Bernard Morgan D-Day
|DOB||February 7, 1924|
Bernard has recorded this account of his early life:
Born Thursday afternoon on 7th February 1924 at 11 Ducie Street (now demolished) Longsight, Manchester, the only child of Hilda and Robert Owen Morgan. From 4 – 11 years of age I attended Plymouth Grove Primary School; after passing the 11+ examination I went to Burnage High School, 1935 – 1937, a short tram ride from Ducie Street. My Dad, a main line locomotive driver at Longsight Motive Power Depot, regularly drove passenger trains from Manchester London Road (renamed Piccadilly in 1960) to London Euston. In 1938 he was appointed Footplate Inspector at Crewe. Consequently, the family relocated to Crewe and I attended Crewe County Secondary school from 1938 – 1940, leaving with a School Certificate (equivalent to 6 GCSE exams, including English and Maths).
In June 1940 (aged 16) I started work at Crewe Station as a clerical officer at the London Midland Scottish Railway Company (working Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm and Saturday from 9.00 to 12 noon) and was paid £1 per week. (Whilst working as a junior clerk he took additional courses in his spare time to learn shorthand and typing.)
In February 7th 1942, on his 18th birthday, Bernard volunteered for the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, for which he was paid 2 shillings a day. (The photo opposite shows Bernard as an 18 year old in his Volunteer Reserve uniform.)
As a volunteer you could select which military service you wished to join and he chose the Royal Air Force since an uncle (J. F. Houchin) had been a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps (renamed Royal Air Force in 1918) in the 1st World War and who served as Squadron Leader Administration Officer from 1939 – 1945
Bernard was called up in September 1942 and did his initial training at Blackpool. After winning Wing and Unit County Championships at Blackpool in November 1942 Bernard was selected for the Athletics team and competed at Inter-Service Cross Country events (1942), and half mile and one mile track races (summer 1943) at White City Stadium with 43,000 watching as part of a fund-raising event for St John Ambulance.
His first posting was in Swanton Morley (now closed) in Norfolk. He wanted to fly, but on two test flights he suffered air sickness so was told he would have to stay on the ground. Following an interview with the station Warrant Officer he was allocated duties in the Orderly room, where all Administration work was carried out. He used his clerical expertise to type Daily Routine Orders, duplicated and delivered by bicycle to all Sections. One day he typed a request for volunteers for Code and Cypher duties with the promise of overseas service. Having advance notice of this opportunity, Bernard put his name forward, had a good interview and began one month specialised training in Code and Cypher operations with number 83 Group Control Centre, a Mobile Signals Unit attached to 2nd Tactical Air Force, near Folkstone, controlling allied aircraft movements over North West Europe until 8th May 1945, end of WW2 in Europe.
Bernard, with his Sergeant stripes, below, and an example of the Type X Decoding machine he operated (photograph taken at Bletchley Park)
After 07.25 on 6th June the British began to land infantry and were able to unload armoured vehicles directly on to the beach. The Germans had little armour at Gold Beach and the shore bombardment by the Navy had been highly effective.
On D-Day 18.30 hours Bernard landed in Normandy on Gold Beach, on a Bedford truck carrying the large cypher machine used to decode orders. The Northumberland Infantry Division led the assault, with the objective of seizing the area around the village of Arromanches. See Pat Lannon’s account as a member of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers who landed on Gold Beach early in the morning on D Day. (The American 29th Infantry Division, untried in combat, was to secure a five mile deep bridge-head at Omaha and then link up with the American landing forces at Utah and the British at Gold.) In reality it was hard fighting, with 27, 000 casualties on that first day and 2,500 obstacles across the ten mile width of Gold Beach, in addition to the five miles of landing zone that were too rocky for troops to land on.
Bernard has recorded his Normandy Invasion experience in a personal diary, and his account vividly captures this historic event, from the end of May 1944 to his landing on 6th June.
|Tuesday 23 May||All ranks received £1 on Pay Parade at Old Sarum|
|Wednesday 24 May||Reveille 03.00. Arrived Stevenage 19.00. The Cypher vehicle broke down on route.|
|Thursday 25 May||After an overnight stop depart Stevenage 0900; arrived Stratford-St-Mary, just north of Colchester at 19.00|
|Friday 26 May||Another Pay Parade £1. 10. 0d.|
|Saturday 27 May||Watched Baseball match, Canada 19 v America 1. Played Baseball at night with Americans|
|Monday 29 May||All troops told to make a Will and send it to home address in Privilege envelope|
|Tuesday 30 May||Sent Will home. Very hot day|
|Wednesday 31 May||Vehicle waterproofed and equipment secured, read for move the next day from Stratford-St-Mary|
|Thursday 1 June||‘A’ Echelon 83 Group Control Centre depart Stratford-St-Mary for Felixstowe|
|Friday 2 June||Unit moved into Felixstowe. Parked overnight at roadside, slept in vehicles. Civilians very kind and gave us homemade cakes – most acceptable|
|Saturday 3 June||Prior to boarding our LST (Landing Ship Tank) we were issued with 4 boxes each of “Comp” (composite) rations: cans of M & V (meat and vegetable) stew; Soya links (triangular soya-bean sausages fried in the grease they came in); fat bacon wrapped in greaseproof paper that could be unrolled like a sheet; and of course a tin of “bully beef” (corned beef). The beef could be eaten cold on “dog biscuits” – the iron hard “compo issue” biscuit. The boxes also included “compo tea” a crude ready mix of sugar, milk and tea.
