Norman Corke (center), in England shortly after his liberation from a German POW camp.Norman Corke
Norman Corke (left), and four South African POWs after their liberation by US forces in 1945.Norman Corke
Norman Corke (right), and a friend in an American liberation camp after being freed from Stalag XII.Norman Corke
Norman Corke in his summer dress uniform in 1943.Norman Corke
Norman Corke during basic training in 1943.Norman Corke
"And he said, oh, my God, they’re shooting us after we’re captured. I said, wow, this is pretty grim."
The ride was very rough. I had a nice case of seasickness and was glad to land. There were two groups ahead of us that landed first and were able to capture the beach a little further on. We were to land and then go to Carpiquet airport, [France] which wasn’t too far from Caen, and expect a German counterattack. Nevertheless, we landed safely, and one thing that stands out in my mind as we walked along the beach, there was a naval officer directing traffic and he had a British Bulldog at his feet. I thought that was pretty terrific. Anyway, we went inland and jumped on our tank and rode forward. We were told to dig in, in a wheat field. Now, the wheat was about three foot high and we dug our foxholes and I dug mine deep enough that my head was below the wheat, which I was grateful for, for later.
Each company had a tank and our tank stopped behind me. I was in “D” Company so I thought I was in a very favourable position. I had “A,” “B” and “C” Companies ahead of me and a tank behind me. What more could you ask for? Then, suddenly, the tank burred up and left. I understood it had to get refuelled.
Just at that time, the Germans hit us. We’d run into, an unknown by our security, that there was, a 12th SS German [Panzer] Division [Hitlerjugend] waiting for us. And, they were the ones that hit us. It was awfully noisy, as you can imagine, for awhile, and I noticed the wheat separating over my head while the shrapnel and bullets went over. I said to the chap with me, well, that was close. He seemed nervous and said we better get rid of our commando daggers because they might kill us with them. And that was the first time I had thought of anything like being captured. I said, oh, well maybe he’s got a point. So, I took the dagger out but I kept everything else. Then, everything went quiet but I could hear the Germans all around us and the chap with me, who had been overseas longer than me (I sort of looked to him for guidance), he’d taken everything off, including his helmet and all his armour, you know, his rifle, et cetera. I kept all mine. I thought, well, we might have to fight the troops. So he said, let’s go forward and see what’s happening. So we went forward to the first foxhole and there were two chaps in it, one very badly wounded lying in the bottom of the foxhole, and the other was standing a little dazed, as if he were also wounded. And he said, oh, my God, they’re shooting us after we’re captured. I said, wow, this is pretty grim. So I was standing there watching for Germans. My other friend jumped into the trench to lift up the badly-wounded chap. And he seemed to be having trouble. There were no Germans around so I put my rifle down and leaned into the first trench to help lift this wounded chap.
I heard a noise and looked up and a couple of feet from me a German came through the wheat, surprised to see us, dropped on one knee. And he was camouflaged with a belt of ammunition around his neck and an automatic, and I thought by the time I reached for my rifle, I’ve had it. But I thought I was going to be shot anyway, so I raised my hands for the three of us. Fortunately for me, he didn’t shoot us. But he let us get the chap up that was wounded and we could carry him as far as we could, but the poor chap was bleeding so badly. I was soaked in his blood from the waist down. It was painful to move him and, I said, this is crazy. And the German had us, he finally said leave him, leave the man, so we put him down and he pointed to my helmet. That’s how naïve I was. I thought, what are you trying to say, your helmet’s better than mine? I didn’t particularly like the helmets they gave us. We looked more like Russians than British so that’s what I thought he meant, but the next thing I know, he grabbed the back of my helmet and pulled it off. And apparently, I learned later, you are not supposed to surrender with your helmet on. So, luck was with me, really.