Date Posted... Jun 14th 2024


School Archive

Archive Attic: Tales from Normandy 1944

The recent D-Day anniversary provided a chance to look through the 1940s school magazines again. Although there are not any direct references to any Old Truronians taking part in D-Day on 6 June 1944, there were several who took part in the campaign, first landing in Normandy several days later.

The Truronian in May 1945 recorded that Private David Beecher Williams (TS 1933-38) of the Hampshire Regiment had been mentioned in dispatches for gallantry in action in Normandy, July 1944.

He went forward to within a few yards of the enemy and maintained contact with his Headquarters although he had to return twice under fire and in full view of the enemy for repairs to his wireless set. His information contributed largely to the success of the action.

It is not clear at the moment which battalion Williams belonged to. The 1st Hampshires landed in Normandy in the first wave on 6 June, aiming to reach Arromanches, while the 7th Hampshires arrived on 22 June, 16 days later, as reinforcements; after advancing to Mont Pincon, by the 14 August they were moving forward for a successful assault on St Denis de Mere.

The Truronian later reported that Frank H. Copplestone (TS 1939-41) ‘took part in the Normandy landing, was wounded and is now back in England.’ Copplestone was a gunner in the 13th Royal Heavy Artillery and was among the batteries that landed in Normandy on 15 June, who fought with the 86th Regiment through Belgium to Germany.

Derek Robbins (TS 1928-36) has left an interesting account of his wartime memories in the Imperial War Museum oral history archive. In the summer of 1944 he was a Captain in the 4th Wiltshire Regiment and the first that he knew about D-Day was the day before it happened. He didn’t land on ‘the’ day; the Heavy Division vehicles that he oversaw went from Tilbury Docks a few days later. He recalled travelling through the East End, and being met with great fellowship from the Londoners, before stopping at Tilbury overnight and hearing the aircraft and loud explosions overhead. It was the first night that V1s or ‘buzz bombs’ were dropped on London. The following day, 14 June, the ship left for France but had a rough day or two, with ‘terrific storms and high waves’, getting to Normandy, where the whole bay was filled with ships, four or five days after the initial landing. One ship, 500 yards away, hit a mine, and most of the Wiltshires’ reconnaissance unit was lost; a loss that was greatly felt in later situations. His unit landed at Arromanches and met up with the infantry in an ‘amazing logistic feat’. He found it ‘surprisingly quiet’ but could hear battle 4-5 miles ahead. Hearing the ‘Moaning Minnies’ -mortars- overhead was an unnerving experience, and as they drew closer the Germans there was increased skirmishing. Their aim was to take over from a Scots Regiment, which they did in a picturesque French village in the middle of a battle. It was a ‘nasty introduction to war’. Due to the earlier loss of the reconnaissance unit, Robbins was instructed to take a patrol of 18 men and 5 vehicles, into no-man’s land to see if Carpiquet aerodrome was occupied. The Germans had withdrawn from the area. The patrol got to the edge of the aerodrome, and Robbins drove his carrier on to the airfield but could see nothing there. They were four miles from Caen. He went around the airfield then saw a few German troops below the airfield, leading to skirmishes. The patrol lasted nine hours in no-man’s land; it was their first week of action. It was dark when they got back and they were nearly shot at by their own side because the regiment had moved. The commanding officer commented to Robbins that he ‘thought you were dead’. After this Robbins had a cup of tea before going back into action.

Carpiquet airfield was later captured and it was reported that on the other side of it had been two divisions of German troops dug in, who had seen the lone British vehicle on the airfield but had not reacted to it. A few days later in July the Wiltshires joined the 7th Hampshires and other in the offensive to take Hill 112.

The Truronian reported that Robbins was promoted to Major after being slightly wounded while serving in Normandy. He went on to be among the first British troops to cross the Seine and took part in the rescue bid for the airborne division at Arnhem, before being wounded twice more and awarded the Military Cross.

Philip H.H. Moore (TS 1932-39) was an artillery specialist and served as a lance-bombardier in the 53rd Royal Artillery with the 6th Airborne Division. Unlike the 211 Battery of the 53rd, his unit had to wait for suitable transport aircraft so arrived in Normandy on 14 June rather than on 6 June, and was in action from the Orne Canal, Ranville, to the River Seine. He also took part in the repulse of Rundstedt’s offensive in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) in December 1944 to February 1945. He was killed in action at the Airborne Crossing of the Rhine on 24 March 1945, and his name is included on the school’s war memorial.