The First Hours

Memoires of Eddie Pritchard: 3206 Servicing Commando, RAF

I was proud to know Eddie Prichard; a Fitter 2E (Engines) of the RAF’s 3206 Servicing Commando. The following are extracts from letters written by Joe Gregan, a close friend of Eddie Prichard.

First hours in Normandy…

………as the CO’s vehicle drove down the ramp and left the landing craft it sank. The waterproofing had not been done well.

It was there I picked up a bedraggled CO, and we proceeded to our first airfield which was still being constructed, not far from Bayeux. We set up our camp and turned in.

We had artillery fire going over our heads, which didn’t encourage sleep, then about 02:30hrs we had to turn to and start unloading Army trucks with all the necessary fuel and ammunition around the dispersal sites, ready for operation on the first Typhoons which landed later that morning.

The Array Engineers having completed the runway for first light. On the arrival of the first aircraft all hands turned too.”

We were all tradesman…

I must add we were all tradesmen, and everyone helped each other. The hardest job was re-fuelling and helping the armourers fit the rockets with their sixty pound warheads.

Then we had a problem with dust being blown up as the aircraft taxied round to the end of the runway ready for take-off. This was solved by having an airman sit on the end of the wing as second sight for the pilot. He had to be smart getting off then and dodging the aircraft behind!

At first it was a novelty; then that wore off after we got bored with our compo-rations. These were alright for a days manoeuvre, but not for day after day.

As I remember it, there were A, B, & C Ration packs. The A packs had among other goodies, tinned fruit in them, but these were rare to come across. The B & C packs were our main rations with dry hard biscuits.

We became good scroungers, getting the odd egg from the surrounding farms. At first some of the aircraft brought a few loaves of white bread across in their gun bays, and we even had a fuel-drop tank of beer brought over, but that didn’t last!

I should add we were 150 mainly tradesman, and thirty gallons of beer, as you can imagine doesn’t go far. The other treats dried up, then after about ten days we were relieved and dropped back to the rear when the main airfield personnel flew in, in Dakotas and took over from us.

Poor souls, the day after we moved out Jerry pasted the airfield with his famous ’88s’ artillery.”

Advancing across France…

……..he drove a little way outside the tapes (which showed the path cleared of mines); in the excitement I suppose, but he was blown sky-high as we watched.

We carried on to catch the rest of our squadron. No-one could stop, that was the rule, as stationary vehicles provided a target for the snipers left behind.

These were in every church-steeple or other elevated building. None of these snipers survived, they were shot as a matter of course, but in the meantime they could wreak havoc. So we kept moving.

The local population looked at us dumbly and we wondered why at the time. I think we expectd flags and cheers. These came in abundance later on when we reached the cities, but the people of Normandy were bewildered by the shear magnitude of our attack.

By nightfall we had reached a small orchard and were digging our slit-trenches when the local French farmer came to ask us not to dig too close to his apple trees. We followed his wishes of course.

As he was leaving, bullets came flying into our encampment. We grabbed our weapons and took cover. No-one was hit, and we heard later that the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment had just finished clearing a small wood close by of Germans.

That night we fitfully slept, to the tremendous ground-shaking thump of the 25-Pounder Guns firing shells over us at the enemy lines beyond.

The last things I remember of that memorable day are the Welsh members of our squadron singing, as they so often did, and the thump thump, thump of the guns.”

A thirty-six hour pass…

Every month (if operations permitted), they gave us a thirty-six hour pass. This meant we were free to leave camp from noon on Saturday, to one minute to midnight on Sunday.

Most of the lads couldn’t go home in that time as they lived too far away, so they headed for the nearest town to stay at one of the many excellent hostels run by the Y.M.C.A. and similar organisations. We received warning before leaving camp that we could be recalled at a minutes notice, as in wartime we were on duty twenty-four hours a day, every day and leave was a privilege not a right.

Therefore it was a great relief to get safely on to the train or bus and put a few miles between us and our air-base

On one of these weekends we had arrived at the camp-gates and the RAF Police were examining our passes.

