Without the Glory
The following essay is not a biography. It concerns only my experiences during the 1939-45 war. I have always believed that nearly every war veteran, sometimes or another, thinks, and talks about his service life. There are those who wax lyrical, and others who are somewhat garrulous.
It is my hope that my story does not fall into any of these categories. I merely wish to illustrate what it was like to be suddenly torn from ones home and loved ones, and thrust into the discipline and dangers of a war time army. Depending on the individual, it can be a very traumatic experience. But it can also be a very educating, and character building exercise.
From the very first moment of my enlistment, my life became a well ordered regime. I was taught to obey orders without question, and appear smart and soldier like at all times. Like all the chaps who served in the forces, I found this very difficult to adapt to, but we all realised the necessity of it.
In June 1940, when a defeated, but far from demoralised army were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, the British people, now alone in Europe, braced themselves, and inspired by the leadership of Winston Churchill, began to build up a new force, which, with the help of the Commonwealth, and later the Americans, would rid Europe of the most evil regime it had been its misfortune to suffer.
This is my story of those years, and how they affected me. It concerns the people I met, and befriended, and certain situations that I experienced. It is not a complete history of my service life, much has been left out for various reasons. My hope is that the reader will find some interest in this essay, and perhaps understand what it was like for a young man to live through those years.
T A 1992
My story begins on Sunday September 3rd 1939. The time was 11:15 a.m., I stood listening to the news on the radio. The announcer introduced the Prime Minister Mr. Neville Chamberlain. He began to speak "This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government an official note stating that unless we heard from them by eleven o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently, this country is now at war with Germany". He finished his speech with the words, "May God bless you all. May we defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against. Brute force, Bad faith, oppression, and persecution and against them I am certain that the right will prevail."
My mother, and a next door neighbour, who had come to hear the news, began to weep, remembering perhaps the last war, in which my mother lost her first husband. A feeling of anger overcame me. The policy of appeasement which the government had followed over the past few years or so had been a waste of time. Hitler had finally been allowed to call the tune.
I was born on the 8th November 1920 just less than two years after the armistice of the 1914/18 war. My father had served in that conflict, and had been wounded and taken prisoner of war. He suffered great hardship, and his health had been ruined by the treatment and food that had been given to him by the Germans.
My birth place had been a "two-up-two-down" terraced house in the cotton town of Bolton Lancashire, which was the centre of the fine cotton spinning industry at that time.
For almost seven months after the Prime minister's announcement the war was classed as a "Phony war." Poland was soon disposed of by the German army, while the British and French armies faced the Germans on the western front.
On 8th April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, and on the 10th May 1940, the Germans struck in the west. Now, it was the British, and French who were going to learn what a Blitzkrieg was. The German armour swept through neutral Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. rolling the British and French forces back to the channel coast. By July it was all over, we had met our Dunkirk. The miracle was that we got so many of our troops out, thanks to the navy and the "Little boats". Chamberlain had resigned, and Winston Churchill had become Prime minister. He promised us only "Blood, tears, toil and sweat", but he roused the nation with his speeches, Britain he vowed would never surrender.
Britain now braced itself for the expected invasion by the German forces, which thankfully never came.
However life went on for me in the usual way. My work in the textile industry dragged on. I spent my out of working hours fire-watching, or following my usual pursuits; Walking, cinema, music, reading, and cycling. I also played drums in a local brass band and dance trio.
In the early summer of 1939 I had joined a group of lads and girls, who gathered on the local street corner. Here, I spent many happy hours with them, discussing the many things that young people were interested in at that time, dancing, films, sport and music. We young ones were now trying to get some enjoyment out of a blacked out town and a somewhat austere existence.
Among this group was a girl who was to play a very important part in my life, Ethel was a lovely girl just going on fourteen, who attracted me immediately I saw her. Like me she had red hair, but that was the only feature that we shared. She was so full of life and quite outgoing, unlike myself, who was something of an introvert, having spent most of my life from leaving school doing my own thing, until I joined the brass band, trio, and this street corner group.
Although I did not know it then, I was to fall hopelessly in love with Ethel, and it was the thought of her that enabled me to overcome all the trials that were to follow. However that is another story...
The air-raid warnings somewhat broke the monotony, the German Air Force had begun to bomb our major cities and ports, and in December 1940 Manchester had their blitz.
We young people carried on, and more or less made our own entertainment, no television or night clubs as there are now, we had the radio, cinema and the dance halls, where a very strict code of behaviour had to be adhered to, correct dress had to be worn, and any sign of misbehaviour was soon sorted out by the Master of Ceremonies ( M.C.). Public houses were definitely not our scene, and clubs were working men's or young boys clubs mainly, and did not interest us.
In our own sphere at that time I believe there was a greater sense of responsibility among the young, and, compared with today, moral standards were very much higher. Fornication was frowned on by the majority of the young people I knew, thanks to a strict schooling, a more responsible media, and, of course our parental discipline.
On the 8th November 1940 I became eligible for service in the forces, having reached my twentieth birthday. On the 11th December I received a summons to present myself for medical examination at Dover street, Manchester, having some weeks earlier registered for the Royal Navy. I attended this examination but unfortunately was found to have a slight defect in one ear.
On 22nd June 1941 Hitler made his first drastic mistake. He attacked Russia. Eighteen days later I received my enlistment notice. It came on the 3rd July 1941 when I was instructed to present myself on the 10th July to number six training centre Pioneer Corps, Belle Vue barracks, Bradford in Yorkshire. After taking leave of my father and mother, (My elder brother William had already been enlisted a year earlier) and the rest of my family I made my way to the railway station to embark on a journey into the unknown.
In the years that were to follow I was to learn a great many things, the main one being the realisation of my love for Ethel. This journey was to be, for me, a great adventure, having never in my life travelled further than Blackpool on the Lancashire coast, a matter of forty miles from my home.
As I watched the countryside passing by from the train window I wondered how long it would be before I was returning home once more to civilian life. Little did I know it would be almost five long years.
The train pulled into the station at Bradford, and I along with other young recruits poured out onto the platform. There we were met by a Corporal, who's name we were told was Hartley. He shepherded us into the tea room for a cup of tea, whilst he went to meet other trains to pick up more chaps who were to join us.
Among these recruits were lads from every walk of life, and from almost every place in the British Isles. From the highlands of Scotland to the Valleys of Wales, from the Emerald Isles to the Southern Counties of England, and quite a lot from the industrial Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Though at that time I was not aware of it, my real education was about to begin. I came to realise the great difference in the attitudes of the chaps from the cities and those from the towns and rural areas, the latter ones appeared, on the whole, to be more disciplined, and had a more responsible outlook on life.
When everyone was accounted for the Corporal formed us up into three ranks and off we marched to Belle Vue barracks. Here we were given numbers, mine being 13091898, which we were told to memorise. We received a soldiers pay and record book, and also a service respirator, in exchange for our civilian one, a knife, fork, and spoon and two mess tins, one fitting into the other, "For the use of", an army term I was to get used to, in time!
