Several decades of research into the Raid on Saint-Nazaire and exposure to some 100 of the veteran sailors and Army Commandos who together pulled off what most experienced observers had then believed impossible, have brought me into contact with some of the most impressive human beings it has been my pleasure to know. Over the years many became friends to the point where their eventual passing has left voids others will struggle to fill.
Most recent to be lost is Major-General Corran Purdon, CBE, MC, CPM, who passed away on June 27th, 2018, aged 97. His full obituary was published in The Times newspaper of July 6th And while this is an excellent catalogue of his whole life’s achievements, I am going to use this page to describe in much more detail - and often in Corran’s own words, as contained in his book 'List the Bugle' - his involvement both in the new - and to some disturbingly buccaneering  - Army Commandos, forerunners of todays Royal Marines’ Commandos and U.S. Army Rangers, and in the March 1942 raid on Saint-Nazaire, the primary subject of Jeremy Clarkson’s highly regarded documentary ‘War Stories’ - (available now on DVD)   

Mere words can convey only a very limited understanding of a very special man: however, they will hopefully prompt further research on the part of those who appreciate just how fundamental to our society are the inseparable virtues of service to, and sacrifice on behalf of, one’s fellow human beings.
Born May 4th, 1921, in Rushbrooke, Co. Cork, Ireland, while his father, Major-General W. Brooke Purdon, was serving there with the Royal Ulster Rifles, Corran remained proud of his Irish connections which, shared by myself, led to many warm reminiscences, including, over recent years, an increasing number related to the success on the field, of our Irish International Rugby Team. 
A born soldier dedicated, as were so many of the ‘Charioteers’, to serving his country, he was scrupulously moral and one of those increasingly rare individuals who seemed always to be able to find something good to say about everyone. Latterly Honorary Colonel of the Royal Irish Rifles, his many and varied military experiences have been recorded in his book ‘List The Bugle’, initially published by Greystone Books, 1993. Now, sadly, out of print, I have included selected passages to illustrate both the purpose of the Raid on Saint-Nazaire, and the very special nature of then newly formed Army Commandos, a fighting élite whose unconventional methodology engendered deep suspicion within more traditional military circles. 
Corran"s family had, and still has, a very strong tradition of service. Various relatives had “..soldiered in the Rifle Brigade, the Guards, the ‘Gunners’; some were Army surgeons while others served in Irish Regiments." 
Inevitably, when family and friends got together in Ireland, the topic of soldiering was ever present in conversation. “At these gatherings there would be sons of the various families on leave from Sandhurst and Woolwich...and from time to time a Subaltern home from the North-West Frontier of India, or from Palestine. I used to listen avidly to their tales of life at the Royal Military College and the Royal Military Academy, and of active service abroad, and long for the day when I too could be a soldier. I was determined to be a soldier and used to read all the books of that era extolling the manly virtues and the British Empire." (As a boy growing up in Ireland Corran collected several thousand lead soldiers - all, sadly, lost later , in the 'blitz') 
Corran completed his education at  Campbell College, on the outskirts of Belfast ( “By the end of my school days I was in the Army class. To satisfy my ambition I worked hard at school to prepare myself for the Army Exam. In those days there were no Regular Commission Boards. Candidates sat written examinations in various subjects, after which they attended an Interview Board." 
In the summer of 1939 he passed into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, as a Gentleman Cadet.. "to be trained for my heart's desire, which was to be an infantryman." 
Inevitably his time at Sandhurst was cut short by the war, and after a short leave with his parents, now in London, he travelled to Armagh, Northern Ireland to join his regiment as a Subaltern platoon commander. The regimental depot later moved to Ballymena when the Royal Ulster Rifles Infantry Training Center was established there. 
At Ballymena Corran decided to join the Commandos. “One morning, as I was crossing the Square, Norman Wheeler, our Adjutant, called me into his office and showed me a notice calling for volunteers for Special Service, which he said would be right up my street, and I put my name down. My Colonel removed it. I applied again. Again he removed it. I was determined to join, so, hearing that one of the Special Service units, No.12 Commando, was forming in Northern Ireland and that the C.O. was nearby, I found out where he was and, borrowing a pick-up truck, went to see him. He accepted me and ‘fixed’ it with the War Office." 
