World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Arthur Ward 

LIFE IN THE ARMY - Chapter 1 – War is declared, and I enlist

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: ARTHUR WARD, Albert White, Major K Boulton, Sgt E Knell, Alice Brown, Eric Percival, Dick Thompson and Winnie Sewell, Bill Turner
Location of story: Beighton, Sheffield, Leeds
Unit name: 279 Battery 70th Field Regt. R.A.
Background to story: Army

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Arthur Ward.
LIFE IN THE ARMY

by
ARTHUR WARD
December 1939 - November 1945
“A soldier, civilian and father of whom we are so proud”
"To My Mother and Dad"
Contents:


PREFACE

This story of my war years is dedicated to my wife Connie, my sons Peter and Robert, my grandchildren and all members of the Ward and Owen families who recently have patiently listened to some of my war experiences.

Also to the following:
My comrades who lost their lives and many who came back from the War with broken limbs and damaged minds.

To my best mate Albert White from Thurlstone who died in 1966 whom I shall never forget.

To the people at home who had to manage their lives with poor rations, air attacks and the worry of not knowing where their sons and daughters were and would they ever return.

And with a heartfelt thanks to God for answering my prayers during times of extreme fear and almost total despair in keeping me to live through the horror of 6 years of War.

But not forgetting the many happy times but most of all the comradeship more apparent during times of war.

I wish to thank everyone who helped in producing my War story including:

My son Peter (Ward Associates (Quantity Surveyors) Limited - Director)
Emma Ford (Ward Associates (Quantity Surveyors) Limited - Secretary)
Major K Boulton for excerpts from his War story
Sgt E Knell for excerpts from his War story

Arthur Ward was a member of:
279 Battery 70th Field Regt. R.A. from December 12, 1939 to May 21, 1941
‘A’ Battery 11th (HAC) Regt. R.H.A. from September 04, 1942 to June 24, 1944
‘E’ Battery 11th (HAC) Regt. R.H.A. from June 24, 1944 to November 30, 1945

The following is a list of Army terms, slang and abbreviations which may help when reading my War story.
TERM = DESCRIPTION
NCO's = Non Commissioned Officers
Gnr. = Gunner - lowest rank equal to Private
L/bdr. = Lance Bombardier - one stripe
Bdr. = Bombardier - two stripes
L/sgt. = Lance Sergeant - three stripes
Sgt. = Sergeant - three stripes with gun
Sgt. Maj. = Sergeant Major - Crown on forearm
2nd Lt = Second Lieutenant - one Crown on shoulder
Lt = Lieutenant - two Crowns on shoulder
Capt = Captain - three Crowns on shoulder
Maj = Major
Col = Colonel
C.O. = Commanding Officer
M.O. = Medical Officer (Doctor)
Dvr. = Driver
Sig. = Signaller
No.1 = Sgt in charge of a gun and sub section
Bty. = Battery
Regt. = Regiment
Div. = Division
Brew (up) = Make a cup of tea
Char and wad = Cup of tea and a cake or bun
25 Pdr. = 25 Pounder gun (fires 25 pound (in weight) shells)
105 mm = American gun (fires 35 pound (in weight) shells)
0.5 Browning = 1/2" bore machine gun to fire at enemy planes and infantry
Priest = 105 mm Gun on Grant tank chassis
SP Guns = Self Propelled Guns
Sexton = 25 Pdr gun on Grant tank chassis
H.F. = Harassing Fire - shells fired to keep enemy awake
D.F. = Defensive Fire - shells fired to prevent enemy attack
Tiffy = Short for artificer - maintenance engineer
Griff = Information
Kip = Asleep in bed
P.O.W = Prisoner of War
Reveille = Time to rise our of bed - usually sounded on a bugle
Lights Out = Time to sleep - usually sounded on a bugle
Bivvy = Small canvas tent to sleep one man
Wadi = African name for dried up river bed
Leaguer = Vehicles parked in a circle in the desert (similar to the wagon trains in the Wild West of America)
Latrines = Toilets - where non available `a walk with a shovel' to a `private spot'
Ablutions = Army method of washing - very often just a tap with cold water
Civvies = Civilians or civilian clothing
NAAFI = Navy, Army, Air Force Institute - Services Canteen
Quad = Vehicle for towing gun and limber

Some of the dates are only approximate as I wrote up my dairy at various times after the events took place so that if I had been captured by the enemy the information would have been of no use to them, Officially we should not have kept a diary.

Chapter 1 – War is declared, and I enlist

This is the start of A Ward's time in the army. In September 1938 I was aged 19 years and 2 months and the situation on the continent was bad because Adolf Hitler the Chancellor of Germany was in the mood to take over all their surrounding countries and Great Britain had pledged to defend these countries so all men of my age expected to be called up under what was called "conscription".

However many negotiations took place and Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler and brought home his famous piece of paper which said that England and Germany would not go to war against each other. This turned out to be a ploy for Germany to have a bit more time to build up their supplies of war materials so for months there was an uneasy peace. Things became worse and at the beginning of September 1939 the Germans invaded Poland and as Great Britain had an arrangement to help them Hitler was given 24 hours in which to withdraw which he refused.

September 03, 1939
On the morning of 3 September 1939 which was a Sunday I met my cycling friends at Arthur Percival's house in Queens Road, 279 Beighton and we had the radio on and at 11 am the Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) announced that as the Germans had not withdrawn from Poland in the 24 hours given to them then we were at war with Germany.

We could not do anything about it so we decided to set out on our cycle ride.

My diary says that owing to the circumstances we only went a short ride to Worksop and Blyth and during the day we picked blackberries and played at football. On the run were Alice Brown, Eric Percival, Dick Thompson and Winnie Sewell. I have kept in touch with Winnie ever since although we only now exchange Christmas cards and I have not seen her since 1950. That day in 1939 we only travelled 32 miles and the topic of conversation was how long would it be before we were called up into the forces.

During the day the air raid sirens sounded and although we all treated it as a joke very soon it would be serious although the one on the first day turned out to be a false alarm.

Already one of our cycling club had been called up, it was Arthur Percival and he was a few months older than me.

It was now classed as a "phoney" war as very little seemed to be happening. The RAF flew over Germany but only dropped leaflets instead of bombs.

November 06, 1939
This day I had to go to the Cutlers Hall in Sheffield where there was an inspection by 5 doctors and I passed Grade A1 which was the first step to a "career' in the services. It was strange to me to see so many naked men but it was a sight we had soon to get used to seeing. I was asked which service of the army I would like to be in and I said the Royal Engineers so that I may be able to learn something which would help me in my job in the building trade.

December 01, 1939
My mothers 45th birthday - I received a letter saying that I had to report to Gibraltar Barracks, Leeds on 12 December 1939. A travel warrant for the train was included but I had to report to the Royal Artillery, So much for my request!!! The next few days were spent in visiting friends and relations to say goodbye for we did not know how long we would be away. It was usual for near relations to give cash or gifts like cigarettes to men in the forces although later in the war the latter became very scarce.

December 12, 1939
The big day arrived. I left home about 8:30 am and caught a bus to Sheffield. Walking up the Station approach to the LNER (before nationalisation) were many men of a similar age to me, most were carrying battered suitcases and some with their belongings in brown carrier bags. Those days we did not have 'posh' suitcases as it was very rare to have holidays at the seaside and it was unknown for working class people to go abroad. So far my only holidays were a week in an apartment at Cleethorpes (we had to provide our own food) and my cousin Douglas Allen and I had to get there and back on our bikes whilst our Eric, Eva and mother went on the train, also a one night stay in Blackpool for the illuminations and a cycle tour with Ray Lister to Kings Lynn, Skegness and Cleethorpes over a bank holiday weekend. Then of course the annual Sunday school trips by train to Cleethorpes and once even to Skegness!

On Victoria Station I started a conversation with Bill Turner from Maltby who was to become a good mate for my first few years in the army.

I boarded the train which was very full, mainly with men of my age reporting for the services. I was a bit embarrassed to find that in the same compartment was Mr Berry who had been the Headmaster at Woodhouse Grammar School which I had only left four years previously. However it was not too bad as he joined in the conversation with us all!!!

Also in the compartment was Louis Jacques from Aughton whom I had known during my school days but I cannot remember ever seeing or hearing anything about him again.

On arrival in Leeds, Bill Turner and I stuck close together as a group of Army Officers and NCO's met us and herded us all together into a group. There must have been 50 pale looking young lads having just left home for the first time looking a bit bewildered and lost. We were eventually lined up in rows of three (complete with suitcases etc) and 'marched' to Gibraltar Barracks.

We looked a motley crew dressed in all types of civvy clothing and carrying suitcases, bags etc. which did not help us to 'march' very well.

We arrived at the barracks where we split up into various groups and Bill and I were able to keep together. There we found that most things in the army were done in alphabetical order as T and W were not far apart.

Then we were issued with mess tins and a knife, fork and spoon and our first helping of army stew. To us it tasted terrible but by this time we were hungry so we managed to eat it all.

Then an announcement was made that we were all in the 70th Field Regt Royal Artillery and were being posted to Scarborough. I had told everyone at home that I would be staying in Leeds so it would not be very far to get home. However Scarborough did not sound so bad!!!

We then had to form up in three's again and march back to Leeds station. We boarded a train to Scarborough where we had to change trains on to a smaller one which travelled on a single track line round various small villages and finally arrived at Brompton by Sawdon (a distance of about 20 miles). By now it was dark and we made our way to a courtyard behind a large country house (which was the stables yard) where several army trucks were waiting. We climbed aboard and they took us about 4 miles where we were told to 'dismount'. We were soon learning a new army language.

Bill Turner and I had clung together like leeches all day.

 

Chapter 2 – “Total Despair”

We were met by Army Offices and NCO's again in a large yard where the only lighting were Hurricane lamps (paraffin). There were sandwiches waiting for us which went down well as we were hungry again. We were then detailed to various rooms in the large house which we were told was called Wyedale Hall.

By the time it was our turn all the rooms in the house were full so we had to climb the stairs into a bare room over the stables. They had been cleaned out for us but it was not the best of places to spend our first night away from home.

Also they had run out of straw which was used to stuff into Polliases which was like a large canvas bag and was used like a mattress so we had to sleep on a ground sheet on the hard wooden floor without any straw.

We did not sleep very much and I think this night must have been the nearest we had to "TOTAL DESPAIR".

Surely things cannot get any worse but luckily we did not know what was to follow in the next 6 years.

(At a later date about 1985 we were on holiday at Flamborough when we had a run out and called at Wyedale. The hall was being used as a training centre for religious people and the stables had been altered into flats where I spoke to a lady who had lived there for some years.

The yard which had been used as a parade ground had had part of it made into a garden).

After a restless night we had the first of many more shocks - at 6:30 am a Bugler sounded "Reveille" and NCO's were using their new found authority among us 'rookies' shouting "Rise and shine - the suns shining its heart out" and other army slang not so refined. It was pitch black until with some difficulty someone managed to light a hurricane lamp. Worse was to come, we were ordered for the first time to form up in the yard.

A roll call was taken and we were told to wash and shave in the open air at a row of cold water taps which we were told were called "ablutions".

We were all busy sticking bits of paper which wrapped up our "Wardonia" razor blades onto cuts on our faces due to the icy cold water.

We returned to our loft where we introduced ourselves to each other.

Besides myself were:
Bill Turner from Maltby, Rotherham
Tom Pridmore from Oughtibridge, Sheffield
Len Beeley from Firth Park, Sheffield
Charlie Brewster from Carlton, Nr Selby
We were all about the same age (just turned 20 years) and we felt better when we realised that we were all in the same "boat". The sun was now rising and as it became warmer our spirits rose with it.

At 7:30 am we had breakfast which was not so bad.

At 9 am was first parade and we were told that we were now gunners in FREDDIE TROOP, 279 BATTERY, 70th FIELD REGT. RA and my number which I have remembered all my life was 954330. The address was WYEDALE HALL, BROMPTON BY SAWDON, NR SCARBOROUGH. For the next few weeks we gradually eased ourselves into army routine. By stages we were issued with army battledress uniform which included long vests and long Johns which were supposed to keep our legs warm. We also had heavy boots which I soon became used to but some of the lads who had been used to working in offices had a terrible time breaking them in. Several times we travelled to Thornton Le Dale to a Doctors surgery for inoculations and vaccinations until we felt like pin cushions.

Some of the lads were very ill afterwards although I didn't feel too bad myself.

There was a long country lane outside Wyedale Hall where we marched up and down, right turn, left turn, about turn, mark time until gradually the time came to fall out.

Then we were introduced to rifles which were ancient ones - some were relics of the Boer War (about 1900) but the better ones were from the 1914-1918 war and were called Lee Enfields.

Then it was rifle drill for most of the day until we became efficient. Then we had our first experience of being gunners - we had 18 pounder Howitzers which again were survivors of the 1918 war and had large 'cart' wheels which had hooks attached so that they could be pulled by men and horses, Hence one of the first artillery terms we learned was "Without drag ropes prepare to advance". In 'our' war the guns would be pulled by tractors or lorries but we had not seen these yet.

We also had a limber which was a type of cart on wheels which carried the ammunition.

By this time we knew that the 70th Field Regt was a territorial unit which had been mobilised in June 1939 so our NCO's were supposed to be well trained in gunnery, although they were more or less still learning.

We found out that before firing the guns had to be laid on a certain line and distance by a gun layer, a job at which I became very efficient after a lot of training.

After a few weeks we changed to a gun which had been an 18 pounder in World War 1 and it had been converted to an 18/25 pounder so that it could fire 25 pounder shells and be used as a gun firing about 8 miles or a Howitzer to 'lob' shells a shorter distances over obstacles.

In later years the new Quick Firing 25 pounder field gun was said to be the best gun in WW II.

We had many route marches which took us through the surrounding villages which usually lasted half a day but at times we took haversack rations (sandwiches) and stayed out all day. Usually the sandwiches contained "bully beef (corned beef from Argentina). After the marches many of the lads suffered blisters on their feet but I was OK being used to wearing heavy boots at work.

We travelled for quite a few miles in the army "lorries" which we now had to refer to as "trucks".

A typical day at Wydale was:

Reveille 0645 hrs (army time 24 hour clock).
Roll call and physical training 0700 hrs.
Breakfast 0745 hrs.
1st parade and inspection 0900 hrs.
Route march 1035 to 1100 hrs.
Break 10 minutes.
Gun drill 1110, or;
Rifle drill 1145 hrs.
Dinner 1300 hrs.
Gunnery and map reading 1400 hrs.
Gas lecture 1500 hrs.
Tea 1700 hrs.

We were then finished for the day unless on guard or fire piquet. Lights out 2245 hrs.

By now we were writing and receiving many letters which we called "mail up' when it arrived. Also parcels of food kept arriving with cakes etc from anxious relatives.

We also visited surrounding villages (to the pubs usually) and attended local village halls (called Bug huts) to the dances.

One I remember well was a corrugated iron/asbestos hall at Snainton. There were many more "squaddies" than local girls so we did not have many dances and I do not know how we managed whilst wearing army boots.

(The 'hut' at Snainton is still standing over 50 years later).

XMAS 1939
We had a day free from duty and we learned that it was an army custom that for Christmas dinner the Sgts had to wait on the men and this was adhered to all my army life.

We had a very good dinner and the Christmas menu had been given to us on a properly worded card (with coloured writing). We had turkey, 2 veg, Christmas pudding with rum sauce with all the trimmings and a bottle of beer each.

Also we had a good tea which had made one very good day in our lives.

When on guard duty we had to stay in the guard room for 24 hours and the usual method was to patrol the area for 2 hours and then have 4 hours off duty but fully dressed in the guard room.

For fire piquet we could not leave the area for 24 hours in case of fire.

By this time room had been found for us to stay in the house so we were able;
to make ourselves more comfortable, especially as it had electric light.

Another interesting point to note is that we had to get used to army 'LATRINES' or in normal terms toilets - these were a line of buckets under a rough seat with a hole in the middle with canvas sheet all round about 4 feet high. We had realised by now that there was not much privacy in the army.

There was a lawn round the house where the grass turned brown for a radius around as the large bay windows had a flat roof with a door from the bedrooms - and many of the lads after a night out in the pub found that it was too far to the Latrines in the yard so the urine was discharged from the edge to the lawn below.

The commanding officer was not very pleased when he found out about this disgusting practice

1940
Friday 5 January 1940
1400 hrs Pay parade - I received 2 weeks pay £1-8-0 (1 pound 8 shillings) plus ration money of £1.

Sunday 7 January 1940
Our first church parade. 0940 hrs we fell in (3 ranks) and marched to Brompton Church. On return we had remainder of the day off so we cleaned our kit and polished buttons.

During the day our civilian clothes were handed back to us so that we could take it home on our first leave.

Some of the original members of the Regt. were now having 7 days leave so we were hoping that it would soon be our turn. We had now been issued with full army kit which included battle dress, Glengarry's (cap), socks, jerseys, long John's (underwear), heavy boots and the puttees which we hated. They were like a long Khaki bandage which we had to wrap around the bottom of our trousers.

About this time I became great friends with Al (Albert) White from Thurlstone (near Penistone). We got on together ready well and he remained a good friend all through to war and then afterwards when I visited his home for many happy weekends and I attended his wedding to Margaret. The last time I saw him was in May 1966, but unfortunately he had a heart attack and died soon afterwards. My wife Connie and I attended his funeral where for the first time since 1942 I met another old pal Norman Harrison from Barnoldswick.

AI White was a signaller and his job was to lay and maintain telephone wires when a wireless (radio) could not be used.

January 08, 1940
A great day, our first leave.

0500 hrs Reveille (we were up at 0300 hrs).
0515 hrs First Parade then breakfast.
0600 hrs Second Parade.
0605 hrs Moved off in trucks.

Our truck broke down at Snainton so we missed our train at Pickering. Another truck picked us up and took us to Malton. We changed trains at York where we travelled to Sheffield, arriving at 1120 hrs. Finally I arrived home at 1245 hrs.

The first thing I had was a good bath. The week's leave consisted of walks with various people, visits to friends and relations, cinemas, dances and until June 1942 most of my leaves were very similar.

I visited my granddad and grandma who lived in a 3 storey flat at Intake Oust after the war these flats were knocked down and a fire station was built in its place).

My grandmother (who was pretty deaf) was quite morbid and said that I would not see them again as all soldiers were killed when they were sent to France. She had clearly on her mind the 1914-1918 war when soldiers only had a short life span and she would have lost relations in that war.

I saw them on several leaves afterwards but then my grandmother died but granddad lived through the war, dying when he was 85.

I attended dances at Swallownest and Beighton usually with Evelyn Williams and my Sister Eva.

January 14, 1940
Sunday. We had a tea at home which was 114, Worksop Road, Swallownest. Present were my mother (my dad must have been at work) Evelyn Williams, Eric (my brother), Stella and Eva (my sister) and Ken (none of these were married at the time). I walked to Beighton and back afterwards.

January 15, 1940
Caught the bus at 1545 and dad went with me to Sheffield LMS station. There we met Eva and Ken and Eve Williams. At the station was Tom Pridmore and Len Beeley with his new wife, they had been married earlier in the week.

Len Beeley's wife was a bit hysterical. When the time came to leave she finished up coming with him and finding accommodation in Brompton so that she could be near him. We could not understand this at the time.

The train left at 1820 hrs and we finally arrived in Wyedale at 0120 (early morning). It then started to snow.

January 16, 1940
Route march but we were caught in a heavy blizzard so we had to return early. We had lectures in the afternoon.

We were now in "F" for FREDDIE troop and Sgt. Burkett was No.1 of my subsection.
Our activities were a little curtailed due to the snow and at the time the drifts were 5'0" high.

January 25, 1940
I had to stay in bed ill and the M.O came and sent me into hospital in Thornton
Le Dale. I had tonsillitis. The hospital was in a large house at the side of the main road.

January 29, 1940
I was given another injection and discharged from hospital and returned to Wyedale where I was given 48 hours off duty to recover.

January 30, 1940
A little improvement as we had to hand in our puttees and draw gaiters which had 2 buckles on each and were either scrubbed white (for parade) or blancoed green for manoeuvres etc.

I was receiving quite a bit of mail at this time so a lot of my spare time was spent writing replies.

I also received quite a few parcels of food from friends and relations and my Auntie Frances sent me the "Sheffield Star" (for every night) every week right through the time I was in the forces.

We also received parcels from the British Legion which usually contained gloves, mittens, balaclavas and cigarettes.

Our Battery was commanded by Capt. Jarvis.

January 31, 1940
We went out for a full day on manoeuvres with the guns which were now pulled by Quads. We went out on to the Yorkshire Wolds pretending that we were in action, sometimes we fired blank cartridges so that we had a flash and a loud explosion but no shells fired.

Our Sgt. Major was called England and the troop commander was 2nd Lt. W.C Hudson.

March 16, 1940
A day out in Scarborough. For our days out here we usually did the same things.

Our truck dropped us off at a garage and in later years I saw the garage which is still there. This time we went to the Futurist cinema and saw "In A Dead Man's
Shoes" and had our tea at Jaconelli's (still there) which cost us 1/4 each (1 shilling and fourpence).

March 21, 1940
A great day for me - I drove a car for the first time. The regiment had several civvy cars which were used by the officers and for learner drivers instruction for the gunners.

I drove about 10 miles. We took turns and usually drove to Scarborough and then up and down the Marine Drive which had no other traffic.

March 27, 1940
Gun drill on the "new" (to us) 18/25 Pdr guns. These guns were 18 pounders from World War I converted to fire 25 pound shells.

March 28, 1940
Issued with gas masks. (This showed the state that the country was in where there were no haversacks to keep them in).

April 05, 1940
48 hours leave - usual visits etc.

April 07, 1940
I ended the friendship with Evelyn Williams (she was only 16 years old).

Whilst billeted in the main building of the hall I slept in an upstairs room where there must have been 20 men and we slept on the floors with our personal belongings stacked beside us. One night I must have had a nightmare and gone walking in my sleep, as I woke up I didn't know where I was. I then realised that I was at the far end of the room and I was terrified in case anyone woke up and accused my of trying to steal their private belongings as there were some "rum" characters in the army and we did not know one another very well at the time.

Fortunately I was able to find my way back to my place, although it was very dark as we were not allowed any lights due to the blackout and the room had very large windows and no curtains.

 

 

Chapter 3 – A Trip to France to “Save Paris”

We had quite a few recruits who lived in "The Gorbals" which had a reputation of being a very rough district in Glasgow, but they were "the salt of the earth" as mates and we all got on with them very well.

One man who I remember very well was called REA and pronounced' Ree-ah' and what a laugh it caused when his name was called on parade as he was a gunner, hence "Gunner-Reeah".

Another incident at Wydale when one weekend some of our officers took part in the local 'hunt' for foxes.

We were all disgusted when a fox ran into an outbuilding only about 6'-0" x 3'-0" and several dogs piled in after it. The screams from the fox upset us all.

The dogs tore the fox to pieces and it did not have a chance. The huntsmen in their red coats thought it very amusing and the young ladies with them were just as bad, one of them proudly carried away the fox's tail which was covered in blood. Our officers who took part lost our respect for quite a long time.


MALTON
Whilst at Wydale we had a run in a truck to Malton where we visited a cinema to see a concert organised by NAAFI.

Here we learned the words of "Land of Hope and Glory" which we sang with great gusto at other concerts and usually after a good night in a pub!!!

April 11, 1940
CATTERICK
We travelled by truck to Catterick camp on a very wet and miserable day and for the first time we fired rifles with live ammunition on the firing range.

I was never much good with a rifle!!!

I was also in trouble with the Sgt. Instructor when I asked a question about the rifle and at the same time pointed the rifle at him. We soon learned that in the army it is an unforgivable sin to point a rifle at anyone, although in this case it was not loaded and the safety catch was in the 'on' position.

WYEDALE BOYS
We also learned to sing the 70th Field Regt. Regimental song which was sung many times (usually after a good night out!).

The battery was formed at Otley which is in the Valley of the river Wharfe The song was sung to the tune of the American Navy Song "Anchors Away" and the words were:

We are the Wharfdale (or Wyedale) boys
We man the guns, We'll go to France one day,
To blow those bloody Huns away,
We'll hang old Hitler's mob,
On the Seigfreid Line,
We'll meet in Berlin soon,
So fight to the last man,
Fight, fight, fight

NOTE: Seigfreid Line: Concrete defences built by the Germans between Germany and France.

Huns: British name for German or Jerry.

After our episode in France (to be described later) we were a bit shamefaced about singing this song after a 200 mile retreat.

April 14, 1940
SALISBURY PLAIN
Parade at 0530 hrs in full FSMO (Full Service Marching Order) kit - this was the
kit we have to wear when in action. We marched to Sawdon Station and boarded a train complete with guns and travelled via York, Sheffield, Nottingham to Aymesbury then to Bustard Camp, Larkhill on Salisbury plain. Here we slept 8 men in a 'bell tent'. At this time I had a part time job for 2 hours a day looking after 2 Sgt. Majors as a kind of batman. This excused me a few parades and fatigues.

April 19, 1940
Another first - we went out on the plains and fired live ammunition. At first we were frightened to death with the loud explosion when the gun fired but we soon became used to it.

Our gun fired 15 rounds of high explosive (HE) and 10 rounds of smoke (this was to hold me in good stead at a later date when my last gun alone fired 8,000 rounds in a few months in Italy.

Another tiring job at this time was making camouflage nets. The nets were about 20 feet square and we had to thread rows and rows of jute about 3" wide and coloured black and light brown in and out of the squares of the nets and then they were draped over the guns and vehicles so that they were difficult to see from the air.

I had a pal from Horsforth called Cliffe Teale - he was a cook and he persuaded me to work with him in the cook house. I was not too keen but the advantage was that we were able to have extra grub and I was a very big eater!!!

We had a visit to Artillery HQ at Larkhill where we saw many of the guns used by the British Artillery.

May 02, 1940
Cleaned up the camp ready to move.

I learned that we were moving to Yorkshire and I saw the route to be taken by the road party and it was due to pass our house in Swallownest and I pleaded with the Sgt Major to let me travel with them but he would not allow me to do so (I had to travel by train with the main party of gunners). I learned later that the convoy had stopped for a meal on Aston Common and my No. 1 (Sgt Burkett) had been talking to Mr Armstrong (my old boss).

My mother and dad (with the majority of people in the area) had watched the guns drive past without knowing at the time that it was my Regt.

HALIFAX
We arrived at Halifax and were billeted in a chapel in "Winding Lane" (Sion Chapel).

May 05, 1940
Church Parade at Halifax Parish Church.

May 07, 1940
48 hours leave. I took my rifle and ammunition home for the first time to the great dismay of my mother.

During our stay in Halifax Bill Turner's mother, Dad and Sister came for a day when we went to the pictures, then for a drink.

May 13, 1940
GALASHEILS
Travelled in front of a truck on a road convoy to Galasheils, Scotland.

We went to a dance at the Town Hall and I met May Burnie, a nice looking girl who made quite a few of my mates envious.

We only stayed in Galasheils (which was a very nice market town) for 2 weeks then we moved a few miles to Selkirk.

This was my first visit to Scotland and I still remember how goad the local people were to the soldiers, we were often invited into local houses for meals and very often for a drink of their favourite whisky.

SELKIRK
At Selkirk we were billeted in an empty mill on Burchurch Road called Haugh Mills Bridge on the River Tweed.

This mill was overrun by rats which we did not like very much.

During our short stay in Selkirk May Burnie came over on her bike to see me and she brought with her a friend who was a blonde girl about the best looking girl I have ever seen!!!

My mates were all interested in her and she went out with Gnr. Goodhall but we only ever saw her that once.

At Selkirk I had a new experience as on one moonlit night about 2 am we sneaked off to the River Tweed and from a bridge we hung a rope into the water with a hook attached and we caught 2 large salmon. It took 3 of us to haul them in and they were used for dinner in the officer's mess.

In Selkirk it was a common site to see a man running through the town with a sack over his shoulder with a salmon inside, they caught the fish then sold them to one of the local hotels for use of their guests. Of course this was poaching and a large fine would have to be paid if they were caught by the bailiff.

In all I went salmon fishing 3 times and the fish we caught weighed 61/2 lbs to 81/2 lbs.

We had dances at the Town Hall and May Burnie came to these several times and usually on her bike.

(Note: In 1977 whilst touring on holiday in Scotland we spent a few hours in Selkirk but were surprised that we could not find the river but a local woman told us that it had been diverted as the water was not required for the woollen mills (which had been shut down).

Quite often we had a swim in the river but it was very cold.

We paid several visits to the local institute club and had a hot bath which cost 6d (sixpence) - This was real luxury.

June 05, 1940
Packed ready to move Reveille 0530 am. Left Selkirk by truck at 0600 hrs to Melrose where we boarded a train. We stopped at Newcastle for a meal then on to York, Mexborough, Swinton, Rotherham, Darnall, Woodhouse, Beighton where we stopped with all lights out due to an air raid alarm.

Here we were only a couple of miles from home. We stopped for ½ hour but did not hear or see anything of the air raid. I soon fell asleep and woke at Banbury and finally arrived at Aldershot where we were billeted in bell tents at No. 47 Emergency Camp, Beurley. We found out that we had been in Scotland ready to travel to Norway where an advance party had gone but they had been overrun by the Germans and all captured so our plans had been changed and we were waiting for a new destination.

ALDERSHOT
The first night here I was on guard and some of my pals went into Aldershot town and came back with tattoos so fortunately I missed out on this.

We knew we were going abroad but we were able to write home when I let my dad know as I had arranged a special code with him. On my letters if I underlined the date it meant that we were in the fighting, little did I know at the time that I would be underlining the date for many times in the next 6 years.

My address now was: Gunner A Ward 954330
279 Bty
70 Field Regt. RA,
c/o Army Post Office.

June 09, 1940
We paraded at 2215 hrs.

Boarded trucks to Aldershot station.

Boarded train via Salisbury, Exeter, Plymouth where we arrived at 0745 am and marched to the docks.

PLYMOUTH
A brass band comprising of 16 men was playing on the Quayside and tables laid
out with plenty of food which we tucked into with great relish. We had tea, bread, lettuce, luncheon meat (Spam), and then we boarded a Belgian cargo ship called El Monsour which was anchored out in the bay.

We had our first experience of continental toilets - a hole in the floor with 2 pads either side to put your feet on before squatting over the hole, also 2 handrails which we had to hang onto when the ship started rolling.

At 2015 hrs we left for an unknown destination in a convoy with another ship full of troops, 2 destroyers and 1 aeroplane circling above. We had to sleep on deck in very crowded conditions.

June 10, 1940
Reveille 0615 hrs. France was in sight at 1010 hrs. We docked at Brest. We disembarked as quickly as possible and marched to the outskirts of the town.

BREST
On this march the streets were lined with cheering French people who thought that we had come to save them from the advancing Germans. Boy scouts and Girl Guides gave us fresh strawberries and bunches of flowers.

On reaching the station we boarded a typical French train which was a very long one with a steam train pulling and one pushing at the rear.

I was one of the lucky ones as we were in a carriage which was pretty basic but it did have seats. Most of the train comprised of wagons which were still marked 'Chevaux 8 (8 horses), Hommes 40 (40 men) as relics of the first world war.

On land adjoining the station were many barrels of red wine and some of the troops broke them open and we all had a taste. I thought it was terrible and I think it was just raw vino which had not matured. Some of the lads had too much to drink and Norman Harrison one of my mates from Barnoldswick drank so much that he went wild and it took several lads to hold him down until he "slept it off'. Before this he had lashed out with his fist and made a hole in the train compartment, right through to the next carriage. Fortunately for his fist it was only thin plywood!!!

At 1615 hrs we left Brest and travelled via Leval, Rennes, Le Mans (later the home of Le Mans car race track) and arrived at Fresnay Sur Sarthe (Fresnay on the River Sarthe) at 1100 hrs the next morning during an air raid alarm.

ALENCON
We marched 6½ miles in heavy rain to Alencon where we were billeted in a hay loft on a farm.

Later we found out that the town of Rennes (including the station) had been wiped out by German bombers and 4,200 people had been killed only 24 hours after we had passed through.

The guns and quads arrived at 2015 hrs, I was on 24 hour guard the first night which was awkward as we had not had time to get our bearings properly before dark.

However, on my own about 2 o'clock I was in a very dark area of the farm yard when I heard a noise (which just about frightened me to death) and I shouted "Halt, who goes there?" twice - there was no answer, only more rustling noises so I fired a shot and a very frightened horse ran away into the fields. I realised that I had missed it from a few yards away so my hands must have been shaking. I do not know who was scared most, the horse or me!!!

At the time the skyline was being lit up by flashes and we could hear the gun fire so the front was not far away.

Another incident on this farm was Sgt Burkett waking up when it was getting light to find that a snake had been sharing his bed. His shouts woke everyone up so it was an early Reveille but the snake was killed by a rifle butt, but was said only to be a harmless grass snake.

I forgot to mention that we went to France with the 52nd Scottish Lowland Division and our object was to "save Paris".

The evacuation at Dunkirk had taken place about 2 weeks previously. The trucks came up with our spare clothing and equipment and we were not very pleased to find out that most of our kit had been stolen by the French people who were fleeing from the German advance.

Our orders were that we were going up to the front line on the next day. Then more different orders until they were all disorder and finally our instructions were to get to Cherbourg as quickly as possible to be evacuated.

We learned that Paris had fallen and the Germans were advancing towards us at high speed.

We were delayed at times by the local people carrying all their belongings whilst trying to flee from the advancing Germans.

June 14, 1940
Reveille 0500 hrs. We set off in Quads pulling the guns to travel 240 miles to Cherbourg at 0545 hrs.

At first we were advancing towards the front line but we swung north through St Lô and finally arrived in a wood about 4 miles from Cherbourg about 12 midnight.

June 15, 1940
We tried to grab a few hours sleep but the noise of gunfire and dropping bombs was almost continuous. A great deal of shrapnel was flying about amongst the trees.

June 16, 1940
During the day we counted 17 separate air raids on Cherbourg as ships tried to get away with troops on abroad.

We had carried out over 200 miles in retreat without firing a shot.

Now organisation went mad!!!

We were told to take up defensive positions to hold off the advancing Germans, then prepare to evacuate. Cancel, prepare positions then bury all ammunition, then dig it up again. Then stack it ready for demolition by Royal Engineers. The idea to bury the ammo was that we could use it when we came back to the area!!!

Some hope.

I think in the end we just left it where it was.

 

 

Chapter 4 – My 21st Birthday

June 16, 1940
The officers kept going to HQ for orders which were changed every few hours. Then a decision was made for us. Two ships had arrived in the docks, one for airmen, Australians and Canadians and one for us, if there was enough room.

We had to make a run for it.

We arrived on the quayside at 1745 hrs and the docks were a seething mass of men marching, this way and then the other. No panic but not much organisation.

I remember that there was a cafe still open on the harbour and it was still selling tea and coffee at the full price although the Germans were only a few miles away.

Organisation amongst the higher ranking officers seemed to be very poor but there was no panic amongst the troops, and we marched on the harbour in orderly ranks, although we could be been bombed at any time and we had no cover.

We fully expected to be taken prisoner when it was decided that we could board the second ship complete with our guns. It was a British timber ship called 'Maplewood' and we boarded at 1850 hrs.

We gratefully clambered aboard until it nearly sank with all the weight.

We set sail at 2050 hrs and by now, it was nearly dark. The ship carried one gun for its own defence. It was so full of troops that it was practically impossible to lie down and I was on deck all the time. Cherbourg was occupied by the Germans on the next day.

During the night, the ship was brought to a halt when a searchlight suddenly lit up - it was from a submarine which fortunately turned out to be British, so it escorted us back to Southampton.

When daylight broke we saw a seaplane overhead and 2 British destroyers also escorting us. It had only been a very slow journey due, I suppose because the ship was so overloaded.

June 17, 1940
We docked at 0940 hrs and finally disembarked at 1045 hrs.

There was a good breakfast waiting for us on the docks, which we really enjoyed.

We had had very little to eat for these last few days, only emergency rations, usually Bully Beef and hard biscuits.

We looked a motley crew - unwashed and unshaven for nearly a week as we only had the kit we stood up in, but we had all kept our rifles.

CAMBRIDGE
We then boarded a train via Reading and Oxford to Cambridge.

The army orders were that we were to let no-one know who or where we were, as they wanted the Germans to think we were still in France.

I broke the rules - I had a scruffy bit of paper, an envelope and a pencil, so I scribbled, "in England, safe and well," and when we stopped at Bletchley Station, I wound down the compartment window and asked a passing station porter to post it home for me. He put on a stamp and posted it home so that they knew I was OK.

June 18, 1940
We alighted at Cambridge station and we marched into town.

We were a scruffy looking motley crew but marched with heads up down the main street. At the head of the column were civilians with lists of people who were willing to give us billets.

Some took several soldiers but when my turn came, I was allocated to a house on my own. It was a private house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Lees, of Brampton Road, Cambridge.

They made me welcome, but had a big surprise as they had expected to house new recruits straight from civvy street.

They could not understand why we all looked so dirty, but when we told them where we had been, everything was OK and we were treated as heroes.

However, after a wash and shave, and a meal, we all felt and looked a lot better.

I badly needed a bath, but they did not offer me one, I thought that they hadn't got one, but the next day I realised that it was in the kitchen but covered up with a board, which formed a kind of worktop. So I suppose it was a bit embarrassing to offer me a bath in the kitchen.

We hadn't slept much for a week, so after a meal I fell asleep in an armchair. At about 23.30 hrs, the air raid siren sounded and this turned out to be the first raid on Cambridge. Being a university City I think the residents thought that they would not be bombed!

I slept through the first part of the raid and the Lees family thought I was very brave to sleep through it but they did not realise that it was caused through me being so tired.

I suddenly awoke when 2 bombs fell about 200 yards away, and we found out the next day that 11 people had been killed.

We went outside and saw a German bomber caught up in the searchlights, and we saw it shot down in flames. A very heartening sight for us but not very pleasant for the German crew of the plane.

The raid lasted until 03.45 hrs so we were able to get some much needed sleep.

The authorities were so upset about the raid that they decided that the Germans must know that our Regiment was in the area, so during the morning, we boarded trucks and were taken about 4 miles into the woods and fields. So ended our one night of 'pure bliss' in civvy houses.

We had very little equipment because it had all been left in France except our rifles which we kept to the very last.

It was also noted that our excursion into France was hardly recorded in memoirs of anyone after the War ended. We were proud of the fact that we were able to bring our guns back with us. The idea was that Churchill has ordered out our Division as a token effect to let the French think that we were doing our best to help them by defending Paris, but we never even got anywhere near it before the big retreat to Cherbourg.

Our Colonel was very perturbed to learn that most of the Regt. had thrown away our hated gaiters (which no-one liked wearing) and made everyone who had done so go on a route march of about 10 miles. The area we were in was called Braham.

June 22, 1940
We had a walk to a nearby village called Sawston.

My brother Eric was 20 years old today and I heard that he had had to register for service in the Navy.

Whilst in these woods I was mainly on duty in the cookhouse as I had made a mate of Cliff Teale (from Horsforth), but I also went out on manoeuvres.

June 29, 1940
Went in a truck to Cambridge to a cinema and saw Gulliver's Travels with George Pullan, Norman Paley, Alan Milner and Cliff Teale.

June 30, 1940
MY 21ST BIRTHDAY
We had a good night out in Sawston with Bill Turner and several other lads.

It was usual in this area to drink cider rather than beer, but I think we had beer on this occasion.

About this time we had the luxury of mobile showers and an anti lousing squad visited the camp to anti louse everything.

(AL63 used) then we were issued with new clothing and gradually new kit to replace all which had been left in France.

July 05, 1940
We cleaned up the camp area.

