Normandy landing – June 6 1944 – a live report from Goulbourn

(Approaching Normandy and preparing to land)

Jack Tennant joined the Army at the age of 19. He re-enlisted after the war in 1947 and served in various Canadian, European, Mid-east and Far East locations.

I joined the Army in Regina in winter 41-42 over the objections of my father. Very soon I began to recognize the left foot from the right.

Began basic training in Chatham, Ontario; a pleasant summer time in a friendly locale.

Selected for signals and went on to Vimy in Kingston. I trained in Morse code and radio procedures. I had a break one long weekend assisting in locating an escaped POW. Without help, he was located sitting in the park in downtown Kingston.

Continued on to advanced training, rifle ranges and introduction to battle tactics, how to read a map and promptly became lost!!!

(SS Louis Pasteur in wartime during Convoy WS19. She was used as a troop carrier and military hospital ship between Canada, South Africa, Australia and South America. She transported around 300,000 soldiers. Source: Wikipedia)

I left for overseas in the Louis Pasteur, an uneventful trip accompanied by doubtful food. Upon arrival in England, joined E section, 3 Cdn Div Sigs attached to the 12 R Fd Reg RCA. Came under the glare of the RSM—code-named Ming the Merciless! He loved to get us sig types on guard duty and we loved trying to escape it. I spent until Christmas 1943 going on artillery shoots to Wales and Salisbury Plains, with in between tours of southern England in the blackout.  As a diversion learned to ride a motorcycle and drive a truck. My main task was as a radio operator supporting the Regimental CO in his duties.

During the winter of 1943-44 became engaged in invasion training. Water proofed everything in sight. Trained as gunner operator in a Sherman tank — was not enthusiastic. Found it crowded and difficult to man a radio and load a gun in such cramped quarters.

Went out to sea twice on beach landing exercises where at one time we almost crossed the channel to France.

In May of 1944, the unit moved to a concentration area near Southampton where we continued waterproofing and beach landing training.

Bombed by lone enemy aircraft one evening and much noise from exploding ammunition but no casualties.

My companion and I hitchhiked a ride around Southampton waters in a courier boat crewed by two WRNS. Duty overcame other interests.

Boarded landing ship Headquarters on June 2 in party with others of Royal Winnipeg Rifles Battalion Headquarters. We had been issued special gear and were well loaded down with enough ammunition and grenades to get us across Europe!

On top of all these items, the most important, a man-pack radio (WS38 Mk II Man-Pack Radio was the standard lightweight portable set used for most of World War II). While on board ship read about Rome falling to the allies. Up anchor afternoon of 5 June and head out into the English Channel. Weather is wet, raining and windy. Miserable crossing to France. We prime our grenades. Check over our gear and prepare for landing.

Off Normandy about 4 a.m.

See glow of gunfire in distance and hear much noise from off-shore naval bombardment. Ship heaves and LCA comes alongside. We clamber down netting and settle in for run to shore. About a mile off shore begin to recognize detail, especially lone house on beach front. Much shelling, heavy smell of cordite and diesel fumes.

Note nearby landing Craft Rocket ship sending in barrage. Also see patrolling Hurricane fighter fly into barrage and disintegrate. Landing craft doors down and everyone off — into 4 feet of water.

No immediate enemy opposition. Naval beachmaster meets us and in loud firm voice tells everyone to move off beach quickly. No gawking! Continue inland, following white tape.  Companion and I assist each other, removing water proofing from radios. As we cross beachfront road enemy mortar barrage comes in on party.Regimental 2 I/C is gravely wounded, my companion is killed and others in party become casualties. Mortar fragments put my radio set out of action, having passed through set and entered my back.

After having wound dressed, remain on beach awaiting arrival of main Regimental party.  Help medics tend wounded and try to be useful. Am evacuated to hospital in UK where I spend my 21st birthday!

Return to Normandy end of June and join K section, 2 Cdn Div Sigs attached to an infantry regiment, the Regiment de Maisonneuve. Spend the rest of the war as CO’s radio operator.

Riding in Bren gun carrier, feel like sitting duck. Dig slit trenches all across Europe, dodging 88’s and “moaning  minnies”.

(Bren Gun Carrier – 1944)

But come through safely and see the end of the war near Emden in Germany. CO opens bottle of wine and we drink to fallen comrades and better days.

Jack Tennant was born and raised on a farm in Saskatchewan. He retired in 1977 living in Richmond, Ontario and was a member of the Richmond & District Branch (625) of the Royal Canadian Legion.

 


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