Andrew Lewer Column: D-Day A Northamptonshire view

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Next week marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day. It is the most important Allied military victory of the of WWII. It is still the largest land, sea and air operation in military history. The ensuing bridgehead and breakout operations were as bloody and costly as anything seen in the trenches of WW1 30 years earlier and its significance cannot be underestimated.

A total of 939 Allied ships and landing craft embarked 156,000 on the first day from 13 different nations and over 20,000 paratroopers landed behind enemy lines the six hours before. Within five days 326,547 troops and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.

Men from Northamptonshire played their part on that day too. Some were paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines the evening before the landing, while others were on the great assembled battle fleet at dawn.

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Northamptonshire fielded three regiments which fought. The Northamptonshire Infantry Regiment was already fighting tough, gruelling battles in the so-called underbelly of the Axis power in Italy so it was the 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry regiments who saw action on Normandy.

103bn REME at Clare Street Barracks103bn REME at Clare Street Barracks
103bn REME at Clare Street Barracks

The 1st regiment landed on Gold Beach on June 6 as part of the 33rd Armoured Brigade, and saw their first major engagement on June 26 when C Squadron commanded by Major D G Bevan and fought alongside the 6th Battalion Green Howards at La Taille, north of Unchy.

The objective was to attack the enemy line, beat down the enemy, improve their positions and prevent the enemy from reinforcing another sector on the front, thus improving the allies objective of making a breakthrough. It was one of a number of bitter, bloody struggles that was to form the type of fighting over the following 77 days.

C Squadron fought tenaciously and bravely. One account worth noting was the actions of turret gunner, Trooper (Tpr) C Martyn. That day his tank was hit and out of action. Sergeant Wright, his tank commander, was wounded by machine gun fire. Tpr Martyn instructed his comrade, Corporal Snowdon, to get the commander out and back to safety.

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While this was happening, Tpr Martyn engaged the enemy with machine gun fire who were only 100 yards away. Another Trouper, Tpr Taylor, crawled into the turret and joined Martyn and loaded the gun for him. His tank was hit again. Once the rest of his troop had successfully withdrawn and with most of his ammunition exhausted, Martyn ordered Tpr Taylor to withdraw and continued to give covering fire with the remainder of his ammunition. Tpr Martyn then left his tank and together they crawled the 100 yards to the nearest cover, protecting each other with their side arms and after that, they walked the three miles back to rejoin their regiment.

Andrew Lewer at Clare Street with 103bn OfficersAndrew Lewer at Clare Street with 103bn Officers
Andrew Lewer at Clare Street with 103bn Officers

The regiment went on to fight further bitter and bloody engagements in the Battle of Caen under Operation Goodwood and Operation Totalise, the operation to breakthrough past Caen and begin enveloping the German army around the Falaise gap which secured in the end, the rout of the German army in France.

It was not without cost. From June 6 until the end of the war the 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry suffered 447 dead or wounded, including Private L Bateman from the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME).

The events at Normandy on June 6, 1944, have global significance and remain in our national memory, but it also has an important local dimension, which has the risk of fading from memory as those who served are almost gone. It is important to remember those men from Northampton and the county of Northamptonshire, to honour them, recount their stories and imprint the meaning of those 720 men from the Borough of Northampton in World War Two who gave their today so that we could have our tomorrow. We need to keep their stories alive and pass them on.

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The Northamptonshire Infantry regiment was disbanded in 1964 and the Yeomanry in 1971. Their memories and their stories are being kept alive within battle honours of the Royal Anglians, our home regiment.

Former HQ of the Northamptonshire YeomanryFormer HQ of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry
Former HQ of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry

The Northamptonshire Yeomanry regimental HQ at Clare Street Barracks is now the Battalion HQ of 103bn of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who ‘keep the punch in the Army’s fist!’

I am tremendously proud that 103bn REME is based here in Northampton. I like to think that they provide that living link to the 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, keeping some of those stories alive for the next generation.

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