From D-Day to Berlin: The Allied Liberation of Europe
Pinpointing German Positions
Summary: John Ainsworth, 18 in 1944, came ashore on GOLD beach on D-Day, and helped the Allies by pinpointing German positions from high vantage points, relaying this information to British positions, who then fired on the enemy with heavy Artillery.
Mr Ainsworth was interviewed at his home on 8th July, 2005.
...we were engaged in locating the German guns on the other side of the Channel, who were firing across into Dover, and that area. And, of course, we were under threat of invasion at that time.
This is the Hull Daily Mail, ('cause that's Len Wooldridge, who you know), and this is what they wrote about me in the Hull Daily Mail, which is fairly accurate. That explains what my unit did, and what I did, 'cause we were specialists. We were surveyors in the Royal Artillery, and we were a Corps Regiment. We used to provide all the technical information for all the gun batteries to be able to fire on the same target at the same time.
So my job entailed running about in a jeep, and I had a theodolite and a Sten gun. That was it, and I spent quite a bit of time with the Armoured [ Armoured Division ] lads as well. I was detached from my unit and sent with the 11th Armoured Division quite a bit.
I'll get photograph of that later on if that's OK.
Let's go back to this, John, if that's all right. Do you want to just explain to me what these photographs are?
That's a photograph of the 4th Durham Survey Regiment, which was a territorial Regiment, which was formed just before war started. I joined that, and I was only 18, and that was taken in 1939.
And there you are one, two, three...eighth from the right on the back row.
That's me there.
And that's Stonehenge isn't it?
That was taken at Stonehenge. We were under canvas on Salisbury plain.
And we had a fortnight's camp there, and then, of course, I was immediately called up when war was declared.
(Question - Did you join the army in the knowledge that war was imminent, or was it a coincidence that it started just after you'd signed up?)
(Addendum: Everybody anticipated war. Young people of my age didn't want to be left out so we joined. It was a great adventure.)
I was immediately pulled in (1939). This was in 1940, taken at Appledore in Kent. We were in a special unit and we were engaged in locating the German guns on the other side of the Channel who were firing across into Dover and that area. And, of course, we were under threat of invasion at that time, all the time.
And we had a forward post which was located right on Dungeness Point, and we were there for several days at a time, on duty and our job was, when we heard the gunfire from the Germans, we had to press a button to operate, to activate microphones which picked up the sound, and by the...knowing the speed of sound they could calculate (addendum: fixes on guns over The Channel)...go on, you know.
And this was (laughs) right on Dungeness Point - it's all shingle. Well at night, you could hear a rabbit move, and of course we were expecting invasion anytime so (both laugh)...
You were a bit jittery, then?
Not half! (laughs) This photograph, it's still taken in Appledore, I can't tell you what...I couldn't...I can remember some of the lads' names but I can't remember all of them. Most of them have gone now.
Mmm. What's this football one?
Well, it was (laughs)...it was one of our football teams when we were stationed in Appledore. We used to play one another; we had three different bases you see. One at Appledore, one at Sellindge, which is near Folkestone, and the other one was at Athorne, near Dover, and we used to play one another, and play the locals and that. We, well we all look a bit rough don't we, (laughs) but that was our recreation, you know?
I mean, I look as though I'm...I must be one of the...I must have been the youngest, anyway.
It looks pretty cold.
Well, the sun's shining.
So what year was this?
That would be...well it was 1940, just after Dunkirk.
Tell me what happened when you were playing football.
...and when we looked up, the sky was absolutely black, solid black, with German aircraft...
Well, we were just having a kick about, and it was a beautiful day, and we heard this noise in the distance, and it gradually got louder, and louder and louder, and obviously it was coming from up above, and when we looked up, the sky was absolutely black, solid black, with German aircraft, on their way to a daylight bombing raid of the London area. And we just stood there and watched, with our mouths open. And then we heard one or two bombs coming down and those with a bit more knowledge, and a bit more experience were off the mark quick. They dived into the nearest trench - it was over a fence, actually, and me, being young and green, I'm still looking up at the aircraft and when I look around I'm the only one standing up, still so...(laughing)...I took off quick over the fence!
