Before taking off for the Operation Overlord, the 3rd Brigade had to keep themselves in shape, or as James Hill put it, in “top form.” From January 1943 to June 1944, they prepped for the inevitable Normandy Invasion.
Joining the action, they even had parachuting dogs. Paratroops had to be trained to handle Alsatian messenger dogs. The dogs were given what is referred to as “bicycle parachutes.” The dogs were about the same weight as bicycles. The dogs were hesitant about this. Hill recalls the first one they took up did not want to jump, so they had to shove him out of the plane. “It turns out he enjoyed himself so much that the next time he couldn’t wait to go!” Hill said. “The dogs were trained to be messengers, but they were really just a sideshow to keep the men amused.”
A Whole Lot of Carrots
Two popular fighter pilots were a part of the action. They were known as being extremely accurate at shooting down enemy planes. Particularly, at night, they shot planes down. One was called Cat’s Eyes Cunningham and the other was White Boycott. Both went to school with Hill. Rumors spread about their vision. It was often said that they were so good at night fighting because of the amount of carrots they ate, so Hill and others joined in on the carrot eating in hope of having better vision. Hill said by the end of it they were sick of eating carrots.
Later Cat’s Eyes Cunningham denied that carrots were the reason for their night success. He said he was aware of the carrot story but that it was a ploy to prevent the enemy from hearing the real cause of their success. They had the most recent radar technology aiding them at hunting down planes.
Church Going Soldiers
Hill desired to have the brigade visit a church at least once a month, even though some of the gentleman did not care for this notion. According to Hill, in order to “motivate” them, he had them carry their 60-pound bag of equipment to the church, which they stacked outside before entering the church. Afterwards they would go on a 20-mile march. Hill hoped the marching would deter any grumbling of their church going experience.
Later the men told Hill they were glad he made them go to church. During the D-Day Invasion when they were crossing the North Sea, they encountered a pretty rough night. Twenty-two men were sitting on the planes—most of which who had never seen combat let alone flown into enemy territory. “Up against something like that, even an atheist wants to pray,” Hill said.
A Noble Cause
Hill identified two things as being morale boosters: being in top physical shape and fighting for a noble cause. He notes that Napoleon once said, “the moral is to the physical as two is to one.” Hill said keeping men in the top physical shape was important because a fit man could survive better and handle wounds better than somebody out of shape.
Hill said he could not have fought for the six years he did if he did not think they were fighting for a noble cause. After all, it was a cause he could have died for. He would not have let the other men in his brigade die for an unjust cause.