BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Tich Rayners War Experiences

by Marion Dorrell

Contributed by 
Marion Dorrell
People in story: 
Raymond (Tich) Rayner, Colonel John Howard
Location of story: 
Normandy, Pegesus Bridge
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
15 May 2005

First I must tell you about our training, first of all we were sent to Ilfracombe in Devon for 3 weeks of intensive training, which included cliff climbing and at the end we had to march back to Bulford which was 131 miles with full pack weighing 80lbs this took us 4 days and some of the lads needed help on the way so we took their packs and carried those as well.
Other training we did was Street Fighting in bombed out parts of towns and cities, we became experts at that and unarmed combat.


We arrived at Terrant Rushton on the 28th May 1944 after finishing our last intensive training on two bridges near Exeter. The bridges were exactly the same as the Benouville and Ranville Bridges, 50 yards long and a quarter of a mile apart on the same road.
This is when John Howard told us about our objective, which was in Normandy. We had to take the bridges and hold them until relieved.
The information for this came from the Café Gondree, where Theresa Gondree talked to the Germans and got lots of information of what was going on around the two bridges.
She then passed this information on to her husband who then passed it on to Mme Viorn, this was then passed on to the French Resistance in Caern they in turn passed it to the Mad House on Salisbury Plain, which was the Airborne Division Headquarters.
This was passed to John Howard at Terrant Rushton
The briefing was as follows: - No 1 — 2 — 3 Gliders land on the Benouville Bridge, No 1 Glider which was the first to land, 3 men to knock out the Pill Box on the East of the bridge. John Howard then takes it over for his Command Post.
The remaining men to run across the Bridge and knock out the inner defences.
No. 2 Glider to knock out the outer defences.
No. 3 Glider is Reserve section who can be moved to any place where needed.
Gliders No. 4 — 5 — 6 are the same as No. 1- 2 — 3 but on the Ranville Bridge.
In reality No 4 glider landed on the wrong bridge so No. 5 glider was to take it’s place.
No. 5 glider landed to far away so No. 6 glider had to take No.4s place.
No.4 glider landed 6 to 8 miles away and had to fight their way back to the rest of them.
In our briefing we were told that there were 50 German troops under the command of Major Hans Schmite holding the Benouville and Ranville bridges. They were part 716th Infantry Division; Colonel Hans Von Luck commanded the 125th Panzer division also the SS Panzer division.
The German Troops on the bridge were only 3rd rate troops and we were an Elite force.

In our briefing we were told that there were 50 German troops under the command of Major Hans Schmite holding the Benouville and Ranville bridges. They were part 716th Infantry Division; Colonel Hans Von Luck commanded the 125th Panzer division also the SS Panzer division.
The Troops on the bridge were only 3rd rate troops and we were an Elite force.

The equipment we took with us was as follows:- Rifles, Sten Guns, Bren Gun, Piot Guns, 303 and 90mm, Bandoliers, Grenades, Phosphorous Bombs, Bren and Sten gun Magazines and Piot Bombs, also included were K. Rations and Field Dressings which all weighed in at 80lbs
We were given a meal which was fat free to stop us from vomiting and told to get some sleep before take off.
Blacking our faces and with John Howard wishing us luck we finally took off from Tarrant Rushton at approx 2300hrs on the 5th June and crossed the French coast at 0010hrs on the 6th June.
The tugs which were Halifax bombers cast us off over Cabourg at 16,000ft then dived to 2,000ft to pick up our target which the glider pilots picked up with compass and watch. To prevent deafness on the steep dive we had to shout like hell, we also had to link arms to prevent us from being thrown around inside the glider and to lift our feet up before landing as it could take your legs off landing at 90mph on rough ground.
The first glider landed at 0016hrs and the others a minute apart after one another. We landed on the river Dives Bridge at 0019hrs on the 6th June after being fired on near Varaville with tracer bullets, they didn’t hit us and we had a perfect landing. Unfortunately we were on the wrong bridge 8 miles from where we should have been.

