1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - North West Europe 1944

VERNON - The River Seine Crossing (25th to 28th August 1944) - Part 5

‘B’ Company meet heavy opposition

Due to a map reading error by officers of ‘B’ Company they took the road which runs from Vernonnet to La Chapelle St Ouen and followed the right hand side of a wooded valley running at right angles to the river.

As the men approached a fork in the road (map reference 454744 - see Map in Part 6) the lead platoon commanded by Lieut. Rex Fellows (12 Platoon) were met will a hail of machine gun fire from ahead and to their right. The first burst of fire missed the leading section but Private Joe Cartwright in the second section was shot and killed.

Private Albert Kings (12 Platoon, ‘B’ Company) recalls: “I was leading my section when we moved up the hill from Vernonnet, as bren gunner I was in the middle of the section. Suddenly a spandau opened up — I heard a cry behind me. Someone had been hit. We went to ground either side of the road and took cover. I looked behind me and saw Bert Smith lying there wounded and calling for the stretcher-bearers. Two bearers quickly ran forward with a stretcher, waving a Red Cross flag. They lifted Bert onto the stretcher and picked him up. Then suddenly the German machine gun opened fired again, hitting the two stretcher-bearers and mortally wounding Bert Smith.”

‘B’ Company action morning of the 26th August 1944

Pte. A. Kings

One of the stretcher-bearers was killed (Private Ernest “Pug” Jones) and the other Private Wally Greathead was badly wounded. Private Bert Smith died the following day of his wounds.

The leading platoons of ‘B’ Company were now pinned down, unable to move. The company commander, Major Grubb realised the situation now critical and ordered Lieut. Rex Fellows to move 12 Platoon in a right hand flanking manoeuvre through the undergrowth to take-out the machine gun at the road junction.

Lieut. Rex Fellows (12 Platoon, ‘B’ Company) recalls: “As we moved quickly through the woods it was very noisy. We got to a location behind the German machine gun position and were now only 50 yards away – charging down the deep slope and firing we saw the Germans fleeing up the road.”

It was about mid-day on the 26th August; 'B' Company had now dug themselves in on either side of the road leading up the hill out of the village towards La Chapelle St Ouen. The enemy further along the lane, concealed in the woods just beyond this junction which led towards the village of Bois Jerome, seemed content to keep their distance. There was now a lull in the fighting and the men of ‘B’ Company could take some rest. Major Algy Grubb received orders from battalion HQ to remain where he was until relieved by the Wiltshires.

The men of ‘B’ Company took the opportunity to take a few moments of relaxation. It was during this period that Sergt. Dave Kerrigan and another man moved off the road into are area of Chalkpit to relieve themselves – there was then a burst of machine gun firing and Sergt. Kerrigan was hit in the head and chest and died instantly.

Lieut. R. N. Fellows

Corporal Bill Gould (Signals) recalls:

“My small group was now with “B” Company. We were pinned down for some considerable time and as we watched from a wayside ditch we could see the enemy bullets leaving white strafe marks on the tarmac road. It was my duty to keep tight up with the Company Commander, Major Grubb, in order to keep him supplied with the information I was getting over the line, and I could see him directing the battle from the side of the road. His batman, Private Joe Cook, who was in close attendance suddenly slipped into the tree line bordering the road and was not seen for ten minutes. I thought naturally that he was merely answering the call of nature, although in moments such as we were experiencing such thoughts were never much in evidence. He said on returning, very simply: ‘Sir, we can get forward now I have dealt with the machine gun’.”

 

Note: This was the machine gun on the right that had just killed Serg. Kerrigan.


Corporal W. Gould

Corporal T. Chambers

Early that afternoon, in the heat of the summer sun a group of six Germans on bicycles suddenly appeared in single file free-wheeling down the valley from La Capelle St Ouen towards the Seine side village of Vernonnet. They were mounted on the grey issue machines of the Wehrmacht, similar in many respects to their British counterparts. The men belonged to Battle Group Schrader.

The cyclists were for some unknown reason oblivious to what had been happening. Lieut. Rex Fellows and 12 Platoon, were now established on a bank on the left hand side of the narrow road and had a clear view. As the six German cyclists came in view at the road junction, Corporal Tom Chambers let out a burst of fire from his Bren gun killing them all; bicycles scraped to a stand still and bodies littered the road.

The startled men of 'B' Company jumped out of their slit trenches and pulled the debris out of sight. No sooner had they completed this task than they heard the sound of a vehicle approaching. This time they were ready.

A few moments later a lorry pulled out of the side road and into view. A Bren gun opened up at short range. Inside the lorry, the startled driver accelerated and the truck roared down the road past the main body of ‘B’ Company men. Everyone began having a pot-shot at the lorry, bullets peppering the canvas sides, tearing them to shreds.

Within seconds, it had disappeared from sight round a bend in the road and could be heard screeching down the hill towards Vernonnet. It subsequently transpired, the lorry was captured when it reached the village further down the road and was found to contain a complete field photographic unit.

It was now 13.30 hours and Lieut. Rex Fellows made his way back to report to Major Grubb. When he reached the road junction with La Quene D’Haye, and while crossing the road, there was a burst of machine gun fire. His batman Private Fred Footman was hit, and died the following day of his wounds.

Later in the afternoon (26th August) the position of the Worcesters was eased by the arrival across the river of 4th Wiltshires who took over the responsibility of the eastern exits of Vernonnet, thus allowing ‘B’ Company rejoin the rest of the battalion in Vernonnet.

Class 9 Bridge completed, Class 40 bridge on left near completion (IWM)
Supplies crossing to Vernonnet (IWM)



Vernon - Class 40 Bailey Bridge (Goliath) under construction (IWM)



View of both Class 40 and Class 9 bridges at Vernon (IWM)

 

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