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15 October 2014
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The East Riding Yeomanry in Normandy 1944

by ritsonvaljos

Contributed by 
ritsonvaljos
People in story: 
John Farrell 'Jack', Victor C. Ellison, Paul Mace, Edward Rose 'Ted', David Brooke, John Jack, George John Albert Allen, Ronald Giles, Richard Norris, Ronald Ritson, Major E.R. Hargreaves.
Location of story: 
Sword Beach, Luc-sur-mer, Lion-sur-mer, La Brèche d’Hermanville, Caen, Mathieu, Plumetot, Cresserons, Colleville-sur-Orne, Bayeux, St Contest, Douvres-la-Délivrande, Creully, Le Havre, Normandy.
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3976581
Contributed on: 
30 April 2005

Bayeux War Memorial, Normandy, France. The names of five comrades from the East Riding Yeomanry who died on 9 June 1944 near Cambes-en-Plaine are commemorated here. The Memorial commemorates more than 1800 men of the Commonwealth forces who died in Normandy and have no known grave.

Introduction

I first learnt about the Battle of Normandy for a French language course while staying at the University in Caen. Subsequently, I obtained further information about the period from British Veterans of the Normandy campaign. It was then that I first learnt a little about the role of the East Riding Yeomanry in Normandy.

I obtained a lot of detailed information from a former Veteran of the Regiment who lived in my home county of Cumbria, Mr Jack Farrell from Cleator Moor. When I researched a little further about the East Riding Yeomanry I learnt that their Badge included a running fox and as a consequence their Regimental marching tune was ‘D'ye ken John Peel’. This tune also happens to be the ‘unofficial Anthem’ for Cumbrians at home and abroad! So in addition to their important role in the Battle of Normandy and the Liberation of Caen in 1944, these were two additional reasons why I took a further interest in the Regiment.

In July 2004, I stayed at the university in Caen again and visited some of the locations where Allied troops including the East Riding Yeomanry had visited in June and July 1944. Although I was not specifically looking for information about the ERY on this occasion, I learnt a few additional facts about the Regiment.

Since I have posted some of the memories of my good friend Jack Farrell’s time in the East Riding Yeomanry to the “People’s War” website, other users of the website have been looking for information about the Regiment. So I am submitting this article in the hope that it may contain something of interest to others.

For more detailed information, a book entitled ‘Europe Revisited’ written by Major Victor Ellison (Second in Command of the Regiment) gives more detailed and accurate information than I could ever hope to write. I have recently learnt via the BBC “People’s War” website there is another book detailing the adventures of the ERY during World War Two. It was published in 2001, and entitled ‘Forrard’. Paul Mace, another former officer of the ERY wrote this book. The Regiment’s motto is ‘Forrard’ (Forward).

‘Sword Beach’ area on D-Day

For the Normandy Landings, the East Riding Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps was part of 27 Armoured Brigade, supporting 9 Infantry Brigade, a part of the 3rd British Infantry Division. An important part of their role was to provide the armoured support for 9 Infantry Brigade.

Until recently, I believed that the whole of ERY had landed at Sword Beach on the afternoon of D-Day 6 June shortly after 14.00h. However, according to an item posted on the BBC “People’s War” website by members of the family of Corporal Ted Rose, they understand that part of ‘C Squadron’ was delayed in crossing the Channel. Hence, part of the ERY landed in Normandy in the days following D-Day itself.

According to information and maps I consulted at the Memorial Museum in Caen, as well as Victor Ellison’s book, those in the ERY who did land on D-Day came ashore at Sword Beach. More specifically, they landed in the area either side of Lion-sur-mer, between Luc-sur-mer and La Brèche d’Hermanville (i.e. the ‘Peter’ and ‘Queen’ Sectors of ‘Sword Beach’). The unit then moved inland to a pre-arranged location to de-waterproof the vehicles. According to the maps, this was just south of Lion-sur-mer on the eastern outskirts of Cresserons.

At that time, Cresserons was still held by the Germans and was part of the northern defence of the small but potentially strategically important Mathieu / Plumetot / Cresserons aerodrome. However, all German aeroplanes had been withdrawn from the aerodrome well before D-Day. Although I had known that the Allies had built and used this airstrip I only learnt that some German planes had also been based there during the Occupation years when I visited the area in 2004.

Referring to a map I obtained at the Memorial Museum in Caen, some German Panzer tanks moved to within a short distance of the ERY while the ERY were de-waterproofing their vehicles. During the afternoon or early evening of D-Day the Panzer tanks (II / 192) advanced wards the coast near Luc-sur-mer. Sighting the Naval armada and fearful of the naval guns, the Germans moved back towards Cresserons. However, the ERY did not engage battle with this German Panzer Unit (21 Panzer Division) at that time.

