World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Reg Reid

The Lighter Side Of War

 

The Lighter Side of War - Chapter 1 TA RASC 39th Ack-Ack Sheffield. A father's advice - June 1938

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Reg (Butch) Reid, Fred Alexander, William Angus Reid, Helen Reid, Stan Smith, Ray Cheetham, Ron Gregory
Location of story: Sheffield, Grantham, Bakewell, Newark, Nottinghamshire
Unit name: TA Royal Army Service Corps 39th Ack Ack
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 Reg Reid.
A Note of Explanation

On Thursday, April 21, 2005 Reg (Butch) Reid and Don Alexander walked into BBC Radio Sheffield Open Centre and approached the BBC WW2 People’s War Volunteer Facilitator on duty at the People’s War Desk. They handed over a copy of the book that had been written, by Don, of Reg’s exploits as a ‘Desert Rat’ during WW2 entitled ‘The Lighter Side of War’. They asked if we would be interested in putting the book on the BBC WW2 People’s War website.

Don Alexander holds the copyright on the book and he stated that both he and Reg would be happy for his story to be added to the BBC WW2 People’s War website electronic archive since they believed that the text should be more widely available for the public to read.

We have scanned Reg and Don’s book and it has been placed on the website in 30 parts. We have tried wherever possible to keep the original format of the book but minor changes have been made but only where necessary. In the main each part corresponds to one of the 28 chapters of the book. However, because of the constraints with regard to the 3,000 word limit that can be included in each story, Chapters 2, 7 & 10 have each had to be made into two parts and referenced ‘a’ for the first part of the chapter and ‘b’ for the second part.

The following contents list show the website reference number given to each story.

Volunteer Facilitator (RM)
April 28, 2005

The Lighter Side of War

By
Don Alexander

The story of T/68784 RW (Butch) Reid of Sheffield

Soldier; First class mechanic Entrepreneur; Likeable rogue; Desert Rat.
"Britain's Bilko"

Copyright: Don Alexander 2002

Foreword and acknowledgements

I first met Reg (Butch) Reid and his sense of humour when he came into my Sheffield cutlery shop on Ecclesall Road and accused me of re-using tea as they did in the desert war in 1943!
He recounted his army service in such detail and with so many anecdotes that I thought it really ought to be written down. Other people could then meet Roy Brotherstone, Geordie Wheeler, Lieutenant Errington, `Girly' Ruth Hawes, prosecutor Captain Bonham-Carter, `Ack Ack' Annie, Sergeant `Bollocks in Brackets', Frej the Arab, even a Mongolian soldier of the Red Army who stride or flit across the scene. My only hope is that it reads as interestingly and comically as when told by Reg himself.

Reg spent a lot of time patiently explaining details and we visited Winthorpe and Langford Halls, near Newark, Beverley Army Transport Museum, and Connah's Quay, North Wales, where it was a pleasure to meet Roy Brotherstone and his wife Lucy.
I read various histories of the war to pinpoint events and dates as 133 Coy RASC made their way through North Africa and Europe. Most useful was Anthony Wood's little book, `War in Europe 1939-45'.

My father, Fred Alexander, who died when I was doing national service in Berlin in 1961, is remembered and I have made use of his copy of `Infantry training, fieldcraft, battle drill and platoon tactics' (War Office 1944). I have also used his copies of Monty's personal message to the troops before D-Day and Monty's letter on non-fraternisation with Germans.

Thanks are due to Susan Alexander-Barnes and Lynda Taylor for typing up my scrawl and putting it on disc, and to Liz, Alistair and Andy at ALD Design and Print.
Reg and I dedicate the book to our long-suffering wives, Jackie and Mary.
Don Alexander November 2002

Contents

Chapter Title Ref. No.
Chapter 1 TA RASC 39th Ack-Ack Sheffield. A father's advice - June 1938 A4220975
Chapter 2a 39th Ack-Ack Newark, Notts. R.W. Reid, D. R. Langford and Winthorpe Halls A4222333
Chapter 2b George Bennett shows naked ambition A4222757
Chapter 3 Maryhill Barracks/Springburn Ministry of Labour Training Centre, Glasgow Fitters Course January to July 1940 A4223026
Chapter 4 Vauxhall (Bedford) engine plant, Luton - July to August 1940 A4223198
Chapter 5 No. l Heavy Repair Shop (HRS) RASC High Wycombe - September 1940 to January 1941 A4223459
Chapter 6 133 Coy RASC South Littleton, Evesham, Gloucestershire - February to April 1941 A4234727
Chapter 7a `A' Platoon, 133 Coy RASC Broxmore House, Whiteparish, Salisbury, Wilts - May to Sept 1941 A4234899
Chapter 7b Reg becomes BUTCH thanks to Smith and Wesson and lands himself in trouble A4235005
Chapter 8 Military Prison-Fort Dahlen Barracks, Chatham - October to November 1941 A4244519
Chapter 9 Back with `A' Platoon at Broxmore - December 1941 to February 1942 A4244717
Chapter 10a Dunipace House, Bonnybridge, nr. Falkirk, Scotland - March to September 1942 A4244870
Chapter 10b Butch goes on `chicken detail' for Lieutenant Errington A4245248
Chapter 11 Attleborough, Norfolk - Mid September to early November 1942 A4260791
Chapter 12 Notes on the war in North Africa prior to 133's landing A4260935
Chapter 13 By Cruise Liner - Glasgow to North Africa 8th November 1942 "Operation Torch" A4261051
Chapter 14 Blida, Algeria. A Dear John letter Lieutenant Baker replaces Errington A4263121
Chapter 15a Algeria: Blida to Constantine to Medjez el Bab Tug Wilson's diving lesson A4264409
Chapter 5b Lieutenant Baker thinks ahead - then leaves Butch in the desert A426469
Chapter 16 March to May 1943 - Butch and the `Entente Cordiale' - The final push against Bizerta and Tunis133 Company (7th Armoured Division) play their part. Benghazis. Major Dodds' demise A4283426
Chapter 17 Kairouan - a Holy City - June 1943 A4283741
Chapter 18a Sousse by the Sea - July 1943 A4283912
Chapter 8b Sousse: Couscous then where to next? Italy? Blighty? The Riviera? A Restcamp? A4284083
Chapter 19 Tunis to Glasgow - October 1943 A4284209
Chapter 20a Clacton to Bognor to Lymington and the Solent. D. Day - January to June 1944 A4284452
Chapter 20b D - DAY! D - DAY! - 6th June 1944 A4284597
Chapter 21 Bayeux. A minefield. German helmets. A Bailey Bridge. Bottles of Guinness. A4284704
Chapter 22a People that pass in the Day. Scots Dewar. The Yankee Pilot. The Medic. Brussels. River Maas. Fraternisation. A4284731
Chapter 22b September '44 - January '45. The River Maas (Meuse) and the Ardennes. Our 1st Class Mechanic's progress. A4284966
Chapter 23 Winterslag, Belgium A4285073
Chapter 24 Eindhoven - March 1945 Holland - Into Germany. `Across the Rhine on the Twenty Nine' A4293001
Chapter 25 Hamburg to High Wycombe to Hamburg to High Wycombe again to Hamburg again A4293489
Chapter 26a Berlin August 1945 - February 1946 A4293614
Chapter 26b The Brandenburg Gate A4294794
Chapter 27 Itzehoe to Essdorf tank barracks to Hamburg - March to May 1946 A4294965
Chapter 28 Hamburg to Sheffield to Catterick Camp A4295117


CHAPTER 1: TA RASC 39th Ack-Ack Sheffield June 1938, A father's advice

"Volunteer lad - join 'TA and learn a trade.* War's looming and when it's declared you won't then be called up into 'Infantry ".

Reg's dad, William Angus Reid, spoke as a twenty-one years service army man in an Infantry regiment - the 1st battalion East Surrey's - and had seen his comrades killed in the First World War. He was injured, had shrapnel in his back, and was sent to Blackpool to recuperate with other wounded soldiers. There he met and fell in love with a waitress, Helen, whom he was later to marry. Their son, Reginald William Reid, was born on 27th May 1919 in Walkley, Sheffield.

This son, now 19, wasn't fully convinced at first. There was much talk of aerial bombardment taking over from conventional warfare - Zeppelins had bombed and killed civilians in Sheffield in the First World War - the Germans had bombed Guernica in the recent Spanish Civil War. What havoc could modern aero planes cause these days. Would troops be needed?

-Of course! When it comes down to it the Poor Bloody Infantry has to go in, and if you wait till you're called up that's what you'd end up in. Remember – 60,000 British troop casualties on 'first day o 'battle o 'Somme. Six-ty thou-sand! -nearly all Infantrymen. Me an' yer Mother don't want thee to be a statistic!" -

Grammatical note: The apostrophe ' before a word indicates the Sheffield glottal stop, replacing 'the'. Now you've learnt summat!

Though army life was in the Reid's blood (his grandfather, a Scot, born Aberdeen, had also been a career soldier - a leading drum major in the Brigade of Guards) in Reg's case he thought it had been well washed out. Pacifism was in the air, the Regular Army in Britain had been reduced to six divisions (about a tenth the size of the German and French armies. Back to what the Kaiser had called a contemptible little army!) The TA part time soldiers made up the numbers. His father's career had taken young Reg and his mother Helen Reid to Jersey and Gibraltar with the British Army, but military life had intruded too much for her liking. And William drank too much, smoked heavily, and gambled. He'd never before given his son any advice, but on reflection, Reg judged this could be sound advice.

So, on the 24`h June 1938, he walked into the Army Recruiting Office at the Edmund Road Drill Hall, Sheffield, along with two friends, Stan Smith and Ray Cheetham.

Ray Cheetham was what would be called today `vertically challenged'. He was an inch too short for the Army. (He had worked at Marples Tools factory and there boards were placed for him to stand on to operate machines). The recruiting sergeant said "Stand on your tiptoes Cheetham ". He did so and was measured. "Congratulations laddie, you're in the Army".

Thus it was that T/68784 R.W. Reid signed on for four years with the Colours and one year in the Reserve with the TA Royal Army Service Corps 39th Ack Ack, based at an Ellin Street, Sheffield, factory unit. It wasn't full military service, but effective - one evening's training a week plus a fortnight's camp at Grantham. During the day Reg kept his job as a greenkeeper at the Hallamshire Golf Club on a high ridge at Lodge Moor overlooking the beautiful Rivelin Valley. He and a colleague would put a flag in a hole and go side by side down the green, meticulously picking out every weed, every daisy, dandelion and clover that dared show its head. The greens of course would be regularly mown.

There was much activity on the hills around Sheffield - searchlights and anti-aircraft gun emplacements were hurriedly being built to help defend the half million people and their vital steel and armaments industry which would surely be targeted from the air in the event of a war. Virtually all of Britain's special steel and alloy industry lay alongside the twenty miles of the River Don from Stocksbridge down to Rotherham and beyond, and much of the rest was along the River Sheaf and the River Rother. The Government was worried about this concentration and firms were being encouraged to build satellite Electric Arc Melting Shops in Manchester, Matlock, Gateshead and Brymbo, initially to be manned by Sheffield melters.

Reg was determined to do his bit to defend his city and his country while at the same time taking every opportunity to enjoy life. He was after all still a teenager, he had a motorbike and soon became very good friends in the TA with a lad called Ron Gregory. The two of them made frequent visits to Bakewell on Reg's Excelsior Manxman. To zoom up the roads into the hills west of Sheffield over the thousand feet mark was sheer heaven. Air like wine, prevailing winds blowing down from the city's highest point of 1500 feet at High Neb on Stanage Edge over the Western Moors, down through town and eastwards down the Don Valley taking Sheffield and Rotherham's industrial and household smoke with it.

On windless days a pall of smoke hung over the city - except the West End - caused by houses and factories burning coal; way before the Clean Air Act of the 1960s led to smokeless fuel for houses, and clean steel making.

What was Bakewell's appeal to them? Was it the charms of the sleepy market town with its Derbyshire stone church, stone houses and stone pack horse bridge set on the meandering River Wye amidst the superb Peak District scenery with Chatsworth and Haddon Hall nearby? Sleepy on most days in the 1930s except on market days with its heaving cattle and sheep pens and bustling markets. Well, young lads can appreciate such things but sweeping round the bends on the Manxman from Owler Bar to Baslow, then round the thirteen `killer bends' from there to Bakewell was part of the appeal.

Also - cherchez la femme - they'd got to know two lovely Derbyshire lasses and met them regularly in the town.

These halcyon days came to an abrupt halt with the Autumn 1938 crisis. Austria had been annexed by the Third Reich and German troops had invaded the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Reg and the lads were now called up as full time soldiers and were posted to Newark, Nottinghamshire. They were there one month only.

The international crisis came to a head. Britain's PM, Chamberlain, met Herr Hitler at Munich and returned with an agreement - famously waving this piece of paper after landing back in Britain and proclaiming `Peace in our time'.

This was greeted with joy by the British people who remembered the carnage of the First World War. Most didn't want to hear of Germany's arms build up in the 1930s - Winston's was a voice in the wilderness.

Later the Munich agreement was regarded by many, after the event, as a craven surrender to Hitler, but it did give Britain a breathing space to prepare for a possible war, now regarded less likely as Hitler declared "I have no more territorial ambitions".

And it did mean that Reg and his pals could be stood down and returned to civvy street. He could go to Bakewell with Ron Gregory again to see the girls.

 

 

CHAPTER 2: 39th Ack-Ack Newark, Notts. R.W. Reid, D. R. Langford and Winthorpe Halls

On 1st September 1939 the German army invaded Poland and two days later, honouring their treaty obligation to the Poles, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

The Sheffield lads forming RASC 39th Ack Ack got their call up papers again and were sent to Newark.
Practical lads with a mechanical bent who could drive or could be taught to drive lorries were based at Langford Hall, requisitioned by the Army, a minor stately home standing in red-brick Georgian splendour in large grounds, capable of containing dozens of army lorries.

Names Reg remembers from those far-off days are Privates George Bennett, Pete Underwood, Will Wright, Stan and Wilf Smith, Frank Turton, Jack Osborne, Davenport, Spurr - all based at Langford Hall, all with cutlery, steel or engineering backgrounds - except George Bennett, who was a joiner in Civvy Street. The NCOs included a Sergeant Smith, so there were three Smiths at the Hall.

Jack Osborne, cutler, was the first casualty of their war. He was teaching one of the learners who lost control of the 3 ton Bedford, changing gear too near to a very sharp bend. They drove straight through someone's front window. Jack, with a broken leg, was the only person injured.

Another minor stately home, Winthorpe Hall, built in limestone, with a parapet running right round it, standing in smaller grounds a few miles from Langford Hall, was also requisitioned by the Army. This was now the RASC 39th Ack Ack HQ. The palatial second floor housed the officers' mess and rooms for the officers who included Allcard (of the engineer's tool making firm Easterbrook, Allcard), Beswick, Craig, Grey and Boot (of the builders Hy. Boot). Sundry NCOs, plus privates Reg Reid, Ron Gregory, Ray Cheetham and a Sheffield University professor with a double-barrelled name, who was in line for a commission, were billeted in the attic.

Reg and the Prof. were in charge of the only lorry, a Bedford three-tonner, at Winthorpe Hall, and after they had learned to drive it were made busy delivering equipment to various searchlight units scattered across the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

At one unit in Lincolnshire Reg could have become their war's second casualty. As he and the Prof. approached the cookhouse he was nearly cut down by what we would now call `friendly fire'. A nervous guard called out "Halt, who goes there?" and fired his rifle at them even as he spoke the words. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn't intend to squeeze the trigger as he spoke!

The Prof's overcoat had flapped in the breeze and the shot whistled through the khaki material of same flap, right between Prof and Reg.

They agreed not to say anything about the incident but someone had heard the 303 shot, reported the guard, and he was court-marshalled.

If they were out on jobs that took them from early morning to late evening the cook at Winthorpe prepared them sandwiches. At some point of the journey in open countryside the Prof. would take both lots of sandwiches and ceremoniously throw them to the birds. "I'll take you to a nice restaurant instead Reg - I'll pay of course". They would then call at a nice restaurant of his choice - Davy's or Tuckwood's in Sheffield, or ones in Lincoln, Hull, Nottingham or Derby.

These treats for the birds in the fields and for Reg were astounding in wartime. Adding weight to the old adage `It's not what you know, it's who you know'.
The eccentric Prof. then went for his commission in the Infantry and Reg never saw him again.

