- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bill Hollyhead, Guy Thornycroft
- Location of story:
- Normandy and Holland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 August 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Pam Vincent of Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin on behalf of Bill Hollyhead and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was a 19 year old Private in "X" Company of the 2nd Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. We landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, though not in the first wave. I felt so sea sick that I was pleased to get off the boat and on to firm ground.
As a signaller and radio operator, I was carrying a radio (an 18 set) on my back and was armed with a Sten gun when I disembarked from an LCT (Landing Craft Tank).
When we landed we were up to there (indicating chest height) in water, because they dropped us off short of the beach because some of the ships were being bombarded and they didn't go too near in. We had to wade in.
There was shelling, but a lot of it was coming over us from our battleships because most of the groundwork had been done by the Commandos who made the initial landing.
Our first objective was just a quarter of a mile inland. We assembled in an orchard.
We were that well trained. We had done all this assault landing in the North Sea, which was really rough. It came natural. We all knew the job we had to do. For a 19-year-old it was an adventure really.
The plan had been for the KSLI soldiers to ride on the back of tanks to speed up the advance and we had been trained for this. However, the tanks were held up on the beach and did not arrive, so we had to advance on foot.
My commander was Guy Thornycroft who died not so long ago. He was a very brave leader. I was close to him because I was the radio operator for him. He used to call me "Hollyhocks". My mates called me "Ginger" which I was then - I'm not now.
We advanced on foot and then we met opposition, mostly from snipers and people in high buildings. All that day we were under sniper fire. We were pretty safe as privates because it was the officers and sergeants who were getting picked off. They were soon ripping off their pips and stripes because they were the ones getting picked out.
The Shropshires reached their objective and the plan was for the Norfolks and Warwicks to go through us and take Caen. However they met strong resistance and had to retire to our line. We came under fire for the next fortnight and lost quite a few people to mortar fire. In fact, we were strafed one day by American aircraft. They did not know where our front line was. I don't think anyone was killed. There were some injuries.
I can recall hearing "stretcher bearers!" That was continually going on when somebody was hit by a mortar or other fire.
Poor weather interfered with the landing of supplies. For the first fortnight we had to survive on hard biscuits and bully beef. There was nothing else. We were still in the same clothes. We dried them in the sunshine and were in those clothes until we were relieved after about 14 days for the first shower and change of clothing.
I did not have occasion to fire my Sten gun as I was always with the headquarters of the Company, close to Captain Thornycroft.
I served by his side throughout the campaign and later in Holland, when we found ourselves in a minefield. "Freeze!" I think the Captain said. "Stand still!" They called for the engineers to come and start finding the way for us to get back out of the minefield. I remember Guy Thornycroft saying "Follow my footsteps, Hollyhocks." He had size 12 shoes. That was a comfort as I could put my footsteps where he had gone. I would have been size 9 or 10 then. We finally got out of it.
I have never felt the desire to return to the Normandy beaches. I only think about it when I see anything written in the press. I'm interested to know it's well remembered and it was not all done for nothing.
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