The ERY subsequently moved further inland towards the ‘Périers Heights’ ridge in the direction of Caen. Late in the evening, the Unit was ordered to move back through Hermanville-sur-mer and spent the night in the vicinity of what was then known as Colleville-sur-Orne (now Colleville-Montgomery). I have a photograph of British tanks moving through Hermanville on D-Day, obtained at the Memorial Museum. However, I am unsure whether these tanks belong to the ERY or another regiment.

'Sword Beach' area after D-Day

After the Germans pulled back from the Cresserons / Plumetot / Mathieu area to take up a better defensive line just to the north of Caen, Regimental Headquarters for the East Riding Yeomanry became situated in a château near Mathieu, at the southern end of what would become Allied aerodrome ‘B10’. This was very close to the frontline during the Battle for Caen over the coming weeks. A Royal Canadian Air Force Section then took over the aerodrome and moved into Plumetot.

On 10 June, one of my uncles, Private Ronald Ritson, RAMC also moved into Plumetot with his Medical Corps unit, 26 Field Hygiene Section. One of the main roles for my uncle’s unit, under the command of Major E.R. Hargreaves, was the provision of bathing facilities for the troops. Some of these shower units were based on the coast at Luc-sur-mer. Additionally, other fixed and mobile shower and bath units were fixed up for the benefit of the troops at different locations throughout the battlefield area. The Memorial Museum at Caen has a number of photographs of these makeshift bathing facilities, much appreciated by all the troops. This too was an important part of the war, yet often overlooked in many historical accounts.

After several weeks in the frontline during the month of June, the ERY were pulled back to Luc-sur-mer for a few days early in July and took advantage of the bathing facilities at Luc-sur-mer. This brief respite was just before the ‘Thousand Bomber Raid’ made by the Allies on the evening of 7 July and the liberation of the city during the next two days. The ERY were also involved in this fighting that led to the liberation of Caen. I believe the Regiment were pulled back again to Luc-sur-mer for a few days after the liberation of Caen.

Cambes-en-Plaine area

By 9 June 1944 (D +3) the Germans had pulled back to a defensive line north of Caen near Cambes-en-Plaine, Lebisy and Epron. In 2004 I learnt one reason for this was because they had underground communications linking heavily fortified positions. From what my friend Jack Farrell told me about his experiences with the ERY, I believed that on one occasion a German shell hit his tank somewhere in this area, although luckily all the crew survived. However, I was not exactly sure of the location or date this event took place. The East Riding Yeomanry made its first move towards the Cambes area on 7 June (D+1) in support of the infantry (Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Ulster Rifles).

I had remembered that the ERY had suffered the loss of at least one tank on the northern outskirts of Cambes-en-Plaine on 9 June 1944. The tank of Lieutenant David Brooke had been leading the attack in support of the infantry and had been ordered to withdraw. At this point the lead tank was hit by a German shell, the tank burst into flames and the Lieutenant was killed along with other comrades of the ERY. For his part in the action Lieutenant Brooke was posthumously awarded the Commander-in-Chief's Certificate for Gallantry. This is mentioned in the 'Roll of Honour' in Victor Ellison's book 'Europe Revisited'.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Cambes-en-Plaine I could not find the name of Lieutenant Brooke or others from the ERY who died on 9 June 1944. Most of the 224 Commonwealth soldiers buried in the Cambes cemetery are from two of the infantry regiments involved in the liberation of Caen in early July 1944: the South Staffordshire Regiment and the North Staffordshire Regiment. The cemetery is situated on the northern outskirts of the village.

Two further monuments in Cambes commemorating Allied soldiers who died in June 1944. One in the village centre remembers the 59th Staffordshire Division and the 3rd British Infantry Division. The second monument near the War Cemetery is dedicated to the memory of the 2nd Battalion RUR who gave their lives in liberating Normandy in the summer of 1944 and in particular the attempt to liberate Cambes on 9 June. So, although the ERY played an important part in liberating this area of Normandy, it is not commemorated in the same way as the Infantry Regiments it was supporting at that time.

Bayeux War Memorial

Nevertheless, those servicemen from the ERY are commemorated in Normandy. In July 2004 I visited Bayeux War Cemetery and the Bayeux War Memorial. The Bayeux Memorial commemorates those Commonwealth troops who died during the Normandy campaign and have no known grave. It is here that I found the name of Lieutenant David Brooke and four others from the East Riding Yeomanry who died on 9 June 1944. I do not know whether these five soldiers were in the same tank when they died or they were in different tanks, they must all have died in the vicinity of Cambes-en-Plaine. Their names can be found on Panel 10, Column 2 of the Bayeux Memorial.

