A photograph of Ron Beal taken in January 2012.
"The Germans come down and said, “Don’t worry boys, you’re alright, you won’t be hurt. You won’t be hurt. For you, the war is over.” And we thought, I wonder if it really is?"
Recounting the Dieppe Raid (19 August, 1942):
I think we honestly believed that we were going to be the storm troops for the second front. The weekend before, we were stationed in Littlehampton on the south coast [of England] and the day before, on the Saturday, at 3:00 in the afternoon, just as the children were coming out of the theatres, German fighters came and strafed right down the high street. And quite a few children were killed. They dropped a few bombs and destroyed a few houses. Some people were killed, some people trapped. We immediately went to work and started to dig people out of the rubble. And we were really cheesed off and we wanted to get at them. And we had our chance. We didn’t know that just a few days later, we’d be going on the boats and mounting the raid. But we were ready. We’d had good training, we were fit, we were angry, we wanted to get at them and I think our anger was justified. And we wanted to get back as good as they gave to those kids and better.
My regiment did not go into the main beach, we went into a beach at Puys [France], which is a very narrow beach and it’s shaped like a tunnel, the cliffs go out past the seawall. So that when you go in, you’re taking munitions from the left and the right and the front. When you got on the beach, you’re taking it from the front, left, right and the rear because the guns up on the point of the cliff can fire right down on the seawall. So we were in the total enfilade of fire. My regiment put 500 men on the beach, 300 men were killed in less than 20 minutes. And how I survived, I’ll never know. All I know is that I did. And I’ve often thought that the lord must have been standing with us hand on my shoulder, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.
The regiment was taking casualties right, left and centre and finally, one of the officers, he was the senior officer on the beach, he was lieutenant, everybody else was dead. And he said, “We’ve taken too many casualties, we don’t want to take anymore, has anybody got a white towel or a white handkerchief or a piece of white paper that or anything at all to put on a bayonet and put it up.” So one of the men got a white towel out of his pack, which he shouldn’t have had with him in the first place, and he put it on bayonet and he marched down the beach with it. The Germans come down and said, “Don’t worry boys, you’re alright, you won’t be hurt. You won’t be hurt. For you, the war is over.” And we thought, I wonder if it really is?
And we found out that the war wasn’t over, we were now involved in psychological warfare in the camp. And 33 months later, after they marched us from January of 1945, they marched us out of Stalag VIII B, because we were only 60 kilometres from Oppeln [now Opole, Poland] and the Russian army had stopped on a line from Warsaw down past Oppeln and down to the Adriatic [Sea]. And on the 21st of January, their guns opened up, we could hear them in the camp, they told us to go back into the barracks, pack our personal belongings and get ready to move out, up to 8:00 in the morning. Because they got us out of bed at 6:00, always.
So we packed as much belongings as we could, we had no idea that we were going to be marching until they actually marched us out of the camp. They thought, we’re going to march to the station at Lamsdorf and get on the boxcars and be taken to wherever they’re moving us to. But it didn’t turn out that way. They just kept us marching. And we marched all that winter right through to April, heading west. One day we’d be heading northwest, then next day we’d be heading southwest, depending on which line of the Russians was advancing. So we didn’t actually march across Germany in a straight line, we went zig-zagged. And that took us all winter, we arrived there in April , my birthday’s on the fifth and I’m not sure of the actual date but it was very close to my birthday. And it was a camp called Eleffos and we were liberated from there by the British Army.