Southampton bound

On the June 3rd 1944 The 6th DLI left in trucks bound for Southampton an Officer of the battalion recalls..`as we leave there is a small boy standing just inside the gate Durham Light Infantry and 50 Division formation signs sewn on his jumper on his chest he proudly wears the ribbon of the Africa Star, I wonder if any of my men are as proud of their medal as that little boy so obviously was. if so they certainly don’t show it…but then again these Durham’s always hide their true feelings…My thoughts are mixed there are a lot of people about some whistling some shouting others crying .I look at the men what a grand set hope we don’t lose too many this time already they have seen so much  done so much. I am under no illusions. This war is not a pleasant pastime.

As the 6th 8th and 9th DLI battalions arrived at the docks they were met by the magnificent sight  of row upon row of landing craft all awaiting their cargoes of men and equipment .The prime minister Mr Winston Churchill Field Marshall Smuts and Mr Ernest Bevin watched the embarkation and wished the Durham’s God Speed as they moved onto their allotted LCI`s (Landing Craft Infantry).The invasion was postponed for 24 hours due to high seas and bad weather but on the 4th June 1944 General Eisenhower made the decision to go. On June 5th 1944 at 20; 00hrs the LCI`s carrying the Durham’s moved down the Solent and reached the open sea by 08; 30hrs. There were ships everywhere as the enormous armada prepared to sail. As the Durham’s LCI`s passed the huge warships on their way out to sea the crews lined the decks and gave the men a tremendous ovation ,morale was high and the Durham’s were prepared to play their part in the greatest ever seaboard invasion-

OVERLORD THE INVASION OF OCCUPIED EUROPE

D-Day 6th June 1944

The weather and sea conditions mmade the crossing most unpleasant but after a night when very few had slept the dawn broke.At 0600hrs as reveille was sounded the Durham Battalions slowly came to life. The main assault brigades of the 50th Division had landed at 0730hrs and were fighting their way inland.151 Brigade of which 6th,8th and 9th Durham Light Infantry were part were due to land at around 1100hrs. The 6th Durham light Infantry had a planned assembly/ rendezvous point at Ver-sur-Mer, 8th Durham Light Infantry had there rendezvous just west of Ver-Sur-Mer whilst the 9th Durham Light Infantry would meet North East of Meuvaines.

At 0900hrs the coast of France was sighted large numbers of Allied shipping could be seen ahead with frigates and destroyers firing inland as they weaved in and out of formation and hundreds of small landing craft travelled to and fro from the beaches carrying their valuable cargoes of equipment and men .The Durham battalions headed for the beaches (Gold) at 1100hrs the first wave of Durhams hit the beaches  many found the weight of their equipment a problem and many were nearly drowned but steadily their numbers grew and they moved off the beaches with the beachmasters orders ringing in their ears.The various beach obstacles ,steel hedgehogs,metal ramps,stakes with anti personnel mines strung between them had largely been cleared however there was still many remaining to catch out the careless and the less wary of the Durhams..The line of bunkers and pill boxes had also been breached the crumbling sea wall  bordered the coast road and  beyond lay marshy ground which would prove a problem for any wheeled or tracked vehicle which attempted to cross it ,a minefield some 100yds wide had been found and  a path cleared  its safe path clearly marked by tape by the assault battalions .The area to the South rose gently to the high ground of the Meuvaines Ridge the coastal plains of Normandy were quite flat the Killing fields of the Bocage however lay further to the South.

The 6th DLI followed their officers off the beach and headed for Ver-sur-Mer which they reached at around 1300hrs after a lunch consisting of hot soup,which was most welcome to the still soaked Durhams,it was planned to move off again at 1400hrs but due to heavy congestion in the immediate area of Ver-sur-Mer it was 1500hrs before they eventually moved off.Each of the Durham Battalions would be preceeded by a mobile column made from various Companies and sections drawn from the battalion and divisional resources..

        The 6th DLI`s mobile column consisted of  The Carrier platoon,Mortar Platoon.`D` Company on their bicycles,Sniper section.Detatchment from the pioneer platoon together with a FO Officer (Forward Observation)These men would be strengthend  by No4 Platoon from the 2nd Cheshire Regt Machine Guns and supported by 86 Field Regt RA and a squadron of tanks from 4/7 Dragoon Guards.The command of this mobile column fell to Major Derek Thomlinson (D Company CO) who in turn appointed Lieut Tim Firth to command the lead section.

Derrick Edward Ingram THOMLINSON (130732).6th Btn Durham Light Infantry `D` Company  June 1944

 Pushing forward 6th Durham Light Infantry encountered light resistance in Villiers le Sec  before pushing on to the main Bayeux-Caen road at 20.30hrs on the 6th June 1944 the battalion were ordered to dig in for the night at Esquay-sur-Seulles where they were joined by The Northumberland Hussars.As night fell 6th Durhams had suffered no fatalities on their first day on French soil..Sadly that was about to change!

8th DLI 6th June 1944

The 8th DLI finally got the order to land on the beaches at 1100hrs,at  1130hrs  the two LCI`s carrying the Battalion HQ and `A` and `B` Companies began their final approach to Gold beach,to the sector code named`King`,weaving frantically to avoid the debris of the assault forces that preceded them the men on board could now make out the roads leading from the beaches,flares and tracer were also evident but this seemed far beyond the beach.               Lieut Colonel Robert Peisley Lidwell DSO led his men ashore through what was now a quite choppy sea, thankfully most of these men landed safely and relatively dry.

