Thursday, April 08, 2010

June 6th 1944 by Lt. G.P. Baxter, Royal Marines

2004 photograph of the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London
(Photograph by J. Ritson)

For Lieutenant Baxter's account of the D-Day Landings please click on 'Comments' below'

4 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Introduction

On 8 June 1946 my late uncle, Tom Ritson, represented the Cumberland Miners in the WW2 Victory Celebrations. In 2010 my cousins - Tom's daughters - were going through a book belonging to their father and found a handwritten letter Tom had received in 1946 from an officer in the Royal Marines.

This officer, a Lieutenant G.P. Baxter had taken part in the Normandy Landings on D-Day, 6 June 1944, which is the subject of most of the letter. This short personal account about D-Day 6 June 1944 has been transcribed below.


Additional information (1)

June 6th 1944 by Lt. G.P. Baxter, Royal Marines
(Originally written on 9 June 1946)

"Yesterday as I mounted with the Naval contingent, my mind kept turning back two years and two days; back to June 6th 1944, when I was in charge of a support craft covering a Landing Party east of Arromanches. Odd little pictures kept flashing through my brain. The uneventful voyage out with nerves and eyes strained for the attack that never came. Then, H-hour minus three minutes - being lowered into the support craft 100 yards from the enemy and cruising up and down firing all the time.

I recalled the thought uppermost in my mind as we went in -

"How many of our friends am I going to lose?"

I remembered how we trained together as one team; how on D minus Six in Southampton Civic Centre we were told of this "exercise" to be kept secret.

We knew all right: this was it! Yesterday I recaptured that queer feeling: the thrill of knowing the world's greatest secret and meeting people who knew nothing.

I could almost taste yesterday the double rum we had before we started; and too, that awful 'compo' tea.

I felt again the incredible weight of a fully-equipped wounded man. During patrol we ran across an amphibious tank caught in an obstacle with eight wounded men aboard. I took four off. What a hell of a job it is to pick out of the water a man with soaking clothes.

Then there was the accurate mortar and 88 mm fire from the beach as we dodged about. I did not think we could live. Then the night Ack-Ack and bombing beat any firework display. It was completely shattering.

Odd, the pleasant moments crammed in on me too: the joy of writing the first Active Service Card home; the pleasure of knowing it would get home; the two fried eggs we had for breakfast; the companionship of training; the laughs and the tiredness; and above all the amazing speed with which June 6th passed.

Now, in three days I'm out! This was my last parade, but it was worth it.

Lieut. G.P. Baxter"
____________________

Friday, 09 April, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information (2)

Exactly how Tom came across Lieut. Baxter at the Victory Celebrations we do not now know. However, two of Tom's brothers-in-law lost their lives during the Normandy campaign. One of them - Marine Robert Casson - was actually posted as having been killed on D-Day 6 June 1944. As Robert had been a Royal Marine the same as Lt Baxter, it is possible Tom may have mentioned this when they met, and this is why Lt Baxter later sent the above letter.

So far as we know, Lt Baxter's brief account of D-Day was filed away has not been seen for some years. It is obviously a just brief personal account of what happened in what was the last great invasion on the Western European mainland of WW2. Written a mere two years after the D-Day, and only a few days after the Victory Celebrations in London, there are some deep emotions conveyed in what has been written: the excitement, the comradeship, the loss of friends, the terrible things that people live through in war.

The ending of Lt Baxter’s account is rather significant. In spite of all the terrible hardships of the war and the loss of friends, what is it that Lt Baxter says? Although the WW2 Victory march was his last parade, it had been worthwhile. The war had been long and hard and not without some cost. Nevertheless, victory had been achieved and a relative degree of peace had been restored.

Additional information (3)
(A personal reflection made in April 2010)

During the WW2 Victory Celebrations’ in June 1946 many of those who took part laid a wreath at the Whitehall Cenotaph in honour of all those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice along the way to achieving victory and peace. At the time of writing this article, in April 2010 the time is n 2010 time is moving closer to a very important date for The Royal British Legion and the rest of the country. May 8th 2010 is the 65th anniversary of VE Day – the day WW2 ended in Europe in 1945.

Many of the men and women who survived the “People’s War” – those whose heroic actions led us to victory, are now frail and elderly. If ever there was a time for later generations to thank them, then this is the time.

Additional information (4)
(April 2010)

The Royal British Legion is marking May 8th 2010 as ‘The Nation’s Greatest Ever Salute’. This will probably be the last big ‘salute’ for WW2 veterans, many of whom are still in need of assistance because of age and infirmity. The following is an extract from the Royal British Legion website.



In a month’s time, we have a very special anniversary to commemorate, one of the most significant dates in British history: VE Day.

May 8th, 1945 was the day when the whole country heaved a united sigh of relief and celebrated the end of World War II in Europe. Hitler had been defeated and the War was finally over. For that one day normal life was suspended as people flooded into London and towns and cities across the nation.

Bunting and flags bedecked buildings and homes, public lighting was switched on for the first time in years – the spirit of the country was lifted after six long years of struggle and uncertainty.

We owe the men and women who fought on land, sea and air during World War II our thanks. They gave us our freedom.

65 years later, on May 8th, 2010, the Legion is commemorating VE Day with The Nation's Greatest Ever Salute to thank our now elderly World War II heroes. After laying a wreath at the Cenotaph, these veterans will walk to Horse Guards Parade where they will be greeted by thousands of VE65 flags, each with its own tribute.


Acknowledgements:

1. My cousins, Mary and Josephine, for the information from Lt Baxter

2. The Royal British Legion

Friday, 09 April, 2010  
Blogger Catherine L said...

This is amazing Joseph, and how documents of that kind can still turn up after so many years is just wonderful. I am tempted to say, novel stuff, but it is real, and there is certainly more to come lying in old suitcases and boxes in forgotten attics...
Thanks for posting this.

Friday, 09 April, 2010  
Blogger Peter G said...

I can only agree with Catherine, Joseph. That is an amazing letter and with details you don't see in official accounts: the double tot of rum and being lowered into the water three minutes before H hour.

This is a very important addition to the blog, thank you for posting it.

Sunday, 11 April, 2010  

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