The Second front

Whilst clearing out a friend’s house in Bournemouth following her death, Robert Mott found a letter by Betty Marston, who served in the RAF as an armoury truck driver. The letter is a fascinating account of the D-Day landings.

The Second front – June 6, 1944.

For just over a week we have been confined to camp with all days off cancelled.

We all knew that something big was about to happen, especially on Sunday when we were told to stand-by all night and the ground staff were all frantically busy painting white bands on tugs and gliders.

Everything was loaded; jeeps, containers, first aid kits and what-have-you?

Nothing happened that night, but everyone was working at high pressure and tempers were a little frayed.

On Monday around 17.00 hours I was told to stand by with my 3 ton truck by the armoury all night. I was pretty sure then that this was IT, and it gave me a bunched up feeling inside.

The tension that evening was colossal! I have never seen a more impressive sight. Kites were lined up along the runways with their crews standing-by, not showing their feelings but laughing and talking the way air-crew do. Ground-crew were dodging about giving final check-overs. Gliders in the background looking like over grown zebras. Towing wagons and drivers were at the ready.

The briefing room had been full all day, and every time I passed I saw the laughing, jostling crowd.

Towards evening loads of Canadian Paratroops arrived all in marvellous spirits with a cheery word for everyone.

I was around the kites when they embarked, faces black, helmets camouflaged and large packs on their backs. An officer was taking flash photos as they numbered off prior to getting into the planes and later on, of the take-offs.

I had said cheerio to my pals the Glider Pilots who were going on the first wave. The ones who were going later acted as though they were being barred from a picnic they were so disappointed.

22.30 hours, zero hour approaching. A coughing roar and the twin engined bombers start warming up. Air-crew shout a few words to ground-crew who are still working with a will. There wasn’t one case of ‘binding’ that night, everyone worked in unison.

23.00, zero hour. The first plane taxis to the run-way and takes off. I had been loading the planes with ammo, but at take-off time was at the side of the run-way in use.

When all the planes had taken off the Flight Sergeant had me drive him around the different flights so that he would check on the ammunition, then we went back to the armoury and had a quick snack, bacon sandwich and hot sweet cocoa which we didn’t realise just how much we needed as there had been too much action, excitement and tension during the previous hours to think of food.

01.00 Tugs and gliders lined up ready to go. The sky was very cloudy obscuring the moon but making the lights on the air-craft, perimeter and flare-path look like a holiday resort in peace time.

All off safely and once again around the Flights for check-ups. Nothing to do but wait for the planes to come back.

02.00 The drone of the planes as they circle to land. The excitement, counting them in, keeping all our fingers crossed. They all made it, one only shot up around the tail. Everyone talking at once, questions, answers and laughter. One glider was down three miles from the French coast, but they were all picked up. What a relief we felt out there on the perimeter track in the middle of a chilly wet night.

The tugs are expected back at 04.00 but there is no chance of a rest as we have to go off and check up on the planes.

Almost before I knew it plane landing lights were over the aerodrome and once again the agony of counting them in and the relief when the last one touched down.

07.30 and we are all through for the night, tired and dirty but with a wonderful feeling of satisfaction at having played a very infinitesimal part in the launching of the Second Front.

 

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