“I found No.12 Commando forming in Londonderry. Officers and men, all volunteers, were still arriving, drawn from the Irish Regiments and from the 53rd and 61st Divisions who were stationed in Northern Ireland. I was in ‘C’ Troop. My men were all Welshmen - Welsh Guards, South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regiment, Royal Welch Fusiliers and Welsh Regiment." After formation, the Commando moved to Crumlin, just outside Belfast, where they were billeted with local families. 
While stationed in Crumlin, Corran had his first taste of serious Commando training at Lochailort, the special training school for irregular warfare which was established in and around Inverailort Castle, on the wild and rugged west coast of Scotland. Most of the training techniques now used the world over by Special Forces were developed here. Many of the ‘Charioteers’ trained at Lochailort where they found themselves in the company of secret agents being trained prior to parachuting into France (author's image below).

“We were required to send officers to attend the Commando course at Lochailort on the west coast of Scotland, between Glenfinnan and Arisaig. I was one of those selected and arrived at this beautiful, wild spot one winter’s day. Although we ate in the big house, we student officers slept in tents in the grounds. This particular six-week course was in November-December and I remember feeling incredibly fit and healthy.
“The Commandant at that time was Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Hughie’ Stockwell, commander of ground forces at Suez in 1956. He was a natural leader whom we all admired and liked.
“We had among our instructors officers who had made names for themselves as explorers, rifle shots, etc., before the war...and there were two marvellous Shanghai policemen, Fairbairn and Sykes, designers of the Commando fighting knife, who taught us close combat fighting. The RSM was called Royle. We were told he had been an officer in the Highland Light Infantry with David Niven. He was a fine man with great presence. 
“We did a tremendous amount of fitness training, and the long exercises over the rugged, mountainous countryside which surrounded us were designed to increase our powers of endurance, to accustom us to direction finding, self-reliance and to teach us battle tactics by day and by night. We fired every type of infantry weapon including the Boys anti-tank rifle standing, and the 2” mortar from the hip. We had been told terrible tales about what happened to those who fired these last two weapons - shattered shoulders, broken hips, etc., But I reckoned that if we were invited to shoot them it must be safe. I made a point of always being first to volunteer on the principle that if you’ve got to fire them anyway, why not get it over with." 
At the beginning of 1941, 12 Commando moved from Northern Ireland to the south coast of England. From here, as part of amphibious training, Corran went up to the Gareloch twice, to practice landing from submarines. “The second time...we were based in the depot ship HMS Forth and trained mainly in HMS Thunderbolt. We discovered that, originally named Thetis, she had sunk with heavy loss of life through drowning during her pre-war trials...We were submerged on one occasion, and a sailor was telling us about the Thetis disaster and indicating where the corpses had been found, when suddenly we noticed water gushing in from overhead. We studiously ignored it and hoped we looked unconcerned, our imaginations working overtime. Then there was the sound of whistling and a cheerful matelot came along, screwed something up and the flow of water ceased." 
During this period the ‘powers that be’ seemed to have little idea of how to employ the Commandos - especially as so many senior officers were dead set against the very existence of Special Forces. As Corran remembers – “We were alerted to carry out several raids on the occupied French coast whilst based at Warsash. One after another was cancelled at the last moment. On one occasion we had all embarked in our landing craft at Dover Harbour and were literally about to sail for a raid on Berck-sur-Mer when we were ordered out and back to base. This was very frustrating, and we became very cynical." 
By Spring, 1941, Corran, now in ‘D’ Troop, had moved to Scotland as part of a more general movement of all Commando units to the area of the Great Glen which, being both inaccessible and underpopulated, was considered a secure venue for special training. Initial training took place around Inveraray, on Loch Fyne, (Combined Operations Training Center for amphibious warfare). 
"On one occasion when we were training with several other Army Commandos and the Royal Marines, someone in the opposition appeared to have fired live rounds at us. Certainly the twigs in the bush behind which several of us were standing fell, broken. I was filled with rage and seizing and loading my Very pistol I pointed it at the group of ‘enemy’ in the fir trees in front of me, whom I suspected of firing, and squeezed the trigger. To my horror I watched the red, glowing, Very light curve accurately towards a soldier I could see across the valley and I thought ‘I’ve done it this time’ but fortunately he stepped behind a fir tree and the light hit it" 
12 Commando’s base was in Ayr, on the west coast of Scotland not far from Troon, known now for its championship golf course. Its headquarters was in Wellington Square. He and Chris Burney (who later joined SOE), were billeted with a Mrs Thompson in Racecourse Road. Mrs Thompson was very strict and, like a mother, used to ‘bollock’ them regularly for being ‘pissed’. On arrival home after a night on the town, she would be standing there to greet them with the admonishment “You've been drinking! I can smell it off your breath!" 