Soon after landing No.4 glider the platoon commander Lieutenant Hooper went on a ‘recce’ to a small copse to find out where they had actually landed. It wasn’t long before he was making his back across the bridge accompanied by two German soldiers; he had been stripped of his weapon, his map case, helmet and boots.
The rest of Lieutenant Hooper’s platoon was situated in a ditch next to the bridge which he was being marched across. Myself and Capt Priday(the second in command of the whole operation) lay in wait for for them and when they were within 10yards of the hidden platoon they shouted ‘Jump Tony’ at which Lieutenant Hooper jumped away from the Germans. The men in the ditch then started firing at the two Germans, unfortunately as one fell dying he tightened his grip on the trigger of his MP40 Schmeisser Sub Machine Gun which chattered into life killing the wireless operator and wounding me in the right arm, from then on has lived with the reputation of being shot by a dead German. I fought on for over 6 hrs wading through flooded marshland before my wounds were dressed.
We finally met up with John Howard at the bridge and at about 0300 hrs the Germans started their counter attack, John Howard heard a tank start up so he told Lt Fox to take his platoon to the ‘T’ Junction with a Piot gun unfortunately his had been smashed on landing so Lt Smith told Fox’s platoon to take Sgt Wagger Thornton who was practically buried under equipment as he was a small man. He had a Sten gun and ammunition, a Piot gun with Bombs, a Bren gun and magazines.
Sgt Thornton got within 30yds of the tank and as it turned on the ‘T’ junction he fired and then all hell broke loose. The explosion from the Piot bomb penetrated the tank setting off all the ammunition that was in it when the tank behind it saw what was happening it turned round and hurried away. That was the first battle John Howard won.
*(The tank was one the Germans had captured from the French in 1940)*
After this the Germans sent a couple of E boats up the canal to blow up the bridges. Cpl Godbold fired his Piot gun at one of them and sank it and took the German crew prisoner.
Then a German plane came over to bomb it without much success as his bomb fell in the canal and didn’t explode, after this a frogman swam up the canal and tried to blow it up but he was shot.
No.5 platoon was defending the Ranville Bridge when they heard someone moving so they asked for the password which was a ‘V’ followed by the word Victory and as this wasn’t given they opened fire and killed 6 Germans and a British Paratrooper who they were holding prisoner, he was a Pathfinder.
They then heard a car racing towards the bridge with a motor cycle escort, they fired and killed the escort and the driver of the Mercedes who was only 16 they wounded the passenger a Major Schmidt it seems they had just taken his girl friend home.
Major Schmidt wanted Lt Sweeney to shoot him as he had let the Fuhrer down, he was given a shot of morphine by Doctor Vaughan and as he recovered he told them he was the Commander of the 2 Bridges.
No.14 platoon then brought 2 prisoners to John Howard who were Italian slave labourers in the Tadt Organisation who the Germans used to dig holes for putting poles in the ground to stop gliders from landing. Any way they were released and they went back to digging more holes, you can imagine the laughter this caused, Silly Buggers.
We had 2 soldiers killed and 2 taken prisoners, more were killed, wounded and taken prisoner in Escoville.
The Soldiers killed were Sgt. Pete Barwick, Private Everett and Private Hedges was killed after being taken prisoner.
Lt Brotheride was shot crossing the Benoville Bridge.
L/cpl Greenhalgh was killed being thrown out of the glider and landing in a pond 6ins deep near the bridge and drowned as he was unconscious.
The 7th Para troop Battalion were to relieve ‘D’ Company in approx 30 minutes but it took them 3hours and if it hadn’t been for Wagger Thornton blowing up the tank on the ‘T’ junction they would have reached ‘D’ company at all.
They were commanded by Colonel Pine-Coffin, Lord Lovats commandos also helped to relieve ‘D’ company at approx 1300 hrs on the 6th June.
The first of the beach beach parties to link up with us with a Churchill Tank was Lord Lovat and his bagpiper leading them across the bridge playing his bagpipes, unfortunately some of them were killed by snipers firing on them and a few of ‘D’ company got hit as well.
I had a near miss as well I was in the first aid post when we joined the company at Escoville or Ranville.
Wally Parr as I have mentioned before was a very good soldier and he and three others went into a pit as it was good camouflage where there was an anti tank gun. They thought they would use it to fire at the snipers as the pit would make a good observation post, which they did with great effect and told me afterwards they thoroughly enjoyed it.