That was the beginning of the German attacks. (known as the Blitz) And then, of course, we were there all of the time for the Battle of Britain, and we were able to see all the action that was going on, er, I had quite a few experiences of that.
And another one that sticks in my mind was, they transferred me over from Appledore to Athorne, which is near Dover, and the advanced post at Dover is actually on the cliffs, under the castle, and you could see the whole of the harbour, and there was one day, I was an duty there, and we were observing what was going on in the harbour. There was a Hell of a lot of activity, and we saw all the motor torpedo boats hurtling out, and then we saw the Swordfish planes going out as well, and we thought "Oh, it's summat!" It was the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau were going through, and they went after them, and we were at...and I was looking over Dover harbour on that day, and that was another one that sticks in my mind.
Yes. What's this one?
Well that was taken of me in Hessle, er, and that would be 1943. We were sent to Hessle, my unit, and we were, we were sent to Hessle to train for Normandy, and we did our training on the Yorkshire and Northumbrian moors, and we...all our transport, when we did the waterproofing for the crossing, was down at the old shipyards, down on Hessle foreshore. That's where we kept them.
And that's where it was all done, and we were billet in the big houses in Hessle, Davenport Avenue and Ferriby Road.
So you did your landing training on the foreshore at Hessle?
Well, we didn't actually do that kind of training. What we were doing was survey training.
And it took place not on water, but on land, and that was in, in...on the north...we went up to Otterburn in Northumberland, for one stint and we did a lot of training on the Yorkshire Moors as well. Now, Otterburn, of course is military area, it's a military camp, and there are no roads - the roads peter out, and we had to carry out exercises there, and you could only get so far with transport, and you had to hump all your gear, your tripod, theodolite, thunderbox (phonetic), and all sorts of other things, and go hiking across the Northumbrian moors (laughing) to get to where you wanted to be.
You needed to be fit, then?
I was filling my car, my vehicle, and water splashed, and it had frozen before it hit the ground. I could hear it tinkling.
Oh, aye. Yes. I remember once when we were up on the Yorkshire moors, I've never known cold like it. I mean it was cold in Holland, but on this particular event, at this particular time, we were up there on an exercise, and it was in winter, and it was snowing, there was blizzards, and it was so cold, and at that time, you didn't have any...we just had Austin vehicles, and there was no such thing as anti-freeze, so that meant that each night, as you finished, and you harboured up, you had to drain off the engine block, otherwise it would freeze. And then the next morning you had to fill it up again before you could get the thing running again. Well, it's the only time I've known, and I was filling my car, my vehicle, and water splashed, and it had frozen before it hit the ground. I could hear it tinkling.
And, of course you see, you had to shave every morning, so you used to get the end...you used to fill the radiator, get the engine going, get it red hot, and use that to shave. (laughs) It's the only time, also, that they gave us a rum issue, it was that cold.
Oh, aye. Ooh, it was vicious, but these are the sort of things that you have to accept, and you get on with it.
So, we were there in Hessle then from 1943 until we left, er, let's see, D-Day was in June, I think we would leave some time in May, maybe early May, and they took us down to Crawley in Sussex, isn't it? They took us down into the Crawley area, and that's where they kept us in security.
In fact, there's a photograph of the unit taken...(searches)
Is that the security they imposed on you before the D-Day landings?
Oh, yes. You were kept 'incommunicado'.
Erm, I think that must be it. Yeah, I think that must be it. That was taken at Crawley, and that's...I got all the lads to sign it.
Oh, right. Yes.
And this lad here, Bert Prestland, he was killed in Holland. That's Bert Prestland there.
Was he one of your mates..?
...one of your big pals?
So, he's buried in Overloon, actually.
Have you been back?
I've been to see the grave, and I've got photographs of the grave. And that...that was that, and of course we went over. I landed D+7 (June 13th 1944), we were in the second wave, and then we were straight into battle. I was detached from my unit and they put me in a half-track with my theodolite and they sent me with the Armoured Division on this all armoured attack on Caen, and I shall never forget that either because we were standing out, you know, we were on the line ready to make the move, and we were standing there, looking down into Caen, and they sent in three waves of bombers. And the first wave came in, and they dropped their bombs, and Caen just disappeared.
