- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bill Cheall
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- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 May 2005
Bill Cheall in uniform
Looking around us we could see other assault craft taking station at each side of us. The sea was very choppy but the light was now improving and the whole mighty operation became visible to us - and what a sight it was. The mind could not absorb the enormity of it all. There were thousands of ships of all sizes and, standing out like huge sentinels, the mighty war ships. Nobody could vividly describe what a tremendous occasion it was, to see all that power, it would never be seen again in our lifetime - so many ships in one place at one time. If the British people could have seen it they would have been very proud.
The sky seemed to be full of planes, bombers, hurricanes, spitfires and others I could not recognise, hundreds of them going towards our target for the day.
Enormous power surrounded us but it could all come to nothing if the infantrymen failed at the first hurdle. Failure was not in our vocabulary or in our thoughts on this day, a memorable day in the history of the world. The 6th June 1944 will go into the history books.
The other assault craft in the line with us, and in the hands of competent helmsmen, sped towards the beach and very soon through a slight drizzle, we could see the coastline, Rommel's Atlantic wall. Warships were shelling the fortifications and the sound of the shells flying above us was uncanny, great flashes were coming from the gun barrels and lit the morning sky.
We were now making full use of our sick bags but could still manage to see what was going on around us; nobody wanted to miss this great occasion. Then shells started coming towards us; the enemy seemed to be going for the ships not us and they created great spouts of water when they hit the sea. Now we could see bombs falling from our planes and fighters skimming low above the enemy defenders. An amazing sight suddenly opened up to port side of us about five hundred yards away. It was a rocket ship which sent a continuous barrage of missiles screaming, dead straight towards the coast; it was fantastic but I should not imagine that the enemy on the receiving end would describe it so.
We were getting near now and the defence machine guns opened up; a landing craft next to us suddenly slowed down; the helmsman must have been hit by a bullet. Swiftly, somebody took over control but the boat was now a little out of line with the other assault craft and I saw it hit a mine; and was blown to pieces. The enemy fire made us keep our heads down and all we could do was watch the umbrella of planes above us, the noise was terrific, there is nothing I can compare it with, to try and convey to you the enormity of it all.
It seemed to be a hell of a long way to the beaches, then peeping just above the top of our craft I saw another boat hit a mine, it was awful, the front half of the boat was lifted out of the water and smashed to smithereens, bodies and pieces of body flying in all directions. The stern half of the boat just went under the water. All those boys, laden as they were, would not have stood an earthly chance of survival.
We were getting nearer to the shore and, suddenly, the helmsman shouted at the top of his voice "100 to go, 75 to go, all ready, 50 to go!" The enemy machine guns were giving the lads some stick. "Ramps down!" and in three feet of water, the craft stopped dead. Our platoon commander shouted "come on lads! and we moved as fast as we could, I can tell you. It was no fun being a sitting target and the water being waist deep made it very difficult. Two of the lads went forward as they jumped into boiling water and they went under with all their gear; I dare say they would fight like hell and recover but we were not hanging about, that had been our instructions from the start; we must not linger.
I heard later that a Sergeant in D company had been drowned when, as he jumped into the sea, the craft lurched forward and he was forced beneath the boat. I knew that chap and knew he would have given a very good account of himself had he lived to go into the assault. He was rough at the edges but he was a great scrapper and good soldier; his name was Rufty Hill.
I was told that two lads who jumped into the water after me had been hit by gunfire.
It was impossible for me to keep the mortar dry but the six bombs would be OK in their sealed container. Keeping as low as possible was the right thing to do but in the process we were soaked to the skin from head to foot; who cared so long as we got away safely. It was quite a heavy drizzle now and it continued until about 1600hrs. Fortunately, with our exertions our clothes soon dried out; anyway we had more important things to think about so our personal comfort was of little consequence.
