How a Tank Commander Confronted Death in the Battle of Normandy

History Hit Podcast with Captain David Render

3 mins

02 Jun 2019

This article is an edited transcript of Tank Commander with Captain David Render on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 22 November 2015. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.

I was still 4 months off being 21 when the war was over. So they said, “you can go to Japan now and do the landing on Japan”.

I thought, “well I won’t come back from that, but never mind”, because we never expected to survive.

The fear

You might ask me “were you afraid?”, and the answer is no. How did we stand it? The answer is we got numb to it.

You might ask me “were you afraid?” The answer is no.

I liken it to when they made the M1. I can remember people saying, “I’m not going up that motorway. It’s jolly dangerous.”

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Now you don’t think about going on the M1. It was the same for us. It was the same attitude we adopted.

We knew we were going to get killed, although I didn’t think it would be me – I thought it would be the other bloke really. In principle, we got numbed to it.

It was just accepting the situation. We would live by the day.

The length of time

One of the big problems was that it went on for so long. If you look at the reason why the French have been kind to us and given us a medal, it is because they worked it out.

I did 89 days of fighting in France. Not continuous, because they would try to give us 10 days in action and 5 days off, although we did not always get that.

If you were a prisoner of war – I’m not decrying people who are prisoners of war or in concentration camps – a lot of them had a reasonable expectation. They were going to wake up in the morning. We didn’t.

The crew of a Sherman tank named ‘Akilla’ of 1st Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, 8th Armoured Brigade, after having destroyed five German tanks in a day, Rauray, Normandy, 30 June 1944.

I can take you to gravestones in Bayeux, where the Royal Armoured Corps was the overall holding place for the tanks. They had the Royal Tank Regiment, the Derbyshire Yeomanry, and all the rest.

You were in the Royal Armoured Corps, then you were sent off to an individual unit. Then you’d have a different cat badge. But the original one is on the gravestones of three chaps who we knew in Bayer who were in our tanks.

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Why have they got those original badges up? The answer is because they were reinforcements who came in to take the place of fellows who were killed in the tank yesterday.

These boys had not done a day’s fighting when they were killed.

They got in the tank at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning, and by midday they were dead, for the simple reason that the lorries that came up with fuel, ammo, cat badges and so on don’t come up until nighttime. So these boys had not done a day’s fighting when they were killed.

Remembrance

When we did the medal presentation in the French Embassy the other week, a lot of people said “I’d only had 25 minutes of war in France”. That was their war.

Can you imagine what it is like going day after day, after day, after day, after month, after month? We were absolutely knackered by the end of it.

Sherman tanks and troops from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, during operations against members of ELAS in Athens, 18 December 1944. Credit: Imperial War Museum / Commons.

Then it was not the end because we had to do Belgium. We had a think called Ghillie in Belgium, which was horrendous.

They made a terrific fuss of us. I don’t deserve it – I’m only one of thousands. I only had a little front to deal with.

Then we had Holland. I gave a talk to the Dutch, who got me over there. I did 6 talks in 5 days for them, because it was the anniversary of their liberation.

They made a terrific fuss of us. I don’t deserve it – I’m only one of thousands. I only had a little front to deal with.

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