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The 11th Armoured Division's D-Day Landingicon for Recommended story

by Eric Patience

Contributed by 
Eric Patience
Article ID: 
A1324298
Contributed on: 
07 October 2003

I joined the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade, part of the 11th Armoured Division, in May 1942. After training for over a year, I expected to be sent to the Middle East to support Monty’s 8th Army. Instead, the 11th Armoured Division was kept back for the invasion of Normandy. In this excerpt, I describe my part in the D-Day landings on Juno Beach when I was wounded in action.

Leaving England

We were on our way — but little did we all know that we were to go through parts of London where we lived. One of my mates, who joined up with me and who was our piano player, saw his mum in Leytonstone. We all looked a sorry sight by now because the fumes of the engines were coming into our vehicles, making us look as if we were crying. We came down the A12 through Wanstead, Gants Hill and Whalebone Lane, and then there I was, passing the fields that, as a kid, I used to play on. I could see the ponds that we used to fish for newts and tadpoles.

Next came Mawney Road roundabout, only a few yards from home. I could see the barber shop where my brother George and I used to have our hair cut, and then there was the Marlborough Arms with the fish and chip shop next door. To my surprise, I saw my sister Kath standing by the post box only a few yards away. I am sorry to say that she didn't see me - maybe it was for the best though. We then passed North Street, Pettits Lane, Gallows Corner and all of a sudden it was gone.

I remember thinking to myself 'Will I ever see this again? Maybe I will or maybe I won't.' One thing we all knew was that a lot of us would not be coming home.

Tilbury was our port. We went along the A128, where today I still travel to see my eldest son, Stephen. We arrived just outside Tilbury and stayed in a transit camp for the night while our vehicles were loaded onto the ships. We were really annoyed that the dockers were on strike and refused to load our transport. Our own engineers and the ship's cranes had to do the job. The names we called those dockers… well they are unrepeatable. As we went to board the ships the people of Tilbury lined the streets to bid us farewell. They did all right because we threw all our spare change to the children. The ship, an old yankee ship called Samsit, was really dirty. We didn't know what it had been used for before, but the holds stank of all sorts. We had hammocks to sleep in and it was also the start of many months of not removing our clothes.

Seeing Action in Normandy

We woke next morning to find we were on the move. We were not allowed on deck but by standing on ladders we were able to look out and we could see the huge convoy of ships being escorted by the Royal Navy destroyers. We sailed through the Straits of Dover and laid off the Isle of Wight to wait for the arrival of more ships from the south coast. We were told these ships held the rest of our Division. We were soon on our way again.

When we dropped anchor off the Normandy beaches we were at last allowed out of the hold onto the deck. The fresh air did us all good. I will never forget the next thing we saw - it was unbelievable. There were hundreds of landing craft, large transporters, large and small warships. I have never seen so many boats. The landing craft were buzzing around like hornets carrying troops and supplies to the beach. The warships, including HMS Warspite, a 15-inch battleship, were sending salvo after salvo of shells inland.

All of a sudden it was our turn to go over the side. First our half tracks and bren gun carriers were lowered into the landing, craft followed by their crews. The scramble nets were then slung over the side then we had to go down the nets with all our gear on our back and our rifles around our necks. The little landing craft were rising and falling with the swell and I remember thinking 'One slip, old son, and it's goodbye life', but I'm glad to say we all made it. Once we were all into the landing craft we were heading for the beach, about six hundred yards away. We landed on Juno beach.

The first thing we did was to remove the water proofing from the engines. Then we made contact with the rest of our Battalion. I remember the terrible smell - the stench of cordite burning buildings but most of all the stench of dead animals, hundreds of them laying dead on their backs. It was a hot day and the smell was terrible - never have I seen such terrible slaughter of animals. I felt sick. We pulled into an orchard to rest for a few hours and have a meal as we hadn't eaten since we left Tilbury. We had a chance to write home and we here able to have a church service. I remember that the apples on the trees looked really inviting so I tried one. Ugh, they were cider apples - should have guessed.

