Many will be familiar with the evocative Corps painting ‘Go To It’ by Peter Archer, which features the indomitable Corporal Tom Waters on his dash across Pegasus Bridge at Bénouville on the Caen Canal. Earlier he had rescued a man wounded by machine-gun fire, one of the party originally tasked with laying that line to 7th Parachute Battalion. Waters was born on 12 October 1914 (his father served during the First World War with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the Worcestershire Regiment) and when he left school he went to work as a coal miner before enlisting into the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1935. He was serving in Burma when war broke out and he fought there in the early stages of the campaign; he transferred to Royal Signals in July 1943. Waters was severely injured by a grenade in a training accident in September 1944 prior to Operation Market Garden, losing an eye and requiring the insertion of a metal plate in his skull; he was medically discharged in the spring of 1945. After the war he became a postman and tragically died on 30 September 1955, aged 40, following a traffic accident in Conisbrough while on a postal round.
Waters’ actions on D-Day were not, however, the only ones for which Royal Signals soldiers would be decorated—on the day of the landings Royal Signals soldiers earned four other Military Medals and a British Empire Medal for bravery on the beaches of Normandy. There was also a wealth of awards for distinguished service to those involved in the planning of the communications for Operation Overlord from its earliest days. Those who worked to build, operate and maintain communications in England for the vast invasion army were also rewarded for their efforts, including Auxiliary Territorial Service Sergeants Joan Edney and Sybil Hart and Lance Sergeant Marion Holmes-Bailey, all of No. 7 Command Signals, who earned British Empire Medals for their work over the hectic period of the landings.
Three of the Military Medals were earned on Gold Beach where 50th (Northumbrian) Division landed. In Jig Sector on the western flank of Gold, the objective of 231st Infantry Brigade, the tactical headquarters of 90th Field Regiment Royal Artillery landed with 1st Battalion, Dorset Regiment. In the signal section supporting 90th Field Regiment was Lance Corporal ‘Danny’ Bowstead, who came ashore at D+15 minutes. Throughout the day he operated his set under the most gruelling conditions. His medal recommendation, written by the commanding officer of 90th Field Regiment, recorded that his efforts contributed ‘in no small measure to the success of 1 DORSET’. Denis Arthur Bowstead was born on 26 August 1918. A pre-war Territorial Army soldier, he served with 50th (Northumbrian) Divisional Signals in the Western Desert Campaign and in the invasion of Sicily before returning to the United Kingdom in November 1943 to prepare for D-Day. After the war he joined the General Post Office as an engineer; he was in the British Telecom tower when it was bombed by the IRA in 1971. Danny Bowstead was also awarded the Efficiency Medal (Territorial). An extremely modest man, he never wore his medals, although he confessed to being proud to see his name on the gallantry awards boards in the Corps museum. He died on 16 May 2014, aged 95.
A second Military Medal was earned on that western flank of 50th (Northumbrian) Division’s assault where Corporal J. L. Hanlon of 231st Infantry Brigade Signal Section laid line under heavy fire, having conducted a reconnaissance of the routes in an area where the enemy ‘had yet to be cleared…and enemy sniper and machine-guns were covering the roads.’ Throughout the night he patrolled the routes and ‘kept the lines through’.
The third award for bravery on Gold Beach was the only Bar to the Military Medal to have been earned by a Royal Signals soldier. As a signalman with XXX Corps Signals in the Western Desert Campaign, Robert Bennett earned his first medal as a driver/operator for the XXX Corps liaison staff, operating ‘under shell fire and through unmarked mined areas’, on one occasion being ‘blown up in a mine which destroyed his jeep entirely and wounded his companion.’ On D-Day the main headquarters of XXX Corps remained in England, sending forward a small tactical headquarters that landed with 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Bennett led the signals detachment for this tactical headquarters and commanded a DUKW with which he landed on the beach on the morning of 6 June. He was responsible for establishing a link to Main Headquarters Second Army in England. Taking his vehicle over the uncleared beach he realised that the rest of the tactical headquarters couldn’t land and set up his second set on the Corps Command Net. His medal recommendation records that ‘in spite of the danger to which he and his vulnerable vehicle were constantly exposed’ he provided ‘the sole means of communication for XXX Corps from the mainland on D-Day.’ His medal was presented by General Sir Bernard Montgomery.
