Liberating Europe
LIBERATINGEUROPE
From D-Day to Berlin: The Allied Liberation of Europe

SWORD Beach in the Second Wave

  • Wooldridge
  • Len
  • 80; born in 1925
  • Army, Survey Regiment
  • Hessle, HULL
Photo of Len Wooldridge
 

Summary: Len Wooldridge was in the army as part of the Anti-Tank Unit and landed on SWORD beach in the second wave on D-Day. Len and his comrades spent the next year fighting across France and into Germany as part of the Normandy campaign.

Mr Wooldridge was interviewed at his home on 3rd May, 2005.

OK, so, your name is?
Leonard Wooldridge
How old are you now, Len?
I'm 81.
How old were you when you first joined up?
Well, first of all when the war started I was only 15 years of age, which was September 1939. I was 16 in the November, the 20th, and because we did have Dunkirk and the evacuation, Operation Dynamo, and with that we formed a local [indistinct] volunteers in the country, of which I was one. London North Eastern Railways LDV, which became the 'Home Guard'. I was only 16 years of age then.
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What service were you in?
I was...what service?
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In the water was a mine, which was floating nearer and nearer to the ship.
Len Wooldridge
Were you in the Army, the Navy, The R.A.F....
It was the LDV, the Home Guard was the Army, and I was called up in June 1942, we went to Catterick Camp, guard the lines, training - after training I was trained as an anti-tank manner on two pound, six pound, seventeen pound anti-tank guns, includung other small arms such as the rifle, machine gun, [indistinct] anti-tank rifle, throwing grenades, and such as that. I was drafted to, what you call another camp later on for dispersal, like a Dispersing Unit, where you're sent to different units after you finish your training where you go to different units all over the country, or maybe abroad. And I was sent to the Lincolnshire Anti-Tank Unit, which was then disbanded, and went to the Argyle and Southern Highlands Anti-Tank Unit (laughs), which was again disbanded, and I finished up in the Lincolnshire Regiment, which is now infantry, from being an RA man (Royal Artillery man) I'm now an Infantry man, which I was a machine-gunner, which were the Bren machine-guns, on what you'd call a Bren Carrier - there's one over there on the window-ledge.

[Len fetches model of Bren Gun Carrier]

What was your rank at the start of the war?
What? Rank? I was only a private.
What rank were you when you were de-mobbed?
Corporal.
Can you remember the command structure of your Regiment?
The command structure?
The names of the Top Brass?
I've got photographs of them all! I've got photographs of the Company.
[ Len goes to fetch the photographs, and returns to describe the roles of the men. ]
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These were mortar platoon, which is all those on the [gesticulates] you know. Which is on that photograph, as I've stated there. And that's...and when action was going to take place, the carrier platoon would do support, the flanks mainly, and sometimes if there's no deployment for them they would act a stretcher bearers for the wounded - bring the wounded back. In action, you see, you had what you'd call a hospital, not just a hospital but a First Aid Unit, you know, to come back to, and back, if there were any serious injuries they'd go back to a Field Hospital, and if they were very serious they'd go back to what we called 'Blighty'.
Ship them back to England?
There was a system of getting people evacuated from the lines, you know, in that order.
I'm looking at this book, and what we've got here is 'S Coy'
'S Coy', yes.
So that's you is it?
'S' Company, yes.
So your O.C. is Major Dawson?
It was at the time, yes.
Did you ever meet him?
No. Well you do meet them, yes, more or less, you do meet Company Commanders, but Company Commanders also change. The last company Commander was on that photograph. They do get...you lose men. Just a moment.

[ Refers to book showing names of commanders. ]

