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James Delingpole

Commando courage

Life as a wireless operator with 4 Commando Brigade

26 November 2005

12:00 AM

26 November 2005

12:00 AM

Patrick Hagen served as a wireless operator with 4 Commando Brigade signals troop. Here he describes the moment when, while guarding their exit route during a four-man hit-and-run raid on a radar site on the French coast, he and his friend Harry were discovered by two Germans.

‘There were only two types of commandos, the quick and the dead. This is what we’d been taught. So we both shot at once. Harry gave his man on his side two shots and I gave my man two shots. There was a small hole in his front — where the other shot had gone to, I don’t know — but a very large hole in his back and there was a lot of tomato sauce. By now, the other two who had gone to the radar site, which was only 400 or 500 yards away, were running like hell towards us and we all picked our way through the sand hills which was difficult because it was said that they were mined. S mines, they were called — “Schuh mines”, the Germans called them; the Americans called them “Bouncing Betties”; and we called them “De-bollockers”. They’d jump up about three or four foot and take you in half. Anyway, we made our way very gingerly to the boats and we got off-shore and we were taking shots from the Germans by this time. And we got on the MTB and I lay flat on my back on the deck and I was violently sick over the side. Harry pulled me back and said, “What’s up with yer?” I said, “I don’t like it. I think I’ve got it wrong. I ought to join the Girl Guides.”’

It wasn’t all bad. While in England, to encourage self-reliance, commandos were billeted not in camps but in private houses and were expected to make their own way to parade on time. One night, Pat was informed by his sergeant that tomorrow would be particularly hard — a 30-mile march followed by shooting practice.

‘I was just getting to sleep when there was a knock at the door. It was my land-lady wearing nothing but a dressing-gown. “It’s hard to be good, Patrick,” she said dropping her gown. “And it’s especially hard at times like this.” I was 17 at the time. God that march was hard the next day. The next night, I put a chair in front of my door, and said to my mate who was billeted with me, “It’s your turn this time.”’

Hagen’s was one of the first units into the ruins of Le Havre, disastrously bombed by the allies with over 3,000 civilian deaths in one night. He won’t go into detail about what he did to the Germans he found in Gestapo headquarters — ‘All I can tell you is that they were suitably rewarded’ — but has fond memories of the time he and his sergeant tricked a Scottish unit out of some war booty which they were loading on to a lorry.

‘We were wearing parachute smocks with no badges of rank or anything, so Edwards, my sergeant, who was a professional man in civilian life — he was a burglar — was immediately promoted to be a major. We went and accosted this Scottish unit and told them it was our job to shoot them as they couldn’t be looting stuff from anywhere at Le Havre and we had strict orders. Anyway, the young lieutenant that was with them negotiated with now-Major Edwards and we said, “Right, well, we shall have to keep the lorry for evidence. And you’ll have to march back to your unit.” And of course all that happened was that we shared it out amongst ourselves. There was cigarettes, wine and food, it was absolutely full up, it was amazing.’

After D-Day, Hagen and his unit spent two months living in slit trenches, holding the line near Salinelles in eastern Normandy.

‘I was in the ch

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