Corran remained in Racecourse Road until he met his first wife, Patricia Petrie, who was living in Ayr with her uncle and aunt at a house called ‘Dunscaig’, now the Pickwick Hotel. As he recalls, “I had seen this terribly pretty girl in the town, but she seemed unaware of my admiring stares. Then one night I was invited to a dance at which she, Patricia Petrie, was my partner. I fell madly in love with her..… We were engaged within three weeks and, had it not been for the Saint-Nazaire raid we were to have been married on her birthday, 17 August that year. As it turned out we had to wait until I returned from Germany in 1945." 
On becoming engaged Corran moved out of Racecourse Road and, with Patricia, moved into the house of a friend, Mrs. Turnbull, who was quite a dragon of a woman – “..very nice; but very dragonish" - and who was absolutely determined there would be no ‘hanky –panky’. Her daughter would eventually become their bridesmaid. 
At Christmas, 1941, Corran took part in Operation ANKLET, a raid on the Lofoten Islands off the Norwegian coast, which was designed to complement the much larger raid on the Norwegian port of Vaagso. “On Boxing Day, 26 December, 1941, at 0600hrs, No. 12 Commando, wearing white, hooded overalls, landed unopposed whilst the German garrison was sleeping off their Christmas feast”. This is especially relevant to the raid on Saint-Nazaire because it meant Corran was amongst the relatively few Charioteers actually to have seen action prior to Saint-Nazaire. 

“In February 1942, three officers and thirteen NCOs of my Commando were sent on a demolitions course." 
The officers were Corran, Lt. Gerard Brett and 2Lt. Paul Bassett-Wilson. The men were Lance-Sergeant Deery, Corporals Blount, Jones, Chetwynd, Johnson, Chung, Hoyle, Callaway, Molloy, Wright, Reeves, Ferguson, and Lance-Corporal Lemon.
“The officer running the course, Captain Bill Pritchard, MC, RE, (below) won the affection, respect and admiration of everyone from the outset. Bill, a Welshman, was a born leader. We would have done anything he told us to do without question because he had such a wonderful happy, cheerful and kind nature and because he was so obviously a master of his subject - demolitions. He had proved this in action at Dunkirk and had won a Military Cross in doing so.

“I am sure that all of us who had the privilege of knowing Bill Pritchard and what is owed to him, wish that his efforts on the Saint-Nazaire raid could have been recognized by the posthumous award of a Victoria Cross. Because no one lived to witness his death it was not possible under existing regulations for him to be awarded anything other than a Mention in Dispatches (MID)." 
Demolition training began in bleak Burntisland, a port on the north shore of the Firth of Forth, opposite Edinburgh....."..where we learned about caisson and double lock gates, winding houses, opening and closing machinery, steel bridges, cranes, guns, pumping stations and power stations. We were instructed in the use of plastic explosives and made-up charges and where to place them in the most effective way...All of us became adept at the various means of ignition and the need for duplication. Bill Pritchard and Bob Montgomery made it all fascinating and our skill, speed and confidence increased rapidly." 
Training continued at Cardiff"s Barry Docks and in Southampton at the giant King George V dock. Of the men involved Corran writes – “Our men were the pick of the British Army and, like the officers, came from every regiment and corps but again, as with the officers, they were welded together by pride and confidence." In response to a question from myself as to whether the men were really as special as is usually made out, he observed how ‘Tricia, who was his fiancee, had known an awful lot of these people, of all ranks, and said of them, ‘But it’s true; they were good looking, they were fit, they were full of go. Everybody was a volunteer; I think that was the thing. There were no pressed men there at all...I think maybe that was mirrored in the way they felt.”
