Cheshire PC who took part in the D Day Landings

With the 80th Anniversary of D-DAY approaching it is timely to relate the amazing story of Commando Ernie Mather a former member of the force who took part in the Normandy landings.

Ernest Griffith Mather joined Cheshire Constabulary on 2nd May 1938 aged twenty and was posted to Altrincham as PC 92, prior to joining the force he had been employed at a scrapyard in Chester as a vehicle dismantler. Following the outbreak of war in 1939 a total of 104 serving officers who were reservist were recalled to the colours in November of that year. At that stage of the war the police were classed as a reserved occupation which meant that officers could not enlist for military service, by mid-1942 this changed when restrictions were relaxed, and many younger officers volunteered to serve in the armed forces. Ernie enlisted on 22nd July 1942.

The Army Commandos which had been formed at the instigation of Winston Churchill in 1940 were keen to recruit young police officers and many volunteered, they were seen as having the physical fitness and potential personal attributes to make good Commandos, the ‘Police Intake’ as it was called included six Cheshire officers and in total attracted 500 officers nationally many of whom were from the Metropolitan Police. Volunteers were allotted a parent regiment for administration purposes, and the unit they would be returned to (RTU’d) if they failed the course. Ernie’s parent regiment was the Black Watch.

The Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry in Scotland is where he went to undergo two-months initial intensive training which he passed and graduated on 24th September 1942 when he was given the coveted Commando Green beret and joined No 4 Commando to undertake further training in Scotland, Wales and on the south coast of England. The plans for the invasion of Europe were already being drawn and No 4 Commando would have a pivotal role to play when the time came.

As D-Day approached the Commando were assembled in a secure marshalling area near Southampton, they were to be part of the 1st Special Service Brigade commanded by Brigadier the Lord Lovat and which included Nos 3, 4 and 6 Commando, 45 Royal Marine Commando and two troops of Free French Commandos who were attached to No 4 and who would be the first French troops to set foot in their homeland. On 5th June 4 Commando embarked in two ships to be transported to France, Ernie was a member of ‘A’ Troop which were designated the heavy weapons troop tasked with taking ashore weapons including Vickers ‘K’ machine guns, Mortars and the PIAT anti-tank weapons plus all the associated ammunition and spares, in addition each man carried a rucksack containing his personal equipment and extra ammunition weighing approximately 80 lbs (36 kg). One can only imagine the trepidation these men must have felt about what was to come.
As they approached the Normandy Coast after dawn, they transferred from the ships into Landing Craft which would take then into the beach, sea conditions were very choppy and as they approached the beach they were under heavy fire from enemy positions.

The intention of the Commando Brigade was to land on the extreme left flank of the Allied forces on Sword Beach the most easterly of the five landing beaches and capture the port of Ouistreham then hurry to reinforce the 6th Airborne Division who had landed in the early hours of the morning and were holding the bridges over the Caen Canal at Benouville to become known as Pegasus Bridge and the adjacent bridge over the River Orne. No 4’s initial task on landing was to deal with the German garrison in the town of Ouistreham and to provide supporting cover to the Free French Commandos whose objective was to attack and secure a large enemy strongpoint known as the Casino. The mission of Ernie’s ‘A’ Troops was to occupy buildings surrounding the Casino strongpoint and provide close support fire for the Free French, a fierce battle ensued, and the strongpoint was captured around lunchtime, during the battle the casualty rate killed and wounded was high particularly amongst the French troops, fortunately Ernie came through unscathed.

Having taken the town, the Commando moved inland to a ridge above the river Orne to provided support to the Parachute troops holding the eastern flank of the main invasion force. Ernie’s troop took up a position close to a wooded area. On 8th June German Infantry was observed advancing through the woods and ‘A’ Troop’s position was surrounded on three sides although the enemy were at that time unaware of the Commandos presence, they were forced to make a hasty withdrawal along a ditch just taking with them their weapons and leaving behind rucksacks containing personal kit. Like many veterans Ernie never really spoke about his wartime experiences but in later life he mentioned the withdrawal incident to his sons, he said that in his abandoned rucksack there had been a cigarette case which contained a photograph of his father, several days later this item had been returned to him by one of his comrades who had found it amongst the possessions of a dead German soldier.

No 4 Commando remained in Normandy to continue the fight until 26th August when they were withdrawn to England for some well-earned leave followed by training for their next mission the invasion of Walcheren, Netherlands in early November 1944 to clear the enemy from the Scheldt estuary and approaches to the port of Antwerp to enable the port to be used to supply the advancing armies. Ernie’s troop were again in action to capture the town of Vlissingen (known as Flushing in English) which they quickly achieved. No 4 Commando then continued the advance into Germany and Ernie ended the war as part of the Army of Occupation holding the rank of Sergeant.

‘A’ Troop, No 4 Commando (50 men) taken at Troon, Scotland prior to D-DAY.

Ernie Mather is in rear row, 3rd from right.
Ernie rejoined the force on 8th October 1945 and returned to Altrincham, later moving to Ellesmere Port, he was promoted Sergeant at Timperley in June 1953 and was posted to Crewe Division as Divisional Clerk in September 1956 where he remained until July 1965 when he was posted to the Training School as an instructor in cadet training and was involved in venture training and outside pursuits as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

Sergeant Ernie Mather seated 2nd right with a Cadet Course in 1965
Ernie Mather retired from the Cheshire Constabulary on 26th May 1968. He enjoyed visiting Scotland and particularly the area where he had trained as a Commando on several occasions in during his life. Ernie Mather sadly died in 1985 aged sixty seven.

 

Article researched and compiled by Will Brown, Volunteer and Researcher at the Museum of Policing in Cheshire.
Thanks are extended to Ernie’s sons John and Brian Mather for their help with information about their father.
Note: The other five members of Cheshire Constabulary who volunteered for the Commandos served with other Commando units in the Middle East, Italy, and Burma. None were involved in the Normandy landings.

Ernie Mather No 4 Commando with Black Watch Regiment badge on his beret