Miller: Presumably after that, you were just working every day?
Mais: Every day, getting whatever bit of sleep you could, day and
night. It was incredible, considering they were scratch units who
basically hadn't put two pieces together before. A few of the
NCO's had been taken up to show, but had no idea, really, from a
security point of view, what it was going to be. And the first
time they really got their hands on it is when they had to do it
on the other side.
Miller: And prior to that, as you said, you hadn't had an
opportunity to train them, or have an exercise and give them an
idea, so I guess they didn't actually know what they were going to
do anyway. They had no concept of what it was that they were
required to produce.
Mais: I can't really answer that question. The best chap to ask
if your seeing him is Carn, because Carn commanded the floating
equipment companies, and was my second in command after I had
taken over. But he'd been with the companies for quite a long
time. He'd been up to Faslay and places where that was being made.
I don't know how much they knew. All I do know is when I first
came in contact with them on the Isle of Wight, I had precious
little idea of what the whole scheme was going to be. No one had
shown a plan of what it was going to be over on the side. And I
don't know how, what opportunity (if any) that the officers or
NCO's of the floating equipment company, whether they were taken
to Faslay and shown the units, and given any idea. I would
suspect -- I'm sure they didn't mention it to me. But then,
that's -- my own feeling is that the first time those chaps really
saw it was in Normandy. I think the security was so tight. See,
we were down -- I was down with them for a month before they went,
_____ Fishborne Creek in the Isle of Wight where they were all
living up in _____ in trees, under trees. I don't think I saw two
bits of the piers, sections of the piers, floating about. And I
don't think any of us really knew.
Miller: When you were told to report to London, were you told
what you were going to report for, or were you just told that you
had to go there?
Mais: No, combined operations told me that I was posted to 21st
Army Group, their support school, and I could take two officers
with me of my selection. I could take two NCO's, driver, two
drivers, no officers. Yes, two officers. Red and Smith and
Davison. So we went and we set off, and we reported at 21st Army
Group, and then that was the first time I heard Mulberry
mentioned, and I said, "What the hell is Mulberry?" I was taken
away and looked in a room while they told me all about it.
Miller: Oh really?
Mais: And I had about two weeks, I suppose, of support school,
learning a little bit more about it but not very much, getting to
know the brigadier, Walter, who was in charge of it. And then I
was whisked off and told to go to Fishborne Creek in the Isle of
Miller: What was the atmosphere at _____ school? Was it very
sort of frenzied?
Mais: No, I don't -- looking back, no, I don't think so. We were
very much a separate little unit, not part of the whole. There
was an air of expectancy, but then there ____ is much excitement
at a _______ anything back of that. And then we were given a
_____ in the local cinema in Hammersmith, by Monty, which didn't
tell us very much.
Miller: So what did you say you were given?
Mais: We were given, I suppose, a pep talk. We weren't sort of
told how and what, and one question was discussing the plan, he
merely told you, told us what lucky fellows we were to be part of
where we were going. And it was everybody down to majors.
Miller: Was the reaction good to that point?
Mais; Oh, yes. I think the feeling, I'm looking back after forty
odd years, the tales were right up. But there were so many of us
who had been thrown out in '40. It was a very high morale. And
then, as I say, I collected my jeep, and couple of fifteen hundred
words, and said off for Fishborne Creek. That's when I found --
first time I met Carn.
Miller: What was your best guess at that time, vis a vis the
timing, and the possible date of the invasion. Did you imagine
that it was quite imminent, or did you think there was quite some
time to go.
Mais: I knew it must be imminent. I knew that _________ from
what I heard in command operations. It was -- we had reached the
stage when it wouldn't be long before we went back. Well, then
you got down to support school, you knew it couldn't be very far
off from the planning side, what was going on, the number of
Miller: So you thought it was a matter of weeks, did you?
Mais: I wouldn't say I ever got to the point of thinking it was
weeks until I got down to Fishborne Creek, and found how really
un-ready and untrained the chaps were, who hadn't had a chance to
put it together at all, and I remember getting in my jeep, heading
on the ferry, going over to Portsmouth, driving to 2nd Army ____
rear headquarters, or advanced headquarters, on the cliff east of
Portsmouth. I don't remember the name, they were there. I went
in and asked permission to run an exercise. And I was told, "We
don't need to, Leftenant Colonel." On my own reason, I suppose.
And he said, "What date do you want to do it?" I said, "Well, any
time within the next ten days." And he came back and he said,
"You can't have an exercise." I blew up, and I said, "Look
fellow, enough of this. If we could believe what we've been told,
this is vital. I had really only seen him four days, five days
ago. I've seen the troops. I have my doubts about their
capability, and I know roughly what we've got to do. All I'm
asking is, we can build one pier, half the length we've got to,
out into some sort of open water." He said, "No." I said, "I'm
sorry, I'm not taking it from you. It's so important. I've got
to go over your head." "Sir, I don't think that will be
necessary. You'll get the same answer." But in the end, I still
said with a little _________ on his face, said, "Can't even you
think of one reason why you bloody well can't have an exercise?"
I said, "No, I can't." He said, "Well, there's no hope for you."
And then the penny dropped, and I must have gone white, I think.
He said, "I think that you do realize why you can't."
Miller: What did you say to the troops when you got back? I
mean, how could you explain that to them?
Mais: He gave me a glass of sherry before I went, and said, "I'm
sorry, but we never had this meeting." And I said, "Don't tell my
officers anything?" He said, "No, nothing." And I said, "Well,
what am I going to tell them about no exercise?" He said, "That's
your business, not mine." And I went back, and everybody was all
keyed up, and I said, "No, there will be no exercise. Security
reasons, no exercise." And they couldn't understand that, and I
said, "Well, if we built a pier and it was sticking out in the
water, and they do low level reconnaissance they'll have a very
good idea of what we're doing, so the answer it no." And I think
Ronny Carn came to me later on and said, "That's not a very
satisfactory reason for not doing it. I think I know why." I
said I wouldn't be surprised. And that was the end of it. There
was a certain amount of grumbling from the troops as why they
couldn't play with the bits that got out.
Miller: So what actually were the troops able to do at that time?
I mean, how -- well, what preparations could you give them, for
what sort of job they actually had to do?
Mais: I can't in fact remember being able to do anything. They
were stuck in this bivouac area. I knew we were in an awful lot
of trouble with drunks and ______. We were most unpopular with
the ______ populace. To the best of my recollection, we could do
nothing, and the first time we started putting anything together
was in Normandy.
Miller: Then you were surprised by their diligence, or . . .?
Mais: Oh, they were terrific. Let's face it, it wasn't a highly
technical job. The people, the little _____ tanks, the little
tiny things like fishing boats with a very very strong bow, but
the way they placed them you would think they were pushing them by
hand on a nice flat surface. We had those. But there was nothing
really. It was a very simple thing. We -- difficult to explain.
The two -- if you can imagine -- or say one, that was one _____
that would have two sort of teeth, if you like, on each end. And
the _____ you were going to put into it had a sort of ball and
socket, or -- and all you had to do was line them up, get them
close in, and then release down so that the two locked together.
It's very simple, that's all you had to do. And they'd seen a
piece of the pier. They got two pieces anchored off. But they
had no concept of what the end product was going to be. They
didn't know whether they were going to put two of those together
and that would be the end of it, although _____ put _____ part of
-- build it over half a mile to sea.