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Many acts of bravery were performed that afternoon. Corporal Ratnage, firing his bren gun from the hip, dashed forward along the road and knocked out an enemy spandau; he later died most gallantly attacking another enemy post. Small sections were formed hurriedly, and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy who advanced regardless of casualties. Major Guy Browne tried to locate C Coy on the right flank to order them to attack and recapture the cross-roads. Captain Tyrell Holdsworth maintained contact with Brigade HQ throughout the fight, while the CO was supervising the defence of the area. Maj Mike Holdsworth, assisted by Captain Peter Cox, the anti-tank platoon commander, while re-organising a company locality, were suddenly confronted by ten Germans. Cox's sten gun jammed, but a grenade thrown by Holdsworth dispersed the enemy successfully.

At 2200 hrs ten tanks of the Sherwood Rangers came up in support of the battalion, and by 2230 hrs the village had been recaptured. It was the first contact the battalion had made with German tanks, and although we were disorganised the experience was invaluable. Curiously enough the enemy tanks never actually crossed the road running east and west through the village. This fact was entirely due to a string of anti-tank mines which the Pioneer platoon, under Lieut Pearson, had laid across the road just south of the village. They were laid in the open without any attempt at concealment. Those mines saved what might have been a disaster, although there were a further six anti-tank guns echeloned back in defence.

No further organised attack was put in by the enemy for the next three days, but there was considerable sniping and infiltration by night. Very little sleep was possible as the nights were very short.

A word here on the work of the administrative side of the battalion would be timely. Capt Lloyd, the battalion MO since Italy, worked unceasingly, ably supported by Sergeant Woodcock. Their tours of the lines were an example of what cheerful spirits could accomplish; together they maintained the morale of the battalion at a very high pitch, especially as there was a certain amount of lassitude owing to lack of sleep. Harry Shinn, the Quartermaster, with his team of COMS and cooks, put up a wonderful performance; we were on compo ration, and any other food which could be scrounged... They set the highest example of quiet efficiency throughout a very trying period. The signal platoon, depleted not only through casualties but also to malaria, maintained effective communications throughout the battalion.

The engagement at La Belle Epine marked the end of the first phase of our operations after D Day. From then on we settled down to a war attrition, in close contact with the enemy, which continued until the break out in August, when the 2nd Devons were in the van of the advance through France and Belgium, and were the first British Regiment into Holland.

(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: Story of 2nd Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, 1944 Mar - June

Page: Page 17