World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

George Herbert (Tommy) Tucker 

LIFE IN THE ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS, PREPARATIONS FOR D-DAY, AND AFTERWARDS

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: GEORGE HERBERT “TOMMY” TUCKER
Location of story: UK, Holland, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy
Unit name: 212 Company RASC
Background to story: Army

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of George Herbert “Tommy” Tucker.

LIFE IN THE ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS---PREPARATIONS FOR D-DAY, AND AFTERWARDS
By
GEORGE HERBERT “TOMMY” TUCKER

I was in a reserved occupation at the start of the war - wire-rope making at Billy Cook’s, Tinsley terminus. I was there for 9 years until I was called up in December 1942. I went to Richmond in North Yorkshire for 3 months’ training, though we seemed to be doing a lot of snow-shovelling on the parade ground! From there we were sent to Hadrian’s Camp in Carlisle for transport training for 6 months (mainly driving lorries). After that, we moved to Bradford with the lorries, and there the company formed itself - 212 Company, Royal Army Service Corps. We stayed there another 6 months for more training, this time both driving and training with night stunts on the moors. On one occasion, an imaginary bridge was blown up on the moors and we had to walk back from just outside Keighley to Bradford. It was 21 miles and we got back at 6.0.a.m!

Next, we were sent to Leigh-on-Sea and were transporting equipment all over the place. In May 1944, we went to a big depot in Gravesend, where we loaded up with ammunition and petrol, and then went back to Leigh-on-Sea. By early June, everyone complained, as the whole of the south of England was one big camp. We had orders to move to big fields under canvas on 3rd. and 4th. June, and we knew there was something serious happening as there were millions of blokes gathering. So we took the wagons to Gravesend Docks and loaded them onto ships. On the night of 5th. June, we set off and went through the Channel. We met up with all the other boats from all the ports, about 6000 in all, at what we referred to as “Piccadily Circus”! The sea was black with ships.

On the morning of 6th. June we reached the beaches. We hovered off-shore till late afternoon as the Germans were firing on Sword Beach, so we moved away to Ver-sur-Mere, Gold Beach, next to Juno Beach. Motor torpedo boats put a smoke screen round us to hide the boat. Even so, we landed amid bullets whizzing past us, and some of them going through the canopy of the wagon. We’d water-proofed the wagons to enable us to come through the sea, but then we had to stop to take off the water-proofing, and all this time the Jerries were shooting at us. Our commanding officer told us to “get those wagons out of here,” and we managed to park in a big cornfield above Ver-sur-Mere, along with 15 other wagons. There were a lot of French people killed in the town, and we knew we were targets and very vulnerable, as 8 of the wagons contained petrol cans and 8 contained 25lbs. shells.

The Jerries fired from planes at anything that moved and killed a lot of our men. For 3-4 days, we had no sleep and survived with the 48-hour emergency ration packs reconstituted with water. Then the kitchens were set up and the RAF built a strip for spitfires to land on. The lorries came back in the field after 3-4 days, but then, on 12th. June, the Jerries flew over at 3.0.a.m., dropping flares and everyone let fly at them. There was shrapnel coming down like rain. At 3.30.a.m., they dropped bombs and one of them hit the wagon behind me. My mates, Kent, Hulme and Chisholm were killed outright. I was lucky, because I’d got out of that wagon earlier and gone into the next wagon, where there seemed to be more room. I’d just put on my helmet when I got hit in the head by shrapnel from the bomb, and I still have a blue scar to this day on the top of my head.

When I came to, I couldn’t feel a thing, so I felt down my arms and legs, and my body and there was nothing. It was as though I was a dead log, and I really thought I must be dead. Then I found a hole in my head, and the lads got me on a stretcher and took me down the field to the first aid tent. There was a trail of blood all the way down the field until I managed to get a dressing out of my trouser pocket and they bandaged me up. It stopped the blood running down my neck and my trousers. Shock had set in and I couldn’t stop my teeth chattering, so some RAF lads put great coats over me. I felt cold and thought I was going to die. While we were waiting, one guy said, “It’s raining,” but I told him it was shrapnel.

I was there a couple of hours until they laid me, still on the stretcher, across the back of a jeep and took me down to the beach to try and get me onto the hospital ship. One guy said to the driver, “Take it easy, this lad’s in a bad way,” which I took to mean I wasn’t going to survive, and he put my helmet on my chest. That’s when I saw that the shrapnel had gone in at the side of the helmet and across the top of my head. It wasn’t until then that I found a piece of scalp stuck in my helmet, and realised that the injury had exposed the bone. The “Ducks” came on the beach to take me to the hospital ship, but the sea was too rough and they had to bring me back to land. Next day they tried again, and someone threw my helmet on the beach, saying, “You won’t be needing that again,” and I wasn’t sure whether he was saying I was going to die, or that my injuries meant my war was over.

