Interview by Peter John, November 1999.
George Bunting is at left in the banner above. At right is a photograph by Philippe Bouriez of Bieville, taken on D-Day. The standing soldiers face is obscured with black camouflage paint. A 3rd Division shoulder patch is visible on his left sleeve.
Bookmarks Joining up / The Net / The landing / His first German / Madame Barrette / Reactions of French civilians / Battle experience of officers / Death of Maurice / Tiny and Budgie / Artillery support / Signaller's work / Was the war worth fighting?
George Bunting, summer of 2000. All photos by Chuck Solomon.)
Q: On D-Day, you had been 8 years in the Army?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, I’d joined the Regulars. It was in the family: father had been in the Army, and before him too, for generations. He’d joined in 1905: he’d tried to join for the Boer War, but they told him to go back to school! He would have stayed in too, but he got wounded on the Somme and discharged after that.
Q: Tell me about your early service.
Mr. Bunting: I’d joined in 1936, and from the Depot I went to Pembroke Dock. From there the Battalion went out to the West Indies. I couldn’t go with them, as I was in hospital with peritonitis, so they sent me out later on a civvy boat. It would have been about May 1939, I think, because I missed the Cup Final. We went to Curacao later. We were relieved by the Americans after a time, and came back via the States.
Q: For D-Day, which Company were you with?
Mr. Bunting: Headquarter Company. The officers were the CO, Colonel Maurice, the Adjutant was Radcliffe, and our platoon officer was Lt. Clapham, who later became Colonel. The MT Officer was Captain Beales, or Bales, something like that; Quartermaster was Lt. Targett.
Q: Of those, whom did you have most to deal with?
Mr. Bunting: Clapham, and of course, as I was the Signaller Corporal on the control set I had a fair bit to do with the Colonel as well.
Q: This was the base station for the net?
Mr. Bunting: Yes. They all had 18 Sets. For the base station, if we were legging it we’d have an 18 Set as well, but if we were static we’d have a 19 Set.
Q: Any problems with those?
Mr. Bunting: Yes! By modern standards they were a wash-out. They weren’t trans-receivers, they were two separate units, one on top of the other, and you had to net the one to the other, and then you’d have to net all your company sets. To keep them on net it was quite a job. When they were on net they were pretty good, but only up to a point. You see, the range wasn’t very good, on purpose of course, otherwise you could be picked up by the enemy.
Q: How limited was the range?
Mr. Bunting: I suppose in good conditions about 5 or 6 miles. I remember somebody telling us that from England they’d got Cairo on one, but that would have had to be with a big aerial.
Q: When you were in Normandy, how far behind the various Company HQs would Battalion HQ have been?
Mr. Bunting: We were right up with them, very close. I should say never far behind, especially while we were still in the beach-head. When things spread out a bit more, after Caen, we had more room, but we were never very far behind.
Q: Can you remember what sort of time you landed on the beach?
Mr. Bunting: Not really ….. let me think, it would be about an hour after the first wave. The 8th. and 9th. Brigades had gone in first, then us, 185.
Q: You were under shell- and mortar-fire on the beach, but were you under small-arms fire?
Mr. Bunting: Machine-gun fire, yes, from some of the houses in the first place, Ouistreham. We were supposed to have had a dry landing, but we had to wade, it was up to our chests, and I had to keep the wireless dry.
We went inland only a few hundred yards to an orchard where we assembled and sorted out. Our platoon were very lucky, and we hadn’t had any casualties on the beach.
The company signallers, too, were all right. I think we only had three signallers killed throughout the whole operation, some wounded, of course.
After sorting-out, we moved up then to Beuville and got ourselves dug-in.
Q: Was this in people’s gardens?
Mr. Bunting: No, in little orchards and fields, a lot of the trees had been knocked down of course. We didn’t dig in very deep, just enough to give a bit of cover.
Q: Did you see civilians about?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, there were a few there, but they seemed to disappear somewhere.