What does O.C. stand for?
Officer Commander
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And who would be his superior?
The Colonel, the C.O. The Officer Commander of the Regiment. Major Garbutt (?) he was also a commander. I remember Lieutenant Bates quite well. Captain Kidney I knew quite well. Parsons. Paulette - he was my...he was a Lieutenant at the time, in charge of The Carrier Platoon, Paulette. Captain Kidney was the commander of the Company, but not battalion - the Company Commander, and every unit had their own command, and that's how it used to work out.
You said earlier you trained at Catterick for a while. Was that your basic training at Catterick?
At Catterick, yes. Basic training, yes. And then you went to another unit which you did training again, you know, in different places, going out on 48 hour exercises, things like that. Group marches, rifle drill, going to different ranges round the country, you know, fire your arms and things like that.
Did you enjoy your training?
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"Yeah, I'll come out and have a drink with you." Then he says "Can you remember your 21st?" I said, "By Hell I can!" I told them where I was.
Len Wooldridge
It was rough. It was rough and tough but I say...the discipline was tight. This is one thing about the forces, like I explain when I go to the schools - discipline is everything. It's all...you do something and you've to do it without question. And you had to. This is the thing about the forces. Your lives did depend on it, and other people, they depended on you. And that was the way it was.
How did you get across to Europe? Where did you leave from?
Night-time was when we embarked on the landing craft.
Where was this at?
Portsmouth. I think it was Gosport actually. But say Portsmouth will you? It was Gosport. We went across on the landing craft and landed on the beaches.
Which beach did you land on?
SWORD Beach. We landed on SWORD Beach.
Can you remember which sector?
No. All I know is SWORD Beach. We didn't know which, we were only Privates! We didn't have the maps or owt like that! The sargeants had all the...

[ Interviewer brings out book entitled "Sword Beach" in order to look at the map. ]

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I have that.
You've got that?
Yes, I have the book.
Which was the nearest town to where you landed?
Well the first place we took was Bayeux. That was the first place actually to fall was Bayeux. And there were...you've got to realise that was the first day alone, you see, the whole beach was from SWORD, JUNO, GOLD, OMAHA, UTAH it was about 45 to 50 miles in length, and after the first 24 hours we were ten miles in, and then we were stuck. You see that was the front line for June, July, and then we broke out at the end of July, August, more or less. And that was the whole, round about, all together about 160,000 men landed, by land, sea, paratroops - Airborne, with the gliders, things like that. About 10,000 men were lost on the first day alone.
What time did you land on the beach?
Second Wave. We weren't on the First Wave. The First Wave it was East Yorkshires. We were Second Wave in round about lunchtime - if you ever think such as a lunchtime!
Middayish?
Mid-day time, you know.
Was it still as dangerous to get on the beach, or was it clear?
Quite a bit had been cleared but there was still stuff going on.

[ Long reflective pause. ]