After enlistment the Corporal took us to the mess room at the barracks where we were served a hard baked meat pie, and a mess tin of tea. We soon put our kit to some use! No uniform was provided at that time. indeed, it was to be a week or so before we were fully kitted out as soldiers. When everyone had finished their repast, the Corporal once again formed us up into marching order, and we set of to our training Cadre. This was a place called Odsal house, Odsal, Bradford. If my memory serves me right, it was about three miles from the enlistment centre.
On arriving at this place, which seemed to have once been a small hospital, or nursing home, we were assembled in the square, which was the centre of this establishment, and addressed by a Regimental Sergeant Major, who was a member of the Kings Own Regiment. He was something of a martinet, and began by welcoming us all. He then proceeded to prepare us for the future. He told us that we were here to be made into soldiers, and, if it was up to him, that is what we would finish up as. He ended his speech with those immortal words every Sergeant Major uttered, "You play ball with me, and I'll play ball with you". Which in a word meant "Obey orders, without question". He then introduced the Commanding Officer, he was a Lieutenant Colonel, who appeared to be about fifty years of age, he was very distinctive, and smart.
He began by warning us of the moral dangers that faced us in the army, and told us to choose our comrades carefully, to have pride in our regiment, our country, and ourselves. He told us of the past exploits of the Pioneer Corps which had been formed in 1939 and had more than excelled in action during the retreat at Dunkirk. ( They were to receive the prefix "Royal" in 1946 ). He then wished us well, and left the parade ground. After which, we were formed into sections, I was put into section one.
The Sergeant's name was Hamer, the Corporal was named Gaffson. He was a Jew, a small pleasant unruffled type of man always smiling. Corporal Hartley was the other non-commissioned officer, the same who met us at the station. After introducing themselves, and giving us a talk on what was required of us, Corporal Hartley led us into the building, which was L shaped and had two floors both of which contained a number of rooms. There was an outside veranda running along the rear of the building.
Our section was shown to a room on the second floor, where rows of double wooden bunks stood along each side of the room. Each contained a woollen blanket, and an empty palliasse. The corporal told us to each take a palliasse and follow him. We trooped out behind him and he led us to a shed outside , where we filled the palliasses with straw, when everyone was ready we trooped back to our bunks and laid out our blankets on top of the palliasse as shown by the Corporal.... neatly folded!
By now it was tea time and we were shown to the mess. This was a long hall, next to the cookhouse. Trestle tables were laid out with forms alongside. We formed a single file at a serving table, and were served sausage and mash in one part of our mess tins, and tea in the other part. We were not issued with cups until much later.
After tea, we were left to our own devices, after being warned that no one was to leave the camp under any circumstances. I began to introduce myself to some of my companions, Bill Brown, Les Thomas, Jack O'Connor, Jimmy Brindle, Bill Waddington and Joe Brookes, who all seemed sensible and decent chaps.
Bill was a smart dapper chap who came from Leyland Lancashire and had worked in a tyre factory, Les was a big husky chap who came from Treorchy in the Rhonnda Valley South Wales, and was a miner, Jack was about my own build, and was a very pleasant fellow he came from Dublin Southern Ireland, and had worked as a projectionist at the Regal cinema, Marble Arch, London. Jimmy was a thin sharp featured lad who came from Blackburn, Bill Waddington was a broad shouldered chap who came from Hawkshaw village not far from my home town, Joe resembled a pugilist, a tough chap, who came from Manchester, ( I cannot remember what occupations these latter chaps followed.)
Early next morning, after a rather restless night, we arose to the shouts of the orderly sergeant, "Wakey, wakey my lucky lads, show a leg, get ready for parade". This was to be the usual thing for many weeks to come. I rose, dressed and made my way outside to where the ablutions stood. These consisted of a wooden structure open to the sky, with a row of cold water taps running along the centre of a long table. Here we washed and shaved, and when we were finished, we returned to the billet. The non-commissioned officers called us out once again and we formed up into our respective sections. The Sergeant then explained the drill for parades. How to fall in, stand to attention, wait for other commands.
Later the Sergeant Major came on the scene, and took over the parade. He put us through our paces to see if we had learned anything, and seemed quite satisfied. He later marched to the front of the first section and slowly walked along the ranks checking each man. On arriving at me it was "Haircut, after parade". Passing on he addressed another man in the rear rank "Stand still that man"' and other relevant utterings as he passed along. After parade I went to the company barber who cut off quite a good amount of my hair. The following morning the R.S.M once again tapped my head "Haircut." he said, I told him that I had visited the barber the previous day, "Haircut," he repeated. And so, once again to the barber I went, when he had finished I had just a small quiff at the front of my head!
After these inspections we were handed over to the section commanders, who then marched their own sections to a separate corner of the parade ground, where we were taught further rudiments of army life. "The parade ground is sacrosanct, do not walk, or stroll across it, march smartly if it becomes necessary to cross it. You only salute a commissioned officer, and never without a cap, because you are improperly dressed". How to salute, longest way up shortest way down. Second Lieutenant, one pip, First Lieutenant, two pips, Captain, three pips, Major, crown, and so on.
After these parades we marched to breakfast, which consisted of porridge in one side of our mess tin, and either sausage or a slice of bacon in the other side. The smaller mess tin was again used for our tea. One can imagine that by the time we reached our table, the porridge was beginning to cover the bacon or whatever was served. However we tucked into it. This is the Army, as the popular song at that time declared.
The days passed with the same routine, learning to march, about turn, move to the right, or left in threes. Slowly the week passed, then our uniforms arrived, what a performance fitting them was! Something one had to see to realise what comedy could be made of it! When we were ready, the N.C.Os fell us in for inspection. How they refrained from bursting out laughing I'll never know! It was hilarious! However we finally got the hang of it. And presented ourselves in a smart and soldierly manner.
The weeks that followed were taken up by more Drills, Rifle drill. ( We had in the meantime been issued with arms. ) Slope arms, order arms, present arms, trail arms, care of arms etceteras, etceteras. We had bayonet practice, lectures on military law, current affairs, and kings regulations. Guard duties, cookhouse fatigues, route marches, and physical training. The latter often involving cross country runs over the Yorkshire moors. By the end of the fourth week we were in peak condition. I have never felt as fit as I was at that period!
The most popular parade of course was the weekly pay parade on Friday. As our names were called out we came smartly to attention, marched up to the paying officer at the pay table, saluted, one step forward, offered our pay book, signed the pay list, received our pay, one step back, saluted and marched back to the ranks. We were paid seventeen shillings and sixpence per week, but I later allotted ten shillings to my mother. Which left me seven shillings and sixpence.
Then came the time for our inoculations . Tetanus, and Typhus, also a vaccination on the top of our arms . I had rather a bad time with the inoculations, and almost passed out on the parade ground. However, after a day or so, the effects wore off.
Later we had our first experience of poison gas. This took place in Bradford, where we were taken into a room, told to fit our respirators, and the N.C.O. released the gas from a cylinder. After a moment or two we were ordered to remove our respirators. The resulting effect was a stinging feeling in the nostrils and eyes, and a slight difficulty in breathing. We were very glad to get out into the fresh air . It did however, prove the efficiency of our respirators.