We were in the area quite a while and we used to go up from Beuville to Bieville and have a few days up there before we’d swop with the Warwicks, I think. We’d come back to Beuville then: it was supposed to be a rest there, but it was just as bad as being in Bieville, just about! We were comparatively safer, I thought, in the advanced position.
A funny thing happened when we first got to Beuville: there were some German slit-trenches near the chateau, and I was going to jump into one of these with one of the other signallers, when we realised there was a German lying in the bottom of it. We thought he was dead, so we hauled him out, and laid him under the hedge, there were high banks with hedges on. After a few minutes he shook himself, got up and started walking away! He was walking back towards the beach, so we thought we might as well let him go—he couldn’t do any harm down there. He’d been stunned by the shelling.
Q: Was that the first German you’d seen?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, the first I’d seen, as a matter of fact, but we saw a few dead ones quite soon after that. They took a hell of a bashing, you know. There was a place called Lebisey, and we didn’t think anybody would be able to survive the bashing that place got, but quite a lot did. Some gave themselves up, but not many.
Q: Were they all Germans who gave themselves up early on?
Mr. Bunting: No, they weren’t. There were quite a few Poles, who’d been conscripted into the German Army. There was one in particular, I can’t be sure whether he deserted from the Germans, he was quite useful, and told our Intelligence Officer where a lot of the mined areas were.
When we were in Beuville, in the chateau there was a French woman called Madame Barrette. We used to go there and talk to her: she had an invalid daughter. She’d been a nurse. She was quite useful: she used to bandage people, she saved quite a few blokes.
Q: I’d been told she’d been a French Army nurse in the First World War. Was she the right sort of age for that?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, she would have been. As a matter of fact, on the 50th. Anniversary of D-Day, we went over to France, about seven of us from this area, and we went to this chateau. We met this lady, it would have been the daughter of course, getting on now, of course, and another lady. I’ve got some photos somewhere …. No, I think Major York’s got them.
Q: What sort of things did Mme. Barrette do for you?
Mr. Bunting: All sorts of things …. She’d have wine, and she’d give us a drink of wine now and again.. Having been a nurse, when people were lightly wounded she’d look after them.
Q: Was there a Field Ambulance close at hand?
Mr. Bunting: No, not in those early stages, and she seemed to cope with everything that came along. There must have been an Ambulance further back, as there were such a lot of casualties, but not near us.
Q: When you were in Bieville, do you know anything about a big cellar that was used by the population as a shelter, does that ring any bells?
Mr. Bunting: Yes. That was used as a Command Post, I’m sure that was the one. I can’t remember quite where it was though. I think it must have been on the outskirts of the village ….. I think we ran a line to it ….. I think it wasn’t far from the church. The funny thing about that church was, that for all the bombing and shelling, it was still standing.
Church in Bieville
Q: Once the French had realised you weren’t going to be driven back into the sea, and that the Germans weren’t going to come back, were they friendly and co-operative?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, up to a point. The ordinary people seemed all right: there was a baker, we used to get bread from him. He was all right, it was decent bread—we only used to get biscuits otherwise. The big farmers weren’t very happy, though: of course, from what I understand, they’d been getting fat under the Germans, see, flogging their produce, and they’d lost good customers! That’s how it seemed to me, anyway.
Q: Coming back to D-Day, you’d dug in at Beuville: did you stay there for the rest of the day?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, I think we were there. The Companies would go forward .…. X Company under Major Thorneycroft, they got almost into Caen, you know, on the first day, only got stopped on the Lebisey Ridge. I forget just what we did ….. perhaps we went forward a bit, then got pulled back to Beuville. We certainly spent the first night there.
Q: Were you aware of the German armoured attack during the day?
Mr. Bunting: We didn’t suffer from it, really, but being at Headquarters we could hear what was going on over the radio.
When we’d got off the boat, you know, we found it wasn’t as bad as we’d thought. We’d been apprehensive about it, but it wasn’t that frightening, somehow ….. everything had been happening so quickly. We’d thought perhaps we wouldn’t get 100 yards from the beach. There were casualties, of course, but nothing like as many as we’d thought.
