Lance-Corporal Arthur William Ward
Unit : No.4 Commando
Army No. : 14241809
The following has been submitted by John Carey, formerly of 2 Para and subsequently a West Midlands Police Officer.
L/Cpl Ward is commemorated on the Wolverhampton Police War Memorial located on the 3rd Floor of Bilston Street Police Station (no public access), he is commemorated here as he served in Wolverhampton Borough Police for three years prior to his military service.
The first intakes of Police into the Commandos took place in the Spring of 1942, Ward was amongst the first to volunteer. Many went direct from their Police Force area to the new Commando Depot, later re-designated as the Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry, Scotland. The training regime was physically demanding and unique in that it sought not the traditional unthinking obedient soldier but the intelligent highly motivated individual who would be the first of the new age of volunteer warriors that form our modern day armies and the foundations of modern day special forces.
It was felt at the time that police officers were already a disciplined body of men as the working life of a police officer was very similar to that of a soldier, it was the Prime Minister Winston Churchill who suggested and encouraged officers to volunteer directly for service in the Commandos.
Police officers lived in barracks located within the police station and were subject to harsh internal discipline, inspections and drill, senior police officers were usually retired military men and many of the staff had previous military experience. Police officers wouldn't require basic army recruit training that conscripted men received so they could go direct for their Commando Training. However, this created an issue for Pay and Records.
Army Commandos were only ever 'attached' to a Commando from their Regiment, and could be 'Returned to Unit' (RTU) at any time and for any reason. So what to do with those joining from the Police? It was decided they had to be allocated to a Regiment on paper at least. Thus they were apparently asked to nominate a Regiment. Very few police Officer spent any length of time with the Regiment they are shown allocated to. Whilst most like L/Cpl Ward nominated Regiments close to their home, there were stories floating of some nominating, with tongue in cheek no doubt, Guards and Cavalry Regiments, which apparently did not go down too well. Enquiries with the Staffordshire Regiment museum show no record of Ward having served with the regiment.
L/Cpl Ward successfully completed his Commando training and was posted to 4 Commando, at this time it has not been established when he arrived at his unit which Troop he was part of within 4 Commando. Ward clearly showed potential due to his promotion to L/Cpl, his responsibilities would have been as the section 2ic and in command of the bren gun group. The section would have consisted of ten men commanded by a corporal, the bren gun group consisting of Ward and three other men would provide the fire power so as to enable the remaining men to assault enemy positions.
4 Commando would take part in Operation Overlord the Normandy Invasion on 6th June 1944, they would land in the second wave at 0820 hrs on Sword Beach and be responsible for assaulting the German defences in the port of Ouistreham before moving inland to join up with the airborne forces at the Orne Canal and River Bridge (Pegasus Bridge) and then take up position in the area of Hauger on the high ground to the East forming part of the Eastern flank of the invasion force. Below is an extract from the war diary of 4 Commando for the 6th and 7th June 1944.
National Archives catalogue number WO 218/66.
Month and year : May 1944
Commanding Officer : Lt. Col. R.W.P. Dawson DSO
25th May 1944
The Cdo left Boxhill and went into concentration area in Camp C18 in Southampton.
26th May 1944
The camp was sealed and briefing for operation 'OVERLORD' began. Major General R.N. Gale, GOC 6 Airborne Div visited the camp and addressed all officers and NCOs.
6th June 1944
Place: La Beche
A fiercely opposed beach landing during which No.4 Commando took over the role previously allotted to an earlier wave of Infantry which had been pinned down by enemy fire; the storming of heavy fortifications at OUISTREHAM; street fighting through areas infested with snipers; a forced fighting march with men carrying up to one-hundred and forty pounds and finally, after a further eight hours the taking of a defensive position which was to withstand heavy mortaring, repeated enemy attacks, shelling and dive bombing - these were the highlights of the first days of No.4 Commando after their D Day landing in FRANCE.
The Commando, five hundred strong, landed in two waves from HMS Princess Astrid and the SS Maid of Orleans and touched down on RED QUEEN Beach, a mile to the WEST of OUISTREHAM, at LA BECHE. The original intention of the British landings had been for 8 Bde, which consisted of the Suffolks, East Yorks and South Lancs to take the beach and form a beach head through which No.4 Commando was to pass and take the Gun Batteries at OUISTREHAM. The County Regiments, landing at 0750 hrs, found intense opposition from the strongpoint on RED QUEEN Beach and were pinned down by concentrated machine gun and mortar fire at the water's edge, some being in 2 ft of water when No.4 Commando's first wave of LCAs went in at 0820 hrs.