Having been confined to barracks for the period of our initial training, on the third week we had been allowed out. We paraded to select those who had duties to attend to, the rest were dismissed, and I being one of the lucky ones, made my way to the camp guard room, where the R.S.M. was inspecting every man before allowing him out. My turn came, he stood like a ramrod in front of me , eyed me from feet to head, and pounced. Taking off my cap , he looked behind the badge, and throwing the hat back at me said "Clean that polish from the back of your badge, soldier. " My heart sank, for having been warned previously about this inspection, I had taken the utmost care to ensure that I was perfect.
However, back I went and gave my cap badge a thorough cleaning back and front, and, returning to the guard room was gratified to find that I passed muster and so into the fair city of Bradford, to sample the servicemen's clubs, where a cup of tea, sandwich, rock bun, and books to read were available, I also got to know more of my army comrades. and saw some of the sights of this Yorkshire City. Having to be back in camp before 11:00 p.m., by order of the R.S.M. I found myself walking back alone much earlier than that, and was in our billet by about nine thirty p.m.
One episode occurred about this time. Joe Brookes, absented himself without leave, and, when a couple of days later, the Red Caps ( Military Police ) brought him back he was hauled in front of the company commander and given seven days field punishment, or, as it was known by, "Jankers." This was a very severe punishment. Every night after duty between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. he was put through a drill session by the R.S.M. One had to witness this punishment to appreciate the effect it must have had on the poor chap.
He was dressed in full marching order, steel helmet, overcoat, full pack, respirator and rifle. He was marched up and down the parade ground for two hours without a break, with arms drill in between, When he was finally dismissed he came into the barracks, fell down on his bunk, just as he was, and slept for hours. When he took off all his uniform later his shoulder was almost raw with the chaffing of his webbing straps. This continued throughout the seven days. Perhaps this may seem extreme by today's standards, but it was accepted then, and Joe, a very tough chap, never altered, he was always up to some kind of mischief!
Joe it seemed, thought I was something of a weed, my being on the quiet side, for much later, when we were abroad and he had cause to know me better, admitted as much, and apologised to me.
Sunday parade was only for inspection, and for the necessary camp duties to be allotted, Cookhouse fatigues, camp cleaning, guard duties and so forth. Then the different religions were called out for church parade. This was how I met John King, a chap from Sale, in Cheshire. He worked for Freeman Hardy Willis, the shoe people. He, like myself, was a Catholic, and we became firm friends.
On our first Church parade, we were going to Holy Communion, and so had to forego our breakfast. On coming out of church, we were met by a family, Mr. and Mrs. Farley, who had two sons, and one daughter, all of school age. These people were the salt of the earth, very devout Catholics, who lived on an estate near the church. They introduced themselves and invited John and I to share their breakfast, but knowing the ration situation at that time was extremely tight, we were very reluctant to take advantage of this, but these good people insisted, and we were taken into their home, where we were to spend many happy hours, when off duty.
Mr. Farley showed us the Yorkshire moors, and other sights in Bradford, and he and I fought the Wars of the Roses over again amid much laughter! This experience, helped us in some degree, to overcome the sadness of being away from home and those we loved. Unfortunately John left the training cadre and was transferred to Leeds on a non-commissioned officers course, and I never met him again.
Life continued in the same way, until, on the 19th August 1941, we moved to the other side of Bradford. Thornton, where we took over a grammar school. Here we were formed into a Company, 279 company. It was here too, that the men came down with dysentery. What an experience! I have never seen so much movement, (Pun) in my life. Everyone from the officers down were affected. It was not a very pleasant experience.
Our section now got new N.C.Os, Sergeant Bell, a little tubby Scotsman, Corporal King, another Scotsman, and Corporal Lockey, he was a rather dour sort of person, who seemed to take an instant dislike to me, the feeling was mutual. He was later to be promoted to Sergeant...
Our Commanding Officers were Major Scott and Captain Todd, these were assisted by seven Lieutenants, one for each section, Our Company Sergeant Major was named Bolland, and the Quartermaster was a chap from Preston named Davis.
And so, when everyone was assembled and ready, we made our way to the station, where we entrained and as a company made our way to Huyton near Liverpool. This was a transit camp, on a council estate.
It seemed our job here was to provide a fire watching service on the dockside warehouses, besides working parties, and the ongoing training as soldiers. We settled into our billets, (council houses), where we slept on the floor on palliasses. After settling in, a group of us stood outside the billets awaiting orders. Suddenly one of the officers approached, he ordered myself and another chap, to go round and pick up all the cigarette ends that littered the pavement, seeing that I was a non-smoker, I was a little piqued about this, however we applied ourselves to this task, which the other chaps seemed to find very amusing.
When the N.C.Os came to sort out each party for that evenings fire watch duty I found myself selected. I felt there must be a fatal attraction about me! However, I thought that's life!
Each evening we were paraded and these parties were selected and marched to the nearest tram stop, where a long line of trams waited. We boarded these and made our way into Liverpool, where we again paraded, and assigned our posts, two men to each warehouse. After reaching our own individual posts, we had to climb up a stone spiral staircase to the top floor. I think there were about five floors in most of the warehouses. The top floor was always left empty, except for piles of sand, stirrup pumps, buckets and large tubs of water, which sometimes contained a dead rat, which we had to take out and inter.
After checking these, we proceeded back to the control centre, which was housed on the ground floor of another warehouse, and reported "All correct". This control centre also contained double bunks, where we slept when the Luftwaffe allowed. After we had reported all correct to our N.C.O he then dismissed us, telling us to remain in the vicinity, in case of air raid warning, when we must make our way to our posts with all speed. We were then permitted to go out and enjoy ourselves as best we could, into the blacked out city of Liverpool.
The dock area of Liverpool had been the target for the German air force on many occasions in the past year or so, as one would imagine, and there was much evidence of damage. Many of the warehouses had been bombed or burned.
From the trams, on our way here we had seen streets flattened, and many gaunt skeletons of bombed buildings in the centre of the city. Many of the streets were still blocked by debris and were impassable. We had many warnings, and air raids, but fortunately came through without casualties, and suffered far less than the poor people of Liverpool had.
The weeks passed, and then came the time for us to move on from Huyton. We packed up and made our way by lorries to Aintree Race Course, the home of the Grand National, which had been taken over by the army as a camp. Here we billeted in stables, six men to a stable in double bunks. These stables were built in a square with a quadrangle in the middle. Winter was now upon us and the stables were very cold, even though we had one Valour oil stove to each billet. On a few occasions when we returned from our fire watching duties, after heavy falls of snow, we found we had to dig our way into the stable.
One evening I, and another lad named Benedetto, who occupied the bunk above mine and who appeared to be unwell, decided to stay in for the night. Later whilst reading a book I became aware that he seemed to be in some distress. On asking him what was the matter, he began to ramble, and I noticed that he was sweating, and shivering. I covered him with a few blankets off the other bunks, and ran for the Orderly Sergeant. He came and, on examining him said "This looks like pneumonia, I'll get the Medical Officer". This lad was rushed to Walton Hospital, and he never returned to our unit.
Life went on as before, fire watching, working parties on ammunition dumps, drills, guard duties, route marches, and at one period, taking part in a large scale exercise in Liverpool. Many units of the army took part in these manoeuvres, which were designed to train us in street fighting. Our company was divided into sections, each of which had an officer whose job it was to decide when we had been "killed" or taken "prisoner" by other units, or if we had "killed or "captured" men of other units.
