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A British Airman on Omaha Beach

This article used to be on the Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council website. However Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council ceased to exist on April 1st 2009 and their website was decommissioned. The article can not be found via the Cheshire East Council website which replaced the Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council website.
Luckily, I took a copy of the article after I first saw it and have taken the liberty of re-publishing it as I believe it should continue to be seen.

ARNOLD PALIN
12 Singleton Avenue, Crewe

Arnold volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1943 and after his initial training, he was posted to Blackpool to train as a wireless operator. He passed the course, but much to his disappointment; he failed the medical for the air crew. He was then posted to Combined Operations.

Early in 1944, Arnold found himself attached to the American 1st Division (The Big Red One), his job being Ground to Air Communications. It was in that role that he landed on ‘D’ Day on Omaha Beach in Normandy. He was in one of the first waves of landing craft but as we now know the Americans were not able to get forward from the beach for some hours.

All that Arnold and his American colleagues could do at this time was to get under whatever cover was available to them. This happened to be their own truck which contained all their radio equipment. It was soon clear that it would be safer to be further along the beach, so they made a dash for the next vehicle a few yards away. Arnold was the first to scramble under the truck with the Americans crowding behind him, but almost instantly, a mortar round hit the truck that they had just left and the explosion killed the American lads and wounded Arnold in the left knee.

At the time and in the circumstances, he did not think much of it, his only thought being to get off the beach as there was no way back. When the American’s eventually began to force their way off the beach he decided to go with them, even though he had lost his radio equipment and as a result would not be of much use. It was clearly safer than remaining on the beach. His knee was not troubling him at the time.

He attached himself to a group of Americans and moved inland with them for a few days, but in the end his leg gave out and he could no longer walk on it. An American Parson found him laying by the side of a road and he stopped a truck so that Arnold could be transported back to the beach.

He was eventually put aboard the Royal Navy landing craft that was taking the wounded back to England and he said that when the crew found that he was English, they made a fuss of him because he was the first British Serviceman that they had taken off the beach in the three days that they had been operating there.

After he had been in hospital in Blackpool for about eight weeks, he got his first leave. He looked quite a hero. He still wore the RAF battle dress that he had worn when he landed in France. It had been washed and the hole in the knee of the trousers had been darned. He had not been able to get a new uniform because the stores at the hospital had no RAF uniforms. On the sleeve of his blouse he wore the RAF Albatross, the Wireless Operators’ trade badges and a brass wound badge on his cuff. He walked with a stiff leg and had to use a walking stick. He was still in a lot of pain and had been told that he would have to have more operations, but even so, he had a good leave. He got into the dances and the cinemas free, the usherettes made sure that he always had an end seat and that the seat in front was kept empty to enable him to stretch out his long legs.

After his leave, he was off back to Blackpool for more operations. Like a lot more young men in war time, he fell in love with one of the nurses. On his next leave, he brought her home with him. He was so proud of her as she was his first girlfriend.

Early in 1945, he was discharged from hospital as fit for service. He was posted to an American Airfield in Belgium and he kept on the move with them through France, and then into Germany where he was on V.E. Day. I received a letter from him posted on that day telling of his hopes for the future and saying how much he hoped that he would be home for his 21st birthday. Some days later, his mother received a telegram to say that he had been killed on 11th May 1945.

Arnold’s American Commanding Officer wrote to his mother and told her that he had gone to see a dentist some miles away. When he arrived back at the camp, he had jumped out of the cab of the lorry that he was travelling in and had stumbled and fell. The but of the Sten gun that he had been carrying had hit the ground and had fired, hitting him in the head. He died instantly and was buried in a temporary American Cemetery. Later, he was transferred to a British Military Cemetery just over the border in France.

I am proud to say that I have Arnold’s medals in my collection, the 1939-45 Star, France and Germany star, Victory medal and also the badges that he wore on his battledress on D-Day. I have often wondered, if there were any other British Servicemen on Omaha Beach? Arnold never spoke of any, and in his letters after he went back to the continent he wrote only of ‘his American Friends’.

Information provided by Mr P Kirkland, Haslington

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Almost There

D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23896) US sailors manning 20mm gun positions on board USS LST-25 watch as a Rhino ferry transports vehicles of 168 Field Ambulance, attached to 8th Armoured Brigade, towards the beaches of Gold assault area, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155924

I think I have about a dozen pages to go to finish the transfer of the RAF Beach Units website to the new platform. Then there will be some tidying and tweaking.

All the information relating to D-Day in Normandy is there though, ready for the upcoming anniversary.

The new format, apart from being more up to date, is easier to work with, so it has been worth the effort.

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Story

VE Day Story

John H. Fenton served as a Code & Cypher Sergeant with No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in Normandy and then with No. 83 Group Control Centre in Belgium, Holland and Germany. At the end of April 1945, having passed an earlier selection interview, he was posted with immediate effect to the RAF Officers’ Training School, Cosford.

“Next day, one of our trucks took me to Celle airfield.  A constant stream of transport aircraft were landing and taking off.  The first of our ex-prisoners-of-war patiently queued, awaiting their repatriation to England.  I flew in a Dakota – my first flight – to what is now Gatwick airport. On arriving in England, I was granted 48 hours’ leave before reporting to Cosford.”