One thing we did not like about this camp was the latrines. We had to dig deep trenches and then over it, scaffold (wooden) poles were fitted in a horizontal position which we had to squat over and lime was periodically poured into the trench to try and sweeten things up, which I am afraid was not very successful, the whole area was covered in flies.

We paraded at 1415 hrs in full FSMO (Full Service Marching Order) which meant we had to carry all our kit for a move.

We had buses to Great Shelford Station then boarded a train at 1930 hours.

HADDINGTON
We travelled through March, Ely, Lincoln, Retford, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Newcastle to Berwick on Tweed, then on a branch line at 0730 hrs to Haddington (near Edinburgh).

We marched ½ mile to a camp on a golf course. Our address now is c/o Amesfield Park, Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland.

July 06, 1940
09.
15 hrs breakfast.

We then paraded and were given duties putting up tents and marquees.

July 07, 1940
Digging air raid trenches, then fatigues in the cookhouse.

July 11, 1940
We now had 4.5 Howitzers, but we left the guns in the Park as a reserve battery and moved to Beil House, Dunbar with 18/25 pounders.

Beil House was built like a castle in its own grounds, well away from the main road. We were here to defend the Firth of Forth which was only a few miles away.

I was still in FREDDIE troop, 279 Battery.

July 12, 1940
48 hours leave.

We left Haddington on the service bus to Edinburgh where I was able to send a telegram home to say that I was on my way.

At Waverley station we boarded the Flying Scotsman which left at 1305 hrs. We travelled via Newcastle and York and arrived in Sheffield at 19.45 hrs (6 hours 40 minutes).

I spent the leave visiting friends and relations.

July 14, 1940
Caught bus to Rotherham at 1920 hrs where I met Bill Turner with his mother and dad at the station. The train left at 2020 hrs and arrived in York at 2145 hrs. We had a 2 hour wait here, so we had a walk round York. The train then left at 2330 hrs and arrived in Edinburgh early in the morning at 0405 hrs.

On this train in the compartment with Bill Turner and me was a young scotch girl who had spent the weekend with her husband who was in the army and stationed in Leeds.

When we arrived in Edinburgh, we had to wait about 6 hours for a bus back to camp. However it was raining heavily and we had become friendly with the scotch girl, so she said we could shelter in her home while it was time for the bus. She took us in a taxi and told us her name was Mrs. Isa Dalgleish, address c/o Sutherland, Mulberry Place, Leith, Edinburgh 6.

Her father gave us a friendly welcome and gave us breakfast. They went to bed for a few hours and we slept in the lounge on easy chairs until 1045 hrs.

Isa took us to the bus and we arrived back in Haddington at 1150 hrs which was 10 minutes before our passes ended.

Later my mother and dad wrote to Isa thanking her and this started a friendship between them that lasted all through the war years.

During this time my mother and dad spent holidays with her family in Edinburgh, and Isa and her friend Helen came and stayed with my family quite a few times. They were very popular girls and they all had some good nights in Swallownest Club.

The twist to the storey is that I have never seen her since that first day and after the war, we all lost touch with each other.

July 16, 1940
We packed up all our equipment and returned once again to Beil House, Stenton, Nr Dunbar.

There we had the usual parades, gun drill and manoeuvres, but I was mainly working in the Sgt Mess as a waiter. This was a "cushy" job.

Various leave parties were having 7 days leave in turn.

August 21, 1940
Battery Drill Order for short manoeuvres. At night I went to a cinema in Dunbar and saw Myrna Loy in "The Rains Came".

Whilst at Beil, several times we visited a dance hall at nearby East Linton where we had many good nights.

We were also able to walk into Dunbar to a pub or the local picture house.

One night I saw Judy Garland in "Over the Rainbow".

There was an open air swimming pool in the rocks on the sea front at Dunbar, which was very good.

Many years later in 1979, we visited Dunbar whilst we were touring Scotland by car, and in a square near the sea front were 4 x 25 pounder guns which were of great interest to me.

August 23, 1940
I was on leave party No. 4.

0645 hrs. First Parade. Boarded trucks to East Linton. Train left at 0736 and we arrived in Newcastle at 1028 hrs. I had dinner at the YMCA with Don Gregson (died 11/01/97), cost 1 shilling and 4 pence each (6 ½p). The train left at 1235 hrs to Durham, Darlington, York arriving at 1417 hrs.

We left again at 1508 hrs to Pontefract then Sheffield at 1628 hrs.

I arrived home at 1705 hrs.

This was a typical 7 day leave. The usual visits to friends and relations, ride on my bike.

August 24, 1940
Get up at 1010 hrs. Went to Percivals house at Beighton on my bike. Then to Manor Estate and saw Winnie Sewell. After tea went to the Regent in Sheffield with Keith Spencer. There was an air raid alarm about 2200 hrs and we were allowed to stay in the Regent until the all clear sounded at 23.25 hrs. We caught a bus to Woodhouse, then walked home. There were 2 more air raid alerts and we heard later that 6 small bombs had been dropped at Laughton.

August 25, 1940
Sunday. Out cycling to Gleadless at 11.25 where I saw Winnie Sewell, John and Ron and to The Peacock Hotel at Owler Bar, Baslow, Bakewell to Winster where we had dinner and tea at the farm. During the afternoon we played football. We left for home at 18.15 hrs and arrived home at 2125 hrs.

An air raid alarm at 2145 hrs but no bombs heard.

August 26, 1940
Walk to Aunt Frances. Regent, Sheffield saw Ginger Rogers in "Primrose Path". Home at 2140 and air raid alert at 2145 hrs but no bombs.

August 27, 1940
Raining. Went to dance at Londsdale Club, Whiston with Hazel Tombs and a young man in RAF and our Eva.

Air raid alarm 2230 and bombs were dropped in the Rotherham area.

August 28, 1940
Went on bike ride to see Bill Turner's mother in Maltby. Night to dance at Beighton with our Eva. I saw Evelyn Williams.

Air raid warning at 2200 hrs. This was the heaviest raid so far on Sheffield. Bombs were dropped at Aston, Rotherham, Sheffield, Handsworth and one enemy plane was shot down in the area.

August 29, 1940
Went to see Grandma and Granddad, then to W Sewells where I had tea, then went for a walk to see the Barrage Balloon HQ at Norton. I caught the bus home at 2220 hrs.

Air raid alarm 2315 hrs and bombs were dropped in the area.

August 30, 1940
Left home at 1115 hrs to Victoria Station, at 1320, caught train to Doncaster
Station. Boarded the Flying Scotsman to Edinburgh. The train was 1 hour 20 minutes late and we missed our connection, so had to catch a bus to Beil House. We arrived at 2320 hrs, and to our surprise, the battery had moved except for a rear party. We then had the job of cleaning up the site.

August 31, 1940
At 1600 hrs we travelled in a 3 ton truck to Edinburgh and boarded a ferry (with the truck) at Queensferry, and travelled across the River Forth almost under the Forth railway bridge. We then slept in the HQ wagon lines at Cottan.

September 01, 1940
Arrived in camp at Cupar.

Our address now is, c/o Cupar, Fife.

We travelled by truck for a few hours. In St Andrews we had a drink at the Links Hotel and saw the golf course. Of course we did not know that the golf course at St Andrews would become a household name for its famed golf world championships. We found a YMCA canteen where we called several times for a snack. Usually “char and a wad.”

We are now in the open and under canvas again at 'Kemback Camp'.

September 12, 1940
KEMBACK
We moved to a farm at Bleet, this was 4 miles from St Andrews and 5 miles from Bupar.

This farm was overrun by rats, and as men slept on the floor in a barn it was not unusual for rats to run across their sleeping bodies.

Some nights I was lucky and I was able to sleep on a form. Not very comfortable but out of the way of the rats. We "borrowed" these forms from the canteen.

September 14, 1940
Went to St Andrews with Cliff Teale, Norman Paley and Keeble for ½ day leave.

September 15, 1940
We watched as a German plane was shot down by the RAF and it landed in the sea in flames.

We moved again and our address now is c/o CPO Tayport, Fifeshire.

September 19, 1940
We had a thunder storm during the night.

 

 

Chapter 5 - Peebles

September 20, 1940
Reveille was at 0400 hrs so we cleaned up the camp and left in quads with the guns.

At 0630 hrs travelling via Bupad, Guchtermuchty, Kinross, Rumbling Bridge, Kincardine, Linlithgow, Edinburgh, Haddington and returned to Beil house.

At the time we did not know that whilst near St Andrews we had been on standby to sail to Norway.

Some of the Regimental HQ advance party had gone across the North Sea, but we heard (though it was never confirmed) that the Germans had captured them, so our invasion to help Norway had been cancelled.

Also, we heard later that we had nearly been called out one night when it was thought there was to be a landing by the Germans on the Firth of Forth, but this information was kept very secret.

September 23, 1940
We were now settled in at Beil House again.

We went to the picture house in Dunbar and saw Bonrad Veidt in 'Contraband'. I went with Cliff Teal and Bill Turner.

September 27, 1940
Went to dance at East Linton, which ended at 1 am.

September 28, 1940
I played in goal for FREDDIE troop and we won 3-2.

Later I went to Dunbar with Bill Turner and saw Tommy Trinder in "She couldn't say no".

September 29, 1940
Sunday. Had a walk round the estate with Cliff Teale. We heard bombs being dropped in the Edinburgh area and saw a German plane flying overhead.

October 01, 1940
We fired live ammo with 25 pounders at Haddington.

October 03, 1940
Had a walk around the estate with Cliff Teale and he was promoted to Lance Bdr.

October 04, 1940
Pay day. I received 10 shillings and 6 pence (52½p)(for war service), which I put in a savings bank.

There was a dance at the Drill Hall, East Linton from 2000 hrs to 0100 hrs.

October 05, 1940
I played for FREDDIE troop and we beat Don troop 3-0.

October 06, 1940
Raining. Went to Dunbar with Cliff Teale.

We had a pint of beer in the Castle Inn, Had a walk around then caught a bus back to Beil at 2040 hrs.

October 07, 1940
Lt. Green was married in Edinburgh. 10 men from the troop went to the wedding. (I did not go). He bought the entire troop a pint of beer each and we bought him an oak and chrome tea tray.

I had a letter from my cousin Doug Allen.

October 11, 1940
Dance at East Linton. The truck came back at 01.15 hrs. I think we enjoyed these dances mostly; we visited the local pubs first as there were a lot more soldiers than there were ladies at the dances.

October 12, 1940
Went to the Playhouse Cinema at Dunbar and saw Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz".

Earlier we played a Medium Regt. of RA and drew 1-1. The Medium Regt. scored 2 minutes from the end of the game.

At this time we had quite a few football matches and I played in goal for the troop, battery and regiment.

October 13, 1940
Went for super with Cliff Teale to the house of Archie Sanderson. He was a Scotsman who we had made a friend of, and his job was as a porter; he looked after Beil House. We ate and enjoyed Honey Buns etc. and stayed until 22:10 hrs.

We were now equipped with very old French 75 mm guns which had very large cart horse wheels. They could only be drawn by horses, which we did not have, so when used on manoeuvres they had to be carried in the back of a lorry.

October 14, 1940
PEEBLES
Reveille was at 05:15 hrs and we moved at 09:00 hrs via East Linton, Haddington where we waited until 12:15 hrs when all the Division moved by Tranent, Dalkeith to Peebles.

Went to the pictures at night and saw "Geronimo" all about cowboys and Indians.

At this time we left the 49th West Riding Division and joined The 46th North Midlands Division which the regiment would be a member of until the end of the war. Our new emblem was an OAK tree which had to be sewn on our battledress tunics.

Our billets were in an old priory right on the main street of the town. When we arrived, we had to give the billets a good cleaning out. They had previously been occupied by Polish troops, and they had left everything in a filthy mess. It looks as though they had not even been swept out for weeks.

British troops had always been trained to keep billets spotlessly clean and when moving, the last thing we did was to clean and scrub everything ready for the next occupants but it was obvious that the Polish army had different ideas and they just lived in dirt and filth.

Peebles has 2 picture houses, 2 NAAFI canteens and at the town hall was a dance floor and a billiard room.

During our stay there we visited the cinemas many times and I played billiards only once with AI White, as I was hopeless. There was also a dance floor in a disused factory.

We also had church parade on Sundays to the main church in the town.

The people were very friendly and we had several houses where we could visit for a cup of tea and a chat.

October 20, 1940
We had an intake of new recruits, many from the Glasgow area. Some were a bit rough, as they came from the Gorbals district (which was noted as being a very rough area), but we soon became big mates and we all got on very well together.

We realised at a later date that Peebles was about the best place where we had been stationed.

November 13, 1940
We had a farewell dance and said cheerio to a lot of friends whom we had made.

 

 

Chapter 6 – Lockerbie and I meet Nessie Bell


November 15, 1940
LOCKERBIE
Reveille 0500 hrs. Moved off with our new issue of 18/25 pounder guns through Biggar to Lockerbie - a distance of 67 miles.

We were billeted in a disused cheese factory right at the side of the main railway line from London to Edinburgh. Every time a train passed at high speed it nearly shook us out of bed.

The local people made us very welcome during our stay in Lockerbie; we went to dances at the Town Hall and to the picture house for films. Lockerbie was a town of about 2,000 people.

I had been detailed to work part time in the Sgts.' Mess but after a few days, I decided I'd had enough of the job so I became a full time gunner.

November 20, 1940
Reveille 0530 hrs. Battery Drill Order.

We went out on manoeuvres and I was No. 2 on C sub FREDDIE troop. We were back in billets at 1530 hours. The weather was very cold and wet.

November 21, 1940
Maintenance and gun laying. I had a driving lesson which only lasted 10 minutes.

November 22, 1940
Battery dance, but I was unable to go as I was on guard duty.

November 24, 1940
Church Parade. We marched to the main church in the town.

November 26, 1940
I passed a gun laying test with a possible 96 points out of 101. 2nd Lt. Dawson and 2nd Lt. Haynes were in charge of the test.

November 27, 1940
On guard again so I missed a football match and a dance.

November 30, 1940
Inspection of the troop by Captain Kup. 'F' troop were best this week.

Played football for F troop and we lost 2-1 to Don troop and HQ. I played at centre forward and scored our goal.

December 01, 1940
Mother's birthday so I wrote home.

December 02, 1940
Went to cinema and saw "Mrs Smith Goes to Washington".

December 04, 1940
Gun laying and maintenance.

Went to a dance at the Town Hall from 2000 hrs to 0200 hrs.

I met Nessie Bell, 85 Park Place, Lockerbie.

I was with AI White and he danced with Nessie's friend. We enjoyed the dance and during the conversation I said that my mother had always wanted a sprig of white heather, and in the next few days Nessie went out and found some and sent it through the post for her.

Another incident occurred at Lockerbie when Gunner Jimmy Coe who was the battery Bren gunner, had a fit in the middle of the night and picked up his Bren gun and sprayed the billets in the town hall which had about 50 men sleeping in it. Fortunately all were laid flat on the floor and no-one was hurt. Jimmy was overpowered and taken to hospital (in 1944 when in action Jimmy won 2 military medals for bravery).

December 05, 1940
Reveille 0530. Parade 0830 FSMO.

We moved off at 0915, I was in C sub gun tractor No. 7 and we travelled via Lymington and Biggar to Peebles, arriving at 1430 hrs. We carried on at Peebles as before.

December 10, 1940
On manoeuvres near Melrose where we fired blanks.

December 12, 1940
I completed 1 year,s service in the army for which I received a raise of 3d (3 pence, less than a 1½p) per week.

December 13, 1940
On the radio (wireless) we heard Lord Haw Haw broadcasting propaganda from Germany and he said that there had been a blitz on Sheffield, and there had been many casualties. This turned out to be true but I did not receive any word from home until a letter arrived on 19/12/40 saying that everything was OK. At the time the railway and post office had been put out of action in the Sheffield area.

December 16, 1940
Heard that there had been another heavy raid on Sheffield.

December 19, 1940
3 letters arrived from home and they said they were all OK after the air raids.

December 22, 1940
A trip out in a truck to Neidpath Castle with AI White, Bill Turner and Tom Perkins where we gathered Holly for Xmas decorations (Tom Perkins was killed in action with the Regt. In Africa in 1942).

December 23, 1940
We went out on manoeuvres practising emergency actions. I was now the gun layer in C Subsection.

December 24, 1940
We decorated the Drill hall ready for Christmas festivities.

December 25, 1940
XMAS DAY
Reveille 0730.

1015, Church Parade at Peebles Parish Church. Afterwards we had a good Christmas dinner, in the drill hall we had free drinks and speeches from BC Major Jarvis and the Regt. C.O. Colonel Studdard.

I then went to the first house of the pictures with Norman Harrison, Bill Turner and Wilf Dalby.

2100 hrs I went on guard duty.

December 26, 1940
On guard again until 1700 hrs.

December 27, 1940
Reveille 0730 hrs. Parade 1000 hrs.

1 hour maintenance then remainder of the day free from duties. We went to the free matinee at the playhouse where we saw E Powell and Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940 - very good. We went to the Empire at night to see "Vigil in the Night".

December 28, 1940
Inspector of billets by the Battery Commander, Major Jarvis, Medical Officer, Capt. Hudson and 2nd Lt. Green.

December 31, 1940
Had a drink at the County Hotel with AI White and several other lads, then went to the dance at the Drill Hall.

It was a special New Year's Eve dance, but the band of the RAOC based in Edinburgh was 1½ hours late due to the heavy snow.

At midnight we all joined hands and sang Auld Lang Syne, then we went to a party at May Irving's parents' house with a gang of the lads and a party of girls. We let in the New Year which is called 'Hogmanay' in Scotland and we stayed for ½ an hour, then went back to the dance which ended at 0200 hrs.

1941

After the dance a large party of us went back to May Irving's house for a party. We arrived back at billets just before 0400 hrs. Bill Turner, Norman Harrison, AI White, Wilf Dalby and myself were all in this crowd.

January 01, 1941
Reveille 0630 hours!!!
0900 lecture until 1000 hrs then the remainder of the day was free from duties.

We went sledging and snow balling with a crowd of locals on the golf course.

At 1900 hrs we went to a dance at the YMCA canteen until 2200 hrs. Then I left and caught a train at 2236 hrs for 7 days' leave. The train travelled to Carlisle, Leeds and Sheffield arriving at 0545. It was 1½ hours late due to the snow. I caught an early workman's bus (route 21) and arrived home at 0650 hrs.

I had a bath and breakfast, then had the usual visiting people, dancing and the pictures for the next 7 days.

January 03, 1941
A typical day on leave. I got up at 1030 had a walk down Swallownest. Later went to the pictures at Woodhouse with K Spencer and Doug Allen and saw "Three Men And A Girl" with the Ritz Brothers.

The air raid sirens sounded at 1915 hrs and the all clear at 1930 hrs. We walked to Handsworth and caught a bus home at 2130 hrs.

January 04, 1941
Went on a bus at 1520 with K Spencer (Rotherham) and had our photos taken, then went to the Regal and saw Shirley Temple in the "Blue Bird".

January 06, 1941
Went to Sheffield and saw the damage done during the Blitz. I went to W Sewells house for tea on the Manor Estate. I caught a bus home at 2140 hrs.

January 07, 1941
Received new orders in the post from the Battery Office - at the end of my leave I had to report to the Attleborough Police Station near Norwich instead of returning to Peebles.

I did my usual visits on leave. Mrs Tombs gave me 40 Senior Service cigarettes, Mrs Armstrong 5/- (five shillings, 25p)and 10 Players, Uncle Jim 5/-. I had tea at Auntie Frances' many times.

January 08, 1941
Regent pictures in Sheffield and saw "Andy Hardy Meets a Debutante" then called at Auntie Grace's at Woodhouse Mill.

January 09, 1941
Left home at 1455 hrs. Train from Waleswood at 1555 hrs. Lincoln 1710 and held up until 1820 due to an air raid, arrived March 1905 in Attleborough at 2330. I reported to the Police Station and slept on the floor in the Drill Hall.

January 10, 1941
HINGHAM
Reveille 0830. Washed and shaved and started walking to HINGHAM. After 4 miles, an RHQ army truck picked us up and took us the 5 miles to Hingham, arriving at 1215 hrs. We were on fatigues for the remainder of the day.

Hingham is quite a large village about 17 miles away from Norwich and has 4
pubs and a village hall where dances were held. It had a grassed area in front of the church where we held battery parades and guard mounting parade.

The first night we went to a dance in the village hall (which was an ex army hut). The band was "Yvonne and Girls" but it was not very good.

January 11, 1941
Reveille 0630. Inspection of guns and equipment. Then ½ day free from duty. We went for a drink but decided that the beer was terrible, so we drank draught cider.

January 12, 1941
Reveille 0730 hrs. Church parade at 1030 hrs to Hingham Parish Church. This was said to be the largest church in Norfolk.

January 13, 1941
Dance cost 9d. Not very good. Not many girls.

January 14, 1941
Drill Order at 0830. We were taken to gun positions which had been prepared in case the Germans invaded Norfolk.

January 15, 1941
Started snowing.

January 16, 1941
Mounted guard on the village green. 2nd Lt. Weston was orderly officer.

January 17, 1941
Moved our guns to the rear of our billets. This big house was called Quoin House and had been taken over by the army, it was in a small square and next door lived Field Marshall Ironside, so everyone had to be "on their toes" when he came on leave.

January 18, 1941
Inspection of gun limbers and ammunition. 1420 boarded bus for ½ day in Norwich for 6d. We saw 2 Spitfires firing at a German bomber.
We had tea for 1/3d (one and threepence, or in some areas, pronounced "thrupence" (6p) and went to the De Luxe cinema, cost 1/2d and saw "4 Wives". We visited a cafe for supper - fish and chips, bread and tea, cost 1/3d - smashing. Arrived back at billets at 2130 hrs.

January 19, 1941
Clearing snow. Then on Church Parade. There was an air raid alert and we heard bombs dropped not too far away - possibly Norwich or a main railway line.
My address is now: Gunner A Ward 954330
"C" Troop 279 Battery
70th Field Regt. RA
c/o GPO Hingham, Nr Norwich.

January 24, 1941
On guard.
At this time the guard consisted of 1 Guard Commander (NCO) and 8 men. They were inspected by the orderly officer and the smartest man on parade was dismissed and his duties for 24 hours were to look after the guard house and make tea etc. for the men on guard which was a "cushy" job so everyone tried to be selected.

At this time my best mates were AI White and Les Davies (from Keighley) and we all helped each other clean boots, buttons etc. and used each other's equipment, so usually one of us managed to be dismissed as the "best" man.

January 28, 1941
Battery Drill Order. Reveille 0400. Went out on manoeuvres, we dug gun pits and erected camouflage nets. We slept under canvas. It rained, so it was all very miserable. We fired 30 (imaginary) rounds.

Our 'Quad' driver was Charlie North (later he lost a leg and Monte Cassino in Italy). A Quad is a 4 wheel drive square type vehicle which towed a 25 pdr gun and limber.

February 01, 1941
Trip to Norwich with AI White. We saw Charlie Chaplin in " The Great Dictator".

February 02, 1941
Church Parade, we marched from the square to Hingham Church.

February 06, 1941
I passed a laying test for the second time with 97 points out of 100.

February 08, 1941
Another inspection of men and billets by Battery Commander.

February 10, 1941
Inoculated with second dose of T.A.B and had 48 hours rest.

February 13, 1941
Pay Parade at 0830 hrs. Then to public baths.

February 20, 1941
Saw the "OKES" Divisional Concert Party which was very good.

We were now in the 46th Infantry Division (North Midlands) which had an Oak tree as its emblem.

February 22, 1941
To Norwich with AI and Les and saw Harold Ramsey playing the cinema organ at the Hippodrome - very good.

February 23, 1941
Church Parade.

February 26, 1941
Had a new intake of men join us. We thought they were old men (their average age was 30!!!).

We took them to Thetford Rifle Range to show them how to fire rifles.

March 02, 1941
Church Parade.

March 04, 1941
Had a day on the flat roof of Hingham Church tower. For this duty we had a pair of binoculars and had to keep a look out for German planes. We enjoyed this duty when it was warm, but not so good during cold, wet or snowy weather.

March 05, 1941
Gun Drill then maintenance and half day off duty.

March 13, 1941
I helped N.C.O's to give instructions on how to'lay' the guns to 4 learners.

March 14, 1941
Cleaning the guns before they went on display at East Dereham War Weapons Week.
I then had a bath at public baths.

March 16, 1941
Church Parade.

March 18, 1941
Gas Drill. We had to go into a caravan fitted out as a gas chamber for tear gas.
A terrible experience!!!

March 19, 1941
I passed a Gun Laying Test - 87 points out of 100.

March 21, 1941
Reveille 0515. Left in trucks at 0700 to Attleborough via March. Had 2 hours wait in Doncaster. Arrived Sheffield 1610 hrs and arrived home at 1650 hrs.

Had tea, bath and went to dance at Church Hall in 'civvy' clothes. It was from
2000 to 0200 and the New Mayfair Band played for dancing.

My 7 days leave included the usual visits to cinemas and various houses for tea.

March 28, 1941
Left home 1445. Train from Waleswood at 1540 hrs via Worksop, Retford, Lincoln, March, Attleborough at 2145 hrs. Hingham 2215.

March 29, 1941
Passed Medical Examination by M.O then on 24 hours guard.

April 02, 1941
Whole division on manoeuvres for 3 days. We were sleeping in the fields near Aylesham.

April 05, 1941
Handed over our 18/25 Pdr. guns to 277 Bty. We were very disappointed at losing our 'beloved' guns.

April 06, 1941
Received fresh guns which were battered old 1917 models of 75 mm field guns.

We had done some training on some similar to these at Wydale. They had large wooden 'cart horse' wheels with steel rims, no tyres like more modern guns.

We had 2 days 'slugging' ammunition which is very hard work.

April 13, 1941
70th Field Regt. on parade and inspected by Field Marshall Ironside and many more senior officers. He took the salute whilst we marched past and 3 RAF Lysander planes dived low in salute.

April 15, 1941
Gun Drill then played football, 279 Bty 2 v 449 Bty 1.

April 16, 1941
I played for the Regiment at football in Dillington Park. We lost to 58th Anti Tank Regt 6-2.

April 17, 1941
I had a week on cookhouse. I was supposed to learn how to cook! Not a success.

April 21, 1941
Our Regt. CO Colonel Suddard completed 20 years service with the Regt so we were all given a day off duty.

April 22, 1941
Played football for battery and drew 3-3 with 277 Bty.

April 23, 1941
Reveille 0630. Took up anti tank positions near Brackdish.

We slept in a village hall when not on guard.

April 24, 1941
Reveille 0330. We dug gun pits and advanced over River Waveney. We slept in an empty house.

April 25, 1941
Reveille 0345. Fired 50 imaginary rounds. Back to Hingham at 0230 hrs.

May 03, 1941
Charity Cup Tournament.

RAF 3 279 Battery 0

A good crowd paid 6d (2½p) each for admission and proceeds were given to hospitals.

Bobby Robson of Sunderland played for RAF.


 

Chapter 7 – My Stay in Norwich Hospital


May 09, 1941
I went sick to the M.O with a large swelling in my arm.

May 10, 1941
I stayed in bed with a pain in my stomach. The Regiment M.O came to see me.

May 11, 1941
I was still ill so a Major MO came to see me. He sent me by army ambulance to a field hospital which was not far away, in a large marquee. This was full so I was taken in a "blood wagon" (army ambulance) to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

I arrived in hospital on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of a service held by the padre for patients and visitors. They were singing my favourite hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers' as I was wheeled into the ward and put into a bed surrounded by curtains. I had an examination (up my rear end) and was told that I had to have an operation for appendicitis the next day.

The nurse came and shaved all the hairs from my tummy where the cut was to be made.

May 12, 1941
Prior to the operation I was examined by the House Surgeon and he put off the operation for 48 hours whilst I was put on a strict diet. He said that I could not have an operation until the swelling on my arm had gone down.

May 13, 1941
The pain had eased and the operation was cancelled.

A typical day in hospital was:
06:00 Breakfast and medicine.
06:30 Wash and shave.
07:15 Beds made up.
08:30 Sister came on duty.
09:00 Doctors examination.
10:00 Milk, cocoa or coffee.
12 noon Dinner.
15:55 Tea.
18:00Hot milk or Bourne Vita.

Visiting days were Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday from 1500 hrs to 1600 hrs. During the time I was in hospital I did not have any visitors and did not receive 1 letter, although I was able to write home but I did not let them know at home that I was in hospital. Every 3 days I had a blood test and an injection.
I also had 2 enemas as I was not going to the toilet.

May 23, 1941
Out of bed for 1 hour's exercise in pyjamas and dressing gown and slippers (all issued by the hospital).

Each day gradually having more exercise in the ward.

Whilst in hospital, I heard on the radio that the Battleship HMS Hood had been sunk by German gunfire. This was a great tragedy.

May 25, 1941
Sunday. Nurses took us into the hospital church for a service.

May 26, 1941
Given my uniform back, I dressed and left hospital at 1230 in a truck to Hingham. Before leaving the hospital, Dr Isaacs gave me a letter with a recommendation for me to have 14 days leave.

May 27, 19417
Took the letter to the Regiment MO - He said I could have 14 days in a convalescent camp near Cromer or 7 days at home - I accepted the latter.

May 28, 1941
Hingham 0830 to Attleborough. Left there by train at 0905 to Ely, Peterborough, Grantham, Retford, Waleswood at 1730.

I walked home (about 2 ½ miles) just about in a state of collapse.

As I hadn't told anyone at home I had been ill, it was quite a shock for them as I looked so bad.

However after a few quiet days at home I felt much better.

May 31, 1941
Nessie came to see me - I met her off the train at Sheffield station and we went to the Regent and saw "No No Nannette", then I took her to Abbeydale where she was staying with friends. At this time she was working in an ammunition factory in Birmingham.

June 01, 1941
I caught a bus to Sheffield at 1315, met Nessie in Fitzallen Square and brought her home. After tea we had a walk round Aston and Aughton. I took her back to Abbeydale and caught 2230 bus to Woodhouse, then walked home. Next day she returned to Birmingham.

June 03, 1941
Went to Hippodrome in Sheffield and saw The Marx Bros "Go West". I went on my own and had to stand in a queue for 1½ hours. The sirens went for an air raid alert but it must have been a false alarm.

June 04, 1941
Left Waleswood station at 1538 and arrived at Hingham at 2155.

June 05, 1941
Went to see the MO and passed me fully fit.

June 06, 1941
Church Parade then football, 279 Bty. 4 v RHQ 1.

June 10, 1941
Regt. Concert Party at the Grammar School in Wymondham. Poor show.

June 11, 1941
Baths at Wymondham then to see an ENSA Party which was very good. Digging trenches and building blast walls round Don Troop billets.

June 14, 1941
Football 279 Bty. won Shield for Regimental Tournament.

On guard at 1800 hrs. Orderly Officer Lt. Hammond.

June 15, 1941
Cousin Bill Ward (in the RAF) came to see me with his pal. I managed to get a day off so we went to Norwich. We visited Seaton Park and the Carlton where we saw Joe E Brown in "The Gladiator".

June 17, 1941
Regt. Sports Day.

Dance at the Cock Inn - Poor.

June 19, 1941
Loading ammunition ready for manoeuvres.

June 20, 1941
Reveille 0530. Breakfast 0615. Battle Order at 0835. Moved off 1000 hrs via Watton, Stanford into a large wood. We made camouflage nets. This was a very tedious job - we had a large net almost 20 ft x 20 ft made of Jute (like thick string) interwoven into squares about 4" x 4" and we had to weave a cotton jute about 2" wide in and out of the squares. The jute was painted black and Khaki. They were then spread over guns or vehicles, so it was difficult to see anything from the air. We spent days at this job at various times.

We then took up anti tank positions. This scheme was to practice how to deal with enemy parachutists who were supposed to have landed in Norfolk.

June 22, 1941
Our Eric was 21 years old.

The weather during this scheme was very hot and sunny and we all received plenty of insect and mosquito bites which caused red swellings.

June 25, 1941
Returned to camp thankful for the decent bed, although we slept on a wooden floor we were used to this by now.

We heard afterwards that during the scheme actual parachutists were used although we didn't see any. Also, 30 squadrons of bomber and fighter planes, and tanks were used.

These were together with 170,000 troops and 20,000 Home Guard. It had been the largest scheme ever held in England.

June 26, 1941
Visit to Wymondham for baths.

June 29, 1941
Church Parade. We had photographs taken on The Green.

Don Gregson was promoted to L/Bdr.

June 30, 1941
My birthday I was now 22 years old. I received parcels from Swallownest Methodist Chapel, British Legion and cards from Mother and dad, Eric and Eva.

July 01, 1941
One day on manoeuvres. We fired blanks from the guns. L/Bdr Robinson was our No. 1 (he was later killed in action in Africa).

July 02, 19411
Firing Bren guns at imitation tanks.

July 03, 1941
Visit to Wymondham baths for swimming.

July 04 & 05, 1941
More manoeuvres near Stamford.

July 08, 1941
The caravan came again with gas chamber. Had to go inside and have a small whiff of DM - Result - pain in the chest, vomiting and we felt depressed for about 1 hour -Terrible!!

July 09, 1941
On guard in Cock Inn car park. Orderly Officer 2nd Lt Shimmin.

July 12, 1941
Inspection of guns by BC Major Jarvis.

July 13, 1941
Rained for the first time in a month to end the heatwave.

Church Parade then half day off duty.

July 14, 1941
A one day scheme near Watton. We were dive bombed by RAF Blenheims (practise).

Our Divisional Commander was now Major General Wilson.

July 15, 1941
On guard. Inspected by the C.O who was Colonel Suddards.

July 16, 1941
Leave for 7 days. Attleborough 1121. Home 2145.

July 20, 1941
Cycle ride with Winnie Sewell and several of the old group of lads to Winster. We rode for 58 miles in the day.

July 21, 1941
Saw Old Mother Riley's Ghost at the Regent, Sheffield with our Eric and Keith Spencer. Walked back home to Swallownest with Albert Edwards - He was a stoker on the Battleship HMS King George V.

July 23, 1941
Waleswood 1545 on a crowded train nearly all the way. Arrived at Hingham at 2200 hrs.

July 26, 1941
Inspection of guns. We now had 18/25 Pdrs in place of the old 75 mm guns.

July 27, 1941
Inspection by Lt Frewer, 2nd Lt Warnes and B.C Major Jarvis, then Church Parade.

July 31, 1941
2 days manoeuvres. Raining.

August 03, 1941
Church Parade then half day off duty.

August 05, 1941
Reveille 0550. 8 Quads from various batteries formed a convoy to Swaffham, Kings Lynn, Holbeach, Long Sutton, Market Deeping, Stamford, Grantham (great north road), Newark and Doncaster to KNOTTINGLEY, arriving at 1630.

Captain Dudley Fletcher in charge.

We had dinner, then were given the night off.

I travelled by truck to Bradford, then bus to Horsforth and spent the night with Cliff Teale, his wife and family (Cliff had been demobbed a few weeks previous, for a reason we never found out).

August 06, 1941
Next morning I left Horsforth at 0900 by bus to Bradford then back to Knottingley.

We were issued with new 18/25 pounder guns to be given to the newly formed 449 Battery.

We travelled back via Doncaster, Retford and Newark during a thunderstorm.

We stayed the night in Sleaford where we slept in a Dance Hall.

August 07, 1941
We left at 0830 and arrived in Hingham at 1645 hrs.

August 08, 1941
Baths at Wymondham for swimming.

August 09, 1941
Played football at Attleborough.

279 Bty 4 RASC 4

August 10, 1941
Digging trenches and blast proofing walls.

August 11, 1941
On guard. Orderly Officer, 2nd Lt Shimmin.

August 24, 1941
Reveille 0630 went on an advanced party via Norwich to Worstead Camp about 30 miles. We erected tents and marquees and worked until 2100 hrs.
New address is: Worstead Park Camp
Nr Norwich

August 26, 1941
Main party arrived with the guns. We slept six men per tent.

August 29, 1941
Digging trenches near Coltishall aerodrome ready for engineers to bury phone wires. We visited the aerodrome canteen which was a smashing place.

August 30, 1941
Still digging trenches but we were given a ½ day off duty so we visited North Walsham, went to the pictures and saw Will Hay in "St Michael's Ghost".
There was a WVS canteen in NW where they served lovely white bread and tomato (home grown) sandwiches. A real treat!!!

August 31, 1941
Church Parade at Worstead Church.

Played football.

279 Bty 4 449 Bty 1

Walked to North Walsham to the canteen again. North Walsham is a large village with an old fashioned bundy cross which is a round building with a roof over in the village square.

We saw a Hurricane fighter crash in flames about ½ mile away. We had to walk 4 miles each way.

September 02, 1941
I passed a gun laying test supervised by Captain Green.

Football, 279 Bty. 2 v RHQ 1.

September 05, 1941
Blast proofing tents.

This meant that we had to dig large holes 2'0" deep, then erect our tents in the hole and fill sandbags with the excavated earth and build them round the tents as an extra protection from blast.

September 06, 1941
Back to digging trenches near Coltishall airfield.
At this time we were due for leave but it kept being postponed.

September 07, 1941
Reveille 0400. Moved off with guns at 0530 via Norwich, Yarley, Great Blakenham, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Southend-on-Sea to Shoeberryness.

Here we were on a small island which was cut off from the mainland when a swing bridge over the road was lifted. This was supposed to stop any enemy gaining a foothold during an invasion but I do not think it would have stopped anyone. The actual area was called Foulness and here we fired live rounds at imitation tanks which were on the sea shore, so any shells missing the target fell into the sea.

We slept overnight in some disused factory buildings.

In the area, we saw coastal defence guns and large Ack Ack guns which were used for the defence of London, as we were near the entrance to the River Thames.

September 08, 1941
At 0830 we returned by the same route to Worstead, arriving at 0430 hrs after travelling a total of 280 miles.

September 09, 1941
We received a new issue of Battle dress.

September 10, 1941
Pay Parade then to North Walsham and saw "Mark of Zorrow".

September 11, 1941
On a scheme in wheat fields near Thetford.

September 17, 1941
Boarded 3 ton truck with driver and travelled 25 miles to Great Yarmouth where we loaded up 3 tons of hardcore from the bombed houses. Also we collected 7 stones of fish for the battery cookhouse which cost £4-4s-0d (often referred to as four guineas - £4.20p).

The hardcore was used to make roads and hardstandings in the camp, and the fish was cooked as a treat for our tea. It was smashing!!!

September 18, 1941
Digging trench for signaller phone wire. Had a visit to canteen in Aylesham.

September 19, 1941
Digging a new trench at Brompton near Aylesham. It was raining.

September 20, 1941
Kit inspection by the BC Major Jarvis. I left camp at 12 noon. Train from Worstead station at 1300 to Norwich, Attleborough, Peterborough, Leicester to Birmingham at 2145.

I met Nessie and her brother Tom (he was in an infantry Regt). Then went to her digs and met Mr and Mrs Ladkin and their daughter Betty who was in the ATS.

We had supper and I slept on the settee.

September 21, 1941
Sunday. Went for walk with Nessie, Tom, Betty and Mr Ladkin. Went to pub for a drink. Had dinner and tea at Ladkins then went with Tom to the station as he was returning to his unit at Croydon.

I took Nessie to the Paramount Cinema, We saw Gordon Harker in a good film.

September 22, 1941
Up at 0900, had a walk round Handsworth with Nessie. Caught a train at New Street Station at 1535 and arrived back at Worstead at 2330 hrs.

September 23, 1941
Gun Drill then maintenance.

September 28, 1941
Large Church Parade in an open field taken by the Regimental Padre.

September 29, 1941
On manoeuvres near Thetford, Brandon, Cambridge, Bedford, we were driving
in the night to a position near Northampton.