One night we were told that the "Enemy" were occupying an air raid shelter in an area near us. We attacked this shelter at dusk, firing off our blank ammunition, and thunder flashes, which were a large fireworks type of banger to represent hand grenades, and we managed to take the shelter together with some "Prisoners," who were members of a Scotch regiment, The faces of these lads when we stormed in, and their officer told them they were our "Prisoners," was a picture I will never forget!
A few weeks later the sections of our company were moved around, and our N.C.Os changed. A new Sergeant Major took over named Jerome, and we also got a new Captain named Chalk. Our Sergeant was named Hoare, a Yorkshire man and a Catholic. But Corporal King remained with us, and also Corporal Lockey, and we became section two. It was about this time that I first crossed swords with Corporal Lockey. On a Sunday parade he assigned me to cook-house fatigues. When I made a request to attend church parade he refused my request. On being dismissed I sought out Sergeant Hoare who told me to attend church parade and report to the cook-house after returning to camp.
This obviously widened the gap between the Corporal and myself, and he tried henceforth to make my life a little bit harder.
Whilst I was here my brother Bill visited me when he was on leave, and we spent a very pleasant day together sightseeing around Liverpool.
A few weeks later the company was inspected by the then Duke of Kent. We were paraded in front of the grandstand for this auspicious occasion. He walked along the ranks, pausing now and then to speak a few words to one of the men. He was to be killed in an air accident later in the war. Also Liverpool held its War Weapons week, and our section were picked to march through the city, with other regiments. The good people of Liverpool gave us a rousing reception. Lord Derby took the salute at Saint George's Hall. Our section finished the day tired and footsore, but very proud!
On the 7th December 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and brought America into the war.
On the 18th December 1941 I was making my way back to my billet from the showers, which were under the grandstand, when a Sergeant from one of the other sections called me over, "I believe you are a musician, Ainsworth". I replied that I had indeed told the recruiting Sergeant that I played the drums. "Well" he said, "We are organising a company band, and we require a drummer, are you interested"? Was I interested? I nearly fell over myself in eagerness.
However I managed to say calmly that I was. "I hope you are not a time waster" the Sergeant said. "We have already tried a few who have been no use." I assured him (With my fingers crossed ) That I was fairly competent having been trained by a professional drummer, and had played with a small dance band, and a brass band, "Right," he said "make your way to the officers mess, I will meet you there in five minutes."
The officers mess was in a hotel at the gates of the camp. "The Sefton", so after taking my towel and soap to my billet I went there. The Sergeant met me, and took me up stairs to what was obviously the function room. Here he introduced me to the rest of the band. I of course knew them as members of the company. The Sergeants name was Rothschild, he played trumpet, my own section Corporal, Corporal King played Sax and doubled on clarinet, Corporal Carrick played Piano, Private Rhymer played guitar and accordion, this chap was a theatrical artist, who together with his father formed an equilibrium act known as "The Two Eddies." Private Henkiel played Violin, he also arranged our music when later we got it. After setting up the drums to my satisfaction I sat down and said that I was ready. We Kicked off with a quickstep. When we finished the Sergeant said "Right, you are in!" And so began a period of exciting days excused drills, and fire watch duties, ( or at least some of them) and experience with an army dance band...
Christmas Eve 1941 we played at the Garrick Theatre in Liverpool. We excelled! It was a great dance. The daily practices that we had worked hard at, now paying off. We had further engagements at the Garrick, and played at Crosby Hall, just outside Liverpool, for a dance there. This place was a convalescent home for wounded servicemen.
We also got engagements with other company's for their dances. Later we were engaged by a free Dutch group to play at a matinee concert in Liverpool.
My first Christmas in the army was a somewhat bitter sweet affair. We were awakened on Christmas morning by the Officers who brought us tea in bed, and our Christmas dinner was something to write home about, but the absence of my loved ones took the gilt off it.
On the 1st July 1942 we moved again, this time it was to Hall Road Blundelsands, on the mouth of the Mersey. Here we were in semi-detached houses, unfurnished of course, palliasses on the wooden floor as usual. Here we at least got some sea breezes, and it was quite a pleasant place to be in.
The house I occupied was named Inglenook and had a Lilac tree in the garden. I can remember the lovely smell every evening, and vowed that when I had a home of my own I would have one of these trees in my garden. Such things were my dreams made of!
While we were here we had several visits to the firing range at Altcar, where we learned to fire live ammunition with our rifle, and Bren guns, and to throw hand grenades. Quite an experience!
One day just as I had finished my dinner, I heard my name called out by the Orderly Sergeant. On answering him he informed me that my Mother and Father were at the guardroom, and he said I would be allowed to have the rest of the day off to spend with them. I spent a very pleasant day showing my parents round the area, and nearby Waterloo, and it was a wonderful experience.
Life continued in the usual way. Leaves came and went, seven days away from all the army discipline, and the opportunity to see Those I loved once more. I always tried to meet Ethel on these leaves, but it was only very seldom that I did see her. Strangely enough, I was unable to tell her then, how much she meant to me, in the very short time that we spent together. Every three or four months these leaves came round, short though they were, they were more than welcome.
The 11th November 1942 saw us on the move once more. We said good-bye to Liverpool, and found ourselves in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Merrion Camp was in the process of being built, and we were here to put the finishing touches to it. It was to be a training camp for the Armoured Corps and was situated on the coast, a bleak and windswept area, with towering cliffs, over which the tanks fired out to sea. The work was hard, digging out hedges, and roads, filling them in with hard core ready for the concrete, and building platforms of concrete from which the tanks practised firing their shells. We worked with the Royal Engineers, and got on splendidly with them. One day, we came under shell fire, when working on a sunken road, our work group suddenly became aware that shells were passing over us. The tanks were practising and apparently had not been told of our presence. It was rather a unique experience!
One bonus we enjoyed here was the capture of rabbits, with which the area abounded, and many a supper was enjoyed after cooking them in our mess tins. I did manage to send some home by post, for my parents, to eke out their rations.
When the camp theatre was finished we were treated to a celebrity band, Henry Hall and his band were chosen to open this theatre, and a great time was had by all. Our company band also provided many an evening diversion there.
On the 25th May 1942 we moved a few miles down the road, to a place called Bosherston. Newton camp was a collection of nissen huts, close to the famous Lily Pools, quite a lovely place. In the cliffs just a few minutes away was a small chapel, Saint Gowens.
Whilst here I heard that Ethel had got engaged to an Airman. I was devastated, and I must have obviously shown it, because my section Sergeant noticed my indrawn manner, and spoke to the Company Sergeant Major, who called me to the company office and asked me if everything was all right at home, even offering me leave if necessary. I told him a lie, and said I was okay.
The weeks passed, and we moved around Pembroke, and Pembroke Dock. On the 9th July 1943 we found ourselves under canvas at Saint Clears. Here we joined other units of the army on a large exercise called "Jantzen", it was a run up to the coming invasion of Europe. It poured with rain almost every day, and I can remember never wearing a dry item of clothing at any time during this period. Most of the time we were loading Jerry cans of petrol from army trucks onto railway wagons.