Mortar bombs were falling in and around the LCAs and as the Commando landed there were 40 casualties, including the Commanding Officer, Lt.Col. R.W.P. Dawson , who was wounded in the leg. Rapidly forming up under concentrated fire, No.4 Commando fought their way from the beach to the forming up area, putting out of action several of the enemy strong positions and enabling Units of 8 Bde to pass through.
'C' Tp, under command of Capt. D.C.W. Style MC, (later seriously wounded), pushed past the East Yorks, who were lying at the water's edge, and successfully engaged about a dozen of the enemy in slit trenches and a few more in pillboxes, afterwards moving up in orderly fashion to the Assembly Area.
Lt.Col. R.W.P. Dawson pushed forward to contact 2nd. Bn East Yorks Regt and was wounded in the head. He was, however, sufficiently able to order the Commando to move off from the Assembly Area, relinquishing command of the Commando when the Second in Command passed him, saying that he intended, if it was possible to follow on behind. The Second in Command ordered the medical orderlies to give him some morphine. Col. Dawson was again seen on the road after the Battery had been taken, he was then sent by the Medical Officer to the BDS. On the evening of D plus 1 (7 Jun 44) Col. Dawson arrived in a Jeep at Commando defence positions at HAUGER, and stayed there until D plus 3 when he was ordered to be evacuated by the ADMS.
'C' Tp waited for the remainder of the Commando to position itself, and then moved on behind 1 and 8 (Fighting French) Tps along the OUISTREHAM road to the Check Pt, being harassed by snipers and machine gunners in houses. Tanks greatly helped in clearing this opposition. From the Check Pt, 'C' Tp again took the lead and established a route to the Battery - the Commandos main task. Invaluable assistance was given to the leading Tp by a French Gendarme member of the Underground Movement, who helped the Commando to by pass other enemy strongpoints and reach their objective without unnecessary delay. Great help was also afforded the Unit by 4 Centaurs which gave cover from snipers. On arrival at major tank obstacles covering the inland side of the Battery strongpoint, and still under enemy fire, a search was made and two suitable bridges made. Here, a machine gun post and mortar position were silenced by PIAT fire.
Together with 'A' Tp, under command of Capt A.M. Thorburn, 'C' Tp then gave covering fire to enable 'D' Tp, (commanded by Major P.A. Porteous VC) to pass through 'E' Tp, (commanded by Capt. H. Burt) and 'F' Tp (commanded by Capt. L.N. Coulson), were then covered across. Continued sniping and mortar fire inflicted further casualties.
The heavy ruck-sacks carried by the Commando had been dumped under HQ and the Mortar Section.
Under orders by Unit wireless, mortar fire was brought to bear on the Flak Tower at the EAST of the Gun Battery and covering the whole area. The French Detachment, commanded by Capt. P. Kieffer, who was later evacuated severely wounded, over-ran the Cassino area on the WEST of the strongpoint.
Then the assault went in on the Battery, all Tps moving according to plan. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy who put up a very stiff resistance from their strong fortifications and cunningly camouflaged block houses commanding excellent fields of fire. The concrete emplacements had withstood severe Naval bombardment exceedingly well, and although outnumbered, the Germans were in excellent defensive positions and had advantages of emplacements which had successfully withstood a terrific pounding from the sea and air. Several prisoners were taken when the Germans surrendered after their position had become untenable. Casualties on both sides had been high and after the engagement medical orderlies from opposing sides worked side by side succoring the wounded.
One of the outstanding features of the defence of the Battery by the enemy was the careful sighting of their positions, and from the Commando's view point, the difficulty of finding points of enemy fire power during the mopping up stages, so well had the emplacements been prepared. But at least one point of Hitler's Western Wall had proved vulnerable under determined enough attack.
No.4 Commando then withdrew to the area where the ruck-sacks had been left and prepared for a strenuous and back breaking 9 miles march under constant sniping and mortar fire at HAUGER across the CAEN Canal and the River Orne. A stick of bombs dropped by a German plane caused no casualties, but mortar fire and sniping occurred at the bridges after the majority of the Unit had safely crossed them. It was here that Lieut. P.M. Mercer Wilson - the only casualty of the crossing of the bridges - was killed during a minor action against the enemy.
