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Veterans tell their incredible stories
10:52am Friday 6th June 2014 in News
MAJOR BOB ORRELL:
WITH Sword beach all but taken, just a single 60ft-high concrete tower lay between the Allied troops and the liberation of the town of Ouistreham.
The barrels of heavy machine guns poked through the turret searching for targets while an anti-aircraft gun sat on the roof.
The bodies of some of the British army’s finest soldiers lay around the base.
But Major Bob Orrell knew it had to be taken.
Armed with just a Sten gun – which he later admitted he had never fired – he embarked on a daring mission with one of his pals.
They blew the tower’s door hinges before Major Orrell made his first tentative steps inside.
A voice called out: “Come upstairs, Johnny, it’s all right.” Major Orrell was not going anywhere.
“Bugger that, you come down,” he replied.
Seconds later two German officers, one with perfect English, came down the steps with 53 soldiers in tow.
Major Orrell raised the muzzle of his Sten and along with his friend marched the German soldiers to captivity.
He still had not fired a shot – and did not have enough ammunition anyway had the Germans fought back.
Major Orrell’s heroics made him something of a hero among the French inhabitants of the town and his family are still stopped in the streets when they return to this day.
His son, Jon, from Hove, said: “He didn’t actually speak about D-Day until the 50th anniversary. Having spoken to other veterans and their families, that is quite common.
“He made it to the 60th anniversary back in 2004 but he died shortly after.”
Major Orrell, who was based in Billingshurst at the time of the war, signed up to the Royal Engineering Corps in 1939.
His finest hour was undoubtedly his taking of the German tower, which is now a D-Day museum.
However, his story following the heroic act is just as remarkable.
A keen musician, he was delighted to find a miniature piano hidden deep inside the tower. It is believed one of the captured German officers had taken it from his time on the eastern front in Russia.
Major Orrell transported it with him across France, Holland to Arnhem and throughout Germany in an attempt to not only raise spirits among the ranks but also win over the locals.
Mr Orrell said: “Regardless of where they were or what was going on around them they played every Saturday at 7pm.
“They would liberate some of the local alcohol, have some good food and if there were some local girls around they would have a dance.”
They joked it was the most important piece of kit they ever received during the war.
But the Allied invasion was not the end of the war for Major Orrell. Soon after, he was sent out to the Pacific to face the Japanese.
He was all ready to embark on a daring mission when the atomic bomb was dropped – which effectively won the war.
Mr Orrell said: “He used to say what a wonderful invention the bomb was. Then almost overnight he changed.
“He became a peace campaigner, set up his own branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and became friends with the likes of Tony Benn. It’s an incredible story really.”
Frederick Glover, from Brighton, took the aerial route into German occupied Normandy on June 6.
The member of the 9th Parachute Battalion was assigned to take out the crucial Merville battery in the early hours before it could fire on the troops landing on the beaches.
Speaking last week, the now 88-year-old told of the secrecy around the “special operation”.
Along with his pals he waited at an airfield in Dorset for the signal. Endless cups of tea were drunk and countless hands of cards played using French liberation currency to pass the hours.
Late on the night of June 5 they boarded their Horsa gliders and made their way across the Channel.
On reaching France they came under heavy fire from anti-aircraft guns and Mr Glover was shot in both legs.
The pilot tried to land but before he knew the glider was heading straight for a mine field.
Mr Glover said: “Just at the crucial moment, the glider pilot lifted the glider over the minefield and crashed into the corner of a small orchard smack-bang into a German patrol that was coming to reinforce the defenders of the battery.
“Within no time we were in a fire fight with this patrol but due to the thoroughness of our training, there was no bewilderment or anything.
“We just crashed the glider, got out of it, took cover and returned fire. Bear in mind that all this happened just a couple of hours after leaving the peace and quiet of the English countryside.”
Feeling blood in his boots, Mr Glover continued bravely until the battery was taken.
But his regiment’s work was far from done. Unable to continue due to his injuries, he was left with a couple of wounded Germans. They would wait for the Allies to reach them from the beach.
Just hours before they were involved in a fierce battle to the death, but now Mr Glover was handing his counterparts medicine and even gave up his morphine to the German with the worst wounds. Little did he know this selfless act would later save his life.
They were eventually swept up by the advancing Germans, at which point the atmosphere turned sour. It looked as if Mr Glover was to be executed when the solider he had given his morphine to intervened.