Suddenly the aerodrome was presumed to be under a gas-attack (only a practise of course – arranged by some enthusiastic Officer who hadn’t got the weekend off)

My friend and I pleaded in vain that we were on leave, and our precious thirty-six hours was short enough.

We were taken to the Gas Decontamination Centre, stripped naked, showered and scrubbed, treated with anti-gas ointment all over, and showered and scrubbed again, until our skins were bright pink. Four hours later we were released.

Having missed our train, the Saturday night-out we had so carefully planned was ruined. We swore, all the way to the rail-way station, and vowed what we would ‘do’ the chaps who had inflicted this indignity upon us, if ever we met them in civvy-street.”

Liberties and liberation…

“Seeing Bill Williams in one of the photographs reminded me of one hilarious night when a party of us took a “liberty wagon” to a village not too far from Dieste.

We found a local hostelry where we indulged a little too freely of the “paint-stripper” hooch. Someone (I think it was Cpl Holt) became over-excited and took to running down the street shouting and firing a revolver in the air. He was eventually calmed down and persuaded to return, still noisy, to the bar.

Such behaviour was objected to by some Canadian army bods at the bar, and in the ensuing argument between Bill and the largest of the Canadians a push became a shove, a shove became a punch and before you could say “Jack Robinson” a free-for-all ensued which scattered the stove, pipes and all ! No real harm done – just blowing off steam!

Reading the SC History, I see mention is made of the constipation we suffered as a result of eating too much “hard tack”.

My recollection is quite the opposite – because at one time an epidemic of dysentry swept through the Normandy beachhead, and I was one of the sufferers. Many of us sat there on our thrones night and day, hardly daring to move – a most unpleasant experience.

Early September 1944 I was one of a small 3206 advance party which drove into Brussels with the Guards Amoured Division the morning after it was liberated.

The welcome was enormous and the local ladies climbed on the running boards of our 3-ton Bedfords to throw flowers and fruit into the cabs. I was so distracted that I failed to notice that the convoy had ground to a halt and I drove straight up the exhaust pipe of the lorry in front of me – much to the amusement of the onlookers. Luckily, we were only travelling at 3 or 4 miles an hour and no real damage was done.

We eventually reached the airfield and after a wash and brush up found our way back into the city using public transport for the last part of the journey.

On alighting in the centre we found ourselves surrounded by an excitable and hostile crowd, who had mistaken our mixture of khaki battledress and airforce blue shirts and forage caps for what they muttered as “le Boche”.

Only frantic pointing at our RAF cap badges and anxious shouts of “Anglais” saved our bacon and turned angry scowls into warm smiles.”

Reflections on nicknames

“Shortly after the war when I bumped into an old war friend in the street and had an animated chin-wag for a while.

He told me that before he came to 3206 he had served in Burma and had been in contact with General Wingate and his Chindits. In fact, he had been Wingate’s personal wireless operator for a while!! ( I’m quite amazed that all this detail came flooding back when I saw your photos )

Corporal Christmas – now there’s a lovely name to conjure with. I should have remembered that, but I didn’t. Although I remember him now, I don’t recollect anyone calling him “Father” or “Santa”, as all the rest of us seemed to have nick-names.

You picked out Corporal Simmonds ( was it not Simpson? ). He was an armourer (doubling-up as unit cobler) and I know he came from Coventry. In late October or early November 1943 we moved to a site near Hastings.

As part of the toughening-up process we were ordered to take a dip in the freezing cold briney – it could have been the death of us! “Simmo” mentioned that prior to joining up he had never travelled far from Coventry and it was at Hastings that he saw the sea for the first time in his life! Amazing!

Our two Warrant Officers seem not to have been caught on camera at all. W/O “Dai” Davies, as slim as a hairpin and as fit as a fiddle, was from North Wales. He prefaced most observations with “By Christ”, or “By Chraste” if you allow for his North Wales accent.

I cannot remember the name of the other W/O ( engines/airframes? ) nor much about the CO, (SqnLdr?) White, who seemed largely anonymous, and kept his head well below the parapet, didn’t he?”

Eddie’s widow, Gwenethe placing a wreath at the Typhoon Memorial, Noyers-Bocage, Normandy, June 2009