Meanwhile, on the eastern edge of Sword Beach commanded by Brigadier Lord Lovat, the first elements of 1st Special Service Brigade landed in the second wave at Queen Red Sector at 07.50 hours. At the very start of the landing the Brigade’s advance headquarters was cut up by machine-gun and mortar fire and Signalman Angus McGregor was hit in the head and leg by shell splinters and suffered three bullet wounds to his arm—‘In spite of his wounds he continued to operate his set and enabled essential information to be passed to the main body of the Brigade which was still afloat.’ The extent of his wounds only became apparent when he was unable to get up having taken cover from mortar fire. Treated for his wounds in No. 21 Field Dressing Station, McGregor was evacuated to England on D+1. Angus McKenzie McGregor was born in Sutherland, Scotland on 17 November 1918. He served with the Territorial Army in Scotland from 1935 to 1937, when he left and joined Derbyshire County Police Force. He enlisted in 1941, joining Royal Signals and serving in Southern Command until he volunteered for special service with commandos. He joined 1st Special Service Brigade Signal Troop in early 1943. After he recovered, and now a Lance Corporal, he rejoined the renamed 1st Commando Brigade Signal Troop, taking part in Operation Plunder—the Rhine crossing. After the war McGregor returned to Derbyshire Police and became its first Traffic Inspector; he was awarded the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. After he retired, he settled in Old Whittington near Chesterfield, where he died in 1983, aged 64.
A British Empire Medal was awarded for ‘gallant conduct in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner’ at sea in very different circumstances. Twenty-one-year-old Corporal G. R. T. Dickinson of No. 14 Beach Signal Section, who was to support the Canadians landing on Juno Beach, was on board a rhino ferry carrying about 30 vehicles and 70 men. As it came up to the beach, in the midst of an air raid and with another rhino burning nearby, the ferry turned stern first into a mined area; the crew were somewhat disorganised by the turn of events. With bombs falling close and aircraft machine-gunning the blazing ferry, Dickinson took control—he took over the ferry’s wheel, set the throttle to full ahead, and got it under weigh. In the darkness and just offshore, Dickinson then suggested that the coxswain try and beach the craft. Using a lamp, Dickinson signalled the shore, eventually establishing communication and received instructions for beaching the ferry, which was duly accomplished, and the vehicles and men were disembarked without loss.
There were three other Military Medals and one British Empire Medal awarded to men whose recommendations included acts in the early stages of the landings: The first Military Medal was to Sergeant P. A. A. Court, of No. 1 Ship Signal Section on board HMS Bulolo, the Landing Ship Headquarters for Naval Task Force ‘G’. Court had also taken part in the landings in North Africa in November 1942, Sicily in July 1943 and Anzio in January 1944 and he was later awarded the British Empire Medal for his work in preparation for the landings in the Far East in 1945. Signalman John Rimmer, of 43rd (Wessex) Divisional Signals, was a driver operator attached to 4th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment from the time the Battalion landed in Normandy until the end of the war in Europe. His recommendation recorded that he ‘never failed to get his vehicle on to the objective despite difficult country and very often under intense shell and mortar fire.’ Finally, Lance Corporal James Woolgar, of 6th Airborne Divisional Signals, was twice wounded while laying line over a period of three days on the left flank of the landings near Ranville. The British Empire Meal was awarded to Sergeant John Snaith of No. 2 Line of Communication Signals who commanded the detachment aboard the barge Leslie and who was responsible for the beach end of the first cross-channel cable laid by the cable ships Iris and Alert. (The orders for the operation can be seen below.) Having landed his party near Longues and although confronted with the path to the clifftop ‘destroyed by the bombardment and the whole area…infested by mines and booby traps which the bombardment had made extremely dangerous’ Snaith managed to lay his cable. He then went on to do the same task for the other cable heads at Dieppe, Sangatte, La Panne and Domberg ‘all of which were heavily mined and with many obstructions.’
Two other Military Medalists are worthy of note. During the Battle of France in May 1940, Lance Corporal B. T. Hardy, a dispatch rider with 5th Divisional Signals, earned his medal during the defence of Arras. He was commissioned into 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own) on 21 July 1941. Having landed at Sword Beach on D-Day, Lieutenant Bernard Tresham Hardy MM was killed in action on 10 June 1944 at Ranville commanding his regiment’s reconnaissance troop. Originally buried near Breville, his remains were reinterred in Hermanville War Cemetery in July 1945.
Signalman P. J. Horton, of 50th (Northumbrian) Divisional Signals, had earned a Military Medal with 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry during the actions in the Primosole Bridgehead across the Simeto River in Sicily. On the afternoon of 16 July 1943, shell-fire around his post killed the Adjutant, driver and second signaller and immobilised his vehicle. Horton refused to leave his set and maintained the Battalion’s communications during the climax of the battle. Lance Corporal Peter James Horton MM was killed in action on Gold Beach on D-Day. He was buried in the temporary cemetery at Ryes, near the Arromanches beach; his remains were moved into the permanent cemetery at Ryes on 16 February 1945.
The Bowstead family for their photographs and information about the life of Danny Bowstead MM.
Christopher Jary for a preview of his book D-Day Spearhead Brigade about the actions of 231st Infantry Brigade, in which Danny Bowstead’s story features.
1. (Back) For more about the life of Corporal Waters see Pegasus Archive.
2. (Back) For an account of the planning see Nalder, R F H. (1958). The Royal Corps of Signals: A History of its Antecedents and Development (circa 1800-1955). London: Royal Signals Institution. pp 421-430.
3. (Back) The CWGC erroneously records his death as 14 June 1944.