Lieut Colonel Robert Peisley Lidwell DSO photographed in May 1944 prior to the D-Day Landings in Normandy

The same cannot be said for `C` and `D` Companies whose landing craft ran aground some way off the beach and in a depth of water which would make it impossible for the men to simply wade ashore,as Major Laybourne found to his cost as he found himself having to swim for it.An american sailor swam to shore with a life line which enabled the leading section to be pulled ashore but this was only achieved once the order was given to remove the waders which each man, in addition to their heavy equipment ,was wearing.The trouble was the waders were ideal for shallow landings but when men were landed in deeper water the waders soon filled with water and dragged men beneath the surface.`C` and `D` Companies were now ashore soaked to the skin in most cases,but to everyones relief ,they were once again on dry land.

Once all the rifle companies were assembled they were moved quickly through thepaths in the minefields to the village of Ver-sur-Mer.Here the battalion saw the large craters around the coastal defences ,the bodies of British and Geman soldiers as yet unburied, bore testimony to the earlier assault battalions battles.Within an hour of their landing the 8th DLI, now complete,were assembled in a cornfield at Ver sur Mer,`S` Company had had a better landing than the rifle companies whose personell,especially `C` and `D` Companies still resembled Drowned Rats! `D` Company personell had been trained as the mobile element and collected all the bicycles ,those which had`nt already been discarded,from the other companies in preparation for the move further inland.

At 1345 the battalion formed up prior to moving off in the direction of Bayeux but at this time a shell fell on the battalions position and although none were killed two men,including the medical officer Captain Thornton ,were seriously wounded.The 8th DLI moved off as planned `A` Company lead the way by 1400hrs they were heading for their forward assembly area whose route lay through the village of Meuvaines in the area of Sommervieu. Apart from the sight of German bombers attempting to bomb the beaches the battalion war diary records this was a somewhat quiet and uneventfull day ,only a Durham Light Infantryman could describe one of the most important days in British Military History as such! At this time `A`,`B` and `C`  companies were in positions in and around the orchards that surrounded Sommervieu whilst `D` Company were about a mile  South-East of the village covering a junction . The 8th DLI like the sixth were back on French soil and  like their sister battalion had ,mercifully,no fatalities.

9th DLI 6th June 1944

The 9th DLI  also prepared to be at the forefront of the Invasion although many in the ranks did not see why they had been selected as a lead unit, Indeed it was later recalled that some men actually chose to go AWOL rather than face a second beach landing. Most returned to their unit prior to the Invasion anyway , just as Lieutenant Colonel Woods had predicated they would ,throughout he was genuinely unconcerned and was confident of their return ,so much so he had given orders that once they returned they were to be court marshalled and given seven days confined to barracks.. which amused everyone because the Camp was on lock down and everyone was confined to barracks anyway!

At 08;00pm on the morning of D-Day the battalions LCI`s made their way down the Solent landing on the Normandy beaches at 10;20HRS.During the landing shells fell close by the Landing craft and all those men who were still feeling quite seasick after their crossing made a remarkable recovery and sprinted up the beach. The beachmaster was screaming at them to clear the beach not that anyone really wanted to stay put. Someone later recalled “ I paused and looked around the debris and the noise, everything seemed to be in slow motion, then a mortar bomb fell on a group of men further down the beach and two of them lay down as though very tired..the realisation that these men were most probably dead brought me to my senses and sent me hurrying for cover."

 The 9th DLI moved off but were mistaken for an Enemy column and were attacked by a Typhoon which machine gunned them and dropped two bombs before realising its mistake and broke off the attack.Delayed by this and other incidents the battalion did not reach the area of Sommervieu until 1830hrs and spent another hour clearing it of the enemy before the main body of the regiment could move on through Cauge Ferme which was to the South East of Sommervieu here they dug in for the night.`B` Company were engaged by a strong enemy patrol and a firefight ensued with several Germans killed but the battalion also lost at least one man killed and another wounded.

At 0600hrs on the 7th June the battalion moved on to secure the original objectives given to it in the original Overlord plans Cachey south of Bayeux was consolidated by 0840hrs.The 9th DLI like the 6th and 8th were back on French soil but unlike their other battalions the cost in lives had began with five men killed for the period 6th/7th June

From `B` Company 14378571 Private Harold Harmer from Sussex a bricklayer in civilian life had been with the battalion for over 16 months the son of Edward and Elizabeth Harmer, of Bognor Regis, Sussex He lies in Section XIV. Row J. Grave 8. of Bayeux War Cemetery he was 34 years of age.CWGC lists him as died on the 7th June 1944.

 5383976 Pte Ernest Edward Alan Cossom (Ernie) formerly of The Ox and Bucks Light Infantry. Son of Alan and Emily Eliza Cossom; husband of Maud Cossom, of Hayes, Middlesex. At peace  Section XIV.Row J. Grave 7. Bayeux War Cemetery he was 31 years of age.CWGC lists him as died on the 7th June 1944.

Pte Ernie Cossom Photographed in Happier times Alexandria 1943

5048190 Pte William Frederick Hartill  formerly of the North Staffs Regiment Son of William John Issac Hartill and Polly Hartill, of Walsall, Staffordshire; husband of Alice Edna Hartill, of Walsall At peace Section X.Row H. Grave 11. Bayeux War Cemetery he was 29 years of age.CWGC lists him as died on the 6th June 1944.

 14370046 Pte Charles William Griffiths,Son of Charles and Mary Ann Griffiths, of Canning Town, Essex; husband of Grace Agnes Griffiths, also of Canning Town.At peace Section XI.Row H. Grave 2. Bayeux War Cemetery he was 33 years of age.CWGC lists him as died on the 7th June 1944.

 5442202 Pte Walter Frederick  Augustus Cronin formerly of The Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry.Husband of Beatrice Ann Cronin, of Bromley, Kent.At peace Section X Row H. Grave 10. Bayeux War Cemetery he was 31 years of age.CWGC lists him as died on the 6th June 1944.