Private Arthur Bernard West

 

Unit : "A" Company, 13th Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 4081454

 

Date of Birth : 18 Apr. 20

Peacetime Profession : Bricklayer

Army Service : 2 yrs. 6 months.

Private Address : 37 Ceridllen, Glamorgan, Wales.

 

I left England at 23.29 hrs. on the night of 5 June 44 in a DAKOTA aircraft. The other members of the stick were as follows:--

No.1  Sjt.Maj. McFARLANE

No.2  L/Cpl. PICKERING

No.3  Pte. STEWART

No.4  Pte. BEVINGTON

No.5  L/Cpl. CAVE

No.6  Pte. Gardner

No.7  Pte. BARDSLEY

No.8  Pte. PASS

No.9  NARRATOR

No.10  Pte. Brown

No.11  Pte. MADEN

No.12  Pte. BARKER

No.13  Sgt. MOORE (C.M.P.)

No.14  L/Cpl GRIFFITHS (C.M.P.)

No.15  ???? (C.M.P.)

No.16  Cpl. BOTT

No.17  Pte. OLIVER

No.18  Pte. CAVE

No.19  Sgt. TAYLOR

 

Our task was to clear a stretch of land in preparation for our Glider Forces to land near RANVILLE, and to cover their assembly point. However we were dropped in error at ST. SAMSON. I was No. 9 of this stick to drop, and I landed in a dyke. After struggling for about an hour with my equipment in the water, I reached dry land retaining my rifle. I met Sgt. MOORE, L/Cpl. GRIFFITHS, L/Cpl. CAVE, Ptes. GARDNER, PASS, and BARDSLEY. After a talk together, we decided we were in the wrong place, and did not know where we were. We all moved together to do a recce in the direction which we thought was RANVILLE, (which we afterwards discovered was TROARN), but after moving around for about two or three hours, we decided it would be better to hide and wait until it was light.

 

At dawn, L/Cpl. GRIFFITHS and Pte. PASS moved off in the direction of TROARN to try and contact some FRENCH civilians and obtain some information. They returned in about 30 mins. with the information, we were in the neighbourhood of TROARN. The same two left again shortly afterwards to do another recce, and try and contact some other members of the party who we believed were in the direction of ST. SANSOM. They returned with the news that Sjt.Maj McFARLANE, L/Cpl.. PICKERING and Pte. STEWART were in an orchard near the church. We then crossed the river by means of a ferry and joined them.

 

The Sjt. Maj. Ptes. PASS and CAVE left in the afternoon to do a recce and returned. Guards were posted and we spent the night in the orchard. At that time we were living on our 24 hour Ration Packs.

 

7th June.

 

During the morning, the Sjt. Maj. left to go to RANVILLE and obtain help. At approx. 16 00 hours, a Typhoon pilot (F/Sgt. TIDBURY R.A.F.) whose machine had been hit by flak, and who had baled out, was brought to us by two FRENCH civilians, and joined the party. News was brought by some more civilians that there were enemy in the area, so we all left with the exception of F/Sgt. TIDBURY and Pte. GARDNER. Pte. GARDNER was detailed to stay behind and tend F/Sgt. TIDBURY who had sustained burns to the face.

 

On the main road ST. SANSOM to TROARN, we suddenly bumped into a GERMAN on a bicycle. He was killed but there were another 10 men, some distance behind in possession of an L.M.G. We took up positions on either side of the road, but had to withdraw. On our return to the BARN near the orchard, we found that L/Cpl. PICKERING and Pte. STEWART were missing. Later we were told by the FRENCH, that they thought the two had been taken prisoner. We found that F/Sgt. TIDBURY and Pte. GARDNER had left the barn.

 

8th June.

 

At approx. 20 30 hours Sgt. MOORE, L/Cpl. GRIFFITHS, L/Cpl. CAVE, Ptes. BASS, BARDSLEY, and myself decided to leave and make our way towards BROCOTTES as by this time ST. SANSOM was becoming too dangerous for us.

 

We crossed the river by boat and made our way along the bank of the river DIVES towards BROCOTTES which we reached at approx. 03 00 hours on the morning of the 8th. We slept until daybreak in an empty barn about a mile from the village, having dried our clothes as best we could. Sgt. MOORE and L/Cpl. GRIFFITHS left early in the morning in search of food, as our own was finished. They returned with the news they had found a FRENCHMAN who was willing to give us food and let us stay in his barn. We moved to the barn, had some food and stayed there the night.

