They pushed on under intense fire from the flak tower and from snipers who were targeting them from the windows of the battery office and the surrounding buildings. Some of the German snipers had been shocked from their beds and with pillow-ruffled hair they were still dressed in pyjamas.
Crouching down behind a four-foot-high bank, Pat contacted HQ to report they were in position and ready to assault. Moments later, in a perfectly choreographed move, a squadron of spitfires strafed Hess with cannon fire and then Lovat fired off three white Very flares which was the signal for B and F Troops to fix bayonets and charge the gun positions.
“Right, let’s go in.” Pat led the rush forward, leaping over the embankment and into open ground towards the gun sites. He felt a punch in his thigh and a boiling hot pain spreading inside his flesh and realised he had been shot again They darted between buildings, in and out of buildings, tossing grenades, thrusting with bayonets and firing off rounds until the site was a maelstrom of smoke and explosions and screams.
The first gun pit Pat came to had been hit by a mortar and was full of German corpses so he lurched in the direction of the next. He refused to surrender to the pain in his leg. He tried to imagine he was in a rugger scrum; he had to keep going until they were over the line. His rifle had been smashed and he couldn’t reload his pistol with only one hand. He staggered on, tumbled into a gun pit and was dragged out by two of his men. The demolition team jumped into the pit and went to work: open the breech, ram in the charge, close the breech, set the delay mechanism, take cover. The gun barrels split open like peeled bananas. The job was done. Pat finally yielded and collapsed from pain and loss of blood.
Pinned to the ravaged remains of the battery commander’s wall was the duty roster for 19 August 1942:
06:45 – 07:00 Frühsport (early morning exercise)
The Germans had certainly had their early morning exercise but not of the type they were expecting; scorched and mangled bodies littered the ground.
There weren’t enough stretchers to go round so the medical orderlies improvised. Anything suitable was stripped from the battery office and surrounding buildings. Mademoiselle Bertin’s lavatory door was about to go on an excursion to England. Pat was lifted onto one of the doors with two German prisoners acting as his stretcher-bearers. The terrified prisoners had to wade out into the sea almost up to their shoulders to load Pat onto Peter Scott’s gunboat. He had his leg and hand patched up before being transferred onto a destroyer for his journey back to England.
Once back on British soil, Pat was sent to the Canadian General Hospital at Bramshott and during his six-week stay there he realised he had suffered the family wound: his father and his brother Lawrie had received thigh injuries in exactly the same spot during their wars.
His hospital reverie and recuperation was interrupted one day by a telephone call from his mother. He had been awarded the Victoria Cross. He was astonished. “Brave?” he exclaimed, “Good Heavens, I was terrified!”
In 1962, Pat returned to the beaches of Dieppe as a Lieutenant Colonel to participate in a ceremony to remember those who had lost their lives twenty years earlier. Operation Cauldron had been a success, Operation Jubilee of which it was a small part was not so: around 4,100 men – many of them Canadian – had been slaughtered, injured or taken prisoner.
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At two minutes to two on the afternoon of 19 August 1962, marking the time when the last shot had been fired in 1942, a wreath was lowered into the sea, ships in the port sounded their horns and three French jet fighters swooped low over the square where the veterans stood, silently remembering. Pat’s thoughts were with his 4 Commando comrades, with Captain Pettiward, Lieutenant Macdonald and the other brave commandos who never really had a chance to experience life. The following day Pat journeyed along the coast to meet the inhabitants of Berneval who wanted to name a street in his honour.
Patrick Anthony Porteous VC died on the 9th of October 2000 at the age of 82. Remnants of the blockhouse and site of the Hess battery are still visible today and a monument was erected on the beach at Sainte-Marguerite-sur-Mer in August 2002 to the memory of the soldiers of No. 4 Commando. And it is still possible to take a stroll along Avenue du Captain Portheous in Berneval-le-Grand.
Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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