The 61st in the Western Europe Campaign 1944

by Captain H.H. Holgate
(Back Badge 1948-49)

From the sealing of the camps on 26th May until the time of sailing every precaution was taken to prevent any contact with civilians. With the beginning of briefing large numbers of officers and NCO's were in possession of "Top Secret" information about the invasion. Letters were stopped, Red Caps guarded us, and no officer or man was allowed out of camp unescorted. Briefing in the camp was thorough. The "I" section had been hard at work preparing maps. diagrams and aerial photographs, and assembling relief models of the coast of France. There were 2 briefing centres - one a wired and guarded Nissen hut in which officers were given the plan; the other, a large shed, locked and guarded, containing a big relief model, photogrpahs and maps, where eventually every man in camp B7 had 2 or 3 half-hours in which to memorise our landing place and the country round it. Even at this stage, however, no one below Company Commander knew what part of France we were to land in. The maps we saw had names Pittsburgh, Baltimore, in place of the French Bayeux etc. Briefing was completed in 4 days and on 30th May personnel in the camp were re-arranged by tents into craft loads. Before leaving B7 there was a memorable farewell party. CSM Archer made a spirited but unsuccessful attempt to get an extra supply of beer from the canteen NAAFI staff, and Private Peacey arrived in the Officer's Mess in a wheelbarrow, with CSM Aston, Sergts. Benfield, Bevan and others in attendance, the wheelbarrow leaving shortly after with Major Pether up.

On 1st June vehicles and personnel of the QM's department and "S" Company moved from Camp B1 to embark at Gosport. Vehicles were reversed up the steep ramps of the American Landing Ships Tank with one casualty only - Private Short's truck broke its half shaft, but in 15 minutes a replacement was found, loaded and on board. From 1st to 3rd June all vehicles and "S" Company fighting vehicles were moving to various camps for different areas of embarkation, great pains taken to avoid having "all the eggs in one basket." At 1930 hours on 3rd June marching troops moved out of Camp B7 and embussed in TCV's drawn up outside. From here every yard of the route was policed. We debussed in a large field outside Lymington, were supplied with tea by an ACC staff directed by a very large officer, and sat down for a short wait before embarking. For hours scores of fighter planes had been overhead guarding against enemy reconnaissance, Lightnings being noticeable amongst them. By 2100 hours all troops were on board the LCI's drawn up by Lymington pier and we set sail for Southampton.

The Battalion was carried on 3 LCI's: Nos. 2906, 2907 and 2908. "A" Company, "B" Company less one platoon and part of the Brigade defence platoon were on 2906, commanded by Major J.K. Lance. "D" Company, the pioneer platoon, part of Battalion HQ, and the other "B" Company platoon on 2907, commanded by Major F.D. Goode. The main part of Battalion HQ and "C" Company on 2908, commanded by Lieut-Colonel D.W. Biddle. We tied up side by side in Southampton Docks.

The morning of the 4th June brought bad weather and many rumours. We heard the Channel was too rough for a crossing and had some definite news by mid-morning, that the invasion had been postponed for 24 hours, and we would be allowed off the craft but not out of the docks. Eventually at 1930 hours on 5th June, our 3 LCI's took their place in the wide-spread convoy moving out of Southampton Harbour, past Cowes, Newport and the Needles on the west of the Isle of Wight to the Channel, dotted as far as the eye could see with invasion craft. We were given a great send off by people waving and cheering from roofs of factories and houses, blasts from ship's hooters and cheering sailors lining the decks of their ships. We were called below decks to hear, over the ships loudspeaker, an Order of the Day from General Montgomery.

Before turning in for the night, company "O" Groups were collected to receive maps, bearing correct place-names this time, and final orders for landing in the morning. The Airborne men were to be the first into France, dropping in the early hours of the morning. Our show was to start at H-hour minus 60 minutes with a preparatory bombardment by the Royal Navy, the RAF and self-propelled guns firing from their craft out at sea. First ashore at H minus 5 minutes would be the DD tanks, to take up firing positions from which they could support the Armoured Assault Teams, coming at H-hour, and the leading companies of the assault battalions coming in at H plus 5 minutes. The follow-through brigades would land at H plus 2 and half hours, assemble and push inland to their objectives.

