26 Armoured Engineer Squadron Letter

26 Armoured Engineer Squadron
32 Engineer Regiment
Campbell Barracks
British Forces Post Office 30

Stockport & District Normandy Veterans
Reference Normandy Pilgrimage

Date: 18 June 2009

Dear Linda

It was a pleasure meeting you all down in Normandy, this is just a quick explanation to try and explain who we are and what the squadron’s connections are to the landings and Juno beach in particular. Myself and the men that you saw painting Charlie One are part of 26 Armoured Engineer Squadron 32 Engineer Regiment. We are direct descendants from the people that undertook the beach assault on Juno beach in 1944. We are the last remaning regiment that still wear the brigade flash (the bulls head) we now wear it as a regimental flash alongside 7 Armoured Brigades flash (the red rat).

One Charlie was the call sign of the lead tank avenger and this is what the Squadron history has to say about that day:

1 Charlie at Juno Beach

Six assault squadrons, together with the armoured bulldozers of 149 Assault Park squadron, were engaged in the initial landings on the coast of Normandy on the 6th June 1944. These squadrons worked in conjunction with the flail tanks of the 30th Armoured Brigade.

26 Assault Squadron supported the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade which had been given the task of capturing Courseulles- sur-Mer and Graye-sur- Mer, The squadron was at that time under the command of Major Tony Younger (later Major General A.E.Younger. DSO. OBE,)

All ten LCTs on this sector of the beach successfully touched down between 0800 hours and 0830 hours to the east and west of the town of Courseulles, which lies at the mouth of the river Seulles. Few mines were encounted except those attached to the steel beach obstacles, but to the west the advance was held up by a water-filled crater in a culvert approximately 20 meters wide and about 3 meters deep. Owing to the surface flooding, the leading AVRE (callsign ‘One Charlie’), which was carrying a fascine, failed to see the crater and slipped into it. All six members of the crew escaped but immediately afterwards came under heavy mortar fire. Four were killed but two, Sapper Bill Dunn (the driver) and Lance Corporal Bill Hawkins (the demolitions NCO), survived with severe wounds.

For the next hour, the flooded AVRE, together with two flail tanks were the only armour south of the sand dunes in that sector of the invasion. The Squadron got stuck in to the task of cleaning out the German pillboxes along the beach, taking thirty five prisoners in the process, and affectively silencing the enemy direct fire in that sector.

The fascine was eventually dislodged from the tank and the obstacle was bridged using the turret of the AVRE as a pier. It was not until about 1000 hours that the first AVRE edged gingerly over the bridge. This was soon followed by Canadian ‘floating’ (or DD) tanks from the 1st Hussars who, with ther supporting infantry, were able to move away from the choked beach head towards their objectives further south. The squadron now powerfully supported by 85th Field Company from the Beach Group, set to with a will to fill in the gaps in the crossing with rubble from demolished near by houses and walls. Around midday the remaining tanks of 26 Squadron crossed over and in thier turn, moved south, By nightfall there was no evidence that the Squadron had been on the beach other than a crude cross that marked the grave of those that had been killed , with the legend : ‘Always remembered by the 26’

But for anyone who had searched, One Charlie was still there, later that week when the initial rush had quietened down 85th Company were able to clear away the assault bridge and build a solid structure, which King George VI Winston Churchill and General de Gaulle were all to cross. It was given the name Point AVRE.

In 1976, One Charlie was recovered, cleaned, rebuilt and re painted and now stands close to where it slipped into that crater 32 years previously, an account of the recovery operation is given in the later section of the historys.

Since it was placed on the beach the Squadron regularly returns to carry out repair work and give it a new coat of paint. This time we had a spare two weeks in the programme as we have recently returned from Afghanistan and are given about two months recovery time before returning to full military training. When we realised that it coincided with the 65 aniversary the trip was extended to cover the period and some of the old squadron members were invited along for the weekend.

It was a great privilege to meet the men who landed that day, sobering to visit the graves of the One Charlie crew and a surprise to meet Mr Bill Dunn the actual driver of the tank. Every where that we went we were superbly hosted by the locals and meeting with people like yourselves only added to the experience. I have enclosed some photos of our other tanks: you have seen a Churchil AVRE on the beach which was replaced by the Centurian AVRE:

which was in turn replaced by the Chieftian AVRE:

and finally to bring you up to date the new Trojan which was brought in to service about 2 years ago:

We still train extensively for armoured operations and strive to uphold the standards set by our forebears. That is our link to the beaches,one of which we are rightly proud , I hope that this gives you a small insight to who we are, why we were there and why we return year after year.

Best wishes

Dave Purves

(Back to the 65th Anniversary account)