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Dennis Solly 30 Commando Assault Unit 'B' troop  XML
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Pete
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Joined: 23/09/2008 00:08:02
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BBC WW2 Peoples War entry contributed by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: Dennis Solly, William Reginald Rush; Col/Sgt Lofty Whyman; Sgt Kellaway; Jimmy Howeth, and others of 'B' Troop
Location of story: Littlehampton; Normandy; Cherbourg; Belgium; Holland and Germany

Contributed on: 21 November 2005
This contribution to People's War was received by the Action desk at BBC radio Norfolk and submitted to the BBC by Beah with the permission and on behalf of Dennis Solly. The copyright remains with the author Dennis Solly. It is reproduced on the CVA website under the BBC 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial project'. Any person wishing to use this contribution should refer to the Terms and Conditions of the BBC for this archive. 'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'


My story is not a personal one but a story of a unique and elite intelligence unit of WW2 working together in small parties, of which I had the good fortune to be a member.

Based on the personal reminiscences of a cross-section of members of the unit, it was small, specialised and cloaked in secrecy. A band of colourful, and in some cases eccentric characters were given intensive commando training before being dispatched on their often highly dangerous missions.
Although I joined the Royal Marines October 1941 I did not pick up a draft to 30/AU until early 1944, to the superb comfort of civilian billets in Littlehampton, a great contrast to living under canvas, military barracks or Nissan huts. I shared my room with two other chaps and we then had someone to make our beds and keep the place tidy. All our washing was done for us obviating the rotten feeling after doing heavy washing. Littlehampton was quite a little seaside town with varied amusements to meet one's taste.
We were paid 6/8 a day over and above our standard pay which was paid to our landlady, some of the lads being charged only 30/- they of course making an additional 16/- a week for their own pockets. I had heard such a lot about private billets, but little realised how very wonderful they were. We had lovely homely treatment form landladies and Littlehampton became our second home, so much so that thirty years later when surviving members of the unit came together again our veterans met in Littlehampton for their annual reunion of which in later years I became secretary until the association dissolved in 2003. The training was exceptionally tough but much more easily endured when knowing that one was returning to a good house with plenty of tasty meals and super hot baths.
The unit consisted of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, and Royal Air Force, A, B, X, and HQ, troops, X troops carried out their parachute training up at Ringway near Manchester, and all troops were trained at Gliders on an airfield on Salisbury Plain. Commando training and D-Day landing craft training took place at the Commando basic training centre, Achnacarry at the foot of Ben Nevis, cliff climbing and absailing over on the rugged Welsh Coast.
I still remember vividly one of my many scares during a glider training session when following a normal take-off we climbed to around five hundred feet or so and set off on our usual route to be towed around Salisbury Cathedral and back over the landing area where things went horribly wrong. The gliders deputy pilot was given the order to cast off, but instead of sensing the usual feeling of hanging mid-air we were thrown all over the inside of the craft as it went virtually out of control, the single towing cable that parts into a twin and locks into the under part of each wing of the glider had jammed in one wing and released normally from the other. Panic broke out both in the glider cabin and also in the rear gun turret of the toeing plane and we continued to be tossed around the sky at all angles for twenty minutes, almost out of control.
Eventually it was decided the only thing they could do was to release the cable from the plane, lucky for us the glider landed safely with 100 feet plus of towing cable dangling below the glider, the danger we learn afterwards being the possibility of one wing of the glider being torn off in full flight.
Normal procedure on landing was to exit the glider, and go to a mobile canteen on the airfield for a cup of tea and a smoke then return for a second flight, but this time we were marched across to another glider and taking off immediately for a further thirty minute flight, this time fortunately landing without incident.
Towards the end of hostilities in Europe a small unit to which I was attached was working on 'Operation Glanville' attached to the American sector in Southern France, and Black Forest area, prior to the Allied troops crossing the Rhine. A signal from HQ called us back to Gnappe in Belgium to join up the rest of (B) Troop. 'Force Lessing' had already left and we finally caught up with them in the Canadian Army Sector, north of Nijmegen. A section of us under Sgt. 'Cab' Kellaway then moved further north joining up with the Canadians finally liberating Groningen.
We settled down camping in a wood on the outskirts of Groningen for a few days checking out the odd target, and when relaxing in the woods in the evening were kindly invited into neighbouring very friendly Dutch houses for pre dinner drinks, answering many questions of great interest to them, how Britain survived very heavy German bombing of London and major cities, and how we won the Battle of Britain against impossible odds, and the D-Day landings which eventually led of course to the liberation of Holland.
There was no such thing as beer, mainly gin, wine, and cherry brandy, etc. and I remember this was the first time I had tasted pink gin, I did not care for it much, it was far too bitter for my taste, but in those circumstances anything was acceptable. Understandably there was insufficient food for them to feed us; we had to return to camp and prepare our own miserable ration packs.