The 50th Division (69th, 151st, 231st Brigades and 56th Independent Brigade (the latter containing the 61st) would carry out their assault landing on the beaches about 8 miles north-east of Bayeux, covering an area from the small village of Le Hamel on the west to La Riviere on the east. The 69th and 231st Brigades were to lead the 50th Division attack, the 69th on the left and 231st on the right, with the 151st Brigade following the 69th and the 56th through the 231st.

Officers, 61st on D-Day

Battalion HQ
CO - Lt-Col. D.W. Biddle
2 i/c - Major J.O. Hopper (Artists Rifles)
Adjutant - Capt. R.C. Nash
Quartermaster - Major R.E.D. Brasington, MC
Motor Transport Officer - Capt. P.C. Moore
Signal Officer - Lt. D. Bicknell
Intelligence Officer - Lt. D.G. Greaves

"A" Company
Major J.K. Lance
Capt. A.H.R. Chalmers
Lt. I.B. Wakefield
Lt. T.D. Levine (Canadian)
2/Lt. J.C. Jones

"B" Company
Major B.F. Stephens
Capt. J.R.G. Higgs
Lt. J.B. Evans
Lt. P.R. Burton
Lt. R.H. Bently
Lt. N.F. Tucker

"C" Company
Major S. Pether
Capt. A.M. Rogers
Capt. B. Hudson
Lt. G.D. Bradshaw (Canadian)
Lt. K.A.R. Byrne

"D" Company
Major F.D. Goode (Lincolns)
Capt. H.H. Holgate
Lt. K.S. Hughes
Lt. R.B. Nordbruck
Lt. D.B.E. Paine

Support Company
Capt. A.W.L. Soames
Carrier Platoon
Capt. R.D. French
Lt. G.D. Hooper
Anti-Tank Platoon
Capt. R.A. Graham-Smith
Lt. S.C.G. Farmer
Mortar Platoon
Lt. E.J. Thacker
Pioneer Platoon
Lt. W.G.M. Adlam, MM

HQ Company
Capt. E.B. Cottingham, MC
Medical Officer - Lt. D.G. McConnell, RAMC
Chaplain - Rev. R. Cullington, RAChD.

By first light on the 6th June our LCI's had reached a position about 3 miles off the beaches we were to land on, where we had to wait, circling around until called in by a signal from the beach. The sea was very rough and many were feeling decidedly ill. There was not much in the way of fighting to be seen yet. The assaulting battalions were going in now, but we were too far away to see how they were getting on. Shells from the battleships Renown and Warspite whirring overhead were the most we heard of this action.

The circling continued until about 1100 hours. At last the LCI's straightened out and began to head for the beaches. As we moved in we began to see evidence of the fighting for the beaches. There were some wrecked landing craft, the odd disabled tank, floating pieces of equipment, but not on the scale I think most of us had expected. Inland there were some shattered houses and columns of smoke. What shocked us most was that the country side bore no resemblance to the Le Hamel area we had studied so carefully. It did not take long to discover that the beach we were making for was to the east of Le Hamel, which was still occupied by a party of Boche who could no be dislodged and our LCI's had been re-routed to come in at Hable de Heurtot, about 2 miles east of Le Hamel.

Moving abreast, our 3 LCI's made for the shore. Immediately before us now was a gently sloping narrow strip of shingle beach with a low sea wall about 50 yards from the waterline. Directly behind this the ground rose gradually to a crest about a mile inland, hiding the country to the south from our view. About 75 yards from the beach our craft grounded, down went the ramps, and we filed down into chest-deep water to struggle through the considerable swell and breakers before our first foothold on French soil. Not a shot or shell disturbed us. The proceedings were watched by a small bunches of dejected German prisoners, brought in by men of the assault battalions to wait shipping back to England.

All came safely through the landing. There was a hurried check-up on the beach, Dripping wet and still suffering the after-effects of sea sickness, we joined a closely packed column made up of the SWB's, the Essex, and ourselves, moving up the rise in front to Meuvaines. This taped route took us between a large minefield, clearly marked by barbed wire and sings. Turning right along a track we straggled west, companies hopelessly mixed with companies of other battalions. As the column moved on, passing through Meuvaines we opened out, moving by sections at intervals. On the wide open and dusty road leading to Buhot, just after passing a small bridge over a stream marked as La Grande River, an 88mm opened up on the column, dropping its shells very close to the road. Amongst casualties here were our first two, Sergt. Price and Private H.R. Crosswell of 'B' Company. Coming from ahead of us we could hear the rattle of small arms fire. The 88mm was soon knocked out by a Sherman tank and we made Buhot without further incident by 1530 hours.

