When Dick died in 1995, we discovered a document he wrote describing the day he was seriously wounded in the war. He was always saying that he would do this and it was one of the last things that he did before he died. He was prompted to write this by the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the D. Day landings in France. He was going to tell his soldiers stories at church on the anniversary celebrations.
A DAY IN THE LIVE OF AN INFANTRY MAN
By Richard (Dick) Smith
“Time; early morning 22nd July 1945 in the grounds of a Chateau near Maltot, France .We had arrived over night. I had spent the night on a forward listening post. The next couple of hours were spent cleaning and checking weapons. Around lunch time it was all hustle and bustle. The officers had returned with news that we were to attack Maltot at 5.00 p.m. There was nothing to worry about as the troops defending the village were a dispirited bunch of conscripted Poles who had no fight (what a joke!) after being fed and watered rations for the next twenty four hours were issued.
We then proceeded towards the start line, through the grounds of the chateau, past the field dressing post and past large holes the sappers were digging. No one said anything. I have a feeling quite a few prayers were offered at this time. We were to have support of a squadron of tanks and these duly arrived making enough noise to awaken every soldier from there to Paris.
At this time the Sergeant Major called me out of the line and handed me a new sten gun. Now these were notorious for having bits missing like firing pin or the main spring. I cleaned it up, gave it a dry run and hoped for the best.
At 4.50 p.m. the barrage started. Tanks revved up and ‘Jerry’ opened up with a noise that was nerve shattering. At 5.00p.m. The whole front line moved off. We were behind a tall hedgerow. The drill was that the tanks broke through and we toddled along behind. What actually happened were the tanks got half way through the hedgerow; hit a mine lost both tracks. My section had to climb over the tank and then we were on our own.
Our objective was about half a mile across standing corn. The church tower was standing clear above the smoke coming from the window slots. To try and describe the scene is near impossible. You have seen films and newsreels; these give an idea of what it was like, volumes of noise. It is something that those of us who survived and are still around have to live with!
I still had not fired my sten gun so pointed it over towards the enemy and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. So I stripped it down, checked the firing pin, which was okay , and was in the act of stretching the main spring when out of the haze came the two tallest Germans I had ever clapped my eyes on. To say I was scared would be an understatement. To my relief, when they saw me they both threw their arms into the air and gave themselves up. So, with true British grit, I waved my useless gun at them and sent them to the rear where the blood wagons and prison compound were waiting.
By this time, which must have been all of five minutes, out of the seven men in my section who had crossed the start line, I could account for myself and one other. “Press on regardless” was the order of the day. I stumbled over a fallen comrade, stuck his rifle in the ground, put his tin helmet on it and said a quick prayer. The forward line had reached a road running across the front of the village and was pin down by cross fire from well dug in troops and at least two 88 millimeter guns on high ground above the village. The next few minutes were a bit hectic. A quick head count, George and myself out of the seven men who had started only ten minutes before. The platoon mortar was just in front. Amongst the crew I could see my old mate Dougy. We had signed on at the same time telling George to look through the hedgerow running down our left flank to see if the 4th Wilts were in position.
Oblivion! I have a vague memory of Dougy calling “Smudge I’ve been hit” and saying “okay I’m on my way”. I well remember looking down and seeing the mortar crew lying spread-eagled in what I thought was a red mist. I regained my senses and knew something was amiss as I was looking at the sky; when you “go to ground” it is always face down. What then followed the worst moment of my life. My mind went through the action of sitting up and removing my kit and lying down, and relaxing. I was about to take stock of my predicament when I realized that I had not moved a muscle. In fact I could not move anything at this point. I gave a loudest yell I could muster. Then I heard “hallo Smudge” the company stretcher bearer spoke. “I had just passed you over” he said with a grin. He put a field dressing around my head, gave me a quick check to see if there were any bones sticking out and then rolled me over. To my intense relief I was able to move my arm which had been trapped under my body.
He got me into a slit trench which was being used as a collecting point. A carrier arrived and we were transported back to the field dressing station where the soldiers best friend , the Padre, was at work comforting the wounded and praying for the dead . He was the last person I recall seeing before I blacked out.
For Doug and I the war was over. George went on to finish up in Berlin. I was able to solve the mystery of what happened. George remembers my last order. He was blown through the hedgerow. Stunned but undaunted he rejoined what was left of the platoon and carried on.
I asked Dougy how he knew I was hit. His reply was that everybody in the field must have seen me take off; he recounted I was half way to heaven. The red mist was a ball of fire, which engulfed Doug who suffered extensive burns plus losing all the muscles at the top of his legs.
Thanks bee to God we survived the ordeal and we are still in touch with one another.
What Dick missed out of the story was that he had lost a piece off the top of his head and this left him partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. What he also could not have known was that it was put as a contributory factor on his death certificate.
We all heard this stories and thought they where exaggerated yarns how near the truth we will never know. Pete did some research and found references to what must have been the action in which Dad was wounded. There are inconsistencies but the jist of the story matches the official history. The battle was for hill 112 which dad had all ways referred too when reminiscing about “The War”. In a history of the Normandy campaign it was reported that the battle for hill 112 and the village of Maltoc started on 27th June 1944 and the hill and village was finally taken on 23rd July the day after dad was wounded. Over that three and a bit weeks the hill was held by both the Germans and the allied troops in turn each side mounting hard hitting counter attacks. By the time dad went into action any idea that they where fighting weak ill trained troops must have obviously been a myth that no ordinary soldier could have believed.