August 18, 2015

1944. Following the British Second Army in France

Downs Meets a Very Polite British Lieutenant

Bill Downs


July 30, 1944

DOUG EDWARDS: And now for our first news direct from overseas, Admiral takes you to Normandy, Bill Downs reporting.

BILL DOWNS: The British Second Army is making slow but steady progress in its new drive south of Caumont, advancing up to three miles through the difficult wooded farmland of this hilly, fruit-growing sector.

Although there has been nothing particularly sensational in today's fighting on this British front, the new attack is going well and gains are considered satisfactory.

Early this morning I went down to a forward observation post in a front line village during the early part of the Second Army's new attack. At the forward headquarters I met a young British lieutenant who looked all the world like a schoolteacher playing soldier. The lieutenant smiled politely when I asked the way to the observation post, and then apologized for going first as we started through the rubble of the town towards the battle position.

We went around yards, in between houses, and had to climb over some rubble. "You'll have to pardon all this mess," the lieutenant said. "A shell hit here a half hour ago and pulled the rubble down."

He apologized again when we had to crawl through a hole in a stone wall. "We've been meaning to make that hole larger. Dashed uncomfortable having to crawl through such a small space."

And we finally came to the building which housed the observation post. On the door of the building were the uncomfortable words, "The enemy is watching you." On the wall opposite was the note, "Do not [inaudible]."

The lieutenant grinned a little sheepishly, "Ah, we got another shell here this morning. Put the signs up to keep the chaps from getting careless, you know?" And we climbed to the top of the house up onto the gabled roof. A bomb had conveniently lifted a few shingles out of the roof to form perfect peepholes overlooking the battlefield.

The battlefield itself actually was a little disappointing. The countryside here is so close, with high hedges, small fields, and a large number of trees, that visibility is limited. Even on this height, at the top of the building, you could see only shell-burst bomb craters and the whitish, yellowish smoke of battle.

But the lieutenant, who I believe is the politest man in the world, reached a new high in courtesy. A shell landed nearby. Dust fell from the rafters all over us. And when we got to our feet and looked around us and took a deep breath, the lieutenant brushed the dust from his shoulders. "Sorry about that," he said. And then he grinned, "We're fixing it now so that it'll never happen again."

This is Bill Downs in Normandy returning you to Admiral radio in New York.