 

9th June.

 

During the afternoon we were rejoined by F/Sgt. TIDBURY and Pte. GARDNER who told us they were having trouble with an enemy patrol. As a result they decided to leave the area. We learnt that a party under Lt. NICHOLLS (8 Parachute Bn.) were in the neighbourhood. We remained there for the night, and early next morning Sgt. MOORE went off to try and make contact with Lt. NICHOLLS.

 

10th June.

 

The Sgt returned shortly afterwards and led our party to the field where Lt. NICHOLLS was sleeping. Lt. NICHOLLS party consisted of 3 Cpls., 2 L/Cpls. and about 10 men. Shortly afterwards 4 Ptes. from C Coy. 13 Parachute Bn. joined us. Lt. NICHOLLS decided to split the party into three sections, allotting one L.M.G. to each section. We proceeded in the direction of TROARN as we had heard out Forces were in the outskirts of the town. We accordingly left about mid-day, reached and crossed a bridge without incident, and the leading section under Lt. NICHOLLS were partially across a second bridge when they saw an enemy patrol consisting of a GERMAN Jeep, two Motor-Cyclists and a M/C Combination. The leading section immediately jumped off the bridge to the left hand side of the road, and the second and third sections took cover in the hedge-row short of the bridge. owing to a slight rise in the ground, neither the approaching patrol or ourselves were aware of each others presence until they were almost on top of us. It was not until they were opposite our section (2nd) that the whole party opened fire. The two Motor Cyclists were immediately killed, the occupant of the side-car was killed, but the driver managed to get through. The Jeep was knocked out, but the occupants took cover in the hedge-row at the side of the road. L/Cpl. CAVE, the PADRE'S batman of the 8th. Parachute Bn. together with myself, advanced along both sides of the road under cover of the hedge-row, in an endeavour to draw and locate the fire of the enemy. We threw hand grenades where we thought the enemy were hiding, which drew one shot in reply, wounding the Padre's Batman in the leg. We eventually wiped the GERMANS out. The wounded man was tended and left at the side of the road with the French who promised to look after him, but heard later, he was taken away in a German Ambulance. Lt. NICHOLLS advised us to return to the barn near BROCOTTES, where we stayed until the 16th.

 

Just after we returned from the skirmish. Lt. NICHOLLS set off with one Corporal, to try and get some food. He contacted the "maire" and through him an ex R.S.M. of the French Army, who fed the whole party of 28 for four days mostly on cider, potatoes and some meat. The only incident during this period, was when a German soldier with a loaded rifle burst into the barn while a small party of us was shaving. In the course of the struggle he was killed.

 

On the morning of the 16th. the R.S.M. came and advised us to get out, and to break up into small parties, as about 200 Germans had moved into a nearby chateau. Before leaving, the R.S.M. was eventually prevailed upon to accept the sum of 500 Francs from the party.

 

His description is as follows :--

 

Lived in BROCOTTES. Age 50 years. Height 5ft. 7ins. Weight approximately 10 stone. Dark hair going thin on top. Dark thick moustache. Fresh. oily complexion, with good colour. Thin features. Long nose.

 

A party consisting of L/Cpl. CAVE, Ptes. PASS, GARDNER, BARDSLEY and myself, moved off late in the evening across the marsh-lands towards TROARN via LE BON---ST. SANSOM, with the intention of getting to BURES, which we had heard had been taken by the BRITISH. We arrived at the bend in the river at about 0230 hours, and slept on the southern bank for the rest of the night. The next morning we obtained a little food which had to last us for the remainder of the day. At approx. 2330 hours we set out for BURES , keeping first to the south and then west of the river. Just before reaching BURES we encountered several small streams which we had to swim. We sought shelter from 0200 hours in a grave-yard and then roused a house in the village and asked the occupants to give us shelter as we were very wet, A man and a woman answered our knock, and the man took us to a shed where we dried our clothes, and then slept for a few hours in the straw. At approx. 1100 hours, L/Cpl. CAVE. Pte. PASS and myself went on a recce to gather information and obtain food for the party. As the man and woman who had led us to the shed seemed genuine and helpful, we went to them, and found there in addition , two girls of the village. We received some milk but no food. They told us they had heard that the BRITISH were just north of BURES in the BOIS-DE-BAVENT. They returned with us to the shed, and we asked them to take the whole party in the direction of our forces. The two girls led the way, followed by the farmer who was some 50 yards in front of us. After crossing the railway, the girls pointed in the direction of the BOIS-DE-BAVENT. Here they left us, and we later made a contact, from which point our journey was arranged.

