Mike Rideout reminisces about village characters.
Mike was born and bred in Great Elm but now lives with his wife Lyn in Frome. Often to be seen running through Vallis, and if you meet him, you will soon realise that he is a valuable source of information.
Firstly, Mike’s recollections about his own father James during World War 2, whose wartime services led him being awarded the Legion D’honneur
At the outbreak of ww2 dad was working as an engineer working for Cecil Evemy at Lime Kiln Hill quarry in Mells. He was living in Vobster with his family.His father, who is buried in the graveyard of the old Vobster church, was a miner in the Mells pit who had been a soldier in the Dorset Regiment in the first world war. During that conflict they took part in the Battle of the Somme.
On call-up,dad was sent to Clitheroe,in Lancashire, to be trained as a combat engineer.After completion of training, he embarked on the Queen Mary to join allied forces in the middle east. The journey entailed a trip around the Cape of Good Hope,with stops at Freetown,Simonstown and Port Elizabeth. After sailing up the Suez Canal he was disembarked in Egypt.
He was assigned to 505 Field Company Royal Engineers, 50 Division,acting in support of 151 brigade,the Durham Light infantry. I discovered much of this information by visiting the National Records Office at Kew,where war diaries of individual units are maintained and a way of discovering relatives experiences during the war.
His first major action was the second battle of El Alamein. During the action 151 brigade took part in operation Supercharge which proved to be the critical turning point in this battle.Dads actual role was to search for and disarm mines with a bayonet to allow tanks to pass through. The engineers doing this task were targeted remorselessly (Max Hastings book),by the Germans but eventually successful. I recall being in the cowshed at Glebe Farm one evening when Whatley Quarry blasted and as it seemed particularly loud Dad said that it reminded him of the initial barrage at El Alamein.”I thought the world was coming to an end”, he said which left a lasting impression on a 10 year old. Victory led to Churchill declaring “this is not the end ,it is not the beginning of the end,but it is end of the beginning”.The allied forces then chased the Axis forces from North Africa,during which dad received a shrapnel wound in the assault on the Mareth line.Having recovered he took part in the victory parade in Tripoli,where Churchill weeping profusely declared,” it will be sufficient for a man to say,when asked,what he done in war to say I marched and fought with the Desert Army”. It did not prove sufficient for 50 Div.
The next operation for 50 Div was operation Husky,the assault on Sicily, where dad landed in the initial assault wave at Avola and was subsequently involved in the bitter fighting around Primasole Bridge before the Germans were cleared from Sicily. 50 Div were then withdrawn to the UK in order to take part in the D-Day landings as Montgomery insisted on having experienced troops to undertake this hazardous operation. Part of this operation was planned in the Portway Hotel in Frome
Whilst back in the UK, father obtained leave and married my mother at St Magdalene in March 1944. She was Bertha a daughter of Ernest and Annie Starr of Glebe Farm, and the sister of Blanche Starr, another long term resident of Great Elm. Dad then returned to his unit, landing on Gold Beach on the 6th June 1944.He then took part in the difficult campaign in the Bocage and the liberation of Brussels. His next operation was the failed attempt to relieve the bridge too far at Arnhem during which 30 Corps was commanded by General Sir Brian Horrocks who made several contributions to Jeremy Isaacs World at War which still runs today on UK history. In later life dad met Sir Brian at Treetops in Great Elm where dad was employed as a gardener. Dad then took part in the Rhine crossings and his unit helped some of the concentration camps. Another resident of Great Elm, Mavis Tate M.P.,visited the camps as part of a Parliamentary delegation to testify what the Nazis had been doing. You can still view a film of her visit recorded by Pathe News on Youtube.
Unfortunately Dad suffered an injury which left him in a coma for several weeks and left him receiving a disability pension for the rest of his life. I recall mum speaking of her long rail trips to Oxford to visit him as he recovered in the John Radcliffe hospital. On returning home he was unable to tie his shoelaces which made life trying for mum at first. He improved but I guess many residents found him a difficult man. However some weeks after his death whilst out running I met Rosemary James in Mells. She said she was sorry and recalled how she would see him wobbling as he rode his bike through Mells (it was due to his brain injury), when she was a child. On telling her father she had seen Mr Rideout wobbling along the road he told her she should remember he was one of the brave men who landed in France on the 6th June 1944 which is and why he eventually received the Legion D’honneur. Kinda redresses the balance for being such an awkward sod.
(James died in 2016 and Bertha in 1999 – their grave is in Great Elm churchyard).
And now, a snippet from Mike Rideout.
On the 4/5 July 1941,a Heinkel 111-H5 was shot down by F/Lt Patten and F/Sgt Moody in a Beaufighter of 604 squadron (Middle Wallop). It crashed at Murdercombe Bottom Great Elm (in a field off of Black Path), at 0125 hrs. One of the crew was killed and 3 taken prisoner. According to Fred Chant,the crew baled out and were picked up at Murtry Hill and Spring Gardens. They seemed glad the war was over for them.