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Huddersfield One - One Man's War
Page 9 of 10

A WALK IN THE SAND”. (MEMORIES OF COLONEL PINE-COFFIN).

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 near Salisbury.
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.
Events, such 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.
When 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.
The outcome 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.
Being 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 kidding).
My answer of course was to clear my record of something that I had not done, especially as it was based upon circumstantial evidence.

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 my rights.
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 Sergeant".
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.
THANK YOU COLONEL PINE-COFFIN”.

A Huddersfield Man At War - Next Page

 


Durham Light Infantry
DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
Parachute Regiment
THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT Bill Sykes
Read Bill's Early Biography Here

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