Private Roy Ritchley
Unit : No.9 Platoon, "C" Company, 13th Parachute Battalion
The following has been taken from the previously unpublished account of the 13th Battalion at war, "13th Battalion The Parachute Regiment: Luard's Own" by Major Ellis "Dixie" Dean MBE MC. Len Cox, a member of Ritchley's stick, describes their boarding and the flight to Normandy, "We emplaned with the rest of the sticks taking off from Broadwell, but then our Dakota wouldn't start, so we were switched to the reserve aircraft. The flight as far as the French coast was OK. but then we ran into heavy flak and seemed to fly on and on. It wasn't until the third run in that we actually jumped, something or other went wrong on the first two." Ritchley wrote:
I was 18, I was alone, I was frightened, very frightened. A couple of hours ago I had jumped in the middle of the stick and made a good landing in Normandy (or at least I believed I had, but the only name on the escape map which I was able to read in the moonlight said Holland). I had seen no one, nor had I heard gun fire or any other sounds of battle. The spare Bren which I jumped with, was damaged on landing, so I had stripped it down and then hurled the pieces in all directions, except the barrel. This I buried along with my chute and jumping jacket.
I heard a noise and looking up, saw a figure coming across the field towards me, as I crouched in the ditch bordering the field where I had landed. My 9mm automatic was in one hand, fighting knife in the other and I could see that the approaching figure carried a rifle slung over his shoulder. I decided to use my knife and not shoot. He came to the edge of the ditch, looked down and said one word "Come" and he carried on walking. By the manner in which the sling was attached to the rifle, I could see it was a German one but the man himself was not wearing a uniform.
I followed, round fields, through hedges, until we reached a road running down into a valley. By now it was beginning to get light. There was a school on the road. We climbed the railings, skirted round the building and came to a small shed. My guide tapped on the door. It was opened, he went in and I followed. Immediately inside, something hard and cold was pressed against my head. A candle was lit and I could see two other men one with a pistol to my head and behind them two sacks of German rifles.
They emptied my pouches and pockets, laying everything out on the floor. I was petrified. The man I had followed spoke a little English, said his name was Philippe and they were resistance gypsies but the others never spoke to me and always the pistol was trained on me. We sat and waited.
Several times during the day I heard vehicles moving along the road outside and the noise of aircraft overhead with the sound of exploding bombs not too far away. All day the pistol was pointed at my head. Later on there was a discussion between the three of them, all my possessions were returned and I was given a German rifle and ammunition pouches.
We got ready to leave and I loaded the rifle. We moved slowly, stopping often to listen and always behind me was the gypsy with the pistol aimed at my head. A well used road was reached and we stopped to listen before crossing one at a time. Philippe went first and I followed the second man. I was in the middle of the road when suddenly from nowhere appeared a German soldier riding a push bike. Without a moments hesitation I shot him dead. Quickly we hid the body and the bike in some long grass and then started running to get away from the place. We covered a fair distance before we stopped, where upon I was violently sick. Then the three of them set on me, punching and kicking me as hard as they could. I was totally confused by the way they were treating me, until Philippe explained that when they were moving from one hide out to another, they avoided the Germans never shot them. Clearly I had a lot to learn.
We kept moving until it was getting light and had reached the outskirts of Lisieux. That must have been where the bombing had been that I had heard. Fires were still burning and there were lots of German patrols in the town. We climbed up into an attic in a builders yard and hid there for several days, being fed by the local resistance.
We stayed in the attic at Lisieux until things had quietened down, then we moved on, always by night avoiding the roads and keeping to the open fields. By now I was accepted by them all and was one of their group. I was to stay with the gypsies for the next two months and was surprised when I thought about it later, how quickly I got used to the life of killing and stealing, for now there were Germans to be killed whenever we came across them. It was mostly deserters we dealt with but linesmen repairing telephone wires also received the same treatment. We stripped the bodies of weapons and ammunition before burying them, and when we had a fair collection, Philippe would go off and sell them to the men of the Communist underground groups round Mesidon. He always returned with a wad of money, which they split three ways, I never got a cent, but they did keep me fed.
We had to keep on the move all the time and as the days passed so the danger increased. More and more German reinforcements were continually being moved up towards Caen and my luck finally ran out on the morning of 9th August. Philippe was away and I was with the other two Frenchmen by the ruined abbey outside Troarn. We were trying to join up with the British forces in that area. By early morning we had worked our way forward and were only just behind the German front lines, when we were caught in a British barrage. The Germans started to pull back and we had to move. As we ran across a road, we were spotted and fired on. Both gypsies were killed and I was hit in the thigh and both lower legs. A German pulled me off the road into a ditch and then took me to one of their aid posts, from where I was moved to the rear on a stretcher, finally reaching the German Field Police H.Q. in Paris.
In Paris my interrogation began in earnest. I was beaten daily and wasn't always conscious. They refused to believe my story that I had become separated from a patrol and the two civilians who were with me, had been trying to smuggle me back through the German lines. But I stuck to it and only gave my number, rank and name. Eventually the beatings and the questions stopped and I was sent to Stalag XII in Luxembourg.
Soon after I reached the Luxembourg P.O.W. camp I escaped and covered about 8 miles and was then recaptured and sent further back into Germany to Stalag IVB IVD. From there I went on working parties to different places including Dresden, but never at any time after I dropped did I see any other member of the stick. The end of the war found me in Prague, a guest of the Russian Army, who kept me for three weeks before sending me on my way home. I travelled overland to Calais and finally landed in Dover on the 9th September 1945.
Roy Ritchley passed away on the 22nd January 2015.
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