My Apologies to you all for rather a sombre post, especially after yesterday’s dose of humour, but having watched the memorial service for the 75th anniversary of D-Day this morning – I’ve been inspired (with a fair sized lump in my throat and tears in my eyes) to write about my family’s connection to this momentous day.
Until about the age of 8, my Great Grandmother used to live next door to me. I don’t recall a lot about her house or my visits, aside from the dread of having to give her a kiss and her small yappy dogs, but I will always remember the face of a man in a green framed black and white photo surrounded by poppies. He was a rather charming looking man in a military uniform cap and greatcoat, with a wicked smile and a bit of a glint in his eye. But the most important thing about this photo, to a small boy mad on anything WWII and military, was that next to it was a framed box with medals and, amazingly – an SAS cap badge..!
The cap badge belonged to the man in the photo – my Great-uncle Billy, and he was and always will be one of my heroes.
Sadly however I don’t know that much about him – not even his surname. My Great-Grandmother didn’t speak of him that much, although I shall never forget the pride in her face when she looked at his photo, but I did over the years pick up a little bits of information here and there.
I know his name was William and that he was her older brother. She said that he’d originally joined the Royal Artillery and served in the African desert war, and that he might have even served in the Long Range Desert Group. At some point, and I don’t know if this was in North Africa or after, he volunteered to join the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS). How much of this is accurate I’m not certain, but it all seems plausible. Most importantly, and the one thing I do remember for certain, was that he had died in Normandy after the D-day landings – whilst serving with the SAS.
As to how he died, or what he was doing at the time, I obviously don’t know. But I do know that in 1944 the SAS were ordered to carry out two vital operations behind the German front lines in France. Houndsworth and Bulbasket. The focus of both operations would be the disruption of German reinforcements from the south of France to the Normandy beachheads.
To carry out the operation the men were to destroy supply dumps, block the Paris to Bordeaux railway line near Poitiers and attack railway sidings and fuel trains. One formation they especially wanted to delay was the 2nd SS Panzer Division – Das Reich which was based in the area around Toulouse in the south of France.
So they were raiders, pirates, saboteurs and scouts. They went out in small groups behind the enemy lines and did as much damage and caused as much disruption to Germans as they could. Often on their own and often dying and being injured with slim change of support or rescue – I can only imagine at how brave my great-uncle must have been, or the men he was with.
When I think of Billy, I think of the stereotypical images of an SAS solider in WWII. Charging around in Jeeps, sporting beards and armed to the teeth. Maybe that was him, maybe it wasn’t – but it’s a great image to have of him.
I do wish I knew more about him, and maybe one day I will, but in reality it doesn’t matter. The fact that I do remember something of him is all that counts, because I’ll never forget what he and and his comrades did, and every time I think of the war or wear a poppy – I think of him and all the others of the SAS.
I’m happy with that. To me he represents all of them, all of those that fought and died for our freedom, whatever their service or nationality – I’m so bloody proud of them and I salute them all.
R.I.P. Great Uncle Billy, I’ll never forget you.
‘Who Dares Wins!’
P.S. The pictures in this post come from various sources on the internet. This is what I see when I think of him, and for all I know one of the men in these pictures could be him – it’s a comforting thought.