October 02, 1941
Nessie's Birthday, she was 20 years old. My Mother sent her a black handbag for me.

We moved into a gun position near Cambridge.

October 03, 1941
Returned to camp at 1815 hrs.

October 04, 1941
Pay Parade then swimming at Wymondham baths.

October 05, 1941
Church Parade.

October 08, 1941
Went on a cross country run - about 5 miles.

October 09, 1941
Raining so had a lecture on Bedford Lorry engine.

October 11, 1941
Trip to cinema at North Walsham and saw'Target for Tonight and Jackie Cooper in 'Gallant Sons'.

October 12, 1941
Church Parade then on guard at night.

October 13, 1941
I was appointed Limber Gunner, as well as being the gun layer, I was responsible for the maintenance of the gun, and had to ensure that it was fit to fire at all times.

October 14, 1941
Driving instruction, first for a long time.

October 16, 1941
Lecture by Lt. Warnes on progress of the war in Lybia.

October 17, 1941
Pay Parade, Physical Training then baths at Wymondham.

October 18, 1941
70th Field Regt. 1 Durham Light Infantry 0.

At this time I was a regular goalkeeper for the troop, Battery and Regiment.

October 19, 1941
Church Parade. Half day off but stayed in billets due to heavy rain.

October 21, 1941
Train at 2255 to March and Peterborough (during the night).

October 22, 1941
Home at 2145 for 7 days leave.

October 24, 1941
Letter from Nessie to say she couldn't come for weekend as arranged.

October 25, 1941
Went to Hillsborough! Sheffield United 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1. 9,000 spectators - considered good for wartime.

Empire Theatre and saw Norman Evans, Leon and Kimberley, Billy Scott and his Grenadiers. We arrived home at 2100 hrs on last bus.

October 29, 1941
Left Waleswood at 1538 arrived at Worstead just before midnight due to train being 1 hour late.

October 30, 1941
Laying 'duck' boards due to ground being flooded.

November 02, 1941
Church Parade then played for Regiment, 70th Field Regt. 8 v Field Brigade 3.

November 07, 1941
Lecture on current affairs by Capt. Green.

November 12, 1941
In the afternoon cleaning up the camp.

November 13, 1941
Reveille 0530. Moved off 0745 via Norwich, Thetford, Linton, Stevenage (114 miles). There we slept in trucks overnight.

November 14, 1941
Through London escorted by Police at high speed in cars and motor bikes. Dartford tunnel under River Thames. Rochester Way, Chatham, Maidstone, Charing. Here we ran out of petrol and we had to sleep in the 'Quad' all night - very uncomfortable.

 

Chapter 8 – Ashford in Kent

November 15, 1941
Petrol arrived at 0830 hrs and we carried on to Ashford (Kent).
New address: New House
Mersham
Nr Ashford
Kent

November 16, 1941
Here we were billeted in Nissen Huts complete with electric, light, coal stoves and spring beds. All this was new to us and a real luxury. Nearby was a good NAAFI canteen. There was a ½ hour bus service to Ashford which was 3 ½ miles away.
This was a very good camp and much better than the usual billets.

November 18, 1941
Lecture on Current Affairs "War in the Far East".

November 19, 1941
We visited Ashford swimming baths. At this camp Al White and myself found a flat piece of ground on which we marked out lines in sawdust for a football pitch and we fixed goal posts from long straight pine trees about 4" thick. I had a snapshot taken under these posts with AI White.

We had several trips to Ashford where I always remembered that an old World War 1 tank stood in a square and was used as a war memorial.

November 23, 1941
Reveille 0530. Moved off at 0745 via Folkstone, Dover, Walmer, Deal, Sandwich, then to Broadstairs. We took up gun positions near the front.

November 25, 1941
Went to the baths at the Naval Base, Ramsgate.

November 26, 1941
Went to Cinema House and saw Bette Davis in " The Letter".

November 27, 1941
Left Broadstairs at short notice on same route back to Mersham.

We learned later that we had been at Broadstairs to guard a Radar Station as it was expected that the Germans were planning to invade and put it out of action. Unconfirmed reports said that they had tried at the time we were there, but were turned back by the Navy. It was just as well as the organisation was utter chaos. In fact we were nearly all allowed out in the pubs, which did not help the cause at all.

I sent a card for mother’s birthday on 1/12/41.

November 30, 1941
Church Parade at Smeeth Church.

December 06, 1941
Folkestone Military Barracks - 70th Field Regt 2 Durham Light Infantry 1. I played in goal.

December 08, 1941
Concert at Hatch Park (449 Bty Camp) Classical Music and songs by broadcasting artists from London. Not our type of music - too highbrow for us.

December 10, 1941
Ran in cross country run for the Battery. I came 2nd out of 80 runners.

December 11, 1941
3 days manoeuvres near Canterbury.

December 12, 1941
Completed 2 years service in the army.

December 14, 1941
Played at Leeming. 70th Field Regt 0 46 Div Rece corps 4.

December 16, 1941
24 Hours Guard.

December 18, 1941
Issued with new type Oak tree (46th Division) which we sewed on our tunics.

December 19, 1941
Went to Lydd into a gas compound. Had mustard gas put on our arm then treated with ointment. Then through a gas chamber with Chlorine gas but our gas masks and capes protected us OK.

December 20, 1941
Social and dance in canteen approximately 60 men and 5 girls - did not enjoy the night!

December 21, 1941
Church Parade at Mersham Church.

December 24, 1941
70th Field Regt 2 v 271 Field Corps R.E 4.

December 25, 1941
Reveille 0800 hrs.

Coffee and rum brought to us in bed by Sgts. Comic football match. Had a very good Xmas dinner, speeches by the Colonel and Major Jarvis. Also had a good tea. A good day and a great change from the usual routine.

December 26, 1941
Reveille 0730. Parade 1000. Route march, we marched 6 miles in Battle Order (all equipment). Afterwards had a free film show at the Odeon called "Melody and Moonlight" and the original Mother Riley.

December 27, 1941
Prepared guns for inspection but cancelled due to rain.

December 28, 1941
70th Field Regt 2 v 171 Field Coy R.E 3.

December 31, 1941
Played football at Smeeth lost 1-0 with 277 Battery. On guard at 1800 hrs.

1942

January 01, 1942
New years day. Saw 46th Division concert party at Hatch Hall - Good.

On guard until 1800 hrs (24 hours).

January 02, 1942
Physical Training then to Ashford and saw "Big American Broadcast".

January 03, 1942
Inspection of vehicles. Played football at Folkestone 70th Field Regt. 1 2/5
Foresters 4.

I heard that my brother Eric had been called up into the Navy on 01/01/42.

Address: E Ward 0/Tel WM
HMS Prince Arthur
Skegness, Lincs. (Butlin’s Camp).

My address is now: Gnr Ward A 954330
'C' Troop 279 Battery
70th Field Regt. RA
Sellindge, Ashford, Kent.

We were actually stationed at Mersham, which is a small village 3 miles from Ashford (Kent), 15 miles from Dover, 12 miles from Folkestone, 52 miles from London and 210 miles from Sheffield.

January 04, 1942
Church Parade at Smeeth.

January 10, 1942
Moved off at 1030 via Hythe, Rye, Eastbourne where we arrived at 1615 hrs. We were billeted in a large boarding house on a hill in the centre of a long row of houses.

We organised ourselves then went to the YMCA canteen.

January 11, 1942
Maintenance then ½ day off, so we walked into town on the sea in front. On the beach were many rolls of barbed wire, which was supposed to stop an invasion. We went to The Picturedrome and saw Conrad Veidt and Jean Crawford in "A Woman's Face".

January 12, 1942
Took up a gun position near Sleaford and practised firing a barrage.

'C' Subsection. 'C' Troop. 279 Battery.

Now is:
No. 1 Sgt J Stewart.
No. 2 Gnr A Ward - Limber Gunner (responsible for maintenance and cleanliness of gun)
No. 3 Bdr Don Gregson - Gun Layer
No. 4 Gnr Fordinskey - Ammunition Nos
No. 5 Gnr Rider
No. 6 T Morgan.

January 13, 1942
Practising firing ranging rounds in a snow storm.

January 14, 1942
Arrangements made for the regiment to fire a barrage to be watched by King George VI and the army Commander in Chief and many 'brass hats' but it had to be cancelled due to heavy snow.

January 15, 1942
Reveille 0545. Moved at 0930 in a blizzard. The roads were very bad with the ice and snow. We arrived back at 1415 hrs. I now had a very bad cold.

January 16, 1942
Pay Parade then to Ashford for "Slipper" baths.

January 17, 1942
Inspection of guns by acting Battery Commander, Captain Haslam.

I was on guard at 1700 hrs.

January 18, 1942
Church Parade at Smeeth.

January 22, 1942
Went to ENSA concert party at Hatch Hall which was very good.

January 23, 1942
Pay Parade then lecture by troop commander Captain J Green.

January 25, 1942
Church Parade at Smeeth.

Pay parade was at 1330 prior to 7 days leave. We boarded a truck at 1515 to Ashford, and a train which left at 1605. Changed at Maidstone on to an electric train to London Victoria. Boarded underground to Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Kings Cross to St Pancras. We went to a Salvation Army canteen.

Our next train left at 2115 and arrived in Sheffield at 0155. We went to YMCA canteen.

January 26, 1942
I caught the first bus and arrived home at 0510 hrs. After breakfast and a bath, I went to bed for a few hours. My mother and dad were still living at 114 Worksop Road, Swallownest, Sheffield.

Later I went to the Sheffield Hippodrome and saw Robert Taylor in "Billy the Kid" which was quite good.

We had more snow.

January 27, 1942
Went to the Sheffield Regent and saw Leslie Howard in "49th Parallel".

January 30, 1942
Went with Keith Spencer to the Empire at Rotherham and saw Anton Walbrook in "Dangerous Moonlight". At night went to a dance at Swallownest Church Hall with our Eva.

At 2015 I had a Telegram from Nessie to say that she was paying a visit.

January 31, 1942
Met Nessie on Sheffield station and brought her home at 1700 hrs.

She stayed overnight at our house for the first time.

February 01, 1942
More snow so we had to stay at home.

February 02, 1942
Left home at 1315 to the LMS Station, Sheffield and we both boarded a train, which left at 1435. At Derby we changed trains and Nessie went on to Birmingham and I carried on to London arriving at 1930. On underground train to London Bridge. In the YMCA canteen then train at 2122 to Ashford where we arrived at 2245. A truck took us back to Mersham where we arrived at 2330 hrs.

February 03, 1942
Route march in Battle Order for 5 miles then I was on 24-hour guard at 1800 hrs.

February 05, 1942
Route march for 5 miles then man handled the guns into a field.

At this time I was very fit so I enjoyed the Route Marches and PT where I was very friendly with the PTI (Physical Training Instructor). They were very often well known athletes or sportsmen like footballers or cricketers, but I have forgotten the name or what our PTI did for a living.

February 06, 1942
Route march for 7 miles.

February 07, 1942
Route march then preparing for a scheme at night. Went to the cinema house in Ashford and saw Don Ameche in "Kiss the Boys Goodbye".

February 08, 1942
Reveille 0730 hrs. Moved off at 0945 and arrived in Eastbourne at 1530 hrs. We went to a canteen.

February 09, 1942
Reveille 0530. Moved off at 0800 into a position near Rye where we fired 17 rounds. We arrived back in billets in Eastbourne at 1630 hrs, then we carried out maintenance on the guns.

The billets were still in the private houses, which were normally used as boarding houses in peace time.

Most of the people had been evacuated.

February 10, 1942
Reveille 0630. We moved off at 1415. Maintenance until 1550 then I went on guard duties at 1700 hrs.

February 11, 1942
I came off guard at 0715 hrs.

First we had gun drill then a route march for 5 miles.

Later we went to boxing championships at Thorncliffe Barracks, Folkstone.

70th Field Regt. were beaten easily by 2/5 Foresters. Bob Robinson (later posted to Middle East and killed in action) lost his fight but Jack Jones 277 Bty won his Bout.

Jack Jones I had known at school in Swallownest but when aged about 16 he moved to Halifax. His younger brother Eric stayed and I was friendly with him at Woodhouse Grammar School (after the war he emigrated to Australia). In 1990 I met Jack again and he said that he had remembered me as a footballer in the 70th and since the war he helped organise the reunions, which I started attending in 1991 (re written 1996).

February 12, 1942
Gun drill, then a route march for 6 miles, then we had a lecture by an Indian Army Officer called "India At War".

February 13, 1942
Route March then Pay Parade and visit to Ashford baths.

February 14, 1942
Inspection of guns, vehicles and billets by acting BC Captain Blaxland.

I played football for the Regiment. 70th Field Regt 3. The Leciesters 7.

I then went to the Odeon at Ashford and saw Claudette Colbert in "'Skylark" and Charlie Chan in "Dead Men Tell".

February 15, 1942
Church Parade at Smeeth Church.

On guard at 1700 for 24 hours.

February 17, 1942
Gun drill then a lecture on first aid by Sgt. Roe.

February 18, 1942
Anti Tank gun drill at Hatch Park.

I played football for the Regt. 70th Field Regt. 3, 183 Ambulance RAMC 0.

Inoculated by MO ½cc TT. ½cc TAB and given 24 hours off duty.

February 20, 1942
Inspection by MO.

February 21, 1942
We gave a demonstration of firing guns watched by the South Staffords who are being converted to artillery.

I played for the Regt. 70th Field Regt. 0. 183 Field Ambulance 1.

At night to the Odeon at Ashford.

February 23, 1942
Left Mersham at 1015 via Rye, Battle to Eastbourne. We carried out maintenance then went to the Hippodrome and saw Mark Hoffman in "The 4 Stellas".

February 24, 1942
Into gun position near Seaford where we fixed camouflage nets.

February 25, 1942
We fired a barrage of 30 rounds HE then 9 rounds smoke shells for a smoke
screen. .

Our Subsection now is:

No. 1 Sgt J Stewart
No. 2 L/Bdr Baldwin (later killed in action)
No. 3 Gnr A Ward (layer)
No. 4 Gnr Ridler
No. 5 Gnr Morgan

February 26, 1942
Left Eastbourne at 1030 - arrived at Mersham 1445 (approximately 56 miles). Sgt. J Stewart left the Regt. To be an instructor to a newly formed Regt.

February 28, 1942
Sent a telegram for Eva's birthday.

March 01, 1942
Eva's Birthday, now aged 19 years.

We had a lecture by the CO.

March 02, 1942
Winching out tree trunks, which had been erected, to prevent German planes landing. Whilst in this area we were considered to be in 'The Front Line' as a possible German invasion (if it came) was expected to be in this area.

March 04, 1942
Laying bricks to form a hard standing for the guns in heavy rain.

March 05, 1942
Bdr. Lindsey came as No. 1 to replace Sgt. Stewart
.
March 06, 1942
Battery Drill Order - went on manoeuvres. I acted as No. 1. L/Bdr Baldwin was our gun layer. We were resting prior to setting out on these manoeuvres when the BC Major Jarvis and several officers passed our subsection - I brought the subsection to attention and gave him a salute. I think this may have helped because soon after I was awarded my first stripe. We completed the manoeuvres and I was proud of the fact that as a lowly gunner I had done a Sgt's job as No. 1.

March 07, 1942
We had a lift to Ashford in Captain Green's car which was called the "Yellow Peril". Went to Odeon and saw Vic Oliver, Sarah Churchill and Evelyn Dahl in "He Found a Star".

March 08, 1942
Reveille 0630 left camp at 0845 to Smeeth station, left there at 1100 via Ashford, Redhill, Reading, Guildford, West Lavington at 1600 and then in trucks to a camp at West Down Tilshead.

March 09, 1942
Reveille 0615 marched to Antitank range at 0745. 'C' sub fired 27 rounds over open sights. We fired the guns of 71st (Sheffield) Field Regt. 18/25 pounders. By now we were used to the loud report and the recoil of the gun when they were fired using live ammunition.

March 10, 1942
Reveille 0630 Parade 0900. Long queue for breakfast as there were 2,000 men in the camp. We cleaned our equipment then we had ½ day off duty so we went to the Garrison Theatre and saw a revue called "Glad To Meet You" with Claude Hulbert and Enid Trevor.

March 11, 1942
Reveille 0630. Left the camp at 0830 and arrived at Mersham by train. Went on guard at 1830 for 24 hours.

March 13, 1942
We were "brushing up" on rifle drill for a special guard at Divisional HQ at Wye.

Later I visited Ashford Cinema House and saw "A Yank in the RAF".

March 16, 1942
We were to act as security police. We sat at a desk and checked all identity cards of people visiting HQ and the Brigadier. It was an easy job and good food at meal times.

We also had to check the identity of the Brigadier, sometimes he was not very pleased depending on what kind of mood he was in.

March 23, 1942
Our Regts. term of guard was completed so we handed the job over to 58th Anti Tank Regt then returned to Mersham.

March 28, 1942
I was on a special guard whilst Colonel Thornton inspected the Regt. then an afternoon off duty.

March 29, 1942
Played football for the Regt. 70th Field Regt 1. 2/5 Foresters 5

During the game I injured 2 fingers.

March 30, 1942
On guard for 12 hours.

March 31, 1942
Left Mersham with AI White at 1630 in a truck to Ashford. Caught train at 1655 to London Bridge underground station, then to St Pancras. We visited a canteen just outside the station.

 

Chapter 9 – Embarkation Leave

April 01, 1942
We left at 2115 arrived Sheffield 0130, stayed in the station canteen until 04-15 then on the first bus (route 21) and arrived home at 0505. We saw my dad just before he left home to go to work at Waleswood Colliery. Later there was a letter from Nessie to say that she was not coming.

Went to Swallownest picture house with my mother and Eva and saw "Four Mothers".

April 03, 1942
My dad's birthday. He was 51 years old.

April 04, 1942
Caught 12-20 bus to Sheffield with dad. Met AI White and then caught the tram to Hillsborough and saw England beat Scotland 4-1. Jimmy Hagan had a good game and Tommy Lawton scored all four goals.

RASC band played at half time. AI came home with us and we went to the dance at Swallownest Church Hall.

April 05, 1942
Went on a walk round Ulley with dad and Al. After tea we went to Sheffield and he caught a train to Penistone.

April 06, 1942
Bus to Sheffield met Al and we went to Bramall Lane:

Sheffield United 3 Rotherham United 3.

Dance at Church Hall at night.

April 07, 1942
AI went home on 1315 bus. I caught bus to Rotherham at 1720 and saw "40,000 Horsemen" at the pictures and missed the last bus at 2100 so caught one to Whiston and walked home from there.

April 08, 1942
Bus at 1315 to Sheffield. Met AI on LMS station. Train at 1414 to London. On the train I saw Willis Rowley (RAF) who had been a friend of mine when at school. He was on his way back to his station at Maidstone.

We visited a canteen at Charing Cross then walked through Trafalgar Square and past the Houses of Parliament.

We left at 2115 to Seven Oaks, Tonbridge Wells to Ashford. Truck to Mersham and arrived at midnight.

75% of the battery were away digging trenches on the coast.

April 14, 1942
Took'C' Sub gun to Ordnance Workshops at Ashford for repairs.

April 16, 1942
At this time a gradual break up of the Regt. was taking place. The following men from our battery were posted overseas:

Gnrs Alan Milner, Norman Paley, W Ridley, R G Robinson, Don Stewart, Tom Livesey (the part time hairdresser), Syd Philips, Frankie Dunne, D Newton.

April 18, 1942
Inspection of billets then with Al to Ashford and saw'Sun Valley Serenade'.

April 21, 1942
More men left for overseas, Gnrs: Connell, Carroll, Atkins, L/Bdr Hubbard (who I shall miss as he played left back for our Regt. and before being called up he was on the books of Leicester City), and Sgt. Stevenson.

April 22, 1942
Football at Bethesdon 279 Bty 1 v RAOC 0.

April 23, 1942
Same again - filling sand bags for the gun pits after marching 6 miles to Sellindge.
L/Sgt. Roe, Bdr Peacock, Gnr Maginnity were posted abroad.

April 24, 1942
For the coming week all 46th Inf Division were to work all night and sleep during the daytime. This was so that we would be used to fighting at night-time.
This idea was on instructions from the new Corps. Commander General Bernard Montgomery, later to command us in The Desert Campaigns in Africa.

April 25, 1942
My first step on the Promotion ladder. I was promoted to Unpaid/Acting/Lance Bombardier. (L/Bdr - one stripe).

I was then dismissed from my last guard as a gunner (or so I hoped).


April 25 1942
Reveille 1600 hrs. Roll Call and Physical Training 1630. Breakfast 2115. 1st Parade 2200 hrs.

This meant we had breakfast at 9 o'clock at night!!!

Night time laying on the guns with a break at midnight until 0030 hrs.
Night occupation. Then break for dinner at 0300 hrs. 0400 hrs. Lecture. 0630 maintenance. 0730 tea and finish work for the night.

Went to bed at 1215. Lights out 1230 (in the afternoon).

April 27, 1942
Reveille 2000 (i.e. 8 o'clock at night).

It was dark by now!! Parade at 2200. Dress - Full Battle Order - steel helmets, haversack, one blanket and two ground sheets. We left at 2230 and marched to Dymchurch which was 12 miles away.

We arrived at 0215 where we slept on a concrete floor in a disused chalet, which before the war had been a holiday camp. This was within sight of the sea.

April 28, 1942
Reveille 1830 hrs. We left at 2200 and marched 7 miles to firing ranges at Hythe. We fired live rounds with our 303 rifles then marched back to Dymchurch. The MO and his assistants were kept very busy dressing blisters on many feet. I had 2 blisters myself so I was lucky.

April 29, 1942
Left at 2115 and marched 12 miles to Mersham. Arrived back at 0145. We were all allowed to go to bed as we were all well blistered and all in. Parade was at 0945 for foot and rifle inspection. We went back to bed at 1130 hrs.

Reveille 2000. Breakfast then night laying on the guns. Then we had a lecture on Director work.

April 30, 1942
Captain Green gave a lecture on Gas Drill. At 2000 there was a full parade of all the Battery to say goodbye to our Battery Commander Major Jarvis as he was being promoted but transferred.

We were all sorry to lose him as he had always treated us all fairly.

I mounted guard as guard commander for the first time.

May 01, 1942
The night time schemes had now been completed so we were back to normal routines working in the daytime and sleeping at night.

This week had been called "a week of nights".

May 02, 1942
Went to the anti tank firing ranges at Rye but these had to be cancelled due to a very high tide.

May 03, 1942
Church Parade - Smeeth. Y

May 04, 1942
I mounted guard at 1600 hours for 2 hours as a replacement for L/Bdr Gallimore.

May 06, 1942
Film show at Hatch Park - "Raid by Commanders" and "Next of Kin".

1800 on 24 hour guard. Our guard duties came pretty often now as we were understaffed because so many gunners had been posted to units in the Middle East.

May 08, 1942
Reveille 0530. Left Mersham at 1030 via Smeeth, Ham St to Lydd. We were billeted in barracks overlooking the English Channel.

We fired guns in prepared gun pits facing the sea and France.

The billets were very good with 4 canteens, 1 picture house and 5 pubs. Quite a welcome change for us.

May 09, 1942
Firing live shells.
My address is: L/Bdr A Ward
"C" Troop 279 Battery
70th Field Regt. RA
New Romney (Lydd)
Kent.

Whilst in this area we saw the miniature railway which carried (full size) passengers over the Romney Marshes. It was run like a proper railway but the engines and coaches were only very small.

May 10, 1942
We were all put on stand by for possible embarkation leave.

Each day we fired live shells whilst our guns were laid on defensive lines in case the Germans invaded. We had several schemes when we slept out in the open in dull, damp and drizzly weather. There were no civilians in the area as everyone had been evacuated away from the coast.

May 16, 1942
Our Eva should have married Ken Evans but I had a letter saying that it had been
postponed to 6 June 1942.

May 17, 1942
I was on 24 hours in charge of the guard.

May 20, 1942
My worst day in the army so far. I was told that I had to leave 70th Field Regt. On the following day in charge of an embarkation party.

An embarkation party was several men who had to be prepared to go overseas at very short notice.

At night I went out for a drink with some of the lads whom I had been with for 2 ½ years. I said cheerio to GG Dawson who was going on leave.

May 21, 1942
After our last goodbyes we left by truck to New Romney station then via Ashford and London Bridge then tube to St. Pancras.

I did not make a note of who was in this party I was L/Bdr in charge. I think there were about 8 gunners who included, Bill Turner, Tom Pridmore, Beaumont, Reg Cox, Keeble, Wally Walton (later he was killed at El Alamein).

We left at 12 noon and arrived in Nottingham at 16:40 hrs. A truck was waiting for us which took us to Upnah Hall where I reported in with my party, then we were allocated billets in a private house at 1 Tennyson Street, Nottingham which was not far from the City Centre. At night I went to the Elite Cinema and saw "The Great Awakening".

May 22, 1942
Kit inspection and we had to hand in our second suit of battledress and one shirt.
My address is now:
L/Bdr A Ward 954330
4 Troop
"B" Battery
2nd Reserve Field Regt. RA
Nottingham

May 23, 1942
Issued with Tropical Kit. This was supposed to be secret and very hush hush but we marched through Nottingham Town Centre complete with topees (Pith Helmets) and dressed in Khaki drill shirts and shorts. Had an MO's inspection and I passed A1.

May 24, 1942
800 men on parade and we all marched to church. In the afternoon we had free time so we went into the park and listened to the Royal Artillery Band.

May 25, 1942
Another set back as I had to hand in my stripe. This was army practise of anyone who was transferred. They had to automatically lose an unpaid stripe.

PT for one hour then a lecture on Careless talk and Russia.

Route march which finished at 1500 hrs.

May 26, 1942
14 Days Embarkation Leave

We were paid at 1000 hrs and as pay was in alphabetical order I was near the end. As soon as paid we could go on leave so it was 1313 hrs before I caught the train and finally arrived home at 1500 hrs.

May 27, 1942
Went with my mother to Swallownest pictures and saw "Reaching for the Sun".

May 28, 1942
Went to see my granddad and grandma - she was very ill and this was the last time I saw her as she died soon afterwards.

The leave was spent with the usual routine of visiting friends and relations and the pictures or a dance most nights.

This was the longest leave I had had in the army.

June 03, 1942
Bus to Sheffield 23:40 hrs. Train at 01:35 hrs. via Leeds, Carlisle arrived 05:55 hrs. Bus to Ecclefechan Gretna Green to Lockerbie arrived 09:15 hrs. I went to Nessie Bell's home (she was still in Birmingham) she lived at 84 Park Place, Lockerbie.

I had breakfast then walked round the golf course with her dad and sister Betty.

June 05, 1942
Lockerbie station with Mr. Bell and Betty. Train left at 12:05 hrs, arriving Sheffield at 16:52 hrs. Telegram from Nessie "Coming Tomorrow".

The train fare to Lockerbie did not cost me anything as I had my train ticket from Nottingham made out to Lockerbie return enabling me to have a stop (both ways) in Sheffield.

June 06, 1942
Eva's Wedding Day.

AI came on leave.

Bus to Sheffield at 10:45 hrs. met Nessie and brought her home.
I was groomsman at the wedding at Aston Church, the reception was in the Junior School at the Worksop Road end of Lodge Lane (demolished about 19:70 hrs.).

We all enjoyed the wedding but it did not go on very long due to war time restrictions.

At night I went to a dance at Swallownest Church Hall with Nessie and Al White.
I cannot remember accommodation arrangements as we only lived in a small house at 114 Worksop Road, Swallownest with 3 small bedrooms. Our Eva lived at home at the time but she must have gone on honeymoon. Our Eric was away in the Navy so Nessie must have had our Eva's small 3rd bedroom and Al the back room.

June 07, 1942
Walk round Aston fishing ponds with Nessie, Dad and Al. Al went home at 17:15 hrs.

June 08, 1942
Took Nessie to Sheffield and she caught the train at 11:15 hrs. to Birmingham.
At night I went to Sheffield Hippodrome with our Eva and saw Will Hay in "Black Sheep of Whitehall".

June 09, 1942
Dad went with me to Sheffield Station and I caught 19:55 hrs. train to Nottingham.
I forgot to mention that one Sunday when I was at Nottingham I had a visit from mother, dad and Stella. We spent an enjoyable day, most of the time in the park. At Nottingham we had the usual parades and fatigues. One fatigue I had was in the cookhouse which was in a disused warehouse owned by Raleigh Cycles and I was in charge of a potato peeling machine. The machine peeled the spuds then we had to take the eyes out - a job which lasted all day as the cookhouse fed 800 squaddies.
We managed to visit various pubs at night time but we did not enjoy just 'marking time' until our time came to go overseas. I was able to have some training on the new purpose made 25 pounder guns as previously we only had 18/25 pounders which were World War I 18 pounders converted to take 25 pounder shells. When I saw mother, dad and Stella on the Sunday they visited me, little did we realise it would be 3 years and 2 months before I should see any of them again.

From now on a new life style started for me as we received orders on July 12, 1942, that we would be moving the next day to an unknown destination.

 

Chapter 10 - The Second Part of My War

July 13, 1942
Now starts the second part of my war story when a great number of men from the 70th Field Regt. RA were posted abroad to join several units for the great push in the desert.

We paraded with all our kit, early in the morning of July 13, 1942. We marched to the railway station and eventually boarded a troop train which left at 06:30 hrs.

We travelled via Rotherham (where at Beighton and Woodhouse Mill I was only 2 miles from home), to Carlisle, Kilmarnock, Glasgow to Gourock which is near Greenock on the River Clyde.

The train lines were right up to the docks so that we did not have far to march.

We could see that in the middle of the river were anchored several "ocean going liners".

We were herded like cattle onto a small ferry boat called a lighter, and were packed so close together that we could not even sit down.

We were issued with a card each which said the name of the ship mess deck we would be on and whether on first or second sitting at meal times. We moved away from land and one soldier standing beside me said, "I do not know how they expect us to travel all the way to the middle or far east stood like this". What a surprise he had when the lighter drew up to a very large liner and a door opened about half way up the ship which looked massive when we were at the side of it and the men started filing off. It was a funny feeling crossing the ladders (or should I say the gangplank) and the water was about a hundred feet below us. The movement of the two ships did not make us feel any better so we were glad when we finally arrived on board.

We found out that the ship was called the "Duchess of Athol" it had been a pre-war cruise liner which took very rich holiday makers to the far east.

We hadn't realised how big it was and it took us quite some time to find our way round. The ship was divided into mess decks and in each compartment there must have been 100 men. There we had to sleep and spend most of our time. It was organised that at the top were 2 rows of hammocks, below them were long tables, then under them the floor. We had a rota where we all had turns in sleeping in the different beds in rotation.

The usual rumours were very rife among the men and the favourite was that we were bound for the far east to fight the Japs.

Another was that 17 July was a Friday and troop ships never sail on a Friday.
Of course at 8 pm on Friday 17 July, much excitement all round and we realised that we were on the move. We were only allowed on deck at certain times and as all the portholes were blocked off we could not see anything if we were down below. We also found out that whenever a ship reached port, as many men as possible crowded the decks and open spaces but we had to go where we were told as there was always a danger that the ship could keel over if everyone moved to the land side of the ship.

We sailed down the Clyde and into the Irish Channel.

Next morning we found out that there were several dining rooms and two sittings for each meal. I was on the second sitting. For breakfast we had kippers, which tasted very nice, one slice of pure white bread and a mug of tea. We were told that the bread was made on board so it was fresh, but we never had enough of it.

On board ship we had to wear running pumps all the time and life belts that we called "Water Wings". The pumps were in case of shipwreck when heavy army boots would have been dangerous.

So many of us were allowed on deck when it became daylight and the sea was very choppy, which caused the ship to roll a lot. This caused many men to be seasick, in fact after a few hours, the mess decks and staircases between decks were covered in kippers which had been brought back up. What a horrible sight!!! I was not actually sick but I did feel very ill.

The conditions on board ship were appalling, due to overcrowding and because the portholes had to be always shut in case of surprise attack, and at night for the black out. During the voyage we crossed the Equator twice and the heat was nearly unbearable, and when asleep, the sweat used to run off the men into the hammocks onto the tables and then on the floor. Most unhygienic and very uncomfortable.

During the voyage, which we did not know was to last 8 weeks, there was a roster, which allowed everyone to sleep in turn on the open deck. This was great out in the fresh air but the rotation worked out at 3 times each, but if there were submarines in the area during the night everyone had to go below, so your turn was lost.

We heard later that we had been attacked 14 times during the voyage, but The Navy had kept the subs away from the troop ships.

The only gambling game (officially) allowed was tombola, which later came to be known as Bingo. Of course many card games were taking place with men posted to keep a lookout for MP's or officers on the prowl.


We had boat drills several times a week, which caused more hardship having, to stand in the tropical sun for some time every time the siren sounded.
After a time we became used to the motion of the ship although all the time aboard we had constant headaches. Another problem were the latrines. These were constructed of long rows of wooden containers with holes in them (similar to the old fashioned earth closets). No privacy at all as there must have been twenty or thirty in each row, about 3 feet apart. Underneath was a large container which was emptied during the night so that submarines or enemy aircraft could not see the trail left behind the ship.

Washing facilities were poor due to shortage of fresh water, which was severely rationed.

The washbasins had warm fresh water for about 2 hours each morning during which time we all had to wash and shave.

Showers of cold water were available most of the day, but although they freshened us up and washed away the sweat, we felt sticky afterwards as it was seawater.

Another problem some of the men had when they took off their shirts for sunbathing, some did it to excess and paid for it later by being burnt almost raw. They did not get any sympathy, as it was an offence to be ill in the army with sunburn.

Another thing we did not like in the hot climate was the number of beetles and insects which climbed up and down the supporting pillars of the decks in their thousands.

One enjoyable thing on board was watching the fish in daytime, we saw many dolphins and flying fish that seemed to travel parallel to the ship. Also at night the stars reflecting in the water and the waves left behind the ship was a grand sight. I think they called this "Fluorescent". Each day we travelled an average of 280-420 miles and the ship's crew ran a sweepstake on the number of miles travelled every 24 hours. This made quite a large amount for the ship's funds but I did not manage to win anything. On the journey we saw the AZORES but not much else as we had to travel nearly to the USA then back to avoid German U Boats and to confuse the enemy as to where we were going.

The meals were not too bad but we were usually hungry as we did not get enough, especially the white bread which was the treat of the day.

Eventually we pulled into the bay of Free Town, which is almost on the equator. We stayed in the bay for 5 days whilst we waited for a convoy of American cargo boats.

I cannot describe how uncomfortable it was for this time in Free Town. There was no movement of the ship, so we did not have a freshening breeze, the air was still and red hot, the metal of the ship was really hot and almost too hot to touch. I would say that this was about the worst 5 days of my life.

It brought all the insects, beetles etc to life and of course extra sweat from hot bodies.

We set off again but the cargo ships slowed us down to about 260 miles a day.

Each morning we had to count how many of the cargo ships were still with us. Several submarines were said to have been sunk by our escort.

Our escort consisted of 3 destroyers and HM Cruiser 'Orion'.

The troopships in the convoy were The Empress of Japan, whose name changed to Canada when the Japs entered the war, The Duchess of York, The Windsor Castle, The Oronsay and ours was the Duchess of Athol. There were all either 2 or 3 funnel ships. I think our ship was a 20 or 30 thousand ton ship and carried 4,000 troops.

August 13, 1942
A great day - Land was in sigh;t it was Cape town in South Africa. We docked about 18:30 hrs. We were paid 10 shillings each and allowed off the ship for a few hours, so we went straight to a YMCA canteen for a good feed, then to the Plaza Cinema and saw Marsha Hunt and Robert Montgomery in "Highway to Freedom".

Everything in the shops was cheap to us and stayed open late (23:00 hrs.) where we bought plenty of fruit and chocolates.

We were excited to see all the streets lit up, no blackout and the troop ships were a marvellous sight on the dock all lit up with the port holes open. Each one looked like a little town on its own.

We had to be back on board before 23:45 hrs.

Friday, August 14, 1942
Route march at 10:00 hrs. for 8 miles. We were allowed to go ashore at 13:15 hours. Straight to a canteen where the food was all free, called the Union Jack Club. We had a walk round the shops where everything seemed very cheap to us. We went to the Alhambra Cinema and saw "You are the One" – a very poor film. We were amazed at this cinema as the roof was open to the sky but it had a sliding roof to shut in case of inclement weather. The newsreels were American. Afterwards, we visited the "Good Cheer Club" where again everything was free.

Then to a dance at the Lord Mayors Garden (free again), this also had a canteen so we were doing very well for food.

They had a system in Cape Town where girls volunteered to entertain the British troops, so at the dance we were introduced to Thelma, Phyllis and Joyce. They looked after a crowd of us by dancing and seeing that we had enough food, and organised transport back to the docks, so we were back on board at 23:45 hrs.

Saturday, August 15, 1942
Route march for 5 miles, allowed on shore at 13:00 hrs. To the Lord Mayor Canteen; had two eggs, bacon, 2 sausages, bread butter, cake and tea cost 7d, very good.

Harry Stead and I met Thelma and Freda at 14:30 hrs. We caught a bus to Camps Bay, one of the local beauty spots. We went to a cafe for tea, then we had a walk on the sands and rocks and climbed through the Glen to Kloof Nek. We rested at the Round House Cafe, which is part way up Table Mountain, where there was a marvellous view.

We rode back to town on a trackless (trolley bus) after a great afternoon. Then we went on a bus to Thelma's house and had dinner. It was a very modern house. They took us back to town in a Chrysler car, to a dance at the City Hall. We left the girls at 23:30 hrs. and made a date for 14:30 hrs. on Sunday afternoon, when we were to visit Rhodes Memorial, and then for dinner at Thelma's house. They asked what we would like for Sunday dinner and we decided on Lamb, so they said her mother would organise a "leg of mutton". We boarded ship at 23:45 hrs.

Sunday, August 16, 1942
To our dismay, there was much activity on ship and the dockside at 10:30 hrs. The ropes were pulled aboard and we set sail. So there goes our Sunday dinner!!!

During the morning, we saw Cape Town and Table mountain fading into the distance.

We decided that this was the most modern and gayest town we had visited. There was no blackout; no rationing and the people were very hospitable.

One thing we did not understand was the colour bar. We had never heard of the words "Apartheid" in those days and the white and coloured people were kept well apart. The coloured people lived in District 6. Everything was marked either coloured or white - the bus stops, toilets, buses, shops all had their own side marked out clearly.

The white people would not mix with the coloured people, except to employ them as servants.

Off the Cape we ran into some very heavy seas and we were only averaging 280 miles a day.

Eventually we stopped at Aden for 24 hours. We had realised that by now we were heading for the Middle East and not the Far East.

At Aden we were in a very large bay and we were surprised at the large numbers of coloured people who came out in all kinds of boats some just to beg for food or money and some who were selling all kinds of clothing, trinkets, blankets etc. It was all taken in good humour as was the banter between them and the troops.

The convoy then split up and we sailed up the Red Sea at intervals, and finally pulled in at Port Tupheg.

 

Chapter 11 – A Practically Unknown Train Stop Called El Alamein

September 03, 1942
We had been on board for 48 days, most of them very uncomfortable, hot, and sticky with a constant headache, so we were pleased to get back on dry land.

We boarded a small ferry, which took us to the docks where a train was waiting for us.

More discomfort as the carriages were just like cattle trucks. We set off about 23:00 hours and travelled all night until 04:00 hours the next day.

September 04, 1942
We disembarked at El Almazah where we marched 3 miles to the Base Depot Royal Artillery Camp.

There I saw Vic Brownhill who came from Sheffield and was an ex member of 70th Field Regt. We stayed there for 3 hours, giving all details etc. then I was posted with all my mates to an RHA Regt.

