- Mark Forsdike
“We always wore ours inside”
To my knowledge, just one photograph exists of men of 1 Suffolk on D-Day. It shows men of the Reinforcment Battalion crouched along the sea wall, awaiting orders to move inland.
The photo, a still from AFPU film reel, sos a man in the centre with the tube of his inflatable life belt, or ‘Mae West’ protruding from his battle dress blouse (below). The man on the right, clearly displays Suffolk insignia on the sleeve of his battle dress blouse and the disctinctuve red and yellow Minden Flash can be seen, so there is little doubt that they are Suffolk’s.
However for some years, I have wondered why the life belt was worn inside the battle dress and not over the top as more commonly seen, then today leafing through a box file looking for something else, the reason soon became apparent.
I found a photocopy of a letter from the files in the Regimental Archive written by Lieutenant-Colonel Dick Goodwin, to Major Vernon Pereira in November 1946. The letter was written in response to an appeal for Dick Goodwin to identify some photographs for inclusion in the third volume of Regimental History (1927-1946) then being written. Major Pereira has sent him all the usual (and much seen) images of D-Day but ‘Colonel Dick’ replied that none contained any element of 1 Suffolk and he pointed out the different types of landing craft that were seen in the images were not employed by the Battalion that day.
In reply to a question about the famous picture taken on the beach by Sgt. Jim Mapham, which Major Pereira believed showed Suffolk men, Colonel Dick was sure: “I’m afraid it can’t be identified as them, as the men shown are wearing the old type steel helmet, whereas we had the new type. Also one man is wearing his ‘Mae West’ outside his jacket while we always wore ours inside (less liable to puncture!).”
So there you have it. Evidence as to why 1 Suffolk wore their life belts under their battledress and not above it!