MILITARY CROSS, GEORGE VI, UNNAMED AS ISSUED, REVERSE ENGRAVED ‘1944’; 1939- 45, FRANCE AND GERMANY STARS, DEFENCE AND WAR MEDALS (ALL UNNAMED AS ISSUED); THE M.C. IN ORIGINAL CARD BOX AND CASE OF ISSUE, WITH ORIGINAL FORWARDING SLIP, THE OTHER MEDALS ALSO IN FORWARDING BOX WITH SLIP
Major Leslie Ernest Wyatt, 73rd Field Company, Royal Engineers was born in Portsmouth in 1903 and worked in his father’s radio/gramophone shop. He joined the Royal Engineers at the outbreak of war, was commissioned, and trained in a Beach Clearance Unit. His duties included clearing obstacles, including mines and bombs, putting down wire mesh tracks on the beaches, etc.
He was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry on D-Day. After D-Day his unit became used for forward bridge building. Later Wyatt wrote ‘A Short History of the 73rd Field Company, Royal Engineers in the North-West European Campaign’.
Military Cross, London Gazette: 19 October 1944:
“In recognition of gallant and distinguished services in North West Europe. (Warrington).”
The following is taken from the official recommendation, which reveals that Wyatt was originally recommended for the V.C. this was downgraded to an immediate D.S.O. which in turn was later downgraded to an immediate MC.
“At 07.35 hrs on 6 June 1944 on the beaches in front of Le Hamel Major Wyatt landed from the leading L.C.T. with his company with the task of clearing obstacles on the beaches. The Sappers he commanded had to land with no immediate supporting fire except that given by the accompanying “Flail” Churchill Tanks. The “DD” Tanks which were there to support them were prevented by the weather from arriving in time. They landed before the assaulting infantry. They were met with fierce fire from the enemy S.A.A. and 66mm guns. They were in addition subjected to heavy mortar fire. In face of this opposition Major Wyatt, by his personal example, of walking about the beaches unconcernedly and by his example of absolute indifference to danger so inspired his men that in spite of heavy casualties they continued to demolish and tow away the obstacles on the beaches, which would have prevented the L.C.Ts. of the Navy, until driven inland by the rising tide.”
Major Wyatt’s 73rd Company Royal Engineers were in the first wave of troops to land on Gold beach at 07.25 on the 6th June 1944. Their job was to clear obstacles in front of Le Hamel, coded ‘ JIG Green East. The Company itself consisted of 240 Officers and men, 140 of whom would land just prior to the first wave of infantry assault troops of 231st Infantry Brigade, to whom they were attached. Thus Wyatt and his men could rightly claim to be among the first troops to hit the beaches on D-Day.
73rd Company were split into 6 smaller sections of approximately 24 men, landing on 6 Landing Craft Tank (LCT’s), which as their name suggests, a landing craft that carried tanks. In this case, the tanks were Engineer Churchill Flails and roly polys; properly termed Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE). They were joined by small Royal Navy Landing Craft Obstacle Clearance Units (LCOCU), who would tackle obstacles already under the water. Of the six landing craft, one was severely damaged on its way in and did not land the section of engineers. Another hit a mine as it was offloading its AVRE and was then subjected to shell fire from the shore. Others ‘landed’ their men in deep water and they had to swim to shore.
On landing, the engineers were to be supported by Sherman DD’s who would land at the same time, however miscommunications meant these did not land when they were supposed (many also sank!) so that until the Infantry landed the engineers had no support and were under heavy gun, machine gun and sniper fire. Regardless of all these problem, the Engineers successfully fulfilled their task. However by the end of the day, the company had suffered 9 killed and 12 wounded, with a further 11 missing. Though most of the latter turned out to be from the landing craft that did not land. The Company received 3 MC’s, 2 MM’s and 5 MID’s for D-Day.
The group is sold with:
1) A rare original copy of ‘A Short History of the 73rd Field Company Royal Engineers in the North- West European Campaign’, by Major Wyatt, with original signature of Wyatt. This small book gives a detailed account of operations from the preparation for the Normandy Landings, landing themselves including details of who was in each of the 6 landing craft and how they fared. Details move on to further details of their part in the Normandy campaign, crossing of and battle of the Rhine and battle of the Elbe. Also gives details of casualties for the Company, the majority occurring during the landings and list of Awards for Gallantry.
2) A large original reconnaissance photograph of Le Hamel Beach, dated on the reverse in pencil 19-5- 44; this showing the German obstacles 73rd Company were to clear
3) A quantity of photocopied research, including the recommendation; Major Wyatt’s report of 15 June to CE 30 Corps on the landing and beach clearance by 73 Field Company; Company War Diary for the month of June 1944, all of which builds a fascinating picture of what the Companies movements were during this month.
Wyatt was a very talented artist and in 2015 an album containing 18 pen and ink and watercolour drawings of 73rd Field Companies service up until June 1944, were sold at Dominic Winter auctions. It seems the album had been acquired from Wyatt’s son who had sold his father medal in 2007. See the following links:
Condition EF, a superb gallantry group to one of the first men on shore at D-Day. Ex Morton and Eden 2007 where it sold for £4950.