A flail tank had gone into the assault on King beach before us to make a path through the minefield which ran along behind the beaches. Unfortunately, it had been knocked out and was standing on the beach about ten yards from the sand dunes. The crew had bailed out and had continued, under fire, to make a path across the minefield and had taped it. Our old company commander, Captain Hull, having been promoted to Major, was on a signal ship and keeping in touch with proceedings. We now had a new C.O., Captain Linn; tragically he was very soon wounded on the run up the beach. I saw him resting with his back against the tank and while he was in that position received a second wound which proved fatal. He was such a good man. The second in command, Captain Chambers, now took over and he too was wounded but was able to carry on his duties. At this time we lost Sergeant Burns but I never did get to know how many others were actually killed on the beach.
Just as I looked at Captain Linn our platoon commander took control, "get off the beach - off the beach, off the bloody beach, get forward lads and give the buggers hell!" It was difficult to make too much haste in the soft sand but, by a supreme effort, we ran up the slope towards the sand banks in face of heavy enemy fire. Dead and wounded lads lay around but the stretcher bearers were always close at hand to take care of them. They were bricks, those medics.
I'll tell you what, we didn't look back; the situation didn't allow it but now I wish I had the presence of mind to turn around to see the navy in action.
After all our haste and determination and taking about fifty prisoners, there wasn't a great deal of opposition after we had left the beach, though there was some machine gun fire and always the snipers, looking to kill our officers. We had taken some prisoners and, of course, killed many of the enemy.
D Company, on our right, was held up by machine gun fire from a pill box and the Sergeant Major Stan Hollis, brave man that he was, rushed zig -zag over open ground and threw hand grenades through the aperture and killed the enemy. Stan Hollis won the only Victoria Cross awarded on D Day, a true Green Howard to the core. Stan's citation said that he saved the lives of many of his comrades by his action.
We moved forward warily now, keeping to hedgerows whenever possible. We never knew when danger threatened, usually marksmen, because up to now we had not seen an enemy tank.
The make-up of the country started to change very quickly and we were confronted by a situation we had not seen before; it was called the bocage, small fields which all had 'v' shaped ditches around them. The earth from the ditches formed a bank and on top of the banks, hedgerows had been planted. It was ideal country for defensive positions to be set up but disadvantageous to attackers.
We met some stubborn resistance about three miles inland; the enemy were putting down intensive machine gun fire from a small wood and we could not get around it. Then we saw something new to us - the C.O. had got a message over the air with the result that a Churchill tank came up in no time at all. It went towards the wood and came under anti tank fire, whereupon it retaliated as quick as a flash. It was a flame throwing tank and it shot a huge tongue of flame towards the wood and fried the enemy who had been holding us up; bet it was a bit hot !
Daylight was drawing to a close and our company came to rest in a corner of one of the fields in line with the other company's. We were to rest here for the night and adequate sentries had been placed. The platoon commander walked amongst us; he knew us all by name and was singing praises to us all, how well we had done and all the usual things. Most platoon officers were first class and well liked by the lads, even cracking jokes with us. After he left us we sat in twos and threes and proceeded to dig into our packs for something to eat. We came across something else new to us, it was a tin of ready meal which was self heating, all we had to do was pull a ring and, hey presto, after a few minutes we had a hot meal; it was great. Then, of course, we had chocolate in our emergency pack.
We had thoroughly dried out by now and felt more comfortable so proceeded to organise somewhere to sleep, or try to.
Taking our ground sheet from our pack we spread it out and, using our pack once more as a pillow, covered ourselves with the gas cape and really we should have slept because for three nights sleep had evaded us. I closed my eyes as I lay on my back and prayed to Jesus.
"The day thou gavest Lord is ended, the darkness falls at thy behest,to thee our morning hymn ascended, thy praise shall sanctify our rest."
Of course this is the first verse of hymn number 667 in the Methodist hymn book.
I then said to myself "O Lord grant that the souls of our fallen comrades who have given all in battle rest in peace with thee in heaven, watch over us in the days to come." I ended with the Lord's Prayer.
I felt better and drifted into a restless sleep.
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