Shortly after arriving at Buhot, the Unit Landing Party joined us. They had gone ahead of us with one the assault battalions to sign the route from our landing beach to the concentration area. Owing to the last-minute change of beach they could not carry this out.

Private Fearnley - Unit Landing Party

The ULP consisted of Captain E.B. Cottingham (Unit Landing Officer), CSM Willard, Pte. Emery (Jeep Driver), and myself with a No.18 wireless set. In the early hours of 6th June the craft began moving into position and when morning came we could see hundreds of craft all round us. The assault troops were due to land at 0720 hours and at that time we could see a smoke screen laid down on the beach. We were to land at 0850 hours and we did so more or less on time although the weather was pretty bad. We got out Jeep on the beach all right, although soon after we disembarked our craft hit a mine and only one other vehicle managed to get off. Our section of the beach was pretty quiet, with just a little small arms fire from one or two pill boxes, but over on the right at Arromanches it had not been cleared up and the fighting was heavy.

We followed the white tapes off the beach and joined the streams of flails, tanks and men who were going inland. After about 200 yards we were held up by a bomb crater in the middle of the road, and after a 2 hour wait decided to leave the Jeep and go forward on foot. By this time the prisoners were streaming in, but we were having quite a few casualties too, chiefly from mines.

In the orchards south of Buhot companies soon sorted themselves out, and our transport joined us, the last arrivals being some DUKW's carrying the A/T guns. Now the Brigade intention was to seize the high ground south-west of Bayeux. To do this Bayeux itself must be cleared first. The first phase was achieves with little difficulty, with the Essex just over a mile north-east of Bayeux, the SWB west of Magny, and ourselves moving up as reserve battalion. By this time, however, it was too late to carry out the clearing of Bayeux and so it was decided to hold position and go for the final objectives the following morning. The 61st were to move to Magny and dig in for the night. By 1900 hours the Battalion was ready to move forward. Led by 'B' Company on bicycles, and followed by a squadron of our training friends the Sherwood Rangers, we started on our route through Ryes, then west to Magny. The march was uneventful. Magny was a difficult place to find. It was getting dark and the narrow, winding tracks did not always agree with those shown on the map. A German JU88 flew low over the column, presumably this German ran into trouble elsewhere, because he never came back. By midnight the Battalion was in Magny. A small amount of opposition was met by 'B' Company, led by No.4 platoon. Sergeant Partridge and Private Betterton located and captured a Spandau team. Shortly after, 'B' Company found a deserted troop of 10.5 cm guns. There were several "incidents" this night: The 17 Germans flushed by a 'C' Company section, the German running away down the road pursued and shot by Corporal Davies of the Pioneer section, the patrol on which Lieut. N.F. Tucker was wounded by a grenade - but it can be summed up by the entry in the war diary -
"2 Glosters reached Magny area and dug in. P.W. taken - 31. Casualties - 1 Officer and 4 Other Ranks wounded. Extensive patrolling carried out."

June 7th started with a certain amount of commotion. Some German snipers had lain up in Magny church and now were firing. Almost immediately the church was spattered with bullets from a large variety of weapons. At 0830 hrs, after a quick breakfast, we set off towards Bayeux. As we approached the town, watching out for snipers, ever-increasing numbers of civiliana appeared, rushing out, all deliriously happy. The crowds became dense. Among all this hubbub the column halted. Eventually we headed out of the town and up the hill towards the St. Loup Hors. Turning down into the valley of the Aure River, "A" Coy. came across a German post, and opened up their Brens on it. Soon a white flag appeared from the German post and 10 men captured, 3 of them wounded. The next morning the Battalion moved to cover the western approach to Bayeux. During the stay at Bayeux small parties were sent out to check reports of German snipers hiding in the town, but none were found.

9th June we handed over our positions in Bayeux to the 2nd Devons and moved to St. Loup Hors. At 0845 hrs on 10th May we began the advance down the main Bayeux-Tilly road. By 1900 hrs we were just short of Jerusalem. The battalion was given the task of clearing the wood around Jerusalem, which was done quickly. We stayed that night at Jerusalem, with "B" Coy. moving forward on a reconnaissance of St. Bazire, a mile ahead. There they surprised a German tank crew, capturing them and their tank.

