Des Dillon of the 553 Field Company, Royal Engineers
Des Dillon, Bury St. Edmunds - 1939
I was involved in building 'David Bridge', the first crossing of the Seine, 26 August, 1944, and got wounded in the action. This is the letter I wrote to my brother after being wounded.
1894148 Sapper Dillon,
BASP. Hospital, No. 7 Ward,
I received your most welcome letter. I have nothing to do here all day, so I am able to answer you straight away. As regards my wound, it is the truth that I told Mother. I didnt mention my arm because it was so slight. It is better now. My foot is not too bad. It is cut along the sole, underneath my small toe. The cut was about three inches long, but my foot is still swollen and very black in colour. The strange part about it is that the shrapnel went in the top of my boot, but there is no mark on the top of my foot. I have had an X-ray taken to see if there are any bones broken, but I havent seen the proof yet.
I expect you would like to know what happened, so I will start from the beginning. I was on the first British crossing of the Seine. We parked our trucks about two miles from the river, then we walked the rest of the way. Then we unloaded storm boats, that is a boat for the assault crossing. They hold about twelve men, but we put more than that on. I might add that this was done by night and the infantry gave us covering fire while we unloaded, and believe me, we worked damned fast and hard. We got the boats lined up on the home side with the engines running, then it was one mad rush to the other side. Fortunately I wasnt one of the crew. However, the assault went very well and they got enough ground for us to get cracking with the bridge. We had no small arms fire after that and very few shells fell.
All went well until daylight came, then the fire began. The river, by the way, is six hundred feet wide. We had about half the bridge done and enough rafts built to complete the job, but by then the snipers were awake. Every time a raft went down, they played merry hell. Finally, it came to our sections turn to take a raft. We got in the centre of the river, then he started. We were doing fine until we cast anchor, and that causes a lot of drag, which in turn slows the boat down. It was then that he knocked out four of the crew. However, we finally got to the bridge, tied up and ran for our dear lives. It was the fastest sprint I ever did. Someone else fetched the casualties. They stopped the job after that and we went for some dinner while the infantry put in another attack to clear them out. It was coming back that I caught my lot.
We were going along a street parallel to the river and we heard these shells coming over. I stooped down behind a large tree and the shell hit the house on the other side. I couldnt have picked a better place, even if I had known where it was going to land. The tree was in direct line with me and the burst. I saw it and just pulled my head back, but I must have had my foot and arm sticking out. It knocked me over and I bashed my head against the wall. I sat there a bit dazed, then thought it was time to get out of this place. It was then that I found out I was hit, of course. I couldnt walk, so I had to wait until I was picked up. [by Frank Sutton] There is a saying that a shell never drops in the same place twice, but I wasnt having it. I got behind the tree again. It got five of us at the same time: one lost his arm, another got it in the back and another fellow in the leg and arm. The last fellow was killed, so I came off the best.
Well, thats covered everything, Frank, except that I was in Blighty within a week, and glad of it too. The R.A.M.C. is very well organised. I was back on the Beach Hospital in two days, a journey of two hundred miles. I had a nights sleep, meals and my dressing changed several times during the ride. I am in a decent place now. It is a civil hospital. The only bloke we see connected with the army is the paymaster. We are usually glad to see him.
I trust you are in good health, Frank, and plenty of work. Give my kindest regards to Norman and Bernard.
Cheerio and all the Best,
5677643 Gilbert H.W. Collins PTE
On April 2nd 1940 at the age of 24 years I was conscripted to the 7th Battalion SLI based at Tiverton, Devon where I got my basic training. The Battalion moved to the south of England for defence during the Battle of Britain. In 1941 I assumed the duty of RSM Batman which post I held up to three months before D-Day. I became a stretcher bearer attached to B Company. I fought in the Odon, Caen, and Hill 112 battles. I was wounded on Hill 112 and was later classified as C1. I am now 82 years of age and still a Light Infantry man who is very proud of serving with the men of the 7th Battalion SLI and the 43rd Division.