What about Ron Gregory? He wasn't long at Winthorpe - barely time to get to know a local girl before he was gone. He too left the RASC for a commission in the Infantry - probably KOYLI, the fast marching, 180 paces a minute, 3 paces a second Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

He was an impatient lad and wanted to be in the thick of any action. Reg had expressed his father's foreboding but Ron felt it wouldn't be any more dangerous than driving in convoys with the RASC. These could just as easily be picked off by an enemy - especially from the air they could be sitting ducks.

They hadn't dwelt on what might happen though, but with the optimism of youth had agreed to meet up after the war to get to Bakewell and meet the girls. If those two had by then met other lads too bad - there were other fish in the Wye! Ron planned to buy a motorbike too and they planned runs into the Peak and beyond. The world would be their oyster.

Ron's new girlfriend's mother lived on the very road that ran from Winthorpe to Newark, and he had given his friend her address before they parted. There was an open invitation for Reg to call in for tea. They had parted with some sadness but young men in those days didn't show emotion. They didn't even shake hands and what about little Ray Cheetham - he who had signed on at Edmund Road Drill Hall on 24th June 1938 and had got in the Army by standing on his tiptoes? What was he doing with Reg as the sole privates among the brass and NCOs of Winthorpe Hall? Well, he'd been given the job of Lt. Boot's chauffeur. One of two higher-ranking officers had army Humber limousines chauffeured and cleaned by lads at Langford. Lt. Boot was paid by the Army to use his own car, a Jaguar. He put four cushions on the driver's seat so that Ray could peer over the steering wheel when driving.

Later in the war Reg learned that Ray Cheetham worked in South Africa conscripting natives into the British Army. He had a natural sympathy with the underdog and befriended a bastard black lad from a village where the lad and his mother were ostracized because of his illegitimacy. He promoted the lad to corporal whereupon he was then shown respect in the village, and his mother beamed with pride - her son an NCO in the British Army!
Once Ray, with conscripted black lads in the back of his lorry (with specially raised and cushioned driving seat) passed a runner and stopped to give him a lift. He told the lad "Bang on the roof of the car when you want to get off" and continued on the rough road, more of a track, at about 20 mph.

After a few miles the lad banged on the roof and immediately jumped off before Ray could stop and broke his leg. The lad hadn't realised that Ray would be kind enough to stop! Ray took him then to Army medics. That's the story of pint-sized Ray Cheetham and we've drifted many thousands of miles from Newark, but it shows you the vast reaches of the British Army and Empire at the time.

Back at Winthorpe Hall, near Newark, Reg was now without his mucker, the Prof.
You may be aware of the `Organised Chaos' of the Army. Its ability to put a square peg in a round hole. You know the kind of thing.
"Are you a musician?"
"Yes Sah!"
"Then shift that piano laddie ".

It could be called lateral thinking though the phrase wasn't around then. Would you expect Reg with his skill as a biker and love of motor bikes to be made a despatch rider? Well, surprise - he was! T/68784 R.W. Reid D.R. 39th Ack Ack RASC.

He ran despatches around the Midlands but mainly to an army base in Hucknall and with mail and messages between the RASC Halls at Winthorpe and Langford on an army Matchless 350cc. He kept his Excelsior Manxman `for best'.

Stan Smith, who'd volunteered with Reg and Ray Cheetham in June 1938 at Edmund Road Drill Hall, loaned his 350cc BSA and Wilf Wright his 600cc Ariel Square Four to the Army for the standard amount -of three shillings and sixpence per week.

There was then a delivery of fifteen new big 500cc Ariel `Red Hunter' bikes and Reg was put in charge of these. They weren't short of bikes, but the lads, like the Home Guard, had done their square bashing and had trained with wooden rifles!

In Civvy Street Reg had been a very shy youth - on the old Sheffield trams with two rows of wooden slatted seats along each side he used to blush if he caught someone's eye. Me too. I can sympathise with him. I'd look up at the `No Spitting' sign, down at the floor, back at the passing scene or forward to the driver's cabin - or pretend to sleep - anything to avoid someone's gaze.

Army life hadn't yet conquered this basic shyness but he did show entrepreneurial flair. He reasoned that it would be good for the fifteen `Red Hunter' motorbikes to get some usage, so he hired them out with a full tank of army petrol to the lads at half a crown a day for them to get to Sheffield to see their loved ones on their days off. It became a common sight - two lads on a single seater bike, the one at the back legs dangling as they roared down the drive and out of Winthorpe Hall.

Happy days of the `phoney war': Germany from the West and Stalin's Red Army from the East had conquered and split Poland between themselves in one month. Everyone now awaited Germany's next move. Meanwhile, on the long quiet road to Newark from Winthorpe George Bennett was showing Reg how to stand up on a motorbike, Reg adjusting the twist grip tensioner so that the throttle stayed open - this way they could go at a steady 25mph standing up, arms outstretched, steering the bike by swaying left or right.

One day when Reg had finished his rounds and was returning on the selfsame Newark to Winthorpe road he decided he ought to take up the invitation and call in at Ron Gregory's girlfriend's mother's house. She greeted him like a long lost son - fruit cake, biscuits and tea in china cups. He was lifting his third cup to his lips, little finger held out politely, when she said: "Do you know, Reginald, two of your Army boys pass by on this road both standing up, arms held out, on a motorbike - at such a speed! So dangerous. Aren't they silly beggars! -I've a mind to report them to their C.O. before they kill themselves ".
Reg spluttered, then contained himself: "Sorry to tell you - I'm one of those silly beggars!”

Bennett, the joiner, pointed out a ladder leading to a trap door on the top floor of Winthorpe Hall. "Let's go up on t'roof to get views o' countryside. I bet we can see Lincoln Cathedral".

They climbed up, pushed the trapdoor open and got on to the flat roof surrounded by a parapet on all four sides, perhaps about two feet wide. Reg gingerly stood on this parapet and exclaimed "What a vista! What a vista!" The flat lands of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire spread all around and they could indeed discern Lincoln Cathedral, as well as Southwell Minster.

George Bennett, with a fear of heights, became agitated and reverted to broad Sheffield dialect: "Get thissen dahn. Soft chuff! Tha'll kill thissen! Tha meks mi bollocks cringe watchin' thi - get thissen dahn!"

Reg got down and they both peered silently over the parapet as, way down below, Lieutenant Boot walked up the drive to the Hall, the sound of his footsteps crunching on gravel floating up and over the parapet to their ears. Much noisier was the sound of an Ariel bike, Davenport sitting behind Wilf Smith roaring past Lieutenant Boot. Davenport threw up a salute, which turned into a V sign as they roared out of the gate to the open road, his long legs dangling behind.

Davenport had been a driver in Civvy Street - of carthorses! He used to work at the Bridgehouses Railway Depot off Nursery Street, Sheffield - attaching an extra horse to incoming wagons to get the loads up the steep cobbled drive from Nursery Street to the depot. He was more used to dealing with horses than people - was tall and gangly like a colt.

He had missed a kit parade that morning and Lt. Boot had asked him if he would accept any punishment he might give him. "Yes Sah!” A nice little stream ran through the grounds of Winthorpe Hall. A robin would hop onto a stone in the middle for a little drink.
"Take this stirrup pump, Davenport". "Sah!”
"And pump this stream dry". "Sah!”
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Har!" Lt. Boot was hugely amused at his own sense of humour - but had let Davenport get back to Langford Hall after only fifteen minutes' punishment.
Early one Sunday morning at Winthorpe Hall George Bennett cast a joiner's eye on the heavy wine cellar door standing proud from the wall. He noted that, though securely locked and bolted, it was hung by two-part male/female hinges that could possibly be lifted apart. It would take a huge effort so, with a huge effort, he lifted the door off its hinges, squeezed through the gap, went down the cellar steps and turned on the light to reveal rows of bottles of wine and whisky.

Bennett had called to Winthorpe to see Reg for a possible run out to Lincoln together on Reg's Manxman - fuelled by Army petrol - but he was out on despatch duties.
When he returned and parked his bike his attention was drawn to something glinting against the sky. Looking up he saw a most amusing if alarming sight. More alarming than amusing. A bollock-naked Bennett in black army boots, drunk as a skunk, was teetering along the parapet: an event that was to go down in the annals of Winthorpe Hall.

Sunlight glinting on what, might you think, alerting Reg's gaze? On a half empty whisky bottle Bennett was holding, of course! What else?
Three hours' solid drinking had quelled Bennett's fear of heights and shed his clothes and inhibitions. Reg could only say to himself "Effin' 'ell fire!" as he raced into the Hall to find the duty sergeant. They'd have to go on the roof to try and coax Bennett down.

"Effin' 'ell fire!" The duty sergeant was pissed as a newt sprawled at the top of the steps leading down to the wine cellar.

Driver Wilf Wright came in the Hall just then - not very pleased because Sergeant Smith (no relation to Reg's friend, driver Stan Smith) had got it in for him. He'd sent him on a pettifogging delivery mission - a few training manuals to Hucknall on Sunday, his day off. He vowed to get his own back on Smithy one-day. It was the culmination of a lot of mean acts by the sergeant - as Wilf saw it anyway. And now D. R. Reid was running by, swearing and ignoring him.

White-faced Reg raced up the staircase in the Hall to get to the ladder up to the roof. A pair of staircases that wound up like those at Sheffield Town Hall or Chatsworth House, with a huge mirror covering the wall where they met. In the mirror Reg momentarily thought he saw two ghosts - one was himself with stricken white face - the other was an all-white bollock-naked Bennett descending the steps unsteadily. "Nish view of Lincoln Cathedral", were his only words before collapsing in a drunken stupor and rolling down the carpeted stairs.

Reg couldn't help cracking out laughing comparing Bennett, typically working-class British, skinny white body and legs and bad teeth, with the German troops they'd seen on Nazi propaganda films, bronzed and fit with white even teeth. He kept on smiling as he cajoled and pushed the drunkard up to his billet. Bennett slept all afternoon before being sober enough to get dressed and walk with pounding headache back to Langford Hall.

The example of his father William Angus had put Reg off alcohol. He wouldn't get into its grip. He wanted a clear head through life - didn't want to depend upon props like drinking, smoking, gambling.... He'd save up for his own independence after the war... What about women? Well, man can't give up everything!

With these thoughts Reg walked a little way with Bennett, collecting a couple of bottles of whisky from the wine cellar on his way back to test his will power against the demon drink.

No sooner had he returned to his attic billet, which reeked of booze following Bennett's recuperation there, than he heard a shot fired.

Wilf Wright had appraised the wine cellar situation, drunk whisky from the bottles, got plastered, the drink not appeasing his desire for revenge upon Sergeant Smith but rather feeding it. Hatred gnawed at his soul. He had a pistol hidden in his lorry. He staggered out to get it - he staggered in to find Sergeant Smith; he found Sergeant Smith and shot at him... missed and got a year's detention.
Saluting during the `Phoney War'

A lad in the Infantry had told one of the drivers at Langford Hall who told Reg at Winthorpe Hall that a Guards Officer had said you should only salute an officer once a day on first meeting him in the morning. There were a lot more chiefs than Indians, officers than men at Winthorpe. Some liked to be saluted often - it made them feel important - though, of course, you must always `Remember, you're not saluting me; you're saluting the King! (or Queen)'.

All of you who have served His or Her Majesty know the drill with arm and hand - the longest way up, the shortest way down!

It was nearing Christmas 1939 and the world situation was quiet, but tense. People were expecting the invasion of France. There was talk of deals being considered. (Was it at this time that Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland?)

All this led to a plethora of bull at both Halls to keep men alert, with military bearing. Halls, kit, lorries, even motorbikes were bulled to high degree. Reg had to insist that lads brought bikes back in pristine order after they had used them. Well, it was only fair - he was doing them a favour even if they had to pay him half a crown hire charge, including full tank of Army petrol.

An Open Day was held at Winthorpe and leading up to it there was a frantic degree of bull. Everything that didn't move was painted white - you know the Sheffield United Tours arranged charabancs to arrive with family and friends on the designated Sunday in December 1939. People also arrived in rats or local buses or even taxis from Newark Railway Station.

Reg's mother and father didn't make it. Theirs was a stormy relationship and they had come near to separating on several occasions. To be more exact Helen was on the verge of leaving William Angus Reid.

Marquee and trestle tables with food were set up in the grounds. A tank, an artillery piece, and sundry lorries were in place for kiddies and young men to climb about in. A military band played Alford (British) and Sousa (American) marches plus `Old Comrades' (`Alte Kameraden'), a march common to both the British and German armies.

One could look round Winthorpe Hall if one didn't want to watch children's games and races. Even in the Hall though one could hear a Sergeant Major bellowing out in military fashion:
"Will the winner of the under 10's egg and spoon race dress forward?”
Reg was detailed to carry two buckets of steaming hot tea from the Hall kitchens across a field to the Marquee. He looked ahead, eyes intent on his purpose, surveying the ground as he walked with shuffling steps with the two heavy buckets.
"Reid, you didn't salute me!"
It was a buckshee second lieutenant calling out in a rich accent.
"How can I salute you, sir, carrying these (effin - sotto voce) buckets?" He continued shuffling along, not wanting to lose his momentum.
"STOP! STOP! Go back, man, and salute me by turning eyes right!" (angry rich accent).

Reg did this but as he turned eyes right he stubbed his toe against a hummock of grass and went sprawling with his buckets. From ground level, through the steam of hot tea rising from the grass, he could see the lads laughing as they gave him a rousing cheer.

Bennett, the joiner, pointed out a ladder leading to a trap door on the top floor of Winthorpe Hall. "Let's go up on t'roof to get views o' countryside. I bet we can see Lincoln Cathedral".

They climbed up, pushed the trapdoor open and got on to the flat roof surrounded by a parapet on all four sides, perhaps about two feet wide. Reg gingerly stood on this parapet and exclaimed "What a vista! What a vista!" The flat lands of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire spread all around and they could indeed discern Lincoln Cathedral, as well as Southwell Minster.

George Bennett, with a fear of heights, became agitated and reverted to broad Sheffield dialect: "Get thissen dahn. Soft chuff! Tha'll kill thissen! Tha meks mi bollocks cringe watchin' thi - get thissen dahn!"

Reg got down and they both peered silently over the parapet as, way down below, Lieutenant Boot walked up the drive to the Hall, the sound of his footsteps crunching on gravel floating up and over the parapet to their ears. Much noisier was the sound of an Ariel bike, Davenport sitting behind Wilf Smith roaring past Lieutenant Boot. Davenport threw up a salute, which turned into a V sign as they roared out of the gate to the open road, his long legs dangling behind.

Davenport had been a driver in Civvy Street - of carthorses! He used to work at the Bridgehouses Railway Depot off Nursery Street, Sheffield - attaching an extra horse to incoming wagons to get the loads up the steep cobbled drive from Nursery Street to the depot. He was more used to dealing with horses than people - was tall and gangly like a colt.

He had missed a kit parade that morning and Lt. Boot had asked him if he would accept any punishment he might give him. "Yes Sah!” A nice little stream ran through the grounds of Winthorpe Hall. A robin would hop onto a stone in the middle for a little drink.
"Take this stirrup pump, Davenport". "Sah!”
"And pump this stream dry". "Sah!”
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Har!" Lt. Boot was hugely amused at his own sense of humour - but had let Davenport get back to Langford Hall after only fifteen minutes' punishment.
Early one Sunday morning at Winthorpe Hall George Bennett cast a joiner's eye on the heavy wine cellar door standing proud from the wall. He noted that, though securely locked and bolted, it was hung by two-part male/female hinges that could possibly be lifted apart. It would take a huge effort so, with a huge effort, he lifted the door off its hinges, squeezed through the gap, went down the cellar steps and turned on the light to reveal rows of bottles of wine and whisky.

Bennett had called to Winthorpe to see Reg for a possible run out to Lincoln together on Reg's Manxman - fuelled by Army petrol - but he was out on despatch duties.
When he returned and parked his bike his attention was drawn to something glinting against the sky. Looking up he saw a most amusing if alarming sight. More alarming than amusing. A bollock-naked Bennett in black army boots, drunk as a skunk, was teetering along the parapet: an event that was to go down in the annals of Winthorpe Hall.

Sunlight glinting on what, might you think, alerting Reg's gaze? On a half empty whisky bottle Bennett was holding, of course! What else?
Three hours' solid drinking had quelled Bennett's fear of heights and shed his clothes and inhibitions. Reg could only say to himself "Effin' 'ell fire!" as he raced into the Hall to find the duty sergeant. They'd have to go on the roof to try and coax Bennett down.

