World War II D-Day Accounts from the Cornelius Ryan Collection

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Cornelius Ryan WWII papers, box 019, folder 33: Sidney John Thomas Beck

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June 6th contd

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The R.E. detachment on board rolled out the roly-poly (a long hessian carpet strengthened with iron bars to form a firm base for the vehicles and prevent them cutting deep grooves in the sand) and the Sappers waded ashore. [They were a Beach Maintenance Party and we did not see them again]. Our S-P guns had a short distance to run through the water, dragging behind them flat "porpoises" containing 25 pdr. ammo.

We joined the single line traffic making for the only exit from the beach. [Lt. Dorey, our Battery C.P. officer, already a foot on the beach waved us along in the right direction]. The beach was by now a narrow strip between high water mark and tide, crammed with boats and vehicles and men in seeming confusion. Rolling clouds of smoke from burning buildings and grass formed a fitting background. The first German prisoners standing dazed and bewildered amid all the activity were a centre of interest. One P.O.W. lifted a wounded Tommy out of the path of vehicles.

The road leading from the beaches passed a deep anti-tank ditch. [I cannot remember now whether the R.E.'s had bridged it or bull-dozed it, to make a good passageway].

I was ordered to deploy my guns alongside the knocked out casements of the Mount Fleury Battery of Coastal defence guns, only recently captured. Great slabs of masonry and concrete had been unrooted by the heavy bombardment and bombing. Our Command Post was established in a bomb crater. [We learnt later that some German gunners were still underground and remained there for about two days after D-day]. Three Centaur tanks, manned by Royal Marines, joined us on this site and for the first and last time in the campaign my Troop had 7 guns. As soon as I reported that my guns were in action, the other half of my battery (A Troop) who had been firing from the beach itself, were brought up and put into action alongside my Troop. [A few bursts of a rifle suggested there was a sniper around, but we did not see him]

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[underline] Extracts from my diary [end underline] [underline] June 4th [end underline] At last, to everyone's relief D-day was announced for June 5th. Our LCT up-anchored and began moving down the Solent passing the great L.S.I.'s. Waves were running high of the I.O.W. the convoy stopped and hung around until a signal ran through the fleet. We turned round. Postponed. The suspense aboard all ships was almost unbearable.

[underlined] June 5th [end underlined]. The Armada set sail despite most unfavourable weather reports. Our L.CI. weighed anchor at 10.00 hours once [insert] more [end insert] passed the great L.S.I.'s and once more the waves were running high. Capt. Perry and Capt Hale [insert] * Later killed, about June 12th. [end insert] (in the L.S.I.'s - acting as F.O.O's for Infantry) flashed signals by lamp "Good luck" to our L.C.I. as we steamed by. As we passed the Needles and felt the first Atlantic swells we knew there was now no turning back. The documents marked "Not to be opened until the last possible moment" were now opened. Messages to the Troops from the King, Eisenhower, Montgomery and 50 Div. CommDr. were read out in the Army shelter under the bridge of the L.C.T.. Final briefing with correct names as well as their code names were given and the last instructions. [As there was little room in this shelter, I had to give the briefing 3 times to all Army personnel aboard, which included a detachment of a R.E beach party. Each briefing lasted about 40 minutes and in the confined space, with the L.C.T. beginning to pitch and roll, I was feeling very queasy at the end and glad of some fresh air.]

Everyone was by now wearing his Mae West (life belt) and a check was made to see that everything was securely fastened down and the ammunition secure and dry. Spray and waves were washing over the sides. Soon we began to feel queer and bags, vomit, were produced. [Sea-sick pills had been distributed earlier. I did not take mine until the briefing was over and already beginning to feel sick. Later I remembered "retching" in a quiet corner, but not violently sick]. The wind was dead against the bows, the boat heaving and swaying, chains and shackles grinding against each other and the tanks, the boat's engines reving at high speed. There was little comfort for anyone. Some tried to sleep inside their vehicles.