We boarded a truck and travelled right through Cairo on the main Alexandria Road. We passed within about 1/4 mile from 3 Pyramids and then arrived at a camp at Khatatba.

There we had to report to our new Regt. and told that my address was:
Gnr A Ward 954330 RFHFY
c/o APO 1915.
But soon the address was changed to:
Gnr A Ward
'C' Troop
'A' Battery
11th (HAC) Regt. RHA MEF.

We had never heard of this Regt which we were told had a great tradition and HAC meant Honourable Artillery Company, and was said to be the oldest unit in the British Army. It had been a territorial unit before the war. It was a London Regt so most of the original members came from London, but they had lost a lot of men; killed, wounded or taken prisoner in earlier battles in the desert, so we were there to make up the numbers. RHA meant Royal Horse Artillery and most RHA units were in armoured divisions.

We learnt that we were in the 1st Armoured Division and our Battery ‘A’ supported the tanks of the Queen’s Bays, ‘B’ supported X Hussars and ‘E’ Battery the IX Lancers. We started off by having gun drill on 25 pounders and lectures on desert knowledge.

September 14, 1942
Rumours were rife that we were to have a new self propelled gun called a "Priest" and after a few days a batch of men were picked out to go to Helopolis, which was in the Cairo area, to an American base, to learn how to use the new equipment.

I was very disappointed not to be picked to go as a gun layer, but Sgt. Finch, who had travelled abroad with us, had taken a dislike to me at Nottingham (I regarded myself as a better gun layer than him) and he would not put me on the list.

In a report at the time Major K Boulton wrote for the History of 11th (HAC) RHA in World War II:

" In September 1942 the Regt. received approximately 350 reinforcements who had just arrived from the UK. They had had a most unpleasant voyage and journey through Egypt and looked very sorry for themselves. None had shorts to fit and all wore topees (pith helmets), which the Regt. had never worn since arriving in Egypt, and their white knees, white faces and bewildered appearance created an astonishing spectacle. The old hands made them welcome and after a cup of tea and a hot meal by lights out on the first day, they were all very impressed by the new Regt. Nineteen new officers also arrived to replace the killed, wounded and prisoners of war suffered in the last battles".

After a few days we were all the best of mates. We all knew that a big battle was imminent.

The new self propelled guns arrived. It turned out to be an American 105 mm Howitzer, mounted on a Grant tank chassis of which the top half had been cut off to give more room, and at the front was a circular turret where a 0.5" Bore Browning machine gun was fitted. This looked like a pulpit in a church so the whole thing was called a "Priest". The Regt received a full Quota of 24 Priests, but we learnt later that the Americans had sent 72 in all, but all the others had been on a ship, which was sunk on the way across.

It thus turned out that we were to be the first British troops to use a self-propelled gun in action.

The shells weighed 35 pounds each so it was hard work for the ammunition numbers who had to lug them about. The dial sights were in metric, so all gun layers had to learn how to lay the guns on line again. Also the infantry of the armoured division were now issued with the brand new Sherman tanks, that had a 75 mm gun, which was far superior to previous ones used in battles. I was given the job of Ack Ack gunner in the sub section so I was responsible for firing the Browning at enemy planes, also at enemy infantry if they came close enough.

September 20, 1942
The Regt was split up into two groups, one group were all tracked vehicles and the other all wheels (truck etc). A large number of tracked vehicles massed in one area and during the day when "Shufty' (Arabic for look and see) planes came over, we fired at them so that the enemy knew we were there (behind the Ruw-eisat Ridge). Then at night the engineers built dummy tanks over the top, made of timber and canvas and we all moved. We spent all night with brushes brushing out all the tracks, so for the next few days the enemy thought that we were still there, but we had moved to another sector. Then native troops were allowed to move about in daytime, making fires etc. also making it appear to the enemy that that we were still there.

OCTOBER
Another new method was tried at El Alamein, which was Montgomery's idea. All the top ranking officers were called together on the afternoon of 23 October 1942 and the whole plans were outlined to them, and they returned to their units and passed on all information required so that everyone from the lowest rank to the top, knew what everyone else was doing. Prior to this we only knew what was happening in our own immediate area. This new method proved highly successful, so it was used for all future battles.

The Army name for information was "Griff".

I forgot to mention that in the early days of October we had an intensive training period on the new guns, and I took well to the new metric dial sight. Also in each Priest was a No. 19 wireless set and the gunners were trained how to use this.

Open-air picture places were set up by an Arab called Shafto, and we attended as many as we could, although most of the films were very ancient.

I saw Chrys Harrison and Jack Potter who were in 2nd RHA (Ex 70th).

We then moved up further into the desert, near to the front line, which at this time was static. We called this op. the "Bluey", so called because of the cloudless blue skies in the desert.

We camped at a place called "Half Way House" possibly because there was only one house there with a well for water. There was only one road in this part of Africa and it ran parallel with the coast for many miles, approximately from Cairo to Tripoli which was to be the objective of the Eighth army.

Every day without fail, we had terrible sandstorms, which blew up about 16:00 hours and lasted for half an hour. During this time it was impossible to move so we had to just sit in our bivvies with the flaps tightly closed, and when it was all over, clamber out and move the sand, which had built up into large drifts against everything solid. It was just like being at home and having to move snowdrifts, but much worse than that, as the sand got into everything, clothes, hair, food, so we were glad when we moved from this area.

One day we had a very bad thunderstorm, which was much worse than anything we had ever experienced. Another frightening thing was electric storms, particularly at night when we had vivid lightening but no rain or thunder.

By now we were finding out that it was not advisable to be out in the sun without clothing, as some of the men straight out from England, had laid in the sun on the troopship, but had suffered for it with sun blisters for which they received no sympathy. As I was used to working out doors I was lucky and I became very brown by doing it gradually, and now just wore shorts when not on parade, although in the desert at night it could be very cold so we had to wear Khaki drill slacks, a shirt and pullover.

One day we loaded the Priests on to transporters, which were very big trucks with a low platform where tanks could be strapped on and then moved without using their own power.
We stopped at an area of desert with no name, just off the coast road, and were told that we were 15 miles from a stop of the railway line (which ran very near to the coast road) which had a practically unknown name called El Alamein, and it was there where the two armies were to face each other in static positions.

We were now in 2nd Armoured Brigade in the 1st Armoured Division. The Divisional sign on trucks and shoulder flashes was a white rhino on a black background.

EL ALAMEIN
October 23, 1942
FRIDAY
On the morning of 23 October 1942 we had to all parade and Lt. Symonds told us that the big push was to be made that night, so we would be in action early next morning. I did not shave that morning, as I thought I would leave it until the last minute before moving off so that I would not be so bad the next day, in case we were not able to shave in action. Lt. Symonds reprimanded me and said that we must shave every day, whether in action or not. Little did he know that it would be 5 days before any of us had a chance to shave!!!

Our sub section at the time was:
Sgt. J Rodbard,
Bdr. Bob Pace,
Gunners:
A Ward,
"Chalky" White
Bob Kearney
"Wally" Walton
Don Stewart
Driver Morton.

At 21:15 hours under a full moon and a cloudless sky we moved forward to our starting position.

Until the engines started up, there wasn't a sound to be heard. It was very eerie, and then we heard the drone of a German plane; it dropped one bomb which we heard later had landed near 2nd Armoured Brigade HQ, but had done no damage. I think it helped to put us all on full alert. Were the enemy waiting for us or would the attack be a surprise?

Then at 22:00 hours the flashes of 800 guns firing a barrage, which so far was the biggest ever, fired, lighting up the whole area. It was said that a million troops were involved in the attack.

At this time, I am afraid that, the same as many more men, I had an attack of the runs which meant a walk with a shovel, and more than once.

Note: A walk with a shovel meant walking away from the camp area and digging a hole for a toilet and them filling in the hole.

The noise was tremendous and the air was filled with smoke, the smell of cordite and the dust stirred up by hundreds of vehicles all going one way. This is westwards towards the enemy lines.

We had no time to think of our own problems, as we trundled forward to the minefields, which were waiting for us.

We knew that the 51st Highland Division with their Scottish Infantry men, complete with Bagpipes, were in front of us.

The plan was that 3 tracks had to be made through 2 minefields before daylight. Then the new Sherman tanks would pass the infantry with us following up in support.

The lanes through the minefields were marked with white tape, and military police were there to direct us through.

After a time, dishevelled and dirty German and Italian prisoners passed us going to the safety of the area behind us, then the wounded of all nationalities passed us with blood showing through their temporary bandages.

We were beginning to wonder what was in store for us and we hoped that we would get through it all OK.

I was manning the 0.5 Browning gun in case the enemy infantry got through to us, and I remember a wounded Scottish infantry man on his way back shouting to me, "Give them hell mate just for us". We did not know at the time that we had been given wrong information and that the Browning would not fire, because the ammunition had been loaded wrongly.

October 24, 1942
Disaster. Daylight came and we should have been clear of the minefields, but at 06:45 hours we were still in the second minefield and the infantry were 500 yards short of their objective, so the tanks could not break through. By now bullets were whizzing all round us, so we were thankful for the protection of the armour plating round our tank. 88 mm shells were landing all round and some of our lads were injured. The observation posts called for fire from our guns, so we had to take a big risk and move off the safety track into the minefield and go into action. Fortunately the mines could not have been so thick there and not one Priest or vehicle hit one.

We were all firing continuously all morning. The ammunition numbers had to work until nearly exhausted. The whole desert was covered in smoke just like fog, and it was a miracle how anyone could survive the inferno.

We were pleased to see formations of "Boston" twin engined bombers flying over and dropping their bombs a couple of miles in front of us. They came over 18 at a time at regular intervals, so we called them the "RAF Bus Service". The enemy must have been suffering but they were still sending plenty of shells and bullets our way.

At midday the Highlanders attacked again and were able to take their objectives.

It was found that 3 more minefields had to be negotiated, and the last 2, were not expected to be there. Quite a few vehicles and tanks were put out of action.

The first day in action we fired 200 rounds. Before dark we were mixed up in a tank battle and the battery had some men wounded.

Nighttime did not provide much relief as we had several visits from the Luftewaffe (German Air Force), but except for us losing sleep, not much damage was done.

October 25, 1942
We were busy firing all day and we were shelled and bombed by the enemy at frequent intervals.

German Stukas tried to dive bomb us several times. Those planes have a siren fitted, so when diving down, they made an awful shrieking sound, enough to frighten anyone to death. During the day one Stuka dived down about 100 yards from us and we saw a bomb drop and land straight onto a jeep. When the dust and smoke cleared there was only a heap of scrap metal left. We did not find out if there had been anyone on board.

October 26 & 27, 1942
Two very similar days but the 8th army was slowly gaining ground and the 1st Armoured Division had made a bulge in the enemy defences.

 

Chapter 12 – The Battle of El Alamein


October 29, 1942
Firing all day and after dark, we came out of action for a rest. We had not travelled very far when a roll of barbed wire became entangled in the tracks of our tank. We were on a track surrounded by mines so we could not wander very far. The remainder of the Regt. carried on so we were left behind on our own. We felt very vulnerable as flares were being dropped and Verey lights were used to light up the area. After 2 hours of frantically trying to remove the wire with a pair of pliers and a hammer, we managed to free it from the tracks.

By now the Regt. was far away and the tanks of the Queens Bays were passing, so we followed them to their leaguer (a leaguer is where most nights in the desert all the units had their own little party and usually in a circle, so that they could defend themselves if attacked. (This was similar to the days of the cowboys in the far west with the wagon trains).

We tried to sleep but Jerry planes dropped bombs very near to us so we moved back another 3 miles and had a peaceful remainder of the night.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Resting but had to carry out maintenance. We managed to get the Browning guns to work which we needed when being attacked quite a few times by the dreaded Stukas.

We were near El Alamein station also within walking distance of the sea so we were able to cool ourselves down in the sea.

Then bad news: the advance had faltered and the Battery Commander said the situation was desperate because we had lost a lot of men and tanks.

We learned that we had been fighting for Kidney Ridge and this is where the Germans had concentrated their largest numbers of tanks and here, Lt Turner who was of CO Rifle Brigade had won a VC.

We attacked at night in a similar way to the opening attack on the 23rd, but the shelling, machine gunning and bombing were so fierce, we thought we should not get through the day. It was decided that a rum ration would be issued. This only happened on very rare occasions when the fighting was really bitter.

Wally Walton had to fetch the ration for our substation; 1 tea spoonful each, it was very strong and thick like syrup. Wally thought it was all for him before he was stopped when he had nearly drunk it all. It certainly affected him and he had a real hangover.

This was issued at 02:15 hours in the morning and we were in action at dawn.

November 02, 1942
The battle field was really hectic, shells, bombs, air bursts, machine gun bullets, the constant smell of cordite from the gunpowder and in places smoke shells had been fired so it was just like a thick fog.

Then at 10:30 hours we had to engage 2 Mark IV special tanks which were the best that the Germans had in the desert.

We could just see the tops of them bedded down in the sand dunes. They were better equipped than us for firing at close range. Suddenly shells landed all round our gun and at the time, I was at the back of the priest helping to load up with fresh ammunition, when shells whistled over. We always said that the longer the whine the further away the shell would drop.

Then there was a whoosh and one fell a few yards away just to the side of our priest. I was blown to the side with the blast and when the smoke cleared, I saw 2 lads (whom I had just been talking to) laid on the floor. One was Chalky White (from Reading) whom I had known for a few months. I turned him over and he had a hole in his head, about 4" in diameter. It was obvious that he was dead. I turned to Wally Walton (Barnsley) and he was practically the same, a hole in his head and very little blood, I can see to this day his face was ashen white and the sand which was caked to his face was just falling off him, just like water running off a boulder. I had known Wally nearly 3 years as he had come with me from 70th Field Regt. The situation was utter chaos!!!

We received orders to pull back and our No.1 Sgt. Rodbard shouted over the din for Driver Morton to reverse. The priest would have run over the two lads but I just managed to signal for them to stop. Sgt. Major Whitby came across and told me to get back on board and I just had time to grab Wally's wallet from his pocket before I boarded the Priest and we retreated for 250 yards. It was very much against the grain but we had to leave the lads there, as we could do nothing for them.

The system in battle is that men had to be left where they lay when killed, then the Pioneer Corps came along and buried them where they lay, then later when the battle was over they would be recovered and buried in a military cemetery.

2nd November 1942 is a day I shall never forget, coming so close to death myself and seeing 2 good men lose their lives, which all seemed so unnecessary - What good were we all gaining out of it all?!!!

Lt. Symonds was injured with splinters from the same shell and had to go to hospital.

The photograph above is of a sketch showing how I survived.

I think the German tanks would have been about 400 yards away from us. We took up another position and were firing indirect fire (means we could not see the target but our forward Observation Officer would be able to see them) at 88 mm guns which were the pride of the German army.

The battle carried on. We were firing most of the day and trying to get some sleep at night. Under the circumstances we would have been unable to sleep but we were so tired we were practically unconscious when we laid down.

At this time we heard that the 1st army had landed on the Western end of North Africa, so we hoped it would take some of the pressure off us and the CO said it was to be a race to see who reached Tripoli first.

One night we were in Leaguer and we usually dug slit trenches in the sand to sleep in. These gave us protection from shells and bombs at a distance, but the Germans fired a lot of air bursts from their guns which were shells that were timed to explode about 20 feet above the ground, so if overhead, any shrapnel would fall into slit trenches. Also their planes dropped what we called "Cracker Jack" bombs - these were large containers which opened up before they reached the ground and scattered hundreds of smaller bombs sometimes called Butterfly bombs, and they did the same thing falling into the slit trenches.

To counteract this we dug trenches then drove the priest over the top of them to give us protection from above.

In one area at El Alamein we did this but there was only shallow sand and underneath was hard rock, so we could only dig down about 1 foot before the priests were driven over. One night we were machine gunned and bullets were flying over about 2 feet above the ground. I had my great coat on due to the cold weather, and a bullet must have been lower than the rest and it passed through the broad lapel without touching me.

Whilst I was laid in a shallow slit trench we had Gnr Gow and a gun fitter in our subsection to make up the ammunition numbers but on the second day with us they were both hit by splinters from shrapnel. They looked a sight as they were covered in blood, although their wounds were not serious. Sgt "Tiffy" Smith gave them both ether and they were sent away in a blood wagon (slang for ambulance). We all carried supplies of ether to give for pain. The heavy shelling from enemy 88 mm guns blew off the dial sight on our gun so we were out of action.

I add here part of the description of one day in action at the Battle of El Alamein as told by Ernie Knell in his article "A True Personal Story of the Battle of El Alamein Written at the Time of it Happening".

Note that the priest described in this action, the No.1 is Sgt John Rodbard and I was No.2 on this gun.

John Rodbard died about 1991.

My good mate Sgt "Tiffy" Smith was killed in action later on in Italy. "Tiffy" is short for Articifer and he was a type of mechanic who was responsible for all the guns in the battery being in working order.

This copy of Sgt Ernie Knell's description of El Alamein was typed by a member of Sheffield's Forum of People with Disabilities for A Ward from a HAC Old Comrades ASSN Newsletter.

The Battle of Alamein
November 02, 1942
At last dawn comes and we go into action where we were. Our Infantry is just 200 yards in front, the range being only 2,400 yards. No sooner does it get light than bullets fly all over the place - they seem like rifle shots - God, they are close on each side.

Our infantry keeps up a steady machine gunning, then a breeder opens up on us. I can see Mr Onslow on his way over to me. A breeder bullet explodes right in front of his eyes - God, it's got him! I jump out but only get a couple of yards when I see him get up and go back to 'G' truck.

The question of a brew comes up again - Clive wants to do it but I don't think it's safe - he lets me have a few words back then, to the amusement of the Crew. I take a look round with the glasses. There are three tanks on our right, about 200 yards away but I can't make up my mind whether they are ours or not - they look like M.4. Jerries to me. Walter also takes a look, goes over to ‘G’ truck and then over to Johnny's gun. Good, they are going to take them on open sights.

I watch the first few shots - they begin to move - good! Just then fire orders come through on the wireless - I have to see to my own job though I wish I could have a go at them too. I no sooner get off my series than H.E. begins to fall around us heavily. Johnny is still having a go at those MA's. When the smoke clears, I see two prone figures next to his gun. I send over Clive quickly with the first aid box, as his crew are busy and Walter is loading for them. Clive returns too quick - God, they are done for, Walton and White, a couple of pals of Parker.

The Crew is very quiet and I say "One of you had better go over to ‘D’ Crew. Parker looks at me, I know he doesn't like it so suggest Gow - I say: "Well, ginger did go last time". He gets down and goes over with no comment. Jerry seems to have us well taped. I wish we could move, I don't like these unnecessary risks, it's what we have tracks for, so as to get out easily.

He starts again very heavily and we get orders to retire - thank God. Ossy is in too much of a hurry to go, can easily crash into someone in this blue smoke. I take it easy, get round and forward, find other guns well on their way, and go into action again, some 1,000 yards back. God, Jerry's OP must be watching us as no sooner are we in than down it comes again, and seems even heavier. When it stops I hear Walter shouting for me - Gunner Gow, my chap, had got it - on Johnny's gun again - he is in luck today. I feel sort of responsible for sending him, so go over myself with the first aid kit - a piece of shrapnel has gone through his tin hat - the hat no doubt saved his life - he had a bad scalp wound. Tiffy Smith comes up to help. We get dressings on when more orders come through, so double back to my gun. As I get back aboard more shells fall around ‘D’ Crew. I think of Tiffy and intend to go back, but see Walter making his way there so I take charge of my gun - All are OK here. None hurt. They get Gow away in the ambulance.

We get orders to retire again, this position is as bad as the first, and on the way back we watch Jerry shelling the place where we were. We have a laugh, but too soon, as the Stukas are on to us. We go flat, we did not see them as we were watching the shelling and did not get a round off the A/A - still it only lasted half a minute and they were gone and no damage done. So yet again we go into action, this time behind a nice little crest - let's see if they can spot us now. Its a nice situation to settle down to a spot of firing. The range is 5,000 yards on account of our move back, but who cares? The shells fall, there just the same - it's also good to watch him shell like hell where we were. Every time we fire Clive says, "What about that brew?" and this time I let him. We are thankful for it as we have had a bad day so far. Still we are settled now. The rest of the day goes quietly except for a stray shell that fell near my gun; Parker was on the floor; we heard him yell, then his body flies over the side, saying "I've been hit, I've been hit". We quieten him down - can't find anything wrong with him except a bruise at the back of his ear. I said "Christ, I though you had your head off Ginger". We all laugh. He does not at first, but joins in, saying "I thought I had had it then". I give him a job doing No.2.

I am not sorry when the day comes to an end and I go over to ‘G’ truck for news. We are doing very well in spite of the bad day our troop had. I get a 'wet' from Walter - it tastes good. We dig a Crew sleeping hole and so to bed.

End of excerpt from E Knell's account of the Battle of El Alamein.

November 03, 1942
During the night I was on guard but we had to spend most of the time in slit trenches due to machine gunning.

Most of the night a terrific barrage was carried out by 25 pounder and 4.5 guns, the shells were whistling over our heads and landing with a heavy crunch about a mile in front of our position.

November 04, 1942
We advanced 2 miles and fired 250 rounds during the day. We formed a close leaguer at night and were bombed but no damage caused.

Tom Pridmore (from Oughtibridge ex 70th Field Regt.) came into our subsection.

We fired at 10,000 yards (our maximum). We advanced to a "Wog" (army slang for Arab) village called El Daba where we saw an air field which had many bomb craters and dozens of German and Italian planes smashed up on the runways. Our division captured a whole division of Italian troops, very dishevelled, dirty and miserable, they all looked. The Germans had retreated and left the 'Ities' without transport ("Ities" is slang for Italians).

We advanced by stages passing abandoned enemy airfields, tanks, guns and trucks. We saw many harrowing sights where enemy troops were blown to bits and the most upsetting was where they had been burnt to death. This happened a lot when tanks were hit and the men tried to get out with their clothing on fire, and they had died from their burns as they tried to escape.

The smell was terrible and if only the men who started wars were in the front line like this, I am sure that they would think twice about being involved. Of course we saw men from our own side who had been killed by the enemy before they fled. During this advance we had our photographs taken by newsreel men.

November 05, 1942
The chase was now was becoming a rout.

 

Chapter 13 – ‘Hygiene in the Field’


November 06, 1942
We stopped 15 miles from Mersa Matruh as all the brigade was short of petrol and ammunition.

Then it started to rain. We could not understand this in the desert but it churned up all the tracks so that movement was impossible only on the asphalt coast road. This meant that we could not get our supplies as the coast road was jammed with traffic which was a pity as our forward observation officers could see hundreds of enemy guns which were in range but retreating fast. Most of them got away!!!

We stayed for 4 days then our Priest which had been damaged had to be taken on a tank transporter to Mersa Matruh to the Depot. We went with it and were issued with a new one, then all the Regt loaded up on to transporters (1st Transport Coy) so on November 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 we continued the chase through Sollum, Halfayia, this was a very steep escarpment with 'S' bends which we were travelling down hill. We could see for miles across the level desert at the bottom and had a hair raising ride down the pass as we were perched high up on the transporters. There were many trucks burnt out at the side of the roads from both sides as they had been machine gunned by planes when negotiating the many bends in the road. Also a burnt out Messersmitt fighter had crashed near the road. It was named by troops as "Hell Fire Pass". Then on the coast road again past Sidi Barrani, Fort Cappuzzo, Bardia, El Addem and Gambut. All these were 'Wog' villages where the Italians had built forts when they took over this part of North Africa. We by-passed Tobruck by going down the Axis road and finally stopped South east of Derna which was a town on the coast and from the road high up overlooking it we could see the flames as the Germans had set, fire to the large buildings before they fled.

November 19, 1942
We stopped at Tmimi on 19 November. We dug slip trenches and erected our biwies as we were told we were to have 14 days rest and intensive training and a “fittening up period" which had been ordered by Montgomery ready to make a final push to El Ageila and then the 8th army objective Tripoli.

We levelled out a hard area of sand and marked out a football pitch. I played in goal for ‘A’ Battery.

Results ‘A’ Bty 2 v ‘B’ Bty 0

No. 1 team 0 v No. 2 team 2 (inter Battery)

We received some mail which was the first for a long time and I had an airgraph from mother and dad which said that they had moved from 114 Worksop Road to 135 Worksop Road which was a larger house.

I wrote a letter to Wally Walton's mother at Tune Street, Barnsley telling her how her son had died. I corresponded with her several times afterwards although I never went to see her, this I have always regretted.

December 12, 1942
This day completed for me 3 years service in the army so I received 3d (approximately one pence) a day extra pay.
I played football ‘A’ Bty 2 v ‘I’ Bty 2nd RHA 1. At the match I saw Chris Harrison who was in this Regt. (ex 70th ).

We were then told that plans had changed and we were staying at Tmimi for 6 weeks. The actual spot was RAS Chechiban which was 12 miles from Tmimi. Tmimi was one house on the coast road with an air field and a well for water (very few in the desert).

December 14, 1942
I gained back my first stripe as I was promoted to A/L/Bdr (Acting Lance Bombardier).

Many football matches were arranged:
‘A’ Bty 1 v RHQ 0
‘A’ Bty 4 v ‘B’ Bty,
‘A’ Bty 2 v ‘E’ Bty 0
‘A’ Bty 2 v ‘B’ Bty 0
‘A’ Bty 4 v Queens Bays 0.

December 25, 1942
On Xmas day we went to RHQ and had a big church parade. Then I took part in a football match at RHQ ground which was a very good game and result:

‘A’ Bty 2 v RHQ 1

This was the final of the Tmimi Cup and the CO Lt/ Col Goodbody presented the cup to our Captain Gnr Adams.

We had a snapshot taken of all the team.

The Regt. Engineers had made this cup out of shiny metal so we were the first winners of it.

The cup was inscribed 'A' Bty 11th (HAC) Regt. RHA Western Desert Cup Winners Xmas 1942.

In triumph we went back to the battery and had Xmas dinner. All the usual good food, turkey, vegetables, pork, Xmas pudding, rum and coffee and 2 bottles of beer per man. As was the army custom the Sergeants acted as waiters.

At night the football team were entertained in the Sergeant's Mess and we had a good time drinking out of the cup mixed drinks of rum, whisky, beer, gin, cherry cider - Most of the lads passed out, I was very merry but managed to climb into bed before I had had too much to drink.

I forgot to mention that on Xmas Eve, ‘C’ Troop had a sing song and we had 2 bottles of beer each.

December 25, 1942
Boxing Day, it rained all day and the bivvies were flooded. It must have been a bad day as a rum ration was issued.

We heard the good news that the 8th army forward troops had moved passed El Agelia. This meant a lot as this was the farthest that the 8th army had been in previous advances. Also the first army were progressing well.

We were now on another training programme and for 6 weeks 1 was on a wireless course on a No.19 set under Bdr (Bobby) Boulton.

1943
January 06, 1943
I went on leave to the 8th Army Rest Camp at Derna. We travelled 60 miles across desert tracks in a truck.

We were billeted in white washed bungalows right on the sea front. These had been built for Italian civilians to have a holiday before the war. This was a real treat for us to live in a proper building. The first night we had supper in the NAAFI canteen and saw "The Nomads Concert Party" which was very good.

January 07, 1943
Visited a Wog market and I bought a fountain pen for 20 pts. Blue Gillette (German made) razor blades 10 pts.

Had a haircut (5 pts), bought some eggs at 2pts each, Brown loves (1 pt each).

In the NAAFI Canteen I bought several tins of fruit, 2 eggs and 2 sausages which we ate back in the holiday villa.

From the villa we had an excellent view of the dangerous winding pass which overlooked the town linking it to the desert.

Various shows we saw during the week were "Boom Town" at the Regal Cinema, Abbott & Costello in "Ride 'em Cowboy" and "The Rascals" Concert Party in the NAAFI canteen.

Another visit to the market and I bought some presents to send home, a table centre (45 pts), 1 cushion cover (35 pts), 2 silk scarves (20 pts each), 5 handkerchiefs (2pts each), 1 leather wallet (25 pts), 2 combs (5 pts), 1 pipe (20 pts) and 2 pen nibs (2 pts each). Pts was short for Piastres which was the money used in Lybia, I cannot remember how much it would be worth in English money.

January 12, 1943
I played football for our leave party against Derna Royal Engineers but we lost 3-1 (this team had been called Sunderland when in the Cairo league) and included some well known players.

January 13, 1943
The well enjoyed leave was over and we travelled back to camp to more discomfort and we did not know what to expect. I then had a bad head cold!!!

We learnt that ‘C’ Troop now been changed to ‘A’ Troop.

Football: ‘A’ Troop 3 v ‘B’ Troop 0

Scored 1 goal playing at centre half.

‘A’ Bty 1 v ‘F’ Bty 4th RHA 0.

I played for the Regiment

11th (HAC) RHA 8 v 310 Bty (76 A/T) 3

January 19, 1943
I started on a Nos. 1 (Sergeants) and NCO's course at RHQ under the CO and Major Richmond (2nd in Command).

Wireless News. Heard that Tripoli had been captured by 8th Army.

February 08, 1943
The course lasted until 08 February 1943 when we all had to give a lecturette to the Colonel and quite a few of the senior officers of the Regt.

My subject was ‘Hygiene in the Field’ Which I passed Grade ‘A’ which meant I was the top of the class so I beat 4 Sgts.

February 09, 1943
I think this course helped my army career because on 9 February 1943 I was promoted to A/Bdr so that meant I had a second stripe. I will mention here some of the ‘hazards of the desert’. I learnt much about the hygiene during the course. The main trouble were the flies. They were everywhere even when eating or drinking, when we opened our mouth we had to be careful that no flies slipped in. We could not keep food covered all the time so sometimes we could not see if for flies. Most of us suffered from Desert sores - just a small knock or cut in our skin would form a scab which the flies enjoyed. I had sores on both arms and the MO covered them with a purple liquid and as it was almost impossible to keep bandages on and sometimes they were covered with flies whilst not being good for us as they made us itch nearly to distraction.

It was a well known fact that flies empty their stomachs before eating so any disease they carried could easily be transferred to someone else. Very few of us had sunglasses so we were inclined to squint a lot especially as practically at all times we had to be on the lookout for enemy planes.

The dust was a problem as when any vehicle moved it left a stream of dust just like a smoke screen behind it so it paid if possible to be the first in the convoy. The trouble was the first vehicle was first to hit any mines if they were not expected.

Also the dust storms which came up at times and then everything had to stop.
There were quite a few lizards and chameleons about although they were harmless it was a shock to find one in our kit, clothing or blankets.

Then there were black evil looking scorpions with a terrible sting. The favourite trick of anyone who saw one was to put a ring of petrol round it, light it and the scorpion in panic would sting itself to death as it would not cross the flames.

During the daytime usually under the cloudless blue sky it would be extremely hot but after dark in the winter part of the year it would be bitterly cold, although during the hot part of the year the nights would be balmy and warm.

I suppose the desert was an ideal place for fighting as there were very few civilians or buildings involved. If any side had a vantage point like a ridge or the top of a pass or escarpment one could see for miles over the flat country. Also planes were useful for spotting. The other trouble for everyone was that there was no cover at all so the only protection was slit trench if the sand was not too soft or the rocks underneath were not too near the surface for digging.

We also at times had a very hot wind called the ‘Khamsene’ which was very sticky, made us sweat and was very uncomfortable.

Water was very scarce it had to be brought up in water wagons it was always warm and never tasted very good.

Sometimes little red 'weevils' were swimming about in the water but we just had to grin and bear it.

Usually our ration was one gallon each per day which had to make do for drinking, making tea, washing, shaving and baths (in a bucket) when possible.

One great pleasure if near the blue Mediterranean was a dip in the sea, although this was hazardous if the Luttewaffe gleefully saw the men in the water (usually in the nude) and opened up with machine guns which caused a rush to shore.

Our food was not helped with the heat as the most common food was bully beef and when we opened a tin it sometimes ran out nearly like water as we were not able to keep it cool. We sometimes had tinned fruit which was smashing but at times the juice had dried up and it was not unknown for tins to arrive and we found holes in the tin where someone in the delivery line had made a hole and then drank the juice which meant that the fruit had gone bad.

Biscuits were usually very hard, its a good job that we had our own teeth.

We sometimes managed to obtain fresh eggs from some of the wogs who travelled round in the desert. They were keen to swap eggs for tea and it was not unknown for soldiers to use tea then dry it out, put it back in the packets and let the wogs have it. This sometimes worked the other way when bad eggs were given in return. The wogs also had their version of brown bread which we purchased at times. If we came across a village they would stand outside huts shouting "eggs and bread" (but it sounded tike eggs a bread).

 

 

Chapter 14 – ‘Montgomery’s Left Hook’

In our issue of rations we did sometimes have a change. For instance, I have noted in my diary for 1 week (although we were not in action at the time).

Example: ‘D’ Sub 4 days rations issued (7 men)

Sunday 2 tins sausages, 3 tins fruit.

Monday 1 Soya links, eggs, 1 tomatoes, 1 milk, bread, 3 fruit, porridge.

Tuesday 1 Soya links, eggs, 1 cheese, pilchards, 1 milk, 5 M&V (stew), jam.

Wednesday 1 margarine, 1 Soya links, 1 tomatoes, 1 cheese, 7 packet dates, 6 M&V, rice pudding.

Thursday 1 margarine, 1 Soya links, 1 tomatoes, 2 bully beef, fritters, rice pudding, 6 M&V, 1 kidney beans, 4 fruit.

Friday 1 Soya links, 2 Heinz beans, 1 cheese, 1 pilchard, 6 M&V, 4 fruit, sweet biscuits.

This was a time when supplies were able to get to us, but other times we had to rely on bully beef and hard biscuits.

Intersection football and sports league for Battery shield:

Left Section 1 v BHQ 1.
LS 3 v RS 0.
LS 2 v LSB 0.
RTS (‘A’) 2 v LS (‘A’) 1

I ran in the Battery cross county run and came in 4th (which was first man in ‘A’ Troop).

We were training for all sports and I ran 880 yards in 3 minutes. 100 yards in 13 seconds.

February 19, 1943
I sent a parcel home.

I played for the Regt. 11th RHA 1 v KRRC 2. (Kings Royal Rifle Corps)

This is Nessie's brother Bill Bell's company but I did not see him.

February 20, 1943
Packed up ready to leave at 08:00 hours. We loaded on to transporters and travelled west on the coast road.

We passed El Rzegh, Bale Martino, and down on to the axis road. We stopped at 17:30 hours for the night after travelling 98 miles.

February 22, 1943
Left at 07:30 hours via Barce and then went down a very steep escarpment which had a bridge blown in the middle of the pass. This was very scary sat high up in the priest. These RASC drivers certainly know how to handle these massive trucks. Through the middle of the town of Barce and onto Barraca Driana and then another hair raising pass was waiting for us. 2 ME (German) fighters had crashed on this very steep hill.

We stopped for the night near Tocra, 105 miles.

February 23, 1943
Another early start and soon we were passing the docks at Benghazi.

This was the largest town so far seen since Cairo. The harbour showed much evidence of bombing, by both sides, and the railway station was flattened.

We saw some English nurses, the first English girls we had seen for a long time.

Then we passed a massive RAF and a USAF airfield.

We were held up just outside the town, about 5 miles, because of a convoy in front was in our way on the only road.

This was at 12:45 hours so, we spent the rest of the day on maintenance.

The local 'wogs' visited us so we were able to buy some eggs and bread.

February 24, 1943
We had a parade at 09:00 hours and Captain Drage gave us the news about how the war was progressing. More maintenance.

At 13:00 hours we were suddenly given the all clear to move off again.

We passed a Wog town called Ghemines where we saw the locals taking part in a football match and playing in bare feet!! with a full size leather ball!!!

We passed the local bazaar and a mosque. We passed through Magrum and stopped at 17:30 hours after travelling 40 miles.

The area for the last few days had been like a large oasis with palm trees and much more greenery than the usual scrub in the desert.

February 25, 1943
Left at 08:00 hours via Agedabia another very large village and then we were in the open desert again with the usual soft sand just off the main road.

February 26, 1943
We leaguered at 16:50 hours after another 50 miles.

February 27, 1943
Left at 09:00 hours to Mersa Brega and then El Ageila. The original members were pleased to reach here again because this is the place they reached on their last "swan" up the desert where they had to turn round and the Germans chased them for 1,000 miles back to El Alamein, killing and capturing a great number of men in the Regiment.

The sand here was very soft so we had to keep on the road, also many mines were scattered about.

We passed Beirut where several tugs were sunk in the harbour.

We stayed the night near Misurata where we bartered with the wogs - their eggs for our hard biscuits or English Military money.

February 28, 1943
Monday. We passed a large RAF air field which had some very big troop transport planes on the ground.

Also built over the road (which was the only thing besides desert sand) was the Marble Arch. This was an arch built over the road (similar to Marble Arch in London) and was built by the Italian occupiers to mark the border between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. It just looked like a folly stuck there and could be seen for miles over the flat desert. A bit of a let down for a boundary as there was nothing else in the desert, not even a fence.

We travelled on and there was a bit more civilisation now at Zliten Horns and Glagen and just outside Tripoli we stopped for a "brew up".

We carried on for a while but at dusk we had to stop for an air raid. There was high level bombing and visits from dreaded Stukas nearby.

We heard that 2 men had been killed about 14 miles from us.

The raid lasted for 25 minutes. There was a good barrage of Ack Ack fire from nearby Tripoli and the air was filled with tracer bullets and Verey lights.

We carried on a short time and stopped at Azizia which we found out was 15 miles south of Tripoli.

March 04, 1943
Wednesday. More maintenance and 30 men were allowed a few hours leave in Tripoli.

March 05, 1943
We were able to visit a windmill where we were able to have a bath (bliss!!) and
wash our clothes. Another small air raid at dusk.

March 06, 1943
Maintenance and able to play a bit of football.

March 08, 1943
Pay Parade at 11:30 hours and I drew £4 in British Military money. This was a change for us as previously we had been struggling with Italian Lire and Egyptian Piastres so the authorities had finally issued us with money (all notes) which we understood.

13:00 hours truck to Tripoli. We had a walk round the docks and harbour which had had a real pounding, saw the Spanish Moles, The Fox and Galleon Pillars - these had been built as "show off' pieces by the Italians. There were some really impressive buildings so some of the 'Ities' must have been very rich. We had a walk in the Wog district (although out of bounds to troops) these were just the opposite and real hovels. We had a walk round bazaars owned by Italians but things were much too dear for us.

I bumped into Ted Dolan (ex 70th ).

There were many ships sunk in the harbour, once again belonging to both sides.

We visited the Union Club where coffee and milk was 3d (approximately one pence) a mug. It also had a cinema but we did not have much time. The truck took us back at 17:15 hours. At dusk the town was evacuated and the civilians left town to be away from the nightly air raids.

March 09, 1943
Moved on (still on transporters) only about 15 miles to an Italian school area which was in the grounds of a farm.

March 10, 1943
Moved at 10:30 hours to a parking area where there was a mobile canteen but we left again at 03:00 hours and travelled through the night through the outskirts of Tripoli to Zvara where we were able to hear the latest war news on the wireless set.

Near this point we passed over the border into Tunisia.

At 05:30 hours the trailer part of our transporter had a puncture and before the driver could stop it burst into flames and left a trail of black smoke behind us. We were concerned about the priest above the burning tyre as the tank was full of High Octane Petrol, which is easily ignited and burns more fiercely than ordinary petrol.

However we managed to put out the fire with sand and fire extinguishers and after the wheel was changed we were able to carry on.

At 06:45 hours we stopped for a quick "brew up" then later we managed to catch up with the convoy.

