In spite of all the existing guide books, there is no publication for visitors to both sites that is specific, detailed and very reasonably priced. These pocket guides take the reader on a walking tour, on a route that describes what happened and where, and also shows the areas as they looked in 1944 using original photographs. Price: £5 each. Published by Sabrestorm Publishing.
The D-Day Museum in Portsmouth is behind the commissioning of a symbolic sculpture of Lt Denham Brotheridge, ‘D’ Company, 2nd Oxf and Bucks Light Infantry, killed during the assault on Pegasus Bridge. These photos were taken during its visit to Waterloo Station in London, where his daughter, Margaret, was also present. The statue will finally reside at the museum in Portsmouth. A truly wonderful tribute to Den, the Oxf and Bucks and the 6th Airborne Division.
The glider had come to a halt within a hundred yards of the bridge. The two pilots were lying in water, still strapped into their seats in the wreckage of the cockpit. Geoff Barkway: I thought ‘There’s not much future in this’ and struggled out. Fortunately, the front had disintegrated so that the harness wasn’t attached to anything, so there was no problem in getting free….
He then tried to assist his colleague. Peter Boyle: I didn’t know where I was apart from the fact that I was in the wreckage of the glider. I ached a bit somewhere… . I was thinking, ‘Oh God’… . I remember Geoff pulling the wreckage from me and pulling me out. It was pitch black.
Lieutenant Smith: I had a Lance Corporal Madge… , and I remember groping around in the dark, covered with mud and water and shock, and he said, “What are we waiting for, sir ?” And so I tried to find my weapon and couldn’t and found somebody else’s Sten gun and ran towards the bridge, or rather, hobbled.
Peter Boyle: I moved round the glider, or round the wreckage, and I can remember seeing a body across the undercart. There was a chap there and I put my hand on him and he was just hanging there. And although there was a kind of half-light and things were happening, I was still thinking, “I’ve got to do the job I was there to do… .”
This was to find the PIAT and take it across to the other side of the bridge. The Engineers of 2 Platoon, 249 Field Company had reached their appointed locations above and beneath the bridge to search for explosives. Sapper Cyril Haslett, on board Glider 92 had followed Captain Neilson, met up with the five engineers from Glider 91 and rushed down to the bank of the canal: It was just mud. We had just had to scramble on as best we could, because the bridge came over the road, into the bank. Underneath, you had to feel your way around.
Sapper Harry Wheeler had followed 25 Platoon across the bridge and then double-backing over the southern abutment, saw a large wire running along the side. He readied his wire-cutters: It was the only wire I could see. I didn’t know what it was; hoped for the best. It blew me off my feet, and the wire-cutters, blew them out of my hands ! I reckon it was for lifting the bridge; must have been, the amount of power that was there. Although firing was going on, none of it was directed at the Engineers.
Major Howard: After a bit of a pause, Number 3 Glider came up, Sandy Smith with his platoon, and he seemed to be limping very badly. He confirmed that they had had quite a few casualties in landing, but his boys were all right and I said, “Number Three task.” Their arrival of course increased the shouting of the codewords all the way round and what with the firing, the shouting and the skirmishing going on everywhere, it was like hell let loose I should think for about ten minutes.
Lieutenant Smith: I found a Spandau firing right down the centre of the bridge, so I ran left down the catwalk running along the side of the bridge to avoid this machine gun. I arrived at the other end of the bridge to find Brotheridge dying. And then in the flurry I remember a German throwing a stick grenade at me and then I felt the explosion and my right wrist was hit. I was extremely lucky because the grenade exploded very close to me and hit various parts of my clothing but not my body, although there were holes in my flying smock. That was the first German I actually shot. Having thrown his grenade he tried to scramble over the back of one of the walls adjoining the café, and I actually shot him with my Sten gun as he went over.
Smith then looked at the outside of his wrist in the moonlight: I was rather shocked because it had scooped up all the flesh up to the bone and your wrist bone is very flat as I then discovered, and it was white. I could still at that time operate my finger trigger, which was fortunate.
Having shot this German, he immediately looked up at the café, only to see a figure looking down at him. It was Georges Gondrée. Lieutenant Smith: Well we’d been told in our briefings that the Germans had used the café a great dealwhen they came off sentry. They used to go and have a cup of coffee there and they were quite often, in the café as a result. And so I wasn’t taking any chances because this German had nearly killed me. And so I fired my Sten gun straight up into the window… .
