Wounded in Action (N.W. Europe 1944-45) - 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment

Private Tommy Dutton (14577577)
(17 Platoon, ‘D’ Company)

Tommy Dutton was called up for army service in 1943 received his initial training at the Infantry Training Centre (I.T.C.) at Norton Barracks. During his training he broke a wrist had had to receive hospital treatment. On his return to the Depot at Norton Barracks he was posted to Market Rasen. In March 1944 he was selected to join the 1st Battalion at Hythe where he joined 17 Platoon of ‘D’ Company.

Private Tommy Dutton

Tommy saw action throughout Normandy but was later wounded at Vernonnet during the Seine crossing at the end of August 1944. Below Tommy recalls what happened:

It was now nearly dawn on 26th August 1944. We were ordered to form up ready to move towards the bridge. I was in ‘D’ Company, and it was well into daylight before our turn came to cross via the damaged bridge. We crossed in single file with distance between each man, in case of casualties by enemy mortar or small-arms fire. Luckily no action was encountered, although it was a difficult obstacle to negotiate, the way the bridge had fallen.

On arriving on the north side of the bridge at Vernonnet, we found it was badly damaged and still on fire, lots of buildings in a state of collapse. With brick-ends and debris under our feet we moved on down the street to a small church on our left; we moved up the side of this church, through the churchyard, up through the cemetery, over a fence into a small field beyond, which was surrounded by hedges. Suddenly there was an exchange of small-arms fire up ahead. Our 16 Platoon had encountered the enemy. I plainly remember lying in a deep fold in the ground while this was going on. The sun was well up now and rather warm. I must have shown signs of dozing off to sleep when the voice of L/Cpl Whitehouse came from a few yards away to my right, shouting “Dutton, don’t go to sleep, you bloody fool, your life may depend on it!” With that, we were ordered to rise up and go forward on the same axis as 16 Platoon. It was then we could see where the skirmish had been; a German lay dead at the side of the track, his face and front body blown away. He was wearing a stick grenade stuffed in the top of his tunic when fired on by 16 Platoon commander. One bullet exploded the grenade.

Continuing over fields and small wooded areas into open country, all this time our own artillery was firing smoke shells which were meant to be in front, but the smoke containers were falling short among us chaps. The empty containers were whizzing down all around us. Soon we moved beyond their range, past what looked like a disused factory; we continued on and reached our objective. The order came to dig shallow slit trenches and settle down for the night, so we curled up in our trenches with our gas capes wrapped around us. These were needed because it rained most of the night - we were too tired to care.

Through most of this sleepless night German vehicles could be heard moving in front of us.

It was soon the daybreak of our second day this side of the river Seine (27th August 1944). We had received our orders, which were that we should move to our left onto the road leading to the village of Tilly, to capture the village and hold it! We arrived on the road and formed up ready for the advance, ‘D’ Company leading, 16 Platoon, 17 Platoon, 18 Platoon and so on in line of advance. One section on the right of the road, the other a few yards back on the left, with space between each man. Orders came to start the advance. The road cut between a thickly wooded high slope on the right, falling down to our left with very little visibility on both sides on the road. The leading section of 16 Platoon on the right started their advance. They had not travelled more than 20 - 25 yards, into a slight bend, when it was fired on by a well-concealed machine-gun at a small road junction up the road. This burst of fire scattered the first section, wounding Lieut. Stan Trimnell, his batman and his runner. This sudden attack halted the advance until this weapon had been silenced.

Climbing the damaged bridge at Vernon (Sept. 1944)

I remember while I was lying in a ditch at the side of the road a little further back, one of our lads came running down the road with a German prisoner, and as this German was running it was as though his helmet was too large for him - it was moving backwards and forwards over his eyes, and all the time he was shouting, “Tanks”, “Tanks”. His captor prodded him in the back and said, "I'll give you bloody tanks”.

The forward platoon was still pinned down with fire from the undergrowth; it appeared to be a long encounter. It was at this stage that one of our armoured cars came along the road to help. It had no sooner arrived when it was knocked out of action.

For the first time as I remember since being in action, we were ordered to take our small packs off our backs and place them in piles at the side of the road. It would be the first time in battle without our packs.

There was still action up in 16 Platoon area; one of the forward sections reported hearing what sounded like tanks, but none could be seen. It was ordered at this point that a small patrol would go up forward on the high ground to investigate. This patrol would consist of a new second lieutenant (W. F. Jennings) who had joined us so recently at the time I did not know his name, platoon Sergeant Sid Potter, and three more men including myself. (The first time, incidentally, that the platoon had been commanded by a commissioned officer since the battle for Mouen; Sgt Potter had been forced to take command because of so many casualties.) So as ordered we proceeded up the right-hand side of the road, the hilly side; on the way we passed one of our 6-pounder anti-tank guns, still limbered up to the carrier awaiting instructions. As I passed, the gun commander L/Sgt Bill Bratt (who was from my home town of Bromsgrove, Worcestershire) said, “Hi, Bromsgrove, how are you? I’ll see you when you come back down.”

