In June 1944, Britain and her allies (other friendly countries) landed thousands of soldiers on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. This event is known as the D-Day landings. Britain and her allies were trying to liberate (free) France from the German army. As the British soldiers moved into France, the German army fought back. One of the fiercest battles took place at a site called Hill 112.
He who commands Hill 112, commands Normandy.
Hill 112 was the name given to an important area of high ground near Caen in Normandy. The German army wanted to keep control of the hill because it gave them a strong advantage. The British soldiers that tried to capture the hill included men from Cornwall. These men were the 5th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) which had its headquarters in Bodmin. The 5th Battalion was made up of men who were in the Territorial Army: volunteers, not professional soldiers.
Battle through the night
On the evening of 10th July 1944, around 380 soldiers from the DCLI launched an attack up Hill 112. The fighting was very fierce. The DCLI reached the top of the hill and gathered in a wood, which later became known as ‘Cornwall Wood’. The German army’s 10th Panzer (tank) division fought back with stronger armour and more powerful guns.
In total, the German army launched 12 counter attacks, but the DCLI fought off each one. Fighting continued all night, with German tanks rolling over the top of the trenches in which the Cornish soldiers were hiding. After 19 hours of fighting, 250 soldiers from the DCLI had been killed or injured. However, the Cornish soldiers had smashed one of the German army’s best tank divisions.
Lieutenant John DavisThe fighting here was terrible – absolute hell.
The cost of war
Fighting over control of Hill 112 continued for weeks until the German army finally retreated. The soldiers of the DCLI formed part of a larger group called the 43rd Wessex Division. In total, 7,000 men from this division were killed during the battle for Hill 112. It’s likely that even more German soldiers lost their lives.
In memory of the hundreds of men who died at Hill 112, the local French people renamed the area ‘Cornwall Hill’. There is also a stone memorial to the men who were killed in the battle.
The Second World War in Cornwall
Thousands of Cornish people served their country during the Second World War. Men fought in the Armed Forces and women had important jobs supporting them. People also worked on farms and in factories to help the war effort. Older men joined the Home Guard to help defend Cornwall.
Many young children were evacuated (moved) to Cornwall from cities in England during the war. Cities like London and Birmingham were bombed by the German air force, so it was safer for young children to be moved to the countryside. These children often stayed on farms. For some, it was the first time they had seen farm animals.
Cornwall was attacked during the Second World War. Airfields and towns like Falmouth, Bodmin and St Ives were bombed. Bombs dropped on Plymouth by the German air force caused fires so intense that the light from them could be seen from north Cornwall.
Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was a regiment of soldiers in the British Army. It was formed in 1881, but has a history going back as far as 1702. Its headquarters were in Bodmin and many Cornishmen joined the regiment during the Second World War. Some of these men fought in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, north Africa and Italy.
Find out more:
Cornwall’s Regimental Museum at Bodmin tells the story of the DCLI. It is based in the old regimental headquarters, and has a lot of information about the DCLI and Second World War.
Did you know?
Hill 112 got its name because it is 112 metres above sea level.
Lieutenant Colonel Dick James, a Commanding Officer of the DCLI soldiers on Hill 112, was killed in the battle. He had climbed an apple tree to get a better view of the German army positions but was shot in the neck and killed instantly. He was only 26.
Sir David Willcocks was born in Newquay. He was made a Temporary Captain in the DCLI and fought at the Battle of Hill 112. For his bravery in the battle, he was awarded the Military Cross.