"I experienced being fired at by mistake by our own gunners when a worn barrel caused its rounds to fall short or a wrong map reference having been given by a gunner at our own command post and they brought down the regimental barrage on that. I had been scared stiff for seconds when an enemy shell pierced the building that we had as our command post and stuck in the wall near me."
My name is Reg Dixon. DIXON. I was born just north of Manchester England on 18th December 1913.
I was called out for active service in April of 1941 and posted to The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders on the 29th November . Shortly after, after going through Brockville and […] and so on, I was attached to the City of London Regiment, the Fusiliers [The Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)]. That’s Ontario. And we were hurried out to the west coast, because that was the time that the Japanese were shelling Estevan Point [on June 20th, 1942].
So, I served in that capacity. Although, I had no intelligence courses or anything else, I just sort of fell into the idea of what it was all about. Then I was only there for a few months and then I was embarked for overseas in September of 1942. I went to Aldershot [England] where we all went and then was posted to the Glens and caught up with them. I was a platoon commander and went through all the exercises and training and followed them all the way through until I also went to the GHQ [General Headquarters] Battle School, at Barnet Castle. And then, in March 1943, [Lieutenant] Colonel [G. H.] Christiansen at that time, he appointed me to be his battalion intelligence officer. And we landed together in Normandy on the 6th of June 1944.
And so what I am going to do now is to outline very briefly the venue, the atmosphere and what we were, where all this was taking place at the battalion. So, all of this was carried out in the filth and muck and terror of war. As the battalion IO [Intelligence Officer], I saw and experienced a lot of it, including the sensation of feeling a thousand needles when a shell and water bomb dropped too close. I saw the heads and guts of horses plastered on walls. I saw the mutilated bodies of our own and enemy soldiers. I saw Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth] SS officer fanatics and wondered if they got near to my trench how I could stop them.
In carrying out my duties, I saw cities and towns in ruins and underfoot for weeks, glass and debris of destruction. I could not dare to let such scenes and devastation and events influence or detract me. Consequently, what I have written or said since is reflected in events, rather than the emotional or human side, but I saw it and remembered it all. I, too, lived for 56 days before having three days off since D-Day, which was spent preparing for the next battle, the closing of the Falaise Gap [the Battle of the Falaise Gap, August 12-21, 1944]. I saw aircraft engage the enemy and endured the bombs of our own aircraft when they inadvertently missed their target on two occasions. I experienced being fired at by mistake by our own gunners when a worn barrel caused its rounds to fall short or a wrong map reference having been given by a gunner at our own command post and they brought down the regimental barrage on that. I had been scared stiff for seconds when an enemy shell pierced the building that we had as our command post and stuck in the wall near me. It was a solid shot or I wouldn’t be here. I too, ate my meals at any time of the day or night, slopped into a mess tin and had been thankful to those who brought it to me. Both the CO [Commanding Officer] and I had our vehicles hit and catch fire. I, too, worked in days and nights of rain or thick choking clouds of dust and looked at maps and wondered how long it would take us to get to Berlin at the speed we were able to go.
Now what I would like to do is say something about our communications. The CO, as I mentioned, used to travel with his Bren Gun Carrier [the Universal Carrier, a British light armoured tracked vehicle] and he had a jeep, with drivers in both, and he also had a motorcycle dispatch rider at our command post and then there would myself and my armoured half-track vehicle. This was called a white scout car. It wasn’t white colour, but it was khaki and I used to operate from the back of that. There were two radios in it. One a 19-set [Wireless Set No. 19, a British mobile radio transceiver] that was in contact with brigade and flanking units. And a 18-set [Wireless Set No. 18] which I could talk to the CO and he had also a 19 and 18-set. We had that. We only used wireless when we were on the move or if the telephone lines had been blown out. On the side of the half-track was a big drum of coiled wire and as soon as we got into position and went off the wireless, the signaler would come around and grab the wire and run off with it and plug it into the telephone exchange which was also on the vehicle. Then very soon we would linked to all the companies and from my point of view, well to the observation posts. And so, it wasn’t very long before observation posts would be operational--the company Ops.
Now there were four companies that would be deployed and we would deploy an all-round defence. That is, we had to be able to defend ourselves from attack in any direction. So usually, the company commander would be near the OP [Observation Post], his company OP. And we gave each one of those a name and we called Susie One, Susie Two, Susie Three, Four and Battalion OP. And they would have to be located on the map very accurately. We used five, four--eight figure map references. So, once that had been done, it was done fairly quickly, while all the troops were digging in and so on, in no time at all we would have information coming back about the enemy which I logged, as I mentioned, on the map and so on.
Well, then there were other OPs in the area. Usually, we had a FOO, Forward Officer Observation, from the artillery with us. And he would set his OP up and so we would be in contact with him. Before long then, we had eyes and ears and we knew generally what was going on around us. The mortar platoon had their OP and the carrier platoon, anti-tank platoon, not quite so much. So that briefly explains the OPs when we were static.
I am now going to talk this time about when we were deployed in the static position, not in the advance contact or when we were moving. There are different systems employed. So then we are now deployed and the observation posts had been set up. Now, I mentioned that those OPs were accurately plotted on the map. I had a protractor with a thread on it and when the OP would say “Susie Two, bearing so many degrees, three enemy moving about 1,000 yards.” You could place the protractor on the OP position, put the thread to those degrees, and you knew it was somewhere along that line, about 1,000 yards away. Sometimes you would get another report right away, they had seen the same thing and you could make a cross-reference. Then you would turn to the FOO and say, “We would like that one dusted up.” Or the CO could ask the mortars or whatever to fire on them. And that way we kept the enemy alert and we very soon learned how to protect ourselves.
Now, in addition to those observations posts, another major source of intelligence was from patrols. Now, the IO assisted the commanding officer with patrol planning and indicated the information that we had and what we needed and, of course, he was just as vitally interested as anybody was about where the enemy were. So arranging the details for the briefing of the patrol commander was another big job. The CO would notify the company commander that it was their turn to put out the patrols and then the CO and officer designated as the patrol commander would come in and I would brief him on all the information that we had. I would use a map, I would use the air photographs. And one could--from the air photographs--you could see an immense amount of detail, especially when one had used a stereoscope. By that, if the air photographs were overlaid, one could then see the picture. It would jump up as if it were alive.
Interview with Major Reginald Dixon FCWM Oral History Project
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum