They bury Keith today.

 

 

He didn’t know that morning as

he dressed for work and planned his day

that evil also did the ordinary things

whilst planning.

Tourists said he smiled and posed

for photos,

Joked with children, just was there,

Protecting.

Today, as he makes his final journey

watched by thousands,

A thin blue line of police officers

will line the route, heads bowed

as he passes.

The gap where he should have been

closed up, tight, as they stand together.

Tomorrow another police officer

will step forward from the line,

will do the ordinary things

whilst planning his day,

and go and stand where

Keith, an ordinary man,

stood on the day that evil

came to call.

 

Than You for your service, PC Palmer.

 

 

Chateau de la Londe, by my Dad

5734565 PTE G Fouracres

Sometime 13 PLN

Mostly C COY Carrier

Reinforcement from the Dorsets

Chateau De La Londe

After 48 years, memories fade, particularly of people’s names. I am not an East Anglian so over the years I have had no chance to meet people and be reminded, so please forgive me for this.

What I do remember is the spirit of the Battalion and the general ambience of the old Suffolk lads, a steady old lot who made you welcome as long as you stuck it as they did.

In later years I found out when I finally went there, that Bury St Edmunds , Stowmarket etc.are fine places, indeed Suffolk is beautiful, and Greene King Ales are amongst the finest in the land.

In those days I had not been to Suffolk and I wasn’t much of a drinker anyway. My only knowledge of East Anglia was from Elementary school geography (The Bread Basket of England), they had a funny accent and addressed everyone as “BOR”.

Since those days I have always regarded myself as a Suffolk man by service, not birth. I am always one of them.

Mention the Chateau and the memory is incessant shell and mortar fire. Leave your mess tin or mug outside your slit trench and it would be riddled with shrapnel in no time at all. Everything had to be below ground. Calls of nature there? No military history seems to deal with this, but the British soldier was fairly good at field hygiene. In C Coy we used an old German slit trench about 5-6 feet deep and dug a latrine in the bottom. A compo box on top formed the seat with lid so that you could sit in peace (?) well below ground.

You had marks on your bottom as the boxes were thick cardboard in a wooden frame about 2 ft x18”x 18”. The top surface (2 ft x 18”) had the wood frame round the edge and across the centre width leaving two “squares” of cardboard. One was cut out with the issue jack knife and the sharp wooden edges trimmed with the knife – but you could never linger long.

C Coy was in a field at the back of the Chateau towards Caen, with high earth banks with hedgerow on top. Three German tanks were there and a couple more were out in front (Mk. IV). I remember burying some of the German dead and for our lads , I think we used the orchard. We used a blanket with ours, but not the Germans. I shovelled the earth in, no bother, but did avert my eyes when the dirt was shovelled over their faces.

I do remember the little cemetery growing all the time we were there through casualties on patrol, and shell fire. There were dead Germans in the earth banks in dug-out firing positions, and strangely enough, I saw some with belts of machine gun ammunition with wooden bullets. They were dyed with a red wood stain. I’ve often thought of it since, and I guess it was what we would call bulleted blanks – a blank ammunition with very limited range for use in machine guns. These would provide the recoil for a gas operated machine gun so that it would give automatic fire. It must have been left over from pre – invasion exercises.

One German we did not bury was dressed like the others in camouflaged helmet jacket and trousers, lying face down with a wire coming from underneath him. Booby trap! However, it was hot weather so after some days we tied a rope round his ankle, lay down at a distance, and pulled. When he was clear we found it was just a telephone wire so he was quickly disposed of below ground.

No vehicles could come to our area because of the heavy fire, although the cooks were brought forward.

We had to take turns in carrying parties each night to bring up rations along the hedge from La Londe farm buildings. Before the cooks came I remember bringing up tea in a jerry can(!) on my shoulder. God knows what it tasted like. The danger was being caught in the open in a sudden mortar attack – we were never happy there out of reach of a slit trench.

Patrol activity went on fairly frequently, often with casualties. My friend from The Dorsets L/ Cpl Gordon Russell was killed on 7th July with Lieut. Peddar and some other lads. If I remember rightly they came under fire (in the day time) and got down, the first four were then killed, the rest withdrew under cover of smoke.

I remember one day a lad came in through our hedge calling “Don’t shoot!” He had got lost the night before separated from his patrol and could not find his way back. He crawled about in the corn next day but kept hearing German voices until eventually he heard us.

Another time some lads came busting through the hedge in the day under fire (from patrol), and it was only when I pointed to the blood running down one lad’s hand on to the floor that he realised he had been hit. It turned out to be a bullet through the flesh in the fore arm.

Patrols from the Chateau , in retrospect, seemed to be a very high risk business with very frequent casualties.

One night myself (Bren gunner) a L/Cpl and one other were detailed to proceed down a sunken lane from C Coy position towards the German line. At 2 or 3 am, I forget which, I was to open fire from just in front of their positions, which would draw attention to us! While the Germans were preoccupied with us other patrols of ours would be able to get back safely.

In a state of high tension we crawled out from our position through a gap in the barbed wire that the REs had erected the day before in front of the Chateau position.