"Effin' 'ell fire!" The duty sergeant was pissed as a newt sprawled at the top of the steps leading down to the wine cellar.

Driver Wilf Wright came in the Hall just then - not very pleased because Sergeant Smith (no relation to Reg's friend, driver Stan Smith) had got it in for him. He'd sent him on a pettifogging delivery mission - a few training manuals to Hucknall on Sunday, his day off. He vowed to get his own back on Smithy one-day. It was the culmination of a lot of mean acts by the sergeant - as Wilf saw it anyway. And now D. R. Reid was running by, swearing and ignoring him.

White-faced Reg raced up the staircase in the Hall to get to the ladder up to the roof. A pair of staircases that wound up like those at Sheffield Town Hall or Chatsworth House, with a huge mirror covering the wall where they met. In the mirror Reg momentarily thought he saw two ghosts - one was himself with stricken white face - the other was an all-white bollock-naked Bennett descending the steps unsteadily. "Nish view of Lincoln Cathedral", were his only words before collapsing in a drunken stupor and rolling down the carpeted stairs.

Reg couldn't help cracking out laughing comparing Bennett, typically working-class British, skinny white body and legs and bad teeth, with the German troops they'd seen on Nazi propaganda films, bronzed and fit with white even teeth. He kept on smiling as he cajoled and pushed the drunkard up to his billet. Bennett slept all afternoon before being sober enough to get dressed and walk with pounding headache back to Langford Hall.

The example of his father William Angus had put Reg off alcohol. He wouldn't get into its grip. He wanted a clear head through life - didn't want to depend upon props like drinking, smoking, gambling.... He'd save up for his own independence after the war... What about women? Well, man can't give up everything!

With these thoughts Reg walked a little way with Bennett, collecting a couple of bottles of whisky from the wine cellar on his way back to test his will power against the demon drink.

No sooner had he returned to his attic billet, which reeked of booze following Bennett's recuperation there, than he heard a shot fired.

Wilf Wright had appraised the wine cellar situation, drunk whisky from the bottles, got plastered, the drink not appeasing his desire for revenge upon Sergeant Smith but rather feeding it. Hatred gnawed at his soul. He had a pistol hidden in his lorry. He staggered out to get it - he staggered in to find Sergeant Smith; he found Sergeant Smith and shot at him... missed and got a year's detention.
Saluting during the `Phoney War'

A lad in the Infantry had told one of the drivers at Langford Hall who told Reg at Winthorpe Hall that a Guards Officer had said you should only salute an officer once a day on first meeting him in the morning. There were a lot more chiefs than Indians, officers than men at Winthorpe. Some liked to be saluted often - it made them feel important - though, of course, you must always `Remember, you're not saluting me; you're saluting the King! (or Queen)'.

All of you who have served His or Her Majesty know the drill with arm and hand - the longest way up, the shortest way down!

It was nearing Christmas 1939 and the world situation was quiet, but tense. People were expecting the invasion of France. There was talk of deals being considered. (Was it at this time that Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland?)

All this led to a plethora of bull at both Halls to keep men alert, with military bearing. Halls, kit, lorries, even motorbikes were bulled to high degree. Reg had to insist that lads brought bikes back in pristine order after they had used them. Well, it was only fair - he was doing them a favour even if they had to pay him half a crown hire charge, including full tank of Army petrol.

An Open Day was held at Winthorpe and leading up to it there was a frantic degree of bull. Everything that didn't move was painted white - you know the Sheffield United Tours arranged charabancs to arrive with family and friends on the designated Sunday in December 1939. People also arrived in rats or local buses or even taxis from Newark Railway Station.

Reg's mother and father didn't make it. Theirs was a stormy relationship and they had come near to separating on several occasions. To be more exact Helen was on the verge of leaving William Angus Reid.

Marquee and trestle tables with food were set up in the grounds. A tank, an artillery piece, and sundry lorries were in place for kiddies and young men to climb about in. A military band played Alford (British) and Sousa (American) marches plus `Old Comrades' (`Alte Kameraden'), a march common to both the British and German armies.

One could look round Winthorpe Hall if one didn't want to watch children's games and races. Even in the Hall though one could hear a Sergeant Major bellowing out in military fashion:
"Will the winner of the under 10's egg and spoon race dress forward?”
Reg was detailed to carry two buckets of steaming hot tea from the Hall kitchens across a field to the Marquee. He looked ahead, eyes intent on his purpose, surveying the ground as he walked with shuffling steps with the two heavy buckets.
"Reid, you didn't salute me!"
It was a buckshee second lieutenant calling out in a rich accent.
"How can I salute you, sir, carrying these (effin - sotto voce) buckets?" He continued shuffling along, not wanting to lose his momentum.
"STOP! STOP! Go back, man, and salute me by turning eyes right!" (angry rich accent).

Reg did this but as he turned eyes right he stubbed his toe against a hummock of grass and went sprawling with his buckets. From ground level, through the steam of hot tea rising from the grass, he could see the lads laughing as they gave him a rousing cheer.

 

 

CHAPTER 3: Maryhill Barracks/Springburn Ministry of Labour Training Centre Glasgow Fitters Course January to July 1940

Stan Smith's brother was a staff sergeant in the 39th Ack Ack and told Stan that there were four places on a six-month mechanics course in Glasgow. He suggested that Stan went along with his brother in law - yet another Smith at Langford Hall - and with Reg Reid and Frank Turton. It would be kind of a Walkley Mafia - all four hailed from that hilly area of Sheffield.
They would be billeted in a TA drill hall next to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow, the traditional home of the Highland Light Infantry (H.L.L). The course was to be at Springburn Ministry of Labour Training Centre, two or " three miles away across the north of the city - described as a tram ride away from Maryhill.

They reached Glasgow by rail from Sheffield on the 29th December 1939 and immediately felt at home in Britain's second city. The people who gave them directions were very friendly, if rough and almost unintelligible, offering to go the journey with them. Sheffielders and Glaswegians were kindred spirits then - both great industrial cities with a very posh side and a huge industrial area often hidden under a pall of smoke from homes and factories. One of the great Victorian Sheffield steelmen, John Brown, had built up his shipyards on the Clyde to be among the world's biggest. Battleships and the `Queens' liners were built at the yards with steel plates and forgings from his Sheffield works. Both cities suffered from violent gang wars in the 1920s and the same larger than life chief constable, Captain Percy Sillitoe, quelled the gangs first in Glasgow, then in Sheffield. He later became the first head of MIS.
Both cities had theatres, the Glasgow Empire and the Palace Attercliffe, Sheffield, where playing there was regarded as the kiss of death for thespians - especially comedians. The comedians' graveyards, R.I.P.

More recently the Duke of Edinburgh gave both cities a little mention when addressing students in Malaya: "However you lot will survive in Glasgow or Sheffield I do not know", or words to that effect. Still, all publicity is good publicity.

Back to Maryhill as our four walked into the TA Drill Hall on that late December day in 1939. Did they get a warm welcome from the Scots?

Not a bit of it. Not a soul appeared. The H.L.I. barracks next door was in darkness. Not a sign of the legendary Scots infantrymen. There was a light on in the TA Drill Hall and a solitary duty sergeant greeted them: "Ye're no expected till January ".

He said he could give them bedding for their billet - but no food. "There isna any food until the Poles get back next door after Hogmanay ".
Polish troops who had escaped the Nazis had taken over the Maryhill barracks from the Scots troops. An elderly civvy wandered in, flat hat, square `Glaswegian' jaw, crinkled bright amused eyes, and confirmed "Youse four are no expected until January Nineteen Forty".
How did he know? - his youngest daughter served in the barracks canteen so he knew everything. And made it his job to know everything. He addressed Reg:
"Ye'll come to oor hoose for dinner. Youse three ter the neighbours ".

He led them to the grim stone tenements that overshadowed the barracks but the people weren't grim - far from it. They were salt of the earth old working class that would do owt for you - even for the Auld Enemy.

They all had meals and a wee dram or two and were invited to the Hogmanay Celebrations. Neighbours took it in turns to feed the four lads even though none of these Glaswegians were well off. It wasn't as bad as Govan or the Gorbals, but in most of the tenements three generations lived in one flat. A mere curtain would divide the living/dining room from grandma and grandpa's bed. Reg would be eating his meal and a grizzled old face would peep through the curtain: "Are ye all right laddie?"

Our laddie fancied the black haired vivacious lassie who was the youngest daughter of the house, and was pleased to see her serving in the canteen when their mechanics course started and the Polish troops returned. She looked so sweet.

He gave her the glad eye when she doled out the spuds and she responded by blushing and doling him double helpings. Perhaps she wanted him to keep up his strength!
In those days of food shortages and rationing it was regarded a good thing to get as much grub down you as you could. A thin child in Sheffield would be told "Tha wants to get some puddin' dahn thi ". The healthiest babies were `bonny' - pleasantly plump.

The black-haired Reg and the black-haired lassie got to know each other well and she invited him to revisit her home, where he got on famously with `Square Jaw' and his wife. They were privately glad that she had found a `nice boy' at last. She had been with one or two of the Polish lads who they suspected were only after her body. Reg was honourable of course though the evening ended magically with a kiss and a cuddle.

He rashly confided in Stan Smith who immediately became himself attracted to the girl, bantered and flirted with her and even invited himself to her house with Reg on another evening.

A fatal mistake - but for who? She wasn't particularly pleased that Reg allowed his friend to come along, and wondered if he really wanted her as a girlfriend.
Reg wasn't particularly pleased with himself - why couldn't he have followed the Yorkshireman's `Hear all, see all, say NOWT' philosophy?

The following morning he had a really bad throat - caused by working in the Ministry of Labour sheds, he thought - but the army medic diagnosed septic tonsillitis and sent him to Glasgow military hospital. He was then given two weeks' leave in Sheffield where, already feeling sorry for himself, he found his mother telling him that she really felt like leaving his dad and their Walkley Road home, and going to Stoke-on-Trent where her sister lived.
When Reg got back to Maryhill he bumped into Stan, also down in the dumps, on his way to the Medic, with a face `as long as Norfolk Street'.

Stan it was who had made the fatal mistake in making a play for the sweet canteen lassie. She was a girl who couldn't say no and he'd soon had his wicked way with her in the tenement stairwell, behind the canteen, even in his billet, which was absolutely `streng verboten' - but immensely enjoyable.

"She's gen me a dose o' clap".

She'd passed on VD to Smithy which she'd caught from sleeping with two or three of the Polish troops.

"Let that teach thee a lesson - only go wi' women who wain't let thi have sex before marriage".

Reg felt virtuous and lucky, with a guardian angel guiding him through life. He couldn't feel anger towards his stricken mate - he'd possibly saved our man from the disease. As he walked into the billet he sang to himself
"On top of old Smokey, all covered in snow I avoided the clap there
Through courting too slow... "

He was a romantic at heart though and knew he'd meet the right girl one day.... Until then he'd have to content himself with the dancing woman he'd had tattooed on his forearm! This incident too involved Stan Smith who decided he'd go into a Glasgow tattoo shop and choose a pattern to cheer himself up - not a naked woman - he was off them at the moment. He asked Reg and Frank Turton to go with him for company. Reg and Frank had been celebrating and Reg had allowed himself a glass or three. What were they celebrating? Can't remember - perhaps celebrating not being as daft as Smithy. They weren't going to be tattooed. Not likely! To be stuck with a tattoo for life was intolerable. They did their best to dissuade their friend...An hour later they emerged from the booth on Sauchiehall Street, Reg sporting the dancing girl and Frank a face of Bulldog Churchill looking more bulldog than Winston. Churchill had just been made PM on 10th May 1940 and there was now a sense of hope nationally...By the way, Smithy didn't sport a tattoo, he'd taken their advice and decided against it!

The six month course was drawing to a close - they knew how to recondition engines; grinding the crankshafts, running the big end bearings - turning and scraping the bearings to fit the crankshaft - assembling the engines was the final skilled job.

The film star David Niven had gained credit for returning from Hollywood before the war to serve in the Highland Light Infantry at Maryhill Barracks. The four Sheffield lads had an oblique claim to fame in that they repaired the -racked cylinder block of David Niven's Commanding Officer's Lagonda!

The Lagonda was shipped to Springburn Training Centre from Malta where the HLI were stationed at the time. The instructor told them to find the end of the crack, then drill a hole with a fine Rolls Royce thread at the end of the crack, drill more holes round the crack, then cut out a steel plate and bolt on with a gasket and a copper sheet. They had to make their own bolts. They made these from hexagonal steel cut to length, turned down to half an inch diameter, then threaded on a lathe, matching the threads on the holes in the steel plate and cylinder block and leaving uncut hexagonal tops as the bolt heads - just chamfering the rough edges.

They then bolted gasket, copper sheet and steel plate on to the cylinder block over the crack. Simple!

All four got their certificates - mechanics 3rd class.
Reg's reads: Springburn Training Centre Fitter's course
Ministry of Labour Training Centre
Pvt. R. W. Reid, Ml V Class 3.1217140

While awaiting their postings to a working unit they took the chance to visit Milngavie north of the city. "Och, you mean Mil-guy ", a woman corrected Reg when he asked her for directions. Being mechanically minded they were interested in a mile-long track of experimental overhead tramway built by an engineer/inventor there. He'd got a tram running on overhead rails - the steel pillars supporting the system arched across a road allowing other traffic unobstructed usage. Glasgow and other authorities showed interest but didn't go ahead with the system so the engineer set up rides one mile and back for the general public, at a small charge to try and support his venture.

It was a pleasant and interesting way for our four to spend an afternoon.
Even more pleasant and interesting were several outings Reg, Stan Smith and Frank Turton made to Kirkintilloch, a small town North East of Glasgow. They got to know three eighteen-year-old girls, sixth formers at a posh boarding school there. Having cakes and tea in cafes and countryside walks with them, with mild flirtations and much banter, was both pleasant and amusing - we should even say hilarious as the Walkley lads mimicked their posh upper crust English (not Scottish) accents and the girls endeavoured to understand the Sheffielder's theeing and thouing and picturesque terms and vocabulary.

There was too big a class difference in those days for any serious relationship to develop. In any case the lads were expecting their postings any day and the girls would be returning to their parents in India under the Raj before moving back to places at Oxford University.
Suffice to say the Sheffielders learnt that `Port Out, Starboard Home' was the only way to travel to India and was the origin of the word POSH. The girls knew French and German and were interested to find that thee, thou, thy and thine were used as the familiar form of address in Sheffield, much as the `tu' form in French and `du' in German. They also learned to `stop whittling' if they grumbled about the weather, even if it was `siling it down'; not to be ' aesh' if they were cold and in general not to be `mardy arses'!

Reg got his instructions - he was being posted to Luton to observe engine assembly for two months, then would join Stan Smith and Frank Turton at a recently established Heavy Motors Repair shop at High Wycombe.

 

 

CHAPTER 4: Vauxhall (Bedford) engine plant, Luton July-August 1940

The air of frenzied but ordered activity, the clashing of metal, the huge size of the place - and that was just the canteen! Only kidding - Reg was observing the assembly line in an enormous, recently expanded Vauxhall factory. He watched, fascinated, the manufacture of engines for Bedford 3 ton lorries - one of the workhorses of the Army. Nearly all the Sheffield lads at Newark had worked with steel, a world away from Reg's work at Hallamshire Golf Club on the moorland heights of Lodge Moor. Before Springburn he had only known lawn mower and motorbike engines. Now he was aquainted with the big 6 cylinder overhead valve engines being assembled at Luton.

There were masses of men on the shop floor. Chamberlain, before he was ousted from office in May, wanted to learn lessons from the First World War. Men were needed in factories until women could be trained to do some of the jobs. Get the production out to match troop numbers - try to make sure the troops were well-equipped. Chamberlain, a Brummie industrialist, was that rarity in British governments - someone who understood and cared about industry. Army recruitment up to June 1940, was no more than sixty thousand men a month. There were just ten British divisions in Belgium. The Germans created havoc by their dive bombers breaking through the rear of enemy lines, and with their brilliant conception of grouping armoured (panzer) divisions and very rapid advance, which quickly led to the collapse of France and the Low Countries by June 1940.

Churchill rallied British morale by focussing on the heroic rescue of the Army at Dunkirk by the Navy and many hundreds of small boats, and he then doubled recruitment month by month. Scores of infantry battalions were quickly assembled, though they had initially to rely on 300, 000 First World War rifles - and many backup units like the RASC and the Home Guard drilled with wooden rifles!

