Searching for Sergeant Latham by laroque

Searching for Sergeant Latham

I bought this book about the "Débarquement" at the vide-greniers a few weeks ago. It cost me 2€, and I thought it might inspire me to find out a bit more about my father’s involvement. He had told me very little about his service in WW2. When I once complained about that, saying that "all you’ve ever told me is that you landed at Normandy on Day 5" he replied, quite startled, "Hour 5, not Day 5 !". So, that, and that he was in the Pioneer Corps, is pretty much all I knew.

I bit of Googling told me that there were companies of the Pioneer Corps landing on both British beaches, Gold and Sword, and that Hour zero there and at the Canadian beach, Juno, was 07h30, an hour later than the American beaches Omaha and Utah because of the tides. Fortunately I have two of his felt uniform badges, which were the insignia for the British 2nd Army and XXX Corps. That means he landed at Gold, at about 12h30.

What did he do there ? A bit more Googling told me that the Pioneer Corps were essentially labourers. They built roads and bridges, dug trenches and probably graves. A memoir on the Internet from a Pioneer officer at Sword beach revealed that on the first day of the landings they were mostly occupied in recovering and evacuating casualties. Of which there were around 1100 at Gold. So, no wonder he didn’t much want to talk about his experiences.

My generation of boys in the ‘60s was swamped with WW2 stuff glorifying our fathers’ generation ; films, books, even boys’ magazines like Ranger and Victor. Some of the the men who actually experienced it all didn’t think it was very glorious. I remember the vicar of our church revealing to my Sunday school class that he had been a gunner in a Lancaster bomber. We immediately demanded to know how many ‘planes he had shot down. Appalled by how blood-thirsty his young flock were, he replied that not only had he never shot a ‘plane down, he had never even fired on one. "If you fired at them" he said, "it annoyed them and attracted their attention to you, and since their guns were better than ours, and they were better shooters, it was best to just keep your head down, close your eyes and pray". Well, it worked out for him, since being aircrew was almost the most dangerous occupation in WW2, after being a merchant seaman.

The booklet cover shows some of the badges of the 2nd Army. That of XXX Corps, the one my father had, is bottom left, a black boar leaping across a white moon. Inside is printed "Second Army, Thanksgiving Service, On Conclusion of the Campaign in NW Europe, 6th June 1944 to 5th May 1945". I read through the service , which I suppose was broadcast on the radio. It was interminable, and thanked the people supposedly responsible for the Victory, notably God and the King. After losing 5 years of his life to the Army, I hope my dad, 24 years old and a communist and an atheist, didn’t have to listen to it.
Fascinating stuff Tim.
It’s a shame you don’t know more about your dad’s experience. I wonder about the horrors that he saw, and that he would never be able to unsee them.
I watched a programme yesterday where they had uncovered some old tapes of interviews with servicemen. English, American, German and French resistance men. It was so moving to hear of their fear and struggles during this epic and horrendous battle.
June 6th, 2024  
Thank you for sharing this, Tim.
June 7th, 2024  
Very interesting narrative. I cannot in any way imagine what it was like to be at Normandy on D-Day. Frustrating for you that your dad didn’t want to talk about it, but not surprising. I had a great uncle who flew bombing runs over France. His adult children asked many times for information and were always told he had no interest in discussing it. Great research job by the way!
June 7th, 2024  
I love your research. It’s an interesting but somber story.
June 7th, 2024  
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