 

Their description is as follows:---

 

Near BURES. Biggest farm in the neighbourhood .Enclosed with hedges. Large double wooden gates, leading to drive and house. Pond at back of house.

 

Farmer; Age about 55. Height 6ft. Wore blue and white apron, similar to those butchers wear. Black beret. Some-times well dressed and wore gold watch and chain. Very clean false teeth. Not seen smoking. Good complexion. Blue eyes. Hair, thin on top. Round faced. Clean shaven.

 

Farmer's wife. Stout woman. Height about 5ft. 4ins. Age 50--60. Dark False teeth.

 

Two good looking, well dressed daughters. aged 22 and 20. Think one is called Jeanne

 

On asking them where our troops where, they pointed in the direction of the BOIS-DE-BAVENT. With the aid of a compass, we made our way into the wood. L/Cpl. CAVE and Pte. PASS were slightly ahead of us, when suddenly crossing a path we saw a party of 10 soldiers. Pte. PASS who was on the other side of the path from L/Cpl. CAVE, thinking they were our own troops whistled, and they turned and saw us. They were GERMANS. We took evasive action, made a detour round the patrol, and as a result lost L/Cpl. CAVE and Pte. PASS in the wood. We looked for them, but did not see them again, and decided to go on towards our own lines. On coming out of the wood, we crossed an open field, and I, who was leading the three, suddenly saw a GERMAN soldier outside some farm buildings. He immediately took cover, and I went back in to the wood, and led the party along the edge of the wood. We found a GERMAN latrine, which showed signs of recent use, and further examination revealed a newly dug slit trench with a GERMAN lying beside it. I warned the others to go back, but Pte. GARDNER went one way, and Pte. BARDSLEY and myself retraced our steps. I did not see GARDNER again.

 

As it appeared too difficult to get through in this direction, BARDSLEY and myself decided to make our way back through the wood to our original starting point N/W of BURES. On our way, we heard GERMAN vehicles, and hid for about three quarters of an hour until they were out of earshot. We passed what appeared to be a chateau , but found GERMAN troops in occupation there. Eventually after a difficult march through thick undergrowth, we arrived off BURES at about 1900 hours and I asked a farmer for a drink of water. Having slaked our thirst, we made our way across some fields, until we met another farmer and two youths; we asked him for shelter for the night, and he led us to a shed in the fields about 100 yards from the farm, where we slept until noon the following day. We left here for our former wealthy farmer friend who welcomed us and gave us our first decent meal for days and proved helpful in showing us a map of the area.

 

At approx. 14.00 hours we made our way back to the two youths, who told us that the BRITISH were in TOUFFREVILLE. We pointed out how extremely difficult it was, making our way about in khaki uniform, and they suggested we should change into civilian. They gave us the clothes, and we handed our rifles and equipment to them and set off for TOUFFREVILLE.

 

On the way we heard such artillery fire, that we concluded we were heading in the right direction. After a mile or so suddenly saw a GERMAN some 50 yards away at some cross roads, who looked at us rather suspiciously. Not wishing to be questioned, we moved off the road into the hedge, and returned to the shed of the night before and stayed there until the morning.

 

We went out for a look-around, when two GERMAN riflemen came down the road towards us. We dived into the hedge for cover until they passed.

 

The two youths were contacted again and they advised us to try the BOIS-DE-BAVENT. We were well into the woods, when a single GERMAN beckoned us to come to him. However we turned round and strolled back in the direction from which we had come. He fired three shots over our heads, so we ran for it and made our way back to our wealthy farmer friend and his two daughters. He again offered us food and after a meal we returned to the two youths again. They took us to a house and with the aid of dictionaries we were told that 4 Paratroopers had been taken prisoner in BURES the day before. We realised the two youths were not much help to us, and returned to the farmer friend again. He led us to a corner of the orchard and told us to wait there and we would receive food at 2000 hours.

 

It was now about tea-time and after the farmer had left we returned to the two youths and changed back into our uniforms, as we did not like the situation and preferred a rifle in our hands in case of trouble. We returned to the orchard and the farmer brought us food about 20.30 hours, and promised to bring us hot water, shaving kit and food the following morning. We slept the night in one of his barns. We stayed there without incident the whole of the day and night.

