Twenty year-old John Fenton was a latecomer at No 4 R.A.F. Beach Squadron. He missed out on Combined Operations training in Scotland, joining Squadron H.Q .in camp on Southampton Common and taking part in the last rehearsal landing on Hayling Island. John was a Code & Cypher Sergeant and was part of the H.Q. signal section of 4 Beach Squadron.
Senior NCOs of 4 Beach Squadron HQ in camp on Southampton Common prior to D-Day.
John Fenton (standing, arms folded) is in the centre of the photo
4 Beach Squadron H.Q. signals section comprised a Flight Sergeant Wireless Operator/Mechanic, four Cypher Sergeants, three Wireless Operators, a Wireless Operator/Mechanic and an Aircrafthand General Duties. The signals section officer was Flying Officer W.L. Smith. The signals section maintained the Beach Squadron's wireless link with the U.K. and R.A.F. H.Q s in the beach-head.
The commanding officer of No 4 Beach Squadron was Wing Commander J. E. T. ‘Spud’ Murphy. Apart from the signals section his H.Q. consisted of an adjutant (Flight Lieutenant W. S. Smith), two sergeants, one Corporal Clerk/Pay Accounting (Cpl. C. Woodbridge) and eight airmen. (W. C. Wood was one of the sergeants and Leading Aircraftman Phillips was one of the airmen.)
A late decision that they would be part of Force L, the follow up force on D-Day, saw them moving camp to the grounds of a stately home near Ipswich. At 10pm on 2nd June, John with some fellow members of his signals team, boarded a crowded LCT (Landing Craft Tanks) from specially constructed concrete hards on the banks of the estuary near Felixstowe. They put to sea, at last, just after 9am on 5th June and they arrived off the Normandy coast on D-Day, 6th June without mishap.
It was after dark when John’s LCT finally dropped its ramp on the beach at Gold King Red. The hour was late but they were lucky not to be kept offshore as long as some were and they made a safe landing. Wading through two feet of water they made their way up off the beach to find their assembly point.
After dawn on D + 1, with the signals team and their equipment all assembled in the right place, they selected one of the craters resulting from the air and sea bombardment of the adjacent German battery at Mont Fleury as the site of their signals ‘office’. They enlarged the hole and set up shop. They were near the house with the circular drive, used by the naval Beachmaster, that was a prominent landmark for so many who landed on King Beach. They were also close to the bunkers attacked by Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis of the 6th Green Howards who won the Victoria Cross for his actions on D-Day.
John and the rest of the HQ signals team slept in the trenches abandoned by the Germans. Later they made shelters and then they moved into a damaged house in Mont Fleury, now part of the enlarged village of Ver-sur-Mer.
John kept a brief diary for a while. In it he wrote:
“Thurs 8 June
Lovely morning but hell of a night. Raids most of night. Terrific AA. Didn't feel happy though in slit trench. Stick of bombs dropped 50 yards away. Too close.
Evening. Three of us explored village. Sniped twice....scattered fast.....after lying low a couple of minutes sniped again.
Later. Visiting one of our blokes in Field Hospital - sniped again.
Fri 9 June
Went to bed 2 am after helping out Duty Cypher Sergeant....heard 4 snipers captured....cadged a Field Postcard from another unit, we haven't got any yet. Bags of 'fun and games' going on now. Not so good. I'm on watch all night.
Sat 10 June
Busy. When not on duty, digging ruddy great trenches. All bed and work. Scruffy. A week since I had my clothes off. Some mail arrived - none for me. Two of our blokes got shrapnel wounds last night.
Sunday 11 June
Awakened by sound of church bells in village! Didn't realise till then what day it was. Sent off a very scrappy letter. Busy day.
Mon 12 June
Quiet night - first time. Busy as usual. Jerry fighter/bomber tried a tip and run raid this afternoon. Dropped bombs. Scooted off. Then bang - a dozen Spits saw him off.
Tues 13 June
On duty last night. Pretty hot air raid as usual. Slept after breakfast until tea-time. Busy evening. To bed at midnight. First large batch of mail arrived together with bundle of Thursday's newspapers. From now on we get bundle of 3 or 4 days old newspapers from the Army Post Office with our letters. One letter for me written 1 June.
Wed 14 June
Got 20 German prisoners to do some digging for us today. No mail for me. We can now say we are in France when we write.
Thurs 15 June
Hot day. One of our fellows killed by mine tonight digging trench. Very tough luck. No mail.