John, who was 21 years old, had to take down his Sergeant’s stripes and wear the broad white band of an Officer Cadet round his cap. The six week course would last until 14th June 1945.

In his memoirs, John quotes from a letter he wrote to his parents:

Tues  8  May.  VE  Day
“I am wondering how you are spending VE Day.  It’s good to know that the war in Europe is over at last…..I’m sorry I’m not in Germany at the moment.  I landed in Normandy D Day and it seems a pity that I should have returned (to England) about ten days before the end.

…..If I had been anywhere else but here I’d have been celebrating today in the manner it deserved.  This place is the exception though.  We celebrated victory this morning by getting soaked to the skin.  We started work as usual at 7.45 am but at 9 am attended a special victory parade on the square, at which the CO made a speech and there was a short service.  It was obvious before it all started that it was going to pour down with rain – we could hear the thunder.  However, they went on with the parade and, sure enough, we stood through thunder and lightning and a terrific downpour.  We were very near to mutiny.  We were, for once, as keen on a parade and service as anyone, but it would have been a simple matter to postpone it for an hour or two until the storm passed.

We finished at 10 am for the day but, being Officer Cadets, are not allowed to celebrate with the ‘common herd’.  So, this afternoon we’ll write up notes, maybe go to the camp cinema this evening, and go to bed early tonight ready for another hard day’s work tomorrow.  I know one thing.  Pass or fail, I’ll have my own VE Day when I finish this course.

(I understated in my letter what a miserable anti-climax VE Day was for me.  It caught me in a complete No Man’s Land.  I was neither at home nor abroad.  Having left one group of pals, I’d had no opportunity yet to form new friendships. I was neither airman nor officer;  just a Cadet confined to camp to avoid mischief, being processed for service against the Japanese in the Far East.  That day my thoughts were very much back in Germany.)

And my friends in Germany had not forgotten me.  A few days later, I received the following letter.”

1326408  Sgt  Norman
83 Group Control Centre,
Royal Air Force,
British Liberation Army

Tues  8  May  ’45
“VE  DAY!!!!”

Dear Johnny,

I was very pleased to receive your letter yesterday and glad to know you had some time at home – but sorry to hear your feet haven’t touched the deck in Cosford yet – not a moment to yourself – different here – very slack now it’s over!!  We celebrated it the night of the 4th when Jerry packed in on this sector – what a night in the Mess.  I don’t remember half of it and woke up next morning on the floor of the tent – Johnny Day put me to bed and I must have fallen out in the night.

When the news was announced, AA guns started firing and a pilot was above doing victory rolls, Verey Lights were going up all over the show and the lads were firing off rifles and stens – there was a row about that next day – it was quite a night.

Next day, Bill Hales went up to the submarine pens at Hamburg and 600 naval personnel surrendered to him with 5 subs!!!!

We are all together again with the exception of Mr. White who was sent off to Denmark – lucky man – and the question is “What now?”  I’m hoping to be out in a few months – also Jock – seems too good to be true.

We have a couple of radios in the section and are, at this moment, waiting for Churchill’s speech at 1500 – can’t see us staying here long now.  You are lucky to be in England today – we would all give our gratuities to be there today – but in the meantime are managing to ‘rough it’ with cushions, eggs, whisky and a Deutcher washer woman – and very little work!

Mr. Sharp did not have the chance to get ‘orged’ with the blonde you mentioned.

Enclosed you will find a souvenir which I know you will appreciate – the ‘gen’ as we received it on the 7th.

DRO’s just come in and say there will be a giant bonfire tonight, lit by the Group Captain – and community singing and a rum punch for all ranks.

Guess that’s all for the moment, Johnny – keep in touch – and, in the meantime, we all send our very best wishes for your success.

                                                                Good Luck

                                                                                Les

Enclosed with the letter was a teleprint of the 83 Group signal sent on 7th May to inform personnel of the German surrender. The teleprint was signed by Les Norman, Bernard “Taffy” Morgan* and three other of John’s ex-colleagues present at the time. It was, and is, a much-appreciated souvenir.

*Bernard Morgan and his copy of this signal featured in a Daily Mail article in January of this year

Reverse of signal teleprint about the German surrender, signed by 83 Group Control Centre colleagues. (Souvenir of John H Fenton)

John Fenton received his Commission in the Administrative and Special Duties (Code and Cypher) branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and flew out to the Far East in August 1945.


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Under Way

D-DAY – BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (B 5160) Vehicles and men aboard LST 406 with other landing craft during the passage to Normandy, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205831

This new version of the RAF Beach Units website is taking shape, though it is going to take a while to add all of the content.

I decided to start with all the pages relating to D-Day in Normandy, which is quite a chunk of it, and this is almost complete now.

Apologies if something you are looking for is missing but, as I said before, the original website with all its content can be seen, for the time being, at:

http://www.nofnet.info/rafbeachunits/

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New Website Under Construction

The RAF Beach Units website has been online since 2007. With time and technology marching on, the website needed to be re-platformed and so the work has begun.

It will take time to re-build the content on this new platform and I hope you will bear with me during this process. In the meantime the original website, with all its content, can still be viewed at www.nofnet.info/rafbeachunits