"When I was coming back from the cookhouse once, this strange thing whizzed by from my head and I think probably it was because I was so tall, one of them taking a potshot at me."
We had orders to move to the docks where they loaded all our unit on the artillery and the armoured vehicles onto a substantial ship, issued us with hammocks and then we were on our way, going down the Thames. And I remember going by the big Ford factory and loudspeakers came on there, wishing us luck and so on and so we made our way to Normandy.
When we got to Normandy, this was about 15 or 17 days after D-Day. And of course, the landing craft were there and they made beachheads and they also got the floating docks in. So they unloaded us, to my recollection, on the floating harbours and we made our way up the beach and we I guess sort of concentrated our unit and then they started moving us up. At this point of course, we were subject to strafing and you know, you had to go in the slit trenches. The infantry were well ahead of us for the two weeks and they dug slit trenches all along the roadway.
And I remember one time I was going by one and then I continued, probably going to my halftrack or at the cookhouse or something and there was this overpowering smell of dead body and I looked around and then I saw one poor devil had been literally blown I guess by an artillery shell, onto a tree. He was just held his body on the tree there and he was rotting. And also the animals took a beating then and you’d come across horses that were badly scarred, you know, with the artillery.
We were so close together, the Germans and the British and the Canadians, that the aircraft, and it was mainly the Americans, used to drop their bombs but they’d drop them on us. And we used to run like hell for some caves was near Falaise, to my recollection. I know we were near a Polish Div. [division] and they, we got down to the caves, and in those years were just so careful with the mines [landmines] and so on, but we just raced across these fields, you can really move when you’re scared.
When we were sort of had our half tracks and armour around the edge of the field, we were, the Germans had left snipers behind us, they retreated. And I don’t think it was my imagination, but when I was coming back from the cookhouse once, this strange thing whizzed by from my head and I think probably it was because I was so tall, one of them taking a potshot at me. At least that’s what I think.
In the main area, near where they have that big thing, Arc de Triomphe, and so he [a British officer] dropped it off there, yes. And of course, when we got out, there were crowds of people in there and they saw our British uniforms. And they all said “hi Tommy,” they used to call the British army at the time Tommy, you know, for the Territorial Army. And I remember they surrounded us and wanted to talk to us. You know, I couldn’t speak French or anything; but one interesting thing actually was a little Jewish lady came up to me. And she could speak English and was telling me, you know, what a tough time the Jews had in Paris and I remember taking out of her purse the thing that they had to wear around their arms. [armband]
We went in the bunkers [in Boulogne-sur-Mer], followed the infantry guys, and the bunkers had, I told you, the infantry fellows weren’t too keen on us [any unit that was not directly on the front]. That’s because, I mean, they were taking all the, you know, the tough work and we were there and they’d say, “what are you looking for?” I mean, “you guys are back there and we’re the ones doing the tough work here.” And they didn’t like us around there. So you had to be careful with them because in those years, you know, you could get a bullet in you or something like that and nobody would know how the hell you got it.
I saw, they’d thrown the passbook I remember on one side and I said to them, would you mind if I took the passbook. Because I thought maybe I should hand that in and there were photographs of his family which I’m going to send you in the passport. So I took it and I have it and I saved it here. And I went through the bunker and looked out on the other side and across the water there, you could see the Germans moving around.