This episode reminds me that in the desert where water was scarce we washed our Khaki drill clothing by dropping them in a tin containing High Octane Petrol, this cleaned off all the stains (mostly caused by sweat) but after a time it rotted the clothing possibly because they dried out fully in a few minutes. Not to be recommended!!!

March 11, 1943
We realised that by now we were getting very near to the front line so after a time out of action our worries were starting again.

We stopped in an area where we were told we were 8 Km east of Medinine and that the enemy were well dug in the Mareth Line which was a large range of hills.

Our forward OP was in a range of hills called Edinburgh Castle where they were able to observe enemy movements.

We now changed our money from the British Military Pounds to the French Francs £1 = 200 francs.

March 12, 1943
We moved 5 miles further south.

March 13, 1943
A member of our subsection 'Ginger' Harding, who was our driver was charged with insubordination and he received a reprimand from Captain Drage (I think he answered back cheekily when given an order by an officer).

We moved at 13:30 hours about 8 miles into a 'wadi' where the echelons and the rest of the Regt. had just arrived.

Driver Harding left our subsection and Dvr Morton came back after his spell in hospital.

We stayed in this position and a mobile canteen came up and brought some very welcome mail. I received a letter from AI White (70th ) in the first army which I found out was not very far away from us.

March 15, 1943
Sunday at 12:30 hours we moved 2 miles and our guns were put into action defensive positions overlooking the Mareth Line.

We laid the guns on SOS lines in case of any enemy counter attack.

It was thought that in this sector we were facing Italian troops which was not so bad. It was organised that every night every man had to be on guard duty where we had to watch out for a signal which would come from a verey light and would be white, green, white. We never saw one and we never found out what it would have meant. Army organisation!!!

Jerry planes dropped flares every night but there was very little bombing.

March 16, 1943
Usual maintenance and guard duties. A large "party" was arranged. The 2nd Armoured Brigade (which included us) penetrated 8 miles into the enemy lines and shelled a strong point. Our tanks attacked and tried to draw enemy armour out into the open. They would not be drawn but sent over a few shells which were a nuisance but did very little damage.

We withdrew without loss but our forward troops realised to our dismay that the Italian troops had been replaced by a ‘crack’ German Division.

March 19, 1943
The usual maintenance whilst we waited for orders for our next move. Flares and bombs were dropped near us at night. We were well dug in in split trenches.

March 20, 1943
25 pounders and 4.5 guns were sending barrages over our heads during the night. We had to stand to at 05:30 hours every morning in case of counter attack.

The enemy were using the dreaded 'crackerjack’ bombs to scatter over a large area then explode in the air so slit trenches did not give much protection. We also called these 'Butterfly Bombs’.

March 21, 1943
We were given a lecture by the CO giving us details of the next big attack on the Mareth Line.

We were in 30 Corps and they were to attack and the 1st Armoured Division would hopefully break through and chase Jerry via Gabes, Sfax to Tunis. 2nd Armoured Brigade were to be in the lead (that's us) followed by 7th Armoured Div.

Don Sub now is:
Sgt. Rodbard
L/Sgt. Pace
Bdr Ward
L/BDr Kelly
Gunners:
Pridmore
Stewart
Driver Morton.

At 21:15 hours a big barrage started and we were strafed by fighter bombers.

Flares were dropped which lit up the whole area and we felt very vulnerable from the enemy fighters.

The attack was said to be the best planned and most methodical in the war so far, planned by General Montgomery.

March 22, 1943
We moved to a defensive position in front of the position known as Edinburgh Castle near Mimateur. More anti personnel bombs were dropped on us but no injuries.

March 23, 1943
We heard Churchill's speech on No. 19 wireless set that the war in Africa was going well. We were pleased to see the RAF setting up an airfield about 2 miles away - this meant that we would have air protection from the Stukas.

March 24, 1943
We all had to do 3 hours guard duty each night. More flares and we were machine gunned by ME 110's. Some shrapnel fell in our priest but fortunately we were all in a slit trench.

March 25, 1943
Amazingly we all had orders to scrub our webbing (i.e. straps which held our haversacks, water bottles etc in place). Then prepare to the move.

L/Sgt. Pace was taken ill and the MO sent him to hospital with a fever. I had to take over as gun layer.

We moved at 16:30 hours very slowly so as not to disturb the dust (almost impossible) as we were under observation from enemy OP in the hills.

We loaded onto transporters at Medinine then travelled back to Ben Garden and travelled all night and off loaded from the transporters at 07:30 hours after a journey of 110 miles.

We were now back in a desert area a change after all the shrubbery, trees and grass of the last few days.

We were following a track made by the New Zealanders and this attack was to be known as the famous ‘Montgomery Left Hook’ round the Mareth Line.

During the day a very hot Khamsene wind sprang up - this was very uncomfortable, we were all sticky with sweat, covered in dust and parched as we had very little water.

At 12:30 hours we were able to stop for a few minutes and have a brew up.

As previously in the desert we carried a square petrol tin which was cut in half, sand put in the bottom and petrol added, we lit it and a very well worn black kettle put on the top, then mashed a welcome mug of tea.

We moved off in a diamond formation I was driving the priest, we all had to take turns due to long journey and the hazardous conditions it was very tiring.

We leaguered at 07:30 hours after travelling 300 miles - most uncomfortable. We were just behind the New Zealand front line.

We had L/Bdr Chandler join the sub as replacement for Bob Pace.

March 26, 1943
Sunday. Reveille at 05:30 hours and we were in action during the day.

We were strafed by ME's and Focke Wolf planes and small bombs were dropped and I fired 120 rounds with the Browning. We bedded down in slit trenches at 20:30 hours and I was on guard from 22:30 to 23:30 hours.

 

 

Chapter 15 – The Battle for Wadi Akarit

March 27, 1943
Reveille at 05:50 hours. A lecture by Major Chrimes at 07:30 hours to give Griff (information) about the next attack.

We moved at 10:15 hours and joined up with the Sherman tanks of the Queens Bays. At 16:30 hours the New Zealand infantry attacked under a big creeping barrage from the artillery. They managed to take their objective at 20:30 hours. This attack should have been supported by the largest air attack so far but a terrific sandstorm sprang up and the planes were unable to take off.

Here we saw a sight I shall never forget. The NZ infantry were advancing up a long and very wide hill. The Germans were well dug in at the top with large calibre machine guns. The infantry were in staggered lines advancing with bayonets fixed ignoring the streams of bullets occasionally ducking down but nothing could stop them.

We were firing over them to help keep down the heads of the Germans.

The scene was just like a film of World War I but more realistic as we were personally involved.

We were pleased when they reached the top and the Sherman tanks were able to follow them up. The ground was too open for our tanks as the German anti tank guns were well dug in and there was no cover at all.

A gap was made through the enemy lines and we advanced through it.

We had to go into action against Jerry tanks and infantry but we only fired 6 rounds per gun as we had to move as we were being shelled and machine-gunned by enemy tanks and the position was very hazardous.

We leaguered at 21:15 hours about 1,000 yards from the enemy.

The idea was that we had to wait for the moon to rise before we advanced. Several squads of German and Italian troops were wandering about lost but they did not realise what had happened until they were taken prisoner.

At 22:15 hours the 1st Armoured Division complete moved through the German lines in a column down the main road. As our forward tanks contacted enemy tanks, anti tank guns and motor transport they ‘brewed’ them up.

We had a good view of cruiser tanks machine-gunning 88 mm gun towers and their crews.
This was in the very bright moonlight assisted by flares fired from both sides.

March 26, 1943
Just before daylight at a bought 07:30 hours we went into action. We fired 10 rounds and then we were strafed by a very low flying ME110 and a ME109.

These planes just skimmed over the top of us and must have been low on ammunition, as they could have wiped out our battery.

We all had them in our sights of the Browning guns but none of them would fire as we had travelled all night with them uncovered and they were full of sand. We learned by mistakes and always travelled with dust covers on them afterwards.

At 00:30 hours we moved forward 2 miles into a position behind a high crest. We laid the guns on SOS lines and hoped to have a good nights sleep.

Flares and AP bombs dropped near us. Things had gone according to plan and 1st Armoured Division was completely cut off behind German lines with rations for 4 days and 3 days emergency rations.

March 26, 1943
Reveille 05:30 hours. We fired 125 rounds with the priest during the day.

We were shelled by long-range guns and bombed by the dreaded Stukas and ME’s.

During one very heavy air attack by German planes the air was full of shells from our Bofors anti aircraft guns and from one of them a piece of shrapnel came whistling down and hit me on the shoulder. Fortunately I had my tunic on and the metal had cooled down and lost a lot of its force so I was not injured at all.

These last few nights are ones to be remembered, everything round us seemed to be utter chaos.

We were mixed up with forward tanks and the infantry and we could see Germans and their guns only a matter of yards away. The enemy was more surprised than us and they were shattered to see our priests in direct contact with their artillery.

When the moon came up it added to the flares and it was almost like daylight. The enemy had not enough transport so they fought as long as they could and then put up a white flag.

Finally the enemy was routed and 1st Armoured Division took over 3,000 prisoners and captured 11 tanks and 81 guns and it was impossible to count the number of knocked out and burning vehicles.

The whole area was covered in black smoke, dust, burning vehicles and the smell cordite and the ever-present terrible smell of men burnt to death.

March 29, 1943
We moved forward 2 miles and fired 10 rounds each then for 3 days we were moving about on the plain firing at various targets.

March 30, 1943
We entered El Hamma a large white walled "Wog" village and then the way was open across a low flat plain so the division was able to swan out towards the mountains in the distance, which was to be the next enemy strong point at Wadi Akarit.

On the plain we were always in full view of the enemy Op's sited high up in the mountains.

We travelled 5 miles on the plain into gun positions. During the day we fired 98 rounds but the Germans were fighting back and during one heavy spell of shelling L/Bdr Bryan was badly hurt and taken to hospital. My small pack (hung on the side of the priest) was riddled with shrapnel from one shell.

At this point we could see the gun flashes of enemy guns part way up the mountains then the shriek of the shells rushing over and the mighty explosion when they landed.

When we saw the flash we hoped the shells were not bound for our immediate area but before we had time to do anything they were landing around us. We could not see all the guns firing, as the Germans were experts at fitting flash eliminators to their gun barrels.

At night we leaguered with The Queens Bays.

April 01, 1943
Our priest broke down (they had all passed the time when they should have had a complete overhaul but they couldn't be spared). We travelled 8 miles down to B1 Echelon to have it repaired at Oudref.

In the afternoon very large 210 mm guns shelled us. We had to stay overnight so had to dig slit trenches to sleep in.

We were passed by the 51st Highland Division and an Indian Division coming up from the Mareth line, which was now in allied hands.

April 02, 1943
We were able to move back to our position on the plain and mail has come up. I received airmail from home posted on March 16th - not bad, just over 2 weeks. I was able to write home and to Nessie.

The RAF was very active over the mountains in front doing a bit of softening up ready for the next attack.

We stayed in this position for 4 days.

April 04, 1943
We were able to go into El Hamma where a steam of hot water runs through the village so we were able to have an open air hot bath - very good for morale (with trunks on).

Our artillery was shelling the hills in front continually and the Luttewaffe replied by dropping bombs on our lines.

April 06, 1943
BATTLE FOR WADI AKARIT

A "Wadi" is a riverbed without water in the dry season and usually has steep sides sometimes too steep to climb. In this case at Akarit the enemy were well dug in at the top and our forces had to fight their way through the bottom of the Wadi.

A large-scale attack took place, which started at 04:30 hours the usual Montgomery method of the enemy front lines being plastered by the RAF and mighty barrages from the whole army artillery. We were standing by in reserve ready for the 'break through'.

3 Divisions attacked, the 50th, 51st HD and the 4th Indian. The Indians met Italian forces and reports that they soon sorted them out with their Kukris (knives) and the Ities soon surrendered.

The New Zealanders had to follow through with the tanks of 1st Armoured Division and break through to a large port at SFAX.

We heard that 3,000 prisoners were in the bag before 09:00 hours.

The second big attack went in at 08:30 hours supported by a bigger air attack.

We rested all day and joined the Queens Bays at 17:30 hours.

April 07, 1943
At 02:30 hours we went through the gap made in the attack, which had been a complete success. 1st Armoured Division travelled for 24 miles then leaguered.

April 08, 1943
When dawn broke we followed the tanks of the Bays for another 18 miles. We were heavily shelled by the Germans and had to go into action firing 38 rounds per gun.

We moved forward another 3 miles and the shelling became worse. Signaller Hoey was wounded and his truck was set on fire although they were able to put it out.

We were firing at enemy tanks, which included Tigers. These are very large tanks with a massive gun which could easily out gun any of ours so usually we had to use a large number of tanks and guns against one.

The enemy shelling was very heavy and we had to move back one mile then continue firing.

Just before dark 1st Armoured Division Tanks moved forward and were involved in a big tank battle and we had to give them supporting fire.

April 09, 1943
Early morning found that the enemy had retreated so we chased after him for 34 miles through farms, orchards, olive groves until he stopped on a high ridge overlooking our advance.

This type of countryside was a change for us but unfortunately it meant that buildings were being damaged and civilians and animals were losing their lives.

The Queens Bays put out of action many tanks including a Tiger Mark VI (one of the newest in action). We fired many rounds to support them.

During the day, I saw Bill Turner (ex 70th) he told me that they had captured a German HQ and found a box containing brand new Leica cameras. He said he had sold them cheaply for a bit of beer money. I grumbled at him and said they were worth a fortune. I wish I had managed to get one.

We stayed on SOS lines all night expecting a counter attack. None came.

Just before dusk was a very heavy raid on us by Stukas but little damage done.

April 10, 1943
Advanced 3 miles and into action again and we helped to remove the enemy from the high ground. We passed 4th RHA Regt and I saw Norman Paley and Don Stewart (ex 70th).

More action and an advance of 10 miles until 16:30 hours when we went into leaguer with the rest of the 2nd Armd Bgd. for 2 days maintenance and rest.

Most nights we had to fire Harrassing Fire - this kept the enemy awake but us as well (particularly No.1's).

April 11, 1943
We did not have much rest until maintenance was completed.

We were then told that the 8th Armd Bgd. had taken up the chase and were 40 miles north of SFAX, which had fallen to the 8th Army so it was an important Port for supplies to come in.

During the day we were given more information that the 1st Armoured Division had finished fighting in North Africa and were given orders to scrub our webbing and polish our brasses.

April 12, 1943
We were told that at Wadi Akarit we had taken 8,000 prisoners and destroyed many guns and tanks.

Our Regt had been lucky only having several men killed and several wounded.

I heard after the war that Peter Walker who had been in my class at school and lived in Swallownest had been killed in the battle of Wadi Akarit. On a visit to Aston Cemetery I saw a gravestone to his honour giving the date and where he was killed in action.

During the battle some of the 8th Army forward troops made an encircling movement and should have met the American troops but when they reached the rendezvous a hail of fire from German guns met them. However the meeting was made several days later when the GI's could not understand how the 8th Army coped with their eating in subsections (and cooking) with a very black brew tin hanging from every vehicle. Even in action they had to have a proper cookhouse.

The 12th (Monday) was the first time since coming into action that we slept without hearing bombs, Ack Ack, or machine guns. We were able to have a full night's sleep.

April 13, 1943
PLANS CHANGED
The BC Major Chrimes gave a lecture. The 1st Army intended to take Tunis but they needed an armoured division to help them so Gen. Montgomery had said, "send the 1st AD”, so again we prepared to move.

April 14, 1943
At 14:20 hours we moved 3 miles down the road to Lymcia and loaded onto transporters and stayed all night.

April 15, 1943
From the fields we gathered 3 sand bags full of peas and beans. We arranged a scratch football match and I played for the Battery and won 5-0 against the RASC Unit.

At 19:30 hours we moved off down a road, which was in an area of desert (again) and stopped for a rest at 03:30 hours.

There was no reveille so didn't disturb until 10:30 hours. We rested all day and at 23:30 hours moved off through the night.

The road was very bad and the retreating Germans had blown all the bridges so the RE's had to hurriedly build bailey bridges.

Daylight came and the locals (who still looked like wogs but could speak French) sold us eggs and bread.

We moved through Lekef and after another 15 miles we unloaded at 05:00 hours and moved into a thick wood and camouflaged the priests. Here we joined the 1st Army after a journey of 300 miles.

April 17 & 18, 1943
More maintenance and rest.

April 19, 1943
I saw Bill Turner and he told me he had bought a goat for a pet. We heard that 70th Field Regt. were in the area.

We travelled 32 miles on the Tunis road to the battle area and on the way I saw the Div Sign (Oak Tree) of the 46th Infantry Division.

April 20, 1943
Reveille 07:30 hours. Troop Parade 09:00 hours. Inspection, very good turnout said BC.

Heard the griff about the next attack. We were to take part in a barrage with the 12th HAC and Ayrshire Yoemanry with 46th Division on our right. We were supporting the 138th Infantry Brigade.

Then we had to follow through with 26th Armoured Brigade of 6th Armoured Division (sign mailed fist).

Then the break through with 2nd Armoured Brigade of 1st Armoured Division and then on to Tunis.

I was looking out to see Al White and the lads of the 70th soon.

We moved at 19:00 hours for 14 miles over very bad roads and through deep Wadis into a gun position on Goubelliat Plain. We arrived at 02:30 hours and stacked ammo and dug slit trenches.

April 21, 1943
Reveille 06:30 hours we washed and shaved. During the night nearby ‘E’ Bty was attacked by German Infantry of the Herman Goering Division. The enemy had been within 100 yards of our gun position "ignorance is bliss" so we slept well. This German infantry division was one of their best - we had fought them in the desert.

All day we carried out maintenance and prepared ammunition. We mounted our Browning guns on the ground (for the first time) about 250 yards in front of the guns and had listening posts keeping a lookout for the enemy.

I was on this duty from 02:00 to 04:00 hours. We were stood to at 02:30 hours ready to fire a barrage but it was cancelled.

 

 

Chapter 16 – The Germans are Kicked Out of Africa

April 22, 1943
Started firing at 05:10 hours and fired 60 rounds a gun.

In our sector were 3 Regiments i.e. 72 guns we ceased fire at 07:30 hours and moved forward at 14:30 hours with 6th Armoured Division and gave close support to our tanks.

‘A’ and ‘D’ Sub were sent in front of the forward troops as "winkle" guns. The idea being that we had to fire direct fire that is we could see the targets to destroy enemy tanks and anti tank guns. We had a very good day but a very frightening one and wiped out several pockets of infantry and A/T guns. We were not too thrilled about this job as we would have been no match for German infantry if they had counter attacked.

Then we had some very bad thunderstorms and very heavy rain so we had to leaguer near the enemy lines. One German soldier walked into the area and gave himself up to a ‘B’ Troop Guard.

April 23, 1943
Moved forward again with the leading tanks and had a very successful day and fired 221 rounds.

The Germans were still putting up a strong resistance even though they were withdrawing and we had some very heavy attacks from ME and Focke Wolfe fighters no one was hurt but 5 tanks were set on fire very near to us.

I fired 250 rounds with the 0.5 Browning at enemy planes. At 16:30 hours we moved sideways to join up with the Queen Bays and the 1st Armoured Division.
On this move our priest hit a very large stone, which stripped off one of the tracks. The battery fitters repaired and refitted it but whilst doing so we were attached by ME fighter planes. I fired 90 rounds with the Browning and we were lucky not to suffer any damage. We managed to catch up with the battery as they bedded down in a defensive position at 20:30 hours.

During the night butterfly bombs dropping nearby kept us awake and enemy flares lighted up the area.

April 24, 1943
The Queens Bays attacked and we supported them by firing at A/T guns and tanks.

We had 2 positions in cornfields where care had to be taken as mines were laid everywhere. Another hazard was that the corn was nearly ripe and the danger was if it was set of fire. During the day we were attacked by ME fighter-bombers and I fired 300 rounds with the Browning.

Our priest fired 160 rounds during the day. At night we moved behind the tanks of 6th Armoured Division ready for another big attack.

We saw an ME fighter brought down by Spitfires and the pilot baled out safely nearby.

April 25, 1943 EASTER SUNDAY
There was a very large concentration of troops in the area and we were shelled when moving to a new position which was in a wadi which overlooked Goubelliat plain near Salt (sugar) Lake.

We were machine gunned by ME’s, which dropped bombs about 200 yards behind us.

We saw 2 more brought down by Ack Ack fire.

April 26, 1943
I had a spell on guard and we all had to stand to at 05:30 hours. Our gun fired 265 rounds and I fired 500 rounds with the Browning machine gun.

April 27, 1943
We were firing all day, mostly at enemy tanks, some of which were Tigers. We had one pinpoint target that was a Tiger MKVI (one of the latest) and we knocked it out after firing 78 rounds.

A change for us, the mail came up and we all received a bottle of beer and 50 cigarettes.

The weather now was very hot. We were getting many visits from enemy fighters (the level land was ideal for them as there was not much cover). One ME flew very low over us and I think every AA gun in the district fired at it and there must have been many hits. I was firing tracer and armour piercing bullets with the browning and I am certain that some of my bullets hit the plane. The plane caught fire and crashed about a mile away. The pilot baled out but he hit the ground about 400 yards away before his parachute could open.

April 28, 1943
We were heavily shelled but most of them fell just behind our gun position.

The AA fire from nearby Bofors guns was very heavy and the shrapnel from these guns fell in our area and Curly Bointon was hit in the chest and taken to hospital.

The battle was in a stalemate just now as we were all on the plain, and overlooked by 2 mountains, which stuck up out of the plain and provided ideal observation posts for the Germans.

They were called Mount Kournine but we had various names for them such as 'the Two Tits' or 'the Two Pimples'.

May 01, 1943
We were still in the same position and we were all issued with Khaki drill shirts and shorts as the weather was really hotting up.

At intervals in turn all the regiment fired airbursts over the tops of Kournine to help keep the heads down of the enemy OP's.

We moved 18 miles to an area near Mjez El Bab and rejoined 6th Armoured Div. and 166 Field Regt RA (Newfoundlanders) took over our position.

May 02, 1943
Reveille was "elastic", i.e. we could get up when we wanted. I was up at 11:00 hours to help with the usual maintenance.

Our priest (‘B’ Subsection) had to go back to LAD (Light Aid Dept) for repairs. Then travelled back to the battery.

May 03, 1943
Capt Smith gave a lecture on our role in the next battle. We drew rations and mail came up.

Reveille was at 03:45 hours and we moved at 04:30 hours ready to support the Lancers (the Lancers were famous in the 6th Armoured Division as the 17th/21st known as the Death or Glory boys and their cap badge was a skull and cross bones).

We fired all night in a very large barrage and we also heard that the infantry had attacked with the tanks.

We received more mail, which included a photo of a priest sent by my dad. We followed the tanks in reserve and the largest air attack of the war so far took place when 12 to 18 Boston (American) bombers flew over us in relays about every 5 minutes for 3 hours. The day was very hot and a message from Mr Churchill to the 1st Army was read out to us.

We went into action 4 times during the day and chased the enemy for 8 miles.

We leaguered at night with the 17th /21st Lancers.

May 04, 1943
Reveille on Friday was at 04:00 hours and we moved off at 04:30 hours. We had several quick actions where we fired a few rounds and then moved on after the enemy.

We heard the news that Tunis had fallen to the allies when we were 5 miles away from the town.

We kept up the chase and put out of action many 88 mm guns by indirect fire.

Now thousands of German and Italian troops surrendered and walked past us to the rear area. It was good to see large groups of dirty unshaven and hungry enemy troops passing with perhaps 1 or 2 Infantrymen with a rifle guarding them all.

We arrived at the first town in the area, which seemed to be civilised and not the usual mud huts round a few date palm trees.

The people were mostly French and they ran out with flags, flowers, wine and dates and gave us a great welcome, as they were so relieved that the Germans had gone.

We had never seen so much excitement and we were all hugged and kissed by young and old alike.

We leaguered at night just outside the town. Everything was quiet during a lull in the fighting so we went into town and were invited into a private house owned by an English man who was married to a French lady and his name was Charlie. He had a stack of vino hidden away, which he brought out, and we all had a real party which left us all with "thick heads".

What a relief from the past months where all we had was bombs, shells, bullets, dust and worry that every day could be our last.

After a nights sleep (or part of it) we were woken at 04:00 hours and brought back to reality. We moved 2 miles and fired a heavy divisional concentration on to Hamman Lef. We moved 3 more times before reaching the town where we received another reception from the French people. More flowers, roses, sweet peas etc, vino and civilians riding on the tanks, it was just like fiesta day. 1 bumped into Alf Titterton who had played football for Swallownest before the War (he was in 12th (HAC) RHA).

We advanced another 5 miles and leaguered near a range of mountains which we were told was full of German Infantry, but we had a quiet night.

We had to have a large guard on duty all night which consisting of 1 officer, 1 Sgt., 1 Bdr, 1 L/Bdr and 20 gunners during which I had my turn.

May 10, 1943
The Germans were now concentrated on a spit of land called Cape Bon, which jutted out, to sea and they were putting up a heavy resistance.

They hoped to have there own 'Dunkirk' but unbeknown to us the RAF were keeping their ships away from the land by continual bombing and machine gunning.

They had many 88mm guns used as artillery and Anti tank and very large 210 mm guns, which sent shells over at regular intervals. They gave an almighty shriek and the explosion where they landed had to be seen to be believed.

In our sector the going was very tough and in one engagement advancing up a Wadi 5 Shermans in a row were knocked out and fortunately the 6th one escaped - it was our Battery Forward Observation Officer's tank. 30 of the enemy’s anti tank guns were seen in one area so we put down a massive barrage to put them out of action.

We advanced another 7 miles then 88 mm guns and at least 1 tiger tank held everyone up again.

My subsection (Don Sub) had to go forward with the Observation Officer and fire over open sights at an enemy 88 mm gun hiding in a farmyard. Fortunately we put it out of action before they saw us and we were very pleased that we did not come across the feared tiger tank.

Our tanks soon moved forward again and we came across many abandoned enemy trucks of which many were looted by our infantry.

We advanced 12 miles to Soliman and our battery was right at the front with the Sherman tanks and infantry.

Many prisoners were roaming around in a daze and I fired the Browning machine gun over a small wooded area and dozens of Germans with white flags came out and were put "in the bag".

At dusk we were in action again then we moved forward 6 miles and leaguered for the night.

We saw a British Mustang fighter, which had made a forced landing at the side of the road. I think the pilot must have been OK.

The next day we moved off at 09:30 hours. There was a very dangerous diversion as the Germans had blown up all the bridges to try and delay us.

We advanced another 8 miles through Bannet where we found an abandoned enemy cookhouse with plenty of grub so we had a real set to with the food we fancied. The enemy was now leaving their guns behind, they were so anxious to escape and they did not have time to spike (blow them up) before retreating.

We were in action again and fired 30 rounds. Then advancing and firing a few rounds every few miles.

The 210 mm gun was still making things very uncomfortable for us, as it must have a very long range.

At dusk we leaguered but at 20:30 hours we had to move quickly to another area as we had to support a night attack by the Rifle Brigade at 12:30 hours. The attack went in and we fired 30 rounds then told to bed down for the night.

Reveille 04:15 hours. During the day we moved to 3 positions from which we kept firing all day and the 90th German Light Infantry were well dug in to make their last stand. The 90th Light had been chased by us all the way from El Almein and was one of Germany's best units.

We were firing all day and the next day.

At 13:15 hours an English envoy went forward and gave an ultimatum for unconditional surrender or they were to be blasted by 1,000 bombers.

The Germans refused to surrender but the Italians all walked towards us with white flags.

We then fired smoke shells to surround the area where the Germans were dug in. A deathly silence fell over the area except for an odd shell or bullet being fired, and then we heard the drone of airplanes.

Waves of 18 bombers appeared and the air was filled with whines of bombs and mighty explosions. At 15:30 hours after 3 waves of bombers (54 planes) had dropped their loads of HE many white flags appeared and all resistance was over.

Our infantry went forward we were given the order CEASE FIRING - it was Unconditional Surrender and ALL FIGHTING IN NORTH AFRICA WAS OVER.

We moved into an olive grove and bedded down at 20:30 hours.

Next day we moved into 26th Armoured Brigade area on the sea front near a French Military Camp at Bou Ficha.

We had been surprised at the large numbers of Germans we saw marching or most of them staggering into Prisoner of War Camps.

We heard that the 90th Light Infantry had destroyed all their equipment and they had marched in perfect lines of three into captivity and insisted that they were taken prisoner by their old foes the Eighth Army.

Reveille 0630 hrs. Maintenance and parades now started in earnest. Plenty Bull - we had to scrub webbing, polish boots and brasses and wash all our clothing.

We were able to swim in the Med - it was hot and glorious. The sun shone all day.

Reveille 06:30 hours. We paraded at 11:00 hours and travelled by truck to Tunis for a day out. It was 50 miles away.

We had a walk around the town and into the native quarters, which were out of bounds. We were invited to a Wog house and supplied with stacks of wine.

1 had a haircut and shampoo, which cost 60 francs = 6 shillings, we had to carry gunners Carroll and Stewart back to the truck drunk.
.
On the way back to camp we called at St. Germaine and had a singsong and more wine at Charlie's house.

Sunday. Church parade was by the RHQ flagstaff. We enjoyed the service by the new Padre. Afterwards we had a swim in the Med then a lecture by the CO - Our role in the next battle - INVASION OF EUROPE.

May 17, 1943
Monday. Swimming in the Med

After maintenance I had to report to the Regt Sgt. Major (Charlie Butt) as I had been chosen from the troop to represent the Regt. on a Victory march in Tunis.

We had a practice march past but had it cancelled at 06:15 hours as the heavy rain came down and wet us through.

May 19, 1943
Wednesday. Travelled in truck to Tunis where we had to sleep one night in a field on the outskirts of the town. Here I met several lads whom I knew in the 70th Field Regt. as they were also taking part in the march. I saw Gunners Earle, McWade, Tommy Craven, Lowe, Myers, Renolds, Towers, Sgt. Birkett (my ex No.1), Sgt. Baldwin and BSM Lawson.

May 20, 1943
Cleaned brasses etc. Inspected at 11:30 hours then marched on Victory Parade.

11th (HAC) Regt RHA (comprising 36 men) led the 26th Armoured Brigade then the 6th Armoured Division led by Major Richmond, Captain Smith and R.S.M
Butt. We marched through the town where the roads were lined with cheering crowds and guns, tanks and vehicles were lined up in the centre of Tunis near the saluting base.

RAF planes flew over low in salute. On the saluting base were General Giraud (France), General Montgomery, General Alexander (area commander) and General Eisenhower (USA). The parade was very long and was accompanied by Pipe bands.

It was a very impressive display and afterwards we heard that the British troops were said to be the smartest on the Parade. We returned to camp at dusk and I was on duty as Guard Commander.

 

 

Chapter 17 – The Invasion of Europe - Sicily


May 21, 1943
We had a lecture by Brigadier Fowler, who was commander of the 1st Armoured Division and then the Medical Officer gave us a lecture all about malaria.

We then loaded on to transporters and moved through Tunis and we passed 70th Field Reg. moving in the opposite direction. We carried on to Mjez El Bab and stayed the night near Tebourba. We had a swim in the river.

We then moved on via Gambett and Hamma Plaisance.

Here we were able to exchange our clothing for new ones at a mobile laundry. We saw a film at an American Hospital.

We then moved to El Kroub, which was 15 kilometres from Constantine.

The Priests all went to the Ordnance Depot to be water proofed so it looks as though an invasion was waiting for us.

We had three days rest which counted as leave.

We were able to go to Constantine each day. Constantine was the largest town in the area and was built on two sides of a very deep gorge through which flowed a river.

The two parts of the town are connected by a very high suspension bridge, which was a frightening experience to cross over, especially when windy.

June 09, 1943
At this camp a railway line ran past the boundary and many trains full of Prisoners of War passed by. Some stopped to pick up coal and water and most of the German troops just gave us sullen looks.

We took pity on some of them and offered them food and drinks. Some were friendly and accepted but some were very arrogant and would not accept anything, although they must have been thirsty and hungry all packed into cattle wagons.

June 10, 1943
We left camp and joined the Regiment at Djedjelli, which is on the coast, and we were told that we were here to practice landing on enemy beaches.

The next few weeks the dates are only approximate, as I did not fill in my diary for quite some time.

We were able to have a swim each day in between invasion exercises.

We spent 3 days on a large "Landing Ship Tank" but the sea was too rough to make a landing.

June 15, 1943
This date is correct. On this day we carried out an exercise on a small ship called a "Landing Craft Tank". These crafts only carry 4 tanks and several vehicles. The area where we had to land was very isolated because the exercise was so secret. After a time the sea became very rough and when we tried to land the Landing Craft was blown sideways onto a sandbank. The waves were coming over the sides and it was decided to "abandon ship". The pumps were working flat out but were unable to cope. We had to get ashore carrying water and rations. A breeches buoy was rigged up to help the poor swimmers. Everyone was wet through to the skin but no one was seriously hurt.

On shore we gathered brushwood and made a huge bonfire and we were able to make hot stew and mugs of tea.

The beach looked a sorry sight with clothing and equipment spread out in the sun to dry; it was like a shipwreck in a film. After we had eaten the stew the heavens opened and down came the rain so we were all wet through again. Darkness came and there was nothing more we could do only lie down and try to sleep in the rain.

It rained nearly all night but when dawn came we had brilliant and very warm sunshine. We were able to cook some breakfast from our emergency rations then an American fighter plane flew over and dropped a message, which said, "Are you all OK? but you cannot be reached on the rough sea so you will have to march over a mountain to the nearest road". We all sat down on the sand and formed the word YES and then prepared to march.

The Commanding Officer had a leg wound and he had to be left behind with his staff to be rescued when the sea became calm.

An Arab guide appeared from somewhere and he knew the best tracks through the undergrowth so he led the way. We carried haversack, rations and water bottle but it was more a struggle than a march in single file through very thick undergrowth but the tall trees did give us some shelter from the very hot sun.

At about 17:00 hours we reached the plain where there was a farm where we were supplied with tomatoes, lemonade and water. After a rest of about 1 hour we set off walking again - already we had covered 9 miles and had at least another 2 miles to go. After a short time now on a road several cars appeared and in the leading one was one of our Battery Officers complete with hot tea and more stew - what a welcome sight!!!

The cars ferried us in turns to a river, which had to be crossed, by a very primitive ferry, which had to be pulled across by hauling on a rope.

On the other side another very welcome sight were several 3 tonne trucks. We scrambled aboard and they took us back to camp where the cooks had prepared a hot meal for us.

I shall always be proud of the fact that I marched or scrambled at the head of the column with the Arab guide and officer who I think was Lt Onslo. We were first to reach the farm.

In a book of the 11th (HAC) Regt written by Major Boulton he wrote:
"The men of A Battery will long remember that march, which was led by an Arab guide. It was necessary time and again to climb up to 1,000 feet up one hill and then descend to the valley and up again. We did not reach the plain until 17:00 hours. Then we reached a farm were the French farmers gave us tomatoes and fruit and sold us wine and lemonade.

We were able to phone the Town Major who gave a message to the Regiment. At 18:00 hours we started marching again towards the main road, but we were met after five minutes by the Second in Command with a fleet of small cars. Hot tea and rations were supplied. The cars made quite a few journeys to a ferry a across a river where at the other side a convoy of 3 tonners took us back to camp"

He also added:
"The men throughout the 2 days never made a single murmur or grumble. Many of them worked for 4 hours at a time in water in difficult conditions".

INVASION OF EUROPE - SICILY
JULY 1943 DJEDJELLI

During our time in this area we had to move and during the day we were involved with a "plague" of locusts. There were millions of them on the move in fact the sky was black and it nearly turned into night also the buzzing of their wings was monotonous and lasted all day. The local farmers dreaded them coming and were fearful that they would land as wherever they did so they would strip all the vegetation and crops in a very short time.

Many of them must have been exhausted as they fell to the ground and could hardly crawl away. It was also dangerous when moving if one flew into your face, a nasty injury could be caused, as they were pretty solid and about 3" - 4" long.

Suddenly just before dusk the continual buzzing stopped and the majority of them had passed by. It was a sight and sound that would stay in our minds for a very long time.

We were able to swim every day until about 21 June 1943. We moved into trucks to the docks (we had been issued with new equipment to replace the ones - lost or worn out).

We boarded a LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) with no vehicles to Sousse, which was a 2-day journey. We moved to a camp 15 miles from town.

We were issued with a brand new priest then we had to hand it over to ‘B’ Battery.

We moved to another camp near Sousse called Brentford where we were issued with another new priest, which we took to a depot where all vehicles were waterproofed. That is they were made so that they could 'wade' through up to about 6 ft of water. The exhausts had to be welded so that they stuck up above the top of the priest this took 3 days.

July 03, 1943
We boarded LST 361 Landing Ship Tanks, which are the larger type of landing craft. They were real ships and large doors opened at the front from the large hold below (similar to modern day ferry's). We moved into the harbour at Sfax. We were sitting ducks here if we had an air raid, which we did but were lucky as no damage was done. We stayed here for 3 days waiting.

July 04, 1943
When everyone was on board we set sail for Europe but we still did not know where we would be landing.

The commander of the convoy was on board our ship, which was the largest in the convoy. With our LST were 42 LCT, 4 minesweepers, 3 destroyers and 2 light cruisers.

The invasion was then postponed for 24 hours due to the very rough weather.

July 09, 1943
Friday. The sea was very rough and we all felt very ill but I was not seasick. We passed near Malta where we could see some battleships in the harbour.

July 10, 1943
SATURDAY
Zero hour was at 02:45 hours.

The infantry of 51st Highland Division were first to land but they were repulsed so the navy put down a tremendous barrage on the beach with cruisers, rocket guns etc. the landing was then a success.

When daylight came we were amazed to see that the whole area was filled with ships of every description and although we did not know until later the Queen Mary was there having brought troops from Canada.

The barrage was frightening. The shells from the big ships and the rockets were flying over our heads as we approached the beach. We were praying that none of them fell short, as we wouldn't have much chance with them.

The air was filled with choking smoke and the smell of cordite from the gunpowder was really bad.

PACHINO
The landing craft edged slowly to the beach then the ramps were down and we trundled off under our own steam. It was very scary travelling through about 5'-0" deep water and we were just hoping that our engine did not cut out. Fortunately it didn't and at 08:30 hours we were on the beach expecting to have to negotiate mines, obstacles and withering machine gun fire. What a shock - the sun was brilliant, the birds were singing and now the barrage was eerily quiet. We drove off the beach quickly and took up gun positions in an orchard full of red and ripe tomatoes!!! It was the first time we had seen them growing outdoors.

We did not know at the time that we were the first artillery regiment to land in Europe.

We moved forward and travelled for 9 miles without firing or having a shot fired at us.

We were very surprised and were hoping that the information we had was wrong and maybe the enemy had vacated the island. What a hope!!!

July 11, 1943
I did not mention that when daylight came over the far side of the island we could see smoke pouring out from a mountain, this turned out to be a volcano, Mt Etna and all the time we were in Sicily we were overlooked by this dark and smoking volcano. We realised that it was a perfect observation post for the enemy as from the top all the island could be seen. We always felt that they were watching our every movement.

We advanced along a rough road through the villages of Scordia and Nuto just firing a few rounds at intervals.

We thought it was going to be easy but approaching a town called Vizzini we were in for a shock. First we saw a Sherman tank at the side of the road. It had been hit and set on fire and smoke was still drifting away from it, but scattered around it were several bodies of British Troops who had been burnt to death. Men burnt to death looked really awful and the smell of burning lasts in your mind for a very long time. We all thought, "Here we go again".

We took up a gun position and learned that the Germans were well dug in and waiting for us on a hillside.

More bad luck when ‘C’ Subsection Priest (No.1 Ernie Knell) accidentally caught fire and was burnt out.