Fri 16 June
No mail. On duty last night. What a night. Bags of AA. Slept during day. Got a few letters written in evening.
Sat 17 June
Ocean Swell won the Derby. Too bad. One of our Sgts opened a book on the boat coming over. I had two shillings on Growing Confidence. I've had it.....Bags of mail at the APO....24,000 mailbags we're told, but they can't cope. By the time they get it sorted out, it will be out of date....The old Ramilles is knocking hell of our Jerry at the moment. (The battleship HMS Ramilles was firing over our heads.)
Sun 18 June
Not on duty until midnight so as things slackening off spent the morning in bed. Frank Gillard (BBC War correspondent) broadcasting (alongside us). In evening went on tour of exploration. Got bowl of milk and two eggs. Distributed four bars of chocolate.
Mon 19 June
On duty all night. What a lousy day! Strong wind blowing heavy rain into every corner. Eating meals in rain no joke. Two letters from home. Frank Gillard broadcasting again.
Tues 20 June
Filthy day. Not worth writing about.
Wed 21 June
Sea still rough. Sole topic of conversation. If this keeps up we're going to be in Queer St.
Thurs 22 Jun
Weather improved. Still strong wind. Had trip to Bayeux this morning. Glad to see shops and civilisation again. Bought a pipe for 130 francs. Got letter from home written 12 June.
Have just seen a Fortress crash. And what a crash! Crew baled out A/C caught fire and dived - straight at us! We ran like hell. One chap looking upwards as he ran fell into trench. He's still getting his leg pulled. Fortunately, plane turned over in the air, levelled off a little and so missed us by about a mile. It was a tense moment while it lasted. It blew up with a devil of an explosion.
Pretty hot air raid during night. Bags of shrapnel whizzing around. Unexploded shell just whizzed over our heads and hit the ground in the middle of the dugouts. It was a nasty moment. Of course now we are all laughing about our various reactions to it.
Fri 23 June
Just found out all the whistles we heard last night were from shells. Jerry was shelling the beach. No wonder we felt so windy. Scrounged a loaf of bread, four tomatoes and some tobacco from the Navy.
Sat 24 June
Had photo taken by War Correspondent. Scrounged lot of bread, sausages and oats from Navy. Will be able to live in luxury for a while.
Sun 25 June
Usual air raid last night. This time dozens of flares dropped. Looked quite pretty. After cooking breakfast spent most of day in bed. Been on duty all night.
Mon 26 June
Heavy bombardment went on all last night and this morning. Offensive started. Rained most of day and night. Bags of bailing done by us all. Pretty deadly. Went for a walk. Called in usual French house in Crepon and got two pints milk each.
Tues 27 June
Drying clothes today. Cherbourg fallen. Balloon Flight airman next to us lost eye from unexploded bomb 'coming to life'.
Great event. Army have got cinema organised in Bayeux. Five of our unit allowed to go tonight - I'm one. Anti-climax. No film. Saw very 'raw' show staged by a few of the blokes.
Wed 28 June
Moved (from trenches) into house in village (of Ver-sur-Mer). Great. Very busy. (We) Senior NCO's bagged best room as usual. Nicely organised. Built myself a bunk with planks and compo boxes. Fixed up a shelf, a towel line and a bookcase! Electric Light fixed up. Home Sweet Home.
Thurs 29 June
Hell of a day. Working dawn till dusk. Last three nights no air raids. Jerry's slipping.
Fri 30 June
Another busy day. Managed a bath though. Had a devil of a job slinging a 30' x 30' tarpaulin over the (damaged) roof of our house. Air raids returned tonight.
Sat 1 July
Fine day. Took it easy for a change. Did laundry.
Mon 3 July
Saw 'Stars in Battledress' at Crepon. Blue as could be. Would appreciate a female show. First parcel arrived from home.
Fri 7 July
500 Lancs (and Halifaxes) dropped 2300 tons of bombs on Caen (this evening). What a sight! The most awe inspiring I've seen.
Sat 8 July
Monty starts push for Caen. Terrific artillery support.
Sun 9 July
The diary ended there.
Late in July, John was sent on detached duty to work at No 89 Embarkation Unit, R.A.F. in Arromanches. He returned to England with the rest of 4 Beach Squadron at the end of August. The Beach Squadron was disbanded and John was immediately posted to 83 Group Control Centre, crossing the Channel again, passing through 89 Embarkation Unit at Arromanches and catching up with 83 GCC outside Brussels in mid September 1944.
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