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16 October 2014
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WWII - D-Day
Stanley Burrows MBE 1922-2004

Stanley's very personal and intimate remembrance of taking part in D-Day.

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It's with great sadness that we have to update this story with the news that following a short illness, Stanley Burrows passed away, peacefully, on the 2nd of October 2004.

Here at YPAM we are very fortunate to get the opportunity to speak with and interview men and women who have put their lives at the ultimate risk for their country. To hear first hand their stories of bravery, delivered in such a modest and proud manner, is a very humbling experience. Stanley Burrows was no exception.


Article written July '04

Stanley Burrows
Stanley Burrows
In 1940 Stanley Burrows was eighteen years old and, inspired by the distinguished military careers of his father and uncles, was desperate to join the army. However he was already in full-time employment and his father, aware of his desire to sign-up, and reluctant to have another son join the front-line, had persuaded his bosses at the shipyard to refuse him permission to leave on the grounds that he was involved in ‘important work’ for the war effort. Undeterred, Stanley came up with a cunning plan, he would get himself sacked from Harland and Wolf and be free to join up!

Audio Clip 1:
Stanley talks about his 'cunning plan'
.

Everything went according to plan. Having been 'successfully' dismissed from his job, Stanley was able, to join the 70th Battallion of the Royal Ulster Rifles. His intensive training began almost immediately and before his platoon’s eventual move to England in 1941 Stanley had taken part in two air-raids in Belfast and had already been exposed to the horrors of war. Standing on duty in Belfast’s Corporaton Street he was responsible for guiding the frightened masses of people to safety and later, digging casualties and bodies from the rubble.


An Ambitious Soldier

The 70th battalion's move to England, was closely followed by a decision to disband the unit, volunteers were sought for other divisions within the Rifles. ‘Anxious for thrills’ Stanley tried to sign up for the Commandos but his application was too late, however he was more fortunate in applying for the 6th Airborne Division and was accepted into the Gliders.

To earn his ‘Para's wings’ a soldier had to make eight flights. On his first flight, Stanley recalls asking the pilot how many trips he had made, this would be his third, and he’d crash landed the first two, was the reply! But they made it down safely - although he does remember some hairy moments when they landed and crashed through hedges or anything else that got in the way.


A Mother’s Intervention

Still someway short of eight jumps, Stanley was called in for a second medical and alarm bells immediately started to ring. On entering the army, he’d managed to disguise a perforated eardrum, continuously seeping he’d dried it out by pouring peroxide into his ear – had he now been discovered?

He had been! After just six weeks with the Paras he had to be released, it was decided that his feet would have to remain firmly on the ground.

It wasn’t until many years later when his mother had died that Stanley discovered she’d notified the authorities of his condition. Out of deep concern for his wellbeing and anxious that he was putting himself in added jeopardy by being in the Gliders, she had written a letter to his superiors
warning them of his perforated eardrum.


Exercise Fabulous

Although unable to continue in the 6th Airbourne Division, Stanley was welcomed into the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles, 3rd Division. Intensive training began almost immediately. Although the men were under the illusion that they were being deployed to the Mediterranean for the invasion of Sicily, word eventually spread that General Montgomery, who had fought before with the Ulster Rifles, was commandeering them for his new mission.


Stanley's Platoon
Ninth Platoon, A Company 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles - Hawick 1945.


In May 1944 the Battalion was moved to Draxford in the South of England, still unaware of the exact location of their mission they were faced with sand models of the Normandy beaches, Stanley to this day and with the benefit of hindsight, marvels at how lifelike and identical they were to the beaches on the French coast.

Training was relentless and rigorous, Monty believed that in a war situation it was ‘noise and fatigue’ that breaks a man down, so in training live Bren guns and rifles were fired over the heads of the men and when the weather became really bad exercises were lengthened rather than shortened!

The hardy 3rd division were selected in May 1944 to take part in Exercise Fabulous, a precursor of what was to come in the next month. On arrival back to camp the men were treated returning heroes, something they did nothing to dispel.

Audio Clip 2:
Stanley talks about 'exercise fabulous'.

D-Day Crossing

The Crossing
Bad weather resulted in the initial postponement of Operation Overlord, but two days later the allies were ready to advance to France. Stanley recalls men crammed in tight, sitting on beds stacked in tiers of four or five, from floor to ceiling. Many were sick, the seasickness tablets seeming only to exacerbate their condition. After rendezvousing with the rest of the forces at a designated point in the Channel called Piccadilly Circus, men were allowed above deck. Below, a calmness permeated the ship as the men were instructed to write a last letter home, Stanley wrote to his mother, saying all the things he felt he should of but had never got around to saying.

Audio Clip 3:
Stanley emotively recalls the letter he wrote to his mother during the crossing.

 


Betsey's Baptism
As Stanley’s ship approached Sword Beach he remembers being absolutely amazed at the blackness of the sea and air - covered with ships and planes. The Germans began to attack almost immediately and Stanley’s landing craft was hit by a shell, which passed through the hull and luckily failed to explode.

Grounding the ship in eight foot of water, two members of the division went ashore first, taking with them a lifeline (a rope), which the others were to use to guide them to the beach. Looking over the side of the ship into the water below Stanley knew that he’d never make the shore if he had to carry his bicycle, his Brem gun (Betsey) and 56 pounds of equipment, so he made a quick decision and
ditched his bicycle.