This perception of special quality and special status was brought home to me again and again in conversation, often with women who as teenagers had clearly regarded the Army Commandos as the ‘rock-stars’ of the day - fit, attractive, dangerous, exciting and anti-establishment. These often very young men, whose lives and actions were surrounded by mystery, were the ‘rebels" of the Armed Forces, often in trouble with the authorities, and regarded with deep suspicion by traditionalists. Simply put - Commandos were ‘cool’ and their allure is evidenced by the number of men who became involved with, and often got married to, girls and women within the households in which they were billeted. 
Having finished the demolition training, Corran travelled to Falmouth by train, joining the 2 Commando contingent on board the Princess Josephine Charlotte. “From here we went ashore for training - PT, speed marches and shooting. One idyllic spring afternoon a number of us (young officers) went ashore and despite it being March, swam in the clear waters of the (River) Fal, and lay on the grass afterwards, in warm spring sunshine, chatting. It was there that that very tough rugger ‘blue’, Harry Pennington, said to me that England was worth dying for, and I wondered afterwards if he had had a premonition of his death." 
(Pennington, Lieutenant, 4 Commando, was one of the many killed when Lieutenant Bill Tillie’s ML 268 blew up.) 
Of the briefing on board the PJC Corran writes, “There was a gripping feeling of excitement when the CO of No. 2 Commando, (Colonel Charles Newman), assembled all officers and briefed us off an excellent scale model on our forthcoming raid, the destination of which was still secret. We were to study and discuss the model and the accompanying maps and diagrams until we could visualize localities and routes almost as if we had already visited the place" 
While on board the PJC there was another type of briefing - which dealt with escaping if unfortunate enough to be captured. Corran’s comments are brief, but reflect the general level of disgust at how such an important subject was dealt with. “In fact,” he recalls, “we didn’t even like the man who gave it to us. He put us all off. I remember being in there and that he somehow or another put all our backs up. We were very unimpressed: it was a rotten briefing. He was harking back to WW1....and no (escape) equipment was given." 
Lt Stuart Chant, of 5 Commando, has a fuller description which reads, “...we were not very favorably impressed when an RAF officer, Squadron Leader Evans - the famous escaper from the First World War and writer of several books on the subject - boarded the ship and gave us a talk on escaping and what to do if we should be left behind in France. The trouble was that he addressed us over the loud-hailer system of the ship. Not only could his voice be heard all over the Falmouth Docks, but, tied up alongside our ship was a water-supply boat with the crew standing with their hands in their pockets listening to every word (he) had to say."  (‘St. Nazaire Commando’, John Murray Publishers Ltd)
RAF aircrew flying over Occupied territory were equipped with compasses, money and maps printed on silk, etc, to assist them in returning to the UK. It is almost incredible to believe that on a raid such as Chariot, from which so few men were expected to make it home, absolutely no escape aids were provided! 

As leader of a dockside demolition team, Corran would travel to Saint-Nazaire on board HMS Campbeltown, which he and his men boarded just prior to departure. “We boarded ...from the PJC at about midday on 26 March, 1942, in tremendous form, everyone very excited at the prospect of the raid. Before we left the PJC, the Wardroom Petty Officer Steward, Petty Officer Ronald Chilver, gave me a silver horseshoe that had been on his wedding cake. He and I had first sailed together on the ..Lofotens raid, and he used to give me cups of tea in the pantry. The horseshoe, having done its stuff at Saint-Nazaire, was taken off me by Germans after I was wounded, so, sadly I have been unable to return it to him.
“The rest of our force embarked in the MLs and the MGB at the same time. I remember being immensely impressed with the Captain, Lieutenant-Commander Sam Beattie and his crew. Sam Beattie had great dignity and was a tall, good-looking man with an Elizabethan beard and a friendly and calm manner.
“Before we sailed, our Royal Navy Force Commander steamed round our little fleet in his Headquarters boat MGB 314. We looked at him with interest and confidence. Commander Bob Ryder had a reputation as being a really gutsy, tough-egg leader, who already wore the Polar Medal’s white ribbon, and we were glad and proud to be serving under his command. He and... Newman, together with their immediate staffs, then transferred to HMS Atherstone.
Over the night of the 26th-27th, Corran and his team had their last sleep on board the destroyer. Next morning – “I went through our plan several times with my team. I had the utmost confidence in my four splendid corporals, each of who could well have had a commission before the war ended, had they returned safely........They all exuded cheerfulness and confidence and were physically as hard as nails. I knew that with them we could not fail unless we were all knocked out before we got there. I think we could all have found our way blindfolded to our winding house and have laid our demolition charged likewise." 
