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- 03 June 2005
The grave of Major Barber in a cemetry in or near a place called Hermanville, France.
I was a 18 year old sapper with 246 Field company; Royal Engineers, part of 3rd British Division. I left Portsmouth overnight aboard the Glen Erne. Whilst still dark we transferred to landing craft where I was among some 30 members of the East Yorks Regiment. There were to be two sappers to deal with any mines etc that were found on the beach and beyond . The other sapper reported sick days prior to D-Day so I was alone despite being the youngest in the company.
We landed on Sword beach at approx 7.30 and a major Barber, originally in the Northamptonshire Regiment, said “Well done engineer” when he saw that I was still with them as we cleared the beach to move inland. Sometime later I was lying next to him and his batman when he told him to wait there whilst he went to see what was happening. Seconds later I heard a shell or mortar coming . It landed between the two and both were killed instantly.
Later in the day I accompanied my platoon Lt as I could not assist the East Yorks further and found myself with other members of the company who had been with other infrantry earlier , very near to the Pegasus Bridge . Later still We were at a fortified position that we knew by the code name”Hillman” To-gether with another I was told to see what mines were on the perimiter and surprising found that they were of British make .I had to ask how to disarm them as I’d never been taught anything regarding other than German devices.
On D+5 a sergeant Hamill arrived in France with the transport .After a few beers in Scotland he had told me that neither he nor I would survive the battle but I was naive enough to believe when told that we would return to England after 30 days.I said to him that the odds were better for survival after each day passed but he was convinced that we would not survive.30 days came and went and on D31 we watched the beginning of the heavy raid on Caen.Later the air was filled with brick dust and nothing further could be seen.
Next morning we started early to move to-wards Caen and I was in Corporal (Ginger) Ford’s squad. We had’nt gone far when 8 of us were wounded. I, with a sapper Cope , was told to get the wound dressed and Ginger would come for us when we were needed. Instead of going to the nearest aid post as it was well within shelling range we returned to company HQ where we ate a second breakfast before being taken to to a house where there was another aid post. At first ,the doctor,who was still in pyjamas refused to deal with us as we’d not been to the post nearer the fighting but was prevailed on to do so by the sergeant who’d taken us to him. From there we went to a casualty clearing centre which wasn’t very pleasant. Maybe the politicians should visit one and they might not be so keen on wars. Surprisingly I was recommended for high priority air evacuation. I was taken to an air strip somewhere only to find that there was no flying due to bad weather. From there I was taken to what seemed to be a nursery school as there was a frieze of teddybears round the walls. Almost immediately I was told that I was next for whatever was to happen. A bandage was put over my eyes so as not to see what was going on and I became more worried when I heard that the previous person had had his leg removed. Despite reassurances that mine was not to go, I was surprised to find it still there and encased in a large plaster. I was then taken on a tank landing craft which sailed for Portsmouth as soon as the incoming tide allowed.
I was there for a day or two and then left overnight on an ambulance train to Newcastle and beyond the range of the V1s. After some time I was moved to Hexham where I was for some months and then to Catterick, Scarborough and eventually to Wadhurst.
I returned to the company six days before the Rhine crossing but Cpl Ford as not keen on my rejoining his squad as he’d lost so many men and considered himself to be bad luck to his men. I joined sgt Hamills men instead and was convinced by then that he would survive the war as it was moving to-ward the end. Just prior to VE day we were employed on battlefield clearance on Bremen airport and we poured petrol on ammunition to burn it rather than explode it. One morning the flames blew back as I threw in the match And momentry I was engulfed it flames and I lost my eye-brows. By late afternoon my hand was badly blistered and I was later in hospital after reporting sick. VE day came whilst I was still there but sergeant Hamill and all the remainder of his squad were killed in an accidental explosion!!
We were later to go to invade Japan but the atom bombs intervened so I finished my service between Egypt and what was then Palestine, being demobbed in 1947.
In May/ June 2004 I visited Normandy with my late wife’s brother. He found a war cemetry in or near a place called Hermanville, I think and there we found the grave of major Barber.
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