Our L.C.T. was towing a fast motor launch to save fuel. Three times before night fall the towing cable snapped with the strain of the constant buffeting of the waves. In the end it was cast adrift to come along under its own power. It was almost dark before we finally said the land was out of sight.

Last edit about 2 years ago by Scottie
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D-Day continued

We soon got orders to move forward to an area just north of Ver-sur-Mer and on this move forward we saw our first dead German soldiers, lying in the cornfields, almost hidden from sight. By 12.30 hours we were well-establish[ed] in time to give artillery support to the flying column of infantry pushing ahead. A bridge into CREULLY was held by one enemy platoon and the guns of B-troop were called in to support a swift attack by the Green Howards to capture the bridge. At about 1400 hrs. we were called upon to fire at a German 88 mm SP gun which was forced to withdraw from Creully.

Fire support was given to this flying column of infantry all the afternoon x [footnote below] on orders from our Forward O.P. officers. Our guns were not able to move further forward that day and remained on the outskirts of Ver-sur-Mer. Many snipers were hiding in the woods just behind the Battery position and on one occasion shells from British Sherman tanks engaging the snipers landed in the Battery area, fortunately without damage. We remained in that position for the night. All night long the rattle of A.A. guns from the beaches and the moving patterns of the tracer shells told their story of the desperate enemy air attacks on the beaches and shipping. We thought of the R.E.’s beach company who had landed with us and thanked our stars they were on the beach and not us.

[footnote] [x Between 1600 hrs. and 1700 hrs. we were engaging 88 mm SP guns and infantry. Between 1800 hrs and dusk we were firing on some fortified farm buildings housing what was known to be a radar station and which was directing fire on to our leading infantry. Acting on orders from our F.U.O. Capt. Perry, our shells landed on the roofs of these buildings and silenced the enemy fire. At dusk, the leading infantry battalion formed a pivot on high ground west of Coulomb and fire from our guns was maintained to cover the withdrawal and no more was heard from the farm buildings until the next day].

Beck

19/May/1958.

Last edit about 2 years ago by dhuber23

Cornelius Ryan WWII papers, box 020, folder 05: Sidney Frank Capon

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Tuesdy 5.0 pm 1/7/58 Ack 19/6/58 Dear Miss Isaacs I'll try and give you my outline for "D-day" We dropped at approx 0050 hrs The drop as far as I'm concerned was a comfortable drop The drop as a whole was haphazard owing to flak I'll landed in a field expectn to see hundreds of us all I saw was the silloette of Pte Bert Hull who was in the same platoon I picked him out in mid-air The pass-word was Punch-Judy Bert called "punch" I replied unregimental "Sid Capon" Thank christ for that he said I've lost everything bar a few grenades etc. We proceeded to the rendezvous where on our way we met Sgt Sid Knight and later a Lt Dowling with a bunch of men The rendezvous was dissapoiting especially when the move off was given 150 men out of 600 We reached the Battery and lay in wait Alan Jefferson gave us the orders to attack He carried a little horn blowing it as we attacked Lt Alan Jefferson was wounded I think he trod on a mine just to the right of me he still was blowing that horn I carried on shoutung and firing the only word^was calling the Germans illegitimate The 2 Germans I'll always recall coming out of a trench Red X box in there hands first + the Germans pushing each-- other out of that gun battery Pvt Johnny Walker Pvt Frank Delsijnone Sgt Eric Bedford Pvt Bert Hull + myself were at thatgun We retreated with prisoners + came under fire from a machine gun nest to the right of the battery Thus surrendered outside I remember him shouting "get in get in" to Lt Dowling who was over to my left I think he was killed We proceeded to Le Plein --- Prior to this we collected the wounded I remember pulling them to one place another likeable chap who was also doing this war Sgt Jenkins (Paddy) A Company We then came under ---- terrific bombing by our own planes bits + pieces of human body were

