- David Render with Stuart Tootal
Chapter 1 is a description of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry's activities on Gold Beach on D-Day. Render describes it as conjecture “... because I wasn't there.“
Chapter 2, as you'd expect, describes his early years and how he got to be on an Escape and Evasion exercise at the culmination of his training on D-Day, aged 19. Then he was summoned to the Orderly Room and given a train warrant to Portsmouth, where he was put in charge of 30 men and tasked with waterproofing a squadron of Cromwells, with two days to complete it. At midday the following day, they loaded the Cromwells onto an LST, and as they finished tying them down, he realised they were at sea, on their way to Normandy.
The following morning, D+4, found them within sight of Normandy, the bow doors opened and he received orders “to get 'my ******* tanks' off his ship.“ The first tank off flipped, turned turtle and disappeared, with its two crewmen lost. Naturally he, the junior officer, copped the blame. Eventually, they got the tanks off, and he spent he day in an orchard like a spare part, witness to the detritus of four days of fighting.
On D+5 a despatch rider arrived, picked him up and dumped him in another orchard, where an officer led him to his troop. It was dark. They were asleep. He crawled into a bivvy alongside his crew. This was his introduction to the Sherwood Rangers, whose D+5 had gone badly. His troop didn't want to know him, they'd been through the desert and Italy with their troop leader, but in Normandy, the snipers ensured that a troop leader's average life expectancy was two weeks.
They were part of 7 Armd Div, and the attitude of his troop matched the oft-repeated story that they felt they'd done their part and it was time for someone else to get killed. The troop sergeant of all people in particular.
They break out of the bocage, cross the Seine, swan across France to Antwerp and support 82 Airborne Division at Nijmegen.
They advance to and across the Rhine and finish up in Bremen, Render's being the first tank in Bremen because, as a young man, he couldn't ask anyone else in his troop to lead. (Render describes having a company of infantry in Ram Kangaroos with them. One of them triggers a naval mine from the port of Bremen being used as an anti tank mine, reducing the Ram and its contents to pink atoms.)
The book is a very easy read (apart from some of the horrors, simply described, that bring tears to the eyes). It pulls no punches.
I might ask if our current generation of teenagers could do what Render's did. I might well be disingenuous. But maybe, given the same dire need, they'd rise to the challenge.
It is an extraordinary first-hand account of Normandy to the Baltic. I've read plenty, but this probably stands above them all, if only because it simply gets on and tells it without going too much into the strategy (which never made it down to troop level. Strategy for them was “Today we take the next hedgeline.“)
I absolutely commend this book. Five Mushroomheads.