. Jack married his wife Teresa in 1948 and they had over fifty happy years together and had five children. Teresa passed away in 2003.
As Jack explains in the above account, he was one of the Allied troops who landed in Normandy on D-Day 6th June 1944. The contribution of the East Riding Yeomanry on D-Day has often been overlooked in historical accounts of the event. It has been a great honour that Jack has shared some of his memories with me. I am pleased to submit this article on his behalf.
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