Kenneth Taylor’s War Diary page 5
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Monday 31 July, 44
Went to Bayeux for lunch. Met Jack Ormrod in Lion d’Or from 24 Lancers. Had a party in mess at night with 6 Sisters from 9th General Hospital. Had a lot of fun and went to bed at 0400hrs.
Tuesday 1 August, 44
Went off at 0800 with C.O. on a recce to relieve 130 Bde of 43 Div. Position just East of Caumont – filthy sort of place. Spent day motorcycling backwards and forwards to Granville and was nearly blinded with dust. Bn came up 2000hrs, but relief very confused. Took over line from Dorsets but had to lay our own during the night. Got caught out on road one and a half miles from Bn when Jerry aircraft dropped flares. Road verges mined so could not leave road. Thought the end had come when bombs came whistling down. Went to bed at 0530hrs.
Wednesday 2 August, 44
Woke up at 1000hrs. 5EY and 7GH made successful attack and we moved up behind them near Aunay sur Seulles.
Thursday 3 August, 44
Quiet day in lovely weather. 7th and Gds Armd Divs doing well to South and beginning to open up the front. Americans halfway across Brittany. Most of German armour is in front of us.
Friday 4 August, 44
Another lovely day – nothing to do until afternoon when we recced 7GH position. Took over from them during evening whilst they took next feature.
Sat 5 – Mon 7 August, 44
Resting. Bn concentrated and Mess set up. Corp Comd spoke to us. No letters lately. Jim Rimmer came to see me.
Tuesday 8 August, 44
Moved forward to assembly area SW of Ondefontaine. Went thro’ Villers Bocage absolutely razed to the ground – worse than anything I have ever seen. Arrived midday in pleasant orchard quite a distance from enemy – 10 SS Div. Slept all afternoon. Saw 100s of Fortresses bombing. Guns making too much noise to sleep well at night. Received letters.
Wednesday 9 August, 44
Reveille 0430. Moved at 0730 to concentration area of North slope of Mt Pincon. A little shelling but not very close. ‘O’ Gp for attack on feature South of Le Plessis Grimault – supported by tanks and Arty. I am writing this in the half track M14 as we move up to Start line waiting for 151 Bde to take intermediate objective. 7 Arm’d Division on our left and 43 Div on our right. First big battle we have had for some time. Glorious day but everyone feeling apprehensive about enemy Arty and tanks. We should make it but perhaps dearly. I had a fateful feeling this morning which is wearing off a bit now. Brian has a sticky job today.
1345hrs Held up by traffic. 1430hrs We pass over Mt Pincon and smashed tanks litter the road. Shells dropping round about as this is a very exposed forward slope. Can see our barrage landing in front. 151 Bde have gained objective. Many prisoners walking back up the road. 1500hrs Just had an unpleasant half hour’s shelling on the road but it is not so close now. 1515hrs More shelling – I am fed up with this bloody war. We are waiting to start advance now. I won’t see a lot of these people again. Jerry seems to save all his Arty and mortar ammunition until we are on the move away from our slit trenches. It is fairly whizzing down everywhere now.
1615hrs Have just during the last half hour had the most horrible barrage on top of us. I have been crouching in the M14 working on the wireless set – shells landing within 20 yards. I have been sweating and waiting to stop a packet. I am very thirsty. It is not too bad now but may start again any minute. Our boys have started their advance. Fortunately the barrage is not on them now although fairly near. No doubt we shall all get it tonight when we have pushed the enemy out of his positions. I wish I was swanning thro’ Brittany with the Yanks.
2100hrs We have been shelled all day steadily. M14 has moved forward a short distance. Coys have dug in about two thirds of the way to their objective and we are awaiting orders to move up. No-one has had a meal since 1200hrs. It looks like being a rough night with shelling and possibly a counter attack. L.Cpl Macmillan has been wounded. The M14 seems to have borne a charmed life up to now but I don’t relish the next move forward.
Thursday 10 August, 44
Arrived in position just as it was going dark and spent whole night digging in under shell-fire. Had some sleep during the morning. A lovely hot day. Did not do very much. Not a pleasant position.
Friday 11 August, 44
On duty all last night. Slept all morning thro’ terrific barrage of our guns supporting 151 Bde. We are moving up tonight nearer to Conde sur Noireau in support of 231 Bde.
Saturday 12 August, 44
Moved at 0030hrs. As we arrived in position at 0330hrs road shelled. A few casualties. Spent rest of night digging in. Moved forward 0830hrs over a ridge to position near Devons. Dug in and were then shelled by SP gun and mortared all afternoon. Every one landing right in our orchard. Cpl Gunnell and Callaghan wounded. I was scared stiff. Spandau sniping at us too.
1730 withdrew again and as we were going back over the ridge in view of the enemy gunners I mentally said “Goodbye” to everyone. Got through and dug in again for the 3rd time in one day at about 11.30pm. The last three days have been infinitely worse than D-Day and we have lost about 150 men. I am short of 9 signallers and feeling almost bomb happy.
I am absolutely filthy with diving into trenches and utterly tired out. Apparently we were being shelled thro’ open sights by heavy calibre SP guns. The RAP had a ghastly time this afternoon and the doctor was absolutely magnificent. A shell hit the next room to the one in which he was working and he still carried on unperturbed.
Sunday 13 August, 44
Our 25 pounders made such a noise last night that it got on my nerves and I could hardly sleep. The enemy seems to be pulling out today as he is not worrying us much. It is a good job as we could not have stood much more of that. Men are being evacuated in considerable numbers in a state of nervous exhaustion. I went to sleep in the afternoon in the lovely hot sunshine and woke up to find that we were being taken into reserve for 3 days rest. As the evening mellowed this realization and the cessation of the enemy shelling gradually allowed the spirit to unclamp itself and feelings other than fear and horror to return. Almost at last light I enjoyed hearing some hymns sung on the wireless, and then unexpectedly the most marvellous thing happened.
My incredulous ears perceived the slow movement of the Eroica just beginning. Nothing else could have satisfied me quite so much at that moment and my reaction to it dwarfed any other musical experience I have ever had. Surrendering oneself to the Eroica at such a moment was to experience the limit of human feeling. My soul had been torn to shreds during the last few days by all that was grotesque and horrible and here its elements were being washed, soothed, reawakened, and integrated again by the work of someone whose perceptions and sympathies were deeper than those of any other human being. Had a letter from Norma.