It was against this background that Reg spent two months in Luton, and got to know a girl there at a Women's Voluntary Service club. The WVS did sterling work helping troops feel at home in strange places, and moreover, this girl made him some buns - and was pretty with it. Her sister was going out with an Irish lad, a lorry driver intending to join the British Army. There was a flood of volunteers from Northern Ireland to fight the Nazis, but this lad was from Southern Ireland - and from a town where there was strong anti-British, if not altogether pro-Nazi sentiment. Like other volunteers from the Republic, he would have to go on leave to his parents' home in civvies. Reg can only remember him as Paddy (naturally) and can't remember the girl's name, but the four enjoyed times out together.

Friendships were short in wartime though, and no promises were made as he left Luton to meet up with Stan Smith and Frank Turton at High Wycombe, the furniture-making town in Buckinghamshire.

 

CHAPTER 5: No. 1 Heavy Repair Shop (HRS) RASC High Wycombe September 1940 - January 1941

This working unit was set up in a big civilian furniture factory commandeered by the Army in the rolling wooded hills of Buckinghamshire. The shop floor roused workshops for engines, gear boxes and back axles with an impressive array of machine tools - lathes etc. - to recondition these vital components.

The lads were billeted upstairs in offices overlooking the workshop floor. In a corner of a loading bay stood Reg's faithful Excelsior Manxman motor bike. The work was heavy, greasy, mucky and cold and Guard Duty, in comparison, was almost a pleasure.
Once on night guard Reg investigated a loud snoring sound disturbing the still late-evening air. It was a little owl on a telephone wire. Magical!

An elderly couple who lived nearby saw him as they passed the main gate with its wooden red and white barrier, and got talking with him. During the course of conversation the wife asked him what he was missing most about home.

"A hot bath" was the soldier's immediate reply - the showers at the factory are cold.
"You can come to our house tonight and have one." "But I'm on guard".
"We insist. Come on, son. Hitler won't invade tonight."

When a well-scrubbed, clean and contented Reg related this happy incident to Stan Smith - the selfsame Smithy who had helped himself to Reg's diseased potential girlfriend in Glasgow and had been indirectly responsible for Reg's tattoo - now helped himself to the couple's hospitality. He went round to their house, got his hot bath after tea and toast, and repaid them by leaving the blackest of black tide marks round their white enamelled bath.
They never got invited for a bath again. Smithy's fault once more - though Reg reasoned in the lad's favour that but for him, he wouldn't have got on the Glasgow course.

Smithy was Mr. Clean, though, compared with one of the lads who never had a bath or a shower, and restricted himself to what North African veterans would later call an `Arab wash' - two fingers dipped in water and dabbed around the face. The Arabs are short of water though, rainy High Wycombe wasn't, and this lad stank. A sergeant eventually detailed six motor mechs, 3rd class privates, to strip him down to his privates and hose and scrub him down - with ice cold water and a yard brush!

`Girly' Ruth Hawes

Love came to Reg while he was at the Heavy Repair Shops, in the shape of black-haired `Girly' Ruth Hawes. They met in High Wycombe town centre, and started going out together. This time he kept `Smithy' out of it! She lived at 63 Suffield Road - the address is still imprinted in his brain over sixty years later.

Her parents were a bit dubious about this cheeky-faced Northerner with the dirty job. They had two sons in the Army, one with the Infantry in Egypt - but rather fancied their daughter getting to know one of the nice RAF lads, stationed near High Wycombe, who came to their Methodist New Connexion Church. The Battle of Britain was raging and the RAF were all heroes in the summer and autumn of 1940. They surmised, moreover, that a RAF lad would be more likely to get a `nice office job' after the war - not work in a garage or furniture factory. Be that as it may, `Girly' Ruth preferred Reg with his good looks and sense of humour. He made her laugh, he was a skilled man at his job. As a Class 3 mechanic, his pay had doubled from seven shillings to fourteen shillings a week, and there was the bonus of Sundays out together on his Manxman' motorbike.

He didn't just want her for sex - in those days only a rascal would go all the way with a girl before marriage, and Reg, being a gentleman, refrained. Admittedly he was mindful too of the cautionary tale of Stan Smith and the pretty Glaswegienne..... not that `Girly' Ruth was of easy virtue of course!

They soon got engaged and a highlight of the week was what was then regarded as heavy petting on Sunday evenings in the front room of the house in Suffield Road. With the lights out, curtains drawn, flickering flames from the coal fire highlighting her breasts `like monumental marble' and her parents out playing bridge it was a dream come true.

The bridge game was always at friends of her parents after the Methodist New Connexion chapel service, but one day the friends were ill, and Mr. and Mrs. Hawes came back unexpectedly early. Mr. Hawes had an ability to turn the door knob and burst in in one movement and he, closely followed by Mrs. Hawes, found Reg with a tape measure round `Girly' Ruth's breasts. (Jane Russell had appeared upon the silver screen and suddenly girls wanted larger breasts again - after the 1920s and `30s flat-chested look).

She ran upstairs still clutching her bra while Reg made his excuses and left. They were engaged after all but her parents were strict Methodists - they'd read about rough-necked roistering army boys in the High Wycombe Examiner - or whatever the local paper was called. Just the previous week, they'd read about a youth from the same unit as Reg who, in attempting to burgle booze from a club had, while the club was open, fallen through a high window onto an upturned table, a leg of which had pierced his chest - or perhaps shoulder. It can't have pierced a lung because he survived. In fact he hadn't realised at first that part of the table leg which had snapped was sticking through him. He must have been drunk when he attempted the burglary, in his army greatcoat! The paper went on to say another quick-thinking soldier who had been drinking in the club with friends helped the lad off with his coat and called for an ambulance. They might have had a better opinion of Reg if they had known he was that soldier!

These episodes didn't affect his relationship with `Girly' Ruth at first, but there was a gradual cooling off between them. Sometimes when he asked her out, she had other things to do and refused. She did go to Sheffield with him though, by rail on Tuesday 10th December 1940, and they stayed that night with his parents at Walkley - she in an attic room, he on the settee downstairs. His dad was on his best behaviour and expressed pleasure that Reg's pay had doubled from seven shillings a week to fourteen shillings; now he was a 3rd class mechanic.
He put on his broadest Sheffield accent when he noticed his son's tattoo. "At least if tha gets blown up we'll know thi by tattoo on thi arm!" Ruth was both bemused and amused.

His mother recited lists of young women she knew who had now been called up to work in steel, tool and armament factories. Women were working in the melting shops in overhead crane cabins, bringing scrap in huge ladles to the furnaces and taking molten steel to be poured into ingot moulds. Women were even on the shop floor in rolling mills working with tongs, handling the hot steel bars or strip, guiding these as they snaked along the floor and through the rolls.

One girl called Bottomley worked allocating the young women jobs - industry/land or armed services and she interviewed a posh woman called Cholmondley, who was annoyed at the literal pronunciation of her name.

"My name is pronounced Chumley, you should learn to pronounce names right." Miss Bottomley replied, "That's all right, so long as you don't call me Bumley!" War was becoming quite a leveller!

Luftwaffe night raids had hit London in September and October 1940 and his mam and dad wondered how safe Reg and Ruth were in High Wycombe. Coventry was raided 14th November but Sheffield had not yet been targeted, except for a few raids in August by a small number of bombers. Some hoped that the city was just a bit too far away from the enemy bases in France and the Low Countries.
They hoped in vain.

Reg and Ruth caught the eleven o'clock train to London from Sheffield on the morning of Thursday 12th December 1940. Reg was a bit annoyed that Ruth seemed to enjoy the flirtations of a RAF bloke, a `Brylcreem boy' going back to his base at High Wycombe. The three of them then took the local train to High Wycombe. Reg stayed overnight at Ruth's, on the settee.

Next morning he went to work at HRS to find all the lads looking shocked at him.
300 German bomber aircraft, Heinkel Us, Dornier 17's and Junkers JU 88's from a base in France had bombed Sheffield in what the Luftwaffe called `Operation Crucible'. The raid began just hours after Ruth and Reg had left, and lasted from 7pm Thursday 12th December to 4am Friday 13th December 1940. A further ninety bombers raided the city on the night of Sunday 15th December, after Luftwaffe spotter planes assessed the damage during the day on Saturday the 14th.

About seven hundred people were killed with many hundreds more injured. 82,000 properties were damaged, thousands beyond repair. Apart from some rolling mills in Attercliffe, steel production wasn't affected, and only hundreds, of Sheffield's many thousands of metal working factories were hit. The lads in the Heavy Repair shops didn't know these details, of course, but they knew Sheffield had been heavily `blitzed'. There was concern for Reg and for Frank Turton who was still there that very day. Fortunately Frank was able to ring through to say Walkley wasn't much affected. Reg's parents were alive and well, but he painted a bleak picture of the city centre which was virtually all destroyed. A bright glow from thousands of burning buildings lit the sky from the city. Most shops in the town centre and on the Moor were just heaps of rubble and twisted steelwork, and trams had been blasted apart. Over seventy people had died in the cellar of the Marples Hotel, a pub Reg, Frank and Stan Smith knew in town.

After Frank's return, Reg introduced another girl, whom he'd met in High Wycombe, to him. Frank was a solid type, an engineer from a spring-making family in Sheffield, who was a bit shy with women. The girl and the springmaker got on well and she invited Reg and Ruth to tea with them. Ruth excused herself and Reg went on his own.

Walking back to their billet at the former furniture factory the two men passed through a park by some watercress beds, moonlight reflecting on the water. Suddenly all hell was let loose. An isolated German bomber jettisoned a stick of perhaps six bombs, all of which fell with ear-splitting screech into the said beds, and didn't explode!

Frank's firm at home made big coiled and leaf springs for the railways and he shot up in the air as if propelled by one of his coiled springs, as Reg `legged it' (to use to-day's (2005) jargon) out of the park. Frank looked up at the sky:

"Somebody up there loves us".
"Who - the Jerry pilot?"
"No, God".
"It's a good job he does 'cos no bugger down here does!"

Reg was just a bit disillusioned, even more so the next day when he had a bit of a contretemps with the Mechanical Company Sergeant Major.
Word got round about his escapade with the tape measure and `Girly' Ruth's breasts, which the MSM found more interesting than the Sheffield Blitz or the escapade with the bombs in the park.

"Get a grip on her tits laddie, don't just measure them."
"At least we're engaged," Reg got back at him. "I'm not a married man having a bit on the side."

This hit home with the MSM who was married with children, yet had taken up with a mistress in High Wycombe. The Sheffielder knew he was in for it as soon as he had opened his big gob. The MSM was the type who wouldn't let a perceived insult rest. He wanted revenge.

A few days later Reg got notice of transfer to a transport unit, 133 Coy RASC at South Littleton, near Evesham, Gloucestershire. It was a posting unit - and the troops there were rumoured to be going to Burma. Even though things hadn't been going too well between them there was a tearful goodbye from `Girly' Ruth and they promised to see each other when they could, be faithful, write often. It was the parting of the ways for him with Walkley lads Frank Turton and Stan Smith too. He promised to get back to High Wycombe when he had some leave to see them as well as `Girly' Ruth.

Service in the Heavy Repair Shops had been enjoyable, there was no bull, plenty of shop floor banter and they were always in working clothes except when on Guard Duty.
The thought of service in Burma caused some foreboding but he reasoned that everything would be for the best, and the MSM might even have done him a good turn getting him posted. Our man wasn't one to enjoy being in one place for too long. Stan Smith and Frank Turton in fact were destined to spend all six years of their service at the Heavy Repair Shops, working on axles, gear boxes and engines.


*Details from `The Sheffield Blitz -Operation Crucible', Alistair Lofthouse, 2001.

 

CHAPTER 6: 133 Coy RA5C South Littleton, Evesham, Gloucestershire, February - April 1941

About three hundred men were billeted in tents, each holding ten men in this lovely fruit growing area of Old England. Though they were in a transport unit, they were issued with 303 rifles and there was a degree of bull in that these same rifles had to be immaculate, stood up round the tent pole at night with the barrels gleaming inside, using the pull-through, and covered.

There was some interest in the twenty-two-year-old newcomer, in that there was a suggestion that he was a troublemaker, having been transferred from High Wycombe `under a cloud'. Things certainly seemed to happen around the black-haired cheeky chuff from Sheffield.
Major Beswick, conducting the morning parade a few days after Reg's arrival, peered down each rifle barrel in turn, looking for a hint of dirt. As he looked down the last one, a fine looking glossy earwig crawled out of the barrel and on to his cheek. Whose rifle was it?.. Need you ask?

Rumours were rife about movement orders, and after a week or so Reg and the lads in his tent and in several other tents, got confirmation that they were being drafted to Burma in days rather than weeks. Consternation, anxiety. Getting `jabbed up' was bad enough - one lad fainted, another slipped out of the queue and avoided the ordeal. Reg wouldn't have minded if he was called Allen or Beckett, he'd have been near the front of the queue with nice new needles. When the medics reached `R' for Reid in the alphabet, the needles were rather blunted!

That night disturbing images flitted through the brain - weeks at sea, danger of U-boats, drowning. Working under lorries in the jungles of South East Asia. The words of Kipling where brown-skinned girls urged British soldiers to `Come ye back to Mandalay', came second to thoughts of fever and ferocious Japanese. Earwigs were bad enough, but nothing compared with poisonous snakes and insects.

Next day, after bad dreams of stormy seas and steaming jungle, he awoke hot, ill and sweating. The MO took one look at him and said, "Scarlet fever," and sent him to the Women's Isolation Hospital in Worcester! Reg had landed on his feet again - or rather on his back, on a table, precisely, with nowt on, surrounded by the matron and four nurses with barely perceptible smiles on their faces.

"Scarlet fever be buggered," said the matron. "It's measles."
Reg was in the solitary male ward of the Women's Isolation Hospital, sharing it with an officer and a young lad.
When he got a bit better and went for a bath, nurses stood near the window watching him. It was both embarrassing and flattering. Oh, those far off days before the advent of sexual harassment and hovering lawyers, when attention like that was most soldiers' dreams.

Late one night two of the nurses came in the ward to chat with him and the officer. The little lad was asleep. They heard the heavy steps of the matron approaching, and quickly shot under the beds. Shades of the later 'Carry On' films! `She who must be obeyed,' then chatted with the two men for about an hour in a friendly fashion. As she left she called out, "Right girls, you can come out now. You've learnt your lesson!"

One of the nurses was from a wealthy family. She got her daddy to leave two pushbikes between a wall and some bushes for Reg and the officer to cycle to Worcester. The men weren't allowed out of the hospital grounds, but they made a few rides down to the attractive city where they met the nurse and a friend of hers, who then took them to a restaurant. Kind-and-rich daddy paid. When he was fully recovered, Reg returned to his unit and found that he and the ten lads in his tent, plus men in surrounding tents, had escaped the Burma draft!

Thanks to him and his infectious disease, their tents were quarantined. Little wonder that they gave him three resounding cheers on his return. A Jewish lad, a bookmaker in Civvy Street, out of gratitude gave him a fiver - a big white banknote, and a huge amount of money in those days.

A large batch of men had gone on the draft forming part of a new company. The remainder of 133 Coy then moved from South Littleton to join new recruits plus some `old hands' at Broxmore House, Whiteparish, Salisbury in Wiltshire.

 

CHAPTER 7: `A' Platoon, 133 Coy RASC Broxmore House Whiteparish, Salisbury, Wilts May - Sept 1941

Broxmore was another mini stately home (now demolished) commandeered by the Army. 133 Company was here comprised of four platoons, A, B, C and workshops platoons plus HQ staff.

The officers and HQ staff were based and billeted in the big house. The men were billeted in the stable blocks on three sides of a courtyard. The surrounding acres with sundry sheds previously housing livestock were now workshops and home to many of the company's lorries. And there were a lot of these. Eighteen lorries per platoon - either Morris C 38's or Bedford three-tonners. There were two men to a lorry. Platoons A, B and C were each divided into three sections, each with six lorries and twelve men, drivers and driver-mechs. Driver-mechs were capable of minor repairs, adjusting brakes, changing oil, adjusting points etc.

Each platoon had a fitter responsible for major repairs and maintenance. `A' platoon's fitter was Pte Reid R.W., Mechanic 3rd Class. A despatch rider was attached to each platoon: D.R. Billy Veal was the lucky man with `A' platoon. Cook private `Rice' Cheesborough fed them to the best of his ability. A sergeant, section corporals and `lance Jacks' kept them in order and second lieutenant Yates was the officer in charge. He had an Austin pick-up and a batman bringing the total number in each platoon to 48 men.

As well as servicing the lorries and the pick-ups fitters looked after and serviced RAMC ambulances.

