Trooper Leslie R. Burt

 

Unit : "A" Squadron, 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.

Army No. : 7946917

 

The following was written by the later Reverend Leslie Burt to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day for commemorative events in Dorset, and "Wartime News" 1993. My thanks to Nancy Langmaid, Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment Historian, for granting permission for this account to be published on the site.

 

Rummaging among the disorderly heaps of papers in my "squirrel boxes" at home, I came across an envelope addressed by me to my parents. The postage stamps are fading - their total value is two pence halfpenny (in real money!). Where the date and town of postage would normally be is a plain diamond-shaped post mark with no information inside; the bottom left-hand cover of the envelope is rubber-stamped with a shield topped by a crown and the words "Passed by censor No 10164" - alongside is the censoring officer's squiggling signature. Inside the envelope is a letter dated Sunday evening 4-6-44. The letter starts with these words: "By the time you receive this . . . ". there follows a description of life under canvas and surrounded by barbed wire . . . a life where we first did any work that was necessary and for the rest of the time lazed around and played games. Then follows references to family matters, some emotional platitudes and an instruction to Mum & Dad to "please carry on paying my insurance and I'll settle up with you when I next see you". A souvenir of Tarrant Rushton - an airfield in Dorset.

 

Time blurs the memory but some memory of the following two days still stand out clearly in the haze. The briefing - the landmarks to memorise and watch for; the Caen Canal and the River Orne, the church at Ranville - and the L-shaped copse which was our rendez-vous (which I never did reach). The loading of the Tetrarchs, our 7-ton light tanks, into the Hamilcar gliders. Then there was the 24-hour delay - and then the thrill of watching the initial take-offs of the Pathfinders and some parachute battalions sweeping up into the midnight sky - for real this time - and wondering how they would fare. Next morning - June 6th - the proud delight on hearing the radio bulletins - the bridges had been taken and were being held - things seemed to be going well and the luck the LZ would be cleared for us.

 

I remember they fed us well that afternoon at Tarrant Rushton - with roast pork and stuffing! Then it was our turn to go out on the tarmac where the two neat lines of Hamilcars and Horsas waited with their "tugs" - the Halifax bombers which would tow the gliders, drawn up at an angle on either side like nursemaids waiting to collect their charges. Someone had mentioned that the French girls were short of chocolate - I remember one chap taking a 7lb tin of cocoa with him!

 

The flight across the Channel was perfect - the view was simply magnificent with a vast panorama of ships below us; it reminded me of pictures of the pre-war review of the Fleet at Spithead. Official instructions were that we should remain inside our tank with safety harness on throughout the flight - but this was a sight I should never see again and far too good to be missed so I lay on the floor of the Hamilcar nose looking down through the perspex. There were three of us - Eric the tank commander, Johnny the driver and myself as gunner / wireless operator. Eric, with the exalted rank of sergeant, was entitled to a monthly whisky ration and thoughtfully brought a bottle with him. It helped us pass the time!

 

A crackle on the intercom as we approached the Normandy coast - getting ready to cast off. Apprehension, excitement, roast pork, NAAFI tea and whiskey were all arguing with each other in my stomach. It was time to scramble into the tank, squeezing through the space between the turret hatch and the roof of the glider. A few moments later there was the familiar dull thump as the tow rope was released and the eerie swishing sound as we rushed earthwards, changing to a fume-laden roar as Johnny started up the tank's engine so that we would be fully warmed up, with no risk of stalling the engine, as soon as we hit the ground.

 

I can remember trying to spot the L-shaped copse and thinking how different it all looks on the ground; the truth of the saying "You can't see the wood for the trees" came home to me that sunny evening in a field somewhere near Pegasus bridge! I have a vague recollection of someone asking for a map reference over the radio and someone else answering with words to the effect that they didn't know where they were!!

 

Our hopes of making the rendez-vous were short-lived because after a short distance we literally ran into an unforeseen snag - in fact several of them! Parachute rigging had entwined itself round our driving wheels and track-plates and ground us to a halt. This wasn't in the training manual - we felt cheated! What an inglorious start! Our fighting knives were put to immediate and good use - happily for a purpose quite different from that for which they were primarily issued. I cannot remember how long we spent hacking away - I recollect being "somewhere in a foreign field" with just Eric, Johnny and the tank - a lot of machine gun fire from all directions but none of it coming our way. It was getting dark when we heard the sound of a tank moving at the far end of a nearby copse. Eric despatched me to "go and see if it's one of ours - but don't walk too close to the trees". It was the longest hundred yards I think I have ever walked - happily the tank was one of ours - and happily they weren't trigger-happy!

 

I remember sleeping in a ditch that night - it had been a tiring day, but a change from the usual routine.

 

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