Route de Tilly taken by the Worcesters
(27th August 1944)

It was now at this point we veered off to climb up this thickly wooded high ground, which rose very sharply and was thick with bracken and bramble. I remember as we were struggling up this slope, a shower of mortar bombs came screaming overhead. The new officer seemed a little nervous of these, but very quickly Sergeant Potter put his mind at rest, and through his past experience said, “That’s alright, sir, they’re not for us - that lot’s for the bridge behind us.” So on we struggled, until we came to the end of the wooded area of the high ground.
Looking out of the woods into the bright sunshine of a field beyond, there no more than fifty yards away was a German Tiger tank. As we all lay in cover looking through the hedge at this monster, two of the crew put out their cigarettes and climbed aboard, as the tank’s engines started up and it started to move along the far hedgerow away from us. The sergeant said to the officer, “It looks like they might be buggering off like his mates have been doing all night, sir.” In reply to this the officer said, “OK then lads, let’s go back down on the road.” With that we scrambled back down to the road below. As we walked back down the road we saw two of our 6-pounder anti-tank guns being deployed on the road, one on the bend, the second one – L/Sgt. Bill Bratt’s gun - on the opposite side of the road further back. During this attack L/Sgt. Bratt was so badly wounded in the face and died of shock the next day.

As I drew level with the first gun, the shouts of the tank alert came from further up the road. It appeared that the tank we had been viewing up on the slope had not decided to “bugger oft” as Sergeant Potter suggested, it was on its way down this road towards us. The gun commander Jack Guest said to me, “Nipper, get down in the ditch by the side of the road, because if I have to fire this gun, the blast will knock you down on your arse.” I promptly did. As the tank rumbled towards us it rounded a bend and was just only half visible when the order came to “Fire”. Pte Tommy Wilkinson on the gun fired its first shell which was a hit; as it wriggled back in the hope of safety more rounds were pumped into it, soon setting it on fire. As the crew bailed out they were dealt with by the lads of 16 platoon.

It was at this stage another German tank appeared in a field by the side of the first tank; there was infantry with this one. It was clear that being on this road at this time was not a nice place to be, as the road and verges were being fired on by the second tank’s small-arms, and there was a lot of shouting from the German infantry up on the high ground. The bullets bounced off the road and ripped up the verges.

It was at this time we were ordered to withdraw back down the road to the next company’s positions; no order was ever obeyed as quickly as this one, with bullets at our heels we were jet-propelled. I was running like mad down this road with a comrade, Teddy Harris. A bullet hit the road behind him and flew up into his back, but we still kept running. At this time we came level with one of our majors (Major Benn), stood on the side of the road, shouting, “Stop, stop!” We halted. He first ordered us to dig in where we were, then changed his mind and told us to go up the slope to meet the attack. Major Benn was killed by the bullets of the second tank doing his duty, by his side Pte. Charlie Long (his batman) was hit by several bullets across the stomach and died the next day.

German Tiger Tank knocked out by Private Tommy Wilkinson

On the way up, I remember a Pte. Les Lunnon, another Bromsgrove lad, was coming down the slope carrying the Bren gun by the carrying-handle. Blood was oozing out of his wrist over the Bren; he asked someone to open his hand so that he could let go of the Bren gun because he was unable to do so. He had been hit by a bullet through the wrist. After this was done, he wrapped his wrist up, and rushed over to the major and said words to the effect: “Get the lads down from there, sir, or they will all be killed.” The major did not respond to this; he read the situation better than us private soldiers on the ground. We were too frightened for our lives to understand.

The Tiger tank continued down the road shooting up both anti-tank guns and carrier, inflicting many casualties from both gun crew and infantry personnel. In the meantime as we were ordered we clambered up the slope towards the noisy Germans. It was thickly wooded, very close country. It was halfway up the slope that I too was struck by a German bullet, a scalp wound;. This bullet penetrated the front rim of my steel helmet and out through the back rim, running along the side of my head. They don’t come any closer. I was one of 65 casualties from this action. On its progress down the road the second tank knocked out both anti-tank guns, wounding members of both crews and shooting up the carriers that hauled the guns.

I remember finishing up back down on the road; how I came to get there I do not know. One of the lads was leaning over me, then someone said, “Take him back to R.A.P”. Pte. Les Lunnon, who had been wounded in the wrist, helped me back to the R.A.P. The medical officer had us both put on an ambulance and back across the river, this time by ambulance. Back to Port en Bessin Normandy Military Hospital.

Field Ambulance crossing the Seine at Vernon to collect casualties

After recovering in England Tommy rejoined the 1st Battalion back in Holland in October 1944. This time he was posted to ‘A’ Company. Shortly after arriving he had a battle accident and had to be taken off strength. After treatment he was posted to a non front line role for the rest of the war although he remained in Europe. Tommy was finally demobbed in June 1947.

View of the road Route de Tilly as it looks today
Photo is taken from the anti-tank position of the 16 Platoon, ‘D’ Company.
The German machine gun position was ahead just before the road junction.

1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 'D' Company - 17 platoon at Turnpike Camp, Hythe (April 1944)
Back row: Pte. Allsop, Pte. Darby, Pte. Bill Orridge, Pte. Garbett, Pte. Dick Bradley, Pte. Bates,
Pte. Charlie Wakeley, L/Cpl. Frederick Baker, Pte. Webster, Pte. Stotesbury
Middle row: Pte. Bert Storey, Pte. Tom Dutton, Pte. Matthews, Pte. Bradbury, Pte. Jewkes, Pte Ankers,
Pte. Howard, Pte. Nicholls, Pte. Quinney, Pte. Hemmings, Pte. Mayling, Pte. Gough, Pte. Gough
Front row: Pte. Fields, Pte. Cullum, L/Cpl. Whitehouse, Cpl. F. H. Bozward, Lieut. Ron Newman, Major Peter Weston, L/Cpl. Ward, Cpl. Potter, Pte. Rockall, Pte. Carter

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