Major Ralph Symonds Neale (known as ‘Roger’) came from Truro and was granted an emergency commission in The Somerset Light Infantry in March 1940 after completing training at one of the Officer Cadet Training Units.
On 7 November 1942, 10th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, was turned over to airborne forces and redesignated as 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion. He was promoted to Major at the same time, as some 30% of the battalion did not survive the turnover, and attended Course 41 of parachute training, which ran at RAF Ringway the following month. Approximately 85% of the intake of 244 officers and other ranks qualified, including Major Neale.
The 7th Battalion, which formed part of the spearhead for the Normandy landings in June 1944, was tasked with holding the bridges of the Caen Canal and the River Orne at Bénouville and Ranville; and with them the west flank of the divisional bridgehead until such time as seaborne troops were able to relieve them.
A coup de main party led by Major Howard successfully captured the bridges intact and Major Neale’s B Coy moved to secure the western approaches by occupying part of the village of Le Port and a nearby wooded escarpment .
His rifle company had been depleted in strength by 50%, due to the wide dispersal of paratroopers on to the drop zones; however it held its positions, inspite of repeated enemy attacks and strong sniper activity, until relieved. Major Neale was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his actions and the citation notes:
"Major Neale's Coy took part in the airborne operation at Bénouville Bridge on 6th June 44. He held an important sector of the western bridgehead. During the 21 hours of continuous fighting Major Neale's courage, energy and skill were an example to all his men and played an important part in the successful outcome of the operation."
Later, on 10 June, the 7th Battalion was involved in clearing the enemy from Le Mariquet woods with tank support. Although under fire from enemy snipers, Major Neale and B Coy secured their initial objective and Lt Col Pine Coffin, the commanding officer, recorded in his diary:
“Major Neale, the Commander, very wisely ignored the snipers until he had reached, and secured, the limit of his objective. He could then afford to locate and deal with them one by one. He went after one of them himself, together with Pte Cornell, his runner. The two worked themselves back inside the hedge until they got a view of the sniper, whom they promptly shot, but not before he got a lucky shot himself which hit Major Neale in the leg. The wound was a serious one which necessitated Neale's evacuation at the time and was, later, to cause him the disappointment of being barred by a Medical Board from leading his Company on further operations."
B Company killed and captured some 40 Germans in this operation.
He was demobilised in 1945 but rejoined The Parachute Regiment (TA) as a Captain in 1951 and was transferred to the TA Officer Reserve in 1952 with the honorary rank of Major; remaining on the reserve list until 1964.
‘The Tale of Two Bridges’ adapted by Barbara Maddox published by Peter Pine -Coffin
Compiled by Harvey GrenvilleRead More