We would normally show you some amazing far off land or stunning art work, or maybe something else that will make you oh and ahh in unison. But just for today we just want to take one day out from that to share one the most amazing stories involving ladders you will ever read. And it all starts like this…
We had spent the day in the forest. The Boche had overflown us often, but had not found us. As the light began to fail we were called to the Sergeant Major’s truck. He was brief. “We are surrounded, but the road to St Valery is still open. In ten minutes time, under cover of darkness, we shall make an attempt to get there. The enemy may cut the road. If so, use what weapons we have got and endeavour to break through. Good luck.”
The motley convoy of about ten vehicles slowly made its way onto the road, the darkness providing cover but making navigation difficult. Suddenly there was a burst of German Machine Gun fire, its white colour answered by the red tracer of the Bren and rifle fire. The enemy fire died away and we were able to continue. This sporadic journey continued through the night and dawn found us on the outskirts of the deserted town.
On foot and with rifles at the alert, we made our way to the sea front. We were spotted by the enemy and, for the first time in our military careers, came under shell fire, a frightening experience.
One of my companions was killed; this was real war. In the afternoon we saw a ship approaching the harbour and quickly arrived on the quayside. The tide was high and the ship, a destroyer, came into the harbour. The Boche bracketted the destroyer with a salvo of shells. Rather than presenting a sitting target, the destroyer reversed out of the harbour and made for the open sea. The Luftwaffe, attracted by the commotion also decided to pay a visit but, beyond dropping a stick of bombs, left us alone, knowing full well that the German infantry could cope. They were now in some strength across the harbour.
As St Valery was a picking up point for the wounded, a lifeboat was stationed there. This was brought into action to ferry the wounded out of the harbour in spite of the fact that no hospital ship was stationed outside the harbour. A brisk fire fight was now taking place across the harbour and a German machine gunner made the lifeboat his target. A row of bullet holes appeared on the side of the boat and it drifted away – the rowers, being wounded, were no longer able to manoeuvre the boat. A fellow soldier, with an angry expletive, singled out the German machine gunner for attention. Two well aimed shots were sufficient and the gunner toppled over. There was no further firing.
After a shambolic day, moving chaotically around St Valery in small groups, we were ordered back to the beach where a small cave was to be our HQ. I realised the morning would present me with three situations:
1. I could be wounded.
2. I could be a prisoner of war and wounded.
3. I could be dead.
This was to be the lot of many British soldiers left in Normandy.
A fitful period of sleep followed, the cave providing shelter and protection. There was skirmishing as patrols clashed outside but the dawn would bring the bulk of the axis troops to tidy up the beaches. They seemed well supplied with equipment, particularly mortars.
As dawn broke, a mist was covering offshore and as it lifted, to me a miracle occurred for, following the mist inshore, was a small flotilla of ships coming in very slowly. We quickly made our way to the beach but the boats were having difficulty in coming closer due to the shallowness of the water. One boat was approaching a ridge of rock which ran out to sea. I scrambled along the rocks, crawling, jumping, walking and eventually reached the end to find a sea-going barge riding high in the water, manoeuvring to find a spot to pick up any soldiers. Hanging from the bows was a rough timber ladder. Two French soldiers were endeavouring to reach the ladder and commenced to fight. Whilst they fought, the ship came closer to the rock and, without further ado, I launched myself at the ladder. I hit the ladder with a crash and commenced to climb as the boat moved into deeper water. To my horror, the ladder came away but two strong hands on the ship held it as I climbed.
I was reaching the top of the ladder and making heavy weather of it when my wrists were grabbed and a member of the crew pulled me aboard. I flew through the air and landed prostrate on the deck. A quiet voice said, “You are all right now.”
Standing up, I gazed around. A mini evacuation was taking place. The German artillery was now in full cry and shells were falling amongst the small boats who were endeavouring to evacuate the soldiers. One small motor-driven boat, on its way to the beach, received a direct hit and its wounded crew struggled to survive, without success.
Our own rescuer made its way to the open sea where a peace-time passenger steamer was acting as a base for rescued soldiers. As the evacuation finalised we were taken to Southampton and, in the late afternoon, arrived at Winchester at the end of two momentous days.
Just remember that this is the real story of a World War 2 Survivor. Hi’s incredible story and many more can be read here (( http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/categories ))
Looking back it seems that ladders are a lot more dangerous when you have enemy forces trying to kill you! And we hope you found this an incredible story that you will want to share so that the real life adventures/stories of these people will live on. (And before anyone moans about us putting a few links in with the story please remember that this is a business page. It’s not disrespect full by putting the links in, it’s respectful that we have taken the time out to share this story with you because we want the memories from people like this to live on forever)