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15 October 2014
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A Lesson in Opportunism: With 141 Regiment RAC at Le Havre 1944

by Goalkicker

Contributed by 
Goalkicker
People in story: 
James Wareing
Location of story: 
Le Havre 1944
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2537840
Contributed on: 
19 April 2004

By 2nd Lieutenant James Wareing, 141 RAC, The Kentish Regiment (The Buffs), 79th Armoured Division, 2nd British Corps, 1st Canadian Army.

I had not been very long with The Buffs when we were ordered to Normandy so I did not get to know many of the officers or men. However one of the officers, a certain William Douglas Home soon came to my attention. He did not go into any action as far as I am aware and when we were not in action he did nothing. I really don’t know how he came to be there at all in such an elite regiment.

In the field he ate by himself and slept under a tank. He did not seem to be in charge of anyone. However he was put in charge of a group of tanks for the attack on Le Havre. This created something of a situation because he refused to go into action but at the same time was claiming that he could capture Le Havre without firing a single shot. The CO accordingly put him under close arrest under the supervision of another officer.

Whilst under arrest Home had written to the editor of the Maidenhead Advertiser who published an exclusive on how Le Havre was captured without firing a single shot. Unlike the letters from other ranks the letters from officers were not subject to 100% censorship but to random screening.

In any event when the War Office saw the newspaper article they immediately investigated the source of the information. The initial upshot was that our CO was relieved of command and demoted to Major although he continued in combat until we reached Brussels. Here he faced a Court Martial and managed to win his case and be reinstated. It was suspected that Home had used his influence with his brother, a member of the Government, the future Lord Home and future Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas Home. This could have explained the demotion of our CO. Justice was finally seen to be done because William Home was sent to prison.

He served 8 months, initially in Wormwood Scrubs, then completing his term in Wakefield Prison. In the space of a month or two after his release he wrote two plays which were successful in London in 1947. The first one was based on his experience in gaol and in the latter some of the characters were drawn from his family. He would go on to write several other successful plays, particularly The Reluctant Debutante and The Secretary Bird.

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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 - A Lesson in Opportunism

Posted on: 20 April 2004 by Harold Pollins

I thought that William Douglas Home got into trouble and was imprisoned for refusing to take part in the bombardment and attack on Caen.

 

Message 2 - A Lesson in Opportunism

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

It was Le Havre according to this site: www.highbeam.comAbout links

Peter

 

Message 3 - A Lesson in Opportunism

Posted on: 02 February 2005 by phrchilds

I was a troop leader in C Squadron 141 RAC and was the escorting officer of William Douglas Home, for two or three days, following his arrest. If my memory serves me correctly he was arrested by order of Major Dan Duffy, our squadron commander and he so ordered the arrest because Captain Douglas Home refused to act as an LO. Home told me that the reason he refused this duty was that if the operation was carried out as planned a large number of French civilians would be killed. He told me that he had offered to negotiate a German surrender but had been refused and consequently declined to serve.

 

Message 4 - A Lesson in Opportunism

Posted on: 03 February 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear phrchilds

Yours is quite valuable testimony. Many thanks.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 5 - A Lesson in Opportunism

Posted on: 03 February 2005 by phrchilds

Peter. You are right about the location. It was LeHavre and I should have stated that in my reply.
As an aside some 6-7 years ago I heard that William Home was petitioning the Queen for a pardon, I believe on the grounds that his was a humanitarian act.
I offered to give evidence regarding the statements he made to me and which were made contemporaneously with his act of refusal to serve. I was told some months later that he had abandoned the appeal.I did not know Home before his secondment to the squadron as an LO for the LeHavre operation as he spent most of his time at RHQ.

 

Message 6 - A Lesson in Opportunism

Posted on: 17 January 2006 by astonia_memory

Hello,
My name is David and I live in Le Havre, France. I'm very interested by everything around operation Astonia (liberation of Le Havre in September 1944) and Douglas Home refusal to participate to this operation. I'm planning to build a website about Astonia and try to gather a lot of information. As you were escorting William Douglas Home, do you recall if his refusal was a big debate amongst soldiers, or was it something only known by commanding officers ?
I know your message was posted one year ago. I hope you will receive this one.
Thank you very much in advance for your answer.
I'm using this message to tell you all English and Canadian veterans how I respect your sacrifice so I could live my life in a free world. With all my admiration, Best regards,
David from Le Havre

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