Sicily was not a very good fighting countryside for tanks so we were used to support infantry regiments.

We were held up at Vizzini for 2 days although progress was slow.

We were in a mountainous region and many of the hilltop villages and towns had just been reduced to a mass of rubble by both sides and the occupants had fled.

July 18, 1943
Held up near Catania (the capital) in front of Mount Etna and we fired many rounds including large concentrations of fire but Jerry was holding on grimly and blowing all the bridges over very wide rivers. ME's strafed our gun position many times and we were once strafed by American Lightening Fighters. These planes were easily recognised as they had twin bodies like a catamaran (ship). Fortunately their aim was not very good and no damage was done. It was known at the time if the American planes bombed the allied troops they sent a letter of apology and a parcel of goodies for the troops involved.

July 23, 1943
We then moved back for 1 mile for a rest for 48 hours but we still had to fire on regimental targets at intervals.

We had another problem at this time as it was reported that enemy parachutists had been dropped in the area. This worried us a lot as we would have had no chance against them as they were highly trained and had weapons for this kind of work and we were not infantry trained and only had rifles which would have been no use in close combat. We had to have men patrolling the area every night watching out for them.

For the next 18 days we continually moved from one sector of the front to another firing barrages at night and during the daytime.

We supported the Canadians, Infantry of 78'h Division (yellow hatchet sign), Infantry of 51st Highland Division and the 23rd Armoured Brigade.

We rested at short intervals near Raddusa.

The battles are now taking place on and around the slopes of the volcano Mt Etna.

July 30, 1943
I took over Priest No. 169301 and became No.1 on ‘C’ Subsection.

I was only a bombardier (2 stripes) at the time, which was unusual for this to happen in action.

We were very much under strength at this period as 75% of the forces went down with malaria. We all had to take Mepacrine tablets (Quinine) every day and should have slept under mosquito nets every night but this was not possible when in action.

I had a slight attack of malaria but I was not ill enough to go back to hospital. I did my best to fight the illness, as I did not want to lose my job as No. 1. Later in the action it was discussed among the senior officers if I should be promoted to Sgt. in field (in action) but it was decided not to. If I had had this promotion the only way I could have lost three stripes would have been by a court martial (very rare).

The rough stony ground now hampered us, which was lava from the volcano. The tarmac roads were mined and it was almost impassible to find level ground for gun positions, it would have been impossible for 25 pounders to go into action so the infantry were very pleased to have the priests behind them.

Our address now changed to Central Med Forces (CMF).

August 06, 1943
I received a birthday cake from my mother (5 weeks late) but unfortunately it was wet through and must have been in some seawater on its voyage out to me.
.
We fired a very big barrage then had 2 days rest before moving over to the Canadian sector.

We took part in another barrage then went through the forward troops across a wide river at Adrano until we went into action at the roadside on the slopes of Mount Etna 4 miles off Milletto.

Our gun position was just off the road on the rocky lava which made things very difficult for the priests to manoeuvre and we had to take great care not to strip - a track which was easily done. Many Germans retreated to Messina and escaped by sea to Italy, the remainder surrendered after 6 weeks of hard fighting.

 

 

Chapter 18 – Catania, Sicily

August 12, 1943
We came out of action and moved to a rest place near Regalbuto. We had 2 days rest at LAD for repairs to the priest and usual parades, cleaning equipment and tools and of course inspections.

August 17, 1943
Moved 30 miles to a camp just outside Catania where we erected bivvies etc.

August 20, 1943
Went to Catania and had a swim in the Med. Catania is a pretty large town which had hardly been bombed except for the dock area.

At night I was on Regimental Guard which was mounted at RHQ flagpole by the RSM and Lt. Melville. This was a 24 hour guard and we were turned out at 01:25 hours. This was normal practice in the army for the guard to be turned out by the orderly officer just to make sure that everyone was awake and on their toes.

On 13 August 1943 the subsections had been changed round and I was No.1 on ‘D’ Sub and I was promoted L/Sgt.

‘D’ Sub:
L/Sgt. Ward
Bdr Russell
L/Bdr Chandler
Gunners:
Stewart
Beaumont
Driver Morton

Then it was changed to:
‘D’ Sub:
L/Sgt. Ward
L/Bdr Kearney
L/Bdr Kelly
Gunners:
Stewart
Beaumont
Partington
Driver Morton

We stayed near Catania until 13 September 1943. We were able to go down to town nearly every day after duty.

On one of our visits, we visited a barber's shop and were amazed when a German plane flew over, the sirens sounded and the Sicilian hairdresser ran down into the cellar, and left the clients in the chair with their hair half cut. After a short time the all clear sounded and they sheepishly returned to the salon and finished the haircuts.

We visited the cinemas which showed American films (and British) and I saw Vera Lynn in "We'll Meet Again", The Marx Bros. in "Go West", "Gambling Ship" and "My Sister Eileen". We also saw a Sicilian variety show with girl dancers and singers.

September 10, 1943
Had my photo taken in Catania in KD shirt and shorts and tinted with colour.

I bought several presents and sent them home.

September 12, 1943
I had a blood test and was Grade 04 and for the first time gave a pint of blood.

Lecture by the Colonel on "Rumours of the Invasion". He told us we were going back to North Africa to join up again with 1st Armoured Division.

We had a rehearsal at 4th Armoured Division Brigade HQ near Misterbianco for an inspection by Gen. Montgomery. It was a shambles as we were marching on grass which is practically impossible, as it is not possible to hear all the footsteps of the other men.

We were pleased when told that the inspection had been cancelled.

We went to the Odeon Cinema and saw Tommy Trinder in "Sailors Three".

Sgt. Patterson came to Don Sub. He had a higher rank than me, but I was in charge as he was not trained as a field gunner.

September 13, 1943
Preparing to move. I received a cable from Nessie.

Whilst at Catania we visited the airport which was a level grass field and a cricket pitch had been laid out, so we had several games with other units, but I have not kept details of scores etc.

We moved via Catania, Lentini to Syracuse which is a town on the coast.

We stayed for 3 days (near Syracuse) and in the town one day had a meal of eggs and steak which cost 4/- (20 pence).

September 19, 1943 Approximately
We boarded a boat named Marigot which was French.

MEMORIES

We didn't enjoy the close up views of men of both sides burnt to death when tanks were blown up, Sicily was not good terrain for tanks, we did not like the sight of many hilltop villages which had been flattened by bombing and shelling from both sides, the terrible sight of many farm yard animals killed by shell fire, and laid in the sun covered in flies, and a terrible smell. We enjoyed the towns which were more modern than what we had been used to for a long time. The water which came from wells was cool and drinkable, better than the warm water from water trucks which we had in Africa (and in short supply).

Then the fruit, our camps were usually among the grape vines although some of these grapes were sour and not ready for picking. We had no trouble with our bowels in Sicily. Most of the fruit grew in orchards in the sunshine, such as tomatoes, oranges, apples, pears, almonds, lemons and grapefruit, so these all helped our rations.

We did not like Mount Etna as we always had at the back of our minds that we could be observed by OP's with powerful binoculars from near the top. Also the lava had a sulphur like smell which we could smell all the time.

After the fighting finished, organised trips to the top of the volcano were made, but I was never able to go on one.

The local people, while never making us really welcome, were not too unfriendly, bearing in mind that Italy at this time was fighting against us.

The weather was very good, except when the Sirocco winds blew. They were very hot and sticky, almost unbearable and even at night it was still hot.

In these battles, we had used a lot of air burst shells which helped to keep the enemy heads down in their slit trenches whilst our infantry advanced.

When the fighting finished, Major Morris of ‘E’ Bty captured 2 very large World War 1 guns and had them towed to the straights of Messina, where he fixed them up and he intended to fire them over into Italy, but this did not last long as the enemy withdrew out of range.

Another plan was to send a platoon of infantry with 2 priests in a ship over to Italy, land on a beach to find out the strength of the enemy, also to find out how the Italian people would greet the allies. Most of our priests were nearly worn out so it was decided that the best 2 in the ‘A’ Battery would go.

I was very pleased when this scheme was cancelled, as my priest was one of the two chosen.

We heard later that Italy had surrendered to the Allies so there was no need for our miniature invasion.


 

Chapter 19 – Back to North Africa


BACK TO NORTH AFRICA
September 21, 1943
The Marigot was very uncomfortable for the troops and it only travelled slowly.

The second day we anchored in Valetta harbour in Malta and what a sight we saw. The greater proportion of the Italian fleet was anchored in the harbour with all their guns depressed (pointing down to sea). The Italians may have had a poor army but they had some first class ships. The motor torpedo boats looked very modern and fast. Also included was the battleship "Theodore" which was about the best they had.

We left at noon on the following day in a convoy escorted by 2 destroyers.

When approaching our destination Bizerta we were passed by a convoy passing the other way and in later years I found out that in the convoy was a small aircraft carrier HMS Unicorn and my brother Eric who was in the Fleet Air Arm was on board. They were on their way to Salerno. This was the nearest we had been to seeing each other since I left home.

In the harbour at Bizerta were dozens of allied ships including cruisers, and a monitor with 2 - 15" guns (massive). It certainly looks as though another invasion is imminent.

We unloaded and travelled 4 miles in trucks to the area of 1st Armoured Division at HQ of 4th RHA Regt.

We erected tents, Sgt's mess etc. and we had very bad thunderstorms which lasted on and off for 3 days with very heavy rain.

We then cleaned up all the area and put stones round the tents and footpaths and they had to be all painted white.

We saw a show "Flying High" and a film of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in "The Road to Morocco".

October 01, 1943
I played football for ‘A’ Battery against ‘F’ Battery 4th 1 RHA and we won 3-1.

During the match I pulled a muscle in my right leg.

October 02, 1943
I had to report sick to the MO and I had to massage and rest my leg.

We had an inspection and ‘A’ Troop was said to be excellent by the BC.

This was Nessie's 21st Birthday so I wrote to her.

Sunday - Football. I could not play due to my bad leg.

‘A’ Bty 4 v KRRC 2nd 3
2nd Team 3 v KRRC 2nd 1
3rd Team 2 v Royal Corps of Signals 1

Wednesday - We were challenged by Kings Royal Rifle Company and 110th Field Battery RA who have 8 professional footballers in their ranks. I was picked to play but both matches were cancelled due to heavy rain.

October 05, 1943
Small amount of mail arrived. I had a letter from Jim Dalgleish.

Saw 1st Armoured Division concert at 4 RHA HQ.

We were now playing football every day as we did not have much else to do.

We saw several concerts at Queens Hall. Heavy rain most days.

One day we went to the Sgt. mess at ‘C’ Bty 4th RHA where we had a 6 course dinner and plenty wine and we were entertained by a pianist and an American all coloured band.

The dinner was called "Farewell to Texas" as this was the name given to the area.

Two days later we moved and a large amount of mail came up for the Regt. There were 14 mail bags full. I received 14 letters and a parcel of newspaper (from Auntie Francis).

We moved by truck to the railway station at Bizerta. We boarded cattle wagons and I was in charge of one with 26 men crowded into it. There was one coach (with seats) for the officers. We travelled by stages for 4 days via Mjez El Bab, Setif, Duvivier and arrived at 04:00 hours at Maison Carree which was 5 miles from Algiers. We boarded trucks and travelled 15 Kilometres to a farm in the Sidi Moussa area.

The gunners all slept in a large white painted building which was used for making wine. We all had a look round at some massive vats which held the wine and presses which were used to squeeze the juice from the grapes. The Sergeants slept in tents in the orchard. The orchard had apples, pears, lemons, oranges and large grapefruits.

We dug trenches round the tents and made tables etc as we could be here for a long time. We constructed a large Sergeants mess from 50 gallon oil drums all stood on end, then fixed timbers and draped canvas covers over to keep out rain. Being a bricklayer my job was to build a fireplace with bricks.

We fixed up electric lights so we were more comfortable here than we had been for a very long time.

The next day a truck load of us went to Algiers for half a day. We went to the pictures and saw Noel Coward in "In Which We Serve" - a war picture. We went to a canteen and a vino (wine) shop and a restaurant where the French owners charged us top prices.

Another day we went for a walk around the shops but everything was too dear for us and coupons were needed for most things.

On these visits to Algiers I went with Sgt Bob Pace and Sgt. Tiffy Smith.

On this visit we met 3 sailors from HMS Rodney, a battleship which was in the harbour. They were waiting to go home on leave. We then went to the Splendid Cinema and saw Tommy Trinder in "The Foreman Went To France". The film started at 21:00 hours and we caught the truck back at 23:00 hours.

On Monday night we met the sailors again and all had a good ration of drinks, mostly Muscatel.

The sailors had more than us and they "passed out". We tried to carry or drag them to the docks but the Naval Shore Patrol saw us and they arrested them and took them to the Navy 'clink' - We did not see them again.

One day we had a big session of drinking then went to the pictures but when the film started Smudger Smith and me just about passed out, but Bob Pace managed to get us back to the truck where we slept all night, but we all enjoyed ourselves.

The mail was still very poor, very little getting through to us.

October 25, 1943
Had an air-letter from my mother on 25 October 1943 posted on 20 October which was quicker than any others received and it said that our Eric was home on leave after they had supported the Salerno landings on the Unicorn which was a small aircraft carrier.

October 26, 1943
Played football at Rivet and we beat a Troop Carrying Co. (RASC) by 4 goals to 0. The RASC team had Bullock (ex Wolves) and Davey (ex Birmingham) and a Rugby International playing for them.

November 01, 1943
2 letters from home and 2 from Nessie, mail was now improving.

I was made No.1 of ‘B’ Subsection in the absence of Sgt. Reed who had to go to hospital.

The sub now is:
No.1 L/Sgt A Ward
Bdr Beach
Bdr Nicholls
L/Bdr Pridmore
Gunners:
Cox
Gregson
Woodward
Ross
Signaller Simms

November 02, 1943
A very heavy rain storm. The days were getting cooler and we were issued with battledress so we had the job of sewing on stripes, RA flashes and Rhinos (1st ‘A’ Div). We saw several films, James Cagney in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" at the Star picture house, Ginger Rogers in "Tom Dick and Harry at the Rio, Jack Oakie, Don Ameche in "Something to Shout About" at the Olympia and in the camp we saw 2 training films, a Popeye cartoon and Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in "Caught In The Draft". I had 3 inoculations for Typhus.

I played in football matches:
‘A’ Bty 2nd 0 v RHQ 1
‘A’ Bty 1st XI 2 v ‘F’ Bty 4th RHA 1

One day I had a walk to ‘C’ Battery of 4th RHA and saw Norman Paley (ex 70th ), he left on November 12, 1943 to go back to Blighty.

I received another air letter from home which only took 4 days - different to times in the desert when a letter took 6 to 8 weeks to arrive. We were now visiting Algiers every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

We had a usual routine, had a walk in the park, tea at the Sgt. and WO's club and then to a cinema. We were not drinking as much vino now as we realised it was not doing us any good also at very inflated prices.

More pictures were "The Moon Is Down", "The Lady Vanishes".

In the park we usually saw a French nurse, aged about 23, who took a baby for a walk. We chatted to her in broken French but I am afraid we did not do very well. I was disappointed afterwards that I had not used my knowledge of French, learnt at school, more but I was too shy to say much.

One day we went to a cinema near by Bau Farick and saw "Parachute Battalion".

Football: ‘A’ Battery 1 v Queens Bays Regt. 0 This was a good match 100 men from the Queens Bays were entertained by our gunners.

We invited 10 Sergeants to our mess and we all enjoyed the night until 01:30 hours.

I played for the Regt. and we drew 2-2 with 76th Anti Tank Regt.

Another big match 11th (HAC) RHA 2 v Sherwood Foresters 2. This was an excellent game (away) there was a very big and excited crowd of spectators. It was for the Divisional Knockout Cup and we had to play extra time in which no team scored.

December 01, 1943
This match was replayed and Foresters won 2-1, but the Regt. was under strength as A Battery (me included) were away at a firing camp.

To fill in our time we had to attend various courses and I was on a MT Course for vehicle maintenance. I was lucky with the questions and received 96%.

‘A’ Bty. 2 v RHQ 2

‘A’ Troop 0 v ‘B’ Troop 2. In this match near half time the ball burst and we hadn't another one.

Now we were having heavy rain and very strong winds.

 

 

Chapter 20 – Posted to ‘E’ Battery 11th (HAC) REGT RHA CFM

December 05, 1943
A Battery travelled 70 miles into the mountains to a firing camp. It was pretty good until the last 2 days when rain fell very heavily.

.I was pleased as No.1 of ‘2’ sub with Bdr Nichols, Gunners Beaumont, Woodward, Carroll, Norcup and Dvr Preston.

During the first day of arrival at this camp I had to take my priest back 25 miles and help pull Ernie Knell's priest out of a ditch at the roadside. We got back to camp at 22:00 hours.

Captain Sewell (A Troop Commander) met us on the road with hot stew etc. We had a 'winkle' shoot each, No.1 was allowed to use 15 rounds each of HE. It was won by Ernie Knell.

At night we visited a small wog village called Ain Bessem and had a good feed of chicken, eggs, chips, bread and a bottle of muscatel (about 200 francs each).

One night I met Nessie's brother (Bill) and learnt that he had been posted to RHQ of 11th (HAC) RHA (he was in RC of Signals).

We did not have much conversation as he was very shy and quiet (like me).

December 11, 1943
Returned to camp in very heavy rain.

December 12, 1943
Sunday. We had an easy day and washed our clothes, organised kit and wrote letters and for a change managed to get some kip.

This day I completed 4 years in the army. During the week I received 2 parcels from home with soap, 6 Xmas cards although mail was still very poor.

Returned to camp at Sidi Moussa. Usual parades, inspections etc.

XMAS 1943
December 24, 1943
Xmas Eve all the Sergeants went into the officers mess for a quiet drink.

XMAS DAY
December 25, 1943
Church Parade 09:15 hours

Tmimi Cup Final
We kicked off at 11:00 hours.

‘A’ Battery 4 v RHQ 0.

We won an easy game and the cup was presented to our Captain, Gunner F Adams by the CO. He could not play due to a leg injury so I Captained the team on the field. In the semi-final 4 days previously we had beaten ‘E’ Battery 4-0.

XMAS Dinner
The Sgt. and Officers acted as waiters waiting on the gunners, the usual army custom for Xmas dinner.

We then had our dinner in the Sgt. Mess, we had roast pork, ½ chicken each, brussel sprouts, beef, potatoes, peas, beans, gravy and sauce. Then Xmas pudding and custard. There was plenty to drink and then we attended a concert.

After a good tea we were all very merry and decided we had had a good Xmas.

December 26, 1943
BOXING DAY
A day in Algiers where we were all merry again.

December 27, 1943
I started on a Nos. 1 course ran by the CO of A Bty.

December 28, 1943
The course finished and I had a ‘C’ Result which was not so bad. I had to give a lecture on an Oboe smoke screen.

During this course we had to take a gun laying test. This was my favourite subject, Lt Onslo always said that I was the best gun layer in the 8th Army but that was stretching things a great deal.

However disaster as I made some mistakes and failed the test. Sgt Major Bill Lieshman said he could hardly believe it but maybe I had been too cocky and self confident. It took a lot of living down.

Then more football matches. 'A' Battery was in a winning vein and we won all our matches.

We moved to a camp at Bouira in the mountains - this was very wet and muddy due to the very heavy rain and snowstorms (in Africa!!!)

After 3 weeks the camp had to be closed down due to the weather. The mud was 18 inches deep.

At this time our CO Lt. Col. Goodbody left the Regt to be CRA (Commander Brigade Royal Artillery) and Lt. Col. J H Slade Powel took over as CO.
I was still No.1 of Don Subsection. At this time we had no Priests so that is why we had so much football and days in Algiers.

We then moved back to the Algiers area for 5 days.

Then a move again to a camp at Sidi Hissa which was 15 miles south of Aumale which was on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The weather improved, it was still cold but only showers of rain.

After 18 days we returned to Sidi Moussa and settled down in our billets once again.

March 15, 1944
I was appointed as Sports Sgt. and I had to arrange a football league in the Regt. Lt Moore was Sports Officer.

Went to Algiers and saw "Tarzan's Secret Treasure" - not very good, Pat O'Brien in "Bombardier" - good.

So far in this period ‘A’ Battery at football played 21, won 18, drawn 2 and lost 1.

April 24, 1944
I had an interview with the BC Major Dudley Smith MC and he asked me if I would like to go to the RHQ as a full Sgt, but I said "No" as I would rather stay on the guns as a No. 1 as a L/Sgt. It would have been more pay as an administration organiser but it would have meant leaving all my mates.

May 01, 1944
I went on leave to a camp at Sercouf which was 20 miles east of Algiers.

We slept in a villa on the beach. The Sgt's mess was in 'Le Hotel Des Falaises' overlooking the sea on the cliffs.

The weather was very hot and sunny all week. We spend our time sunbathing and swimming. We had to be careful in the Med as the beach was very steep and we were out of our depth when about 10 feet in the water.

At night we usually visited the 'Bar des Flots Bleus' where we had an extra dinner. There was a NAAFI canteen, a Barn Theatre and a YMCA Club.

We had a good change and plenty rest for a week.

May 05, 1944
On this day I received a parcel from home containing Brylcream, Vaseline etc in it. Very good.

May 06, 1944
EASTER SATURDAY

We visited a football stadium in Algiers called "Stade Municipale" and saw a football match between the Army and the RAF.

The Army won a good game by 5-2. The Army team included Little Fair in goal (played for Aldershot) Andy Beattie (Preston North End), Deavey (Birmingham) and the RAF, Burton (Sheffield United) and McCawley (I do not know his club but he was a professional).

At half time we had a surprise when a man stood up in the grand stand and played a trumpet. It was smashing and we learned that it was "Nat Gonnela" who had a professional dance band in England before the war.

May 08, 1944
Returned to camp at Side Moussa where we packed up ready for a move.

EASTER MONDAY
Regimental Sports Day. I kept goal for pot shots. 2 francs a shot. I let through 25 out of 50 (must have been poor sharp shooters!).

At night went to a dance at RHQ at Salle des Fets at Sidi Moussa. We had a good time, 200 gunners and about 80 ATS and 12 NAAFI girls.

On our way back our truck had an accident and 6 girls were taken to hospital with cuts and shock. We finished the journey (about 2 miles) back to camp in a blood wagon (army ambulance). There were no serious injuries.

We were now visiting Algiers nearly every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday as before with Tiffy Smith and Bob Pace with the usual walk in the park and tea at PO and WO Club bar and then to a cinema.

May 16, 1944
By now we had new Priests and we moved to 'Z' Reception camp near Cap Matafou. This camp was vastly overcrowded, we slept 8 men to a tent and there were over 2,000 men in the camp. The cooking arrangements were poor.

May 21, 1944
The Priests with their drivers went to the docks at Algiers ready for shipment to an unknown destination.

Would it be England? (for the invasion), Italy or the Far East - rumours were rife.

May 22, 1944
I trod on a nail whilst having a bath and cut my foot. I saw the MO and he gave me 10C (rest from all duties).

May 24, 1944
Left `Z' Camp in troop transport trucks to the docks at Algiers to the AGDA QUAY and boarded a French ship the "Ville d'Oran" said to be one of the fastest ships in the Med and had been a luxury ship for cruises before the war.

We were on Mess decks and as usual very overcrowded. In the harbour were many ships of which we saw French, British and American warships including the French warship "Honneur Patric".

May 25, 1944
Set sail at 07:00 hours and left North Africa (would it be for good this time?).

We sailed in a convoy with 6 other troop ships which were carrying the bulk of the 1st armoured division and were escorted by 4 destroyers and 2 cruisers.

One of the troopers was HMS Samaria which had taken the 11th (HAC) Regt out to the Middle East in 1941.

I was pretty ill on board but not actually sea sick. Boat Stations were at 10:30 hours for practice.

May 26, 1944
At 08:30 hours our ship with one destroyer left the convoy and proceeded much quicker on our way. These movements caused all sorts of rumours on board but we never found out why this happened. We had been keeping close to the North African coast but at 11:15 hours we could see the Bay of Tunis and then we headed for the open sea.

This would be the last time we saw North Africa.

We passed near to Pantellaria and just before dusk we saw Sicily.

Later in the day we learned that our destination was Taranto and at 10:30 hours we saw the coast line of the South of Italy.

May 27, 1944
ITALY
We docked in Taranto harbour which was full of all types of shipping. We disembarked at 13:30 hours and then marched 5 miles to a transit camp on General Siskorksi Road.

We stayed in this camp until May 29, 1944where we had the usual parades, washing clothes, blancoeing equipment etc.

May 28, 1944
I went down to ‘X’ Transit camp where our Priests were and I managed to get my camp bed from my Priest.

May 29, 1944
We moved off in 3 tonners at 15:00 hours and travelled 60 miles to a proper army camp near Altamura and Gravina.

We were billeted in buildings which had been built by the Italians to hold British Prisoners of War before Italy collapsed.

The camp was well set out with showers, NAAFI canteen and various billets and messes for different ranks.

We scrubbed all our webbing and our clothing in a specially constructed wash place. In the canteen was a very good Italian band and several Italian barber shops.

May 30, 1944
One day when striking camp we had to move some very large stones and throw them down into a quarry. On doing so I strained myself and I had pain in my tummy.

May 31, 1944
I had to go sick to the MO and he told me to have 2 days complete rest (10C bed down) as I had pulled a muscle. It was very painful.

I received 2 letters from home the first for 14 days.

June 02, 1944
Moved from camp 6 through Gravina and another 10 miles to a camp in the open country. The camp was on a large hill overlooking a big valley.

I had 2 further days in bed then got up as I felt OK except for being a bit weak with a pale face.

I took it easy for a few days. My Troop Commander Captain Sewell was quite concerned and said he hoped I would be OK soon.

Every day we saw at least 120 American Liberators go then return from bombing missions "Up North".

Saturday
I went to Bari which is a town and harbour off the Adriatic coast with Tiffy Smith to the NAAFI canteen, the yacht club and the Garrison Theatre to see an ENSA show called "Fancy Meeting You". It was very good and had a very good conjuror comedian and a smashing blonde singer called Joan Layne.

We left for camp at 22:15 hours arriving there at 00:20 hours after travelling 42 miles.

Another day we visited the cinema at Gravina and saw "Slightly Dangerous" with Lana Turner and Robert Young - Very good. We also visited a NAAFI canteen at Altamura which was 19 miles from the camp and I also had a haircut at an Italian barber shop.

At a cinema in Gravina we saw an Italian Variety Show called "International Varieties" which was sponsored by the American Airforce. The dancers were poor but a conjurer and an Italian girl who 'crooned' in English were very good.

We were now on schemes or manoeuvres. I went on one scheme in the OP Tank with Captain Sewell and the CO Lt Col Slade Powell.

We saw the shells bursting in a 'mock' battle with live shells.

The Colonel asked me if I wanted to be posted to the RHQ as full Sgt but I said no (again).
On the way back Capt. Sewell asked me to drive the Sherman - this was a shock to me as it was the first time I had even been inside a Sherman tank. I drove about 20 miles with earphones on and Capt. Sewell directing me with his head outside the turret.

June 06, 1944
D-DAY
We heard on the wireless that the Invasion of Europe had started on the Normandy beaches and it would be called D Day, the same day we heard that Rome had fallen to the Allied 5th army.

We had a lecture by the CO that we were to have more extensive training then join the 5th Corps. In the 8th army.

5th Corps includes 1st Armd. Division, 1st British Infantry Division and 4th Indian Division.

We saw a film at Gravina "Keeper of the Flame" with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, it was very good.

Later we heard that on the OP shoot a shell had accidentally fell near the OP and the CO Lt. Col Goodbody was wounded and his driver killed.

June 24, 1944
`E' BATTERY 11TH (HAC) REGT RHA CMF
I was posted to `E' Battery to take over Sgt F Gilberts Subsection as he had gone to OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) to be an officer.

I was No.1 of ‘B’ Subsection in 'E' Troop.

My subsection is: No. 3 Gun Layer L/Sgt Joe Canning
L/Bdr Fields
Gunners:
Short
Williams
Rogers
Platt
Driver Cowman

 

 

Chapter 21 – The Gothic Line

June 25, 1944
I was Regimental Orderly Sgt and I had to mount the guard at RHQ and organise a Church Parade for the RSM.

My address is now: L/Sgt. A Ward 954330
`E' Bty, 11th (HAC) RHA
Central Med Forces

We were now having the usual parades, maintenance and several outings to Barletta for a swim in the Adriatic sea and dinner at a smashing Sgt and WO's Club.

Also we were able to visit Bari on the coast and go to a cinema or theatre.

I usually went with new mates of E Bty:
Jack Lamer
Johny Legon
Staff Sgt. Sam Barnes
BSM Finch
Harry Webb
Sgt Pervical
LA Kitching

June 26, 1944
Moved on road with an ‘A’ Bty convoy (to whom we were attached) to make a transit camp near Taranto. Lt Wigmore was in charge. We built cookhouses, fitted triplet stores and put up tents etc.

We had several trips to Taranto where I was able to buy some films for my AGFA (German) camera.

We were on a beach on the Med again. The camp was called `Clarke' camp and we organised it for French troops, who kept coming for short periods to train and be equipped ready to invade the South of France.

We supervised the feeding arrangements but the French made some marvellous coffee. They had a boiler filled with water which was kept on the boil all the time with a calor gas stove. They kept adding coffee and water as it was used and when milk and sugar was added it was the best coffee we had ever tasted.

Most days we were able to have a swim after tea when the weather was still warm.

June 28, 1944
Orders came through that I had been promoted to full Sergeant and back dated to June 11, 1944.

August 01, 1944
I signed over to be No.1 on a Sexton self propelled gun on a tank chassis and our Priests were handed over to the American Army. We had become attached to the Priests as we had been the first to use them and we all thought they had saved a lot of casualties which would have occurred on 25 pounder guns.

August 04, 1944
We left Clarke Camp and moved back to the main ‘E’ Battery camp.

We started learning how to use Sextons which is a 25 pounder gun mounted on a Grant tank chassis and of course the usual maintenance.

Early in August I left camp with 30 gunners with the Sextons and half tracks at 13:30 hours. We travelled by road to the station of Taranto and loaded onto rail cars. We moved off at 07:45 hours. We travelled inside the Sextons but the train only travelled at a reasonable speed so we were able to walk from one low loader to another for a chat or a brew.

We stopped for a time outside Bari. We had 2 very bad experiences on the train journey. Twice we passed through very long tunnels and as there was only one line the rail cars with a tank on top took up nearly all the space and as we had a coal burning engine at the front and one at the back we were in pitch black and nearly suffocated, both engines used very dirty coal which produced thick black smoke.

We were pleased to be out in the bright sunlight after the dark tunnel and we were all as black as chimney sweeps and could spit liquorice allsorts.

We arrived at our destination Ortona where we unloaded and drove to a temporary camp near a Canadian cemetery. The town was badly bashed about as it had changed hands 3 times during the heavy fighting about 5 weeks previously.

We had also passed through Barletta just before Ortona.

We stayed in this area for 4 days. The countryside was different to what we had been used to - steep hills and valleys covered with trees and bushes.

We walked down to the beach which was covered in pebbles - I took some snaps of Italian kiddies.

At 06:30 hours we moved on our own tracks on the road through several villages and towns including Pescara.

At 11:45 hours we stopped at Roseta which was a very nice town.

In the afternoon we had a swim in the Adriatic then had a walk round the town and had several drinks at a bar.

At night we took a half track down to town. There was a fiesta during which all the people paraded through the streets with Tableaus etc. whilst the church choirs sang - a very grand sight, all the girls were dressed in white. After the Fiesta fireworks were let off and people all sat out on the pavements until after dark.

We aroused much curiosity as we were the first British Troops to stay in the town. The town had been liberated from the Germans by Polish Troops about 5 weeks early but the town itself had not seen much fighting.

The inhabitants treated us very warily as they had been abused and treated very badly by the Germans and then not much better by the Poles. They could not understand how well behaved the British Troops were except for the singing and good humour after much vino.

We returned to the camp at 21:30 hours and decided that we had seen some of the best looking and smartest girls that we had ever seen.

Next morning we left at 05:30 hours up the coastal road to a camp by the sea at Pedaso.

Here we had a lecture from the 2nd I/C that the Sextons had to be calibrated before we moved on because we would soon be in action and at the next stopping place everything had to be calibrated with no movement.

We maintained the Sextons, tightened the tracks etc. After 3 days the remainder of the battery came up in 3 tonners.

Jack Lamer brought me 10 snaps which had been developed and they were very good.

We went swimming several times a day when not on duty and had a walk into town at night - there was not much activity in the town only 2 barbers shops and a bar which sold raw vino (which we did not like much).

August 08, 1944
We calibrated the guns in a Wadi and fired into the sea.

We moved off at 16:15 hours up the coast road via Porta St George near to Civitanova. We camouflaged the guns and tents in an orchard on a farm. We had some laying drill and made the guns ready for action.

August 15, 1944
Sunday. Had a church parade then a lecture by 2nd Armd Brigade Commander Brigadier Goodbody (Ex Co. 11th (HAC)).

He said that a big battle had started the night before and that when the `break through' was made the 2nd Armd Brigade would pass through and would be the spear head of 1st Armd Division who were leading 5th Corps and the remainder of 8th Army.

This meant that we would be in front of all troops in Italy. The objective was the River PO then on to Vienna. It turned out to be wishful thinking.

The weather was now very hot and sunny and we were being pestered by millions of flies and mosquitoes.

The mail started coming through after having none for a fortnight.

I had a letter to say that my brother Eric and Stella Lyne had been married whilst he was on leave from the Navy.

We were now 40 miles from Ancona which was very near to the front line.

The railway near Ortona had been badly damaged so all supplies had to come up by road.

There was only one main road in the area with dozens of diversions where bridges had been blown and Bailey bridges or Pontoons were fixed by the Royal Engineers.

My subsection is now:
Sgt A Ward,
L/Bdr Dai Davies (Welshman)
Gunners:
Short (Geordie)
Williams (Taffy Welshman)
Gunner OP Holmes, (Derby)
Driver Mechanic Cowman (Skipton, Yorks)
Spare Ammunition Numbers:
Platt
Rodgers

We moved down to a workshop in Civitanova and had new rubber tracks fitted on the Sextons. It had been realised that the original steel tracks made too much noise (especially at night) so the enemy would hear us coming and they were damaging the asphalt roads. This work took 2 days.

We went back to camp for 1 night and then moved on our own tracks on the main road at 21:15 hours bound for the Gothic Line.

We travelled almost continuously for 2 days and 3 nights over high hills, bad diversions and deep fords across rivers. The route was a tank track almost parallel with the coast road and touching Ancona.

We went into leaguer with the IX Lancers. We had 4 hours rest and maintenance then moved onto the Gothic Line.

September 1944
THE GOTHIC LINE

The line had been broken but we should have passed through the 46th infantry division but the terrain was unsuitable for the Sherman tanks and the enemy were well dug in with anti tank guns and many tanks were lost.

This held up the attack although the 1st Armd Division had been on the move for 7 days and thrown straight into action which was not a good idea.

We had a gun position behind the Canadians and the 46th Infantry Division and I saw several trucks with the 70th Field Regt. Logo on them

We leaguered for the night but at 00:15 hours we got the order "Prepare to Move".

We moved at 00:45 hours and just after daylight a after very tiring journey of 8 miles over bad tracks we crossed the River Conca.

We took up action positions whilst 200 yards in front of us the tanks were being very heavily shelled.

September 03, 1944
After ½ hour the shelling stopped and after testing our sights we went into action for the first time with the Sextons.

The gun position was closely packed with all kinds of vehicles - Royal Engineers, Divisional HQ etc. and there was a P of War cage about 100 yards away.

We did a fair amount of firing by day and night.

Jerry was quiet during day light but sent over single planes at night dropping crackerjack bombs although none fell too close but they caused sleepless nights.

On the 3rd night Bofors Ack Ack guns opened up on them so I decided to sleep in a slit trench due to all the splinters flying about.

During the first 6 days in action my new gun fired about 400 rounds.

September 10, 1944
I took some snaps of the boys in action in water proof clothing after a very heavy rainstorm.

During one session of firing I shouted ‘fire’ when unbeknown to me our driver (Cowman) walked to the front of the Sexton to get some tea from a container and the blast shattered his eardrum.

He had to go to hospital as he was deaf and we learned that he had a perforated eardrum.

The 25 pounder gun has a terrific explosion when fired and it is unwritten law that no-one walks in front when in action.

We also heard that Captain Stevens had been killed and Major Richmond (2nd in Command) had been wounded.

We picked up some leaflets which the RAF had dropped on the German troops giving them news from all fronts and telling them how to surrender.

We moved to another position through St Clemente down a long winding track on a hill which was being shelled at frequent intervals.

We went into action in a wadi among some grapevines. A Gurkha infantryman had been killed and his body lay forlornly on the gun position. We still keep having these reminders of what could happen to any of us at any time.

One night during a heavy barrage from guns all round us a 25 pounder shell dropped short and landed between my gun and the command post. It was worked out that it must have been fired by 2nd RHA but fortunately no-one was hurt.

We had a visit from our new MO (Medical Officer) a South African.

Our own MO, Dr Martin was promoted to Major and posted to 46th Division. This position was very quiet although 6 shells fell just behind No.1 gun.

For several nights we had crackerjack bombs dropped near us but Beaufighter planes began to operate and things quietened down.

Driver Westlake was posted to my subsection to replace Driver Cowman.
During the night we moved 4 miles into a ploughed field. We were firing during the daytime and night time as well.

September 12, 1944
On the night of September 12, 1944at 18:00 hours we fired a concentration of 42 rounds HE. This was repeated at 19:45 hours, 21:40 hours and again at 23:06 hours, after which the Infantry put in an attack.

After this we kept on firing on DF and harassing fire tasks in support of the Infantry.

During the night I fired 250 rounds. We were kept busy firing until 11:30 hours when things quietened down.

We heard that the attack was going well. At 10:45 hours we had fired 20 rounds HE per gun on a spot where Jerry was setting up counter attack.

This battle was for 2 high ridges south and west of Rimini and the fighting on the wireless was described as violent with heavy casualties on both sides.

The Germans had positions well dug in with plenty 88 mm guns and many tanks and reinforcements brought from other sectors.

The Polish troops and Canadians were on our right and 46th and 56th Divisions on our left.

We listened to the news 3 times a day on No.19 wireless in the Sexton and it was relayed over the Tannoy system.

We heard that the Americans had crossed the German border in 2 places in France and that things were going well.

We also heard the Saturday football results from England.

September 19, 1944
We stayed here for 3 days then moved at 11:00 hours to a position on the River Marano. We saw plenty German Mark IV tanks which had been knocked out in this area.

We were dismayed when we found out that an RAF 8001b unexploded bomb was buried on the gun position. Fortunately it was still intact when we left.

We filled up with petrol (High Octane) and discovered that our carburettor was leaking so we had to travel back to LAD through Coriano on the division `down' route.

Whilst there the mechanics carried out a 50 hour vehicle check.

It was now raining heavily and the code word "Rainbow" came through and this meant that all movement by tracked vehicles was cancelled due to the poor state of the roads.

On this check we realised that our new 25 pounder had fired 1,178 rounds so far.

After 3 days we were allowed to travel back to the Regt. but we had great difficulty as the roads were blocked with traffic.

Arrived at the gun position at 18:30 hours where we `brewed up' (made tea).

The Griff was that we would be moving at 02:30 hours so we bedded down in the Sexton for a few hours.

We travelled for 1¼ hours in pitch blackness and my Sexton was leading the Battery when the edge of the track gave way and we slid down into a field at an angle estimated to be near to 55°. This was alarming as the tipping angle of a tank is said to be 45°.