Can I ask what were the general ages of your comrades in the regiment on D-Day?
Most of them were about 20 years old, or 21. Some of the officers would have been a little bit older, but not a lot older.
So, you're looking at about 20 years on average?
On average about 20, 21.
They were very young.
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I was 20 years of age. My 21st birthday was in Holland, that was November 20th, an occasion where I was getting shelled and mortared, and there was a lot of flak going about. It was pouring down with rain. I was full of 'flu, and I couldn't care whether the b*****ds hit me that night. I was 21 today! 21st birthday. Happy Birthday, Len! Then somebody at work said to me, he says "We're going out with one of the lads, he's 21. Are you coming out with us, Len?"
"Yeah, I'll come out and have a drink with you."
Then he says "Can you remember your 21st?"
I said, "By Hell I can!"
I told them where I was. Aye, twenty-one. [indistinct] in Holland.
When you got off your landing craft did you have to wade ashore?
Actually, we were lucky, we didn't land in a lot of water.
So you were brought up to the beach?
Our commander got us a lot nearer than what some of the others did. And we were lucky, you know? I know there was a lot that was...the landing craft dropped their ramps far too early, didn't come in close enough. It happened on quite a lot, quite a lot on all the beaches, more or less, not just on SWORD or GOLD or all the places. I mean, some of 'em even got...didn't get their feet wet, you know?
And some were...[indicates neck-high]. That actually happened that way. Oh no, I can't say I was, you know, half way up with water, I wasn't, you know, it was more or less...we were lucky, and not only that, we were on [Bren] Carriers and all.
On the night of the day you disemarked you were put up in a camp?
What, you mean when you went on the shore?
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When you got to France were you put up in, in...
No! No such things as camp!
So how did you sleep on an evening?
You dug a hole, you got in it and you slept in the hole, things like that. And I've said, you know, people got the idea that once you landed, you know, more I mean night time was like Bonfire Night, flak going all over, tracer bullets , very-lights, things like that you know, and that was not just D-day night, same on the next night, the following night - shelling, mortar bombs - this is ongoing, every day, every night. You had no such place as a camp. You had positions to keep, and you know, stay stable, were anywhere, and holding positions and the time you're going forward and you get knocked back again and things like that. You're losing men, things like that.
Was the resistance heavy?
This is one of those times, yes, very strong. And not only that you're putting up with such as sighters [?], mines, and you don't know where the Hell you're going to put your foot. God, it was a nightmare, more or less, wherever you were. I mean, no matter whether you were on SWORD beach, GOLD beach, JUNO beach, or you know, OMAHA, UTAH whatever. They all experienced the same sort of thing, you know, what one unit here was experiencing somebody else is experiencing. Some units would get it a bit lighter, some would get it heavier. I mean, OMAHA was shocking. People must realise, you know, they talk about the yanks, things like that, but they went through Hell. You've got to give them credit for what they did. I mean we couldn't have done it without 'em, you know, we've got to be honest about it. And that's why I say, when I talk to the youngsters, I say, you know it's not just the man in the front line, it's the people behind him. The people who've worked hard, doing hard, and are still doing it. You know, people back home. My wife in the 'munitions factory, you know?
Your wife worked in a 'munitions factory?
Well, girlfriend, then, eh? I'm one of five brothers, and one never came back. Buried out in Burma. Company Sargeant Major with the West Yorkshires.
What's his first name?
[ Len goes to fetch press cuttings and memorabilia. ]
My grandfather was in Burma. James Wooldridge.
That's where he was at, the very first one.
[ Len shows photograph of simple, white crucifix grave marker. ]
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And then he was transferred to a war cemetry.
[ Len shows photograph of brass plaque bearing his brother's epitaph. ]
He is not still in Burma, is he?
His ashes is.. that's his...that's his...yes.
Where's this at?
That's them.
Have you been out there?
No, I've been planning to go, but it could be expensive.
It's a long way isn't it?
It's not only that, it's, we've been planning to go, BBC Humberside, they were wanting me to go, they are going to...they want to make a documentary of me, but, er, but finding it very expensive to go. My son will go with me, one of my sons, but it...we'll have to go, like, now in November, after the season [monsoon], and it's going to cost a lot of money to go, and then insurance purposes [indistinct] we were going to go in March, we couldn't get it all sorted out, and er, travel insurance was going to be expensive because I'm over 80 [laughs]. We've had to leave it at that for now, and wether we're still going to do it I don't know. We're hoping...I'm still hoping to do it, because like I said, not one of this family has seen the grave.
Thank you. Getting back to...what I'm trying to get is a picture of what it was like when you landed in France, the sort of practicalities of it if you like, because children don't understand what it was like.
You see, how can you explain? You can't always explain what it was like. You can see so much at times, and you know. You see bodies, cattle, you know, killed and things like that. I mean, it stank of death. Actually, it smelt of death when you went in it.
How did you, individually, get around? Did you ride in vehicles or did you walk or..?