Boarded LST along with Army personnel and a number of tanks. Food on board was very good. I was amazed at the size of the vessel. We even had a game of football on the lower deck when we were mid-channel. This sailing was the start of A’ Echelon 83 Group Control Centre involvement in Operation Overlord
|Sunday 4 June||Sailed at 10.30 from Felixstowe into rough seas|
|Monday 5 June||Arrived off the Isle of Wight at 08.00. Calm sea from early morning. Whilst our LST was at anchor a church service was held. The hymn I well remember was Onward Christian Soldiers, most appropriate under the circumstances. We were handed a small booklet headed FRANCE, containing phrases and how to conduct ourselves whilst in France. This was the first time we had received any official notification of where we were bound for. We set sail at 20.00 hours along with hundreds of other craft. The route across the Channel was marked by many anchored vessels. The sea was quite rough and there was a lot of sea-sickness, but strangely I was not sick. Our LST dropped anchor 7 miles off shore of the French coast at Gold Beach at 03.00 on 6 June|
|Tuesday 6 June||There was constant gunfire over our heads from naval vessels firing at enemy gun emplacements close to the landing beaches. See Jim Clegg’s account of the role of his ship HMS Frobisher bombarding Caen This heavy firing continued throughout the day. I manned a Bren gun on deck from 03.00 – 05.00. The first troops landed at 06.45 from small landing craft. During our period off shore shells were falling all around us. Our technical vehicles finally went ashore at 18.30, a fairly dry landing. Johnny Day was the driver of our vehicle. I shall never forget seeing the beach littered with many dead bodies. Some had been shot, or drowned and others carried in by the incoming tide. A very sad sight never to be forgotten by a young 20-year-old airman, seeing his first dead bodies, sadly most of them British.
On reaching dry land we drove into taped off lanes – these were safe areas cleared of mines by flail tanks See Arthur Whelan’s account of Hobart’s Funnies landing on Juno Beach to clear the mine fields for the Infantry to follow – and headed to our rendezvous with our Commanding Officer at a reference our Flying Officer ((L.F. Ingham) held. That first night was a nightmare. We slept, or tried to sleep, under our vehicles for some protection from crossfire. All night the sky was lit up by tracers and heavy gunfire.
Along with fellow airmen we were glad to have survived a most memorable day and felt lucky to be alive. I will always remember the men who gave up their lives for our freedom. I was one of the lucky ones who came back alive, but there were thousands who didn’t.
Bernard’s unit followed the army through Normandy to Paris and Lille, into Belgium and by October arrived in ERP a Dutch village. The local population were overjoyed when the Allied forces liberated them as their country had been occupied by the Germans since 1940. He stayed there for six months, along with his 1,000-strong unit, until the final push to Berlin.
One of Bernard’s most astonishing items from his war service is a telegram informing Bernard that Nazi Germany had surrendered, and the war in Europe was over, two days before VE Day on the 8th May, 1945.
The telegram reads: “The German War is now over. At Rheims last night the instrument of surrender was signed which in effect is a surrender of all personnel of the German forces all equipment and shipping and all machinery in Germany.
“Nothing will be destroyed anywhere. The surrender is effective sometime tomorrow. This news will not be communicated to anyone outside the service nor to members of the press”.
Bernard recalls the end of the war in Europe:
On May 7, 1945, the surrender of all German forces took place at General Eisenhower’s HQ at Rheims. The final surrender was in Berlin the following day. I can well remember receiving this message in the cypher office, and also listening to Winston Churchill and King George VI broadcast to the nation. There was great rejoicing on the unit.
After the war in Europe, Bernard was posted to India (from October 1945 to November 1946) where he contacted diphtheria. He was very seriously ill, but didn’t want to worry his mother, so he pretended that he was doing clerical duties in the Dehli hospital – which he did when convalescing!
He was discharged in February 1947, with the following report from his Group Captain:
An exceptionally keen and intelligent N.C.O. He has proved adaptable and painstaking and has worked hard under difficult circumstances. He is a very good athlete.
Bernard returned to his position as clerical officer at Crewe Station, and in 1950 married his wife, Brenda, and bought the house he still lives in for £1500. He has one daughter, Sheila, who supports her father in his fierce independence as he remains an active war veteran, giving talks to cadets and schoolchildren all over the country about the war effort. Even now, the habits of being a serviceman have not been forgotten as he records that: “I still do a lot of things now that I was taught to do in the air force. I always like to put my clothes away neatly and I still keep my shoes polished!”
|Bernard with his daughter Sheila at Armed Forces Day 2023 in Stockport, with Mayor and Mayoress.
Bernard recorded his experience afterwards: “It was a lovely day which I enjoyed, but my right arm was aching. I have never had so many handshakes and congratulations”