Corran"s four corporals were - ‘Cab’ Callaway, Ron Chung, ‘Johnny’ Johnson and Bob Hoyle. As with so many other raiders, most had made dates for the next weekend, with fiancées, wives or girlfriends - this in spite of the small chance there was of ever coming back alive. Four of the five are shown below at a later reunion. L-R, Corporal Bob Hoyle, Corporal 'Cab' Callaway, Corran, and Corporal Ron Chung.

Of life on board during the last day - the 27th - he writes, “We drank endless cups of ‘Kai’ (‘Pusser’s Kye’ a particularly thick, sweet form of hot chocolate made from slab chocolate shavings mixed with water) and munched huge bully beef sandwiches, delighting in the scrumptious, hot, soft ship-baked bread, a real treat. Some bought Mars bars, cigarettes, etc., from the ship’s canteen until it was realised that the entire stock would go up with the ship and no payment was necessary! Others made dreadful sandwiches containing such things as Brylcreem, shaving soap and toothpaste, and offered them to unsuspecting friends. Many of us were photographed in various poses with the German Ensign fluttering above us, such photos have survived." 
(NB: Before disembarking for action, it was common for the men to stuff their battledress pockets with ‘goodies’ - Mars bars, cigarettes, and other  luxuries often unheard-of in a country blighted by rationing). 
Just before midnight, Bill Copland summoned all the officers to a final, intensely moving, conference in the wardroom, which happened to be Corran’s team’s action station. When the conference was over and the others had dispersed, his and Gerard Brett’s teams prepared for disembarkation, sitting on the wardroom deck with their backs against the bulkheads to lessen the shock of ramming. “We, seated below....had felt the drag of the ship’s bottom as she threshed over the mud shoal, and now we felt and heard the hammering and explosions of German shells and bullets raining against Campbeltown’s hull. A shell, glowing red, passed through the wardroom as we sat there - but continued out without exploding. The intensity of noise increased as Campbeltown neared the dry dock. Then came a bump as we hit and passed through the boom, followed by a long, shuddering impact as we struck the gate. We had arrived.
“Gerard Brett’s demolition team and mine made our way up the companion to the exposed upper deck above, with our heavy rucksacks on our backs. The noise was indescribable and tracer was everywhere, crossing the ship and coming towards us in seemingly slow coloured arcs of whites, yellows, blues, reds and greens, which suddenly whipped past on nearing us. Erect on the deck, rifle slung over his shoulder, stood the confidence-inspiring, lean, soldierly figure of Major Bill Copland. ‘Off you go!’ he shouted, just as if it had been a training exercise, his calm and certain bearing inducing coolness within this hectic environment.
"Forward we went, hardly feeling the weight of our explosive-filled rucksacks. The Fo'c'sle was exposed to a blinding array of searchlights and to intense enemy fire. An incendiary had burnt a large hole in the deck, which was burning, and smoke added to the picture of war. The 12-pounder had been knocked out and nearby (Lieutenant) Johnny Proctor lay in his kilt, his leg shattered, cheering us on. The scaling ladders were pushed down over the port side of the bows where we were to land, held in place by the very gallant Tibbits and Gough (RN Lieutenants, killed together later, on board the burning ML 177), both totally disregarding the intense enemy fire, much of it close-range and directed straight at us. I remember them both cheerfully encouraging us and swearing as they tried to hold the ladders steady. Of my party, Corporal Bob Hoyle fell through the burning hole in the deck but was saved from disappearing below by his rucksack which caught on the sides. We pulled him up, burnt, and he landed unperturbed and cheerful - alternately laughing and swearing." David Rowland's beautifully detailed painting of the disembarkation is shown below.