Well, battalion, you've got a carrier, but you're not in a carrier all the time, you have to dig a hole and get into it, and you...it depended, you see you could be static for so much time, and then you could be moving, and you get moved back, or forward, things like that. I mean, it's so difficult when you're a front line man, you know, you can be...I mean like later in the war, when you're going into action, you know, you go out, when you go into action, you pull out of action, and when you've pulled out of action, you come back to a quiet spot, you get cleaned up, all reinforcements regarding your food, petrol, ammunition...and men, because you've lost men as well, so you get reinforcements of men, as well as everything else. And then you might be there for a week, maybe less, maybe more, and then you get orders and you're moving out, and it's maybe a real nice, quiet place, and you are maybe going to go so many miles down the...you know...you could be twenty or thirty miles away, and you're moving out again, and moving out into [the front] line , and in the distance you can hear a 'boom', 'boom', and the nearer you get the louder it gets, and then actually going through, the actual heavy artillery is now firing over your head, you see, so you're coming to a...you're coming now to the front line.
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At this point are you feeling scared, or are you ready to do your job?
Well, at twenty years old we didn't have a lot of what you'd call scared. Apprehensive, yes, but I don't think we were really scared most of us. When it really hits you, when somebody gets hurt, hit and killed, and it may be someone near you, you know well, that does, you know, that does hurt you. And then you get to the front and then it's, "Righto, that's as far as you go", and you dig in again. Your spade is your best friend, probably, and you get yourself dug in, and then you're waiting again and waiting, and then all of a sudden, "Righto lads, we're moving out at 05.00 hours" or whatever, or 06.00 hours, and you're moving out to the front line, again. You've got to relieve sonme other troops up there, or they can come out, and we go in. This is how all the units work.
So at times you were cold and wet, presumably?
Oh, many a time. I mean, fortunately, we, in the early part of Normandy, we had fine weather, but later, when you got the cold weather when you got into Holland, things like that, you were really bitter [cold], you know, really cold nights. I mean, trying to dig a hole to get in, and you've got a pickaxe, and you can't even get a pickaxe through the bloody floor to get below ground. You did get bad weather, but that came later. You'd sometimes have a bivouac and get in that, you know, and the sky was your roof. That would go on all the time, week in and week out, month in, month out. There was an occasion where we were in one field, took a look around, a chap there with his daughter, doing the allotments, we got talking to them about soap 'savon', you know [rubs hands together]. They couldn't get no soap, you know, they hadn't had soap for years. I gave them two tablets of soap, and I'm still in touch with those people today, with the daughter now. Not only that you see, the nice part...there's good parts to it where you make friends, and the same when we went into Holland, we got into this farmhouse, well not farmhouse, but farmyard more or less, you know, the farm where they were, they used to take us in to keep warm on a night, now and again.
Were these people Dutch?
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Yes. I put up a friendship with them. I'm still in touch with them, and I'm seeing them next week, or this week, all being well, you know. Then when we came, after the war was was finished, the last action was Bremen, doing a 'house-to-house', and we came back to, like I say in that book, [phonetic - Landeruic], and after that we did a lot of stints in the Dawson DP camp, 'Displaced Persons', keeping control of them. And after that we got brought back into Belgium, to a place called [phonetic - Olsener], where we were billeted, then, with people, and there I met more people, and more friends, and which I'm going to see them next week, you see, and I go over there every year and have a holiday with them.
How do the Dutch people make you feel?
Oh, the Dutch are brilliant, over there. When we go back over there absolutely brilliant.
Do they make you feel very respected?
The Dutch are absolutely A1, but the French have been good to me, though. I've got a beautiful knife they sent me for the 50th Anniversary [of D-Day - June 6th 1994].
[ Len goes to fetch an engraved commemmorative knife in a display box presented to him by the French. ]
How do you feel about people's attitudes towards war veterans today?
I think most of them have got a lot of respect for the war veterans, I'm sure they have. Wherever we go people say "If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be...", all things like that, you know. You go to Holland, I mean, that was brilliant. We went there for the 50th Anniversary [of D-Day] and we go into a bar, about 8 or 9 of us, and we've all got a drink each, and they are paid for. And another drink came in - paid for. And we had them lined up like this [makes horseshoe shape in front of him].
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Never, ever forget what you did for us" and he said "That's the least I can do for you is buy you a drink." Now, that's what your up against, you know. People were getting off the bus, people coming round, signing autographs, you felt special.
Len Wooldridge
I said to the lady behind the bar, "Who's paid for these?" "That gentlemen, there." And I said "Thank you very much!" And it was like a horseshoe bar, anyway he came round, and he's in his forties, and he said "We're real grateful, and we've always been told at school, never, ever forget."