In the morning, 11th June, the battalion cleared Buceels and move closer to Tilly. The attack on Tilly started at 1715 hrs on a hot summers day. A German tank, hidden by some houses, fired on the advaning companies of the 61st. There was also heavy mchine gun and mortar fire from some houses. Lt. Evans, trying to get at the tank with a PIAT was killed. L/Cpl. Rhodes won a well-deserved MM here by rushing out into the main road, regardless of the heavy fire, and knocking out a German half-track with a PIAT. While doing this he was badly wounded in both legs, but, hacing reached cover, insisted on walking back to the RAP to ease the pressure on the stretcher-bearers, who already had more wounded on their hands than they could cope with. Tilly was held by men of the SS Panzer Lehr Division. After 4 hours of fighting and with night coming on, the order to withdraw was given at 2200 hrs. Sergt. Brain and his carrier section did some fine work at Tilly and was awarded the MM. By midnight the Battalion was in positions about 1000 yards north of Tilly and dug-in, expecting a counter-attack.

12th June, 131st Brigade, supported by tanks, launched an attack on Tilly, but this attack met with no more success than ours had. We pulled back to a position in St. Bazire.

14th June the 61st were ordered to relieve the 9th Bn Durham LI in Lingevres. The Durhams met heavy opposition in their attack on the village and were in danger of being cut off by a counter-attack in which the enemy employed 20 Panther tanks. By early afternoon "B" Coy., moving on their bicycles, reached Lingevres. Leaving their bicycles they advanced across a foot bridge just in time to rescue a party of the Durhams. These men had been wounded and were now surrounded by a party of Germans. "B" Coys leading platoon opened fire, whereupon a party of 40-50 frightened Jerries, including an officer, appeared from hedges to surrender themselves and their half-track vehicle.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Battalion moved into Lingevres unopposed. At 1400 hrs on the following day we were relieved by the 8th DLI and set off on a march to Ellon. 28th June the Battalion left Ellon and moved forward to relieve the 1st Rifle Brigade at Parfouru l'Eclin. For 2 weeks we remained in the same positions and were subjected to fiarly heavy shelling and mortaring. We had some casualties, but surprisingly few. Among the many fine patrols at Parfouru was one taken out by Lieut. Burton. On 3rd July he set off with a fighting patrol of 13 men to fetch a German prisoner. For this patrol Lt. Burton was awarded the Military Cross. Here is his account taken from the patrol report:

"I left my platoon area at 1210 hrs and proceeded towards the enemy post near the cross on the main road to the east of Parfouru l'Eclin. From a track junction near the cross I advanced with my assault group with the idea of having a look at the enemy post before our artillery started shooting at it. The gunners started to range at approximately 1225 hrs and at 1307 hrs I had my patrol ready to assault. Across the road I spotted the enemy position just inside a wood - an MG 34 was pointing down the road. There were 2 steel helmets and equipment lying about. I doubled across the road and saw 2 Boche in a slit trench. I tried to pull them out but they wouldn't come. A burst from a Sten gun persuaded them and so I dragged them out. One man ran across the road as ordered, but the other, who was wounded, either couldn't or wouldn't move. I tried to pull him out on to the road but he was too heavy for me, so he was shot. In the meantime another Boche came up and I ordered him to run across the road. I grabbed the MG and went over to the prisoners on the other side of the wood. One of them lay down and refused to move. I tried eveything possible to get him to move but he refused, so I ordered him to be shot. The other came without difficulty. I saw no further traces of the enemy, so I returned to Battalion HQ with the prisoner."

Account of 14334545 Sergt. R. Collins:

"The assault group, under Lieut. Burton, were volunteers; they were his batman, Private J. Holmes, and myself, then a newly promoted Corporal. There was a machine-gun post at the road junction, known by all as "calvary", and we had to get a prisoner at all costs. To reach the position it was necessary to advance along a fairly open road, which was mined. To cover our approach the artillery were to lay a box-barrage, the open end of which was along our road. The remainder of the patrol laid up to give us covering fire if necessary, and the assault party crept on. When we finally came to the objective the enemy were under cover from the shelling. The batman covered our line of approach, Pte Holmes covered the road leading to the enemy lines, and Lt. Burton and myself dashed to the nearest trench on which an enemy MG34 was mounted. Two enemy were in the pit and when called on to come out they refused; we tried pulling them out but to no avail, a burst from my Sten changed their minds. The burst had caught one in the stomach so we concentrated on the other who ran across the road; as he did so he was hit by flying debris from the shells, and he fell down and refused to move. It was then that another enemy poked his head out of a position, and before he could do much Pte Holmes grabbed him and started back, while I dealt with the other two. But rather than risk being shot in the back by either I shot them, grabbed the MG34, and followed hastily after the rest of the party. About half-way back we were met by Capt. Higgs, who was then 2 i/c of "B" Company. We reported to Company HQ, and then to Battalion HQ. There were several congratulatory signals sent in from various HQ's and we, the assault group, all went back to 30th Corps rest camp for 4 days. I thought that that was why I received the MM, but it was not until I came home the following year that I found that my MM was for an entirely different action. Pte. Holmes was killed at Nispen on the same day that Major Stephens told me that I had been awarded the MM. I an truthfully say that I did not enjoy the patrol I was sent on that night."