“The ladders were unsteady and some of us, myself included, jumped most of the way down stumbling under the weight of our heavy rucksacks as we landed. Our little party consisting of myself, Corporals Johnny Johnson, Ron Chung, Bob Hoyle and Cab Callaway, rallied together and made our way at a trot along the side of the dry dock towards our objective, the far winding house. Our rubber-soled boots were almost noiseless. We wore, for recognition purposes, webbing belts and anklets scrubbed white. En-route Corporal Johnson was hit and wounded (severely wounded in the arm: he applied a First Field Dressing to the wound, then went on with the others). We came to our winding house and found it had a heavy metal door. I tried unsuccessfully to shoot the lock in, then Ron Chung burst it open with a sledge-hammer. (Below, the interior of one of the Winding Houses)

“Once inside (down the steps), following the drill we knew so well, we laid our made-up charges and connected them up. Corporal Johnny Johnson, in great pain, showed a wonderful example of fortitude, determination and efficiency. The other three were as cool as ice and as cheerful as on a holiday. When we were ready to blow I sent Ron Chung across to Gerard Brett’s party to tell him we were ready when he was, and that once he and his team had completed their task and had passed safely through our area, we would blow up our winding house. Ron Chung ran across under intense fire, fully illuminated by the glare of searchlights. He returned after successfully completing his mission having found the area swept by a hail of bullets and he himself being hit." (Brett, by this time, had been wounded and was lying on the dock-side in great pain).
The noise of firing was terrific and the place continued to be lit up by searchlights and the fire of explosions. Gerard Brett’s party came through us having suffered heavily. Gerard, badly wounded, was carried by Corporals Wright and Ferguson. Once they were through and clear, from what we all hoped was a safe distance, I pulled the pins of our igniters. It was a memorable sight. The entire building seemed to rise several feet vertically before it exploded and disintegrated like a collapsed house of cards.
“In the light of the flames we could see that our task was successfully completed and we moved swiftly back to the rendezvous point." They followed Brett’s men, working through Captain Donald Roy’s bridgehead on the dockside immediately north of bridge ‘G’. As ‘G’ was being swept by fire from the U-Boat pens and ships in the harbour, all they could do was choose the right moment and run like hell to the other side, where survivors were collecting around Newman’s HQ position. Here Corran reported to Newman with news of his success. 
Having made it to Newman’s position, Corran still confidently expected that he would soon be on his way home to Patricia. It was quite a shock therefore to discover that the fleet of pristine Motor Launches they had travelled over with were now being destroyed piecemeal, and that they would have to fight their way out through the town. As Corran remembers, they were young enough and naive enough to believe they could do this.
“We looked over the River Loire, bathed as it was in the white light of German searchlights and criss-crossed by coloured tracer. Heavy pillars of smoke and orange bursts of explosions denoted that there were indeed no ships to take us home to England. Had the original proposal of sending a second destroyer instead of the very vulnerable MLs been accepted, it might have been a different story, for not only would a destroyer have been less vulnerable, it would have given us all a fighting chance of returning. Because of its robustness in comparison to the little wooden craft, it might well have enabled a successful landing to take place at the Old Mole and have resulted in the successful knocking-out of the strong-points there. The failure to include the second destroyer cost not only the return of the main body of survivors, but also the lives of those of our fine Commandos and sailors who had to try to achieve their tasks at the Old Mole from flimsy and unsuitable craft...." 

“We formed up, and led by our…(more heavily armed)… assault and protection parties, moved forward at the double, by bounds. Our progress consisted of crossing open, bullet-swept ground running flat out, pausing in dark patches of cover to reform for the next bound. Our assault and protection parties did magnificent work, outstanding among them were Donald Roy, nicknamed ‘The Laird’ moustached, kilted, upright, disdaining cover and holding to the centre of the street; Johnny Roderick and ‘Tiger’ Watson...both wounded; and those fearless, tough examples of the finest British fighting man, Troop Sergeant-Major Haines and Sergeant Challington. 
We were being fired on from all sides, some of it coming from very close range, but we charged on rather like a pack of rugger forwards. There was a certain amount of laughter, cursing and calls of encouragement, and every now and then someone was hit. Our Commando boots made little sound, the searchlights were no longer able to glare on us and we must have made a difficult target. However a lot of us had some very near squeaks and I vividly recall that when I tripped on a strand of wire and had fallen flat on my face, a German bullet struck the cobbles within inches of my head throwing up sparks and chips of stone, one of which hit my face.