"I'm sorry my father's not here, he died only six weeks ago, and he told us, "Never, ever forget what you did for us" and he said "That's the least I can do for you is buy you a drink." Now, that's what your up against, you know. People were getting off the bus, people coming round, signing autographs, you felt special.
Deservedly so.
It was very [indistinct]. And then we went to the cemetry at [phonetic - 'Onderbrig' possibly Arnhem [Oosterbeek - War Cemetery]. I laid the wreath there that year, I had the privilege of laying the wreath. I have a Dutch friend there as well, at the cemetry. We had trouble putting away the b***dy drink, that day.
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Can you remember where you went from...you came ashore, went to Bayeux, then..?
Yes, as I say Bayeux was the first town to fall, you see, we were moving and moving from different places to places. When we actually got through, and you know, Paris had fallen, Brussels had fallen, things like that, and then you've got what you'd call 48 hours break, and you go to places like [phonetic Plankenberg/Frankenberg ] or Brussels, and you'd got 48 hours in Brussels, you know. It were marvellous! [laughs]. We went all the way through France, Belgium, Holland. My last action was in Bremen. Sometimes you're miles away from the [front] line, other times you're static, doing nothing, sometimes for weeks on end, but we came back eventually in 1945 from Bremen to [phonetic - Dorsten] in Germany. Then from [phonetic - Dorsten] in Germany we came back to Belgium. In Belgium they were drafting out the older veterans, they were due for release, and bringing younger men in. They were bringing younger men in and they said to us "We're going on a special mission". And if you notice the units that were involved were the 2nd Lincolns, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, Welsh Fusileers, Royal Ulster Rifles - one from each of the Home Countries. We were going to get 28 days leave, then we were going to be shipped out to America, trained with Americans and everything else, French, all different Allied Forces, for the invasion of the mainland of Japan.
That was your next mission?
That was going to happen. But to say now we're in August, and they dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, then the one on Nagasaki, and after August 9th when the last bomb was dropped, (the first one dropped on the 6th August, the next one on the 9th August), and then, when the war...when the Japanese capitulated the trip to America was off, and I didn't even get my 28 days leave!
Where were you when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima?
I was in Belgium. Belgium, waiting to get regrouped and everything else.
How did you find out about that?
Well, we got news.
Newspapers?
Yes, yes.
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Did you realise at the time that that was going to mark the end of the war?
We was told by the...the big General came out with all the red, you know, everything [indicates braiding round uniform hat], and he said what was...he told us what was going to happen, and you were going to go to America. You were going to to do the invasion of mainland Japan, because we had experience of the landing here, in Normandy. That's why it was important, you know, to be done that way. But as I say it was all called off when they dropped the bomb, and after that in the late November, we're in November now, I was sent to Palestine, Egypt, and I was there from December '45 to the December '46, when I came home. And I got 28 days leave from Palestine in which I got married.
And that were another occasion where...you know the occasion where I said my brother got killed?..we were at that time, beginning of March, we'd taken the River Rhine. We lost quite a few men doing it but it was quite a big operation, but we'd taken up the River Rhine, and they said to the sargeant, "Leave!" and I was one of the first to go. Whether they knew summat, I don't know, [that Len would need to go back for his brother's funeral] but my brother was, originally, in the same regiment I was, but he went into the West Yorkshires. So I wrote to the girlfriend, saying, you know, and I'd wrote so far like "maybe we should get engaged? We'll get engaged." And that leave, I got leave from the front line in Germany, on the way back to 'Blighty', got to London, and, er, sent the telegram "Arrive 05.00 in the morning. Don't wait up. Tell Mam." At the station in the morning, my girlfriend there, with my mother, "It's 5 o'clock in the morning, what..?" She says, "I'm sorry I've got some bad news. Your brother's been killed in Burma." And my brother being killed in Burma, we got engaged, my sister's young man, Ronnie Allsop, Royal Navy, they had a special night and they got married. There was a death, an engagement and a wedding in one leave.
This was 1945?
March, 1945. Then I went back to my unit. We'd already crossed the Rhine. I didn't do the Rhine crossing. That was a big do as well by all accounts, and the kid that took my place in the [Bren Gun] Carrier, Dick Lambridge, his name's in that book, died of wounds. He got killed, a piece in the neck and died of wounds, Dick Lambridge, he took my place, you know.
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Did you ever get wounded?
No. No, I'm one of the lucky ones really. A Hell of a lot did not get wounded, you know. A lot got superficial wounds, things like that, and when you got wounded you were allowed to wear a little gold chevron here [indicates cuff] to say you'd been wounded.
What was that for?
That was to say you'd been wounded. A mark of respect.
For your sacrifices
That's right, yes. Some people had been wounded once, and some had been wounded twice! They had two chevrons, you know! That actually happened, yes.
I've never heard of that!
That's true, that. A lot of people don't realise. You don't hear people talk about it.
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