THE UN­SUNG HEROES OF PE­GA­SUS BRIDGE

Lord Lo­vat and his piper got all the glory, but they weren’t the first to ar­rive that day

Calgary Herald - - YOU - by Giles Mil­ton (Hod­der) GILES MIL­TON

They ar­rived in a blare of noise, a troop of D-Day com­man­dos led by their flam­boy­ant Com­man­der Si­mon Fraser, the 15th Lord Lo­vat.

They had spent much of the morn­ing fight­ing their way in­land from Sword Beach. Now, they were near­ing their goal: the res­cue of John Howard and his men.

Howard’s men had been dropped into Nor­mandy dur­ing the night and had suc­ceeded in cap­tur­ing Be­nou­ville bridge (later re­named Pe­ga­sus) from the Ger­mans.

Their mis­sion was to hold this strate­gi­cally vi­tal bridge for the next 12 hours, thereby block­ing any Ger­man counter-at­tack against the Al­lied land­ing beaches.

Howard had been promised that Lo­vat’s com­man­dos would re­lieve them by noon.

Lord Lo­vat had long been a show­man and the res­cue of Howard’s ex­hausted troops was to be his great­est act. As he ad­vanced to­ward the bridge, he or­dered his trusty piper, Bill Millin, to blast out a tune on his bag­pipes.

His first words to John Howard were: “Sorry, we are two-and-ahalf min­utes late” — a greet­ing so un­der­stated, so very Bri­tish, that it would be­come one of D -Day’s most cel­e­brated in­ci­dents. It would also be one of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments in The Long­est Day, the Hol­ly­wood block­buster whose his­tor­i­cal ve­rac­ity was given added cre­dence by Lo­vat’s in­volve­ment as con­sul­tant.

But not ev­ery­thing un­folded in the fash­ion that Lo­vat recorded in his mem­oirs, March Past.

There was to be a lost nar­ra­tive of that morn­ing ’s ad­ven­tures — one ev­ery bit as ex­hil­a­rat­ing as the hith­erto ac­cepted ver­sion.

Al­though Lo­vat was de­ter­mined to be first to reach Be­nou­ville bridge, he found him­self rac­ing against the very com­man­dos he had trained — bullish young fight­ers de­ter­mined to beat him to the fin­ish.

Their as­ton­ish­ing story has been all but air­brushed from his­tory, much to the cha­grin of those in­volved.

Yet the role of these com­man­dos in the Be­nou­ville re­lief op­er­a­tion — and in Op­er­a­tion Over­lord — sug­gests the Al­lied vic­tory on D -Day owed as much to those front-line sol­diers as it did to the com­man­ders who would later pub­lish their ver­sions of the ac­tion.

The story of the race to Be­nou­ville bridge be­gins at 8.40 a.m., when the com­man­dos of the 1st Spe­cial Ser­vice Bri­gade landed un­der heavy fire on Sword Beach.

Among these ne­glected heroes was Cliff Mor­ris, a soldier in 6 Com­mando. He was ap­palled to see the corpses of those who had landed be­fore.

“Bodies lay sprawled all over the beach, with legs, arms and heads miss­ing, the blood clot­ting in the sand. The moans and screams blended with the shriek of bul­lets and whin­ing of shells.”

Land­ing close to Mor­ris was Lord Lo­vat him­self, who fa­mously strode ashore to the sound of Road to the Isles played on bag­pipes.

This would later be­come a sym­bol of Bri­tish chutz­pah, but not ev­ery­one was amused.

One sergeant screamed abuse at Lo­vat’s piper, Millin.

“What are you f---ing play­ing at, you mad bas­tard? You’re at­tract­ing all the Ger­man at­ten­tion.”

Also land­ing along­side Lo­vat that morn­ing was Stan “Scot­tie” Scott, a 20-year-old bruiser from Tot­ten­ham, Lon­don.

Scott liked to be first in ev­ery­thing, es­pe­cially com­bat, and saw no rea­son why his 3 Troop could not be the first to reach Be­nou­ville bridge. They were equipped with fold­ing bi­cy­cles, which they lugged across the beach. Once on dry land, Scott gath­ered a group of his hard­est hit­ters and be­gan a head­long dash for the bridge.

Lo­vat’s com­man­dos were highly com­pet­i­tive, and all wanted to claim the prize of be­ing first to Be­nou­ville bridge.

Mor­ris and his com­rades from 6 Com­mando reached the vil­lage of St Au­bin-d’Arque­nay, less than a mile from the bridge, at around 11 a.m. They were joined soon af­ter by Lo­vat and Millin.