Next day saw us in action amongst the villages and farm houses around the big air base just outside Caen. There were quite a few machine gun nests to deal with. If anyone had told me years earlier that I would be taking part in the greatest invasion this world had seen I would have laughed, but there I was - just goes to show that you can never foresee the future. We were in action all along the front line and sadly we were slowly losing our men, sometimes having to bury some of our mates where they fell. The Germans fought hard and gave us a hard time. What would have happened if we had been defeated in that bridgehead and been driven back into the sea?

Capturing Bridges Across the Oder and Oden Rivers

On or about three weeks after D-Day we, that’s the 11th Armoured Division plus two infantry divisions, were given orders to capture bridges across the Oder and Oden rivers. There was to be a heavy artillery barrage of over a thousand guns, this was Monty's trademark just like El Alamein a couple of years before. The noise was very loud and we had no ear protection. The guns started in the early morning and the noise was shattering - it went on and on and seemed like hours. Please don't ask how I felt as we waited for the order to move forward because I could not tell you. All I did know was that I was glad I was not on the receiving end of this barrage.

As we moved forward so did the shells (this is called a creeping barrage). The infantry divisions went first and at last the barrage stopped. As it did, out came the Germans from the cellars in the villages and from their holes in the ground. They were shaken but still ready to fight. We managed to capture the bridges across the rivers but with heavy loss, although the Germans lost more and we took prisoners of all ages, some only 15 or 16 years old. We soon learnt not to trust them or turn our back on them.

More and more animals were being killed. Towns and villages were being destroyed and hundreds of men were being killed or wounded but we still had to carry on. We had to eat and sleep when we could, washing was a thing of the past and eating was rare. Every section, which consisted of nine men, had its own rations. We had to cook and eat when we could. By now I had been in action for about three weeks and at no time had any of us taken off our clothes or eaten a decent meal.

We lost a lot of our tanks to anti-tank guns, one being the 88mm. We used Sherman tanks, which were called Tommy Cookers because, fuelled by petrol, they would blow up after being hit, killing the crew inside. Sometimes they were able to get out and sometimes they were killed or wounded — if a crew member was wounded and couldn't get out, their screams were terrible and really terrible to listen to, knowing we couldn't do anything to help. I remember another terrible event - one of our carriers hit a mine and the driver lost both his legs. It was terrible but thankfully over quickly. We buried him in his carrier, which was a wreck. He was only 21.

We also had two brothers in our company. The elder one was badly wounded and sent back via the mobile hospital. He was put on a landing craft which was to carry him and the other wounded soldiers to the hospital ship laying off shore. We later heard that the landing craft hit a mine and no one survived. The younger brother was devastated but he had to go on. I'm pleased to say that I met him last year and we had our photo taken together.

Surviving Hill 112

The city of Caen was being bombed and shelled all the time but the Germans still fought on. We came across Hill 112 (this later became famous). We had to take this hill and we did twice but lost it both times. The third time we held it and the villages below it. It was hell in one village called Gavrus - we took it but there were machine gun nests at one end that we had to capture. We lost one officer by the name of Lane. His family was a well known jockey family from Newmarket. We also lost our platoon Sgt., and plenty of others were wounded.

My section under Cpl. Peter Bisset was told to attack across a field. We got within about a hundred yards when we were spotted. The Spandau, which could file about a thousand rounds a minute, opened up and Peter who was next about 6 yards away, just dropped down on his face. I knew he was dead. I myself hit the ground and lay there for a few minutes. I looked around and realized that I was alone apart from Peter. If I moved they would get me, but I couldn't stay there.

There was a ditch either side of me about 25 yards away that's where the other lads had gone. I remember choosing the ditch on my left. I gathered my thoughts and moved as fast as I could. I got up and ran. The machine guns were behind me and to my right. I was, as far as I can recall, about half way when they opened fire on me. The bullets went over my shoulders one went through the side of my beret, then there was a burst about the size of a tennis ball which hit the hedge in front of me. I landed in the ditch and lay still for a while. Someone then spoke to me, it was Butch, our Lance Cpl. He asked if I was all right and I was, but just a few seconds later there was a huge explosion on the edge of the ditch and just above my head. It was a mortar bomb. Three times I had been close to death in a very short time and to this day I still believe that I should have died in that field near the village of Gavrus.