On the Bayeux Memorial there are more than 1800 Commonwealth land troops commemorated. In Bayeux Cemetery there are 338 unidentified graves so some of those named on the Memorial will have their remains buried in the nearby Cemetery. Those who look after these memorials and cemeteries in Normandy do a magnificent job in keeping alive the memory of those who died during the war. The names of the East Riding Yeomen I recorded are given below, together with their Commonwealth War Graves Commission citation. The information can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

1. Lieutenant David Brooke

"In Memory of Lieutenant David Brooke
292625, 1st East Riding Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps
who died age 20
on 09 June 1944.
Son of Mr and Mrs L.R. Brooke, of Bromley, Kent.
Remembered with honour, Bayeux Memorial"

2. Corporal John Jack

"In Memory of Corporal John Jack
3321238, 1st East Riding Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps
who died age 27
on 09 June 1944.
Son of James and Mary Jack, husband of Edith M. Jack.
Remembered with honour, Bayeux Memorial"

3. Trooper George John Albert Allen

"In Memory of George John Albert Allen
1428435, The East Riding Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps
who died age 31
on 09 June 1944.
Son of John and Rose Maud Allen, husband of Lilian Allen, of Dagenham, Essex.
Remembered with honour, Bayeux Memorial"

4. Trooper Ronald Giles

"In Memory of Trooper Ronald Giles
14245451, 1st East Riding Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps
who died age 20
on 09 June 1944.
Son of Winifred Mary Giles, of Bellingham, London.
Remembered with honour, Bayeux Memorial"

5. Trooper Richard Norris

"In Memory of Trooper Richard Norris
14373008, East Riding Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps
who died age 34
on 09 June 1944.
Son of Nicholas and Sarah Norris, husband of M. Norris, of Birkdale, Southport, Lancashire.
Remembered with honour, Bayeux Memorial"

At least four of these five servicemen originate from outside the East Riding of Yorkshire. Although the East Riding Yeomanry originally drew its personnel mainly from Hull and its environs, after Dunkirk men from all over the country were posted to the Regiment. Unfortunately I do not have further information about these five servicemen. However, as I already knew something of the role the ERY in the liberation of Cambes-en-Plaine, I made a note of their names when I visited the Bayeux Memorial. Their bravery and sacrifice is something that should be remembered.

Operations 'Charnwood' and 'Goodwood'

Most of this section is based on notes I made from Victor Ellison's book 'Europe Revisited'. It is included primarily to give an indication of the latter part of the ERY's activities in Normandy. 'Europe Revisited' should be consulted for a more complete version of events based on first-hand knowledge.

In July 1944 the East Riding Yeomanry took part in 'Operation Charnwood' beginning on 7 July with the 'Thousand Bomber Raid' on the German defences of Caen. The East Riding Yeomanry supported the 59th Infantry Division and fought on the northern outskirts of Caen, in the area around St Contest. As a result of 'Charnwood' most of Caen north of the river Orne was liberated within a couple of days.

After this battle, the Regiment was again sent back to the coast near Luc-sur-mer to recuperate. According to different sources of information, some British troops in Normandy received freshly baked bread for the first time on Tuesday 11 July. So I think it likely the East Riding Yeomanry would also have got fresh bread at Luc-sur-mer at this time.

On 18 July the Regiment took part in 'Operation Goodwood', mainly fighting on the eastern flank of the River Orne and Caen Canal to the east of Caen. Many detailed accounts have been written about 'Operation Goodwood'. There is nothing I can add about the role of the ERY in this article.

At the end of July 1944, 27 Armoured Brigade was broken up. The East Riding Yeomanry ordered to Creully, between Douvres-la-Délivrande and Bayeux. Their existing tanks were handed over to the Canadians. In the middle of August, the Regiment took over Mk I and Mk II Shermans. After most of the German troops were trapped in the 'Falaise Pocket' the East Riding Yeomanry became more mobile, crossed the Seine and trapped the Germans defending the port of Le Havre. Eventually the Regiment moved on from France and into Belgium and the Netherlands.

Conclusion

It can be difficult trying to accurately record events so many years after they have occurred. Sometimes different accounts about the Battle of Normandy can be contradictory. Trying to work out what exactly happened to whom, where and when is often not easy, even when standing where the events have taken place!

This article is based primarily on notes I have made from various sources about the East Riding Yeomanry. I have tried to ensure that what I have written is as accurate as possible. There are also a lot of things I have either omitted or only briefly referred to. However, I hope that it at least may be of interest to all those who are seeking information about the East Riding Yeomanry. Finally, I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of all those who served in the East Riding Yeomanry during World War Two, especially those killed in action.

Thank you for liberating so much of western Europe!

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