At 0700 hours the 3rd Division were landing at Sword Beach so the Royal Navy was firing their big shells right over our heads also there was bombing of Caern the ground was shaking.
The Germans were firing shells and mortar bombs at us so we were between the two.

I would like to say that luck was on our side, we had the element of surprise. The Germans were not alert, as they had regular bombing raids in that area, they didn’t take any notice of the gliders being towed behind the bombers so when the gliders crash landed they thought they were bombers crashing.
The glider pilots also helped by landing us so near our target they had been practising for a year on operation ‘Deadstick’ and the information from the French Résistance and aerial photographs all helped.
Sgt Wagger Thornton without whose piot gun all would have been in vain also Jack Bailey who knocked out the pillbox which John Howard took for his command post.
Major Nigel Taylor of the 7th Parachute Battalion getting his company into Benouville and Captain Priday for getting my platoon back to the bridges.
In short there were many Heroes.
It would be hard to find any company in the entire history of warfare that was better trained for a single operation than we were. Any man in the company could take the place of another even John Howard’s place.
Hitler was comptemptuous of his Generals and didn’t trust them, if he was sleeping no one ever liked to wake him up.
Van Lucks 21st Panzer Division were in the North of Caern on full alert at 03.00 ready to launch their counter attack. The tanks and SPV’s with their engines running ready to go but couldn’t until Hitler told them to. He thought it was a diversion and the main invasion would be the shortest crossing between Dover and Calais. The German command structure was in
An awful muddle this is why we had the advantage over them.
Van Luck could not attack in daylight as they would have been observed before getting to their target and our Navy and Airforce would have wiped them out.

(John Howard received the DSO from Field Marshall Montgomery in France, also on 6th June the 54th Anniversary of the battle he received the Croix de Guerre from the French Government)

‘D’ Company lost all it’s officers and Sergeant in Normandy killed or wounded.
40 to 50 men came back to England and the rest drifted back by the end of October.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

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 - Thank you

Posted on: 15 May 2005 by Andy1971

Dear Marion, thank you for putting MR Rayners story on here, I was lucky enough to meet him in Normandy at the 3 gliders cafe last June. I got an explanation why he was called Tich, which if I remember rightly was because he was born a smaller weight than his brother, although he was still a big baby? I hope I got that right.

Please pass on my thanks to Mr Rayner, I also took many pictures last year of the events around Ranville, the bridges and so on and if he would like to see them, I can send them by email just let me know.

Would there be anychance of reading the full story of what you typed out for Mr Rayner? I would be very intersted to see it, maybe by email possibly?

All the best, Ham and Jam



Message 2 - Thank you

Posted on: 15 May 2005 by Marion Dorrell

thanks for your message Andy, Tich was here when i went on this site and was very pleased you remembered him, i shall be putting the rest of his story on this site soon, hopefully before i go away next Friday for a month. i also have pictures but don't seem capable of putting them on here.
Tich has just said he will be on Pegasus Bridge from the 3rd June to 7th June if you want to meet up. I shall run some copies of his story off and he will bring them with him so he can give you the whole thing.
Regards Tich and Marion


Message 3 - Thank you

Posted on: 16 May 2005 by Andy1971

Thanks Marion and thanks Tich, im sailing from Portsmouth on the 3rd and also returning on the 7th. It would be an honour to meet you again Tich and I look forwards to it, from what I gather there wont be many Coup de main vets out there this year.

I certainly would like a copy of your story Tich, great stuff.

Thanks Marion, hope you enjoy your month away.



Message 4 - Thank you

Posted on: 09 June 2005 by Andy1971

Hi Tich, I know you probably wont read this until Marion returns, but it was a pleasure meeting you at Den Brotheridge's service. I hope that at some point you will still let me have a copy of your story.

All the best and thanks again


Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

British Army Category
D-Day+ 1944 Category
France Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy