- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Major Matthew Guymer MBE and others
- Location of story:
- Caen, Falaise, Normandie
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 August 2005
The regiment crossed the river over 'London Bridge' having left St Andre on the 17th and turned south to move among the congested outskirts east and then south of Caen. 'A' Sqdn had only shortly arrived before we left the grounds of the Chateau and was with 'D' and 'RHQ' Sdns trying to get into position on the right of the Corps front to join 11th and Guards Armoured Divisions for Operation Goodwood.
The traffic jam caused by three armoured divisions having to cross the river and canal East of Caen using just two bridges and to squeeze into an area only three miles wide was a bit trying. We took our share of the enemy shelling and bombing again and during the air raid that night, one German bomber managed to get through the anti aircraft barrage and 'A' Sqdn unfortunately became its target. Butterfly and heavy bombs scored direct hits and the casualties were disastrous. Nine officers and men were killed and six others wounded. The operation was memorable for us because of the acute unpleasantness we were subjected to and the resulting loss of our General 'Bobby' Erskine, our most experienced and respected commander of 7th Armoured Division. We suffered such heavy casualties and tank losses Goodwood was called off.
During the next few days the rain fell day and night soaking our cars, our bedding and clothing and turning our slit trenches into clammy baths. The French said that it was the wettest and the worst summer for 60 years. Besides the rain, which drenched everything, there was the dust when it did not rain. This was equally unpleasant and turned the cars, our faces, our bedding and brown and crimson berets a dull misty grey. Extremely virulent mosquitoes continually added to our further personal discomfort during this period, as they seemed to thrive on the anti mosquito cream supplied by the medical teams. From the aspect of sheer discomfort, many of us reckoned that the three days that we spent in the City, factory area and the area south of Caen on the racecourse.
Next morning we left what had been the most beautiful city in Normandie, now devastated and little more than heaps of stones and rubble. Those who saw the destruction of the City and the factory area would never forget either of them or the days that we spent there. The regiment went back across the Orne to rest for a while at Anisy and then we returned to the Chateaux at St Andre.
My troop leader Mr Wild was injured in a car accident, had to be medically evacuated to UK. Sgt Andrews took over the troop until we got a new officer and I carried on doing the gun surveying. During the night of the 25th, we moved southwards through la Belle Epine to start patrolling back to St Germain d'Ectot and to the outskirts of Caumont once again. Our start point for the 'breakout' was to be Caumont and after motoring all night we were on the outskirts on the 31st July.
The Sdn started from Cahagnes with orders to patrol the road to Villers Bocage and on to Aunay sur Odon. That night we were bombed heavily again and Mr Llewellen-Palmer was killed and Mr Newton and two others were wounded, several cars were hit. On the 5th August, Sgt Wilf Luke with 5th Troop entered the main square of Aunay-sur-Odon and was met by 3 Troop 'C' Sqdn coming in from another direction. Aunay, which had been destroyed by our bombers and artillery, was considered the most devastated town in France. The only thing still standing when later I drove through the town, was the hollow battered church tower. The Sdn was under constant shelling from the German artillery when we reached the high ground south west of Thury-Harcourt on the 6th August. It was from this area that the gun troops of the regiment were sent off to do some serious shooting as a complete battery with the 5th RHA, that lasted until last light, when we could no longer get any accuracy using the gun sight clinometers. We acquitted ourselves very well and split up to rejoin our Sqdns.
It was night fall on the return journey to the Squadron, during which I made my most serious personal mistake using the radio during the war. We were nearly out of radio range and contact was difficult on speech, because of too much night static. The position I was given to find SHQ was in slidex code, the message was scrambled and difficult to understand. The call for the repeated slidex coded message was no better, so to get clarification I called up to query the squadron position in clear language instead of code. I knew I had made a terrible mistake the moment the words left my mouth. The next instant the Sqdn Ldr's signal Sgt (Tommy Sugget) called me up. 'Report to Sunray immediately on return'. When I arrived at SHQ, my Sdn Ldr Major Tony Crankshaw was digging his silt trench and he was very angry. 'Guymer, if one aircraft bomb, mortar bomb, enemy shell or bullet arrives in this headquarters over night, I will personally cleave your head off with this shovel. Now go and dig yourself a very deep hole.'
I didn't sleep well that night; luckily for me there was no enemy action anywhere near us throughout the night. I was glad that my life hadn't been shortened. Next morning as I walked over to SHQ to get the new codes and radio frequencies, I passed the Sqdn Ldr who to my great relief just looked at me and grinned. I was cheered up considerably, when he said 'Good morning Guymer, how did you sleep?'
By the 13th August, the Battle of the Falaise Gap was under way and it lasted for several days.
One of my worst experiences in Normandie was the disturbing journey from Thury Harcourt, where we took a lot of enemy shelling and mortaring, we were ordered to drive the route passing across the northern area of the battle of the Falaise Gap. The American army had pushed across France from the west to Falaise and the British, Canadian and Polish armies moved south from Caen to close the gap north of Falaise in the attempt to entrap the German army in Normandie.
The result of that devastatingly, fearful battle was that thousands of men and horses were killed and were for a time left on the roads, on the tracks, in the fields throughout the countryside. The abandoned ruined equipment, the paraphernalia and the bodies covering that beautiful part of Normandie was an appalling sight. We had to wet our scarves and handkerchiefs to cover our mouths and noses to try to cut out the awful stench. This was caused by the smell of rotting crops, the nasty unpleasant all consuming odour of dead men, farm animals and dead bloated army horses, to say nothing of the wet horrid stink of the churned up mud.
Traffic jams clogged up the roads, because of the large number of vehicles and equipment on the move as well as the abandoned equipment and the ruins of a retreating army. There were also hundreds of German Prisoners of War who had to be dealt with. If it was not chaos, then it was a hell of a muddle. Those of us who were there and witnessed the carnage will never forget with revulsion and the unspeakably dreadful horror of it all for the rest of our lives. Memories of these experiences will fade, although you do not think so at the time, they do do so. Because your mind protects you.
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.
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