When the exercise finished we returned to Pembroke, where I was told I had to attend a course on field documentation at the Pioneer Corps record offices in Bournemouth. This course was to last a week. And so down to Bournemouth I sallied, and spent quite an interesting, and educational week. This course was from the 16th to the 24th October 1943. I and a couple of other chaps from other units, were housed in a guest house where a very nice landlady made us welcome.
On the 5th November 1943 we moved into Breconshire, a place called Builth Wells. Ten days later we moved down to Essex, Guys Retreat, Buckhurst Hill. All the headquarters, officers quarters, and mess, the company office, and the men's mess were contained in this large square building, which had been a cycling club in peace time. We were again in nearby private houses.
It was here that, whilst on guard during an air raid, I heard a dull thud just around the corner of the Headquarters building. Thinking it may be an un-exploded bomb, I rushed round to investigate, and found a large cylinder. On inspecting it closer, I saw it was a petrol tank that aircraft jettison when empty. Oh! heart be still.
It was here too, that the whole company had their photograph taken. I spent many Sundays off duty visiting London to hear Mass at Westminster Cathedral, and see the sights.
I think it was here that we first heard that our company was to take part in the Invasion. I had a crash course on stretcher bearing, and we were shown maps of our beachhead, with all the place names left off, we only knew that it was somewhere on the continent. On the 27th of April 1944 we moved to Upminster: private houses again, Deyncourt Gardens.
Here, again we worked with the engineers, finishing a large supply depot in a huge railway sidings at Stratford. This was again to be a supply point for the invasion.
On the 1st of June 1944, we moved down to the New Forest, just outside of Southampton. This area had become one of the marshalling points for the invasion troops and was a restricted area. Here Americans, Canadians, Polish and British troops where massed. We were under canvas, and the camp was a high security zone, and on being warned not to approach the perimeter fences, as the many guards had orders to fire on sight anyone approaching, from outside or inside the area, we complied.
Sunday the 4th of June dawned, and we were formed up and trucked to Southampton. Here, after filing into a large warehouse, and being issued with 48 hour ration packs, and several French Francs, ( So! it was to be France! ) we boarded a Landing Craft Infantry, ( L.C.I. ) These craft were designed to put infantry onto beaches. At the bow two ladders, one on each side of the boat were suspended on chains.
When we had settled in we were called on deck, and told that we would soon be on our way. After hearing mass on deck, and receiving a small white plastic cross from the Padre, we had the run of the craft, and had a good look round.
Later in the afternoon we heard that there had been a postponement of the invasion, there was a feeling of disappointment among the men, for it only extended the agony of waiting. Later that night we settled down below deck, and slept.
Early on Monday morning the 5th of June, we were awakened with the usual "Wakey wakey", and tumbled up on deck where the officers told us that we would in all probability be sailing later in the day.
About late evening, there was a sudden movement of the crew, (Who were Canadians ), and the craft began to move out of the dock. This is it I thought! We rounded the Isle of Wight, and moved into the channel. When dusk came we were sent below, and settled down to wait. We tucked into self heating tins of cocoa, malted milk, and sandwiches, which did not agree with some of the chaps. The rocking and tossing of the craft made it difficult to hold it all down, and there were some groans from the unlucky ones. Fortunately I was not affected.
Sometime during the night our fleet must have rendezvous with other parts of the fleet, for on awakening the following morning we were ordered out on deck and the sight that met our eyes was almost beyond description. There were ships of all sizes as far as the eye could see, on every horizon. They were all making their way towards the coast that we could just make out in the distance. The Battleships at the rear of us with their guns firing at the coast made a deafening noise.
After a half hour or so I became aware that we were circling just about half mile offshore. The sea was choppy, and the craft rose and fell, I could see the orange and red flashes of shells exploding on land, just behind the beach, smoke drifted over the whole area. Suddenly a sailor near me called "We are going in!". A feeling of fear tinged with excitement filled me.
The craft turned into the beach and sped towards it, suddenly grinding into the sand, and slewing into the beach at an angle. The metal ladders that hung from each side of the bow rattled as they dropped down onto the beach. I looked over the side that we had been lined up on, and I saw that we had about three feet of water to wade through, I'm going to get wet! I remember thinking.
The N.C.O's ordered us to quickly disembark, and we hurried down the steps, up to the waist in water. On getting to dry land we were met by the beach master, whose job it was to ensure that the beach was cleared quickly for the following troops and vehicles.
"Get the hell off here, follow the white tapes." he shouted. To our right a tank suddenly came up out of the sea onto the beach, there was a small explosion and I thought it had been hit by a shell, however it was only getting rid of the waterproofing that enabled it to come ashore from the tank landing craft.
We squelched up the beach and made our way to the path that was marked by white tapes through the minefield, and arrived at a railway cutting. A single rail track ran across the road, and a small station on our left had the sign "BERNIERS." I've made it I thought... The time was about 7:50 am.
This was Normandy, and we were on "Juno Beach", as we discovered later. We were part of the British 2nd Army 1st Corps, who had been put ashore, together with the Canadians, after the Royal Marine Commandos had cleared the beach earlier.
After assembling us together our N.C.O's formed us in single files each side of the road, and we made our way up to the village that lay just behind the beach. A few yards up this road we saw our first enemy, a group of German prisoners of war, some of them appeared very young, almost teenagers. Clinging to the arm of one of the older men was a woman weeping, and the guard who was escorting them bundled her away.
We eventually arrived at a "T" junction, and facing us was a small shop which appeared to be a book shop, with picture postcards on a stand just inside the door which was open, and as no one seemed to be about, I helped myself to a couple of local views.
Turning right we came to the village square. A church dominated it, its tall spire about 70 metres high. Here on the corner was a small bakery from which came the smell of new bread. I went in and offered my French francs, which the baker accepted and he handed me a small brown loaf. It was to be quite some time before I ate fresh bread again.
Once again, up the road we made our way, the sound of sporadic arms fire could be heard. We arrived at a farm yard on our right and entering it we saw a barn, inside of which was a horse. From its flank a piece of shrapnel protruded, but it did not seem to be in any pain, munching its hay.
We passed on out of the farmyard, and proceeded up a sunken road which apparently, were a feature of the Normandy countryside. Eventually we arrived at our destination, a large field on our left. Here we were ordered to "dig in". This entailed digging a "foxhole", which was a trench large enough to accommodate oneself, deep enough to afford protection from blast, and if necessary defend oneself from attack. We carefully set about this task, along the edges of the field, bearing in mind that almost every field had the grim warning "Achtung Minen!".
We were later told that a German sniper had been holed up in the village, but had been dealt with after we had passed, however he had not seemed to consider us as important.
Our section commander Lieutenant Peters called us over to explain our job here. It seemed we were attached to the 32nd C.C.S, a Casualty Clearing Station. We were to provide guard and defence duties, and assist in the general day to day running of the station.
This was to include stretcher bearing, burying the dead, dismantling and assembling the station as and when it was necessary, to keep up with the front. At the bottom of the field where the C.C.S was being erected a British bren carrier was burning, there was no sign of the crew and I hoped that they had survived.