`A' platoon at Broxmore made a big impression on Reg and he has a good memory of many of the men there. People who played some part in his story are, in ascending order:

`A' Platoon Where from
Driver Davenport Sheffield
Driver Billy Grills Devon
Driver Cassidy Geordieland
Driver `Tug' Wilson Barnsley
Driver Lush Southampton
Driver Johnny Steele Geordieland (Newcastle)
Driver Wheeler Geordieland (Gateshead)
Driver Warhurst Hull Docks
Driver Petty Hull Docks
Driver Dougie Pope - water wagon
Driver Sid Porter - water wagon
Driver Jock McSomething Scotland
Driver Bill Dutton (`Button') Scotland
Driver Jock McQuaker
Driver Manny Smith Billingsgate, London
Driver Paddy of `B' or `C' platoon
Driver-Mech Harold Rumsey-Williams Potters Bar, London
Driver-Mech Roy Brotherstone Connah's Quay, North Wales
Driver-Mech Powell Southampton
Driver-Mech Jack Powell Blaenavon, nr. Abergavenny
Despatch Rider Billy Veal
Cook `Rice' Cheesborough
Fitter Reg Reid Sheffield
Fitter in `B' Platoon Jock McLeod
Fitter `C' Platoon Johnny O'Toole
Fitter Workshops Platoon `Ritchie' Richards
Corporal Tony Greenholgh Manchester
Corporal King
Corporal Mulchinok
Staff Sgt Smith (half caste) Liverpool
Sergeant Allen Oughtibridge, Sheffield
`B', `C' platoons or workshops Staff Sergeant Smith
`B', `C' platoons or workshops Sergeant Johnson
`B', `C' platoons or workshops Sergeant `Bollocks in Brackets'

Lieutenant Yates, later replaced by: Lieutenant Errington London
Lieutenant Baker (originally from `B' platoon) Major Dodds was in command of all four platoons. (Major Beswick, of earwig fame, had been posted from South Littleton to Burma).
We'd better explain, first of all, in case some of you are wondering, how Sergeant of `B' or `C' Coy got his nickname `Bollocks in Brackets'. This sergeant was mentioned in despatches for his courage at Dunkirk in rescuing men from the sea.

In fact it was an unknown infantryman who was the real hero but `B in B' certainly played his part. On a small steamer a RAF officer had insisted that his men should go below decks - Army personnel to be on deck. (This tied in with Reg's view of the RAF at the time. Though they were still engaged he suspected he'd lost `Girly' Ruth to the RAF lad they'd met on the train from Sheffield).

Back to the steamer - in an appalling turn of events a Luftwaffe bomb went down the funnel and exploded, killing all below decks and blasting the Army lads into the sea, dead or alive, before it sank. `B in B' survived and in shirts and shorts hauled himself into a small boat. More men clambered aboard if they could and the infantryman swam around retrieving others who were still alive in the water, swimming with them to the boat where `B in B' hauled them. Every time he bent down to pull someone in, `B in B"s shorts, weighed down by the water, dropped to his ankles. A photographer on a nearby vessel snapped this and `B in B' and his bum, bow legs and a hint of bollocks appeared in a daily newspaper - not to insult the bloke of course, but to show his heroism. `B in B' was one of two sergeants back at South Littleton with the same name and a clerk there had differentiated him by putting `(Bollocks)' after his name – that immortalised him as Sergeant `Bollocks in Brackets'.

`A' platoon was half composed of youngsters aged eighteen - one, driver Billy Grills, was only 17. Silly young sods! Most of the rest were in their early thirties. Silly old sods!
Reg was the mug in the middle at twenty-two but soon palled up with three of the `old sods': Brotherstone, Powell and Rumsey-Williams, and three of the `young sods': Wheeler, Warhurst and Petty. The older men were driver-mechs. Two were Welsh - Brotherstone from Connah's Quay, North Wales (he worked at the Shotton Steel plant before the war), and Powell from the Rhondda (he had been an ambulance driver). Despite being from North and South Wales they got on well together and were good fun. Rumsey-Williams too was a driver-mech, a Londoner from Potter's Bar.

Petty and Warhurst were from the slums of Hull, near the Docks - somewhere near the Land of Green Ginger. Wheeler, who made up this trio of `young sods', was a Geordie, from Gateshead, who had everyone in stitches with his sense of humour. Utterly childish - but aren't we all at times?

The young drivers, eighteen years old and army-trained, only got seven miles per gallon out of their lorries. The older men in their thirties, and most civvy-trained, got fourteen mpg. Convoys of lorries would leave Broxmore House ferrying supplies across the South of England, often travelling at night. Reg was always in the lorry at the end of the convoy - either driving or in the cab with the driver. He was referred to as the `tail end Johnny', always there if someone broke down.

A despatch driver would lead the convoy, in `A' platoon's case D.R. Billy Veal. Billy's Matchless 350cc. had a low intensity headlight which was hooded and blackened leaving a slit directing a small beam of light down onto the road, not affording much light for driving at night - but equally not affording much light for an attacking Messerschmidt to aim at. Maximum speed was ten miles per hour.

Each 3 ton Bedford and Morris C38 lorry in the convoy had its back axle differential (the bulbous steel housing differential gears between the back wheels) painted white and illuminated by a small light, the `dif. light', at night to guide the following lorry.
A slow but fairly secure way of moving a convoy from A to B. A Messerschmidt pilot had to have eyes like a hawk to spot the D.R.'s faint light on the roads.

Reg found later in North Africa that American convoys drove at full speed at night with headlights blazing - relying on their speed to get from A to B before an enemy could spot them. Which was the more effective? Who can say? But in Southern England at the time the Luftwaffe, defeated in daytime battles with. the RAF, relied on night attacks so night convoy movements, though better for the roads being empty of other traffic and for secrecy, was nonetheless hazardous.

An Irish lad, `Paddy', a driver in `B' or `C' platoon, the selfsame Paddy he'd met in Luton who'd now joined 133 COY, suggested they spend a Sunday in Luton with his girlfriend and her sister, the WVS girl. Reg hesitated to rekindle a friendship with her sister since he was still engaged to `Girly' Ruth - Ruth had even got his suitcase containing £100 and his best suit, for safekeeping when he had moved to South Littleton and a possible Burma posting. What the hell though - Ruth had only written once in the last few weeks and in her letter had mentioned again the RAF High Wycombe lad they'd first met on the Sheffield to London train.

He drove to Luton with Paddy on the ever-faithful Excelsior Manxman. They had a `smashing' time with the girls, but again Reg and the sister made no promises to each other. Seeing Reg was merely an extension of her WVS work looking after the troops! It was dark when the two young men headed back to Broxmore, Reg concentrating intently on the road.

His civvy bike had headlight hooded and with a low intensity bulb which was even so taped over with just a slit of light directed down at the road as required by military law. The cold night air was blowing through their army haircuts and around their ears as they travelled at 10 to 15 mph. Paddy, exhilarated, shouted "Look at these fireworks". "Fireworks be bollocks, we're being shot at".

Reg can't recall actually uttering these words, but he certainly thought them as he yanked the bike and its contents - him and Paddy - into a hedge with tracer bullets flying along the road whistling past them. From sound if not sight recognition tests they'd had on Luftwaffe planes he guessed it was a Messerschmidt ME 109 screeching overhead immediately following its bullets. The pilot must have been one with eyes of a hawk to spot the light from Reg's bike and he had assumed, or hoped, it was the head of a convoy, so had dived and strafed the road.

It was an exhilarating end to the day out. Paddy said it was an act of God that they were unhurt and the bike undamaged. To be on the safe side though he never asked Reg for a lift again! Trust in God but don't get on a bike!

The Manxman was parked in its usual `pog' - outside one of the two gatehouses either side of the drive leading to Broxmore House and they walked, legs like jelly, from their meeting with the Messerschmidt back to their billet in the stables. The two gatehouses had not been taken over by the army and an elderly couple that enjoyed Reg’s banter lived in the one which Reg’s parked his bike outside. (He'd offered to take the elderly rheumatic lady on a cheeky weekend to Brighton on the bike!)

Perhaps Reg thought the Messerschmidt affair was fate warning him not to stray off the straight and narrow path in life - not to have fun with another girl while engaged to `Girly' Ruth. He had a nicer letter from her and went to High Wycombe a few times to see her - calling in on Stan Smith and Frank Turton as they toiled away at the Heavy Repair Shops. He was glad he'd left when he saw them at work.

Then Ruth `went funny' again. What had he done wrong, things had seemed to be going swimmingly with picnics and cuddles in the woods as though it were peacetime. Had she chosen the RAF lad? Had his scorn of the `Brylcreem Boys' been seen as the jealousy it probably was? He'd scorned them as puffs for having sheets on their beds! Though she had insisted no full sex before marriage should he push for it? Did she want him to be more insistent? Should they get married? - The £100 she was saving for him (along with best suit in suitcase) was a very large amount of money then - but, influenced by her parents, they'd agreed to wait until after the war when the future became clearer. She kept mentioning her brother in the Infantry `doing his bit' in Egypt. Did she somehow feel Reg had dodged the Burma draft? - got measles with this aim in view?

Of course he didn't discuss much of this with her - they were mainly thoughts. Youths, and especially working class youths, didn't often voice their thoughts on such matters and relied mainly on feelings and intuition. So when he went to Sheffield again Ruth had been moody and he went alone. His mother had finally left William Angus Reid and was living in Porthill, Stokeon-Trent. She'd been `called up' and was working in a munitions factory.

Reg knew the city - he'd been there before the war with his father to collect china `seconds' from a Stoke pottery to sell on a stall in Bakewell market. His mother's uncle worked at the factory and got goods at a very favourable price.

Now she was in the Potteries Helen Elizabeth wrote to her son explaining why she'd left William who was now renting a house in Fulton Road, Walkley. William drank too much, smoked too much, and gambled too much yet she had suggested Reg went to see his father.
The Fulton Road lodgings came as a shock. A back-to-back house with only front door access - a downstairs room cum kitchen with two chairs and a table, a bedroom with the bed as the only furniture, and an attic. No bathroom, of course, but cold running water in the stone kitchen sink. An `entry', passageway through the terraced houses led to a communal yard with communal toilets.

William was pleased but embarrassed to see his son, introducing him to a lodger he'd let live in the attic for a small sum to offset the rent. William wasn't embarrassed at having a lodger but by having sold Reg's Hornby train set with its big engine and his lead soldiers - a collection built up over the years - soldiers of various regiments, all hand painted. He'd even sold an army greatcoat Reg had posted him - a new greatcoat given to him by a lad who had lost an arm at Dunkirk and had been invalided out. - Mind you, his father had been stopped by police while wearing it in Sheffield, it being illegal for a civilian to be wearing Army uniform.

Reg slept on the -carpet in the living room cum kitchen (known as the `house' in those days) and was then glad to return to Broxmore, determined more than ever not to waste his money and his life boozing, smoking and gambling - apart from having the odd jar or two with the lads now and then.

Wheeler, the Geordie comic from Gateshead, offered the lads a bit of light relief following a lecture by Major Dodds. Dodds had a characteristic mincing walk with his cane under his left arm held to his body by his gloved left hand. His right hand glove was never worn but held between index finger and thumb. Wheeler mimicked the walk to perfection and with sweeping brush as cane and a pair of gloves and with Warhurst, Petty, Reg and Brotherstone marching smartly in single file behind him he swept into `A' platoon's stable-barracks.

He could also mimic Major Dodds' voice, and had just turned and shouted something to the effect that the men behind him were marching `like puffs' - worse, `like buckshee second lieutenants', when he caught sight of the major himself in the barracks in deep conversation with `A' platoon Lt. Yates and others of the `buckshee' variety plus Sergeant Allen.
The officers took it in good part, were quietly amused at the impersonation and even Major Dodds refrained from asking Sergeant Allen to `take that man's name'.

Reg becomes BUTCH thanks to Smith and Wesson and lands himself in trouble

A D.R. from `C' platoon got Reg a Smith and Wesson handgun (a 6-gun) for ten pounds - quite a bargain even though £10 was a lot of money in 1941. This was quite a lot too from his savings, his `Red Hunter' savings from Newark days when he had hired out the bikes there. He'd sent his mother money now and again and his mother sent him cakes now and again. He never sent his father - money - in the vulgar jargon of the day `he would just piss it up the wall'. Fourteen shillings a week was more than enough for Reg, though he hoped to take his second class exam soon to bring his pay up to 17/6 per week, and then he could put more aside to save up for his demob.

Now back to the handgun. Reg had reasoned this would be of more use than a 303 rifle to a fitter working under lorries if they were sent overseas against the enemy. His possession of a handgun was, of course, illegal but everyone knew about it except the officers. The NCOs turned a blind eye and the lads were amused by his skill at drawing it from its holster and firing accurately at a target in one quick movement. So much so that one of the lads christened him `Butch' after Butch Cassidy, the quick firing cowboy of the day. This name stuck and so from now on we must call him `Butch' Reid.

Sergeant Johnson who went to Canada after the war and who had known and liked Reg over the turbulent years 1941 - 43 christened his firstborn `Butch' in his honour. We must assume that his first born didn't look exactly like our 'Butch'!

Reg - sorry, Butch - had to check `A' platoon's lorries, as well as Lt. Yates' Austin pick-up, regularly at Broxmore as well as being out with the convoys for possible breakdowns. It being the Army there were forms to fill in certifying a vehicle's roadworthiness every six months or so - a forerunner of today's MOT.

One day when he had finished checking his lorries and was walking to the stables he met Driver Lush coming down the drive who said he'd been looking for him to warn him there was to be a kit inspection. Lush suggested he hid Butch's handgun in his lorry - he'd got a pass and was going home to Southampton. Butch gave him the gun in its holster to look after and thanked the lad for warning him.

The kit inspection was first thing the following morning, on a Saturday, then it was work to midday and the rest of the day off. Brotherstone was off to Connah's Quay to see his girlfriend Lucy and most of his other friends were taking the chance to see their girlfriends, or to go to the cinema or to football matches in London or Brighton or wherever. Butch didn't follow football and didn't fancy spending a few miserable hours with Ruth so he went on the Manxman to Salisbury. He thought to himself that the old town and its magnificent cathedral was Old England at its best - worth fighting Jerry for. He reflected too on good old Sheffield going at it hammer and tongs - forging, rolling, pressing, extruding the special steels for the war effort. Some of his old friends were in these `reserved occupations', many of which involving heavy lifting or, say, working with 5, 10 or 25 ton drop hammers, were unsuitable for women.

It was Don Valley v. Ruhr Valley again and the big Sheffield Steel names such as Vickers, John Brown, Thos. Firth, Chas Cammell, Jessops etc. etc. with their shipyards on Merseyside, Clyde and Barrow had to prove their worth yet again, turning totally from peacetime to wartime production. He thought a lot about his home city and the contrast between its noise and smoke and the quaint and clean city of Salisbury - or is it a town, he couldn't be sure. No countryside he had seen though, whether around Glasgow, High Wycombe, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire or here in Wiltshire could match the Peak District back home. It was unthinkable that those contrasting gritstone and limestone hills and beautiful dales could ever be under the Nazi heel.

He was in this reflective mood all the way on his bike back to the billet - in his mind's eye seeing future trips into the Peak with Ron Gregory - bombing round the thirteen killer bends to Bakewell... Influenced by his thoughts he shot through the gates at Broxmore and up the drive at rather a high speed and… What the bloody hells up here!!! Two MPs held up their hands for him to stop and he was placed under close arrest on a court martial... What the bloody hell was happening... He thought at first he'd been arrested for speeding - but surely not. The MPs didn't say a word as they led him to the Guard Room.

What the bloody... Driver Lush had gone home to Southampton, that's `what the bloody!' He had found his wife with his cousin - he knew they were lovers - that's why he wanted Butch's gun... he'd pointed the gun at them and fired four times! Fortunately Lush had not allowed for the gun kicking and the bullets had lodged in the wall just above the bed head. The lovers managed to get the gun from him and telephone the civilian police.

Lush was held in civvy police custody and he had told them that a certain soldier Pte. Reginald William Reid, based at Broxmore House, Whiteparish, Salisbury, Wilts. had given him the gun. Hence Butch's military police reception committee. Lush was subsequently tried at Southampton by a civilian court. It was deemed to be a crime of passion and he got off! Butch was tried under military law. Two MPs marched him at the double in front of a certain self-important Captain Bonham-Carter at his desk flanked by another officer and a clerk. The Smith and Wesson lay on the desk.

