Tim Donoghue – 1st Battalion South Lancashire Regiment
Tim was born in Openshaw, Manchester on 8th June 1921, as the second youngest of a family of six (he had four older brothers and one younger sister).
When he went to school, he hated it and couldn’t wait to leave. His family moved to Diamond Terrace, Hawk Green, Marple when he was in his teens and, leaving school at the first opportunity, his first job was at Goyt Mill, Hawk Green.
He joined the army in 1938 as a regular in the South Lancashire Regiment, lying about his age to avoid becoming a boy soldier. The 1st Battalion South Lancashire Regiment were sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1939 and Tim was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He recalled his experiences of Dunkirk, describing how he was out on a ‘mole’ (a pier-like construction) waiting to be picked up, when an officer shouted that he wanted the South Lancs and East Yorks regiments back on the beach. Tim felt they were ‘sitting ducks’ but returned as ordered and shortly afterwards the ‘mole’ was attacked by a Stuka dive-bomber, killing many men. At Dunkirk Tim had been burned on his back by an explosion and by the time he eventually returned home (on a 72 hour pass) his mother had already received a telegram telling her he was ‘Missing in Action presumed dead’. His response was ‘Well, I knew where I was’.
He was given 3 weeks sick leave after seeing the family doctor and he then returned to his unit who were under canvas in the south of England. As he was escorted through woods he saw the Sergeant Major waiting. Tim had his doctor’s papers ready but as he approached, the Sergeant Major said ‘You’re dead and buried Donoghue, what are you doing here?’ Tim started to explain but the Sergeant Major took the papers and tore them up and said ‘You’ve come back lad; that’s all that matters’. The losses sustained by all the regiments involved in the Dunkirk evacuation meant that even battle-hardened sergeant majors were pleased to account for additional survivors. Tim was then sent to Dover as part of Front-Line Britain, protecting the coast against the expected invasion.
As the expectation of imminent invasion subsided, the Battalion was sent to Scotland where they did four years Commando training as part of the British 3rd Infantry Division (Monty’s Ironsides/The Iron Division) 8th Brigade in preparation for the planned Allied invasion. At the end of these four years he reckoned he could ‘walk on a washing line’ such was the level of fitness. During these four years, Tim made the decision to go on a mortar team.
The Normandy Campaign
The 8th Brigade of the 3rd Div. was made up of the 1st Battalion South Lancs, 2nd East Yorks. and the 1st Suffolks. For the Normandy landings, they were put onto Landing Craft on the South Coast on the 3rd June (the day his younger sister married) and sailed across the Channel. On 6th June the warships opened fire over their heads and they knew that was the signal they were waiting for. At sea the Royal Navy were in charge and at about 7.15am a Motor Launch came between the Landing Craft and ordered ‘Get ready to ‘stand to’, Lads’ and then a few minutes later the commanding officer on their craft said ‘Battle Order’ (meaning get your kit on) and then ‘Stand to’, just before the ramp dropped. The South Lancs. landed at Le Breq on Sword Beach just before 7.30am. Due to the delay for bad weather they’d been on these flat-bottomed boats for three days and when asked how they felt when the ramp of the landing craft dropped on D-Day, he said ‘We’d been sick as dogs for three days; we were just glad to get off the bloody things’.
Their Colonel was shot almost as soon as he landed on the beach. Tim’s mate (Jimmy Cartwright) was hit by machine gun fire and fell at the side of him. Tim said: ‘The Beach-master shouted ‘Leave your mates – Get off the Beach – the medics are coming’, and you had to leave them’.
The South Lancs. were clear of the beach after about an hour and their next objective was the small town of Hermanville, about one mile inland, and then Caen.
On the approach to Hermanville, the troops were coming under heavy sniper fire from the buildings. They were ordered to get the mortars on them and follow that up with a grenade attack. When they got into the buildings, they found that many of the dead snipers were women. Tim found this very distressing to talk about even 60 years later.
A few months later, a shell landed just behind Tim’s Bren carrier as the mortars were being loaded back on to move position. The German artillery had located them before they could move. Several men from the unit were killed, Tim was blown from the platform and knocked unconscious by the blast. When he came round he tried to walk but the bottom of his boot was missing and part of his heel had been blown away. He was patched up at a field hospital, given new boots and sent back. He continued to serve up to the end of the war, able to ride on the carrier, and afterwards was policing in Germany for several months. It was a couple of years later that the injury was finally treated and the large pieces of shrapnel removed at a military hospital near Liverpool. Small pieces were left in, and removed as they came to the surface, the most recent piece being removed in the 1980s.
On subsequent visits to France with the Stockport Veterans, Tim became friendly with the town’s mayor, Yannick Langlais. He told Tim that on 6th June 1944, he was just a small boy of about five, but he remembered hearing the shelling and his father telling all the family to hide in the cellar until he could find out what was going on. He disappeared and came back just a few minutes later, smiling, and shouting ‘The streets are full of British soldiers’. The town’s flag from that time was presented by Yannick to Tim during one of his visits, and Tim felt it should be kept at Our Lady and the Apostles Church by Father Vin, not in the Town Hall at Stockport.
In 1999 on a trip to France to commemorate the 55th anniversary of D-Day, a serving officer got off a coach as Tim stood nearby and said ‘There’s a chap on our coach who’s seen your cap-badge and recognised it – he thinks he knows you’.
When Tim walked to the coach a man came down the steps and as they looked each other in the eye, Tim realized it was Jimmy Cartwright. The machine gun had taken his leg off just below the knee but he had survived whilst Tim had thought he’d been dead for the past 55 years.
Tim said ‘Sorry Jimmy, the Beach master said leave your mates’. Jimmy laughed and said ‘Aye, and you bloody did, didn’t you?’
After the war, Tim worked for short periods at Strines Printworks and Bowaters before moving to Swizzels Matlow where he worked until his retirement in 1986. He married Leah in 1949 and lived in New Mills, where they raised their family. He unfortunately passed away on 9th March 2009, just five months before their Diamond Wedding anniversary in July.
Remembrance Day 2006
Tim and Jimmy Cartwright reunited in 1999