12th July the Battalion moved to high ground north of Bois de St. Germain. On 19th July we were relieved by the Green Howards and moved to an area near the village of La Vitaroiere. On the move we were shelled and Major Pether, travelling in his Jeep, was badly wounded in the foot by shrapnel. He was evacuated back to England.

29th July the Battalion was relieved and moved to Les Fouqueries in preparation for an attack on the St. Germain d'Ectot ridge. "D" Coy. was to start the attack on an known enemy locality in the orchards on the ridge at first light. The attack was to be a silent one. At 0500 hrs, as "D" Coy. were moving up to their start line, a single enemy aircraft dropped 2 bombs in the Battalion concentration area, blowing up a 3-tonner ammunition truck and inflicting casualties on "C" Company. In this unfortunate incident Capt. A.M. Rogers was killed and Major Soames badly injured. Capt. Graham-Smith took over "C" Coy.

At 0600 hrs "D" Coys. attack went in, and they were very quickly in trouble. The whole area was heavily mined and booby-trapped, and initial casualties in platoons, among them Lieut. Paine, caused considerable disorganisation. Added to this the area was held more strongly than had been reckoned, having been reinforced during the night. Despite the very gallant efforts of Lieut. Nordbruck and Sergt. Price, it was necessary to move up the Battalion forward body under the command of Major Hopper, to assist "D" Coy. By 1700 hrs the enemy were finally cleared out of the orchard and the road Livery-St. Germain was firmly held in the Battalion area. In the fighting Major Stephens, Capt. Higgs, Sergt. Mardell, and Pte H. Wright had performed feats of particular distinction. The Battalion had 3 officers wounded (Lieuts. Nordbruck, E.F. Cocker, and Capt. Higgs), 16 men killed and 44 wounded. The Battalion Pioneer Platoon lifted 300 horseshoe type mines and 80 booby traps.

We were out of the close Bocage country. Ahead of us lay a broad, open valley and the country had a welcome open appearance. On the next day the forward companies carried out some patrolling to the small river ahead, encountering no enemy. At 2000 hrs the 2nd Essex Regt attacked and secured the Launey ridge feature. That night "C" Coy. moved up to the ridge to support them.

1st August a German prisoner confirmed that the enemy were carrying out a general withdrawl in our sector. The Battalion moved forward to occupy Anctoville and Fossard, moving warily because of the mines and booby traps. Here we remained until 3rd August, when we moved to Buceels for a rest. We remained at Buceels for 3 days, where we were joined by Lieuts. C. Walter, J.P.L. Bangs, B.C. Coven-Cohen and E.G. Smith. During this stay, George Formby and his wife gave us our first Ensa show.

8th August the 56th Brigade came under command of 59th Division. At midday we embussed on a 3 hour trip through a pulverised Villers-Bocage to an area west of the River Orne, opposite Courmeron. At midday on the 9th August we marched across the Orne and by 1715 hrs were established in the bridgehead. The enemy appeared to be pulling out and we made a night march towards Courmeron. By 0400 hrs the Battalion was established on the Caen-Thury road and active patrolling began. In one encounter Lieut. G.D. Hooper was killed. We were subjected to some heavy shelling and Lt-Col. Biddle and Capt. Farmer were wounded. Major Lance took over command of the Battalion, with Major Stephens as 2nd i/c. That night platoons were sent out to occupy Espins and Le Moncel.

At 0650 hrs on 12th August a patrol of 10 men, led by Sergt. McClean, of "D" Coy. penetrated the outskirts of Thury-Harcourt, coming under heavy fire. Later that morning, strong enemy counter-attacks resulted in the 2 Platoons at Espins and Le Moncel being withdrawn.