This time I was so relieved that they managed to get us out to the hospital ship, but my trials weren’t over yet. The ship had slings, which they used to lift each stretcher onto the deck, but as they were lifting mine up, it caught on the rail on the deck and knocked the sling away. I grabbed the rail and hung on for dear life, and however I managed to do that I shall never know because, as though that wasn’t bad enough, the sling then swung back and hit me full in the chest. Fortunately, two lads saw what was happening and grabbed me and hauled me up. There were that many of us that there weren’t enough bunks for us all, so my stretcher was put across 2 pegs under the bulk-head.

When they got us to shore in Southampton, there were hundreds of us on the ground beside the platform, and the trains were waiting to take us to Epsom Emergency Hospital. At last I felt safe and started to cry like a baby; it was just pent-up relief. We travelled overnight and when we arrived, they cleaned me up and bandaged me, but then at 2.0.a.m. I went into theatre. I woke up next morning when a lovely young nurse came to wash me, and I felt a lot better. A few hours later, I was sent by train overnight to a hospital in Darlington, where I stayed for two weeks. It was an absolute hell-hole. There were Yanks there who were not too badly injured and they had music blaring out all day and half the night, and my head was hurting. After that I was taken to a country hospital at Stockton, called Cameron Hospital, but the journey was a nightmare as the driver was a bit fierce on the clutch and I was screaming in agony. On arrival, the ambulance drivers carried in the worst stretcher cases, and I was just left on the top bunk. I waited and waited, and when nobody came for me, I managed to get myself off the top bunk, and somehow, managed to get myself to where the others had been taken and there I just fell onto a bed. The hospital was run by nurses and the WVS, who were very good to us. It was as different again from the hospital at Darlington, and in the six weeks we stayed, there were some right cases and we had a laugh, both with the other patients and the staff.

By this time, they thought I’d recovered enough for me to be given 10 days leave, which felt very short. I had to report to Leeds at the end of this and was sent to one holding unit after another for about a month. Then it was off to Borehamwood, and finally I got back to France. I had to walk a mile on the pontoon bridges and then another 2 miles to the camp. I was told to report sick, as I didn’t wear a cap in order to let the wound heal. I’d just laid down that night, when a call came for Driver Tucker and two or three others from the same holding unit and off we went. I finally got back to my own company in November. They were glad to see me back and said they hadn’t expected me to make it. While the wagons were going out on details, I kept looking out for the lorry I’d been in when the shrapnel got me, and eventually I saw it. I examined it closely and remembered that I’d leant up on one elbow to put my helmet on. From the position of the hole in the side of the truck, it was obvious that if I’d still been lain down, I wouldn’t be alive today.

We spent the next few weeks going through France and the Low Countries and into Germany, going to Nijmegen and Verdun amongst other places. We had a few near misses when the flying bombers came over from Holland. On one occasion, the building we were in got hit and the roof went up, but we all got out before it came down again! On another occasion, at Kohninghootk in Holland, near Verdun, one landed on the school as we moved out. Another time, a petrol dump got hit and there was a huge pillar of black smoke; you could see it for miles. We moved on into Belgium and then into Germany, over the Kiel Canal and through Albersdorf, Hamburg and Lunenburg. By 1946, the Companies were breaking up and there were miles and miles of slow-moving lorries on the autobahns. While loads of the other troops were going home, I was sent to Italy, which was a bit of a shock to the system, as I went from three foot of snow in Lunenburg to the sun in Bologna, where I stayed for 7 months. Wherever I went, I seemed to find it easy to pick up the language of the country I was in, whether it was Flams or Walloon in Belgium, or German or Italian. (Actually, I was told by a Dr. that I spoke very good German.) That didn’t suit everyone though, and I was told off by an officer for fraternising with the locals. I turned to him and asked, “How do you expect us to get to know these people if we can’t talk to them?” He just walked away and said nothing more.

I was demobbed on 7.1.47, but that was another shock to the system when I got home, as within a week, there was two foot of snow in Sheffield and we couldn’t get out for the best part of two months. When it cleared, I got a job with the Express Dairy on Broadfield Rd. and lived with my wife on Albert Rd. (I’d got married in 1942 before joining up). I was lucky, but there was a lot of unemployment after the war, so some lads re-joined the army. As for me, I didn’t really want to have anything more to do with the army and cut myself off from everything, and didn’t even want to join the British Legion. I did see one old mate in the early 50’s quite by chance, Sammy West of Parson Cross, who was a bus driver and I saw him at Nether Edge terminus, but I never saw anyone else.

I did go back to France the year before last, after the D-Day celebrations, with my step-son Rod. We went on 14.7.04 and it was a very emotional experience. I re-visited the beach, the cornfield and the camp-site, as well as some of the grave-yards and one or two other places. I never saw anyone I knew, but I’m glad I went back and it helped me to relive old memories once more.


Pr-BR