Injured

After the bomb went off I turned around to see if Butch was OK and all I saw was Butch staring at me with his mouth wide open. I think he thought I'd had it. My back was killing me and I had a piece of shrapnel about 2 inches long in my neck and I had to get back to the medical tent. Next thing I knew I was being flown back to England with some other lads who had also been injured. We landed at Swindon's Air Force base and after we had been given a meal we were put on a hospital train. It was the early hours of the morning but I had no idea of the day or date.

Half of us went to a hospital in Birmingham and the other half to a hospital in Wolverhampton. I remember being put to bed by some lovely nurses and Red Cross workers. I had nothing, only the dirty clothes I was in and I hadn't washed for days - I must have looked a right sight and I know I felt it. I woke up, which seemed like hours later, to find two nurses giving me a blanket bath - never had I had one of those before! When they saw I was awake they said 'Hello! How are you feeling?' All I could say was that I was so sorry for the trouble I was putting them to and I was sorry I was so dirty. They didn't mind one bit - they just smiled and said that they were only too pleased to help me. They were wonderful. I will always remember one. Her name was Staff Nurse White but I used to call her Chalky. She was usually our Staff Nurse on nights and if I couldn't sleep and she saw me she would always come and talk to me. Lovely Chalky was only about my age.

My first visitors were from the Salvation Army. They asked us if there was anything we needed and within hours we had cigarettes, matches, writing paper and stamps. They also brought us fruit and sweets. Lovely people. We also had young girls from the WVS come in to see if they could help us and to talk to us and make sure we were OK. They used to bring us newspapers and books. A couple of the girls took to me and my mate from the Middlesex Regt. I would really love to meet them again just to say thank you for everything they did, but we were discharged before we had a chance to say our farewells.

My sister-in-law, Mary, and her sister came to see us three or four times. I had written to Mary and to my family at home. They were the first letters I'd written since leaving England. It was lovely to see Mary and heir sister, Kate. Mary also told my ex-girlfriend where I was and what had happened and it was a nice surprise when she came to visit. I had X-rays of my back and they had to remove small fragments of metal and also the shrapnel from my neck.

We went out into town one day and what a welcome we got. We didn't have to pay for anything, not even the haircuts that we went out for. I will always remember walking along the road looking for the barber shop when a middle aged lady suddenly came across the road and gave us two shillings. All she said was 'God Bless!' and she was gone before we could even say thank you. Lovely people in that part of the country.

We were both discharged after a month in hospital and my mate returned to his Regt. and I had to report to the training battalion in Nottingham. When I arrived I met about six of my mates and one of my platoon sergeants. We were given new gear and had orders to report to a transit camp near Southampton.

I returned to the front line and went on to see action in France, Belgium, Holland, the Ardennes and Germany and participated in the liberation of Belsen. I was demobbed in September 1946.

Rifleman Eric Patience 6923784, The Rifle Brigade 1941- 46

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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 - Great Story!

Posted on: 05 November 2003 by Beano32

Just posting a message to say great story! Good attention to detail!! From Beano 32 via Ireland

 

Message 2 - Well done

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Christine

It was very good for me to read your story as my Dad was a D Day boy but he is now 78 years old and has dementia and remembers only bits of the war. I try to get more information from him, but his memory is not good. Thank you for sharing.