Continuing unmolested the Unit reached the CROSS ROADS (121755) on the RANVILLE - SALLENELLES RD, where Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, Commanding No.1 Special Service Brigade was contacted. The Brigadier ordered the Unit to move forward and take up defensive positions in and around the village of HAUGER on the extreme left of the Allied landings and in direct contact with the enemy. Headquarters was established at a small farm in the village at 2130 hrs and troops were allotted their defensive areas and carried out digging slit trenches and weapon pits, a task which took until the early hours of D + 1 (7 Jun 44), the area having been reconnoitred by Major P.A. Porteous VC. It was to be four days and nights before the Unit had opportunity to rest.
7th June 1944
Proved to be fairly quiet, but the Unit continued digging in and the camouflage of weapon pits. The digging in operations, tiresome and wearying as they were in the hard ground of many Tp areas, were however to prove of inestimable value. Lt.Col. R.W.P. Dawson had remained behind at the assembly area to have his wounds attended to and he rejoined the Commando remaining in command until 9th June 44 when Major R.P. Menday assumed command of the unit.
Two sections of 'D' Tp, under Lieut. J.S. Hunter Gray, moved off to patrol in the SALLENELLES direction and made contact with a cycle patrol of No.6 Commando. The patrol met with intermittent sniping during the afternoon, further patrols went out at night, but no contact was made with the enemy, who, it later appeared, must have been regrouping to launch counter attacks.
At 2130 hrs 'A' Tp reported enemy moving in the fields about 300 yds from their position and trying to infiltrate through the open fields into the Woods in their rear. The enemy were engaged until darkness and after dark, a very thick hedge where the enemy were thought to be digging in for a mortar or infantry gun position, was sprayed with K gun fire. MG and mortar fire were directed at 'A' Tp from behind a strip of woodland in front of their positions for an hour.
L/Cpl Ward was killed during 7/06/1944, his death wasn't recorded in the war diary, he was buried in Hauger so had reached the defensive area before his death. The 4 Commando graveyard at Hauger has been identified by use of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Graves Concentration Report Form 48GCU/133/G54 that is linked to L/Cpl Wards burial on their website - http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2344616/WARD,%20ARTHUR%20WILLIAM - The grid reference provided is 12917598 France 1:250,000 7F/2.
Modern day Google map of area that corresponds with 1944 map.
The 4 Commando graveyard at Hauger is located in the vegetable garden located at the North Eastern edge of the large manor house in the area adjacent to the beginning of the large orchard that can be seen as the series of regular green dots contained within the large field North of the manor house.
Click here for are a series of original photographs of the monument and field graves from 1944-45, the colour photograph with caption shows the monument without the field graves as the bodies of the fallen Commandos have been removed and relocated in Ranville. The monument remained for some years in the area of the vegetable garden/orchard. I have taken a few modern day photos of the original position for comparison purposes, it proved impossible to take photographs from the same position as the 1940s photographers as the land forms part of the manor which is a private dwelling. The chicken wire fence remains the boundary marker and the point of reference for all photos.
The following other members of 4 Commando were killed during the subsequent fighting around Hauger and buried in the field grave along with L/Cpl Ward, all were exhumed and subject of concentration burial at Ranville in 1945.
Killed on 10/06/1944
Sjt Laing - Black Watch
L/Cpl Munns - Leics
Pte Bennett - Buffs
Pte Clarke - Royal Fusiliers
Tpr Cox - Recce
L/Sgt Fraser - Lovat Scots
The death of L/Cpl Ward was announced in the local Wolverhampton newspaper Midlands County's Express And Wolverhampton Chronicles, dated Saturday 1/7/1944, page 5. Wolverhampton Archive microfilm reel No NP04835.]
L/Cpl Ward's final resting place is Ranville War Cemetery, Normandy, France grave ref IIIA. E. 6.
Further information is being sought at this time with regards to L/Cpl Ward being commemorated on the Handsworth War Memorial in Birmingham and potential contact with surviving family members.
Personal accounts and diaries are sought from members of 4 Commando so as to establish facts about L/Cpl Wards service.
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