 

In the evening a FRENCH policeman was brought to us, and the farmer explained that the gendarme would lead us to our own lines on the following night. The gendarme examined our Pay books and Identity discs, and took them from us, promising to return them later. The following day the farmer provided us with civilian clothes, and food for the journey, and we set out for the journey at approximately 19.30 hours. The gendarme was in possession of a bicycle.

 

Herewith a description:---

 

Height 5ft. 6ins. Born 1913. Wore FRENCH Police Uniform. Khaki breeches. Very dark and swarthy. Fresh complexion. Clean shaven. Heavy cigarette smoker.

 

On our way we passed a few GERMAN cars successfully. Once we stopped and had a few drinks in a Cafe. After leaving the Cafe, we made our way through TROARN and walked along the main road to le POIRIER via CAGNY.

 

After some three quarters of a mile, a man on a bicycle caught up with us and started talking to the Gendarme. The four of us then walked towards CAGNY but about half-way between TROARN and CAGNY, the Gendarme turned left on to a side road and told us to follow the other man. He in turn led us through CAGNY and we arrived at le POIRIER at approximately 22.00 hours. He took us to an agricultural machine shop opposite the church, showed our Pay Books to the owner, who then returned them to us. We fed, and when it was dark, the assistant of the machine shop took us to the vestry of the church and made us comfortable with eiderdowns for the night. The owner's and assistant's descriptions were as follows;----

 

Owner of machine shop at le POIRIER lives opposite the church. Height approximately 5ft. 5ins. Age about 40. Hair going grey. False teeth with one gold tooth. Well dressed. Pipe and cigarette smoker. Lives in bungalow besides workshop.

 

Assistant to owner of Machine shop. Age 22. Height 5ft. 9ins. Christian name Jean. Wavy fair hair. Clean shaven. Good clean teeth. Smokes and rolls own cigarettes. Wears brown leather Jacket.

 

The only incident during this period was when a GERMAN came into the church. he did not see us however.

 

During the evening of 5th. Jul. we were brought into the Machine Shop again, where we met a FRENCH-CANADIAN who had come to see us. he spoke English and French very well, and told us he was a F/Sgt. in the RAF and had been shot down before D Day.

 

His description is as follows :----

 

F/Sgt. RAF. FRENCH-CANADIAN. Acts as interpreter. Height 5ft. 6ins. to 5ft. 7ins. Age 27--28. Weight approximately 10 stone. Dark. Clean shaven. Wavy hair. Good teeth (? false). Well dressed. Grey double-breasted suit. Spoke with slight lisp. In possession of all civilian identity papers.

 

With him was a FRENCHMAN who claimed to be a member of the Resistance Movement. His description is as follows :---

 

Height 5ft. 6ins. Thick set. Brown wavy hair. Wears black dungarees. Carries coat slung over shoulder. Speaks a little ENGLISH. Was seen on back of motor-cycle behind FRENCH A.R.P. Warden by narrator in CAEN on Sunday 9 Jul.

 

The FRENCHMAN showed us a piece of paper on which were some 80 written names of Allied Escapers and Evaders. At the head of the list was the name of the FRENCH-CANADIAN F/Sgt., Lt.NICHOLLLS, Sgt. MOORE, and L/Cpl. GRIFFITHS.

 

It was decided that we would be taken to EMIEVILLE that night. Before leaving, we were given a slip of paper by the FRENCH-CANADIAN F/Sgt. to take through with us and hand to the BRITISH. It contained the position of an enemy patrol and ammunition dump east of FRUIDE which required bombing, and it also stated not to bomb the university or the cathedral at CAEN, as both buildings were housing refugees. The slip of paper afterwards sodden and totally illegible while crossing the marshes.

 

At about 2100 hours we left with the shop assistant and the Resistance man, who were 100 yards ahead of us in the direction of EMIEVILLE. After some 5 km. the shop assistant cycled off on a side road to see if the way was clear, while we waited with the FRENCHMAN on the bank at the side of the road. After a short while the shop assistant returned with the news that the plan had been altered, and we would be going through another way with 21 other evaders. We all carried on and the two FRENCHMEN who were slightly ahead, were once stopped by some GERMAN tanks and asked the way. We were put into the hedges as arranged, in case identification papers were being checked. The FRENCHMEN shouted for us to come on, the GERMANS having left, and we arrived at a farm where we contacted three other FRENCH youths who were to lead us and the 21 others through the lines. This was near EMIEVILLE. Here the shop assistant went home.