Message 1 - Hill 112

Posted on: 29 September 2004 by Frank Sumsion

Very moving story, my brother was on Hill 112 as a stretcher bearer with the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment, during the last two weeks of July until the Germans retreated in early August.
I have visited Hill 112 several times and walked out to Diamond Copse, it is impossible to imagine the hell that all of you went through, only you that were there can ever relate to those days. During that time, I was in Scotland doing my initial traing.
My brother left Hill 112 with battle fatigue but rejoined the regiment soon after and served with the Regiment until the end of the war. He served in BAOR before returning to the UK.
Thanks for telling your story
Frank Sumsion

Message 1 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 23 April 2005 by uniquejosephine

How pleased i was to finally find something written by someone on the 11th armoured div. My father was with them attached to 159 infantry, if you can help with the reconstruction of events of that time please contact me through the sit my name is uniquejosephine

Message 1 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 23 April 2005 by uniquejosephine

How pleased i was to finally find something written by someone on the 11th armoured div. My father was with them attached to 159 infantry, if you can help with the reconstruction of events of that time please contact me through the site my name is uniquejosephine

 

Message 2 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 29 April 2005 by EricPatience

I will pass your message on to my dad and if he can help you with anything I know he will be only too pleased. He will certainly agree with your dad when he says those poor riflemen. He is still able to recall those awful days not always with sadness he does have some funny stories which he still laughs about with some of his old comrades he is still in touch with after all these years. They still have a very close bond.
Kathy (Eric's daughter)

 

Message 3 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 01 September 2005 by operationgreycoat

If you are looking for information on the 11th Armoured Division, I would recommend The Black Bull by Patrick Delaforce which gives a great account of all aspects of the Division through Operations Epsom, Goodwood, Bluecoat all the way through to the liberation of Belsen.
My Grandfather, Pip Roberts, who commanded the Division, wrote a book called From the Desert to the Baltic, but this is a little harder to come by as it is now out of print.

 

Message 4 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 13 October 2005 by johnned

My father was in 75th AT in 11th armoured division. Some of his experiences are on the site under the name johnned. (I am his son and run the site for him.) He would love to get in touch with anybody concerning the11th Armoured Division.

 

Message 5 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 13 October 2005 by johnned

My father was in 75th AT of 11th Armoured Division. He is on this site as johnned. (I am his son who is contacting the site on his behalf.) He would love to share his experiences of the war.

He has always told me of his admiration for Pip Roberts as a leader.

 

Message 6 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 13 November 2005 by billyhotfoot

pip roberts must have been a marvellous leader as he is the one enduring name thetv i remember my father talking about his name was bill chalky whyte

 

Message 7 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 07 December 2005 by 11thhqbat

my uncle Robert Dickie was a seargeant with the 11th armoured div., HQ Batt. He had been a regular with the royal scots greys. he was killed near Caen I believe and is buried in la deliverande cemetery. My mother grieved for him all her life and this left an impression on me. I would love to have known him. He was a cavalry man and so loved horses. apparently the thing that upset him so much was the amount of injured animals he came across. I think I'm the only person to have visited his grave. I would very much like to know what happened in the two weeks or so he survived and what happened to him. Is it possible to find out?

 

Message 8 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 13 December 2005 by Searchin4dad

My dad told me stories when I was a boy about his time in the army during the second world war.

I have a vague memory of him telling me that his unit was part of a force that liberated Belsen Camp. I would like to know how I can find out for sure whether he was there. My mum has confirmed that he was in the 11th Armoured Division.

Please let me know if you can help. His name was George Steele

 

Message 9 - 11th armoured div.

Posted on: 21 December 2005 by EricPatience

Thamk you for your message. I was sorry to read about your uncle and I can understand how this must have effected your mother.
I am afraid I can not tell you what happened to him but in my book, The History of the 11th Arm. Div, which was given to us, it lists the casualities of our Div. I t states that your dear uncle was killed in a place called Amfreville on 18.7.44. Unfortunately it does not state how the men were killed.I hope this may be of some help but probably the only people who may be able to help you are men that were in your uncles company. This is listed as HQ Company, 11th Armoured Division.
I wish you well
Eric

Message 1 - Lost Officer

Posted on: 24 May 2005 by JWKFriend

I'm trying to locate a British Allied Officer, possibly a British Captain who befriended Erna Engmann at the British Headquarters in Bergen-Belsen in or around 1945. Erna was an interpreter for the Allies and may have worked as a secretary. She was German, born in 1991 in Bad Koesen, a village near Muehlhausen.

Anyone with information on the officer, please write.