Mor­ris was be­mused by the inim­itable fash­ion in which Lo­vat picked off an enemy sniper who was block­ing their pas­sage.

He fired his Scot­tish hunt­ing ri­fle from a crouch­ing po­si­tion and scored a per­fect hit. He then sent two men to fetch the body, as if they were bag­ging a tro­phy from the High­land moors.

At the bridge it­self, John Howard and his troops of the Ox and Bucks were un­der fire from the sur­round­ing Ger­mans. Howard knew his ex­hausted men couldn’t hold out much longer. “I kept check­ing my watch. I said to my­self un­der my breath, ‘Come on lads — where are the bloody Com­man­dos?’ ”

The an­swer lay with Stan Scott and his five com­rades in 3 Troop, who were en­gaged in a re­lent­less drive to­ward the bridge.

They reached Be­nou­ville, tan­ta­liz­ingly close to their goal, soon af­ter 11 a.m., then ped­alled fu­ri­ously through the Ger­man-held vil­lage, dodg­ing sniper fire as they en­acted their very own Tour de France.

“There was five of us,” re­called Scott, “a lit­tle de­tached party, like yel­low jer­seys.”

As they reached the farthest end of the vil­lage, they spot­ted the first of Howard’s be­lea­guered men — a lone Bri­tish soldier slumped on the ground and clutch­ing his shat­tered leg. The en­counter was very dif­fer­ent from the one made fa­mous by Lord Lo­vat. There was no bag­pipes or apolo­gies for be­ing late. The para­trooper looked Scott up and down and said, “Where the f--k have you been?” Scott then or­dered 3 Troop to cy­cle to­ward the bridge.

The fi­nal 75 me­tres were the most haz­ardous of all.

“Rounds hit­ting from all sides, there was rounds ric­o­chet­ing off and splat­ting and hit­ting.”

Four of Scott’s men sur­vived the gun­fire, but the fifth took a hit as he neared the bridge.

“Camp­bell got clob­bered. He got hit through the neck.”

Scott’s thrust to­ward the bridge had been lit­tle short of re­mark­able, but it was wit­nessed by only a hand­ful of men. This en­abled Lord Lo­vat to steal his thun­der when he ar­rived some 15 min­utes later. As ever with his lord­ship, he was to cre­ate a visual scene that would be for­ever re­mem­bered. As his troop neared the bridge, he told Millin: “Right piper, start the pipes again.”

The sight and noise of the main body of com­man­dos gave re­newed con­fi­dence to men. They shouted, cheered, threw cau­tion to the wind.

“Now, you Jerry bas­tards,” they yelled, “you’ve got a real fight on your hands.”

For the rest of their lives, Scott and his men would feel as if they had been cheated of their right­ful vic­tory. They had been first to the bridge and they had won the race by dint of their bravado.

“There was none of the bag­pipe play­ing and cheer­ing and all that crap,” said Scott.

There was sim­ply re­lief that all but one of his lit­tle team had sur­vived. It was a small vic­tory in a day of many big­ger vic­to­ries. But in be­ing the first to reach Be­nou­ville bridge — and lead­ing from the front — Stan Scott and his men had played a cru­cial role in se­cur­ing the eastern perime­ter of the Al­lies’ D -Day land­ing zone.

Bodies­lay sprawled all over the beach, with legs, arms and heads miss­ing, the blood clot­ting in the sand.

MATT CARDY/GETTY IM­AGES

Bri­tish Nor­mandy vet Ge­orge Clark­son was part of the 2014 com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­monies for the piv­otal Al­lied in­va­sion. The tak­ing and hold­ing of Pe­ga­sus Bridge — then known as Be­nou­ville bridge — was crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the in­va­sion and was in­cluded in the Hol­ly­wood movie The Long­est Day. Some who were there say there’s more to the story.

GETTY IM­AGES

A vet­eran is con­grat­u­lated at a 2017 ser­vice at Sword Beach to com­mem­o­rate the 73rd an­niver­sary of the D-Day land­ings. Lord Lo­vat’s ar­rival to re­lieve troops at Pe­ga­sus Bridge is leg­endary, but his flair for the dra­matic has over­shad­owed the ac­tions of a group of com­man­dos who ar­rived at the bridge be­fore he did.

AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Bill Millin was Lord Lo­vat’s per­sonal piper and fa­mously played dur­ing the D-Day land­ing on Sword Beach.

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