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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Normandy Tour 2018 – 13 Para

On the first full day we took a tour around the scenes of 6th Airborne Division's actions post D-Day. This was of particular interest as my Great Uncle died during this advance in the summer of 1944.

This is his story. (Source:-https://paradata.org.uk/people/david-mckirdy)

Sergeant David McKirdy, born in Glasgow, was the son of David Vincent and Jean McKirdy. He later moved to Bridlington, Yorkshire and married Emily (My Grannie’s Sister).
An early picture in Green Howards Beret and Lance Corporal stripes
He enlisted into the Green Howards, a Yorkshire based regiment. He was taken as a Prisoner of War while fighting in North Africa with the Green Howards and held in a POW camp in Italy, escaping during the Italian armistice. He was awarded a Mention in Despatches for his actions and the award appeared in the London Gazette on 27 April 1944.
David McKirdy (on the left) following his escape from an Italian POW camp.
Shortly after repatriation, he volunteered for airborne forces and attended Parachute Training Course 109 which ran at RAF Ringway from 27 March to 7 April 1944. This was a standard course of 8 descents including two descents from a balloon, 3 descents from a Whitley, one night descent from a balloon and 2 descents from a Dakota (including one with kitbag). The course instructor notes record that David was an “above average parachutist and efficient NCO”.

On qualifying as a military parachutist he was initially posted to the Airborne Forces Holding Unit and then transferred to the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion.

David jumped with the battalion, forming part of 5th Parachute Brigade, onto Drop Zone N, north of Ranville near Caen for the Normandy landings on 6th June 1944.

All tasks allotted to the battalion were completed according to schedule and the battalion established defensive positions around Ranville. There was considerable shelling of the battalion positions and a major attack against the battalion on 10 June was repelled with heavy losses to the enemy. On 17 June, the battalion moved forward to Le Mesnil to relieve 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and from there on 25 June, in to a rest area near Benouville bridges for a much-needed rest.

In July, David carried out a long spell of duty, with the battalion, in the line at Le Mesnil and the rest of the month was spent at rest or training areas.
In the village Car Park at Putot-en-Auge there is this highly informative
map board detailling the attack on the Hill 13 by 12 & 13 Para 18-19/08/44 and 48 Commando 19-20/08/44
In the first half of August, David moved with the battalion to attack the German positions at Salanelles and later in the month (18-19 August) advanced to secure the village of Putot-en-Auge.
As a result of this assault alone, 70 men from the battalion were killed wounded or missing. Many of whom are now buried in the village cemetery.
Looking up Hill 13 from 13 Para's start line. The Germans were dug in on the reverse
 slope and hit the Paras hard as they crossed the skyline.
The battalion was then ordered to take Pont L’Eveque, which was stubbornly defended by the Germans. As a result of two days of fierce fighting much of the town centre was set on fire and destroyed. It was during the assault to capture Pont L’Eveque that David McKirdy was killed.

Pont L'Eveque today
l'Eglise Saint-Michel in 1944 - the row of buildings to its front completely destroyed by fire.
Now restored to its former glory.
British Paras crossing the girder bridge by the church, in Pont L'Eveque August 1944. It was during the fighting in this area that David McKirdy was likely to have been killed in action.
The view today. The girder bridge would have crossed the river around the point where the first white van is parked (centre)
Sgt David McKirdy died on 23 August 1944, aged 37 years, and is now buried at Ranville War Cemetery, Calvados, France.

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