When Pat saw an Army Council Instruction calling for volunteers to undertake duties of a special nature, he knew it was exactly the sort of excitement he was looking for. He put his name forward, passed the interview and was told to catch the ferry to Arran and report to Colonel Lister of No. 4 Commando.
He spent the next two and a half years undergoing tough training in Troon. He watched his 4 Commando comrades disappear from time to time to take part in operations that included raids on the Lofoten Islands and at Saint-Nazaire. Each time Pat was left behind wondering when his turn would come.
His chance finally came in August 1942 when the Commando was sent to Weymouth to begin training for another operation. They lived on board a former Belgian cross-channel ferry, HMS Prins Albert, which was anchored off Portland and they began assaulting the cliffs along the Dorset coast. They practised landing from Assault Landing Craft at Redcliffe Bay at Arish Mell and at Worbarrow Tout. They practised at dawn and they practised at dusk. They rehearsed a daylight attack on the anti-aircraft battery at Osmington. They constructed paths of chicken wire across barbed wire on the beach and scrambled across them.
On the 11th of August, they were moved into billets in Weymouth town and the Prins Albert sailed away from Portland. Pat’s life back on land became a Groundhog Day of mile-long runs first thing every morning; French and German lessons; marching at the double with a full load and marching at the double in wet clothes.
On the 17th of August, Pat and the other officers were briefed about their forthcoming operation which would be codenamed ‘Cauldron’. Their goal was to destroy ‘Hess’, the German six-gun battery on the cliffs near Varengeville, west of Dieppe. Each of the guns was sunk into a six-foot deep pit of around twenty-five feet in diameter and had a range of more than ten miles. Major Derek Mills Roberts would lead a party assaulting the battery from Vasterival on ‘Orange Beach 1’ and the commanding officer, Lord Lovat, would land with B and F Troops further west along the coast near Quiberville on ‘Orange Beach 2’, to execute a wide flanking movement and attack the gun emplacements from the rear. Pat was told that he would be with Lovat’s party and would act as the liaison officer between the two groups.
The following day, the Commando left Weymouth and travelled by road in convoy to Southampton Docks where the Prins Albert was waiting for them again. After they had boarded, the ship was immediately secured and all ranks were briefed about their role in Cauldron and its wider impact as a part of ‘Operation Jubilee’.
At quarter past seven that evening, the Prins Albert, disguised as a merchant vessel, set sail. A few hours earlier Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten had boarded the ship and told 4 Commando that their task was of the utmost importance and they must see it through whatever the cost. Lovat had added that it would be the most difficult task they had ever faced but they must keep in their minds that they represented the cream of the British Army.
Pat tried to get a few hours sleep but the nerves scrabbled away at the inside of his belly and thoughts looped round and round behind his closed eyes. A breakfast of stew was served at half past one in the morning and then Pat smeared his face with black camouflage paint, checked and double-checked his weapons and equipment.
By half past four he was crammed into one of four Assault Landing Craft snaking towards the shore…
Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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