Last edit about 2 years ago by LibrarianDiva
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2/ we proceeded to the Plain + came under fire from the Germans in a small village just outside the Plain This is where the 2nd 1/c was very bold + never feared the fire of the enemy A handfull of us were in an outhouse by an orcard waiting for the Tiger tanks which were roaming around to attack The trees in the orchard seemed to move at night I can quite understand what a mirage is now On those trees I remember some of the chaos (one I think Bert Hull this I wouldn't be sure of) carveing these names everyone of us thought is was our lot On D plus 1 day we proceeded to some high ground which we held for quite a few days (approx 3 days) Those 3 days + nights were nightmares our strength dwindle to approximately 40 until that night when I welcomed in Major Dyer with reinforcements he advanced through the woods I didnt know whether it was Major Dyer or Jerry as the Germans happened to be the other side of the road which ran directly through the woods I remember a woman + child walking through the woods + along the road crying in the heat of fighting The right Major Dyer arrived the 2nd 1/c Sgt Rose Lt Parfist was killed repelling attacks from Germans I remember Pte Butler + myself carried crosses for the burial I must say that the first week was the worse warfare I've known worse that the "Ardennes" or "The Rhine" drop I'll never forget the 51st Highland Division chaps when we captured a "chateau" to ---- hand over to them we returned to our base to find they had been attacked and were dead in their trenches with their hands clasp as in prayer ------- I have given you a brief outline of our task It will certainly pay you to contact the following who will verify my statements Lt Jefferson (Later Capt) Pte (Corporal) Frank Delsigmore OrpanStorn Kent George Booker 26 Woodhurst Rd Convey Island Pte Johnny Walker (stoke-on trent) I was Pte during D Day + finished up Sgt with the 9th Btn in 1946 yours truly

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THE ASSAULT LANDINGS IN NORMANDY

D DAY: MIDNIGHT JUNE 5 -- MIDNIGHT JUNE 6

What is your full name? SIDNEY FRANK CAPON What is your present address? 11 MEDCROFT GDNS, EAST SHEEN, LONDON, S.W.14. Telephone number:- [inserted] (Merville Bty man) [end inserted] What was your unit, division, corps? 9TH PARACHUTE BTN 6TH AIRBOURNE DIV. Where did you land and at what time? APPROXIMATELY 0050 HRS "D DAY" What was your rank and age onJune 6, 1944? PRIVATE 20 YRS OLD Were you married at that time? NO What is your wife's name? Did you have any children at that time?

When did you know that you were going to be part of the invasion? APPROXIMATELY 1 WEEK BEFORE THE INVASION What was the trip like during the crossing of the Channel? Do you remember, for example, any conversations you had or how you passed the time? THE TRIP BY PLANE WAS COMFORTABLE. THE FLAK WAS THE WORSE + THIS CREATED A DISORGANISED DROP

Were there any rumours aboard ship? (Some people remember hearing that the Germans had poured gasoline on the water and planned to set it afire when the troops came in.)

Did you by any chance keep a diary of what happed to you that day?

[inserted] S76 [end inserted]

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.2 . Were any of your friends killed or wounded either during the landing or during the day? YES. I LOST MANY ONLY 150 OUT OF 600 MEN REACHED THE RENDEZVOUS

Do you remember any conversations you had with them before they became casualties? I REMEMBER PTE DUNK WISHING ME AND LT ALAN JEFFERSON TO SIGN HIS WILL IN FAVOUR OF HIS FIANCEE. HE DIED I'M INFORMED A HEROS DEATH. I'LL REMEMBER THE 2ND I/C, A MAD MAJOR BUT A BORN LEADER HIS NAME WAS NEVER MENTIONED

Were you wounded ? YES

How were you wounded? MORTAR SHRAPNEL JULY 24 (7 WEEKS AFTER D-DAY0

Do you remember what it was like — that is, do you remember whether you felt any pain or were you so surprised that you felt nothing? EVERYTHING WAS NUMB FOR 5 HOURS THEN THE PAIN CRISIS OVER IN 2 DAYS

Do you remember seeing or hearing anything that seems funny now, even though it may not have seemed amusing at the time? Or anything unexpected or out- of-place? YES. ESPECIALLY THE FANTASTIC DREAMS ( THIS BEING AFTER D-DAY).

