Neil Barber

British Airborne Author

Morning at Benouville Bridges

An excerpt from The Pegasus and Orne Bridges by Neil Barber

Posted by Neil Barber on Wednesday 9th of March 2016

‘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.

John Butler
John Butler

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.

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For over 25 years, Neil Barber has researched and visited battlefields of the two World Wars with the aim of preserving the memory....

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