Corporal Wilf Coates

Wilf sent Hannah some notes on how he fought on D-Day with the parachutists.   This is what he wrote to her:



My memories of D. Day 6th June 1944


After leaving my first regiment Durham Light Infantry at the age of seventeen I volunteered for the parachute regiment.  After some very strict and hard training at Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield which lasted about twelve weeks we went to Ringway Aerodrome which is now Manchester Airport to do our jump training and finally our jump six from a large barrage balloon and two from aircraft one by day one by night then you got your wings and the red beret.


I was then posted to the 7th Light Infantry Parachute Battalion November 1943.  We then had to start all over again with the very strict training in Wales on the Breckon Beacons (very large hills) and numerous other places.  Being stationed at Bedford in Wiltshire we were very close to the Salisbury Plain where we did numerous jumps from aircraft prior to D-Day we were moved to a transit camp at Tilshead were the camp was sealed to make sure nobody could either get in or out.  Days passed studying maps and the terrain of the Dropping Zone. Our job was to take the two bridges one over the Orne canal at Benoville and the other at Ranville both running parallel to each other and some 500 yards apart.  If the bridges had been blown up by the Germans the alternative was to cross by boat a large rubber dinghy carried by some of us fastened to our leg. 


We left Tilshead to go to Fairfield airfield in the early evening of the 5th of June.  When arriving we were briefed and taken to these very large aircrafts called Stirling bombers fitted out to carry twenty men.  With all our equipment and kit bags we looked very Michelin men like the advert for tyres.  We settled down it was not very comfortable with no seating and it was to take about 1¼ hours.  As we heard the French coast we could hear the flack from the German anti aircraft guns exploding around us.  After a few more minutes we were called to action stations red light on, green light go.  Waddling down the plane to this bridge hole shaped like a large coffin jumped out and we were floating down over France. 


When we landed the night was very dark it was supposed to be moonlight but weather had changed to overcast and cloudy.  No Germans about as yet so we managed to find each other with our small gadgets called clickers when pressed together made a clicking sound.  When we did R.V. at about 0145 our Aldis lamp helping we found that the Battalion was very much under strength some planes had been shot down others had dropped off course.  After taking the bridges that were intact we didn’t need the dinghy’s we crossed and made a bridgehead on the other side.  We came under fire from mortars and gunfire all the rest of the morning until we were reinforced by troops of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry we were attacked time and time again by the Panzer Grenadiers a tank unit but we held out and withdrew after losing many men. 


It was now some 18 hours since we had dropped into France and you could hear the seaborne troops attacking very plainly.  Next morning we joined up with the seaborne troops and R.V. at Ranville to check on our wounded and the strength of the battalion.


So ends the story of the 7th Battalion Parachute regiment on D-Day plus one.  Little did we know what would befall us over the next months and fears that is another story.