The Gordon Highlanders push forward in Normandy

Men of the 5/7th Gordon Highlanders occupy a defensive position in a hedge, 17 June 1944.

Men of the 5/7th Gordon Highlanders occupy a defensive position in a hedge, 17 June 1944.

Men of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry resting next to a Sherman tank of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 15 August 1944.

Men of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry resting next to a Sherman tank of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 15 August 1944.

A Cromwell tank of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, driving through Vassy, 15th August 1944. 11th Armoured was making good progress at this time, advancing south as part of VIII Corps on the British right flank. At the end of the month 2nd NY was disbanded and most of its tanks and crews posted to 7th Armoured Division. Its place in 11th Armoured Division was taken over by 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars

A Cromwell tank of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, driving through Vassy, 15th August 1944. 11th Armoured was making good progress at this time, advancing south as part of VIII Corps on the British right flank. At the end of the month 2nd NY was disbanded and most of its tanks and crews posted to 7th Armoured Division. Its place in 11th Armoured Division was taken over by 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars

In Normandy the Germans were now very much on the back foot as they struggled to disengage and withdraw. This wider situation was by no means obvious to the men on the ground, particularly British and Canadian forces as they sought to push south to meet up with US forces led by Patton, who were holding the other side of the noose. The Germans were still a potent force and, if casualties were relatively light, this did not make them any less painful.

The 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders had landed on D-Day with 27 officers and 565 men. At short notice Lt. Colonel Martin Lindsay was brought out from England in July to command the Battalion, just one of many replacements that filled the gaps in the line. Between June 1944 and May 1945 they suffered total battle casualties of 75 Officers and 986 men. Today was to be another day with casualties, men lost on the whim of fate, with no particular reason why they died and the men next to them did not:

On August 15th we got orders to move out and occupy Glatigny, about two miles away, the armour being some distance beyond it. I went on ahead to choose the company areas. I saw 154 Brigade and stopped to pass the time of day. It was about this time that the Lancasters started to bomb the gun lines behind us. For one hour this went on and everybody was powerless to stop it.

Glatigny seemed to be under enemy observation because first the tanks on the far side of the village and then the village itself, just after we had entered it, got heavily and accurately shelled, though I was hanged if I could see where the observation was from, unless it was a village, one of the many Le Mesnils, on the left.

I took some of my party down a lane running along a ridge leading out of the village. Suddenly there was the usual whistle in crescendo which signalled a covey of shells on the way. With one accord we all lay flat and heard them landing all round us. Then there was a particularly loud crack as a shell burst twelve feet away — I paced out the distance later.

I thought it was in the road beside me, for the dust was such that we were in pitch darkness for What seemed a minute, and our nostrils were choked with cordite — or whatever the bursting charge may be – so that it was some hours before I could rid myself of the acrid smell. I could hear somebody whimpering in the darkness behind me and Donald Howorth shouting, ‘Lie still, you bloody fool.’ When I could see I found that the Signal Sergeant, Rae, was dead, and the R.S.M., Thomson, slightly wounded in the head but bleeding profusely, and Howorth was tying him up. He himself had a few punctures in his thigh. Only Petrie, second-in-command of C Company, and myself were untouched.

I went back along the track to where there were, most conveniently, some empty slits dug by 2nd Seaforths, who had just moved out. I told the company commanders to put their men into them, and that we would not occupy Glatigny until dark as I thought it was under enemy observation.

The companies moved off successively, starting soon after 9 p.m. There had been no shelling for three hours, which I took to mean that the Germans were moving their guns back. Of this I was glad, because 152 were about to attack on our right.

Whenever any unit was involved in battle I always thought of my friends and hoped to God they would come through safely. Thus I thought of Richard Fleming and Charm and their three young children, as I plodded along in the gloaming across the stubble that led to Glatigny, and wished that any other battalion but 5th Seaforths were attacking that night.

Most people seemed able to accept casualties, which was just as well; but for my part I could never overlook the tragedy that each one meant to some far away, stricken home. The sadness of it all was always with me.

About eleven the Luftwaffe paid us a visit. They dropped a cluster of parachute flares and then started anti-personnel bombing. Each Aircraft let loose a thousand or so of these tiny bombs, each hardly larger than a stick of shaving soap.

One could hear the swish as the shower came through the air, and then the steady drumming as they exploded. Unfortunately D Company, the last to arrive, had only dug down about eighteen inches by this time and they had twenty-three casualties. Most were only lightly wounded, but two were killed and one of them was Glass, a young Canadian officer who had come to us ten days before.

See Martin Lindsay: So Few Got Through

A Sherman tank moves through Bois Holbout, during the advance to Falaise, 15 August 1944.

A Sherman tank moves through Bois Holbout, during the advance to Falaise, 15 August 1944.

A nurse attends to wounded soldiers in a field hospital, 15 August 1944.

A nurse attends to wounded soldiers in a field hospital, 15 August 1944.

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