I remember a loud bang and a blinding white light. Thinking it was the Germans on us who had fired a Verey pistol, I ran with the Bren to get out of the light (and of danger). But I collided with our three rolls of Dannert wire and collapsed in confusion with the Bren. I lay there panting and the light burned out.

Panic over, we managed to find each other and continued down the hedge towards the Germans. We agreed that one of us had set off one of our own trip flares in crawling out.

The hedge was a double one with a lane in the centre. It was lined with German dug outs and abandoned equipment. Halfway down was a Sherman tank that looked intact , but in fact had a small hole in one side just above the tracks where a solid shot had penetrated.

About 20 feet from the known German position we waited, I behind the Bren knowing full well that they must be thoroughly roused by now.

The L/Cpl had the watch, which we watched anxiously, dying a thousand deaths as the minutes slowly went by. Knowing that all hell would break loose when we fired, and we still had to get back as best we could.

The minute hand the 12 o’clock position, the L/Cpl said “RIGHT!” and tapped me on the shoulder. I aimed as best I could in the dark and squeezed the trigger, knowing that now we would be the focus for the whole German Army in Normandy.

To our alarm the “working parts” of the Bren went forwards with a crash, but did not fire; There was a double feed into the breech. It seemed to us that every German in miles must have heard us, but nothing happened. Training took over:- Cock gun, mag off. The rounds in the mag had got tangled, probably in the panic in the wire.

The misplaced rounds were quickly ejected, Magazine replaced, and bursts of five rounds commenced, spraying their positions from side to side. Having fired off all the Mags we made a rapid withdrawal back up the hedge, expecting at any moment retribution would come down on us.

Nothing happened! Just before we reached safety they fired up the hedge. Twigs were falling off the branches, but it was firing in the dark and so we got back in.

I suppose it proves the saying! The coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but one”.

The other fragments that linger; – Mr Woodward, – young, fit, blond, with a light beard. We always shaved using tea in our mess tins. He had a skin infection (Fly’s dirt) . He was a tower of strength and a fine example to us youngsters.

The air bombing of Caen just in front of us, before 185 Brigade went in, the bombers flying through the German flak, dead steady, then the clouds of smoke and flame as they released their bombs, just in front of us.

We jumped up and down with joy. I remember one lad saying “This will shake the bastards” I t was only after the war that I read that it was mostly French civilians that died there.

Funny thing, we never imagined that any civilians would be close to the front, on the other side.

Then another Division (49th?) were going to attack through us, down the cornfield in front towards Caen.

Their Vickers heavy machine guns came up yhe day before and dug in in our hedge to support the attack.

We knew all hell would break loose when they started, so three of us went into a German dug-out. This had logs over, – all neatly sawed, and most likely built before the invasion.

We lay on our faces as the attack went in towards La Bijude and Le Bisey.The German return fire came in, as we had anticipated and the ground shook; even in the dug-out at times I thought my end had come.

The Vickers guns in the hedge were knocked out one by one, but those lads somehow or other got down into the valley of death and at last the Chateau was behind the line.

We could walk around above ground.

The next fragment is an RE Mine clearing team coming up afterwards to our position. Some prodded with bayonets, mine tape was put down, and we watched with interest.

Others behind disarmed the mines that were found, and then a three-tonner came and the disarmed mines were put in the back. Then as we watched, the three tonner following in the wake of the mine clearing team ran over a mine they had missed.

I remember a cloud of black smoke in the air over the cab, then it rained chunks of tyre!

Being a 4×4 vehicle, the cab was high up and I remember the RE driver climbing down, somewhat shaken by the affair.

I do remember that we Infantry types were were somewhat amused, but in retrospect, it was no laughing matter.

I went back to the Chateau privately a few times over the years, and walked those hedges with such memories. In later years the hedges have been grubbed out, including the great earth banks where the tanks were. The last time was in the late 1980s, early in the year before the foliage and undergrowth had grown.

The Chateau wall is just as we left it in 1944, full of shell holes, and round the outside the German slit trenches are still visible before the new growth starts.

We had a metal detector, (my son and his friend) and we uncovered hundreds of Spandau empty cases where they had been fired. Plus the old 303 unfired, and empty cases, a trip flare post, a mine, and a shell.

Needless to say we left well alone. The whole area is so full of shell and mortar fragments that a metal detector never stops buzzing

“ “ULFIE”

Over the years I always remembered Ulfie, although memories mist over. One of the stalwarts of C. Coy, always cheerful. Another old stalwart was the young Sgt Ken Powter. These men were the salt of the earth. As far as I know, they received no medals, but they were the cement that bound us together and we survived drawing on our mutual comradeship.

I remember, during one of the bombardments we suffered at the Chateau, Uffie hollering out for help. A big shell must have collapsed the side of his slit trench, pinning him down. I heard him and I also cowered in my slit trench trying to keep hold of sanity.

Over 50 years later I met him again. I told him I had heard him, but had laid low and survived. We laughed, but that was how it was, war is not like a movie.

Afterwards when the position was behind the line I was able to wander round. Anyone who could be there and see the macabre wreckage must find it imprinted on his mind. I won’t describe what I remember, enough to say that there is no glory in war.

What I have come away with is something precious. The remembrance of my former comrades who supported me. Some we pay homage to in the War Cemeteries. You learn in hindsight the true meaning of BROTHERLY LOVE.