The station consisted of a reception tent, a resuscitation tent, three operating tents, about five wards, and a mortuary tent. Within a few hours it was in operation, and receiving casualties, these being brought in by the field ambulances.
We set to work, the casualties arrived in fairly large numbers. It was a very unpleasant job. Some of these lads having been very badly wounded, but although on admittance some of them seemed to be hopeless cases nonetheless they were sitting up a few days later, and ready to be taken by D.U.W.K's ( Amphibian transport) down to the beach and back to the UK.
The occasional German fighter plane came over the area, but our work was uninterrupted. Shortly after the C.C.S was in operation, I, and a few other chaps were ordered by our officer, lieutenant Peters, to make our way up the road. Here in a field on our right, we found five dead men of the Royal Engineers behind a hedge. They had been killed by a mine, and one of them, an officer, had lost both his legs. We were ordered to bury these men, and after the Padre read a short service, we buried them together in a single grave.
The work continued non stop throughout that first day, and it was obvious that the enemy were putting up stiff resistance. When night fell, those of us who had no guard or other duties to perform were ordered to get some rest. I was one of these, and I made my way to my foxhole across the road.
Dawn on the 7th June broke, I awoke stiff and sore. A mist hung low over the field, the smell of damp earth filled my nostrils. Having slept in my uniform this was also damp, (indeed it had not dried completely from my wet landing the day previous! )
After eating some of my ration pack which consisted of tea and sugar cubes, boiled sweets, a thick solid block of chocolate, and a compressed lump of meat, with a small tin stove and a number of solid fuel blocks, with which to boil our water ( obtained from a unit water wagon, ) I made my way to the C.C.S.
Casualties continued to arrive in a steady stream. I was detailed to attend reception: here the field ambulance deposited their wounded who were then examined by the medical officer, and we had the job of transferring them to wherever he told us. "Resuscitation this one", "Ward this one", "Theatre this one", "Mortuary this one", and so the day went. One of our most unpleasant tasks was burying the poor lads whose wounds had proved too serious for the Medical Officers to deal with, some of them much younger than myself.
Time passed and our work proceeded without let up. The beach head had by now moved inland about five miles, and the time to move was imminent.
The unit packed, and we made our way to a place named La Riviere. This was, as far as I could make out, just a small hamlet, about three mile inland with a "T" junction. A road on our left led to the front. After assembling the C.C.S we carried on as before.
One day, when on duty in the reception, Bill Brown and I were called over to one of the theatres were we witnessed an operation on a Canadian whose leg was being removed. When the surgeon had finished, an orderly placed the leg, complete with boot and sock, into a bucket and, covering it with a towel handed it to me saying "Go and bury this somewhere". We carried it out to an adjoining field, and, digging a hole, we tipped the limb into it and covered it up.
The Luftwaffe still carried out their swoops at low level, but they were just a nuisance to us, although it can a little off-putting when carrying a wounded man, on a stretcher across an open field, with an orderly at the side holding a blood drip.
There was a large white sheet with a painted red cross pegged down in the centre of the field, which we hoped would be recognised and respected by the enemy, although in the heat of battle, and dependant on the pilot, attacks had been known to occur.
Some time after arriving at La Riviere, I was on guard at the entrance to the field when I became aware of the sound of bagpipes just around the corner of the road ahead, about a quarter of a mile away. Suddenly round the bend came a solitary piper, followed by a company of infantrymen. They made the way up to the road junction, and turned right up to the front. It was a sight that I'll never forget.
We managed some days, during the rare slack periods, to have a swim in the river that flowed along the bottom of the field. Sleeping and working in your clothes day after day can be very uncomfortable.
The days passed with the Germans still fighting hard to contain and repel the beachhead, and we moved only short distances. The place names are just a dim memory now.. Secqueville, It was here that Joe Brooks, and I had a little disagreement, after which he told me of his former opinion of me, and apologised, as I mentioned earlier in this story.
It was here, also, we saw our first V1 flying bomb. It must have been wrongly set, for just over our heads it turned and went back in the direction it came from. Over to you Adolf! Then on to Bretteville, and La Deliverand which had a lovely double spired church: and Saint Lo, which was in the American sector, and had been very heavily shelled, and bombed. I spoke to an American soldier here, we talked about our homes and families, and the war in general. He seemed a very decent fellow. It was here also, on entering a bombed house, I saw a crucifix on part of a wall. I took it, and it went through the campaign with me, it is still in my possession.
After a few weeks we arrived at a place just south of Caen. This town should have been taken on D. Day, together with the nearby Carpiquet airfield, but the Germans had fought hard to deny the allies these important centres, and even the five hundred bomber raid which we had witnessed, did not move them. It was to be mid July before it was taken. The air raid was awesome. Wave after wave of bombers soared overhead. They unleashed their bombs over the town, and the dust and smoke blotted out the sun.
The C.C.S began to receive German wounded about this time. I got the task of guarding a young German who was obviously a shell shock case. His whole body trembled uncontrollably, and he was incoherent. I put a cigarette into his mouth and lit it, but he was unable to smoke it. He was later taken to the beach, and to England, for him at least the war was over.
Another German whom I had the task of guarding, and who was not as fortunate as the previous one, was a head wound case. The Medical Officer handed him over to me saying "Stay with him, its just a matter of time". I stood by the stretcher for about a half hour, listening to the low moans, and watched the wound in his head pulsate. He never regained consciousness, and when all went quiet I informed the Medical Officer, who examined him, and said "Take him to the mortuary".
Late in July our section moved up to Carpiquet, to await the arrival of the C.C.S. We were on high ground here, overlooking the airport, and we could see for miles. The whole front lay before us. Here, a German fighter plane, obviously in difficulty, made a forced landing in the field we occupied, fortunately for the pilot he clambered out unhurt, and we had the task of taking him prisoner.
In the field just behind us the Royal Artillery were shelling the German lines, and the noise was terrific. We were glad when they moved on!
Our next move was to a place called Falaise. This marked the beginning of the end of the battle for Normandy. The American forces were driving round from Argentan to trap the German forces inside a pocket, close the gap and destroy them. This was achieved, and resulted in about seventy thousand of the enemy forces being killed or taken prisoner.
Now began the dash into France itself. Here we left the C.C.S, and joined our own H.Q. Where we packed loaded up, and were on our way. The roads were littered with damaged enemy vehicles, lorries, tanks, cars of all descriptions, dead horses and cattle, their bodies swollen, and lime thrown on them. It was Dunkirk in reverse, and the smell was terrible.
Crosses by the roadside marked the graves of German soldiers who had been caught in the strafing and shelling, sometimes just a rifle stuck in the ground with a German helmet on top marked a grave.
On through Lisieux, Evereux, across the bailey bridge over the Seine at Vernon, Gisors, the battlefields of the first world war passing too quickly for us to see them. At Amiens we paused, and I managed to do a little shopping, and sent Ethel, and her mother some French perfume.
In just a few days we had covered miles, with the Germans in full retreat, although they left pockets of resistance in the villages, and hamlets as a delaying tactic.
The French people welcomed us with the V sign, and cries of "Viva La France", "Viva La Angleterre." The children shouted "Cigareet pour Papa".
