||Charles S. Pearson
12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion - 6th Airborne Division
I was in the 12th Yorkshire
Parachute Battalion. It was just growing dusk on the 5th June 1944
when we got in the Aircraft - Stirling four engine jobs. We were
all very quiet. The RAF came round with canisters of tea, but nobody
wanted any! As we went over the Channel and over France I held my
breath - the world seemed to stand still - THIS WAS IT - the start
of everything, I thought of my wife at home, I hoped I would come
through and I prayed to God, as many others did, and as I did at
Dunkirk. He must have been listening to me and perhaps thought I
still wasn't good enough to die! When we approached the Dropping
Zone the plane was getting hit, it was like driving on a new road
with the grit hitting the body work - it was only light stuff, but
it still sounded fearful!
The Red Light came on and
then the Green Light - this was the moment - we all had to jump
through the hole in the floor. I had a kit-bag with a Bren etc,
It took one or two seconds to get through as there were more men
with kit-bags and equipment and the plane was going like hell. I
think the pilot had his foot through the headlights!
I landed awkwardly with the
kit-bag tope wrapped round my boot, I thought I had broken my foot
and I had wrenched my arm badly, I could still feel the heat of
the plane's engine and I still can! I also thought about the cups
of tea we had turned down in the aircraft! I carried a Bren gun
and when I reached our rendez-vous we round Jerry giving us heavy
fire from his armoured cars. Then a Jerry started to machine gun
us. We did a flanking movement and went round behind him. Then the
lads went in with the steel. That finished that problem. After forming
up we started to move to our objective: Breville. Its capture was
essential - it was to be done at all costs. It was on high ground
overlooking a valley through which the Germans could percolate at
any time into the bridgehead which was to be established unless
we took it.
We formed up in an area only
3/4-mile from Breville and came under terrific mortar pounding from
the Germans. As darkness fell our artillery opened up in support
of us and soon the night was lit up by tracer and the deafening
din of artillery from the Allied lines and counter Eire tram the
German mortars. As we stormed up towards the village one after another
of our men fell on the way, but we went on, determined to do the
job we had been given. Despite the killed and wounded we eventually
fought our way into Breville where the battle raged on at dose quarters
until Jerry was driven out.
Then we started our next
job with no respite - digging in frenziedly to await the inevitable
counter attack from the mortars! We were not disappointed. Within
a quarter-of-an-hour the inferno began and the entire village seemed
to be ablaze. The Germans knew its importance as much as we did!
But we clung on, despite everything. I remember at the height of
the bombardment we lost the Sergeant Major and our Colonel. The
Colonel was dashing about rallying everyone, and shouting "Dig
in you... or die." Shortly afterwards he was killed - and
many of our lads and my comrades DID die. One lad was lucky - he
had his helmet blown open just like a tin can- he was wounded, but
he was lucky to be even alive after a hit like that.
Throughout the long night
we waited for the German counterattack against what was now a shambles
of a village - not with mortars now - but with infantry. It never
came. Not until prisoners were interrogated later did we learn that
we had given them such a hammering that they had neither the strength
or the will to make another effort. But we didn't know that at the
time and so through the next day and night we stuck it out and after
two days, VERY tired and weary, we were relieved. Incidentally I
carried out the lad who had his helmet blown off and took him to
a jeep to get him out of the line of fire. But when I got to it
I found the rear tyre was ablaze and I had to put it out by smothering
it with horse or cow manure.
Things were too hectic for me to take much notice which it was!
It was at this time that I realised I had been wounded in the leg.
I hadn't had time to notice until then!
By this time the church and everything else was on fire. Shells
from our own artillery were hitting us as well because apparently
the Officer directing the shelling had been killed and so we got
both lots: British artillery and German mortars!
When we were relieved I was
taken to the Royal Navy and so back to England where my report from
the hospital at Blackpool gave my problem as "Leg wound and
One incident that shows how fate plays a part: one of my mates dropped
his fighting knife just before we set off and cut his foot. We dressed
it for him and said nothing because he didn't want to be left behind.
But he had trouble in walking once we got there and so he was left
to look after the equipment when the shelling started. He was promptly
hit by shellfire in the lower head and neck.
When General, later Field
Marshal, Montgomery held a Field investiture for officers and men
of the Airborne Division, one DSO went to the Colonel, and one MC
and two DCM's and four Military Medals to other officers and men
of the 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion. Only one was present
at the investiture to collect his award- the rest was either killed
or wounded. That about says what it was all about.
Charles S. Pearson