Fortunately he missed, although one bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and through the headboard of the bed, while another penetrated the bathroom door. Georges Gondrée then went downstairs.
‘B’ Company men saw the German armoured patrol emerge from the cover of the houses on the lower road and begin to move towards the Mairie. Private Dennis Fox ran forward with a group of men towards the garden of the corner house, where they could clearly see the tank: It wasn’t very far, just across the road. We dove in this garden…, about six of us in the garden of that house. It had a wall between the house and the next house, only a small wall, but a gateway was in there.
In their rush to get into position the wall split the group into two. On the opposite side of the wall to Fox were Sergeant John ‘Paddy’ Armstrong of the Signals Platoon, the Medium Machine Gun Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Malcolm ‘Garth’ Hill and his batman, ‘Dinghy’ Sutton. Armstrong saw the tank about a hundred yards away, its turret pointing away from the Paras: The earth was banked up against the wall and we could see over it. The Lieutenant had an anti-tank gun [PIAT]. I crouched down beside them as he put it on his shoulder and fired. I saw the shell hit the turret and bounce right off. The turret came swinging round and … BANG ! The next thing I knew I was flying through the air with pieces of the wall.
The shell killed Hill and Sutton. The half-track travelled past the Mairie and turned down the road towards the bridge. Madame Marie Deschamps was still sheltering under the covered part of the school playground when she saw the vehicle being hit and begin to burn. Terrible cries emanated from the wounded. The tank turned left and began to go back down the main road towards Benouville. Major Taylor: I could hear the battle going on in ‘B’ Company’s area and, on one occasion, a German Mk IV tank came through from that direction. This was slightly shaking, but we got it with about four Gammons and were pleased to see him on fire.
Wilf Fortune and Ted Eley had slowly moved back during the attack. Wilf Fortune: It was fierce and what Paras remained, retired to the next hedgerow. We (on the strategic retreat) had to scale a wall of the orchard. Poor Ted with his painful shoulder was having difficulty, even with my help (He was a big lad, Ted). This sergeant (I think) started giving us ‘a bottle.’ So, in my best ‘Geordie’ language suggested he should have seen my ‘oppo’ had hurt his shoulder. I shall never forget his calm reply. “Look sonny. We’re the only ones left.” We BOTH heaved Ted over that wall.
John Butler, 9 Platoon, ‘C’ Company, was dug in on the roadside, just up from the T-Junction: The road was elevated and I was at the base of an eight or ten foot slope. It was not a good position and Jerry was able to get quite close before we could see him and fire at him. Our bacon was saved a couple of times by Bren gun fire enfilading down the road from the T-Junction and the village. There were very few of us, and the nearest person was about ten to fifteen yards from me. An attack had come in, which I assumed was from the platoon of about thirty that we had bumped earlier on patrol. It was mainly broken up by Bren fire from either the T-Junction or Le Port.
I was kneeling back looking at the top of the slope with my Sten gun pointing. Suddenly a Jerry came in view with his rifle pointing towards me and I pressed the trigger of my Sten, but to my horror the man didn’t fall down as I expected and just stood looking at me, and I was in absolute terror. Then the magazine ran out, it had been about half full, twelve to fourteen rounds, and probably took about two to two and a half seconds to fire off. And then the man came at me, collapsing on top of me and his bayonet pierced my left thigh, hit the bone and flipped out again, and the left side of my smock was covered in blood.Now all of this had taken but two or three seconds, though it seemed like minutes that the man was standing at the top of the bank leering at me. He was of course dead, and the thud of bullets in his chest had held him for those few seconds, though at the time I did not realize this. All I could see was this big Jerry who seemed to be immune to my bullets and was going to shoot or bayonet me, and I was in a state of abject terror until I pushed his body off me and realized he was dead. Then recrimination set in. I felt that I had been guilty of cowardice because of those moments of terror, and to a nineteen year-old in his first day of action, this seemed to me to be a cardinal sin, something I had to hide and never tell anyone. I even hid the wound on my thigh.
In the corner house garden, Dennis Fox’s sergeant was pinned down by enemy fire from the Mairie and shouted “Can you see them ?”: I said, “No I can’t, they’re not interfering with me. They can’t see me obviously.” So I went across there to try and get them out. I went out the gateway, flitted across the road, got around the back. As I went through the gate I heard this noise by the back door. A couple of Jerries dragged me in the house. I was here for a few minutes, they took the belt out of my trousers and dragged me out [of] this house.