We all baled out and waved the Battery past. They were able to pass with great difficulty as we were on a farmers single track with a bank on one side and about an 8 feet drop on the other into a field.

A half track pulling a trailer also went off the track near to us.

We made several attempts to get back on the track or to go down into the field but one of our tracks had come off so we could not move at all.

We were marooned there for 3 days when a `wrecker' vehicle from the Lancer's LAD (Light Aid Department) pulled us out and back on to our displaced track.

September 26, 1944
On the way forward to find the battery we were lost and by mistake we crossed the border into the `REPUBLICA DE SAN MARINO' but soon found a diversion which brought us back on the road which the battery had used. We only had signs on the roadside which the Battery had left for any stragglers.

We could see the town of San Marino which was a small country which was not involved in the war, although we had reports that the Germans were using the mountain on which the town was perched for an OP (Observation Point). After an hour we found the battery gun position just off a main road which was being shelled at intervals. We learned that the Battery was staying in this position for 2 to 5 days to rest.

 

 

Chapter 22 – The Plain of Lombardy

September 28, 1944
We had squad parades etc. and the Major came round and inspected the Sextons. He said "good show" to me.

We put up bivvies and dug slit trenches but on quiet nights I used my camp bed (what a luxury!!).

I received 4 letters from Mother, Nessie, Arthur Percival and a sea mail with baby Maureen's photograph in it. She was my niece whom I had never seen.

Once again it was raining heavily every day.

September 30, 1944
We moved by main road and over the River Marrechia and down the Rimini to Marino road into a gun position just off the road. It was too muddy to move far from the road.

Straight behind us were 277 Battery and 400 yards to the right was my old unit 279th Bty (both 70th Field Regt. RA).

October 01, 1944
I walked across to `C' Troop Command Post and saw my mate AI White. I stayed for 2 hours and had a chat with some of the lads I used to know, including Sgt Ernie Kaye, Sgt Fred Lindsay, GG Dawson, Keeble, Dawson (Ex Batman) and on the way back in the wagon lines I saw Derek Lockwood, Sgt Simpson, Gnr Barker, Harry Earle and Bdr Turner (Ex A Bty, 11th (HAC).

We stayed in this position for 6 days and AI White came to see me every day.

I also had a visit from Sgt Bernard and Sgt Hardaker who were very interested in the Sextons.

It rained for another 3 days and then it became warm and sunny.

In the last 6 days I had fired over 1,000 rounds HE (High Explosive).

I had to sleep in the Sexton in case any fire orders came through.

There was very little enemy activity except for odd shells falling about 500 yards away. A few planes came over at night to keep us awake but the crackerjack bombs were not too near to us.

October 05, 1944
Bdr Harry Ward was killed at the OP near his tank RF.

We moved again and I saw Bill Turner but I was not able to talk to him.

The mail was coming through a bit better now.

Progress in the battle was slow but very determined.

Now that the roads were drying up we are getting more supplies through.

Gen Montgomery gave orders that searchlights were to be used low over the battle area as artificial moonlight. This helps us a lot on dark nights especially when we are on the move.

October 08, 1944
We moved on the road via the town of San Arcangelo and across a bailey bridge over the River Rubicon to a gun position among trees of pears, apples and cabbages which came in very useful.

We were firing very regularly during the day and harassing fire at night.

We were very near the front line and we could hear machine guns chattering and enemy mortar bombs were falling about 600 yards away.

On the second day of this attack the Germans were pushed back so our position was much more comfortable.

We pitched tents for the gun crew but I still had to sleep in the Sexton by the tannoy and the order to `Take Posts' came every night for us to fire Harassing or Defensive fire tasks.

October 15, 1944
We had to put down a smoke screen for our infantry and we were told that it had been very effective.

On this day my Gunner/Signaller John Holmes was put on the OP Tank RE and in exchange I had his mate Gnr/Sig Buxton.

Orders "Prepare to Move" but it was a false alarm.

We all received a message from the new 8th Army Commander General McCreery. The old C.O General Leese had gone to Burma.

The weather was still very warm but damp and cold at night.

We were issued with a second suit of battledress and winter woollies.

At this time the tanks of 1st Armoured Division had had a very rough time as we were fighting in country unsuited for advancing tanks and there was not the number of tanks required for replacements so it was decided to break up the 1st AD and for us to work with the 2nd Armoured Brigade and support various Infantry Divisions so at times we supported 46th (Oak Tree) Division, 78th (Battleaxe) Division, 56th (Black Cat) Division and 4th Infantry Division.

In one of these attacks the Queens Bays had been caught in a wadi defended by Tiger tanks and self propelled guns. They lost 24 tanks in one action and ‘A’ Bty FOO was with them and Captain Drage and all his crew were killed.

Captain Drage had not long since come back to the Battery after a spell as Adjutant at RHQ.

We moved miles through Longiano on the Badia road and through Montegallio where we were under observation from the enemy for most of the way. Our priest had a petrol leak but after ½ hour we were able to repair it then carried on.

We passed the gun positions and echelons of 277th Bty and I saw Sgt Major Ben Lawson and Charlie Metcalfe.

We were held up in a traffic jam in Montegallio for nearly 2 hours.

We got into a gun position just before dark and started firing straight away. The Germans were 4,000 yards away over a ridge

We planned defensive fire at 2,000 yards but did not fire on them.

We had quiet nights except for firing harassing fire.

We supported Durham Light Infantry of 46th Division with tanks from 10th Hussars and 2nd Armd Brigade and they pushed on without opposition to Cesena. We advanced 6,000 yards in quick time.

October 19, 1944
The Royal Fusiliers made a bridge head over the River Savio south of Cesena.

Sgt Freddie Cull (‘A’ Bty) came to see me as he was passing on his way to Rome for 7 days leave so I gave him some films for him to have developed.

October 20, 1944
The Royal West Kents passed through the Fusiliers. The weather was fine for 7 days except for showers usually during the night.

RAF fighter bombers were over all day making sorties and at times we saw medium bombers passing over.

We were firing an average of 100 rounds a day a gun.

My limber gunner Bill Short went back to RHQ for 3 days rest.

46th Division were pulled out of action so we came under command of 4th Infantry Division.

We heard that when 1st Armd Div was broken up they had had very heavy casualties and Brigadier Goodbody (our ex CO) had resigned his command.

October 21, 1944
We had to be ready to move at 08:00 hours but at 07:45 hours we had to fire 30 rounds each on a DF task.

We then moved at 13:30 hours along 4th Div axis down a very steep hill which was in full view of the enemy OP's and from the hill we could see the much talked about Plain of Lombardy

PLAIN OF LOMBARDY
We went into action ½ mile from Cesena behind a high ridge.

Just over the ridge was the River Savio which was strongly held by the enemy.

Our Infantry had a small bridgehead across the river but could not get a proper bridge built. The Infantry swam across.

We had stray shells fall in the Battery area before dark but after dark we were heavily `stonked' and mortared but luckily no casualties. Odd shells and mortars fell all night.

October 22, 1944
Nice sunny morning but we dare not fire as we were only 3,000 yards from the enemy lines and we did not want to give away our position.

We had to bury all our ammunition (for protection) and the gunners were sleeping in slit trenches and No.1's slept on the Sextons.

We had a fairly good night although shells and mortars were landing at intervals not very far away.

The Germans were up to their usual tricks letting us have it during the night. We were also being troubled by NEBAL WERFERS which we called `moaning minnies' because they gave out a long shriek or whine before exploding. They were an early type of rocket and fired 6 barrels at once. They were very deadly.

We fired to a fire plan at 05:30 hours of 120 rounds a gun and the Infantry then attacked and the enemy scarpered (Retreated fast).

We had a couple of quiet days when we fired a few rounds and the Germans slung a few back at us.

October 25, 1944
We moved again through Cesena and over a long pontoon bridge built by the sappers.

This must have been a hard and dangerous job for them for the river was in flood and over 100 yards wide and pretty deep.

The span of the bridge was about 40feet high.

We moved into position near a crossroads but we only fired 2 rounds at 02:00 hours.

Then we had to stop firing as the enemy had withdrawn out of range.

October 26, 1944
We moved at 07:00 hours on to the main Riminni Forli - Bologne road and took up position near Forlimpopli. We were travelling on Route 9 which was a well known main road from the south of Italy to the North and our prime target when we started in action in Italy was said to be Bologne on Route 9. Were we nearing the end of our fighting? Only time would tell!!

We were only 3,200 yards from the river Ronco which the Germans held very strongly. The KRR (Kings Royal Rifles) of 1st Armd Div. Had a small bridge head across the river.

Rain started falling heavily on this day and I am writing my diary whilst sat in the Sexton fairly dry as over the top we have constructed a timber frame and slung over the top a tarpaulin sheet and 3 Bivvies. The ground outside is stood in water and the gun crew are in a tent with duck boards as a floor to walk on.

At present they are peeling spuds, cooking cabbages, cauliflower and boiling duck for dinner. These are `trophies' collected from the surrounding countryside.

L/Bdr Davies has gone to a rest camp for 3 days and I have Gnr Sims (a builder from Worksop) in his place.

1st Armoured Division (now reformed) are running a film show every day at San Arcangelo but I have not been able to go yet - it is called the `Rhino Rialto' picture house.

Jerry sent many shells over during the night which were landing on the road about 300 yards away.

We heard that Captain Henderson of ‘A’ Bty had gone over the river with an Infantry patrol - all were captured except him as he picked up a German Luger pistol, shot a German with it and then swam back to safety across the river.

October 27, 1944
We heard that our Battery Commander Major D Morris had won a bar to his MC (Military Cross) and his signaller Bdr Bennett (Percy, who was a pal of mine from Hastings) had won an MM (Military Medal).

Still raining!!!

We moved back 1,500 yards down Highway 9 to a gun position in the 10th Indian Division area.

We stayed for one night then next day tried to move. First the half tracks became stuck in the mud then Don Sub then finally all vehicles were stuck so fast that no-one could move.

Our Sextons were buried to the top of the tracks in soft sticky and very wet mud.

The move had to be cancelled and we all carried our kit into the farm buildings which we found nearby.

My sub section was in a farm house with our GPO (Gun Position Officer) Lt Whitby. We were with a very good Italian family who made us very welcome.

I slept in a "civvy" bed and we used the farm as though we owned it. The Italian farmers were only too pleased to let us do this as they were glad that the Germans had gone as there had been some ill treatment by the German soldiers.

They had 3 lovely looking girls (or women) aged 20, 22 and 25 and 3 younger boys, 2 old men and 2 old women so we were pretty well overcrowded.

We stayed for 3 days and it rained most of the time.

I was made NCO in charge of billeting arrangements. After dark we all gathered round a blazing kitchen fire telling tales and drinking many glasses of local vino. What a life!!!

During the 4th night we were pulled out of the muddy field by LAD trucks and on to the Highway 9 through Forlinpopli, turned left off the main road and we slept in the barn on another farm.

When daylight came we built a platform with bricks and rubble and put the Sextons on the hardcore so that we were back in action.

During the next 4 days we fired about 350 rounds per gun and then the enemy retreated out of range so we stayed in the same place for a rest.

November 12, 1944
Went to a cinema in Cesena and saw Andy Hardy's "Courtship".

We started playing troop football matches.

‘E’ Troop 2 v ‘F’ Troop 1
‘E’ Troop 2 v ‘F’ Troop 0

Freddie Cull (‘A’ Bty) returned from leave in Rome and brought my snaps with him (developed in Rome).

November 14, 1944
Prepare to move. I had a bad cold so I went to bed at 05:30 hours with 2 aspros and a hot lemon water.

I am writing my diary whilst in bed. Snaps received were of L/Bdr Jones (gun fitter), Sgt Legon and brother, the lads in the cookhouse, J Legon and Me (on a motorbike).

November 15, 1944
Moved via San Martini, S Varano and near Forli where we had to cross the river by a ford so we were hoping that our Sexton engine did not stall. Fortunately we forded the swollen river OK to be met by the sight of dead German soldiers who must have been killed whilst defending the bridge before it was blown. (Took snap of C sub fording the river).

We moved into a position by a farm house and during a quiet time we constructed an oven.

We raided the fields for potatoes, cabbages, apples and pears from the orchards and one of my sub Gunner (Taffy) Williams was an expert at catching rabbits and fowl which roosted in the trees. They were easy prey as he would climb up the tree and they were too terrified to move in the dark. He was also an expert at killing poultry and removing the feathers. All this helped out with the meagre rations which we were receiving.

During the night and day we were putting down several concentrations of fire to a fire plan and barrages for the Infantry to attack. Nearly every night we fired harassing fire to give the enemy sleepless nights, but they did the same to us.

Also the enemy Nebelwurfers were very active. These were enough to frighten anyone to death with the noise besides the damage done by their rockets.

‘F’ Troop were on the receiving end of a very heavy stonking one night but luckily no-one was hurt.

The enemy were also concentrating their fire on a bridge at Forli.

However some of the lads managed to get down to Forli to a cinema in the afternoons if quiet.

At this time leave was started to Blighty only men with a minimum of 4 years overseas were allowed to go. From our Battery went L/Sgt Jack Lamer, Bdr Bennett MM, L/Bdr Bowden for 4 weeks at home

Advances were being made by the 9th Lancers and Queens Bays who were operating with KRRC and 46th Div.

The Germans had pulled back behind the river Cosino but they were strong in this area.

They were bombed by medium and heavy bombers of the RAF.

We often saw thunderbolts (Fighters) in action firing rockets and dropping bombs.

 

 

Chapter 23 – Across the River Lamone and on through Faenza

November 23, 1944
2 years after El Alamein and still in heavy fighting. The Germans kept withdrawing to various strong points such as wide rivers where the bridges were blown up and were fighting tooth and nail for their country and their own lives.

We moved up Route 9 round a river diversion in 4th Division Sector and we were in front of the infantry and anti tank guns then we turned off the road and into a position only 3,800 yards from the enemy rearguard.

The weather now was very misty and damp, just like November at home.

November 26, 1944
Started RAINING again!!! at 11:00 hours. It is now 16:40 hours. I am sat in the Sexton and it is still pelting down.

November 27, 1944
Gun Fitter Bill Jones came back from leave in Rome with my photographs. They were very good. I sent 9 snaps home.

On the night of November 26, 1944 my sub had been firing harassing fire from 21:00 hours until 01:00 hours. This was very tiring as we had to work to a fire plan which meant firing one round at various intervals at different targets. The No.1 had to read the fire plan and fire at various times so it was very hard on the eyes looking at a wrist watch or sometimes a pocket watch every few minutes for hours at a time.

During this time we fired 32 rounds of HE. My Sexton has now fired approximately 4,000 rounds and the mileage is 440 miles. This does not allow for the many miles travelling on a transporter.

Still Raining
We heard that Alexander had been promoted to Field Marshall and he became supreme commander of all Med forces.

November 28, 1944
We were shelled very heavily and we heard that ‘A’ Bty had had casualties.

I was very upset to hear that my mate Sgt Tiffy Smith had been killed. A shell fell directly on to ‘B’ Troop A Bty Command Post and the new Troop Commander who had only just arrived in the Battery (Captain Grant) with Tiffy Smith and Bdr Pennington were blown to bits by the explosion.

We were never able to forget the horrors of war and think whose turn next?

Fox Troop had 2 men wounded but this time our troop was lucky. We had to go on a silent policy which meant that we could only fire in an emergency as the enemy were so close they would see our guns flash. The new 25 Pounders we had all had flash illuminators on the end of the barrel but the flashes could still be seen at short distances.

This policy lasted for 5 days during which we were shelled night and day and more so when it rained which was nearly all the time.

December 01, 1944
My Mother's Birthday
On this day the weather cleared up and we had a lecture from the Colonel on the future plans of the Regt.

We were to stay in action with the 2nd Armd Brigade and have no rest except maybe 1 Bty at a time in Forli.

Also the leave plan to England was explained to us.

December 04, 1944
A big attack went in by 46th Div.

We supported it with 200 rounds per gun.

On the 1st December I received a piece of wedding cake (from Eric and Stella's wedding) and a Xmas card from home.

I took some snaps of all subsections and staff trucks (later when returned they were all under exposed).

More Rain.

December 07, 1944
Gnr Buxton had to go to OP as a Signaller, L/Sgt Bennison went on leave to Rome so he took my snaps to be developed, Gnr (Taffy) Williams went with him.

They went on 7 December for 1 week.

Some men are having short leaves in Florence as well.

RAF bombers and fighters are still very active on fine days.

We were still able to scrounge fowls and even turkeys from the farms some of which were unoccupied as the farmers had run away from the Germans. Those who were left were so pleased to see us that they did not mind us helping ourselves, although they did not have much food themselves.

Of course the British Military money was worth a fortune to them.

Prepared to move but plans were cancelled as a good gun position could not be found near Faenza.

December 09, 1944
The enemy put in a big counter attack early in the morning with the 90th Light Infantry Division and our Infantry, The Lincolns, were pulled back 500 yards.

We put down a terrific artillery concentration and the attack was halted in places.

Eventually the enemy withdrew to his original position. We fired about 350 rounds per gun.

Later ‘E’ Bty was complimented by the CO on quick response and good shooting. The Infantry were very pleased with our fire.

We were firing all day at intervals and we learned later that the Germans had 2,000 casualties caused by artillery fire.

At night we fired harassing fire from 04:00 hours until 06:00 hours.

Sunday and Monday morning were very quiet just with odd shells from Jerry.

On Sunday night a 170 mm shell fell between No.1 gun and mine and dug right down into the soft earth (we said a quiet thank you for the rain) before it exploded and covered the area with mud and left a huge crater, but did no other damage. It was a very large shell and would have wiped us out if it had exploded on impact like 25 pounder shells do.

December 12, 1944
Completed 5 years service in the army.

We still cannot see an end to the fighting. We have had 3 fine days.

December 13, 1944
Several men were sent to Forli to hold and prepare billets for us for Xmas as we were going out of the line for a rest on the 16 December 1998, but the plans were altered when the 56th Infantry Division wanted us for extra artillery.

December 15, 1944
We fired a barrage of 386 rounds a gun to support a successful attack by the KIWIS (New Zealanders) they took over 300 prisoners and killed many more.

The Regt. Received a personal message from General Freyburg (Co 2nd NZ Division) congratulating us for our good support.

December 18, 1944
Leave to ROME. 4 Sgt's tossed up and Sgt (Tommy) Thompson won so he went for a weeks leave with Gnrs Buxton and Sims from my sub.

During the morning 279th Battery passed our gun position and I saw a lot of the lads I had known in ‘C’ Troop.

I missed AI White but I saw Norman Harrison, Don Gregson, Bobby Inglis and BSM Hawkins.

More rain but dry intervals at times.

The mud was very deep and great difficulty was being experienced getting ammunition to the gun positions.

December 19, 1944
Moved forward 300 yards into a dryer field and the ammo trucks were now able to reach us.

During the night we fired a barrage to support the Kiwis but the Germans spotted our gun position so gave us a lot back.

During a lull in our firing Driver Westlake, Gunners Dickinson and Platt took shelter in a slit trench when with an almighty roar a shell came over and buried itself in the same trench. Fortunately it did not explode and we were able to dig them out after a few minutes when we had got over the shock.

They were all unconscious but it was not long before they came round and were OK physically but suffering from shock.

Several shells hit the Command Post and did some damage but no-one was hurt. We had things pretty rough on this position and we heard later that 6 men had been recommended for an MM (Military Medal) but of course they did not all get one (only 2).

I had a frightening experience as we were firing a barrage during some heavy shelling from the enemy. We ran out of ammo and I did not like ordering the ammo numbers out of the Sexton as they had a very rough time so I had to go out myself and hand the ammo through the Sexton trap door which was in the side of the tank.

Wasn't I pleased to get back inside!!!

We then heard that the gun position we had vacated that morning had a big pasting from enemy artillery so we realized we had been very lucky to move. Gunner Thatcher was posted to my subsection.

December 20, 1944
We moved forward across the River Lamone and through Faenza to a gun position beside route 9.

Once again a very sticky position. We were shelled heavily every night. The enemy must have been able to see us from some high ground in front of us. Our luck held and no-one was hurt.

We were told our immediate plans.

On the night of the 25 December (Xmas Day) we were to support an attack by the Kiwis and the 10th Indian Division on the 26 December then move forward to the River Senio then wait until we were pulled out of action.

However all the plans were changed after a heavy snowstorm.

December 24, 1944
The Colonel made a snap inspection and we were all given a rocket for mud on the Sexton and alleged dirty rifles which I disagreed with.

However he was in charge so we could not complain. We were now under the command of 56th (Black Cat) Division.

December 25, 1944
XMAS DAY 1944
We were in a gun position on a farm and the Padre came and we had a service on the farm.

It was a mild sunny day and very quiet. I think both sides had decided to enjoy Xmas day with no bombing or shelling. We set up tables in the farm yard area and the gunners sat down and were waited on as the usual army practice by the Sgt's, WO's and Officers.

For Xmas dinner was - turkey, chicken, pork, vegetables, potatoes, plum pudding and a few crackers. The gunners had several bottles of beer each. The Sergeants had their meal afterwards with a glass of port or sherry. We were advised not to get drunk incase the enemy attacked. However Xmas day turned out to be very quiet so it was a change and a well enjoyed time just not to be dodging shell or bomb splinters.

December 26, 1944
BOXING DAY
Was pretty quiet but during the night the enemy gunners had made up for Xmas Day and heavily stonked us. Also planes were over every night dropping bombs, mostly near Faenza.

We did not fire a round from this position. We heard that Bdr Parsons, Gunners Oliver and Tucker had been injured on mines.

About this time we were billeted for a day in the grounds of a factory which made silk stockings. We all piled into the factory hoping for a few free samples, but before evacuating the main building the Germans had slashed every box and ruined the stockings. What a let down!!!

December 28, 1944
We moved out under cover of darkness, odd shells were dropping near by as we moved off via Faenza and down route 9 to Forli.

We stayed here all day so we were able to visit a canteen and a cinema where I saw “49 Parallel".

We loaded on to transporters at 20:00 hours and moved via Rimini, Riccione and Pesaro. We moved into billets, we were in real houses which were used by visitors as holiday homes. We organized the Sergeants Mess and then back to usual parades and maintenance.

These houses had no heating as they were only normally used in summer so our mechanics fitted up oil drums then allowed diesel oil to drip on to a bowl of water and this was then lit - this gave out a very hot flame and the smoke was allowed to escape by a pipe shoved through a bedroom window. This worked OK but we have been breathing in the fumes because when we woke up in the morning our throats were dry and we could spit just as though we had been eating Licorice Allsorts!!!

The front had become static due to very heavy rain and snow so it was almost impossible to move so most of the front line troops were moved back into more comfortable areas.

1945

January 04, 1945
I went on 7 days leave to Rome.

I went with L/Sgt Joe Cannings on a truck to Rimini then back to Riccione by train. The train left at 1300 hrs down the coast to Ancona then inland across the mountains and we stopped for a meal at Jesi.

We travelled all through the night and arrived in Rome 09:00 hours.

We boarded trucks which took us to a camp on the edge of the city.

It was raining (not again!!!)

Our billet was in 51 rest camp called `The Ritz'. The camp had been a holiday home before the war in chalets which was like a luxury Butlins.

At 14:00 hours we boarded trucks and rode down into Rome. First we went to the Alexander Club for a meal - the best forces club we had ever seen. Then to the Super Cinema. We took some snapshots with my camera.

During the week we had 4 days of rain and a snowstorm which laid about 1" thick which was said to be the first in Rome for 50 years.

We visited the Vatican City and had an audience with the Pope. This was on a NAFFt/EFI tour from the Alexander Club. It was costly but we were taken to all the highlights of Rome by bus and an Italian guide who could speak English explained everything to us.

In St Peters we had to leave our cameras in the entrance and they gave us a token so that we could collect them when leaving. We all bought Rosaries (Roman Catholic strings of beads) then we all lined up in a long room with a red carpet down the centre and marked off with rope hanging about 3 feet high which was said to be gold plated.

Then the Pope who was Pope Pias XII was carried in on a kind of bed with a very ornate canopy. We lined the ropes and held up our rosaries for him to bless them.

He only stopped at intervals but he did not touch mine. Then at the end of the room he stopped, turned around and spoke to us all in 8 languages then he disappeared through a door - A very moving experience.

We marveled at the ceilings painted over many years by Michael Angelo who had painted them on a scaffold laid on his back.

We had 2 tours during the week and also visited the Chapel where we saw the actual chains which St Peter had worn.

We saw a famous painting of Moses painted by Michael Angelo and the ruins of the old Rome, where we saw the race track where the film ‘Ben Hur’ was copied from.

We visited the Coliseum and marvelled at the building. The guide told us that in Roman times it would hold 80,000 spectators and the place could be emptied in 15 minutes such was the planning. We saw the cells where the slaves (Christians) were held before going in with the lions - a terrible place.

Joe and I met several other men who were on leave from our Regiment.

We also visited the Catacombs which were a series of underground tunnels just outside the city these were said to have been constructed for the Christians in the years of early Christianity but more recently just before the fall of Rome (7 months previously) June 1944 the Germans had herded over 300 Italian partisans inside and then machine gunned them all. Very gruesome and at times we had to climb through very narrow dark tunnels. Must have been terrible for the partisans.

We saw several films at the cinemas - Danny Kaye in "Up in Arms" - Very good, "Song of Nevada", "So Proudly We Hail".

We visited a theatre and saw the welcome show "Aladdin" with Helen Ritchie and an American show at the Barberini Theatre.

We listened to various bands at the Alexander Club and the YMCA Alex Club.

I took quite a few snapshots although the weather was mostly dull and raining.

 

 

Chapter 24

January 12, 1945
We travelled in trucks from the camp to the railway station, boarded a train and travelled the same route back to Orte where we stopped for a meal.

We arrived in Rimini at 10:00 hours. Then back by road to the Battery. We were just too late for the Battery Inspection by BC.

At night we went to a dance in a nearby village there were 5 men to every girl so we came away at 21:30 hours. I didn't have a dance.

January 15, 1945
Usual parades, maintenance and for a change marching and rifle drill.

January 16, 1945
I was Orderly Sgt and Lt Wigmore was Orderly Officer.

I was Senior Sgt at this period as BSM Finch and Sgt Legon were on leave so I had to act as Troop Sgt Major.

At Pesaro we visited a cinema and saw "Chip Off The Old Block" which was very good.
I had a letter and telegram from Nessie, she was OK.

I gave 1 pint of blood as a voluntary donor (I was group 04).

At the cinema we saw "Captain Blood', "Two Senoritas", "One Dangerous Night".

Football started again. 1st round of TMIMI Cup I played for the Battery.

‘E’ Bty 5 v ‘B’ Bty 1 but this match had to be abandoned 15 minutes from time when a sudden hurricane blew up and blew down the goal posts.

I played for Regt 11 (HAC) Regt. 3 v Brigade HQ 2 in the first round of the Brigade Cup.
Semi Final 11th RHA 2 v 661 Workshops 1.

January 17, 1945
I played in goal for the 11th (HAC) Regt. in the Final of the Brigade Cup on a very muddy ground at the Stadium Stortivo, Pesaro.

Result 325th RASC Coy 7 v 11th RHA 1. We were outplayed by a bigger team on a very wet ground.

I had a good game but we lost Rosie with a leg injury after 30 minutes play.

Team: Sgt A Ward (E Bty), Holder (RSC), Bennett (E), Rourke (RC of Sigs), Adams (A), Cowman (RHQ), Pickering (E), Rosie (A), Ebdon (A), Kilgannon (E), WolstonHolme (A)

Jimmy Wolstonholme came from Sheffield. On the same night I went to a dance organized by ‘A’ Battery at the Teatro de Danse Pesaro. Music was played by the RAF band which was very good. I enjoyed the night from 18:00 hours until 21:30 hours and for a change there were plenty of girls present.

January 29, 1945
We had a heavy fall of snow.

January 31, 1945
We had a party in our Sergeant’s Mess given to officers and Sergeants. Everyone was very merry and we did not break up until 03:30 hours in the morning. It was snowing.

We had had some light falls of snow during the last few days and I took some
snaps of Sergeants with snow on the ground.

February 01, 1945
I went to the Garrison Theatre which was an Opera House before ENSA took it over.

We were all sat round in small boxes. We saw Professor Chirelly who was a famous Italian hypnotist. He was very good and we had a night of laughter with the antics of the people he had on the stage doing daft things when under his spell. He was noted for using hypnosis in hospitals for people to have operations.

Prepare to move - The main party moved off once again towards the front line.

February 02, 1945
We moved off with the Sextons on transporters at 15:30 hours via Cattolica, Riccione, Rimini, Cesena, Forli to Ravenna arriving at 22:30 hours. We unloaded and I slept in the Sexton.

February 03, 1945
Moved off on trucks at 08:00 hours and we took over gun positions from 1st RHA. 1st RHA were going out of action because 130 men from the Regt were time expired so they would be returning to England after 4'/z years overseas. ‘B’ Sub were in fox Troop for 2 days whilst one of their Sextons came back from LAD after repairs.

I was No. 4 gun.

German planes came over at night dropping parachutists to carry out acts of sabotage.

February 07, 1945
The weather is getting warmer. We have frost at night but sunny afternoons.

The snow has all gone but plenty mud is left behind.

We are having a quiet and unusual easy time just now.

February 08, 1945
Defensive fire called for at 05:15 hrs very urgently and my gun was the first to fire in the whole Regt. (24 guns).

We had to track for 29° which is a large change of direction but we only fired 3 rounds per gun. We found later that only one gun in the whole area had beaten us by firing first, the enemy must have been mounting a counter attack, which must have failed.

February 10, 1945
Inspection by Colonel. He was pleased with our gun turnout.

February 12, 1945
We fired 3 rounds on a calibration shoot observed by a spotter plane.

February 17, 1945
Inspection by BC Major Mansell. It was pretty good but he found several faults.

February 19, 1945
I was in charge of 40 men from the battery under the command of Canadian Royal Engineers. We were levelling out hardcore to form a 3rd class road. I did not like this as they expected NCO's to work manually with the men and it was very hard and tiring work.

February 20, 1945
Later in the day we had an inspection by the MO.

February 21, 1945
Fired on Clover SOS lines 2 rounds per gun at 05:15 hours at a German Patrol.

February 22, 1945
2 men per gun had to sleep in the Sexton each night, this was because Fox Troop had been 4 minutes late in firing on a defensive fire plan.

February 23, 1945
Fired 3 rounds a gun at 17:00 hours on a divisional target.

February 24, 1945
Inspection by BC Major Mansell -Very good he said to me.

February 25, 1945
Sunday. A sunny, warm day. I took some snaps in a field - we were wearing our new ties which had been issued to us for the first time.

L/Bdr Dai Davies was promoted to Bdr and back dated to December19, 1944 and he went on leave to a rest camp at Loretto.

February 28, 1945
We moved over the river Lamone through Villanova and took over a gun position from ‘A’ Battery.

I had to sleep on the Sexton every night as we were firing harassing fire both day and night.

After 2 more days the gun position was taken over by 25 pounders of the 53rd Regt RA who were in the 8th Indian Division then we moved through the village on the Ravenna road.

We fired about 30 rounds a day on HF and observed shooting. We were now supporting Italian Infantry and a Jewish Brigade. One day I went to Ravenna to the Diamond Theatre and saw "2 Girls and a Sailor" which was very good.

March 08, 1945
Gunner Williams had gone to Florence for 7 days leave and he was followed by Gunner Sims. I received letters and a parcel of cigarettes from Nessie.

We were getting news on the radio of good progress by the Russians on the Eastern front. Also the River Rhine had been crossed in Germany by the British Troops.

March 12, 1945
I went over to ‘A’ Battery to see my old mates. I played in 2 scratch football matches whilst there.

Sergeant Legon's Sexton was taken out of action to calibrate his gun so I took over as No. 1 pivot gun and averaged firing 120 rounds a day.

The weather was now `smashing' sunny and warm with early morning mists.

I slept on the Sexton every other night and Bdr Davies took over on my night off.

March 19, 1945
We were in action on a farm and between our gun and A sub was a haystack which caught fire at 22:30 hours. We tried to put it out but it was impossible and was completely burnt out. We had to move the 2 Sextons further up the field so there was no danger to our ammo.

We were frightened that the blaze would bring some shelling from the enemy but we did not have any.

March 20, 1945
We were relieved by ‘A’ Battery and we moved back 1,500 yards behind the River Lamone into position in another farmyard.

March 21, 1945
All the battery went up to the coast and calibrated the guns within 3,000 yards of the enemy line.

Then back to maintenance and laying drill.

March 26, 1945
Went on the road practising quick actions. In between we kicked a football about but we were very upset when a truck ran over it and it burst.

We fixed up a Tannoy in a farmhouse so that we could hear the news.

The news from the Western Front was very good with Monty's and Patton's troops being well to the fore front.

March 28, 1945
Moved off in the dark at 21:30 hours down route 16 then up the coast road just short of Lake Commachio and the River Reno. We carried out a night occupation, erected camouflage nets and I slept in the Sexton. During the day we had to keep well camouflaged and under cover as we did not want enemy planes to know we were there.

Easter Sunday
We put our clocks forward one hour. We prepared 200 rounds to be fired on a fire plan to support a big attack by Marine Commanders. Zero hour was at 23:00 hours but we had to sit waiting until 04:45 hours because some of the assault craft had been stuck in mud.

The attack was an invasion force hoping to land behind the River Reno and cut off enemy troops.

We fired 62 rounds HE 222 airburst over a bridge. Then 44 rounds HE119 in support of the attack. There were 150 guns involved in the attack.

Next morning showed that the attack was going very well.

The Colonel came round to speak to everyone about his 14 day leave in Blighty.

The weather was still sunny and warm.

Easter Monday
I took some snaps of the lads under the camouflage nets drinking the Easter issue of bottled beer.

This area reminded us of the areas of Derbyshire with grassy hills and hollows covered with yellow gorse bushes.

We were firing during the day to support more attacks and we heard that the Commando's had landed OK and captured 600 Prisoners of War and 8 guns. We then chased the enemy up the `spit' of land between the Adriatic sea and Lake Commachio.

Next day we followed on over the River Reno and into a position by the lake. Several German 105 mm Howitzers had been abandoned in this area in a good condition.

We stayed here for one night firing HF.

When the planes dropped flares the whole area was lit up just like daylight.

The Commando's were held up by strong enemy opposition on a canal.

At 04:30 hours we moved back down the road and further inland.

April 05, 1945
We fired in support of an attack by 56th Division over River Reno. We fired 200 rounds a gun until all objectives were taken.

April 06, 1945
Moved down to Ravenna in daylight and arrived at 19:15 hours. I had an hour in the Church of Scotland canteen.

April 07, 1945
We moved off at 02:30 hours down a railway track to Russi then on a road to a gun position just over the River Lamone (we were near to a bridge which was being shelled at frequent intervals).

We heard that 2 ½ hours before we arrived the gun position had been heavily shelled and the Command Post director had been hit (instrument for setting up guns on line).
We camouflaged the Sextons laid on line then bedded down for the remainder of the night.

My gunners slept in a farmhouse but there would not be much sleep as it was already 05:40 hours and nearly daylight.

We were in danger from Spandau machine gun bullets which were being sprayed over our position.

During the day we dug into the ground and buried 300 rounds of ammunition and after dark a further 300 rounds arrived.

It was hard work but fortunately the enemy were very quiet.

For the past 7 days we had had very little sleep and everyone complained of having headaches and being run down.

April 08, 1945
Had a good 8 hours sleep.

April 09, 1945
D DAY IN ITALY
This was the start of a big attack by 8th and 5th armies and we were to play a big part.

At 14:00 hours the sky was full of bombers of all kinds including Flying Fortresses and Liberators of the USAAF which were to blast the enemy positions over the River Senio then came medium bombers, fighter bombers, rocket firing Thunderbolts, Bostons all escorted by Spitfires.

We were told that 1,640 planes were to be involved.

The heavy planes were guided though lanes of Ack Ack shell bursts and flames on the ground towards their targets. We saw one Liberator come down in a spin and crash over enemy lines. I took a snapshot of Driver Cowman staring up at the sky in amazement.

The sky in front was black with smoke.

At 15:20 hours our programme started. We first fired a softening up programme then at 19:20 hours which was H hour the Kiwis attacked in force and we fired a counter mortar programme to keep the enemy front forces' heads down.

Then at 20:10 hours we fired a creeping barrage so that the Kiwi infantry could follow up a little behind our shell bursts.

We had to lay our guns very accurately on these barrages or we would be firing on our own men.

We kept on firing until 23:00 hours and then we were able to bed down. We did not sleep very much and we were about very early in the morning ready to start again.

The Regt had fired 13,000 rounds in 24 hours. The attack was going very well and 2 bridgeheads were made over the river by the Kiwis and on our right the 8th Indian Division were across the river. On our left on Route 9 the Poles went across so the troops were well established over this very strong point.

April 10, 1945
Many bombers were over again by now. There must be many punch drunk troops on the other side of the River Senio.

The weather was perfect. We moved forward into a position near Cotognolia and we prepared to fire a barrage but it was cancelled.

Bdr Davies was seen smoking on the Sexton by the Colonel and I had to `put him on a charge'. He was up before the BC and he gave him a reprimand. Smoking was disallowed on the Sexton due to High Octane petrol and cartridge cases which could soon flare up as they contained gunpowder and cordite. We were always loaded up with ammunition.

April 11, 1945
We moved forward over the River Senio and through Lugo - here the civilian population were still dazed from the shelling and bombing but were pleased to see us.

We moved into leaguer with the 9th Lancers and 2nd Armd Brigade.

We were given the `Griff' that we were waiting for 8th Indian Division to get a bridgehead over the River Santerno and then the Queens Bays and ‘A’ Battery were to pass through them then the 9th Lancers and ‘E’ Bty were to push forward as an armoured column.

The Kiwis already had 2 bridgeheads across the river.

There was a terrific amount of shelling by both sides but the enemy shells were falling in front of us.

April 13, 1945
We crossed over the River Santerno and we were the first artillery across the river and we leaguered with 9th Lancers.

We had 4 M10 tanks to protect us against enemy tanks.

We moved slowly forward behind these tanks who had bulldozers with them to construct rough roads.

At 15:30 hours we pulled into a gun position. The enemy were putting up great resistance. He shelled our area and an ammunition truck was hit and set on fire on the road about 200 yards from us.

We were in danger from flying splinters as 75 mm shells exploded.

April 14, 1945
Enemy planes were strafing chiefly after dark and of course down came the crackerjacks to keep us awake.

We moved forward into a position just short of the River Reno. The forward Sherman tanks were doing well but they were being held up by the many mines the enemy had left behind.

April 15, 1945
We made a long detour to get over the River Reno as the bridge was not completed as it was under heavy enemy fire.

We travelled down Route 16 over the River and up a large hill on the other side.

We went into position among some trees and fired a barrage of 200 rounds.

At night chandelier flares were dropped in front of us by the RAF to make night turn into day. We felt very vulnerable as we knew the German front line was not very far away.

 

 

Chapter 25 – The River Po Crossed in Force

April 17, 1945
We moved at 06:00 hours behind the IX Lancers. They passed through the Queens Bays and we were followed them through Argenta Gap.

We went into action about 08:30 hours approximately 700 yards from enemy lines - too near for comfort and much nearer to the enemy than artillery men usually were.

The tanks were mopping up just in front of us we could see their machine guns firing away and Spitfires suddenly appeared and machine gunned the enemy not very far away from us.

At 09:15 hours we had a rest from firing so I decided to have a quick shave, and wash in a bucket but suddenly machine gun bullets came whistling all around so it was a very quick shave. We sheltered behind the Sexton and just hoped that the enemy did not open up with mortars as we would have had no chance.

