Harry Nomburg  (alias Harry Drew)

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with 3 Troop detachment for D-Day attached to No 6 Commando

Harry Nomburg

Harry was born in Coburg in Germany on the 17th November, 1923, and later lived and went to school in Berlin. His parents, fearing for the family’s safety, arranged for Harry to be taken to the UK on the Kindertransport in 1939. Harry eventually arrived at Whittingehame Farm School in East Lothian where he stayed for some time until at seventeen he had to leave. He joined the British Army when he was eighteen. Harry became a member of a special troop of Jewish soldiers, men fully fluent in German and highly trained in intelligence. They were specialists in many areas of the commando’s arts and were often detached to other forces to utilise their special skills as widely as possible. All members of this specialist unit had to assume false identities, not only to protect them from discovery should they be captured but also to protect remaining members of their families in Occupied Europe. Harry, clearly remembering his time at Whittingehame, became Harry Drew.  Later he rose to the rank of Sergeant and what follows is his own account of his part in the D-Day landings when Harry was involved in the landings on D-Day itself. Harry landed with the 1st Special Service Brigade commanded by Lord Lovat on Queen Red sector of Sword Beach, near La Breche, on 6 June.

"I, Harry Nomburg, was born in Germany and at the age of fifteen was sent by my Jewish parents to England to escape Nazi persecution. I left Berlin on May 21, 1939. It happened to be a Sunday as well as Mothers' Day. I never saw my parents again.

At the age of eighteen, I joined the British Army and in early 1943 I volunteered for the Comandos. Together with my green beret I was also given a brand new name and before the year was over, a set of parachute wings for having graduated from 'Jump School'. My unit was 3 Troop, 10 Commando, in which I was given extensive intelligence training and, as I was also fluent in German, it was in that capacity that I was on loan to No. 6 Commando shortly before D-Day.

On or about June 1, 1944, I was sent to an assembly area just outside Plymouth in Southeastern England and it was from this camp that I was taken by truck to the port of Plymouth to embark in the evening of June 5th on a Landing Craft Infantry in which we crossed the sea to France.

Shortly before we set out, the military Chaplain in his address to the entire Brigade assured us that future generations would think and talk of us as 'Giants'. My own personal feelings were those of most twenty year olds, 'Adventure and Glory'.

The boat was small and crowded and the sea choppy and even though I stayed on deck throughout the night, I was on the verge of seasickness at the time our LCI finally ground to a halt and I could run down the ramp and jump into the water. Wearing the green beret rather than the customary steel helmet and holding my Thompson submachine gun high above my head, I waded onto a beach in Normandie. It was 7am on June 6, 1944.

My tommy gun had up to this point always been equipped with a twenty-round magazine but shortly before the invasion I was issued with the first thirty-round magazine I had ever seen. Alas, nobody had informed me that when filled with the thirty rounds of .45 caliber bullets, the magazine would get too heavy and therefore easily come loose and drop off. It therefore should never be loaded with more than twenty-eight rounds. Not knowing, I filled it all the way with the result that the magazine got lost in the water and I hit the beaches of France and stormed the fortress of Europe without a single shot in my gun!

The landing in progress on Queen Red sector of Gold beach

Men of 1st Special Service Division waiting to move off Gold Beach

Looking around me, I saw an armada stretching along the entire length of the horizon as far as the eye could see.  Meanwhile, overhead the Allied aircraft filled the sky with not a single German plane in sight. I also noticed three bodies in the surf, yet the opposition turned out to be far lighter than I had expected. As I dashed across the beach to the sound of the bagpipes [Piper Millin - told to play by Lord Lovat]. I noticed a tall figure stalking just ahead of me. At once I recognised the Brigadier and getting close to him, I shyly touched his belt from behind while thinking to myself: 'Should anything happen to me now, let it at least be said that Private Drew fell by Lord Lovat's side!'.

Overwhelmed by the massive Allied thrust, the first German soldiers I met simply surrendered. There were two of them and being sure that they had been fed nothing but propaganda and lies, I was now going to enlighten them of the true situation on Germany's fronts. The latest news before I left England was that the Allied forces stood but ten miles outside Rome and that  was the 'devastating' news I was now about to convey to my prisoners. They looked at me in amazement and replied that they had just heard over their own radio that Rome had fallen!

So, as it turned out, they were telling me rather than I was telling them. With the heavy rucksack on my back and my tommy gun in hand, I now followed Captain Alan Pieman, the commanding officer of 3 Troop, 6 Commando, into the green and lush Normandie countryside. He was a veteran of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, had seen service in Africa and had won the Military Cross. The villages all around us were being liberated by the French troops of No 10 Commando and there were happy faces and wine everywhere. The only Germans I saw were dead ones.

Soon our Troop crossed the ‘Pegasus Bridge’, taken by our brave Glider troops on the evening before. After a two hour march we reached the village of Breville where we were supposed to link up with another unit. The building in which we came to rest must have been only shortly before occupied by the Germans and did I happily sample the good food they had left behind in their haste to get away. Now, our Commanding Officer took off for the point from where we were to make our contact with the other troop and once there, vigorously waved the yellow silk square that had been given to us as a mark of identification. The answer was a burst of machine-gun fire and Captain Alan Pieman, MC, fell dead where he stood.

The other Troop had never made it and most of Breville was still firmly in German hands. Soon the house in which we had taken up position came under deadly accurate mortar fire that caused British casualties both in dead and wounded. It soon became clear that it was ‘Mission Impossible’ to capture Breville without the support of heavy weapons and we were ordered to pull back to join the rest of the 1st Commando Brigade, dug in and positioned in and around the village of Amfriville. Once there, we now had time for tea and crackers as well as for the Argentinian corned beef which was to be my staple died right up to the day I got wounded and was shipped back to England about two months after the landing.

The rest of D-Day was now being spent digging trenches on the farm of a gallant Frenchman who occasionally offered us fresh milk, bread and apple cider. Blessed be his name and those of his family and employees! The same night, British Airborne, assisted by artillery and several Sherman tanks took Breville by storm. Darkness began to fall when a squadron of planes roared overhead. I was called upon to identify them and reported C47s, also known as Dakotas. Shortly thereafter in the trench I shared with the Sergeant Major, I crawled into my sleeping bag and the ‘Longest Day’ had come to an end for Private Harry Drew.”

At the end of the war Harry was based in Berlin as a member of the Military Police where he helped to round up and interrogate war criminals.