Captain Robert Worth landed on Sword Beach
with his men of the
937 Port Construction and Repair Company on D+3
We were transported across from the port of Newhaven by an American LSI.
The senior crew kindly invited the Officers into the ward room for dinner and
served us the fattest pork chops I ever saw; as I am subject to sea-sickness
this was a good start.
The pills we were issued stopped me being sick, but oh how I wanted to be.
The one good result was that the next morning as we sailed into Sword Beach, I
didn't care a hoot about the shelling on the shore, all I wanted was to get my
feet on dry land. We sailed in past the bows of the battle-cruiser Renown. Her
big guns were firing an ear-splitting experience. All the American LSI crew
wanted to do was get rid of us as soon as possible and pull off away from the
shelling and in consequence we were landed in deeper water than we would have
I took my platoon in advance to take up our positions around the sea-locks at
the entrance to the Ouistreham-Caen Canal. Our briefing had been that the front
line would be some two miles up the coast at Cabourg, so I was somewhat
surprised to be told by the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry that our position was
the front line and the Germans were some 400 yards away on the east bank of the
mouth of the River Orne. The Ox and Bucks added nonchalantly that they were
pulling out under orders and it was all ours! The 6th Airborne were also on the
east bank of the Orne, but at least half a mile inland. My platoon took up the
advanced position on the east side of the lock with a minefield in front of us,
but with a dirt track running through towards the car across at low tide, so
tanks could certainly cross.
I often wondered if Monty knew that only a mere Port Construction Company was
holding the extreme left of the line. An armoured attack could have overwhelmed
us and have enjoyed an open coast road to roll up the beaches all the way to
Arromanches and the Mulberry Harbour.
This doubt was reinforced after a few days when a number of staff cars drove to
the west of the locks and out got A V Alexander, the War Minister, and a
dazzling array of gold braid, red tape and all and proceeded to walk across the
damaged bridges over the locks and climb onto the top of the heavy coastal gun
emplacements in full view of the Germans. I remonstrated with an ADC who said
what they were doing. So I got all my men off work and into their slit trenches,
expecting a violent German reaction, but nothing happened; perhaps they were so
amazed they thought it was a trap. Let me now relate two completely contrasting
stories - one humorous and one which could have had a substantial effect on the
length of the war and post-war European politics. When the locks and their
machinery had been got into working order, the next priority was to ensure that
all the lift bridges over the canal were also in working order after being
inoperative for some time.
We managed all successfully except the famous Pegasus Bridge which was the main
access and supply route to the 6th Airborne Division and by then also to the
51st Highland Division. It also carried festoons of signal cables which
precluded lifting the bridge without breaking them. Not being able to agree a
possession of the bridge at local level we sent a request all the way up to Army
Group level and down came permission for a one hour occupation.
These bridges are hand-operated rolling bascule constructions and at the
appointed time I was in the winding chamber in one of the abutments having
posted sentries to stop any traffic. We wound the bridge up successfully, but
when winding it down it stuck with the bridge at two feet above its closed
position. Whilst I was in the winding chamber I heard the roar of an engine and
the squeal of brakes and looking out saw a jeep had drawn up on the bridge
carrying a very irate Airborne Officer who jumped out and from his elevated
height above the road started to tongue lash the little Welsh sentry below.
When he finally paused for breath this little chap standing as stiff as a
ram-rod, looked up at the Officer's red beret and said 'Well sir, you are
Airborne aren't you?'.