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Matt Guymer's Recollections, Part 1: Landing in Normandyicon for Recommended story

by WMCSVActionDesk

Contributed by 
WMCSVActionDesk
People in story: 
Major Matt Guymer MBE and many others
Location of story: 
Normandy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4887769
Contributed on: 
09 August 2005

AT Ryes, two days after landing June 15th 1944

MATTHEW HANSE GUYMER MBE

A SHORT CV
12th Royal Lancers 1938/39
11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own) 1938 to 1954
RASC 1954 to 1965
RAOC 1965 to 1975 Active List
Army Careers Officer Staffordshire 1975 to 1984 RAOC RO

I fought in the 2nd WW in the 11th Hussars (PAO) Post war trouble spots Sierra Leone, Nigeria and in the clear up in Aden and Kenya.

NORMANDIE: JUNE, JULY AND AUGUST 1944

On March 2nd 1944, the day after my 20th birthday, I was posted into 'D' Squadron of my Regiment, The 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own).

The regiment was stationed in the forest at Ashridge Park Berkhamstead. When I arrived and reported to 'D' Squadron Head Quarters (SHQ), I was surprised and pleased to meet the Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Major Tony Crankshaw MC, who I knew in Egypt when he was a subaltern and I was a band/boy trumpeter in Helmieh. I also knew the Sqn Major and several other people in the regiment of all ranks including many friends that I had previously served with in Egypt.

My first nine weeks 'back home' in the Regiment, were spent learning to drive and operate the armoured cars that the Regiment was equipped with. This was necessary because after I left the band I had spent fifteen months training on tanks, in both the 55th and 54th Training Regiments Royal Armoured Corps. The regiment was equipped with Daimler Armoured Cars (DAC), Daimler Scout Cars (DSC), Staghound Armoured Cars (SAC), Humber Scout Cars, (HSC) and American White Company Scout Cars (WSC). Throughout this training period, I attended courses on demolitions, explosives and booby traps.

It had been decided that Regimental Head Quarters, (RHQ) together with 'C' and 'D' Sqdns were to be the first party of the regiment to land on the beaches in Normandie during the invasion of France. They were loaded at London docks into a ship called Bristol City and arrived at Arromanches on the 9th of June 1944. Both Squadrons were put ashore after being r-loaded into Tank Landing Craft. The second landing party from the regiment was to be 'B' Sqdn together with the Gun Troops of 'C' and 'D' Sdns. I left with them and we too sailed from London docks on board an American Liberty Ship T29, we arrived off Juno Beach 13th June 'D' Day plus seven.

The Gun Troops of 'C' and 'D' Sdns were to be landed on the left hand end of Juno Beach at Courseulles sur Mer. When we arrived close inshore to the French coast, the sea was covered with ships as far as the eye could see. When our ship anchored we got into our cats and we were lifted over the side and lowered into a Tank Landing Craft (LCT). Both 'C' and 'D' Sdn and some of B Sdns and some of B Sdn's Armoured and Scout Cars were loaded into the LCT behind us. A very young American Navy ensign captained our craft. He had a small crew one of whom was the coxswain who had to be up at the front as we approached the shore to test the depth of water.

His job was to tell the skipper when the water was shallow enough to let down the ramp when he considered it to be safe enough for us to drive off. He had a long pole for this task. We started our car engines and waited for the ramp to go down ready for us to drive off into France. Eventually as the ramp was lowered I looked towards the beach and saw to my horror and surprise, that we were much further from the shore than we had been told to expect. Instead of it being about two or three hundred metres for us to drive in the sea to reach dry land, it was well over eight hundred. With heart racing and adrenalin pumping at full blast I drove down the ramp into the water, hoping and silently praying that I had carried out the waterproofing of my car successfully. The skipper waited as we drove slowly down the ramp into the water to see if he had selected a good position to off load us into the sea before releasing the other vehicles on board. He must have realised that he had put us down onto a sandbar because he saw us drive off it into very deep water and I was soon within the last inch or two of my sea wading capability. The rough sea was almost up to the top of the specially erected wood and canvas structure, built on top of the officer's sliding roof hatch of our HSCs. (Rather like a submarine conning tower), these gave us the ability to wade through deeper water. Our height was now almost two metres, but even so driving in that rough sea was a bit 'hairy' because some water did come into the car over the top of the 'conning tower'. Because the car was completely submerged all I could see was the water lapping against my glass visor as I kept the car moving steadily over the seabed towards the shore.