"At the end of the quay (facing the U-Boat Pens), we came to the Place de la Vieille Ville, an open, broad area beyond which lay.....Bridge 'D', a girder bridge about 70 yards off. The bridge and the square were under heavy enemy fire, including that from an 88mm gun. We all went for it like long-dogs. I recall (Captain) Donald Roy, sweeping along the middle of the road, erect in his kilt, the cheerful Colonel Charles Newman and the confidence-inspiring Major Bill Copland who was a rock to us all.... A hail of enemy gunfire erupted as we crossed the bridge, projectiles slamming into its girders, bullets whining and ricocheting off them and from the cobbles. There was a roar of gunfire of varying calibres and the percussion of 'potato-masher' grenades as we neared the far end. One of the latter burst at my feet and the explosion, combined with my own forward velocity, lifted me clean off the ground, wounding me in the left leg and shoulder. I remember landing on the back of the sturdy (Captain) Stanley Day, No. 2 Commando's Adjutant. I could feel my left battledress trouser leg wet with blood, but beyond a sense of numbness my leg still worked and I quickly forgot about it." (Below, Bridge 'D' and the Submarine Pens, looking approximately north).

“A German motorcycle combination came flying round the corner (of the Place du Bassin). I pumped several rounds into the occupants who crashed, dead, into a wall. My feeling of satisfaction at what I thought was my personal success dissolved later on when I discovered that just about everyone present claimed to have fired simultaneously at the luckless enemy. Then we saw what seemed to be an armoured car, firing and moving into position at a crossroads about 150 yards ahead of us. Seeing that the way directly ahead was barred, we turned left.
“We split into smaller parties and I was among a group with Colonel Newman and Major Copland. We came on a lorry parked by the roadside and Bill Copland tried to get it started. All he succeeded in doing was to switch on the headlights, illuminating, among others, the Charles Atlas figure of Bung Denison, our protection party commander, to cries of ‘Put those bloody lights out!’ I was at Charles Newmans side as an armoured car passed us and then we started what has since been called ‘The St-Nazaire Obstacle Race’ clambering over backyard walls and into and out of houses. In one room breakfast was set, and...Bung had a mouthful or two en-route.
“Colonel Charles, because dawn was approaching, decided that our party should find somewhere to lie up for the hours of daylight, and then break out under cover of darkness. A lot of us had been wounded by then and Bill Etches had been very badly hit during the initial stages. How he had kept up only his stout heart knows. (Lt W W Etches, 3 Commando: demolition oversight party for ‘Normandie’ dock. Badly hit during the final approach on board Campbeltown. Refused to evacuate onto boats, choosing instead to make his way to Newman and remain with him throughout). We went through a door into a cellar fitted out as an air-raid shelter, with palliasses on the floor. Here the very badly wounded received what little medical attention could be given them, and we hoped to escape discovery." (There was a table in the cellar and Etches was put on this. Unfortunately one of the officers ‘Some bloody fool’, in Corran's words, left his scrubbed webbing belt outside the cellar door, hence their later discovery by a German patrol).
All too soon we heard raucous, hysterical Nazi shouts. The door burst open and tense-looking, armed Germans appeared. The Colonel, in view of the fact that of his party of sixteen only four were unwounded, decided to call it a day. We were bundled out and thrust across the road to the house opposite, which turned out, to our wry amusement, to be the German Headquarters. Others of our number were brought in to join us and then, at about 10.35AM (11.35 Franco- German time) there was a huge roar and concussion as HMS Campbeltown blew up, and we gave an enormous cheer. The Germans then got very jumpy again and it was obvious that a number of them were trigger-happy.
“Whilst our unwounded went to a Stalag at Rennes (Front-Stalag 133), those of us who had been wounded were taken to the Hermitage Hotel (still dominating the seafront today) at La Baule, where we were forced to put on hospital nightshirts and lie on mattresses closely packed on the (floor) while German sailors, Tommy guns at the alert, moved around covering us as we lay there. I had Micky Wynn on one side of me. Although he had just lost an eye he was typically brave and cheerful. On my other side was Sergeant Dick Bradley, MM (brought up in the Black Forest - original family name Goebbels) shot through the body, but also cheerful and gallant. It was the most depressing time of my life: the realisation that we were prisoners of war, that we would not be quickly rejoining our loved-ones and friends, coupled with the squalor of our condition and the unpleasantness of our captors, came in massive contrast to the excitement and elation of the operation.