And then there was two more came, and it was...eughh...I shall never forget that. Of course, eventually, when we did see Caen, we never went through Caen itself, we sort of went round the edges, it was just destroyed.
And it's a wonderful city now.
Yeah, lots of historic buildings before it got, er, before it got bombed, didn't it?
Yeah, but that was my first action, it was (Operation) Epsom, which was a bit hairy, but we spent a lot of time up church towers, with our theodolites, because these are 'known points', you see. They are known points to both sides, so they are good targets.
When you were there, you were pinpointing the enemy positions?
Well, no. On my job I was part of a team, and we had to set up our theodolites on known points, and observe angles to other known points, and by doing that you could calculate co-ordinates, and you could also then fix points. And you could fix points in the enemy lines, and if there was to be a rolling barrage, for instance, there's going to be an attack - the infantry was going to go in, they would have a creeping barrage. Well, you can imagine that all the gun batteries are in different locations, but they've got to hit the same time...same time, same place, move on. Well, all the work that we did enabled them to do that. We gave them the main information, they had their own surveyors for each battery, and they could take that on, then, and then they could align their guns where they were required. But we did the initial finding of the information for them, but that was our class - we were specialists.
So your role, I suppose, has been replaced by satellite technology nowadays, hasn't it?
Oh, aye, it's a different ball game altogether now, yes. I mean, then, what...the theodolites we were using then were very heavy, in big boxes.
Now, you see, they are very small.
Yeah, it's a big piece of kit, isn't it. I used to work as a surveyor, in a surveying office, and the theodolites were in huge metal boxes. They do weigh a lot.
They were good theodolites, mind you, but they were heavy to carry.
And they take a while to set up as well, don't they, because you have to get them...(aligned perfectly vertically over a fixed point)
Your training was, er...you got to the stage where you could do it quickly. You had to, you had to get a move on. I mean, we used to do star identification, and because we used to do astro-observations and stars, and moon, sun. If we had nothing else to go on, to focus on, we used to observe, depending on the circumstances, we used to do the astro-observations, and then we would be able to calculate bearings to any given position, and we would just estimate the distance, that was...if we had nothing else that's all we had to do.
When we were in Crawley, just as an afterthought, when we were held in Crawley, 'cause we were still doing a certain amount of training, and I was called in, in to the C.O. one day, and he says, "They want a couple of volunteers to go over with the Airbourne Artillery, glider-bourne artillery, and we think you're just the lad to do it." (laughs ironically)
How did that make you feel?
(Airbourne landings in gliders were notoriously dangerous, compounded by the obvious risks associated with being dropped behind enemy lines in occupied France, on D-Day.)
(laughs) I'm sorry laughing, but...
I bet you were terrified, weren't you?
(still laughing) So, what the intention was, you see, I would go over as the expert on the theodolite, and the lad that was going with me, he's on that photograph, he was an absolute wizard at mathematics, and he would be with me and he would handle the mathematics, you see? We actually started training in readiness for going with the glider lads, and we were doing star identification, and that sort of thing. Anyway, they called us in and said, "They've scrubbed that."
Did you fly in a glider, then? Did you actually get up in the air in one? (as part of training)
No! No way! They scrubbed it after two or three days.
No, it would be the same day.
Oh, so you'd have gone in..?
Yes, we would have been early in the day, yes.
Why aye (John has a Newcastle accent), I mean, when we got over there I was walking through the fields where they'd all dropped in and they (the gliders) were all lying about all over the place. Aye, b****y courageous.
Yes, there were a lot of casualties with the gliders, weren't there, because they used to flip up and they had jeeps in, and men, and equipment?
Aye, there were some brave lads.
So that was before I got over there (laughs) and eventually we got over there - we made our way. I was involved in quite a few things, but erm...
Can you tell me what, er, Regiment you were in please?
And here's photograph of your troop.
Yes, that was taken in Denmark, actually.
It was this...this is...this was taken on V.E. Day, May 8th 1945.
And that's you with a huge bottle of wine?
That's me...and a swastika.
And a swastika!
This was taken on Luneberg Heath (phonetic) where they signed the peace (treaty).