I was far too busy concentrating on the job in hand to be very frightened about the situation. If my engine stalled it would have been a disaster. Quite naturally, anxiety was definitely uppermost in my mind. Lt Michael Wild my Troop Leader and I were in the car of 'D' Sqn. Lt. Richard Brett-Smith and Cpl Harry Davis the 'C' Sqn car. We drove along under water for what seemed ages before thankfully, daylight crept into the car and we started to rise above water level. At last, we were on French soil and I started to drive up the sandy beach. At this stage, we were considerably relieved and happy to have survived the sea journey. Especially through the straights of Dover where we could so easily have been shelled by the German shore batteries on the French coast. The wading ashore onto the French beach proved a bit of a problem because we only managed to drive about fifty yards before our luck ran out.

The reason we were in difficulties was that as we moved slowly up the beach, we drove into very soft sand and due to the weight of the cars; we sank and became bogged down to our flat bottom plates. We were left stranded by the LCT in the soft sand, with our wheels spinning unable to drive out. Both cars were helpless 'sitting ducks' throughout our first day in France. I forced my roof hatch open and got my head out in time to hear Mr Wild shout to Mr Brett-Smith that the LCT had pulled up its ramp having left us stranded. We watched as the skipper sailed his craft further along the landing beaches towards Arromanches. A German air raid started but luckily for us we were not the targets. It was still a bit 'nasty' though because the JU88s came in so low over us flying towards Arromanches. Luckily no trigger happy bomb aimers.

We were alone on that part of Juno Beach for the rest of the day until the late evening. Whilst we waited, it started to rain and we were very wet and miserable. Every armoured car in the regiment, during the campaign in North West Europe, was issued with a half pint clip topped, leather covered bottle in which we carried our individual car's rum ration. It was to give us a very quick intake of calories and warmth in seriously bad inclement weather. Mr Wild decided that what we had been through was definitely 'inclement weather' and so he ordered 'Splice the Main Brace' (Rum Issue). The rum and some food cheered us up a little. It was well after dark before the Beach Master's Team eventually pulled us out of the soft sand. When we drove the last hundred yards off the beach we came onto a narrow track. It was between the beach and the road that ran between Courseulles-sur-Mer and Bernieres-sur-Mer.

There, a very tired L/Cpl of the Corps of Military Police met us. We stopped to ask him if he knew where our Regiment was located, (we had no radio contact yet), he said that we were the only ones to land there that day. He stretched out his left arm and with a big grin on his face he said, 'But I am to tell you to go that a'way.' He had been there all day and was a lonely, and quite fed up young man. Now we were all a bit upset. If anyone had had the temerity to ask us: Went the day well? Not b***** likely!

That night we drove into a nearby empty field and we were told to spread out and dig in and to make sure, we slept below ground level. The German Luftwaffe had started to drop butterfly bombs, these, on exploding, spread small killing shrapnel, very close to the ground. After the officers went off somewhere, I positioned my car next to a hedge and dug a trench at its base. I decided to sleep on the grass by the side of the trench, quite sure that if we had another air raid or if German Artillery started to shell us during the night, I would have plenty of time to roll into it. I felt so very tired that I immediately fell into a deep sleep. When I woke up the next morning and before I opened my eyes, I heard a terribly loud continuous buzzing sound. When I opened my eyes slowly in the unexpected bright sunshine I turned over, and on looking through the base of the hedge into the next field, I was looking into the face of the bloated, rotting decomposing corpse of a dead German soldier. The body was covered in thousands of flies. Goodness knows how long he had been there, the war must have passed him by several days before.

The dark dank sickly smell of death and putrefaction was so strong I was immediately violently sick. I will never, ever forget that most nauseating prologue to what was to be my introduction to close combat warfare. I then realised that his sort of sight and experience was to become a part of my young life in the front line over the next eleven months.

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Sue Russell of the BBC on behalf of Major Matthew Guymer MBE and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Further recollections from Major Guymer can be found here:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

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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 - Normandie June, July, August 1944 - Pt I

Posted on: 09 August 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Sue

Please tell Major Guymer that I very much enjoyed his realistic account of battle and look forward to reading Part 2 and and any further instalments.

Best wishes,

Peter

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