Do you recall any incident, sad or heroic, or simply memorable, that struck you more than anything else? I'LL ALWAYS REMEMBER LT ALAN JEFFERSON (WHO LATER WAS CO-DIRECTOR OF THE PLAY "THE FROG" WITH PRINCESS MARGARET). LEADING US INTO THE BATTERY JUST BLOWING THE LITTLE HORN HE CARRIED. HE WAS WOUNDED AS WE WENT INTO ATTACK. HE STILL CARRIED ON BLOWING THAT HORN IN SPITE OF INJURIES.

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3.

In times of great crisis, people generally show either great ingenuity or self-reliance; others do incredibly strange or stupid things. Do you remember any examples of either? NO

Do you know of anybody else who landed within the 24 hours (midnight 5 June to midnight 6 June) either as infantry, glider or airborne troops, whom we should write to? PTE GEORGE BOSHER. 26, Woodhurst Rd, Canvey Island. LT. ALAN JEFFERSON (ADDRESS FROM WAR OFFICE (LATER CAPT) PTE HULL " " " PTE THOMS '01 (ADDRESS MIGHT BE HAD FROM PTE BOSHER)

What do you do now? MASTER BUILDER

Please let us have this questionnaire as soon as possible, so that we can include your experiences in the book. We hope that you will continue your story on separate sheets if we have not left sufficient room. Full acknowledgement will be given in a chapter called "Where They Are Now."

Cornelius Ryan Joan O. Isaacs The Reader's Digest

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Before D-Day Pvt Dunk asked Sidney Capon + Lt Alan Jefferson if they would witness his will in which he left all his wordly possessions to his fiancee They signed it He was killed later On D-Day Lt Alan Jefferson blew horn a hunting horn - as they went into attack battery He stood on wine and although wounded continued blowing horn And in between blasts yelled "carry on" He was short , thick-set , strong extremely polite Was wounded in legs by mines First person Capon saw on landing was Pvt Bert Hull (see 9) Lt Dowling an Irishman was later killed at battery (see 9 ) also by mine He remembered seeing two Germans coming out of sat trench within battery - one of them with a Rex X box in his hands The Red X presumabley to indicate that he wanted to surrender other Germans were pushing one another out many of them shouting "Ruski Ruski"

Master builder

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BR E Airborne Private Sidney Capon was one of the men who went with Otway to blow up the Merville Battery. Like everybody else in the 9th Parachute Bn, the drop was haphazard due to flak. He landed in a field expecting to see hundreds of other paratroopers and all he saw was the silhouette of his friend Priveat Bert Hall who was in the same platoon. Capon had seen him coning down through the air a short way from him. When he saw Hall in the field he was instantly challenged by Bert with the password which for that day was "Punch” and "Judy”. Bert called out "Punch *1 and Capon replied "Sid Capon". At the rendezvous he discovered that of the entire 600 men who were to attack the battery ohly 150 of them had assembled. The following items will liven up the Otway march towards the battery:- He remembers two Germans who came out of a trench one of them holding a Red Cross box with the cross facing his captors high above his head. The Red Cross presumably was an effort on their part to Indicate that they wanted to surrender. He rembers the confusion during the attack on the battery with Germans pushing one another out, many of them shouting "Ruski, Ruski". He particularly remembers Lieutenant Alan Jefferson blowing a hunting horn as they went to attack the battery. He saw [crossed out] Jefferson [end crossed out] fall and he is not sure whether he stood on a mine or was shot. Jefferson But although wounded Jefferson continued to blow the horn and in between blasts yelled "Carry on, carry on". He remembers Jefferson being a short thick set strong type who was extremely polite. Capon survived the attack but as they were=leaving the battery he was nearly killed by our own planes who strafed and bombed the area. Pick up additional details from questionnaire and letter.

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