The end of war in Europe was in sight and one of the ever great characters of (B) troop Col/Sgt 'Lofty' Wyman appeared one day with armoured scout car and half a dozen of the lads including myself were called to join him. We sat in the scout car and half a dozen of the lads including myself were called to join him. We sat in the scout car for a short time having no idea where we were going and received this short briefing, right lads this could be your last active service operation, there is every chance of being back in Blighty within a month, the war in Europe is nearly over for God's sake keep your heads down we've survived it all this far lets now all get home safely.
We set off heading in a North-easterly direction out of Groningen and ran literally into thousands of German troops, tanks, and vehicles, etc. frantically waving their white flags of surrender. We were very much delayed cannot remember exactly hoe long possible something like four hours to reach the Dutch coast, and find our target just off the beach, a two story building in the sand dunes and not another building in sight.
Two of us went round the back to protect any getaway and after few minutes I entered a door and climbed what appeared to be an escape staircase. I opened the door entering into a superbly furnished room, very large, extremely clean and tidy German office. As I stood gazing around the room at the very large portraits of all the leading Nazi leaders; Hitler, Hess, Goebels, Ripentrop, Goring etc. with finger on trigger about to put holes in them all , when I heard movement in the lock of another door, as I waited with finger on trigger ready to shoot. Jimmy immediately burbled "oh thank god it's you Reg, come and look at this lot". I entered this long narrow room with picture window looking over the North Sea to the UK, hanging from the ceiling were a number of old fashioned octagonal microphones connecting to transmitting equipment on the long narrow bench; we did not know at the time, but many years later it turned out to be Lord Haw Haw (Bernard Joyce) British Traitor's Broadcasting Station, missing unfortunately, but caught a few hours later by the Army apparently making his way back to Berlin, some documents were taken form the filing cabinets.
Our final push was into Emden, with our little war fast approaching its ending. One of the towns' medium grade hotels became our billet, and by the time peace was declared other sections of B troop had joined us.
VE night was celebrated in the hotel lounge with gallons of hooch taken from German ships in the harbour and last I remember was going outside for some fresh air about midnight and hearing London victory celebrations coming through our signals truck, tuned into BBC overseas service.
I joined the signals party and that's the last I remember. The following morning I reminded that I flaked out almost immediately I entered the truck and had to be put to bed, the one and only time in my life.
The following morning a small section of about ten left Emden on a small Red Cross boat to the island of Borkum, a four hour crossing on a very rough sea, and, being the morning after, everybody on board was very ill; including an American Officer who crossed with us.
The first sight of Borkum Harbour stays forever with me. It was full of German U-Boats, with their commanders looking at us from the submarine turrets a kind of cynical grin on their faces, having been ordered into their nearest port. In addition there were some 4,000 German troops on the island, it being our job to accept surrender terms and to dismantle the large coastal defence guns.
We billeted in a fine hotel on the island, sleeping between lovely clean white sheets, a popular holiday resort in peacetime. After about a week in very nice weather we sailed onto the neighbouring island of Norderny, carrying out the same sort of routine.
On returning to Emden we found our hotel empty so immediately chose the best route to Minden in Germany occupying some German Barracks where the rest of the unit was gradually assembling.
A month or so in Minden was followed by our final trek back to Tilbury and eventual disbandment of the unit, immediately after the Americans dropped the two Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki bringing WW2 hostilities to an end.
Today we are very fortunate to celebrate 60 years on, and once again I have been very lucky to take part and enjoy quite a number of activities related to the end of hostilities, the most memorable one being as follows:-
In early August I was very honoured to be invited to be the Chairman of the Arun District Council's Civic Service Celebration and commitment, marking the 60th anniversary of VE and VJ Day in Arundel Cathedral to give a reading of my words as follows:-
We, like many thousands of other service men, went to war during the best years of our youth, not a standing Army of regular soldiers, but a huge force of volunteers, and conscripts, most of whom would much rather have been playing football, or going to the pictures with our girlfriends. For the most it was their first absence from their homes and families.
Present day survivors, veterans of WW2 are now today's octogenarians, surprisingly as shown by the many thousands attending the recent D-Day Commemoration services in France who still battle on.
Many veterans have been asked, "Why do you do it" Why do you old men revisit cemeteries year after year? Why do you return to the site of some of your worst experiences? There is no simpler answer beyond, "If you were there, you do not need telling, if you were not, then no amount of words would ever help you understand."

This message was edited 3 times. Last update was at 18/04/2013 13:15:43


Pete Rogers, son of LSgt Joe Rogers MM & nephew of TSM Ken McAllister. Both No2 Cdo. God and the Soldier, all men adore, In time of danger and not before. When the danger is passed and all things righted, God is forgotten, and the Soldier slighted.

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Pete
CVA Website Archivist

Joined: 23/09/2008 00:08:02
Messages: 3328
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The CVA albums for 30 Assault Unit with more information about their early days can be found here: http://gallery.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/units/30AU/



This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 18/04/2013 15:38:38


Pete Rogers, son of LSgt Joe Rogers MM & nephew of TSM Ken McAllister. Both No2 Cdo. God and the Soldier, all men adore, In time of danger and not before. When the danger is passed and all things righted, God is forgotten, and the Soldier slighted.

**** nb. I no longer monitor private messages (pm). Use email or forum please. ****
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