(incredulously) On V.E. Day?
On V.E. Day. Now, these are some of the lads. I mean there's a jeep there, and there's nothing but bottles on the top of it. This is some of the lads, and one of them, this big lad at the back, Jack Jones they called him, he was a real (indistinct) one. It was Caesarowic Day (phonetic - sezarovitch) and he ran a book. (laughs) This is the prices on the board!
So, what were you gambling on?
What were you gambling on?
Horses! It was Caesarowic!
I mean, we were all absolutely out of our minds with alcohol, on that night.
And then from there we were sent down to...this was taken in Kiel (German port). We were sent down to Kiel to do garrison duties.
Erm, the cit...the town, there's Hamburg and Kiel, I mean, they were in a hell of a state.
Oh, so that's in Germany?
Yes, and we were sent down there to do garrison duties, which was to try to get the water system going again, and so on, because there was a big worry about disease and that.
And presumably the water system had been decimated by...(bombing)?
Oh, everything was. Everything was. And, er, so they sent us there for a while, and then the next thing, (of) course, they got us back into a gathering area soon enough, and we were being prepared, then, to go to the Far East, to Japan.
And of course, they dropped the bombs on Japan, and that finished that, and then the next thing we knew, we were sent up to Denmark, and er, these were taken on the Baltic. This was taken on the Baltic. That was taken on the Baltic, and that was taken in Denmark, and we were sent up there because we took over the V-2 rockets.
And they were kept by the Germans at Cuxhaven, and they took us down to Cuxhaven, and we...they showed us these rockets, and I actually walked right round a V-2 rocket. In fact, they gave us a photograph, but unfortunately I have no idea where that photograph went. Then they sent us up into Denmark because we had to survey in the tracker stations. They were using them, you see, experimenting with them.
So the V-2s were, presumably, pointing at Great Britain?
Well, they were...this one we saw was just on its cradle.
Yes, was it ready to use?
No, it wasn't. It wasn't on the launching site. The launching site was like a rail type of thing. Again, I was involved in that. When we were going through, er, we got into Belgium, and the V-2s were beginning to worry us, and so they came up with this scheme, and I was one of those with a theodolite that they put on top of a high building, in the town of Boom, they called it, in Belgium.
And it was a flour mill, and the idea was, that there were several of us located in different points. We were looking for the launch sites of these rockets, because when they launched they left a trail, and the idea was, you got your theodolite on the ... you had it already from a known point, you could take the angle, and all the theodolites, then, you'd got intersections and you could locate them, you see? This was the brilliant idea, so I was up this flour mill, in Boom. (laughs) Well, the only thing I can remember about it was that the bloke that owned the flourmill, he says, "Come on. You're going to have dinner with us tonight." And he took us into his home, and we had the most marvellous meal. I mean, after army grub! (laughs)
And, of course, we moved on, then, and moved into Holland.
That, then, was a mark of gratitude wasn't it, from him?
Oh, yes. Yes.
And I've got...funnily enough...hang on, just trying to think if I have...(got a photo) Oh' that's him, there. These are photographs of two young girls that we met in Belgium. I've got the address on the back. I've got those photographs, and I never did go back. I've never been able to recontact them. That's just another memory. We met up with the family and the two girls.
They look about ten, don't they, ten years old, something like that?
Yes. And that was in Belgium.
So, they'll be what, in their sixties now?
That's a photograph...this was in...that's another troop in our Regiment. That was taken in Crawley, you see, but the reason for that photograph is, this chap here...
The one on the left in the middle?
The one on the left, yes. His name was Peter McGrady, and he...I served with Peter 'cause he was a Newcastle man.
And I served with Peter, particularly at Aythorne in Kent, just behind Dover. We used to play, because it was a big mining area, a lot of pitmen down there from the northeast, and we used to play them every year, regular. It was an annual fixture. (indistinct) but he was a great footballer, was Peter. He was a lot older than me. He was killed in Normandy, and he was 33 when he was killed, and I looked upon him as a father figure, and I played with him on the football field, and he was a great guy, and I've been to see his grave. I've got photographs in there of his grave.
So, he's in a French cemetery, then?
