From the Bocage to Belgium
A new 1st battalion was created in 1944, to replace that which had been lost at Singapore. The war-raised 8th battalion was given a unique honour when at a moving ceremony, the colonel of the Regiment Sir Clive Liddell conferred upon it the new title of 1st battalion. On 6 July 1944 the battalion landed in France, determined to uphold the honour of its illustrious predicessor.
The battalion was soon in action at Cagny, south-east of Caen, where it faced one of Hitler’s crack SS Divisions. The summer weather was at its hottest, and as the battalion left this sector heading towards the River Seine they were harassed by flies as well as German sniper and mortar fire. They passed Calvados heading east towards Vimont, an enemy held village. On 14 August 1944 the village was cleared, and the advance continued. They crossed the River Touque in darkness, with the aid of cables slung across by the pioneers, and ejected the German garrison on the far bank.
On 24 August the advance resumed, across heavily wooded country ideal for snipers. Among those killed here was Major John ‘Dizzy’ Dain, who before the war had been a master at Uppingham School. He was sadly missed. The battalion’s next major objective was the port of Le Havre which was stubbornly holding out. Again a determined enemy made good use of cover – his Spandau machine guns were particularly effective, and the battalion was only able to move forward with the support of tanks.
Next came the drive into Belgium, and as the German Army was now in full retreat, the battalion (aboard a fleet of trucks) advanced a record 116 miles in one day. On 29 September 1944 the 1st Leicesters were ordered to attack the German position known as the Depot de Mendicite, a combined workhouse and prison which stood astride the main road at Merxplas. It was heavily fortified, and the presence of the inmates prevented a preparatory artillery barrage.
The Leicesters attacked under cover of darkness and ‘C’ Company managed to enter the compound. The fighting here was confused as Germans fired upon them from all sides, but the company commander Major Arthur Denaro (left) led his men forward until he was killed. Denaro’s actions that day were of the highest order, and many would argue, deserving of the Victoria Cross. However this was not to be.