Captain B-C: "Did you give Driver Lush this revolver?" Butch Reid: "Yes Sir".
Captain B-C (crashing his wooden rule onto the table): "Six months' detention ".
A second lieutenant from the Artillery was the other officer in the room. He was defending Butch but said nothing throughout the hearing. Never has the word `buckshee' fitted a second lieutenant more.
Captain bloody Bonham-Carter became a bigwig in the Labour Government after the war. Butch felt a keen sense of injustice that he'd been punished and driver Lush, who'd done the dirty deed, had got away with it. He hadn't known Lush wanted the gun to shoot at his wife and her lover. Lush had been underhand in obtaining it.

Be that as it may when Driver Lush returned and went to the canteen, table after table shunned him. He'd got off scot-free and implicated a fellow soldier.

Even Major Dodds thought it was just not on - a damned bad show - just not cricket, and, for his own good, got him transferred to another company.

Butch liked new experiences in life - he even liked his new name - but it was with some foreboding that, escorted by two MPs, he went through the gate in the high wire fencing surrounding the Military Prison at Fort Dahlen Barracks, Chatham.

 

 

CHAPTER 8: Military Prison-Fort Dahlen Barracks, Chatham.
October - November 1941

Prisoners were awoken at 6:00 am and three minutes were allowed for a cold shower and a shave. A lot of you will have experienced the ten weeks or so nonstop bull and activities of basic infantry training on National Service: Drill, PE, Drill, Weapon training, Drill, five mile runs and Drill, Route marches in fast and harassing sequence. It was like that at Fort Dahlen, everything at the double right from the morning bed inspection. If blankets weren't in perfect folded order they were kicked around the cell by the inspecting sergeant for you to do again, and then you'd be pushed to be on time for the daily sequence of events. This went on not for just ten weeks but for the whole of your time at Fort Dahlen prison.

They drilled with 303 rifles but were never issued with bullets and though they had sessions where they had to, say, take a bren gun apart and reassemble it blindfolded, they never went on a firing range.

Bulling of Personal Kit - boots, belts, webbing was not so much insisted upon, perhaps the idea was not to give prisoners too much pride in themselves. Drill was initially a shambles for the new prisoner because marching pace had to suit the guardsman used to a relatively slow pace and the light infantryman used to marching at 180 paces a minute. Hair was cut short but not totally shaved off as might have been expected.

Men were allotted daily work: brushing the square, cleaning the camp, painting, working in the cookhouse, fetching and carrying coal or sand, making sandbags and there was no skiving. They were harassed at every turn by the NCOs.

Food was edible but very basic, and was often second quality, e.g. potatoes were army rejects, otherwise destined for pigs.

I read somewhere that 99% of troops, sailors and airmen who have been sentenced to time in military gaols never transgress again, so the system has something to recommend it!
Butch can't remember the exact date in 1941 that he went in, as though trying to expunge the episode from his mind. He recalls just one man who accepted, even welcomed, prison life. This was a Cockney orphan infantryman who let himself be tormented by a prison sergeant, then fought with him and got his term extended. Butch reacted with horror at this but the Cockney pointed out, "I have three meals a day, a shower, clothing and a bed. Out of here, I'd probably be in the shit somewhere with the Infantry, likely to die. I'd be bloody cannon fodder, mate".

The Londoner was the exception; everyone else tried to toe the line and wanted out.
Prisoners, from all three services, were three to a cell. They immediately lost any rank they had attained and left prison at the lowest rank of their service. Butch was relieved that they didn't strip him of his 3rd Class Mechanic certificate.

He shared a cell with two guardsmen, ex sergeants, one from the Scots Guards, the other from the Grenadiers. Both were serving a year's detention. The Scots Guards ex-sergeant had led his platoon on parade past Buckingham Palace and, in a moment of madness, had swung his rifle round his head and had thrown it over the railings into the Palace grounds, shouting "F*** the King and Queen!"

The Grenadier ex-sergeant had been courting an upper-class girl, and in the class ridden Service life of those days this was not on. Her father, Captain of a destroyer in the Royal Navy and her brother, a naval lieutenant, had waited outside his barracks to confront him and warn him off. He had insisted, "Your daughter loves me. I love her and we'll continue to see each other". At this the naval lieutenant had taken a swipe at the sergeant who retaliated by knocking the brother and then the father out.

So much for the Senior Service! - But he was arrested and they got their revenge by having the girl sent away to work with the Diplomatic Service in Jamaica.

Young love will win out and the sergeant got a letter from her every week in the Diplomatic bag! Let's hope they both survived the war, got married and lived happily ever after.

For the prisoners, an everyday chore in the morning was taking the slop buckets around the square to an old fashioned midden away from the camp but, within its bounds. This had to be done at the double of course!

One day Butch noticed a RAF prisoner walking, staggering rather, with two full buckets across the square. Inevitably a sergeant bellowed "ROUND THE SQUARE, NOT ACROSS THE SQUARE - COME HERE MAN - AT THE DOUBLE!" The RAF lad speeded up, tripped and dropped the buckets on to the sacred square. ..... He was made to scoop up the sodden turds with his hands and put them back in the buckets and for this episode he got two extra weeks' detention, one for each bucket. Crime: desecration of the Square!

One of the jobs Butch had to do at Fort Dahlen barracks was to sweep the square with a six foot wide brush. Another prisoner pulled the brush with a rope and he steered it. He was skilled at doing straight lines - thanks to his work as a grounds-man back home at the Hallamshire Golf Club.

The other prisoner one day, told the sergeant he felt ill, but the sergeant insisted he keep on pulling "that effin' brush". He probably thought the lad was pulling a fast one. Butch could see he was ill though and tried to help by pushing rather than just steering, when the lad suddenly collapsed.

He had pneumonia and died later in the adjacent military hospital.

Being incarcerated was a big setback and now this lad's death weighed Butch's spirits down, but not for long. He believed he had a guardian angel, or good fortune in the general thrust of life following him around like a faithful dog. You can make your own luck and this was the case on `the sandbag run'.

Prisoners had the job of filling sandbags and, being the Army, the bags were right at one end of the camp and the pile of sand was right at the other end. A prisoner and shovel were stationed at the pile of sand and two more were stationed at the bags, hand shovels at the ready. Butch volunteered to be the barrow boy, naturally, wheeling his barrow over grass tall and narrow, collecting sand for the baggers. The `sandbag run' went along by the high wire boundary fence for several hundred yards, then the fence became high railings topped by barbed wire where the boundary was shared with the military hospital. The ground fell away at this point into quite a dip for a couple more hundred yards of shared boundary. Lesser men, temporarily out of sight of a camp sergeant and the armed guard, would have had a rest or even a quick drag or two, had they the fags, before moving on. Butch saw a matron and three nurses appear from a back door of the hospital at the other side of the railings - visions like the angels of Mons, and shouted to them to come over because he hadn't seen a woman for weeks! (And this is a bloke who was supposed to be shy!)

They did better than that. Two of the nurses came over and the other nurse and matron went back through the door to return with sandwiches, cakes, fags and lemonade, which they passed through the railings to him. All these goodies were shared with the other prisoners, and with the sergeant and guard, and it became a regular feature of the sandbag run.

It was good for morale and got him more favourable treatment from the sergeant. Even sergeants can be human you know.

To be on the safe side though, Butch, who didn't smoke of course, kept a few fags back as possible bargaining chips.

If men were needed for the war effort they were released from gaol whatever the crime they had committed to land them there.

A sailor, a nasty piece of work if there ever was one, in Fort Dahlen for violent assault, was in turn constantly harassed and taunted by a prison army sergeant, happily not the sergeant on the sandbag run. The nasty piece of work was suddenly released to join the crew of a destroyer.

The ship returned after several weeks tour of duty and the crew had a day's leave ashore at Chatham. The sailor knew which pub his tormentor frequented and stood outside the door in the blackout, empty bottle in hand.

When the sergeant came out, he saw the bottle coming down and backed off, but too late to stop the glass lacerating his forehead and face. The sergeant was a tough nut, bloody but unbowed, and even while being tended by Army medics got two MPs to track the sailor to his ship.

The Captain of the destroyer let the MPs search his vessel, but they couldn't find the sailor. The only place they weren't allowed to go in was the Captain's cabin; this was strictly out of bounds. Next day the destroyer set sail, with the sailor on board. The captain had allowed him sanctuary in his cabin while the MPs were searching the ship. A case of the Navy looking after its own.

Butch didn't harbour any such evil thoughts of revenge against Driver Lush, in fact he couldn't even bring himself to dislike the lad who must have worked himself into a right state to shoot at his wife and cousin. But the fact was, he was in gaol and Lush wasn't. He felt a sense of injustice and a grudge against the Army in general and the Army legal system in particular. He would make the Army work for him as he had done with the Ariel Red Hunter bikes at Newark. He would live the day, every day. "Carpe blood -y di-em, seize the blood -y day", as Rhondda Jack Powell had advised back at Broxmore in his precise Welsh accent.
He was patriotic and would do his bit but wouldn't let patriotism come in the way to make a bob or two at the Army's expense. Self seeking with eventual demob in view, but with a sense of humour, a sense of humour and a heart of gold, plus 2nd class then a 1st class mechanic's certificate. That's how he wanted to see himself.

He didn't know the fictional army characters - one Czech, the other American not yet then invented but he was to become somewhere between `The Good Soldier Schweijk' and US `Sergeant Ernest Bilko', King of the Motor Pool at Fort Baxter, Kansas, Middle America.
Like Schweijk, army rules and tribulations would be as water off a duck's back. He would `play silly buggers' and ignore them.

Like Bilko he would take every chance to make money, though he was destined to be more successful than the comical GI.

`A' platoon at Broxmore was a good crowd, a good laugh; not miserable beggars like `B' and `C' platoons - and he looked forward to getting back with them, sooner or later.
The chance came sooner, rather than later. After only two months of his sentence, which seemed like two years, he got a rail warrant, Chatham to Salisbury via London. The Army needed mechanics. The build-up of British forces throughout the U.K. was continuing apace with the eventual aim of hitting back against the Wehrmacht.

The US had entered the war after the Japanese surprise attack on their huge base at Pearl Harbour in 1941 and, Churchill having persuaded Rooseveldt that the defeat of Hitler should be given priority over the Far East, GIs and US airmen were arriving in Britain in large numbers.

Hitler's forces had most of Europe in its iron grip but the Royal Navy and the RAF had ensured Britain was too tough a nut to crack. Instead the Wehrmacht sliced their way into Russia but were destined to find the Russian winter more formidable than the Red Army.
Among the seething movement of men and machines in England a lorry was to be sent to pick Butch up at Salisbury Station to take him back to Broxmore House.

Devonian Driver Billy Grills waited with his Bedford 3 tonner at Salisbury Station.
He waited in vain. Butch had stopped off in London, saw the sights - there was bomb damage but still a great atmosphere, he had a good meal and stayed overnight in a nice hotel with much appreciated bath and sheets on the bed.

Prisoners weren't allowed money - but they earned a small amount which was given to them when they were freed. Butch had a big sum in reserve however, the big white five pound note that the Jewish lad, ex bookmaker, at South Littleton, had given him for enabling him to miss the Burma draft. Reg had taken the precaution before his imprisonment of unstitching the RASC badge on his army cardigan, putting the folded five pound note behind the badge, and stitching it on again.

 

CHAPTER 9: Back with `A' Platoon at Broxmore,
December 1941- February 1942

His `old sods' mates, driver-mechs. Brotherstone, Powell and Rumsey Williams, and `young sods' mates, drivers Wheeler, Warhurst and Petty, had slung a `WELCOME BACK BUTCH' sign across `A' platoon's stables-billet. They were expecting to see him shorn and bulled up to the nines and the conversation went something like this:
Powell: "You must have had it easy for two months boyo - that's for sure."

Wheeler: "Butch, if anyone can find an easy number - even in gaol!"

Butch: "Bollocks. Fort Dahlen was tough on everythin' except haircuts and bullin' 'kit. You lot would be crying for mammy after a week."

Petty: "What's a man's purpose in life, if it's not to keep his kit bulled to buggery?"

Butch: (ignoring this last) "...And have you ever tried marchin' wi' guards at their slow pace and 'Light Infantry at bleedin' 180.steps a minute? Anyway, what's news?"

Brotherstone: "Major Dodds got rid of Lush - he transferred him when we all sent him to Coventry. Doddsy showing a few brains at last."

Warhurst: "Lieutenant Yates left `A' platoon."

Butch: What's the old gent gone to do then? Back to running that string of horses wi' his sister at Newmarket? Essential war work eh?"

Warhurst: "Neigh, neigh lad, he's been posted to South Africa, lucky sod, to requisition horses and mules for the army - probably for us if we get to North Africa. Mules are better than lorries on sand."

Powell: "Butch would be out of a job - all he'd do then is collect their droppings."

Brotherstone: "And sell them to the Arabs."
Butch: (ignoring these last remarks) "Who've we got in his place - a rough-arse ex-ranker from somewhere like Gateshead?"
Wheeler (from Gateshead): "Better than a rough-arse from Sheffield, the arse-hole of the North."

Butch: "Many thanks. Bloody good to be back."

Warhurst: "We've got a theatrical, a thespian, a Lieutenant Errington from London who stu-stu-stu-stutters."

Butch: "Aren't we blessed. When we're faced by the Jerries we won't know whether he's going to say f-f-f-fire or f-f-f-f*** off! - Is the grub as good as ever? It must be better than prison grub."

Powell: "Are you kiddin'? Rice Cheesborough is still at it - this army marches on its stomach-ache."

Private `Rice' Cheesborough, the cook, was so called because his rice puddings were always very lumpy..... The boiling water used to make the pudding was then strained off by Cheesborough who used it to make the tea. So the tea tasted `ricey' and there was a greasy, buttery layer floating on top.

Powell: "He nearly killed Brothers."

Butch: "What wi', his rice puddings?"

Powell: "No, on parade, he failed to fix his bayonet correctly, so when he sloped arms, it shot off over his back and whistled past Brother's head."

Brotherstone: "He's more dangerous than the Jerries is our Cheesborough."

Butch got back into the routine but Brotherstone later said he noticed a change about him - a certain hardness and bitterness against authority - against the Army. Even though he'd had only two months in gaol, he couldn't initially get rid of that sense of injustice, though getting around with Rumsey-Williams on the Manxman with the satisfaction of using Army petrol helped.

Harold Rumsey-Williams from Potters Bar was one of the `old sods', thirty-three years old. He had not spoken a great deal with Butch since his return. He'd shown sympathy with him though, when he'd learnt that his parents had split up (separation was not so common in those days), and his father had sold his train set and lead soldiers. Some of the younger soldiers thought this was funny, but Butch didn't mind. Types like Wheeler thought all of life was there for a good laugh, even misfortune, and can we fault him for that?

We could say that Rumsey-Williams took the Sheffielder under his wing. He invited him to his in-laws' house at Potters Bar, North London.

Rumsey's father-in-law, an officer in the First World War, took him to an officers' club in London and regaled him with amusing incidents and horrors of the `war to end all wars'.
The elderly couple at one of the two gatehouses, not only let Butch park his Manxman bike against their wall, but they also said it was their bike when the stuttering Lieutenant Errington broached the subject with them. To have one's own bike was not allowed at Broxmore, not by Major Dodds' rules at any rate. Errington was easy going and the lads liked him. He suspected it was either Fitter Reid's bike and the couple let him park it there, or it was their bike and, being now of doddery disposition, they'd let Reid ride it, and he probably filled it with army petrol. Errington didn't give a damn either way; to him, morale and efficiency at the job was all important, not minor infringements of the law, but he'd put Major Dodds' mind at ease and just say it was the couple's bike.

The elderly couple then introduced Butch to the young couple in the adjacent gate house. Corporal King had been introduced there as well and both were invited to tea by the wife. Her husband was an army sergeant based the other side of Salisbury, and she appreciated some lively company after long days alone. Mind you, Corporal King wanted to make it too lively! He was a shoe shop manager at Timpson's in Civvy Street, and wanted to get his shoe inside this lovely wife's door. He fancied her so when she saw him passing the gatehouse a few days later, and gave an invite for him and Butch to come to tea again, he didn't pass the message on and went alone. He said Butch was on guard.

Needless to say when she learned this was a lie, the corporal was no longer welcome at her house. She kept friendly with the open hearted cheeky faced Sheffield lad though, who amused her, didn't make advances, and who became friends with her husband too, despite the difference in rank. When the sergeant got a twenty-four-hour pass from his barracks, at the wife's request, Butch would go and fetch him on the Manxman.

