Receiving my MC
Receiving my MC
We were now into November and winter weather. 30 Corps - of which we were a part - was switched south having been relieved east of Nijmegan by the Canadians. The Division as a whole moved south on 10th November and we found ourselves eventually in a part of Holland jutting into the German frontier at Brunssum where Divisional Headquarters was established. Battallion Commanders and Battery Commanders had been put in the picture which was that the Division would be attacking eastwards in the direction of the German town of Geilenkirchen, an important road junction about two and a half miles west of the heavily fortified positions of the Siegfried Line. We had the Guards Armoured Division on our left consisting of the Coldstream Guards and the Grenadier Guards.
My recollections of the next week or so are somewhat confused but the overwhelming memory is of the mud and rain and the awful conditions of the battle for Geilenkirchen and the fighting in particular for the village of Hoven. The weather conditions were appalling and, without the support of tanks and anti-tank guns, the DCLI suffered heavy casualties from intense machine gun fire and German self-propelled guns. The mud was churned up to a porridge state and slit trenches filled up with water as fast as one dug them so that it was not surprising that our tanks and anti-tank guns were unable to get up to the Infantry positions. In these awful conditions around the Hoven area, one of our OP parties was wiped out and we lost Captain Crann, Lance Bombadier Mort and Gunner Clark, all killed in the OP party. It had been a set piece battle with plenty of time for the planning to take place and we were supported by the whole Corps Artillery including batteries of Heavy Artillery and squadrons of rocket-firing Typhoons directed from a radio car. At the same time, the enemy was using the heavy guns of the Siegfried Line defences so that, altogether, the filthy weather and the artillery fire created a sea of dreadful mud - the worst conditions I can remember.
The mud and the wet conditions were so dreadful that it made it impossible for the Infantry forward parties to bring up their own infantry anti-tank 6-pounders. The positions could not possibly have been held had it not been for the use of the Water Weasels (amphibian vehicles) which had been acquired somehow by the Division to keep the troops supplied with at least some warm meals once a day and the necessary ammunition.
Immediately to our right we had the American 84th US Division and they were pushing on through Geilenkirchen, south of our effort where we were endeavouring to pass on beyond Geilenkirchen toward Randerath. It was in passing north through Geilenkirchen that I came across the first sight of American troops who seemed to have an abundance of clothing, various uniforms and plenty of boots! We lost contact with them in our move north towards Hoven and the awful conditions I have tried to describe.
At this point, much to my surprise, a message came up from Regimental Headquarters stating that I was to return to our HQ. On arrival there, the Adjutant informed me that I was to go back to Brunssum, where Divisional Headquarters was situated, where I would be invested by General Montgomery himself with the ribbon of my Military Cross. Together with Major Tom Brewis, Sergeant Travis and Bombardier Rooney, I was taken to Brunssum and there, in the showers of the Statsmeinemer (State Colliery), we were thoroughly cleaned up and issued with new kit including brand new battle dress. We were in “another world” with the band of the Lifeguards playing and a guard of honour provided by the Reconnaissance Regiment. We were each presented individually with our ribbons by General Montgomery who pinned them on our battledress left-hand side above the top pocket.
Photograph taken on 10th of November 1944, after the investiture. I am 3rd from right in 2nd row.
My citation read:
“On July 10th this officer was commanding 173 Field Battery in the absence of the Battery Commander. In direct support of the 5th DCLI in the attack on Hill112, he so placed his own OP that, in the midst of intense enemy shell, mortar and direct tank fire, he gave the infantry the fire support which enabled them to remain in the position. When 500 yards in rear of Hill 112 he heard that forward troops in an orchard were in difficulties.
In the face of intense mortar and machine-gun fire he drove forward to the orchard which was under fire from mortars and tanks. He personally directed the fire of his battery with immediate effect, with complete disregard for danger.
This officer’s work has been of this calibre throughout the operations”.
A sombre reminder of the reality of war was the fact that a number of names read out as having received decorations had in the interval been killed in action so that they were not able to receive their medals. Montgomery went on to tell us in his address that we had had 5 Christmases at war and now a 6th one lay in front of us but, he said, that would be our last at war with Germany. Then he said that there was to be a leave scheme initiated now to start in the New Year which would enable 3,000 men a day to go home to the UK for seven complete days leave.
Winter weather had really set in and, together with the heavy artillery actions, created a situation of mud and deep pools reminiscent of the stories we had heard of the First World War. I cannot recall the date but I was very pleased to be informed that sometime early in December, I was going on a forty-eight hour leave to the Leave Centre in Brussels, which was used for short leaves for the British Army. Paris was the Leave Centre for the Americans. Together with two fellow officers from 214 Brigade, I made my way to Brussels in a jeep and we were directed to a hotel which provided us with excellent accommodation. On the first evening, we were entertained to a soirée in a rather grand house and given a splendid dinner. It all seemed so remote from war and we retired to the hotel to enjoy a good bath and a fine night’s sleep.
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