Then it was on through to Belgium, where again we were received with wild enthusiasm, people thronging the streets, shouting "Viva Le Angletier", "Viva Belguiq". The children pelting us with flowers, and ribbons of the Belgium colours.
Brussels with it's vast crowds, handing us fruit, and flowers. It was all bewildering, but very exciting. These people had suffered four years misery from the German occupation, and were showing their relief at liberation.
On the move again, to a place not far from Brussels. Diest. It was the 4th of September 1944. Here we stayed for a little time. One day whilst we were here, I had to accompany Corporal Gaffson on some business in Brussels, where we had dinner at a large hotel. The hotel had previously been occupied by high ranking German officers, and the meal was excellent.
On the move again, we arrived at the town of Hasselt. Here we were attached to the 81st General Hospital, and I met, and became very friendly with a chap named Dick Rodgers. He was something of a comedian, and could mimic nearly every sound of the farmyard animals.
Dick was a butcher in civilian life, and came from Oxford. He was a member of the Hampshire Regiment, and his duties here were as batman to the Catholic Padre, Father Swift. Later I was to become batman to the Dental Officer for a short period of time.
Both Father Swift and this Officer were billeted on a Belgium family, Mr. and Mrs. Hermans, who had two daughters of school age, whom Dick and I tried to help with their English lessons.
Our main duties now were to waken the two officers, and prepare them for duty, also to keep their rooms tidy. Mr. and Mrs. Hermans were extremely good to us, and offered us their food, which was meagre, and we were reluctant to take it.
Mr. Hermans was a hairdresser. They occupied a very large house, some three stories high. Besides the large salon, they had living quarters and kitchen, and in the upper stories about six bedrooms. The cellar had been fitted out as an air raid shelter, which the family retired to every time the sirens sounded. Mister Hermans pleaded with us to join them, but Dick and I would have none of it, and stayed in the house talking until the all clear was sounded.
The Hermans were very nervouse people, which was not suprising after the German invasion of Belgium in 1940, and now the allies fighting their way through their country, and also having two young daughters to consider. Their hatred of the Germans was in no doubt however. They had a photograph of them both giving the V sign, while still under German occupation, which they proudly showed to Dick and I.
In September, while we were here, the advance into Holland with the attempt to capture the three bridges at Eindoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem, took place which, if the operation had succeeded, would have shortened the war by months. However it proved to be a bridge to far, and the allies were unable to take the Arnhem bridge.
It was also whilst we were here that the German breakthrough in the Ardennes took place. Mr. Hermans became very agitated when the news came through, but we managed to put his mind at rest, and told him there was no chance of another 1940 debacle.
Christmas came, and Dick, Father Swift and I, were invited to a little party with the Hermans. Having been given a half bottle of White Horse whisky by the Dental Officer, I took it along with me, and a good time was had by all.
The Hermans next door neighbour came to the party, a gentleman named Tits ( pronounced Teets ), who was it appeared a wine traveller. He told us that he travelled all over the continent. His large cellar contained all kinds of wines and spirits, some of which, he brought out for us. There was Kummel, Schnapps, Benedictine, and a few others. I'm afraid I cannot remember the latter part of the evening, but it took me three days to get over it.
On 11th January 1945 I was surprised to hear I had been granted leave. Nine days of heaven away from it all. It was great to see my family again, though it was marred by the fact that my father was very ill. It was to be the last time I saw him alive.
One night while I was on guard duty here, I suffered very severe pains in my groin. When my relief took over, and I returned to the guard room, the guard commander looked at me and said "Are you all right son, you look terrible" I told him how I felt, and he called the Medical Officer, who, when he had examined me, ordered me to bed. "Report sick in the morning" he said.
The following morning I reported sick, although now the pain had gone, and I was examined by a Major Chisholm, who was a surgeon. He told me I must have an operation as soon as he could perform it. However, the hospital at this time was extremely busy with casualties. It was to be twenty years before I got that operation!
The weeks rolled by, and then we were on the move again, this time it was Holland. Sterksel was a small village. Here we were billeted in a nearby college. Saint Pauls was run by White Fathers. These monks were very good to us, and kindly put on an evening of classical music records for those interested. I found it very enjoyable.
One day we were told that a German patrol had cut the road behind us. After a bit of a skirmish they were pushed back. This was accomplished in a very short time.
Just down the road from the college about half a mile was a farm. Dick and I became very friendly with the family there. Mr. and Mrs. Rieling were very old. they had a son Carl, and a daughter Toos, who were both in their thirties. These people also were very kind to us, and showered us with farm produce and gifts. They told us how they had suffered under the Germans, who had stolen from them, and when they retreated had even taken their bicycles, and farm carts.
It was here we witnessed the drive into Germany itself. The sky was filled with transport planes carrying parachute troops, and towing gliders. It was an uplifting sight! Later we were to see these planes returning with parachute lines hanging from their fuselages.
Shortly, our turn came to follow them into the fatherland. We crossed the Rhine by bailey bridge, at the point between Xanten-Wesel, and after passing fields of broken gliders eventually arrived at a place named Soltau, not very far from Hanover. Here we billeted in a detached house from which the owners had fled.
Whilst here I received a letter from my sister Janet informing me that the doctor had given my father a short time to live. I immediately showed it to the Orderly Officer who arranged for me to go to Second Army Headquarters. This place was in a large house. I'm afraid I was too upset to remember were it was. Here I saw a Major who told me that having had leave in January it might be difficult to arrange leave for me now.
I then asked him if my older brother would be able to obtain leave. He asked where my brother was, and on telling him he was in Italy he shook his head and said, "Not much chance there". However, he said he would do his best to get me leave, and I had to leave it at that.
Two days later my Commanding Officer informed me that I should get myself packed, and proceed by the unit water wagon to Eindoven in Holland, for air transport home. With our company driver, a chap named Baker, we set off to Eindoven. After several hours drive, in which we had to ask directions of German people, who not unnaturally, were very unhelpful, we finally arrived at our destination.
This was an R.A.F unit where I met some other men going on compassionate leave. The station officer in charge informed us that the unit was moving up the following day, and there would be no plane available until then. After a meal I was shown to a Nissan hut were I bedded down for the night.
The following morning after breakfast, and a wait of several hours, our transport arrived at about eleven thirty am. Our party trooped out to where a Dakota transport plane stood on the tarmac, and we boarded it. Soon we were airborne and making our way over the Channel.
We arrived at London Airport, at about one thirty p.m. where a bus was waiting to ferry us to Haymarket in the centre of London. Here we were told to make our own way to our respective train stations for trains home.
After having a meal at a restaurant in Haymarket, the group broke up to make their way individually to their destinations. I and a chap who, I later learned, was a former pupil at my old school, and whose name was Bob Murray made our way to Euston station to board a train to Manchester, which we reached about ten twenty that night, only to learn that the last train to Bolton had left at ten fifteen p.m.!
After a consultation we decided to walk it, a distance of about eleven miles, and so we set off. On reaching Bolton we bade each other good-bye and made our way to our homes. My Mother and Father had been living with my married sister Janet, whilst my Father had been ill, and so, on reaching home at about one fifty am, it was to find the house empty. Having a key, I let myself in, fell down on the couch, and dropped off to sleep.