Like Rumsey-Williams, they knew of his family problems at home and of his on-off relationship with `Girly' Ruth Hawes, so invited him for a Christmas meal December 25th 1941.

Poor old Corporal King who was also on his own at Christmas, didn't get an invite and it was he, possibly, who a couple of months later, brought up the question of the Manxman bike with Lieutenant Errington - there being four army gerricans full of army petrol just over the elderly couple's garden wall on which the said bike was leaning. Whoever `snitched' to Errington, stressed it was indeed Fitter Reid's bike and not the elderly couple's.

Lieutenant Errington's advice.

The stuttering lieutenant had gained the respect of most of the lads in the platoon. He got them to do their work with the minimum of bull, the minimum of fuss. He laughed with them, he was amused by them. He was concerned with their welfare. He wanted them to do well in life.

They would do anything for him. He was regarded as `one of the lads', even with his `officer class BBC' accent. They mimicked his stutter at first but then got used to it, and thereafter, came down like a ton of bricks on anyone in `B' or `C' platoons or workshops who mimicked their lieutenant.

He liked unusual characters and was hugely amused and interested by a Scots lad in the platoon who had the extraordinary talent of being able to test sparking plugs by hand when the engine was running. He could tell the amount of wear on each plug in this way. The electric current never shocked him. Wheeler, the Geordie comic, got an excitable member of `B' platoon, who he was friendly with, to touch the Scot when he was doing this unusual test, and he leapt in the air with a shriek.

Butch, ever inquisitive, questioning and curious, couldn't refrain from touching the Scot himself and he too leapt into the air.

Errington liked Butch, but knew he would have to be seen to confront him about this `bloody bike', so he ordered him to appear immediately.

"At ease Reid. The reason I have summoned you here is that yu, yu, yu, you have go-go-got a civilian motor bike full of army petrol, and four gerricans fu-fu-fu-full of army petrol."
"Who told you, sir?"
"Never mind that Reid, one of your f-f-friends told me in confidence. I'm not telling you which one. No others are party to this. I'm not going to ch-chcharge you.... This is off the record." There was a long pause before the lieutenant could get out his next point. "You have to t-t-trust yourself Reid and trust people, but don't put absol..absolute trust in anyone - not even in your friends."
Another pause. "You're a good mechanic, Reid." "Thank you, Sir."
"`A' platoon 133 Coy is a good team. I'm not one for needless bull - skills, teamwork camaraderie, confidence, even laughter, make for efficiency - gegetting the job done. In whatever theatre of war we find ourselves: Europe, Africa or the Far East, we'll be a key link with the troops at the front, whether it b-be carrying men, food, b-bandages or b-bullets.
You - are a good mechanic, Reid, and a popular man - sometimes a bit of a rogue - but despite that you - I think you lack confidence in y –yourself.
You blush. Colour up. You should imagine yourself on the stage. I-I-I was a theatre supply agent and got all over-over the country. I did some acting despite my - despite all. I learned - you must learn, Reid. You are an individual. A unique character. All of us are individuals. On-on the stage, the curtains open, the audit-auditorium is in darkness. You are alone. The audience sees you - you don't see them b-b-but they think you do. They are just as likely to be emb-embarrassed at your g-g-gaze as you are at theirs. Shout `I want a volunteer,' and they all c-cringe, unless it's the Palace Attercliffe, Sheffield or the Glasgow Empire where you are 1-1-lucky to get out alive!
So show some of your Sheffield steel - that's what you're good at up there, isn't it? - and remember that you are an individual."

"F-f-finally I'll let you be the first of the platoon to have confirmation that we are moving to Scotland shortly. I understand Driver Wheeler seemed to know this before anyone else in 133 Coy - and that includes Major Dodds and myself!" "Wheeler is a bright lad, sir. But why Scotland, sir? Wheeler says we'll be sailing from Glasgow to invade North Africa, sir."
"Idle gossip, Reid! Idle gossip! - just leave it that the Army moves in a mysterious way, its b-blunders to perform. I'm not going to confiscate your bike, you won't get it to Scotland anyway, so make plans to sell it. Till then go s-s-steady on army petrol."

Butch was impressed by this interview. That Errington should give his time, speak like this was most impressive and he mulled over the conversation in his mind. Corporal King can't have been the bloke who snitched on him about the Manxman. Errington had said it was a friend; King had never been a friend and anyway had now gone off the scene, transferred to another unit. He'd had a motor bike issued to him, crashed it and broke his leg. Corporal Mulchinok was his replacement at `A' platoon.

Who snitched then? He decided to blank any further thought of this out of his mind. The image of the dark auditorium was uppermost in his mind and Errington's words gave him confidence. Most other people are shy and nervous and now he realised nobody was better than him, Butch Reid.

Something else had given him confidence - he'd passed as a Grade 2 mechanic and his pay had gone up from fourteen shillings (70p) a week to seventeen shillings and sixpence (87 ½p). Yippee!

 

CHAPTER 10: Dunipace House, Bonnybridge, nr. Falkirk, Scotland.
March - September 1942

A convoy of Army vehicles over 100 strong is quite an impressive sight, but as he left Broxmore House Butch thought he saw tears as well as pride on the faces of the young wife and the elderly couple standing by one of the gatehouses waving them off. They had got up specially to watch the dawn departure.

The Manxman bike was no longer standing near them. Butch was being driven by co-driver Corporal Mulchinok and the Manxman was in the back of their lorry!

Corporal Mulchinok had fitted well into `A' platoon under Lieutenant Errington. In the final few weeks at Broxmore he had wanted to have an excuse to be off work, and get a 48-hour pass to allow him to spend some time with his wife at Newark. Butch had got him the excuse by disconnecting the speedometer, and was putting on the daily orders: `Corporal Mulchinok's lorry off the road'. The corporal was repaying the favour by transporting Butch's bike, securely strapped in the back of the lorry, now with its speedometer `repaired', humming along the Great North Road.

The people of Bonnybridge were the most generous Butch had ever met - even surpassing the Glaswegians at Maryhill. The hundred plus vehicles had barely rolled into a field when people emerged from surrounding houses with piles of sandwiches and mugs of tea. Tents were pitched but the site was cramped so lieutenant Errington `volunteered' to take `A' platoon, with its lorries and his pick-up, to nearby Dunipace House to join up with HQ platoon staff.

They'd done it again - nicely billeted in another big house, requisitioned by the Army.
They settled down into the working routine - fetching and carrying across the lowlands of Scotland from the Clyde to the Firth of Forth. Class 2 mechanic 17/6d (87 ½p) per week; Reid continued his working routine, ensuring lorries were roadworthy.

`A' platoon worked quite hard and played very hard. They were determined to enjoy life to the full and did daft things that spirited young men, and not-so young men, get up to now and again.

At Dunipace House the kitchens were in the basement and the men's dining rooms plus officers' mess, which was in a hall with a stage and bar, were on the ground floor. HQ working area and officers' living quarters were on the second floor and the lads and NCOs of `A' platoon were billeted in the attic.

Another bonus of Dunipace House was that the kitchens were supervised by an expert cook - a Scottish sergeant. `Rice' Cheesborough was left to work in the field kitchen at the camp housing the `B', `C' and workshops platoons' personnel and their vehicles.

The sergeant cook had a good sense of humour and got on well with `A' platoon - even after the disappearance of over seventy hot scones he had just made and put temporarily on a tray on a table by the back door of the house. `A' platoon was on various duties despatching and collecting goods, and as thirty or so lads filtered through this back door, each took a couple of scones - thinking two wouldn't be missed.

Butch was last to appear; he was detailed to check over Lt. Errington's pick-up and Major Dodds' Humber that morning, and he went through the back door barely pausing to scoop up the remaining four scones off the tray - two per hand.

As Brotherstone, munching a scone, drove his 3 tonner out of Dunipace, he roared out laughing at the sight of Butch, mouth full of scone, as he walked over to Errington's pick-up.

"Snap!" he shouted. "We've all pinched 'em. That tray was full ten minutes ago!”

Driver Wheeler does them out of dinner
There was a pneumatic tube intercom system as well as a service lift between the basement kitchens and the ground floor dining rooms. Driver Wheeler, the daft Geordie, had a game with the equally daft sergeant cook.

Wheeler would blow down the tube for attention and the cook would pick up the blower and call out: "Yes Sir".

Wheeler: "Number one torpedo - fire!" The cook slammed an iron oven door shut.

Cook: "Fired sir."

Wheeler: "Number two torpedo -fire!!"

Another oven door was slammed to twice down below.

Cook: "Number two fired sir."

One day Wheeler, holding a mug of tea, called down the tube and an orderly officer picked it up in the kitchen. "Yes?" Wheeler took a gulp of tea and blew it down the tube thinking it was the cook answering. The tea splattered onto the officer's face, he yelled "You're on a charge, that man!" and ran upstairs to collar the culprit.

"Christ, I've torpedoed the orderly officer", Wheeler shouted as he ran out of the dining room, followed in close order by the rest of the lads there. They shot out of the back door hiding behind the rows of lorries, cursing Wheeler, because their food remained untouched on the tables and they daren't go back.

And as Brotherstone pointed out - it was good and proper edible food. If the cook had been `Rice' Cheesborough it wouldn't have been such a loss.
Roy `Brothers' then went to get a deep apple pie, sent to him by his wife Lucy's mother. He asked Butch to get his army knife and divide it into three for the two of them and Jack Powell.

Butch loved his army knife with its blade, tin opener, marlin spike, shackle with rope attached to his belt, bexite covering and Government arrow, Sheffield mark and 1940 stamped on the blade, but he loved the pie even more, cut it into three, one piece bigger than the others and he ate this very quickly.

"You're an idiot Brothers, if it were my pie I'd have said nowt and scoffed it all on the quiet."

The small service lift from the basement kitchens to the first floor dining rooms was used of course to send meals up and bring dirty dishes down. It was worked by pulling ropes.
One day shortly after the tube episode, Wheeler squeezed himself into this lift and told the lads to let him down in it to surprise the cook.

The lift stuck half way down between floors for an hour - one of the lads had tied a knot in the rope!

Revenge perhaps for his missed meal? We shall never know.

Falkirk - Butch and Cheesborough can't compete with the dancing Welshmen

The river Carron runs between Dunipace and Bonnybridge, then north of Falkirk into the Firth of Forth. It was, and probably still is, an iron working area and Carron Ironworks was famous in the 1800s, like the Walker's of Rotherham, for iron cannons. A broadside of cannon fire was known as a carronade (it has been said that the battle of Waterloo and the battle of Trafalgar were won in the iron foundries of Rotherham, whose cannon could fire at twice the rate of the French and Spanish bronze cannon. Eat your heart out Eton playing fields!).
This publicity for the iron industry is not part of the story - merely for your edification, though it does lead us to the town or city of Falkirk, where they made cast iron post boxes ...and where there was an ice rink.

Driver-mechs Brotherstone and Powell were the Welsh Wizards of the rink and drew admiration from the local girls. Butch was quite good too. Though he'd never ice skated before, he'd been a good roller skater as a teenager in the 1930s and this stood him in good stead on the ice.

Cheesborough of `Rice' fame was no longer `A' platoon's cook, but remained friends and went with them to the Ice Rink. He'd never skated before, but thought it looked easy, launched his right foot on the ice, but his left didn't follow and he ended up on his backside, with left leg up in the air and right leg folded under him. His three friends cracked out laughing and it was left to a tiny Scots lass, about seven years old, to skate up to him and ask if he needed any help!

The two Welshmen were good at dancing too - waltz, quick-step and even the tango, and being Churchmen or, more likely, chapelmen, this gave them an entree to socials where girls vied to get a dance with them. Butch and Cheesborough went too, just tagging along. They weren't church or chapel goers and couldn't dance. Girls would be interested in them, then drift away when they didn't get asked to dance.

Butch consoled himself that it was better not to get too involved with other girls, since he was still engaged, if tenuously, to `Girly' Ruth Hawes. They had even written a letter or two to each other professing the hope of seeing each other, if Butch got based near High Wycombe.
The Scots girls were so attractive though - Cheesborough said he could fall in love with their accents alone, and so they decided to have a few dancing lessons.

In fact they had just one. The tall and svelte forty year old instructress clasped Cheesborough to her, thigh to thigh, he got an immediate erection and stuck his backside out to stop it touching her; she pulled him to her ignoring it, and he failed utterly to do the correct steps. He wasn't amused at Butch and the other learners sitting watching with big grins on their faces.

Those two sweet dancing, sweet talking Celts, `Brothers' and Jack Powell, got friendly with a girl at the ice rink whose parents owned a grocery wholesale business. She invited all four lads to her parents' house in Falkirk for a nice meal. `Rice' Cheesborough offered to help in the kitchen which led Butch to encourage him: "Thee gerrin t'kitchen an' tha might learn summat" (Yorkshire dialect: "You get in the kitchen and you might learn something").

Butch goes on `chicken detail' for Lieutenant Errington

Butch had got another pistol - again arguing that it would be of more use than a 303 rifle when working under a lorry in Europe or North Africa or wherever they were sent against the enemy.

He argued this with himself of course - possession of a pistol was illegal. He had two in fact and posted one to `Girly' Ruth asking her to put it in the `bottom drawer'. Ruth thought this meant something to save for their marriage and wasn't pleased to open the parcel and find a pistol to hide for him. This was another mark against Butch who was now, as he suspected, playing second fiddle to the RAF lad.

Lieutenant Errington was a bit of a lad and, though married with wife and young family in London he had a girlfriend in Bonnybridge. They made a foursome with Lt. Baker, of `B' platoon, and his wife, and Errington offered to cook them a meal at his girlfriend's house. The Scots sergeant cook and his wife from nearby Larbert were also invited, Errington claiming it was democratic to invite the NCO, though it was also to help him in the preparation of the meal.

He told driver Billy Grills, the Devonian, to take Fitter Reid out in the country to get two chickens for the meal: "It will take Reid's mind off the motorbike he left behind".

Billy caught up with Butch within the grounds of Dunipace House, showing off his shooting skills with empty tin cans, to the admiration, he thought, of Brotherstone, Powell and Wheeler.

He stopped shooting as Billy explained they were detailed to get two chickens for Errington's party. At that moment, as if on cue, two hens belonging to the House gardener clucked into view among some trees.

"Watch this," said Butch, and fired the pistol, shooting the head off one of the birds.

"Christ, I didn't mean to do that. What shall I do?"

Anyone who knows Reg Reid today, as he buys bread and sultanas for the pigeons, blackbirds and sparrows around Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, can vouch for his respect for our feathered friends. In mid-1942, even allowing for the hard heartedness of male youth he was rather shocked at what he had just done. Brotherstone made the suggestion, "Take it to Primmy's cafe and ask if they'll do us chicken and chips". Primmy's bread shop cafe was a haunt of theirs in Bonnybridge.

Wheeler, ever practical, picked up the dead bird. "I'll take it to the cook - that's one you've got for Errington! I'll gan oot wi' yer an' Billy for the other."

So it was that, half an hour later, Lieutenant Errington, looking down from the second floor window of Dunipace House, was surprised to see a familiar motorbike, the Excelsior Manxman, with Fitter Reid driving it and Driver Wheeler clinging on behind, roaring out of Dunipace House, followed by driver Billy Grills in his 3 ton Bedford.

It was easier for a young fit Butch Reid to climb over the wire fencing into the hen coop of a nearby farm, than to actually catch one of the clucking, panicking birds. He did catch one by the neck just as the farmer, alerted by the commotion, emerged from a shed about a hundred yards away. Butch passed the chicken to Wheeler, made an attempt to twist its neck and put it in Billy Grills' cab, then he and Butch shot away on the Manxman. The farmer had gone to get his shotgun and Billy, who was slower to move away in the lorry, got the full force of his wrath in the shape of two bullets, one of which smashed a wing mirror.

Errington was waiting for them in front of the House and was immediately confronted by an aggrieved Billy Grills.

"Sir, I've been shot at and shat upon - this hen came alive, fluttered around and has crapped all over my cab.”

"Never mind that, Grills, you've let the bloody thing escape. That's my second chicken gone west. I call that dereliction of duty!"

The hen had indeed taken the chance to flutter out at speed, squawking into some undergrowth, as Billy had opened his cab door.

The success or otherwise of Errington's dinner party is not on record, but he didn't bring up the matter of Butch's Excelsior bike.

It had played its part in the chicken detail.

