Fred Bowden interview: Fighting in Normandy

We started preparing for a landing. The Bren carriers were waterproofed, able to drive through water etc. We were given French money, told to look out for this and look out for that, told to watch out with women etc. And finally we drove from Eastbourne to Tilbury and went on a ship, an American liberty ship, and we took us about a few days. So we were off the shore there, the south side of the shore there for a few days and finally we went over to Normandy and landed on Amache [check this]. And we were there for 10 weeks. The war was over in Normandy. The gap the Falais [check this] gap was closed, fighting in Normandy finished, only 10 weeks during which time our battalion lost - our battalion being about 600 men - we lost 100 killed.  There are exactly 100 graves from the first battalion in Normandy. Roughly one in six men were killed and wounded.

That was our infantry battalion. And that was the pattern with most infantry battalions in Normandy. There are three cemeteries in Normandy. Between the three there are exactly 100 First Battalion Welsh Guards graves.

It was extremely fierce. I remember seeing in a book I have read by Montgomery’s son that for that short period the rate of casualties was slightly, was very slightly, in excess of the third battle of Ypres in the First World War. Just for that, although in the First World War  their’s lasted  for 10 months. Our’s lasted for 10 weeks, 12 weeks. It was quite fierce.

It wasn’t trench warfare. It was a slit trench of people here, there, you know. It wasn’t stuck in trenches. You were advancing through fields, in groups, a platoon here, a platoon there.

A slit trench is literally a slit in the ground. It’s deep enough for you to stand with just your head sticking up. The spoil from the trench is about that as long as you want it. It is to hold two, three men maybe, depending on the circumstances and you just jump into it. A hole in the ground and it is sufficient depth to keep you relatively safe, the idea being that the spoil from the trench is piled up in front of you and it’s heavy enough to stop almost anything coming at you if you keep your head down! And that’s a slit trench. And we practised digging slit trenches when we were on Wimbledon Common in 1940. That’s the basic trench. A slit trench.