I was awakened later that morning by my Mother, who on seeing me, burst into tears. When she had recovered she told me my Father had died on the 5th of April and was buried on the 9th of April. I explained that it had taken about three days for mail to arrive in Germany, and having to wait for my leave, which was only granted on the 13th of April, the time it had taken to get home had been all of seven days.
I visited my Father's grave with my family, and spent a rather miserable leave. I did however, attempt to obtain an extension of leave by applying to the nearest barracks in Bury, but to no avail. On the 20th April 1945 I left Bolton and made my way to Purfleet, where I arrived at eight thirty that night.
At midnight on the 21st of April I boarded a boat which docked at Ostende at nine am the following day. Here I was attached to a transit camp to await transport to my unit. A day later I boarded a train which took me to Genep in Holland, here I joined a Regimental Holding Unit. Leaving here on the 26th of April, when I , and some other chaps, were piled on to ammunition trucks, and made our way into Germany. It was to be the 28th of April before I finally joined my unit at Luneburg Barracks.
Captain Chalk had been made up to Major, and was now our Company Commander. He was, however, due for release from the army, and he gave all the company a party, giving every man a letter thanking them for their efforts, and telling them how well they had conducted themselves during the campaign.
On the 8th May 1945, we were all paraded on the barrack square to hear Winston Churchill on the radio proclaim the end of the war in Europe. We were then given the day off, which we used by drinking all the Schnapps and wine we could find in the barracks. I, with a few other chaps, commandeered a German utility car, and we took turns at driving it all over the barracks. My manoeuvres were quite good, considering my condition! I also confiscated a Nazi banner from the band room, which I brought home.
Then it was back to duties. Our section was posted to 81st General Hospital, which had been sent to Belsen concentration camp near Celle. I had always believed that the tales of these camps had been propaganda. I was to learn that they were indeed fact.
Belsen had been a large camp, but all the prisoner's huts had been burned by flame throwers, as had been the bases of the trees in the nearby forest, this had been necessary to prevent the spread of Typhus that was prevalent when the camp was liberated.
What we saw here shocked us. I personally could not believe that Man could treat his fellowmen with such cruelty. These poor people, with distended stomachs, and limbs like skeletons, ambled round the place with a dead look on their faces. Many of them lay in the SS barracks, which had been turned into wards, and here they were dying like flies, help had arrived too late for many of them.
I spoke to children, some not more than seven or eight years of age, in broken English. Each one of them had a number tattooed on their wrist. They seemed unconcerned about their surroundings, and I realised that they had obviously never known any other kind of life.
We had the job of guarding the former SS guards, who now had the task of burying the dead. The numbers of the dead were such, that it was necessary for bulldozers to dig out large pits into which the dead were rolled. These guards were a very hard bunch, and we gave them a hard time. We hounded them every day, without pity. One day I saw one SS man coming out of the hospital with a body under each arm. Before I could tackle him, one of the hospital Sisters saw him and shouted to him to, get a stretcher and to have some respect for the dead. I thought she was going to hit him, she was livid. He certainly jumped to it!
A few of the chaps were photographing some of these unfortunate people, but I could not bring myself to do this, Joe Brookes and I just went round the camp, taking photographs of the incinerators and guard towers. The whole place had an air of desolation, and we were glad to move on, leaving Belsen on the 15th of July 1945.
We rejoined our unit at Soltau, and on the 22nd of July 1945 I proceeded on leave. Spending a few precious days with my family, and friends. I was fortunate enough to obtain an extension to this leave due to bad weather conditions in the channel, and enjoyed a further two extra days.
On my return to Germany I was informed that our section was to be posted to 143 Company, at a place called Kirkweye.. On the 9th of August 1945, we duly made our way to join this new company. I was very glad that my section mates were all kept together. On arrival at Kirkweye we were shown to our billets. We had our normal duties to perform here, guard duty, drills, route marches, and exercises.
Here, we got passes to a place called Delmenhorst, where we could visit the beer kellers. Being ordered by the military authorities that no fraternisation with German civilians was permitted, we kept ourselves to ourselves.
One night on coming out of one of these pubs I saw a well dressed German, who appeared to be of high rank, picking up cigarette ends from out of the gutter which our lads had thrown away. I thanked God that I had never been addicted to nicotine.
Later, we moved up to Rendsburg on the Kiel canal, via Hamburg and Bremen. The bomb damage to these latter places was horrific. One could see piles of rubble for what appeared to be miles. Hitler certainly left the German people a terrible legacy.
On the 2nd of October 1945, after packing and boarding lorries, we set off to Osnabruk. Here we boarded trains on our first leg to England, and home. We arrived at Ostende on the following day. After spending two days here we boarded ship on the 4th, arriving at Dover later that day.
That night we boarded train and at four thirty the following morning arrived at the Somerset village of Street. The next day the whole company were sent on two weeks disembarkation leave. Arriving home at about nine fifty on the 7th of October 1945. I spent two wonderful weeks, knowing I had seen the last of Germany.
On the 22nd of October I rejoined my unit at Street, where we were informed that we were going to Liverpool to work on the docks because of a dockers strike there. On the 25th we entrained to Liverpool.
Here we were billeted in huts at Kirkby, just off the East Lancs Road. The first morning on awakening, I found that either a rat or mouse had been nibbling at my toe nail. Sleeping on the floor had it's disadvantages! However, my toe was intact apart from a small scar.
We spent until the 16th of November here, unloading goods from ships, and other duties. Then it was back to Street in Somerset. On the 19th of October we were transferred to a prisoner of war camp at Taunton, where we spent Christmas. The German prisoners cooked our Christmas dinner, and it was very good.
I had a discussion with a German seaman one night when on guard. I told him how things were in Germany. He had been a student up to being enlisted, and spoke very good English. He made a half hearted attempt to justify the concentration camps by saying we, the British, were the first to use them in the South African war. I soon convinced him of the great difference.
In January we moved to Davenport, where we were stationed at Raglan barracks. I became attached to Company Headquarters here, as a clerk. Later, I took over the ration clerks job. I was with a good set of lads here, Billy Havill, Corporal Ken Fussell, and Bill Brown. We had many debates on Religion, Politics, and other interesting subjects.
On the 20th of March 1946 I was informed that I was to be released under class B. My employment in the cotton industry having something to do with this. The following day after Medical Inspection, I made my way to Taunton where I was given a civilian suit, and accessories.
The 22nd of March dawned bright and clear, and making my way to the Company Office for the last time, I picked up my release papers. These informed me that my release started on the 12th of April 1946, following three weeks leave. After saying farewell to all my friends, I boarded a bus to Bristol on my way home.. and freedom!
Arriving home late that night, and settling in, I pondered on the last four years nine months. Quite a great amount of my young life had passed. I wondered what the future held for me.
However, it held great promise.. Ethel had broken off her engagement and. having resumed our friendship, we spent quite some time together. One lovely evening on my proposing to her, she accepted...
When we parted later that night, I stood on that same corner that we had stood on so long ago, and looking up at the full moon, like a huge pearl in a blue velvet sky, surrounded by a myriad of stars twinkling like diamonds, my heart felt that it would burst with happiness.