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A WALK IN THE SAND”. (MEMORIES OF COLONEL
In the winter of 1943, (after transfer from the Durham
Light Infantry), I completed a rigorous physical evaluation
at Hardwick Hall, Chesterfield, and obtained my parachute
qualification at Ringway, Manchester, before joining the
7 th Battalion (L.I.) The Parachute Regiment at Bulford Camp
The battalion commanding officer was Colonel
Pine-Coffin. I thought at that time what a peculiar name.
I joined him in our historic parachute drop into Normandy
on the night of the 5 th/6 th of June 1944.
as an error in navigation by the crew of the four engined
Stirling bomber, (which was our transport aircraft that pleasant
June evening in 1944), by a matter of 20 miles or so, distanced
myself from my preordained destiny with a landing in the
area of what was to be later known as the Pegasus Bridge,
and which culminated thirteen days later in the ignominy
of being captured by forward echelon German troops.
I returned to England in May of 1945, after a sojourn as
a guest of the German Government, (on an enforced weight
reduction exercise), I found that a letter bearing the signature
of Colonel Pine-Coffin had been received by my family informing
them that I was missing in action in Normandy, presumed killed
- or words to that effect.
After three months of medical leave, I reported to a unit
of the Parachute Regiment in Bulford camp sometime at the
end of 1945, and in March of 1946 was posted to Palestine.
It was in the autumn of 1947 that I once again came into
contact with Colonel Pine-Coffin under rather bizarre circumstances.
Whilst attending a course in accounting at an educational
camp in Gaza, with a view to being promoted to CQMS, I attended
a celebration party and maybe over imbibed a little - (let’s
say, in the words of the immortal song, you get a little
drunk and you land in jail - actually I did get a “little” drunk
but I certainly did not end up in jail.
My Company Commander
however did receive a notification from the Regimental Sgt
Major of the outfit that I was billeted with to the effect
that I had been involved in conduct unbecoming/conduct prejudicial,
(or whatever), which of course I strongly denied.
of this was that I was called before the Company Commander
and charged with a misdemeanor.
Whilst admitting that I was present at the alleged incident,
I strongly denied my involvement in whatever occurred and
protested my innocence and refused to accept the Major’s
punishment on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
a somewhat headstrong young Sgt I demanded to see the Commanding
Officer i.e. Colonel Pine-Coffin, and incidentally refused
his punishment and demanded, (well requested really), to
have an audience with the Brigadier.
During our walk together across the hot sand under the
blazing sun, the Colonel said that he had taken a look at
my records, (which were exemplary), and asked why I was being
so stupid as to jeopardize my career by continuing to challenge
the chain of command with respect to presenting my case.
During my post Parachute Regiment years, I must have lost
my way career wise somewhere along the way as it was clear
that I should have become a lawyer not an engineer. (Only
My answer of course was to clear my record of something
that I had not done, especially as it was based upon circumstantial
The Colonel asked if I was the same "Sykes" that
had been under his command in Normandy and who had been missing
in action and was presumed killed. I stated yes, I’m
afraid so - As I said, at that time I was a brash young
man who knew his rights!!!
Well, to cut a long story short I went in front of the
Brigadier who gave me a dressing down which was brutal in
it’s eloquence, especially after I once again demanded
to go further up the chain of command to confront the General
Officer Commanding Palestine. Chorley or no Chorley I knew
I was escorted out of the confrontation with the
Brigadier by the Colonel with the advise to keep my mouth
shut and accept his punishment.
At this point, I felt that the time had come to downplay
the incident, accept that discretion is the better part of
valor and succumb to the reality of the situation. The result
was that I was reduced to the rank of Corporal and sent immediately
to attend a course in small arms instruction at Hythe in
Kent. You thought that I was going to say that I was sent
to Sandhurst to train as an officer. I may not have been
very bright but I was not dumb either and I certainly had
initiative. Well, Hythe was probably as close as I was ever
going to get to Sandhurst.
Pity in some ways, as I have always felt that I would have made a good junior
officer. (Modest as well).
There was a sequel to this incident. When I returned to
Palestine a couple of months or so later, (well, seeing that
I was in England I had to take a couple of weeks leave to
recover from the ordeal, didn’t I), the Colonel was
no longer in command, he apparently had moved on to bigger
and better things.
At the first meeting, (upon my return to Palestine from
England), with my Company Commander he asked me why I was
wearing Corporal’s stripes. I pleaded loss of memory.
He smiled and asked if I was still receiving Sergeant’s
pay, and I answered certainly.
His comment was "Well
Sergeant, as there apparently appears to be no record of
your reduction in rank to Corporal why don’t you put
your Sergeant’s stripes back
up before anyone notices and resume your duties as platoon
Well, what would you do?
One can only portray Colonel Pine-coffin as a caring individual
who understood the men under his command, especially this
brash young Sergeant who gave him such a hard time in the
encounter with the Brigadier.
YOU COLONEL PINE-COFFIN”.