Mike Pardoe led a company of men on D-Day, 6 June 1944, to secure part of Juno Beach in Normandy for the Allied invaders. As the young captain’s landing-craft reached the beach and B Company, 5th Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment, began to wade ashore, the waiting Germans let rip. “Small arms fire and some mortars started pounding us from the left, coming from somewhere near St Aubin”, Pardoe said. A bullet went through a comrade’s haversack: “He was furious, not at all fussed about how incredibly lucky he’d just been.”
The neat hole through everything inside meant Pardoe’s colleague, the Company Sergeant Major, who had proudly managed to preserve his things from getting wet in the choppy sea, now would find many of them useless for the campaign ahead.
The tide, which was unusually high, reduced the usable area of sand for their operations, Pardoe noted, to the size of about two tennis courts. He survived more mortar fire, and pot shots from two German female snipers who, it was discovered, were taking aim from a hide-out at the top of the church tower at Bernières-sur-Mer, the next town along, on the men’s right as they landed.
B Company put the snipers out of action by training the long barrel of an anti-aircraft Bofors gun, newly brought ashore, at the top of the tower, and firing. The men, rushing up the tower’s narrow steps, found two greatcoated Germans lying dead, which, when inspected, turned out to be women.
Pardoe was relieved: these two had been shooting at wounded men on stretchers. With them gone he could concentrate on rounding up the hundreds of German prisoners the Allies had collected as the beachhead was secured.
He assessed the German resistance otherwise as slackening, the more the Allies poured ashore, so when a forward headquarters sent a panicked SOS call saying they were being heavily mortared by a German patrol that had infiltrated their position, he exclaimed: “You must be hallucinating!”
In fact the huge shells and noise they described were from the Allies’ own naval bombardment. The battleship HMS Rodney had been given orders to keep on firing her 16in guns as far as 22 miles inland, and continue for 36 hours, to deter a German Panzer division known to be hurrying its tanks to the scene.
Pardoe, with communications under strain, but suspecting something of the sort, had to yield to the HQ’s insistence – “They have to be stopped at all costs!” He sent up a platoon, but later found he had been right. The only Germans it found were dead ones.
Pardoe later led his men in No 8 Beach Group, which had to lay rails along the sand to transport equipment and keep supplies moving as the invasion pushed on. The task meant picking a way among mines set down by the Germans and covered with wood or other materials that would stop metal detectors pinpointing them. All a man could do if he heard the ominous click that meant he had stepped on one was stand stock-still, not lifting his feet, and shout “Mine!” so that everyone else could drop down before the five-second-delayed explosion. If he panicked and tried to get away, more lives or legs than his would almost certainly be lost.
After getting things running smoothly in Normandy, Pardoe and his men were leap-frogged north and east as the Allies liberated France to do the same for the crossing of the Rhine at Xanten in the German district of Wesel. At H-Hour, 2am on 24 March 1945, Pardoe’s company joined Operation Plunder. This was the action during which, the following day, the three British chiefs, Churchill, Montgomery and Alanbrooke slipped in a tank-landing-craft resembling a small launch to the far bank, staying half an hour on German soil before returning and later getting shot at farther along.
The 5th Battalion remained by the Rhine until soon after peace in Europe in May 1945, when they were disbanded. Pardoe transferred to the Royal Berkshires’ 2nd Bn and went with it to Burma, where the battalion stayed for another two years. He was promoted Major, and also served in the Middle East, before returning to Britain to train Territorial Army personnel.
In 1958 he left the army and took up teaching woodwork, maths and geography at a preparatory school in Kent, Marlborough House School, Hawkhurst. There he met his wife, Christine, who was school secretary. The couple married in 1964 and had two sons.
Pardoe founded the Preparatory Schools’ Rifle Association. On the 50th anniversary of D Day in 1994 he returned to Bernières-sur-Mer, delivered a speech in French and unveiled a plaque to the Royal Berkshires’ memory. The town also has a street named after the regiment.
Pardoe was one of five men – the last handful still alive- whom the broadcaster Chris Tarrant sought out to interview while reconstructing his father’s D-Day experience for his book Dad’s War (2014) – an account full of vivid descriptions of the events and hazards Pardoe shared, as Tarrant’s father was then a lieutenant under his command.
Pardoe was educated at Bradfield College, Berkshire. His family returned from Kenya in 1931 to live in Heathfield in Sussex and he attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst just before the Second World War broke out in 1939, thereafter being commissioned into the Royal Berkshires.
Michael Edward Hugh Pardoe, soldier and teacher: born Eldoret, Kenya 29 May 1921; married 1964 Christine Whalley-Tooker (two sons); died Hawkhurst, Kent 28 July 2014.Reuse content