Aye, he's in a village called Bonnebosq, and he's buried in a churchyard.
Name: McGRADY, PETER ANTHONY
And there's two graves - his is one, and the other one is a South African pilot, and er, so I managed to get to see his grave, in a fact I took two (photos) because I took one of each. I wouldn't just do one.
And, er, I've got photographs, and you'll find them in that book.
Is it in this book?
Is he buried in the village where he was killed, then?
Er, I don't know a great...I don't know a great deal about how he came to be...he wasn't killed outright, he died of wounds.
I know that, and apparently he was in a vehicle, and they finished up going in the wrong way, and that, and they got clobbered.
That's it, there.
That's his grave.
That's the church that he was buried in.
Royal Artillery, 21st July, 1944, aged 33, Bombardier.
Yep, and that was the church, and that's the grave, and I put a wreath on the grave, and that's the South African pilot.
And the gravestones are remarkable because they are the standard design, aren't they, the sort of...yes...even if they're away from the main cemeteries they still retain that design, don't they?
Still a military site.
That's the flag that they fly there, at this church in this village.
Oh, right, there's the name, Bonnebosq. B-O-N-N-E-B-O-S-Q, and that's Normandy, is it?
I've not heard of Bonnebosq.
Where's it near? I'll have to look that one up.
(John tries to remember)
(Bonnebosq is in the Normandy region of France, between Caen and Lisieux to the east.)
So it's near Caen?
Well it was a fair distance from Caen, near to Lisieux, not far from the coast, actually. These are where we used to stay when we used to go on our pilgrimages, and these are the people that looked after us. He was great, that guy. He looked after us.
Were they pleased to welcome you, to have you?
Oooh, yes. We went...we stayed there several years, and then we became great friends afterwards.
(Break for tea)
My earliest knowledge of Hessle was when they sent us here in 1943, and it was a great place to be because there was plenty going on. We used to have regular dances at the Town Hall. I met my wife, she's a Hessle girl.
Oh, is that why you came back?
Well, I was de-mobbed in, er, April 1946. I'd done seven years. I was de-mobbed in April 1946, and we were married in Hessle church in May 1946, and we went back up north as a married couple, to resume my life up north, as the intention was, but I was only there for a very short time, and the Ordnance Survey were wanting people to begin the surveys of Great Britain, so I joined the Ordnance Survey. Well, Hull was one of the first cities to be done on a new 1250 series, because it had been very badly hit by the Blitz, you see. So, of course, when I enlisted with the Ordnance Survey up there, they said, "Right. Report to the office in Hull." So my wife and I came back down to Hull, and moved in with her folks, in Hessle, until such times as I had to go down to London, and I had to take a course, an instruction, in London, at Catford, and I was going to be down there for a few months, so the pair of us went. So, when I was out on the course my wife got a job in a perfume factory, "Evening in Paris", in Croydon.
So, she was working there and it was a hell of a summer, beautiful summer, and we had a great time. And then I had to finish off my training, I had to go down to Southampton, and so my wife said, "Well, it's not worth me coming down for that short time." - it was only a short time - so she came back up north. So, of course, then I came back up to Hull, and I started working on the surveys of Hull, and I was there until Hull was finished, and they'd set up a new Survey section at Harrogate, which was the reason why (indistinct), and they wanted people to go into that. Well, The Ordnance Survey could send you anywhere they wanted, you didn't have any say in the matter. You had to go where you were sent, and I was thinking, "I'm not going to go where I don't want to go, and Harrogate sounds all right to me." So I applied and I was taken in and I was doing air survey work in Harrogate then, and we did the air survey work for Nottingham, for instance, and I was sent down to Nottingham, and I had to do all the ground recce for the controller of the air surveys in Nottingham.
I was involved there for quite a while. But then, of course, that time, we were living in Harrogate, and I had one child, one son, but my wife was expecting a second one, and they wanted...the word came through, oh, they disbanded the Air Surveys Section, it was part and parcel of the economics of the day.
Well, they disbanded the Air Surveys Section, and they said, "You're going to go down to Stafford." where the new minefields were, they wanted to do surveys down there pretty quick. "Are you going to go down there?"