After a time the bullets stopped coming so we guessed that one of the Lancers Sherman tanks had put it out of action. We were really pleased about that.

At 10:30 hours we had a Divisional target and we had to track 90°, i.e. at right angles to our line of fire to fire at a tank only 1,800 yards away.

During the tracking which was excessive for our type of tracks one of our tracks came off. We started to 'break' it when Jim Hodgson of ‘A’ Bty brought his Sherman tank and pulled us back on the track again and when finished at 15:30 hours we were back in action again.

At 16:30 hours a petrol truck came to re-fuel us and he stopped behind our Sexton when we were heavily stonked by enemy 105 mm guns including airbursts. One shell landed about 8 yards from my gun and peppered the sides with shrapnel. We had our heads well down and fortunately we were not firing at the time. The petrol cans were hit also my cartridges but it was a miracle that nothing was set on fire. We were all very badly shook up but no-one was hurt. In nearby Fox Troop Gunner Hufford was wounded.

Later we were firing when we had 2 more periods of very heavy shelling. We managed to keep firing although the Tannoy and wire on my Sexton were shattered by shrapnel. We had to receive and send orders by shouting to the Command Post.

We moved at 18:30 hours up to axis road of 78th Division and we passed many burning enemy tanks and SP guns and many farm buildings were on fire.

Of course many bodies were scattered around, some almost unrecognizable as human beings and many farm animals lay dead where they had been caught in the gun fire. The smell was terrible and animals and men alike were soon covered with the dreaded flies - I have never liked flies since I gave a lecture on "Hygiene in the Field" in Africa.

We all worried more than usual now that we would be hit as we realized that soon it would be all over.

We went into action again very close to the enemy, on our left a Spandau machine gun was rattling away and bullets were flying around again. The 9th Lancers were fairly racing away with us close after them and a bridge over the River Conca was captured intact, and the Lancers and A and E Batteries of the 11th HAC were well in front of the main force of the 8th Army.

We had to take turns on guard and I was on from 03:00 to 04:30 hours, although the night was unusually quiet. At 04:15 hours we fired 15 rounds on a DF target.

We moved forward at 10:15 hours, things were very hectic, we were moving fast and the ammunition trucks were having difficulty keeping up with us and keeping us supplied with ammo. The forward tanks kept sending messages for us to fire smoke screens "OBOE targets" to cover their advance. We were now in a very concentrated area of guns, tanks etc. ready for another `swan'.

We kept behind the 9th Lancers and passed through the forward tanks of the Queens Bays then over a canal at Porto Maggiore then over another canal which had just been taken from the enemy.

The enemy were fighting for their lives now to defend the River Po which was very wide and they knew it was the last natural obstacle for us to cross before swanning out on the Lombardy Plain into Austria and then hopefully into Germany itself.

We leagued near a village which was being stonked at intervals by enemy 105 mm guns and we could see in front was a tower on a church which we guessed the Germans were using as an observation post so they could see all our front line advancing.

We moved back 200 yards into a gun position and fired a few rounds. The church was now being hit by our artillery.

We fired a few rounds of HE when disaster struck - we were being shelled very heavily when a shell fell very near to the Gun Position Officer's truck and our GPO Ack (Assistant) Duckworth was hit and died instantly. He was a good mate of mine and I would think about the most popular man in the Battery. A South African man who was attached to us Lt Richardson was wounded and taken to hospital.

Ducky was not married but had told us he was courting an Irish nurse. His death was a great shock to us just a few days before the end of the fighting. It was just what we all dreaded at this time.

Soon afterwards we moved forward across a railway line into what was supposed to be a quiet area, but we had a sleepless night firing on targets for the 9th Lancers.
Next day we moved at 06:00 hours to a farm further forward and we saw dozens of enemy tanks and vehicles knocked out. There had been a vicious fight in this area.

We fired 15 rounds then we were told that we were going out of action for 12 hours rest. We were all worn out and ready for the rest. We had a quiet night although my subsection was on guard duty during the night.

April 23, 1945
Next day we moved at 12:15 hours up 78th Division axis road into action again behind 3 farms.

It was near a village and the people here were very pleased to see us. A crowd soon gathered round the Sextons and I took some snaps of them. One girl called Vallina was very friendly but could not speak English. Between us we realized she was saying she would like a British soldier for a husband.

They were glad to see the Germans move out as there had been some ill treatment and raping of young girls.

April 24, 1945
We moved on at 10:45 hours the next morning through a village, ‘A’ Bty were on our left and were being shelled by the desperate German troops.

We fired 30 rounds HE and then 20 rounds of Super Charge at enemy tanks near Ferrara. We were firing at our maximum range (about 8 miles) so we had to move further forward.

We moved at 18:45 hours and went into action near a farm which had been captured from the Germans at 14:15 hours on the same day by the East Surrey Regt.

We fired 30 rounds HE. We did not know at the time that these would be the last rounds we would fire in the war.

April 25, 1945
We moved again at 13:00 hours about 3,000 yards to the west into a concentration area for a rest.

At night we had a few drinks of whiskey in the Command Post with other No.1's and officers.

April 26, 1945
Reveille at 09:00 hours - What Bliss!!! Maintenance at 10:00 hours until 12:30 hours.

I had a bath and washed some clothes, (in a bucket).

News came through - the River Po had been crossed in force and the enemy were in full retreat.

We were much refreshed by a good `kip', change of clothing and a bath so we were looking forward to chasing an enemy in full retreat and perhaps pick up some loot.

Since taking over the Sextons from the Priest my gun has fired over 8,000 rounds.

We stayed in this position for 3 days then moved to the next farm and prepared to stay for 7 days rest.

We then learned We Had Finished Fighting.

May 01, 1945
We heard from the CO that since supporting the Commando attack on the Spit on Lake Commachio to the last round fired by A Battery over the River Po on 25 April 1945, the Regt had fired 42,000 rounds of HE and 4,500 rounds of smoke, that is a total of 46,000 rounds fired by 24 guns equals 1,937 per gun in less than 24 days.

The people on this farm made us very welcome and we prepared for a long stay.

We organized billets in a farm building and cleared out a room for a Sgt's Mess. We paid 2 girls from the Italian family (which was a large one) to wait on us at meal times and to keep the billets clean.

Our Sextons and guns were cleaned and we had plenty of `spit and polish' as in a peace time army.

May 02, 1945
Heard Newsflash on Radio.

"Unconditional Surrender Of All German Troops In Italy"

One Million men involved and all equipment to be handed over to the 8th and 5th Armies.

The main topic of conversation now was `how long before we went home?'

 

 

Chapter 26 – Peace Time in Italy and ‘V-E Day’ the End of the War in Europe

PEACE TIME IN ITALY
That night we had a big party. All the officers and Sergeants gathered in the Sergeant’s Mess, we all became well and truly drunk. The wine appeared as if by magic and plenty whiskey had been saved up for this day.

The sky was full of flares, rockets and Verey lights of all colours.

There were bonfires everywhere, we had captured some German trucks and we decided to set fire to one which had been used as an office. We dropped several matches into the open petrol tank but nothing happened until we decided to set fire to the papers inside. We had a smashing bonfire, we gathered round singing our heads off and the local people all joined in and were as happy as we were.

The locals had supplied most of the wine but there must have been a method by some of them in this as we realised that while we were all enjoying ourselves some Italians were stealing some of the trucks which we had captured. When we found out some of us ran down to the vehicle park and ran after one truck but they got away with it.

We went to bed happy with events and pleased to have a night without listening for planes, bombs, fire orders.

The most peaceful night for years.

May 03, 1945
We were given a whole day off. No duties at all so the first thing was to organize some ground where we could play football. It took some getting used to being so quiet. The birds were singing and life in the area seemed to be soon returning to normal.

May 04, 1945
Maintenance all morning.

Afternoon - football ‘E’ Troop 2 v ‘F’ Troop 1.

For the next few days we spent resting, maintenance, route marches, playing football, the usual parades and listening to the news about the war in Germany.

May 06, 1945
We heard on the wireless that the German forces in North West had surrendered so we had another celebration drink.

Played football ‘E’ Troop 2 v BHQ 0.

May 07, 1945
Went to a cinema in Ferrara renamed 'Rhino Ritz' (after 1st Armoured Division Sign).

May 08, 1945
8 MAY 1945 - VE DAY
We gathered round the wireless at 15:00 hours and heard the Prime Minister, - Winston Churchill announce the official END OF WAR IN EUROPE.

The Germans had taken unconditional surrender. Hitler was dead. So it was all over in Europe.

At 21:00 hours we heard the King George VI broadcast then we had another party to celebrate and once again the sky was lit up with flares, bonfires, Verey lights and rockets.

May 09, 1945
We had a Victory Church Parade and heard a speech from the Colonel.

He said our future was uncertain. We were staying in this area near Ferrara for a time. Hopes were for Blighty and possible demob, but the war in the Far East was still going on so we may be needed there.

Later I went again to the Rhino Ritz in Ferrara.

May 10, 1945
Parades, route marches and maintenance took up most of our time.

May 11, 1945
I was in charge of a truck and several men with L/Sgt Jack Butler and Sergeant Arnold Murcott and we travelled via the River Po, Adige, Padua, Mestre to Venice. We left the truck at the railway station car park (this is where the road ends). Then we caught a water bus on the Grand Canal to St Marks Square. We had a good look round the square and the cathedral and the surrounding area. We found a good WO and Sergeant’s Club which had a tea garden overlooking the Grand Canal.

We visited the shops and found souvenirs were quite reasonable. I had some films developed and I bought a snap album, beads, a brooch etc. We returned to the truck and all slept in the back. The next day we did the same again and the 2 days had been a change and 2 very enjoyable days. We returned the same route. At Padua we had passed the world famous University which is a very large building fronting on to the main road. In Venice we had seen the Cafe in St Marks Square called Florians and Jack Butler said "we must have a coffee at Florians it is world famous". The coffee was very expensive.

When we crossed the River Po we marvelled how the troops had fought across it. It was the widest river we had seen in Italy and the railway bridge across had been blown up.

We crossed by a temporary constructed bridge. We must have made a detour as we passed through Adige which is off the main road.

May 16, 1945
Visited the ENSA theatre at Ferrara and saw `Nervo & Knox' who were members of the `Crazy Gang'. It was a very good show.

The weather was now very sunny and hot. I was made Battery Sports Sgt which meant I had a lot of organizing to do.

We were getting into a general routine. PT in the morning, a siesta at midday then sports usually football in the afternoon. Then we had lectures on various subjects, amateur wireless, cobbling boots?!!! Ready for when we were demobbed.

May 18, 1945
There was an open air dance at Fox Troop and I think everyone in the area attended. Young Peepie an 8 year old girl who lived on our farm cut her foot and I had to carry her back to the farm (about 2 miles).

May 19, 1945
I left in an advance party in 15 cwt truck via Ferrara, Padua, Venice and Mestre to a village near Palma Nova called Fauglis.

We had moved here as there was trouble brewing in nearby Trieste which was on the border of Italy and Yugoslavia - There had been plenty of trouble there in the past and after the 1st World War Italy had been given a piece of land belonging to Yugoslavia and now that the Communist country was under Marshall Tito (who was on our side) he wanted it back.

Things were very tense for a very long time so the allies kept troops in the area in case things became worse. We thought 'Oh No Not Again!!!'

We were billeted in a very large house right in the centre of the village.

13th Corps were all moving to the area. Later in the week the remainder of the Battery arrived in the village.

May 23, 1945
We arranged a dance from 20:00 to 22:00 hours, but there were not many girls for the large number of soldiers.

I was voted on to a committee to organize dances with Arnold (Yorkie) Murcott from Bolton on Dearne and I was still Sports Sergeant so I looked like having a busy time.

Of course our days were changed now as we had no need to keep up our gunnery training although we still had maintenance, polishing etc on the Sextons. They all shone like new pins now.

May 24, 1945
I went to a film show and saw `Heavenly Bodies'.

The large house we were in had a large barn type building and upstairs we made it into our dance hall. The floor was not too good but we were able to scrounge enough chairs for the number of people, we thought was enough.

May 27, 1945
We organised a dance which was better than the last one.

 

 

Chapter 27 - My Holidays in Venice, Italy

May 28, 1945
I went on 7 days leave to Venice.

I was in charge of a party of 8 gunners. We travelled by truck which took 2 hours and this time at the railway station we disembarked and caught a steamboat called the `Concordia'. On the Grand Canal we travelled past the town and it looked as though we were heading for open sea but we went to an island called The Lido which is 1½ miles from Venice in the lagoon. We found out later that there were many islands like this in the large lagoon off the mainland.

I had my instructions and we caught a trolley bus to 55 rest camp which was the other Ranks (Gunners and privates) leave hotel called the `Excelsior'. This was about the largest hotel we had ever been in about 10 stories high and was right on the beach.

We were told that pre war many well known film stars and celebrities stayed in this hotel and The Lido was the favourite place where Betty Hutton the film star stayed when in Europe.

The WO's and Sergeants had a separate smaller hotel a few minutes walk away.

I shared a room with BSM Purdle who was in 13 Corps HQ. The rooms were very good and we had good food and were well looked after. During the week we spent our time swimming (the beach on The Lido was first class and clean).

We sunbathed on the beach. The sun did not burn us as we were all very brown after our time in the Middle East.

We went to quite a few cinemas and I saw `Greenwich Village', 'Remember the Day', `The Road to Frisco', 'To Have and to Not' which were all very good.

There was a very modern cinema right on the sea front on The Lido.

We went several times to Venice, had a ride on a Gondola, went up the tower in St Marks Square, saw the Bridge of Sighs and went round the cathedral.

From the shops I bought brooches and a large snap album, although we found that all the prices had gone sky high since I came a short time ago.

I bought 5 reels of film and had some films developed and printed and I decided this had been my best leave since going overseas.

June 04, 1945
We travelled on the Concordia boat to Venice and down the Grand Canal to the Piazzola Roma which was the ferry stop for the station and car park. We disembarked from the ferry and a truck was waiting for us. We travelled for about a mile on a road which was above the water on pillars to Venice Mestre then joined the main road to Padua and then to Fauglis.

1981 HOLIDAY TO VENICE
In 1981 I had a holiday at Lido De Jeselo which is in the Venice Lagoon and I had a full day in Venice. Everything had gone up in price to unrecognizable levels, but we enjoyed seeing all the sights I had seen before.

We visited The Lido and found my leave hotel, the railings around it and the porch entrance to the garden were just the same but the trees and bushes had grown much higher. Then the main differences was the TV Ariel on the chimney stack.

The Excelsior was much the same but it now had a canal right to the front door so that people could board the Hotel's own boat and cross the lagoon to Venice.

The Lido itself was very run down, the beaches untidy and not very clean and a lot of the boundary walls and buildings showed many signs of neglect and decay. The trolley buses had gone but the Concordia, the large ferry was still travelling across the lagoon, although it had been modernised and changed from the coal burning boiler to diesel.

In St Marks Square we had our photos taken sat at a table in Florians as a reminder of my visit when in the army. We did not have a drink as the coffee was about £2 a cup.

We had a ride on a gondola and this was also very expensive.

 

 

Chapter 28 - ‘V-J Day’ the End of the War in the Far East


June 06, 1945
I was Orderly Sergeant and I had to put Gunners Punt and Jones C on a charge as they
had been missing from roll call.

The supply of mail is still very poor. We were now organising day trips to the seaside at Grado.

We were allowed to take a 3 ton truck with about 6 Sergeants, a dozen gunners and some of the local kiddies. This was a great treat for them as it was not far to the Adriatic sea but most of them had never been before.

The kids usually aged 8 to 12 had a great time on the sands and in the water. We provided them with food and I think we enjoyed it as much as they did.

LA Kitching and I befriended an Italian family in the village and we were invited to their home - they did not have much but the house was spotless. They had 2 little girls who called me Sgt Arthur. When we left, their parents gave me photos of them dressed up for a special occasion at church in their best Sunday clothes.

Also in Fauglis several of us at night walked about 2 miles to a nearby village where there was an ice cream parlour. There was nothing like this in England at that time.

All they sold were different types of ice cream and everyone sat at tables like a cafe. The ice cream was better than any we had every tasted before.

I was still on the dance committee and we organised quite a few dances.

We started to charge for entrance, a fixed charge for soldiers, but civilian men had to bring 2 girls each so that our lads could have partners. This worked very well and we would have had many more dancers than we could cater for as we had to restrict the numbers for safety's sake. The 9th Lancers had a dance band and they came once.

June 16, 1945
An extra special dance we had to trim the hall up and managed to get some
trimmings and a few balloons. I went to Palma Nova and organised a well known Italian band. There would be 15 players. They were expensive and charged us £8-10-0 (£8.50p) and we had to supply the transport both ways for them.

One day the Italian authorities in the village organised a dance, a travelling dance floor came - it was quite a large dance floor with a canopy over and top and railings all round with a pay box. The system was that for each dance the man had to pay a fixed amount to go through the gate with his partner and the floor was cleared after every dance. Not many soldiers were able to dance as all the local men only brought their own partners, also it was expensive. However we enjoyed watching and listening to the band which played good dance tempo music.

We saw a few films at Palma Nova and once we visited the theatre in Grado and saw a live show with Patricia Burke and Gabriel Burne in 'Kingsway Calling'.

Leaves to England and also demob schemes were being started. Sergeant Percival was the first to go home for good.

Demob leave was called Python and the first to go had had to have served a minimum of 4 years abroad.

LIAP leave was extended this was for one months leave in England then return.

June 18, 1945
I had a letter from Nessie which was the first I had had for three months.

We visited Palma Nova to watch football matches and I saw:
2nd Armd Brigade 3 v 56th Division 3
2nd Armd Brigade 2 v 10th Indian Division 3

June 20, 1945
Sergeants Mess meeting - I was elected to the mess committee.

For the time in Fauglis we played many football matches, cricket at times, we had a Brigade Sports Day and there was a course for men to learn how to ride horses but I did not go on this.

We had a scare one night when there was a terrific thunderstorm and whilst I was visiting the guard on the gate from the house to the main road a thunderbolt came down and travelled horizontally right down the main street. It was like a ball of fire with flames and smoke following after it and it left a scorch mark on all the houses which were in one long row down the street and as they were all whitewashed white it left a black mark all the way down.

It certainly frightened us all to death - We thought the war had started again.

We had been in Fauglis from 19 May but on 27 August my turn came for LIAP leave, Bill Turner went home on 8 August.

First I forgot to mention that one day we travelled to Udine and saw a football match 8th Army 0 v 5th Army 1. There was a very big crowd there and Udine were in Italian 1st Division.

We couldn't get into the grand stand so had to stand by the touch line. I realized that the 8th Army goalkeeper was Ted Grimley who before the war had been goalkeeper for Swallownest and my dad who was secretary to the club had taken him to West Bromwich Albion and had him signed by them. He had played several times for West Brom before being called up.

I went up to him as he knew me and he asked me if I knew that Mr Holland who was on the Swallownest committee had died as I had a letter with the news on the previous day. We had a chat for a few minutes at half time and I took his photograph.

Also playing was Tom Finney (Preston North End).

The 10th Indian Division band played and marched at half time.

Also whilst in Fauglis we visited a large open air swimming pool at Torre Del Zuino where we also held a regimental swimming sports day, although I was only a spectator.

At Grado we hired tents to get changed in. They were all Brightly coloured and there were lines of them on the beach.

There was also a cafe on the beach which we visited many times and from there we hired sailing boats which we were able to sail right out into the bay then swim from the boat which was smashing as the water was very deep and very calm we could see right to the bottom. The water was very clear and with the water being so deep and calm it was quite easy to swim as we had extra buoyancy.

Whilst here we were still not sure what was to happen to us and as usual in the army rumours were very rife. Some said that men with 4 years overseas were going home and remainder were to go to the Far East where the war was still going on. Then we were to go the Middle East as there was some animosity there. Then many troops were needed to police Austria and Germany and of course the arguments with Marshall Tito and Yugoslavia were still not settled. Then in August we heard that an atom (a what we asked!!) bomb had been dropped in Japan so would that alter the plans.

In August we heard that another Atom bomb had been dropped and Japan had surrendered unconditionally, IT WAS ALL OVER so now new plans would have to be made.

What feelings we had now, the wine flowed freely, we were just getting used to the idea of peaceful nights, no bombs, shells, no whistling machine gun bullets, no nerves on edge in the dark when different sounds could mean so much, not to mention nights on end with no sleep, bloodshot eyes peering at watches in the dark when firing a barrage, no wading in mud, dragging vehicles out of the mud, no fitting tank tracks while shells fell all round, no stinking carcasses of cows, sheep, horses, dogs, no men’s bodies covered in flies, no desert sores, no malaria, no weeks on end without a word from home, no visits to friends and relations only the same old faces of mates for months on end, no female company, no uncomfortable train journeys many hours at a time - sometimes days without being able to dismount. No endless hours screwing up our eyes looking at the sun for dreaded Stukas and ME's. No back breaking hours loading up with ammunition, no smell of cordite and the choking smoke screens. No flares in the night making us feel so naked to the enemy planes lurking above. No feelings of absolute terror when we heard the Nebelwurfers being cranked up knowing that we were about to be showered with rocket shells. No carrying of gas masks in case the enemy used gas, thankfully they didn't as it would have been mass murder if he had!!!

No feeling sick on plunging ships in the rough sea with the thoughts of submarines stalking us in the darkness. No boat drill on the ships, perhaps stood for long periods not knowing whether it was for real. No sleeping on the mess decks being covered by other men’s sweat, no crossing the equator and watching the beetles and insects climbing over the ships pillars, no climbing up steep ships staircases. No sticky sweaty feelings on board ship with no water to drink or even wash. No dashing to the side of ships to be sick and sliding about in places where men had not made it. Gone would be the continuous headaches we had on ship due to all the portholes being closed and lack of fresh air. No more long journeys on rough country on tanks or trucks with only short stops to refuel. Then the worst thing of all in the army going to a toilet!! On board ship just rows of holes in a long wide board all sat within touching distance from each other, shortage of toilet paper, going for a walk with a shovel especially in the desert, that is walk a few yards away from the other men and squat down, no privacy and the toilets in camps where we could queue for ½ an hour at a time for a small number of toilets.

Long train journeys where the very few toilets were usually full to the top.

Then the flies - I hate flies, in the desert we all had desert sores on our arms, always covered in flies, flies on dead men, flies on dead and live animals, flies in the food, flies in the water. Then other hazards the scorpions with a deadly sting, snakes in the grass and rocks in Sicily and Italy, the terrible smell of sulphur on mount Etna.

Then the heat, hot enough to fry an egg on the metal of a tank, then cold enough the same night to freeze your socks off!!! Then in the cold in the mountains of Italy, sleeping in a bivvy and waking up frozen with the canvas frozen solid, trying to brew up with frozen fingers. Weeks of rain, rain and more rain, wet through to the skin and no change of clothing. Trying to cook in pouring rain, the frightening electric storms in the desert with no thunder or rain. The thunderstorms in the mountains much worse than any in England. Then the snow, trying to fight and fire guns in snowstorms, fortunately not very often!!

Then through it all not knowing what was happening at home.

During our time in the army we had many jabs, i.e. inoculations and vaccinations, some were not very pleasant with after effects but all very necessary. On reading my summing up of army life perhaps the time in action may not sound so bad but no-one who has not been through it cannot understand the terror of shells landing all round and machine gun bullets whizzing past and shrapnel from bombs filling the air.

THE GOOD THINGS
We had a lot to be thankful for, if we managed to get through the war alive or without being wounded. I think we were more than just lucky. We usually had enough food, plain, but food to give us energy and keep us going. At times it was bully beef and biscuits but we had to learn all kinds of tricks to make the food more tasty and variable. We were usually able to make tea, we did not have a lot of fresh milk or sugar but we could make do.

 

 

Chapter 29 – Home Leave and Demobilisation

Overseas mail was usually a long time in arriving and we were limited in the numbers we could send. An air graph was quick to arrive both ways but we could only have one in a fortnight, air letters had more room but were very scarce and sea mail was as many pages as we wanted but they took a very very long time to travel and they were all censored by an officer so we had to be careful what we wrote. My Aunt Frances sent me every nights Star in a parcel every week but many times they did not arrive. Parcels were sometimes tampered with as if someone had looked to see what was in them.

Mail from home was one of our main joys of life, a quiet night and plenty of food were next in line.

We were lucky at times to see some good shows with first class artists, sometimes they were not so good, we usually found the local picture houses where we saw all kinds of films.

We saw many extremes of weather but had plenty of warm sunshine and blue skies.
We visited many places where we would never in our lives have had chance to see without paying very high holiday prices.

Places which stand out were Venice, Rome, South Africa (Cape Town), The Pyramids in Cairo, Tunis, The Casbah in Algiers, London, Edinburgh and one of our favourite places Peebles. Others were Norwich and Scarborough.

Then the main thing in the Army - Comradeship. Right from the start we soon picked out mates and in most cases a comrade would give their last cigarette or do anything possible to help a mate.

An instance of this is when I met Bill Turner from Maltby on Sheffield (Victoria) Station and we clung together like leeches the first day and we stayed together until 1942 when we were both posted abroad to 11th (HAC) RHA but he was placed in ‘B’ Battery when I was in ‘A’ Battery but we still kept in touch.

Unfortunately we have only met once since the war finished.

I had many very good mates but in the army we kept being transferred to other units so then we had to start again.

After the war I kept in touch with AI White as he only lived 15 miles away at Thurlstone near Penistone. I would I very often spend a weekend with his family and he very often came to my home. When he died suddenly from a heart attack in 1966 I was very upset and it took a very long time to get over his death.

August 28, 1945
The Journey Home for 28 Days Leave

The great day arrived (Python) leave that is 28 days in England.

I left Fauglis by truck to Udine to 211 Transit Camp arriving at noon and at 07:10 hours the next day we boarded a train via Padua to Milan to 310 Transit Camp. We were able to visit Milan, 3 miles away where we saw the marvellous cathedral although we did not go inside. We saw the actual spot where Mussolini had been hung upside-down after he had been shot. The area round it was roped off as a view point for visitors. Spots of blood were still on the pavement.

We had 4 days in this camp - We learned that we would be travelling by train to Bologne in France then by Ferry to Blighty. At this time of year the channel was very rough so the troops were held in Milan until a ferry was available so that the docks at Bologne would not be too overcrowded as troops were arriving there from all parts of Europe.

Whilst in the camp we had an upsetting experience as it was reported that a woman had been murdered in Milan by a soldier. We all had to line up for an identity parade and the girl’s friend walked round rows and rows of soldiers. We never heard if anyone had been picked out as it must have been just about impossible to sort us out as we must have all looked pretty much alike.

We had a pretty easy time in the camp as there was a mixture of all regiments so we only knew our immediate mates, although we did make a few special mates. We boarded trucks to the main station at Milan and marvelled at the size of it. There was a half round roof which was a terrific size. We boarded the train in a Second Class compartment which was pretty uncomfortable for the long journey we had in front of us. We were travelling through the mountains and lake district of North Italy and the scenery was outstanding.

We stopped at Dodomozola which is the last train station in Italy.

We had a hot meal brought to us on the train which we all enjoyed.

We moved off again and soon arrived at the Simplon Tunnel which is 12 miles long. During the darkness in the tunnel (the dim train lights were on) the Italian and Swiss border guards made a rough inspection looking for contraband etc. but they did not search very keenly. Most of the troops had various souvenirs but I did not see anything confiscated.

After the tunnel we were travelling through the beautiful country of Switzerland. We passed Montreaux which was on a blue placid lake. Along the route were many Union Jacks hung from the bedroom windows of various buildings. I remember seeing a flag as big as a blanket of the Union Jack being waved by a man dressed in a scotch kilt. We followed the Rhone valley and we were soon being shunted onto the docks at Bologne. There we went into a temporary transit camp where all the documentation was completed at 2200 hours. We drew tokens to use in the NAAFI canteen and English money. We stayed one night.

Next morning at 09:15 hours we boarded the ferry Princess Maud and set off across the channel. On board we were able to send telegrams home to say we would soon be home.

We were all on dock looking excitedly forward when a shout went up that the White Cliffs of Dover were in sight. What a marvellous feeling the first time we had seen England for 3 years and 2 months.

We had been warned that the customs men would be waiting for us and that a lot of the loot would be confiscated. Many men panicked and overboard went many bayonets, German binoculars etc. I had a German camera (AGFA) but I decided I would take it through with me. We eventually docked and there were all the customs men and all they did was to wave us through as quickly as possible and did not even look for anything. We were ushered onto a waiting train at Southampton at 11:15 hours and on the platform were tables full of sandwiches, tongue and ham etc.

The troop train was packed with soldiers all singing and cheering in a cheerful mood. We arrived at Victoria station and red double decker buses took us to St Pancras. The train left at 1500 hours and arrived in Sheffield LMS station at 19:40 hours. I had to wait until 20:45 hours for a bus and finally arrived home at 21:15 hours.

My mother and dad were waiting for me at the front door at 135 Worksop Road, Swallownest. This was the first time I had seen this house as my mother and dad had moved whilst I was away.

At home were my mother and dad and Eva and Ken with baby Maureen and my granddad (Cavill).

They all lived together in a three bedroom house. Whilst on leave my granddad had to move out as he had the third bedroom which I had to have. Maureen (my first niece) was 2 years and 2 months old and Ken insisted that he fetched her down for me to see her as she was fast asleep in bed.

What excitement!! And we stayed up talking until the early hours.

My 28 days leave started on Sunday morning 3 September 1945, 6 years from the day war started.

This leave was spent mostly visiting friends and relations. I also went to quite a few dances and plenty of visits to cinemas. I had one disappointment at the beginning of my leave. I had been writing to Nessie (from Lockerbie) although she had been living in Birmingham for 4 years as she worked in Munitions. Our friendship had mostly been through letter writing and when she knew I was coming home she said she would come to see me. She couldn't stay overnight as we were short of room and she couldn't get the time off work (she was now in lodgings).

However we decided and it was mostly her decision that owing to the distance between us we had better end our friendship, so in Sheffield station we said goodbye for the last time.

One day I went hiking with Winnie and George Fazackerly and George's brother Bill (Navy) and his army pal. It was a very hot day and at George's mothers house near Bramall Lane I took off my battledress tunic and went out without it. Whilst waiting for a bus we were approached by Military Police and they checked our passes which were OK but put all three of us on a charge for not wearing my stripes and said we were all improperly dressed because we had no tunics on.

Later I heard that they had both been punished by their Commanding Officers but when the charge against me was forwarded to my Regt, the BC Major Mansell just laughed and threw it in the waste paper basket.

September 30, 1945
Return Journey To Austria

On 30 September I left home to Sheffield station. The return was not too bad this time as we knew that it would not be long before I was home for good.

I travelled by train to London then to Bologne by ferry then the same journey back to Milan.

Whilst I was at home I had received a letter from the Regt. That they had moved to Villach in Austria.

I reported back to the Regt. But it was all upsetting news, the 11th (HAC) Regt had been broken up as many men had been sent home after 4 years abroad and we had been amalgamated with 12th (HAC) RHA. The Sergeants were billeted in a large house in the main street but more bad news for me when told that all kit I had left behind had gone missing including my favourite belonging my camp bed and some German souvenirs.

We had our meals in a large Hotel which was in the main square.

We started playing football and there was a very good pitch in Villach. We did not have much work to do, it was a waste of time learning any more gunnery, we had no Sextons or guns to maintain so mostly it was lectures to prepare us for Civvy Street.

One day I had a visit to RHQ and had a brush with the RSM over a small problem which he made out to be the end of the world so I thought.

If this is the army in peace time I hope my demob comes through soon.

After a couple of weeks our Battery Commander who was still Major Mansell sent for me and said that he had received a letter from the War Office that my name had been put forward to be demobbed under Class ‘B’ release which meant that I could be demobbed providing I went back to my job as a bricklayer.

He gave me a few hours to think it over and he said that he hoped I would stay as he did not want to lose any of his men who had served under him during the fighting.

I soon made up my mind. Several things that happened helped me in this. I thought about the RSM with whom I had crossed paths, we knew some of the 12th (HAC) NCOS resented us being in their Regt, so I knew we would get no favours from them. I had lost the job I had being in charge of sports in the Battery and being on the dance committee.

We were a bit bored as there was not much work we could get our teeth into. Quite a few of my mates had been transferred to other units or gone home after 4 years abroad.

Mainly I was still homesick after the 28 days leave, after such a long leave it took some getting used to the army life and the extra Bulls**t since the war had finished.

Major Mansell wrote out a personal Testimonial for me in case I needed it for work or anything in later life.

I had a medical inspection which was mostly the MO asking me if I was OK and I said yes to everything as I did not want any delay in going home. I realised afterwards that already the last few months I had been having upset stomachs and I wasn't hearing quite as well as usual, but I did not mention this to the MO. I was to find out later that my hearing became worse and in the late 80's I was awarded £3,265.00 from the War Office as the hearing specialist at St James Hospital in Leeds said that I had hearing loss in my left ear due to the noise of 25 pounder guns and the bombing and shelling by the enemy.

My stomach has given me trouble all my life since the army but it could not be proved that it was due to stress.

In the hotel in Villach I had befriended the rather buxom middle aged cook and when I said I was travelling home she specially made for me a beautiful apple pie, but whilst waiting at Villach station I had to leave my kit for a short time and someone stole my pie!!!

On the station we saw some Russian Officers and in sign language they told us that they were trying to commandeer a train to take them to Vienna, but they were not having much luck. They made us understand that they were hungry and had had no food so we gave them some apples which they appreciated.

Eventually I boarded a train to Milan and this time I stayed outside the city at Navarra where I was able to visit Milan again for a short visit.

I boarded a train at Milan and travelled on the same route as before to Bologne and across to Dover and then by train to London, then to Woolwich Arsenal which is the peacetime HQ of the Royal Artillery.

I did not like this place at all - all that everyone was concerned with was `spit and polish' so we were pleased one day to travel to Olympia by truck where we were fitted out with civilian clothing and we had to hand in our battledress for the last time. Although I was on army reserve but with no pay for a long time I was now officially finished with HM Forces the day was 30 November 1945.

That concludes the dairy of my army service so now my life picks up again as a bricklayer in civvy life.

My service days were from December 12, 1939 to November 30, 1945. That is 6 years except for 12 days, if I had not been demobbed on Class ‘B’ (i.e. return as bricklayer) I would have been demobbed in April 1946 which would have been 6 years and 5 months.

 

 

Chapter 30 – The Post War Years

I still suffered some ill effects from my war service for many years after I was demobbed. I have already mentioned that my hearing was affected by the noise from our guns and for this I received compensation from the War Office.

For several years, I had small attacks of Malaria but gradually they stopped altogether.

For some time afterwards, I had terrible dreams and very often I woke up covered in sweat, after dreaming of being in action and seeing my mates laid dead on the desert sand. Back came the constant fear of the dreaded Stukas screaming down with the frightening sound of their sirens, the fear of driving over the dreaded Teller mines or the booby traps which the enemy had left behind on anything that we were likely to touch.

After some time, the dreams gradually faded and I would think "Did it really happen?" Then I am glad that I kept my diary - the proof is all there in writing.

I came to the conclusion, after what thousands of men and women (and not forgetting the ones who lost their lives and limbs) had been through, that we who lived through it were lucky, and had to be thankful, but I am sure that the Politicians who caused those wars would not do so if they had been in the front line themselves.

I am adding these notes in 1999.

For the past few years, I have attended several reunions where I met comrades whom I had not seen for over 50 years.

My one regret is that I did not keep in touch with many of my mates, as due to old age, the numbers are getting less every year.

In 1995, I had a letter printed in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus in which I asked for information of the 70th Field Regiment, and any ex members who had known me from the war years.

I had several replies and a visit from Jack Jones, who I had known when at school, although he moved to Halifax when he was 16 years old. He told me that reunions were still held, so I have attended one each year since then.

I met several old comrades; ones I knew best were Wilf Dalby, Charlie North (he lost a leg at Mount Cassino in Italy and died in 1999), Don Gregson from Scunthorpe (died 1997), Bill Kirkland (died 1996), Mick Welbourne, Walter Scott and Harry Stead.

In 1997, 18 ex members of 70th Field Regiment were present at Bradford City Hall when we sat in the square, and a large contingent of the modern army complete with guns and a band marched past us and gave us a salute. Afterwards we had speeches from the Lady Mayoress and other members of Bradford Council, and we were all presented with a tie with the Council 'Logo' on it. A buffet was then provided.

This event was to celebrate the passing of 50 years after the freedom of the City of Bradford was given to the regiment.

This year, on 10th May 1999, a similar number of ex members of the regiment and their wives were entertained to a civic luncheon at Bradford City Hall, again by the Lord Mayor. We had a three course dinner and free beer or wine. One old soldier present was aged 101 years old.

From the meeting with Wilf Dalby, I have visited with him in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and an Ex Serviceman's Weekend at Bridlington, where we attend the Spa Ballroom on a Saturday night in June for dancing, marching bands and a Parade of many British Legion Standards. Then on Sunday, we Parade at the Priory Church and are inspected by high ranking service officers, and we march into church for a service, then over 1,000 men and women march through Bridlington to the Spa Ballroom where we are dismissed. It is a very enjoyable but emotional weekend.

Last year in September 1998, with Wilf Dalby, I attended a church service and March past at Eden Camp, which is near Malton. This again is very enjoyable and brings back many memories of life in the Army.

I was also put in touch with Cyril Medley who organises reunions for ex 'E' Battery members of 11th (HAC) Reg. at Woburn Sands (near Milton Keynes).

Here we meet in a private house owned by Mrs. Marie Walford whose husband was a member of the regiment, but he died in 1995. I did not know all the members present because they had been made Prisoners of War before I joined the Regiment.

However, after a gap of over 50 years, I met Captain Jack Sewell, Ron Fuller, Jack Butler and Reg Wigmore who bring their wives and Joe Cannings, but he died earlier this year aged 85 years (1999).

Also at the reunion I see the widows of Staff Sgt. Sam Barnes and Den Bowden. For a few hours we have a good chat and show each other our photographs and mementoes of the war years.

Marie also provides a very good buffet, then we have photographs taken in the garden. Unfortunately as with all forces reunions, numbers are getting less due to the passing away of members, old age etc.

Unfortunately all the reunions will be ending soon due to the falling numbers.

During my life in the army I:
attended a Cinema approximately 149 times
attended a dance approximately 55 times
attended a live show approximately 24 times
played football approximately 112 times
attended Church Parade approximately 41 times
I came home on leave: approximately 48 hours 2 times
approximately 7 days 6 times
approximately 28 days once

HOW DID WE FIND TIME TO FIGHT?!!

I have 4 medals and ribbons issued by the War Office as follows:
1. The 1939 - 1945 Star
2. The Africa Star with Eighth Army clasp
3. The Italy Star
4. The 1939 - 1945 Service Medal

I had the following poem sent to me by Wilf Dalby and I think it applies to all ex-servicemen and women.

THE VETERAN
They ask us why we do it
Why we still parade
Now that we are getting older
And just a little bit frayed
It's not for the sake of glory
Or the medals on our chest
It's simply that we are comrades
Who stood the final test
In battle, those fateful days
Days we will never forget
Many a lad laid down his life
And paid the final debt
So when you see a veteran
Give the man your hand
For the medals on his chest
Were won in foreign lands
And when God asks the question
Who are you my man?
I will proudly answer
Sir, I am a veteran

Also another poem I read somewhere:

A soldier stood at the Pearly Gate
His face was scarred and old
He stood before the man of fate
For admission to the fold

"What have you done," St Peter asked,
"To gain admission here?"
"I've been a soldier, Sir," he said,
"For many and many a year."

The pearly gates swing open wide
As Peter touched the bell
"Inside," he said, "and choose your harp
you've had your share of hell."



Pr-BR