World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Cyril Elliott

Landing In Normandy

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Cyril Elliott
Location of story: England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany
Unit name: Northumberland Fusiliers


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ team on behalf of Cyril Elliott.


I was working on Arundel Lane when the war broke out. I was nineteen years old at the time and was in a reserved profession: a blacksmith making wood boring tools and other kinds of tools. I was in South Street post office when a landmine dropped on Walker and Hall’s. I thought, “I’m out of here,” so I walked up Charles Street, and a bomb fell on the corner of The Empire. I walked up Norfolk Street where there was a cinema called The Tivoli, which was burning. I made my way back down and finished up under the Central Library all night. Eventually, I walked home through The Wicker; I had to find my way through boulders, because they had dropped a bomb on the Wicker Arches. I touched some tram wires and I was terrified at that point; I thought they were still live.

I arrived at Shiregreen and got my brothers up to go to work, and I too walked it back to work, after having been out all night.

Shortly after this, I joined the Home Guard but my work wouldn’t allow me to do this; I was working until nine o’clock every night, so I had to pack it in. But, six months after that, I was called up. First I was sent to Newcastle, to a place called Gosforth, Sandy Lane, near the racecourse, to be more precise. There, I did six weeks training with the Northumberland Fusiliers. When we’d done with that, they asked me what I’d prefer to do. I said I didn’t fancy footslogging, so I opted for learning to drive. Amazingly, I was sent to Endcliffe Hall in Sheffield, to learn to drive. So, I went up and down the dales in Derbyshire, learning to drive. When that was done with, I was posted to Bradford where a bridge company was regrouping. We started moving about doing manoeuvres, working with engineers putting bridges over gaps and things like that. We went all over the country doing that.

The next place I was sent to was Westgate-on-Sea, near Margate in Kent. When they were planning the landing on the beaches in Normandy, we had to come from Westgate, right round and eventually cross over the River Thames and on to Tilbury Docks. There we loaded onto an American liberty ship. I’d never been on a ship before in my life. Straight away, on the first night, they put me on a watch duty, something I’d never done before; it frightened me to death. What a sight! Seeing all those ships going down the channel heading for the beaches. Then we had to wait outside while they got a bridgehead on the beaches. They couldn’t get the landing craft close enough to the beach; we’d waterproofed all the vital parts of the engine, so that the water couldn’t get in (because we had to plough through the water then), but the chap in charge of the landing craft said, “For goodness sake, keep your foot on the accelerator pedal, I can’t get close enough into the beach.”

Then we had to strip all the waterproofing stuff off, otherwise it’d overheat. Eventually, we started advancing. There were loads of people lying about dead, troops etc. Eventually, we got to a place called Vernon, on the River Seine. The engineers built a bridge over the river there; they’d just about got it completed, when it was hit. There was a tiger tank on the other side; they sent the Air Force in to bomb it out.

There was a barracks in Vernon where, the French resistance had been rounding up all the young ladies who had been fraternising with the Germans. They tied their hands behind their back and to a chair, and they shaved all their hair off. They were screaming and crying.

Anyway, we kept advancing until we got as far as Brussels, where we stayed for a couple of nights, in an avenue of trees. A young lady came up and gave me a photograph of herself, which I still have today. From Brussels, we moved to a place called Hasselt, which is a short distance from the Ardennes, where the Germans made their last push through. We then had to go up to the ‘Bridge Too Far’, but we were cut off by the Tiger Tanks, so we dropped back and went up through Nijmegen. I was on guard that particular night, and I could hear something going: “Crack, crack, crack,” getting closer. My tin hat shot up in the air. I said to my friend, “What’s that, what’s that?” Eventually, I shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” It could have been anybody. The leader said, “What the heck are you doing here? There should be nobody over this side of the bridge." Well, we’d made another bridge ready for the next move. He said, “Take me to your Officer, we’ve got to get back over that bridge as soon as possible." We went back, loaded up, and went into Germany, through Dusseldorf, into Duisburg and right up into Hamburg.

I’d been driving an open fronted vehicle, no windscreen in it, so, being winter, I had two coats on and my legs were wrapped up, balaclava round my head. Just after the war had ended, I finished up with pneumonia. I was in Hanover Royal Hospital, from where I went to the Baltic Coast to convalesce. There was a harbour there, and a ship was burnt out. There were some Germans who were fishing for mackerel. They were pulling Mackerel out, left, right and centre. I said to one of them, “What is that ship there?” He said, “That was a battleship from Deutschland."

So, when the Germans surrendered, I was sent back from Hamburg, right back through Germany, Holland, Belgium and into France. We got as far as Lille, and we were surrounded by the Germans, and the French people were shouting, “Le borsch finir.” From that, we presumed the Germans had surrendered.

After the war was over, I continued in Germany for another two years; I was transferred from the Bridge company to a Tank Transporter company. After that, we were put onto a Swedish luxury liner to be brought home. After I arrived back in Britain, I went to York and got demobbed. I kept my uniform for quite a number of years after that.