He was spared and taken to a hospital in Paris. But not happy to see out the rest of the war under guard, he escaped from a 14 foot window and was rescued by the French Resistance.
DR TONY LEAKE:
Dr Tony Leake was just 19-years-old when he was dropped in deep behind enemy lines in the early hours of D-Day.
He had signed up in 1942 aged just 17, lying to the recruitment officer that he was the required 18 years of age.
Speaking last week from his home in Rowan Way, Rottingdean, the now 89-year-old said: “I was young but we all were. I just wanted to do my bit against Hitler”.
He embarked on 16 weeks of intense infantry training before he joined the parachute regiment. Further training followed including jumps from balloons before they jumped from planes.
Incredibly his first taste of action was D-Day.
He said: “We all knew we were heading to the continent we just didn’t really know where or when.
“We were shown models of the drop zone but there were no town names or anything like that. It was all top secret.
“I was apprehensive, there were 500 of us going over there and we knew many of us probably wouldn’t last that long.”
His regiment waited for the signal at RAF Blakehill Farm, near Swindon. That finally came on the evening of June 5.
Shortly before midnight they packed in groups of 20 into Dakota transport planes before making their way across the English Channel.
The jumps were made over occupied northern France with the intention of landing near to the river Orne. But not all went to plan.
He said: “The RAF got it wrong and we were scattered. We were supposed to have 500 but by the time we met up we were just 120.”
With the cover of darkness, the regiment set about their objective of blowing up three vital bridges to slow the German advance.
By 5am all three had been destroyed.
But their job was far from over. They were ordered to stand their ground at a crucial crossroads linking Rouen and the beaches.
German armoured vehicles tried to make it along the road, but Dr Leake and his regiment took them out with anti-tank guns.
They were isolated and alone but they survived. It was another five days before the troops from Sword beach reached their position.
He said: “It was a relief; we were on our own out there. We had extra ammunition and food dropped by parachute but we were isolated to German attacks.”
But there was no time to relax. Dr Leake and his regiment were ordered to move on towards the River Seine, into the heart of occupied France.
During one patrol into enemy territory his part in the Allied liberation ended.
He said: “I was leading a group when we came under fire. I was shot by a machine gunner between the legs and went down. I stayed down, I was in the open and I just played dead. I didn’t want them to think I was still alive and start shooting again.
“I was hit between the legs but thankfully nothing was too badly damaged.
“The rest of the group were in cover and a man called Lieutenant John Ruddick was calling on them to go and get me.
“In the end he ran out and was shot. He died.
“It was terrible because he was coming out to help me.”
Dr Leake was shipped home to recover but later saw action in Belgium and Germany.
After the war, he went to medical school and worked in hospitals and as a GP.
He also tracked down Lieutenant Ruddick’s family and is now in touch with his son.
He said: “I’m going over to France for the commemoration event this year. We are going to be having lunch with the Prince of Wales but I think it will be my last time.
“I’m one of the only ones left, it is very sad.”
He added: “I think about them all the time, my friends who didn’t make it. It could have been me. I could have died at any moment.
“It has never left me, you can’t just forget an experience like that. I was a young man and it did have an effect on me.”
Bernard Jackson joined up on his birthday in December 1941.
The 91-year-old, who used to live in Hove Park Road, Hove, before emigrating to Canada in 1987, was trained as a wireless operator.
He landed under the cover of darkness at Arromanches on D-Day plus one.
Speaking to The Argus last week from his Vancouver home, he said: “I remember it all vividly, especially at this time of the year.
“I was in charge of a vehicle which I drove off the landing craft, through the water and beach and up onto a hill.
“I remember seeing the men come back from the first landing. They were grey in the face, they looked shattered. Many didn’t make it, they were the lucky ones.”
Trained in Morse code, Mr Jackson’s job was to send and receive vital messages in order to coordinate the invasion. From scrambling fighters to calling in bombing raids, his job was crucial and not without danger.
He said: “I remember returning to the vehicle one day to take over from my friend. He was slumped over dead. A shell had come through and hit him in the back, it could have been me. It was horrible to see.
“On night shifts I would sit there almost waiting for the door to open and a grenade to fly in. It was scary.”
Wherever the action went, Mr Jackson followed, delivering vital messages to and from the front line.
He said: “I came under fire a number of times. I remember being pinned down in a ditch with bullets whizzing over my head.
“The minefields were also deadly. We were making our way over to a Chateau one day when there was a huge bang. One of the horses had stepped on a mine.
“It was danger 24 hours a day.”
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