You see, the battalion, although there were some older soldiers in it, apart from the Colonel, who’d been in the first lot, you know the BEF, he’d been in France then, and Major Slatter, who was an NCO in the first lot, he’d got a DCM and been commissioned, he was at Dunkirk—apart from that, there were very few who’d seen any action at all. There was Captain Wangford, he was second-in-command of X Company, he’d been in the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps it was just as well ..… if they’d all have been seasoned warriors who’d been in battle, they’d have been more cautious.
Q: Somebody else has suggested to me that some of the officers were almost “too brave”, and didn’t make as much use of their men as they might have, feeling they had to lead from the front.
Mr. Bunting: That’s quite right, you know. Major Steel and Major Wheelock were killed: they were comparatively young officers, and weren’t experienced in warfare at all. Now Major Slatter, he was an old soldier really, he’d been in India, he was wounded soon after D-Day. He came back: he was wounded three or four times out there, but he was quite an able commander, experienced … They were all very brave, I’m not saying they weren’t, but I think were a bit rash, perhaps. Colonel Thorneycroft, he got wounded, but it didn’t stop him going straight back to his company. Col. Thorneycroft had come straight from Sandhurst, and he was at the Depot the same time as I was, and I more or less kept in touch with him until he died. A grand fellow.
Q: As you had both been young men of similar age, and had known
each other a long time, were you able to talk other than formally as
Lieutenant and Private?
The Generals in the First World War, they were just nits .…. Nobody ever saw them, completely out of touch. Our C.O. was a grand bloke, he’d been a Company Commander when we were at Pembroke Dock, but he didn’t come abroad with us, he went for some Staff jobs. It was a very sad thing when he got killed.
Q: He was killed just before the attack on Caen?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, he was killed in a farmhouse by an unlucky shell that came through the roof or a window. That was a big loss. Mind you, we had some good colonels after, but he’d been a real gentleman.
I can always remember when we were back in Scotland, (which was a lot harder than Normandy in some ways!), I was a Lance-Corporal then, and it was raining and snowing, a really horrible night, and I had to go to the hut where the Colonel was, to give him a message. I’d given him the message, and his batman came in with the Colonel’s dinner, and the Colonel said to me, “Have you had your dinner?” “No, sir”, and he said to the batman, “Give it to him”. He was a grand man.
Q: Did he have a nickname?
Mr. Bunting: No, I don’t think so … not like Tiny.
Q: Who was Tiny?
Mr. Bunting: He was the Colonel we had before Jack Maurice, he was out in Curacao with us. He was about 6’7”, so we called him Tiny, of course.
When Captain Radcliffe came to us in Curacao, he came out later, well he had a bit of a beak, you know ….. Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this ..… I heard him ask the CO, “How can I stop the men calling me Budgie?” The CO said “You won’t: I’ve never been able to stop them calling me Tiny!”
Q: The plan had been that you were to have ridden into Caen on the tanks of the Staffs. Yeomanry: Can you remember when you did manage to go into action with them?
Mr. Bunting: It would probably have been in Holland. The forward companies might have been on them before, but the first time Headquarter Company used them was in Holland … I know we went over the Rhine on the Buffaloes …. It was certainly a long time after Normandy.
Q: How much did you see of the tanks while you were training in Scotland?
Mr. Bunting: Not a lot. We’d be in a different area, I suppose. We moved about a lot.
Q: The landing exercises, had you done these with the tanks?
Mr. Bunting: No, I don’t recall so. We could have done, perhaps ..… I know the Carrier Platoon, perhaps they’d done some combined exercises with the Staffs. Yeomanry, but I’m not sure. I never saw much of the tanks. When we first went to Scotland we weren’t with the 3rd. Div. but one of the Scottish Divisions … 52nd. Lowland Div., I think.