 

We, BARDSLEY the Resistance Member, and myself, set off with the three youths ahead to meet the other 21 evaders. We heard tanks and vehicles in the area, and two of the three youths went ahead to recconoitre, but we did not see them again. The remaining four of us hid in a hedge, as the GERMANS were walking about. Our original friend then suggested we should sleep in the hedgerow for the night, and wait until he got further information in the morning.

 

At approximately 0500 hours, the two FRENCHMEN went to a farm, to which we were brought a little later. Here we found several more FRENCH youths who were all armed and who had tried to get through the night before. Our Resistance friend told us to go with the others that night, and he would do it the following night. We left this farm for another to have some food, where we met another 10 FRENCHMEN, some of who were armed.

 

We slept in a barn until about mid-day and when we woke up, found that some of the men had already. left. After food we moved off in the early afternoon with two FRENCH youths who were taking us to join some other Paratroops in the marshes east of EMIEVILLE. We found them after walking for three quarters of an hour, some 9 men from the 9th. Parachute Battalion, one of them was named Sjt. (Nobby) CLARK. After a talk, we left with the two FRENCHMEN for the farm again, promising to return with food for the Paratroops at 1900 hours. The two FRENCHMEN set off with this about 2000 hours, telling us to remain on the farm until they returned. We stayed there all night, but they did not come back.

 

During the morning GERMANS were moving in all around the farm and after lunch, the farmer's wife came running to us and asked us to leave as the BOCHE were taking over the farm. We left to re-join the 9 Paratroopers but found them gone. We followed further into the marshes thinking they might be there, passing on the way, two naked BOCHE bathing in the river.

 

After struggling through the marshes for three hours, we found ourselves back at the farm once again. A GERMAN stopped us and asked us something we could not understand which sounded like "Torry---Boom! Boom!" I answered "Oui Oui" and waved my hand and he went away satisfied.

 

We called at a farm for a drink and then decided that the best thing we could do was to make our way back to the machine shop again. We passed through CAGNY and at about 2030 hours approximately we met the shop assistant in the main street of le POIRIER We explained what had happened and the owner hid us in a threshing machine. We stayed there the night.

 

Through our peep-hole in the machine I saw many GERMAN tanks, Mk. IV and infantry, retreating from the direction of CAEN. During the afternoon the assistant brought us some food and told us that he and a young woman would set off at 1600 hours and lead us to CAEN.

 

We agreed and proceeded to CAEN , crossing the river into the town by the main bridge which was guarded by sentries. They did not bother us.

 

The town was being bombarded by Allied artillery and there were a number of patrols passing up and down the streets. This was approximately 1830 hours. After walking round the town for about three quarters of an hour the girl went off in the direction of the University, and the assistant took us to what appeared to be a Stadium. (Tennis Courts, Football Ground, Cycle Track etc.), and told us to wait for an hour and then he would return with something to drink.

 

Shells from our own artillery were falling near,. The assistant returned with some cider and told us to stay there as the BRITISH were expected in the town at 2100 hours. He also said that if our own troops had not arrived within a day or so, he would return bringing some food for us from le POIRIER.. He then left, assuring us we were safe.

 

However, our position was becoming rather "hot" for us, due to shelling and numerous GERMAN patrols, and we decided to do a reconnaissance. We found two GERMAN soldiers near some slit trenches, and so we withdrew after behaving as though we had some business and interest in the Stadium.

 

We walked up the main road towards the University, and contacted one of the A.R.P. Wardens who took us to the University. There we met a man who shortly afterwards left and returned with the MAIRE and a Professor of English. The Professor explained that the University was used to hide refugees, and he unfortunately could not allow us to stay there. On asking him where we could go, he took us to the Cathedral. This was packed with refugees. In the morning after listening to a service we wandered around in search of news and met the professor again, who asked us how we were.

 

END

 

This is where the report of Private West's debriefing ends, the final entry may have been made on the 9th July and Caen was entered by British troops not long after that date. He was debriefed on the 15th July, and the report is signed by a Major of the ATS attached to Intelligence.

 

 

My thanks to Ellis "Dixie" Dean for this account.

 

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