Alfred Edward Gape
Alfred Edward Gape, Alf as he was known to all, was born on 10th August 1924 in Paddington, London where he grew up as the eldest of 4 siblings. At the outbreak of war Alf was not yet old enough to join up but did his bit by becoming a fire watcher during the Blitz. At the same time he became the head of the family after his father committed suicide with his Home Guard rifle in the master bedroom of the family home, for which Alf was left to clear up the mess.
Alf joined the Royal Navy at Chatham Dockyard (HMS Pembroke) on the 13th August 1942 where he was given the service number C/JX401633. Alf travelled to HMS Royal Arthur to start basic Royal Navy Training on the 22nd October 1942. Upon completion of basic training Alf was selected specialist training as a Signaller for which he started at HMS Scotia on the 7th November 1942.
Between April and June 1943 Alf was posted back to HMS Pembroke to operate on “Small Boats” that operated from the Chatham Naval Dock Yard. It was at some point during this time that Alf's war would take a less conventional Naval route.
Whilst waiting in line for some kind of administratory reason, Alf's eye was caught by the text on a poster
“Volunteers for 'Special and Hazardous Duty' sought. 1/-s per week enhanced pay”
Alf, never a man to turn down the chance of extra pay signed on the dotted line, not entirely sure of the task he had just “volunteered” for.
On 2nd June 1943 Alf arrived in Scotland and commenced his training to become an Royal Navy Commando. As he was already a qualified Signaller he was sent to become a Commando Signaller at the CTC of HMS Dundonald. Upon completion of this stage of his Commando training his newly formed section was then attached to a group of men to complete their training at Ardentinny/Achnacarry. The group of Commandos that emerged at the end of training was RNBC “P” with the in-bedded Signals Commandos of RNBSS 13.
The newly formed P Commando were then sent for further training and billeting to HMS Vectis on the Isle of White.
While on the Isle of White Alf attended further training on radar and the workings there of.
P Commando would eventually be assigned to Force J, the force assigned to assault Juno Beach on the Normandy coast. They were joined by S and L Commando, the latter of which was not used.
On June 5th 1944 Alf and the forward party of P Commando loaded onto LCH168, the lead assault landing craft assigned to lead Assault Group 311 on Mike Red sector of Juno Beach.
Due to the nature of the beach geography of Juno Beach at the Mike sectors, the Assault phase was split into three smaller sub phases. Due to poor weather H-Hour was pushed back by 20mins, meaning the first wave hit the beach at 07:50hrs.
H-Hour: 07:50, Mike Red Sector. The First wave was made up of purely the Armoured sections using their “Funnies” to clear the beach along with the beach clearance engineers that included 2 RN Clearance Divers.
H-Hour+20: 08:10, Mike Red Sector. The arrival of the first 870 assault infantry of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, associated combat engineers and 49 members of P Commando, RN. Alf found himself as one of those first 49 RN Commandos into action at Juno Beach attacking the heavily fortified costal town of Courseulle-sur-Mer.
During the initial fighting Alf found himself being requestioned by an officer in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles as they had lost their signaller to enemy fire. As a Combined Ops Commando signaller he was obviously a handy replacement.
Alf spent the next three days fighting along side his “new unit” before being released back to the beach to carry on his normal duties.
Alf spent the next 6 weeks living on the beach at the command post situated on the junctions of Mike Red and Green sectors, approximately 600mtr to the west of the estuary of the Seulle river. During this time he recounted that part of the duties he volunteered for (extra pay of course) was to drag bodies above the high water line brought in on each tide. To the day he died, he saw one particular individual (a German minus his face) from time to time at night in his sleep.
After 6 weeks P Commando were relieved by the all Canadian W Commando and returned to Scotland where they were eventually disbanded due to lack of numbers.
Alf however did not return to England with them as he had been seconded to another Royal Navy unit.
30 Commando (later renamed 30AU) were the intelligence gathering Commandos under direct control of Naval Intelligence and commanded by Cmdr Ian Fleming.
The exact details of what Alf did with this unit will never be known due to the fact the information was still classified at the time of his death. He unfortunately took this information to the grave with him.
We do know that he completed many intelligence raids with 30AU, travelling to Boulogne, Holland and into Germany itself.
Alf returned to England on the 2nd December 1945 where he was posted to HMS Cochrane. He was released from service on the 24th June 1946.
Upon leaving the Commandos Alf joined the British Transport Police. He completed 2 years as a uniformed officer and a further 36 as Detective. At the time of his retirement he was the longest serving member of the BTP in its history. As a testament of Alf's character he never wanted promotion. He only made the rank Acting Detective Sgt because he was told he had to!
Alf passed away suddenly on the 31st October 1999.
Alf was my Granddad. He was a gentle giant of a man at 6ft1. We never saw him for the man he was in the war. He never made a fuss of what he did and what he had achieved. This understatement was typical of his character and is part of what spurs me on to be the best RNBC Re-enactor that I can be, to honour him and the other that he trained and served with. Granddad is my hero that will live on for as long as I am alive.
To this day I wear at all times a silver cast taken from his original dog tag he wore on D-Day. It reads
A. E. Gape
C of E
It will never come off, even when Re-enacting. This ensures that he is always there helping me keep the spirit of the Royal Navy Commandos alive.