Q: How about training with close-support artillery?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, we’d had that. With the 72nd. Field Regiment? I forget the numbering now. Major Rae was their commander, he was good, he was. We saw a lot of him, probably every day, he was always with us. He’d have a FOO, a South African … Dickie Tooth. They were very friendly, and very good. They were spot on with their fire, dead accurate.
Q: Was there an Artillery Liaison Officer with Battalion Headquarters?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, I suppose so. The FOO was with the lead company. He’d communicate with his battery, not to us. We kept close contact, of course, for safety reasons. We weren’t on the same net. There was a white half-track vehicle, with a Corps of Signals operator in that: He’d be in touch with us and the artillery, be the liaison between the two of us.
Q: Col. Roberts told me that he often found that his orders couldn’t get through over the battalion net, and he’d have to get them over the artillery net?
Mr. Bunting: That could be: they’d have been relayed then by the Signals Corporal from the half-track, He’d be in touch with Brigade, as well. He was lucky, too: he had one of those “Moaning Minnies” land on his bonnet, but he got away with it because he’d got his shield down!
I was lucky, too: I’d been repairing a line back to Brigade. Not my job really, as they should have come forward to do it. Anyway, another signaller and I were doing it when a shell pitched just close to us but didn’t go off. It was a dud, thank goodness. That was my closest scrape. If it had gone off, it would have had us! But there were a lot of duds.
Q: Getting back to the radio nets, there’d be an infantry net and an artillery one. How about a net for the armour?
Mr. Bunting: I don’t know about that. They’d be in touch through the Corps of Sigs., I suppose.
Q: How would the C.O. call up armoured support?
Mr. Bunting: Well, he’d have to go through Brigade. He wouldn’t have a squadron of tanks on call.
Q: And you signallers would pass the message?
Mr. Bunting: That would depend. You see, we weren’t in touch with Brigade by wireless, only through the Corps of Signals. The only way we were in touch was by line, by telephone. We had a simple exchange, so were in touch like that, but that wouldn’t be set up unless we were pretty static.
After D-Day, I think we had lines to Brigade, and to the companies, after the first day. We were responsible for running the lines forward to the companies. They used to get churned by tanks and all kinds of things, they’d get cut. We’d string them along hedges as best we could, but there were places where we’d have to cross a road, and then we’d have to leave them, and know they were going to get cut.
Q: Did you finish the war as a Corporal?
Mr. Bunting: At the end of the war, I’d been sent to England on a course, then bombed off to Germany on CCG [Control Commission for Germany]. I didn’t like it. I was Chief Clerk, Acting Warrant Officer. There was nothing to do, sat behind a desk. I applied to get back to the battalion, they were in the Middle East somewhere by then. I’d have stopped in the Army if I could have stayed with the Battalion. I could have come out in 1946, but I stayed on a bit, still hoping to get back to the Battalion. There really was nothing to do, sat down all day. There were half a dozen German girls doing all the work, and an office boy who could speak fluent English. I couldn’t speak any German: I didn’t know what I was doing there, they certainly wouldn’t have missed me!
Q: Had you picked up any French while you were in France?
Mr. Bunting: I learnt French in school, so I could get on not too badly, managed to get on all right with that.
Q: Looking back, if you could have the choice, would you join the Army again?
Mr. Bunting: Oh, yes.
Q: Was the war worth fighting?
Mr. Bunting: Yes, it was really, if the Germans hadn’t been stopped … they’re getting arrogant again now, aren’t they? Not only that, the Germans wanted us to go in with them against the Russians.
Some of the people around now, particularly the youngsters, don’t appreciate what would have happened if we’d lost to the Germans …. I think they should be taught to realise what it was all about. So many people don’t realise, even those in their forties, they don’t seem to know about anything about history, all they seem to know is about pop stars! They should teach them something to realise what could have happened.
Q: Had you been back before you went for the 50th. anniversary?
Mr. Bunting: No, I’d not been bothered about it. I’d been to some of the local reunions …. I only went this time because they wanted someone to carry the banner. They certainly gave us a good time while we were there, but it wasn’t long enough, we were only there three days, so much to cram in.