Message 1 - 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Posted on: 21 August 2005 by Jack-Noakes

Hi Eric, It was so good to read your war stories and to find someone who was in 8th Rifle Brigade like my father. My name is Shirley and my late father Jack Noakes 6918804 was also in the 8th Battalion and part of the 11th Armoured. I am trying to find out what company he was in and wondered if you might be able help or know how i could find out? His trade was motor mechanic and he was a P/L/Sgt (MT Sgt in Europe).I have a photo taken in June 43 with the words HQ.COY. TRANSPORT. JUNE'43. but this might have changed when he went to Normandy with the 11th Armoured. Do you know the names of the 8th RB co's who were with the 11th Armoured in NW Europe?. I know he went through all the same places as you did and ended up in Schleswig on the Baltic coast.
It would be great if you knew my dad at all - he enlisted in 1940 when he was 25. His brother Dennis Noakes (11yrs younger) also joined him in 8th RB but not until 1944/5.
It's great that your daughter is able to help you post your stories - i only wish i could have don the same for my father.
Kind regards...Shirley
My best regards

 

Message 2 - 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Posted on: 06 September 2005 by EricPatience

Dear Shirley
I am sorry I have not replied sooner but my daughter has been on holiday and has only just got round to checking my messages for me.
I am sorry to say although I do recognise you fathers name I did not know him.
As you rightly say he was in the HQ company which meant he would have been in the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade Headquarters.
This would have meant they would have beenin charge of all our transport and they would have organised everything for us,the front line troops. The Company's you ask about would have been E,F,G,which I was part of, and H Company.
He would have stayed int HA Company with us right from Normany until the end.
I f you would like to find anyone from the HQ company I do have a address of 8th Rifle Brigade Veterans Assoc. I dont like to put it on this site as it is someones address but if you e mail me through the site I can pass it on to you that way and they may be able to help,
Regards
Eric

 

Message 3 - 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Posted on: 24 September 2005 by Jack-Noakes

Thank you Eric for your message - it was great to find someone who could explain what my dad's role entailed and that although you did not know him you did recognise his name - I have left a longer message for you in your Pigeon Hole on your personal page.
Do you know if HQ Coy would have embarked for Europe from Tilbury the same as you did. Dad's servive records state that he embarked on 9th June 44 but not from where. A letter written to my mother says that they were approx 4 days on the boat.
Hope to speak again soon.
Best wishes...Shirley

 

Message 4 - 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Posted on: 01 October 2005 by EricPatience

Dear Shirley
Thank you for your message and it is my pleasure to be of help to you. I t is great when I can help family with unanswered questions. It helps when things make more sense and that it why this website was such a good idea.
In answer o your question, yes your dad and HQ company travelled with us, G Company, from Tilbury on a ship called Samsip. I dont know what this boat had been carrying but it was a smelly old thing especially when you are stuck down below for a few days.
I e mailed you recently and I hope you received it, and once again if you would like to ask me any questions personally please write or phone.
Best wishes
Eric

 

Message 5 - 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Posted on: 08 January 2006 by harrylampshire

hi shirly
good news ,your dad was in H company ,along with my dad,they left via tilbury on the troop ships,and landed on june 13th,i know all this because i have my dads war diary,it was a company diary, and makes great reading,all the places named by jack my dad fought at and hill 112 was one of the worst,the address for your dad that he wasliveing at was 3 bostock av wellingborough road northampton,
if i can help you at all please get in touch,there must be a way that you could get hold of the company was diary
regards harry, ps
my dad died in 1965,but this is a hobbie of mine

 

Message 6 - 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Posted on: 09 January 2006 by harrylampshire

Dear eric
hope you dont mind me emailing you,but my dad was in H company HQ his name was lenny lampshire,and i am lucky to have his war diary which tells a day by day account of what you guys went though, i have emailed shirley and told her that her dad was also in H company,his name is in the diary also,In your reply to shirley you say that you have an address of the 8th rifle Brigade veterans assoc,
if its at all possable could you please send me it so as i can find out more about my dads war,he first landed on the 13th june and went right though to SCHLESWIG,the same as you,
regards harry

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