And I said, "Well, I can't. My wife's expecting a baby any time now."
"Right, OK. Well, you can go and do survey work in the Leeds area..." so I was all around Leeds, Pontefract, and so on, "...until your wife's had the baby, then you'll be going."
I thought, "That's what you think."
There was a job came up, advertised, 'Hull Kingston, City of Hull Architects' Department' they wanted a surveyor, land surveyor, so I applied for it, and got it.
So your career directly came from your training for the army did it?
So you, when you went in the army, at how old..?
...eighteen, did you have a trade then, or..?
Were you looking for something?
My father was a soap maker.
And I mean a soap maker. He was one of the last who actually made the soap, because after he went, it was the chemists. And his father was, my grandfather was. So, my father was a soap maker, and he moved up onto Tyneside.
I mean, my dad was...the family was Lancashire.
My mother was Herefordshire. But anyway, he moved up to Tyneside, and he took over the job...he was foreman in the soap-making room. So, of course, when I left school at 14 I had to have a job.
And I didn't get any sort of an apprenticeship; I finished up working in the soap works...
...where my dad worked. Just a labourer, that's all.
But I had a good education. My school was very good, I mean, when I left at 14 I was taught French, science, algebra, mathematics. So I had a very good...quite good education, and although I went to a night school, I think it was mainly to keep my brain going I think, I wasn't an apprentice, but then my mother suggested that I should think seriously about trying to get into the civil service.
Well, there was only one way at that time, and that was through Customs and Excise, and at that time there was an open exam, I mean, then, to be in the civil service you had to have education, qualifications, which I didn't have, but there was an open exam for the Customs and Excise at the age of eighteen, my age, she says, "How about going in for that?"
"Well, yeah, but how do I prepare?"
They paid for me to go to a private college and study, nights, after I'd finished work. (laughs) Well, of course, the war was declared. That was it! The chance had gone.
So everything like that just finished, did it?
And it didn't start again. Anyway, the army trained me, and did a good job.
So did you volunteer or were you called up?
Oh, well, I was in the Territorials so I was a volunteer.
So they trained me in the art of surveying.
How did you get into surveying? Did they say, "What's your education like?"
No, it was the local Regiment, you see?
It was based in Gateshead.
Ah, I see. So the local one was the surveys?
Yes. It was the local Regiment based in Gateshead. I didn't know what it was all about.
But, anyway, they took us in, in fact, it was over-subscribed.
And they formed a second Regiment, survey Regiment, from the overspill, and again, it's funny how things work out. The 4th Survey Regiment was the first front...what they call 'front line' Regiment. Then they made another one from the overspill, which they called the 6th Survey Regiment. Well the 4th Regiment, of course, was full...was the one to be fully equipped with modern equipment, you know, and they were got ready for going abroad. They finished up going into the Middle-East, into the desert. Well, of course, I wanted to go with them. I didn't want to be left behind, and at that time we were classed as 'immatures', and the only way we could go was if our parents gave a letter of consent. My parents didn't argue, they gave a letter of consent, but they still didn't take me. So, I finished up being transferred into the second line Regiment, the Sixth.
And we were still in...they were...they went off to the Middle-East, and we were still based in Newcastle then, in a school, there, and er, we were sort of training, but we had...we were short of equipment. We had old equipment. We were taught to drive on the roads of Newcastle with old cars, which had 'crash gearboxes'.
No synchromesh, and you were taught to drive properly, and er, because you had your engine speed, your road speed had to coincide to be able to change gear. The noises that used to come from the gearbox, of course, but..!
Anyway, so we were, sort of, still waiting to be equipped and so on when Dunkirk happened.
And they disbanded the Regiment and we were sent, as a group, down into Kent to deal with the cross-Channel shelling. When that was wrapped up we formed the basis of the 10th Survey Regiment, and we prepared for Normandy. So, in the one way I was fortunate in that I didn't serve abroad until Normandy (1944), but I saw service in other ways. I did what I had to do, and did the best I could, and couldn't do any more. And I had...did seven years, mind, I was fit as a fiddle. Straight up and down, like that!
(gesticulates thin vertical shape and laughs heartily)
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