Audio Clip 4:
Stanley recounts his journey to the shore and 'Betsey's baptism'.



Leon–Sur-Mer

The shelling was relentless, and all around men were falling into the water, miraculously everybody from Stanley’s company managed to make it to onto the beach unharmed, forging on to the assembly point at Leon-Sur –Mer, a small village about a mile inland. Snipers constantly bombarded the sodden troops on the way to the assembly point, however the battalions excellent sniper team managed to deflect any serious threat.

However it was while bedding down after having dug in for the night that Stanley encountered his first German at close quarters. Aware of a rustling within earshot, Stanley and a colleague were suspicious, was it a wild animal in the woods or was it something more sinister?

Audio Clip 5:
Stanley talks about capturing his first prisoner of war.

A Double Escape

The next day the Battalion were ordered to capture Cambes, a small village thickly wooded and six miles inland, that was strategically important for progression towards Caen. Believed to be lightly held by the Germans and surrounded by a large ten-foot wall, the Rifles D company were to lead the attack, followed up by Stanley and A company. As A company advanced up the road four Luftwaffe fighters appeared from nowhere and riddled the middle of the road with heavy fire, the men who’d been marching up either side of the road, dived for cover, unbelievably not one was injured.

Audio Clip 6:
Listen as Stanley recalls his double escape.


Forging into the wood D company lost many men that day, the Germans had a much securer hold on it than had originally been suspected and Stanley and his company were forced to retreat. On the way back they were sought refuge in a house which had been occupied by German forces, and it was here that Stanley again cheated death for the second time that day.


Cambes Wood

On the 9th June, a consolidated attack was planned for the capture of Cambes Wood. The battalion was to advance at 15.15 hrs, traversing through the open cornfield to reach the U shaped hole in the ten foot wall surrounding the wood. As the men progressed fifteen feet into the field the assault started, the heavy shelling and mortar fire were relentless, men were falling all around, Stanley’s platoon officer, lying with blood trickling down his face waved his hand at Stanley for the men to continue advancing. Stanley and his colleagues, still standing, made a run for the hole in the wall, nine of them made it, but inside they were to witness a scene of terrible carnage – all around British and German soldiers where lying dead.

The cornfield the men had to cross to reach Cambers Wood.

 

Anger at an Officer

The nine of them then fought their way to a large farmhouse, where Lieutenant Corporal White asked for a volunteer to run back to the company to let them know of their whereabouts. Stanley gallantly offered. Running back through the wood, at a frantic pace, he had to keep shouting to the men from his company not to shoot, that he wasn’t a German. On reaching the company puffing and panting and obviously out of breath, Stanley became more incensed than he’d ever been with a fellow soldier. Unsympathetic and seemingly oblivious to Stanley’s ordeal, the officer in charge barked at him to stop spluttering and say what he had to say. At that moment risking his life to notify this man seemed like a foolhearty gesture!

Although they experienced heavy casualties the battalion managed to secure Cambes that day.


The Chicken Soup Incident


From then on Stanley and his company were stationed at Cambes. On the 17th June 1944, Stanley caught sight of a chicken wandering around No-man's land, constantly hungry, he immediately sprung into action and within minutes the bird was captured and placed with some goosegabs and leaks in a in a biscuit tin. Cooking up the chicken soup, a shell struck the petrol and the tin splashed the boiling liquid all over a startled Stanley. He immediately dived for cover and covered his hands and face in earth, however he didn't realise that he'd caught fire and his fellow officers had to extinguish his burning clothes. Havingnegelected to seek treatment from the medics, Stanley's body went into shock that evening and by morning his exposed skin had blistered all over, his fate was sealed, he had to return to England for treatment. Even his return home was not without incident, flying back over the Channel his plane came under fire from the Royal Navy, yet again Staley managed to remain unscathed!


Remembering Crangles

After recuperating in England Stanley rejoined the Rifles but was injured again on 9th August 1944, this heralded the end of his service with them. However he did continue to serve with other units, and was attached to the 1st Paras when they joyously liberated the gratefull citizens of Copenhagen.

Stanley army career ended in 1946, when he was demobbed. By then, he had gratefully escaped many precarious and dangerous situations with his life intact, however he witnessed many horrific sights, but none more personally upsetting than the death of his close friend Crangles. Coming through their training together, Crangles and Stanley forged a close friendship, with Stanley even refusing promotion to stay with his pal. Crangles horrific death at Cambes Wood left an indelible print on Stanley's mind. However travelling back many years later to Cambes Wood, and witnessing the fitting tributes and graves given to Crangles and the others, has helped assuage the discontent that Stanley felt for many years.

Audio Clip 7:
Stanley remembers Crangles.

Stanley has travelled back to Normandy often with his friend and fellow YPAM interviewee Richard keegan. Most recently attending the momentous 60th Anniversary Celebrations.


Stanley Burrows and Richard Keegan Stanley Burrows
Stanley and his friend Richard Keegan on Sword Beach at a memorial ceremony. Stanley exhibiting all the medals gained by his family from military service.

 


Another Northern Ireland man among the soldiers who landed on Sword beach in June 1944 was Andrew Charles. He spoke to YPAM reporter John Gregg about his experiences, which he has compiled into a book called My War, published by Beechland Publishing. (The interview was broadcast on the programme on 12th June 2004)
Andy Charles' memories of the Normandy landings are very clear, but he obviously wasn't so clear about his age when he went to join up at the age of 17......

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