“We did what we could to help our severely injured and to keep up our spirits. The behaviour of some of the Nazi medical orderlies and staff, women as well as men, was callous and unpleasant and certainly induced a feeling of hatred that many of us had not entertained up to then. I still recall the moronic naval youth who, when I was injected - presumably with anti-tetanus - threw the hypodermic syringe at my buttock like a dart, and I still remember feeling the point of its needle against the bone.
“I was fairly fluent in French...I suppose because of this I was taken away to identify a number of our dead comrades. They were already in open coffins, between twenty and thirty of them, and it was a terribly sad and unpleasant task. I remember the body of the superb fighting NCO, Sergeant Tom Durrant, VC, and all the wounds he had suffered in his brave and self-sacrificial final battle." (Durrant, manning a machine-gun on board the retiring ML306, had taken on a German destroyer and continued to engage in spite of numerous, ultimately mortal, wounds. He is shown below). 

"Those of us who could walk were given back our clothes in order to attend the funeral of our fallen comrades. The Germans were correct and punctilious and obviously wanted to honour our brave men. It was a dreadfully depressing occasion. I was one of the four who lowered coffins into the grave and I remember gripping the rope like one possessed as I felt it, slimy with wet mud, slipping in my hand, and the feeling of relief when the act of lowering was successfully completed. We passed in single file by the Union Flag-draped coffin, paying our last respects with an ‘eyes right’.
“When our wounds improved we were moved to (Rennes), to an old barracks where we were cared for by French colonial troops. These orderlies were Senegalise and Indo-Chinese. They looked after us like brothers and were ever cheerful and kind. The Senegalise were drill addicts and used to delight in demonstrating their arms drill to us, using broom sticks as rifles.
“The French doctors and nurses were charming and to my surprise one of the doctors, a Commandant Ricquaert, came to tell me that he had served on my father’s staff in 1940 when my father brought the remnants of the Army Medical Services out of France through - of all places - Saint-Nazaire. I decided to enlist his help in order to escape and tried to persuade him to allow me to conceal myself in a large wicker laundry basket, under the soiled sheets, to be carried out of the barracks. With my ignorance of existing harsh German reprisals and with the intolerance of my youth, I was upset at his reluctance to help me. What the good doctor did do, quite unknown to me, was to ask his wife to notify my parents and my fiancee that I was alive and well. His wife addressed a letter to Major-General W.B. Purdon, DSO. OBE, MC, posted it in German occupied Paris!!! and, unbelievably, it was delivered to my father, in London." 
From Rennes, Corran was taken to Marlag und Milag Nord, the Naval/Merchant camp near Bremen where all the Charioteers were gathered initially. He made the journey in the company of his wounded Corporal, Johnny Johnson, and in Marlag met up with the remainder of his party - all of whom had survived. While here, Corran was involved in the construction of an escape tunnel, organised by Bill Copland and supervised by the Sapper captain, Bob Montgomery. He was still in the camp when the Germans notified Beattie of the award of his Victoria Cross. 
Having spent his 21st birthday in Marlag, Corran was taken to the officers’ camp, Oflag IX AH at Spangenberg, near Kassel, when the naval and Commando prisoners were eventually separated. “Oflag IX AH was a fine old Schloss set on the top of a steep, wooded hill, above the little town of Spangenberg. It was surrounded by a deep, dry moat in which the prisoners took exercise, and was entered over a wooden drawbridge covered by a guardroom set on the opposite side of the moat to the Schloss. Armed guards were stationed on the bridge itself, and also, within sight of each other, round the perimeter.....By night searchlights illuminated the walls of the Scloss, and moat." 
Needless to say Corran managed to escape from the castle and was well on his way to Belgium when recaptured. As a consequence he was sent to the ‘bad boys’ camp - Oflag IV C, Colditz. Spangenberg is now a smart hotel (, and Corran revisited it with his family. “Whilst there I remembered the occasion when I was in a small party that broke into a dungeon where there was said to be a well leading down to a tunnel out of the Schloss. We were trying to see down the well by match-light when someone dislodged a huge lamp which was suspended over it. It disappeared with a mighty booming sound into the depths and we just got back into the courtyard before armed Germans came running in. We (had) carried a 30-foot rope made of sheets, down which we proposed to slide. When ...I looked down by electric light into the yawning, vertical (shaft) I was relieved that we had not had time to try out our ‘rope’. The thought of dangling at its end still with a hundred foot drop tends to whiten the hair..." 


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