Vignettes of everyday life at Dunipace

Dunipace House holds memories of happy, carefree days punctuated by days of hard graft: convoys aiding the Scots regiments on manoeuvres, with Butch as `tail end Johnny' repairing broken down vehicles, on the road or back at the House.

There were parades of course - the Army wouldn't be the Army without parades and a degree of bull - officers and NCOs getting a grip on the men to keep them on their toes. No-one knew when the massive forces building up throughout Great Britain, the British Empire, the Commonwealth and America would be unleashed on the enemy.

One day when `B' and `C' platoons were brought up from their camp at Bonnybridge and were lined up along with our heroes of `A' platoon on a tarmacked area of Dunipace House, Sergeant Allen (from Oughtibridge, Sheffield), who was taking the parade along with Sergeant Smith and lieutenants Errington and Baker, was astounded to see Driver Powell saunter across the front of the parade and head towards the gateway.

(It was Driver Powell of Southampton, not driver-mech Jack Powell of the Rhondda, who would, of course, have had more sense).

Driver Powell of Southampton sauntered by in best dress blues and glengarry hat. He had a date with a girl in Dunipace and wanted to impress. Sergeant Allen grew beetroot red in the face before exploding.

"POWELL - ON PARADE".

Powell continued his saunter, glancing back, idly tossing these words back to the sergeant:
"Day orf mate. Day orf".

He had been on fatigues and had been granted time off.

"DAY OFF BE F*****. GET FELL IN! ON PARADE! - AT THE DOUBLE!"

...Powell looked very smart in his best blues and glengarry hat lined up with `A' platoon. Whether his Dunipace date was impressed or not by him not turning up is another matter.
The needs of the military had to come first - there was a war on.

It had been noticed that `A' platoon under Lt. Errington was taking life less seriously than `B' or `C' platoons - certainly as far as military discipline was concerned. Errington's view was that his lads did their jobs well, he had their respect, and why make things harder for everyone, including himself?

This view was exemplified by the Bonnybridge - Larbert - Dunipace - Bonnybridge route march. It was planned in a big figure of eight around two groups of hills along tracks, paths, minor and major roads - all three platoons `A', `B' and `C' being involved. `C' led the way, followed by `B' under Lt. Baker and `A' under Lt. Errington. It was a fine late summer's day, 1942. There is something reassuring, almost inspiring in a platoon marching together, sound of boots crunching on road or gravel surface in unison, but right at the mid point in the figure of eight, by a gate with a path leading up a hill, Errington called a halt. His batman who was driving the Austin pick-up slowly behind the platoon, also stopped and produced half a dozen wicker baskets.

A Cockney voice belonging to driver Manny Smith, a stallholder/wholesaler at Billingsgate Market in Civvy Street, was heard to say "F*** me, we're having a picnic!"
The crunch of `B' and `C' platoon's boots faded into silence as they disappeared into the distance and round a bend.

"You're ri-ri-ri-right Smith, we'll have a picnic at the top of th-th-the hill, wait till we see `B' and `C' coming back, then come down and follow them back to Bonnybridge.”
Some wag with a Sheffield accent asked him if he was the Grand Old Duke of York!…

Sergeant Allen could be quite unconventional like Lt. Errington. The whole offbeat attitude seemed to run right through `A' platoon.

There was a mound at Dunipace which was rumoured to be of Roman origin, and a Jewish lad in HQ Platoon claimed that when on guard duty at night, he'd seen ghostly Roman Legions march by. Major Dodds let Sergeant Allen of `A' platoon deal with the lad, possibly thinking that the loud mouthed sergeant would get it out of him if he was trying to work his ticket. But Sergeant Allen's approach was unconventional.

"You're an intelligent sort of a chappie. Do you think you could run this platoon for a day?"

"Yes Sergeant".

The lad was given three stripes and a list of the day's duties.

As he walked past the lorry compound he saw Wheeler lounging against his cab chatting with fellow Geordie driver Cassidy (not of `Butch' fame). The new sergeant veered towards Wheeler in authoritative fashion. "Driver Wheeler I'm detailing you to take provisions down to the camp at Bonnybridge. Look lively."

"Bollocks," said Driver Wheeler and continued chatting.

Major Dodds put a ten o'clock curfew - or should we say twenty-two hundred hours curfew on Dunipace House during the week. This meant in effect that the lads couldn't get to dens of iniquity - pubs and ice rinks and suchlike in Falkirk during the week after finishing work at eighteen thirty hours. Major Dodds knew they'd got movement orders and wanted to get a grip. Errington and the lads didn't know yet.

It was early September 1942 and Errington, with his theatrical bent, was inspired to write a pantomime for the lads to put on at Christmas and the New Year 1943, in the officers' mess with its stage. Since they couldn't get out in the evenings, they would make their own entertainment. Good for morale, what?

They started rehearsals in the evenings and it was hilarious. Unfortunately Reg - sorry, Butch - can't remember what it was called, but he was a policeman - talk about poacher turned gamekeeper! And Brotherstone and Powell were the main actors.

One evening Butch dodged rehearsals and went to Falkirk with Wheeler on the Manxman to meet up with Johnny O'Toole, the `C' platoon fitter, a Liverpudlian. (`B' and `C' platoons in their tents at Bonnybridge weren't under the 22:OOh. curfew).

Butch from this distance in time cannot remember why they went to Falkirk on that particular evening. I should have thought it would be to meet, or to try to meet, young women but Johnny O'Toole was that extreme rarity amongst Scousers - a shy young man. In fact Butch had helped him get to know the gardener's daughter back at Broxmore House, and they had pledged themselves to each other. She eventually had his baby when 133 reached France in 1944. After the war Johnny set up a market garden business with his wife's father.... But we leap madly ahead - let's get back to Falkirk, September 1942. - We'll assume the Sheffielder, the Scouser and the Geordie had an amusing evening out because they didn't get back till midnight. Johnny O'Toole back to his camp, Wheeler and Butch back to Dunipace House, which was bolted, shuttered and guarded.

Butch said, "Follow me," but Wheeler went to a guard, tried to bribe him with a bottle of beer - and was arrested.

Lieutenant Errington had noticed Wheeler and Reid were missing from the roll call at the curfew hour and learned of Wheeler's arrest at midnight.

He went to bed assuming that Reid would appear when they unlocked the doors and shutters, in crumpled civvy suit, and looking washed out after a night on the tiles.

At morning parade he was astounded to see Reid all bulled up and as bright as a button. After the parade he collared him:

"Where w-were y -you last night, Reid?" "In the billet, sir. Asleep, sir."

"I've a mind to dock a sum off your p -pay anyway Reid - then at least the Army will recover some of its petrol money!"

"I'm selling the bike, sir. To a civvy in Falkirk, sir. I can't take it overseas when we go anyway sir. I promise I'll never misuse Army petrol again, sir".

"You're a rogue, Reid.”

"Thank you, sir."

"I won't charge you or Wheeler provided y -you tell me h-how y-you got in the House last night. The truth - no bull".

"If you'll follow me, sir!"

Errington thought this is ludicrous - an officer being led by a rogue of a private, but followed him through the back door to a pile of coal up against a wall. A gaggle of curious `A' platoon wallahs followed. Butch pointed to the coal, which was not flush against the wall - the pile peaked a foot or so away from the wall and there was a narrow gap allowing a narrow private to wriggle into the cellar.

"I squeezed through there, sir, then up the cellar steps into the house. Fortunately Warhurst and Petty had been on jankers, sir, and had washed the coal".

"It's a g-good job they didn't pp-paint it white. Reid - you are a rogue of the first order".

"Thank you sir".

It was now mid September 1942 and preparations for Errington's pantomime on the stage of the officers' Mess Hall were brought to an abrupt halt.

They were on the move again. Churchill had discussions with the American Government, British Generals had discussions with American Generals. Big movements were afoot. Big decisions were about to be made - and 133 Coy were on the move - to Attleborough in Norfolk, about 15 miles south of Norwich!

They felt they were being somewhat buggered about. An Infantry marching chant came to mind:

"We won't, we won't,
We won't be buggered about,
We absolutely bloody refuse
To be buggered about unless we choose
We won't, we won't,
We won't be buggered about"

It was no use questioning the Army of course, it was always right - even when it seemed like organised chaos. Attleborough must have had a purpose in the great scheme of things…

Errington had had a few prototype pantomime posters printed. On the morning they were gearing up to move, he noticed someone had wiped their bum on a poster and had discarded it near the House. Wheeler was nearby with an innocent look on his face...

"Wheeler, d-did you d-do that?"

"No, sir, I only use part one orders!... "

Wheeler, out of respect for Errington though, voluntarily and gingerly picked the offending poster up and put it in a bin.

Did Attleborough know what they were letting themselves in for?

 

CHAPTER 11: Attleborough, Norfolk
Mid September - early November 1942

Sorry all you East Anglians, it's a common cliche - friendly North, snooty South. Sorry, but at Attleborough, after Bonnybridge, Scotland it was all too true. After Bonnybridge and the extraordinary friendliness and generosity of the Scots, the contrast at Attleborough was painful and depressing.

Even as the hundred plus lorries of 133 Coy trundled by the trim, extensive lawns of the worthy denizens of the Norfolk town, there was a feeling that the common soldiery weren't welcome. People stayed in their houses, children were brought in, otherwise a twitch of a lace curtain here and there being the only sign of habitation. Driver Jock McQuaker stopped his lorry, got out of the cab, walked up a long drive and asked at a big house for a drink of water. The man of the house pointed into the distance: "There's a stream down there".

This snub brought out the vengeful beast in the common soldiery of 133 COY, we much regret to say. The man had a big garden with extensive front lawn and a drive that could accommodate a dozen Rolls Royce (he had just one, securely garaged).

That night his drive and lawn accommodated just six Bedford 3 tonners, lights blazing. To be fair they did leave after half an hour or so with a bit of manoeuvring, though one lorry got embedded in a sodden area of the lawn, and had to be towed out by the workshop's Scammel breakdown vehicle.

The perils of war - everyone has to play their part, even if it just means being nice to people you don't normally get on with. And the British Tommies can be deceptively good-hearted and cheerful sometimes. It must have been a bit alarming for the locals to have what seemed like an endless convoy settling down in their sleepy old town - but there was a war on. The expectation among the men was that their stay in Attleborough wouldn't be long and that they would soon sail to North Africa - perhaps from Harwich.

The USAF had settled at an airfield with the only decent barracks in the locality and 133 had to settle for big khaki tents in a field. They were pitched on a pre-war camp site. Stop taps provided them with cold running water.

Butch was often seen head under tap having a long drink of water, but apart from a glass of bitter now and again he didn't booze and neither did he smoke - that's why he was (and is) a clear headed dynamo!

Brotherstone and Powell went with some other lads from `A' platoon to the local pub once their camp had been set up, only to find that the pub was shut. The landlord came to the door and explained they had run out of beer. There was a sound of revelry from the pub however, and peeping through a gap in the shutters, Brotherstone saw Yankee airmen boozing away. He and Powell talked things over with other lads in the three platoons and they agreed to go, a dozen men at a time, at hourly intervals, during the next day's opening times right until closing time at 22:OOh. At least half the Company was involved and some, including Brotherstone and Powell, went twice!

The landlord got the message that Britons should be served, as well as Yanks. To be fair, though, he'd had the Yanks as regular customers for six months without too much trouble and he feared our lads would sooner or later trade punches with them, especially if the local women were involved.


The Yanks would be saying they were having to bale us out again - our men would accuse them of coming into the war late as usual - and of being overpaid, oversexed and over here. All the usual banter.

Amidst the increasing military activity Butch, Brotherstone and Powell did get time to go to the seaside; up to Great Yarmouth in fact; into the Sally Lunn cafe to be specific.

Petty and Warhurst had also gone up with them but had decided to take a dip in the North Sea. It was now October 1942, the sea was cold, grey and agitated and they took hesitant steps towards what Butch had called `the deep end'. Petty was proud of his pigeon chest, but that is only incidental to this little vignette of wartime army life. - He'd given Butch a ten bob note (a ten shilling note, two of them would make a pound, quite a lot of money then, even more than a RASC 2nd class Mechanic's pay which, as you know, was seventeen shillings and sixpence (87 ½ p) a week). He'd given Butch this ten bob note to save for him, not to spend in the Sally Lunn cafe.

Butch bought a very big Sally Lunn and a very big pot of tea to share with Brotherstone and Powell, using the said ten bob note.

The proprietress in error gave him change for a pound. His conscience hurt him. He got a scrap of paper and scribbled a note to Brotherstone:
“She's given me ten bob too much change. Should I:
a) Give it her back?
b) Give it to Petty?”

Brotherstone said, "Lend me your pencil." and wrote his answer below Butch's questions:
“c) Buy another Sally Lunn, adding P.S. Why didn't you ask Powell?”

Butch took the well-written-on scrap of paper, turned it over and wrote: “Because Powell is a keen Methodist and too honest.”

The Rhondda man finally had enough of their secrecy: "Whatever are you two writing about -you're like two silly schoolboys." The Sheffield man said:
"Shurrup an' eat thi Sally Lunn ".

There was another tea shop incident in Attleborough, this time involving the three of them plus Harold Rumsey-Williams. It started with a fire drill at camp. Butch got them in a row: "When the alarm goes follow me". When it went he ran like a hare out of camp, down the road and into the cafe followed by the three panting driver-mechs. They bought four slices of cake and this was brought to them piled high on a plate.

The bottom slice was noticeably thicker than the rest. All four men hesitated, each waiting for the others to take the less generous slices.

Finally Butch knocked the top three slices off and took the thickest slice. "That'll teach you three not to be so greedy.”

Butch still had his motorbike - it had come down from Dunipace House by the same way it got there - in Corporal Mulchinok's lorry. The Falkirk civvy, Butch spoke about to Errington, either hadn't wanted it or he was a figment of the imagination, created on the spur of the moment.

The Manxman couldn't be shipped to North Africa though - or could it? No, better not. Helen Reid offered a solution in a letter to her son. Her sister, Butch's aunty, lived near her in Stoke and was prepared to store the bike for him for the duration of the war. He had a twenty-four-hour pass and rode the faithful Manxman on a long cross-country journey to Stoke, stayed overnight at his mothers' and made the even longer cross-country journey back via various rail and bus routes.

His mam asked him to write more often. She knew he was due to go to North Africa - it was top secret but the troops and their loved ones knew. She knew too that there were British Forces Post Offices (B.F.P.O.) with the army wherever they went around the world. If he let her know the number when he got there, she'd promised to send him a cake.

He promised to write - as he'd promised `Girly' Ruth Hawes too - but writing letters was not a strong point with Butch. In fairness, it's never been a strong point with most young soldiers as a letter from Deolali, India, from my father to his mother in 1922 showed:

`Dear Mother and Father,
Just a few lines to say I received your last letter safe and hoping you are in the best of health as it leaves me at present. There has been a lot of mail lost lately, for I have wrote a few before. We sail from Bombay on the 13th, on the `Hecuba'. Well, I think I have said about all. From your loving son Fred'.

Not of any relevance to our story of World War Two - but it proves a point.

And how many letters to loved ones from soldiers, sailors and airmen were actually written or dictated by their more literate friends?

Driver Wheeler's letters home

These general observations on letter writing lead us again to the mad-cap Geordie, Driver Wheeler. He had been a telegram boy in Civvy Street and perhaps thought receiving news meant almost invariably receiving bad news, so he never wrote home. He was saving his mother the apprehension that would accompany her opening his letters. There again, perhaps he was just lazy.

In fact, of course, he wasn't saving his mother any apprehension - she was frantic with worry that something might have happened to him. She had not heard from him for over a year. He'd never been home on leave - preferring to stay and have a laugh with the lads, or seek out girlfriends. She knew he'd joined up with 133 Coy RASC at Broxmore House, near Salisbury in May 1941. He might be in Egypt, India, Burma, anywhere now.

In desperation she wrote to the Officer Commanding 133 Coy RASC Broxmore House, near Salisbury, saying she was very worried and asking him if he could get her `prodigal son' to write home from wherever he might be. Her letter eventually reached Major Dodds at Attleborough Camp, Norfolk who took it very seriously, ordering Sergeant Allen to get Wheeler to see him immediately.

Major Dodds, nervously fingering his cane and gloves, ordered Wheeler to write home once a week without fail, wherever they were in the world, until the end of the conflict - or Wheeler's death, whichever came first. He would be on a charge if he failed to write and Sergeant Allen would have his ‘guts for garters'.

Back with the lads, Wheeler had them in stitches mimicking the mincing major, but they all then put to and got Wheeler sheets of paper and envelopes and even a few tuppence ha'penny (1p) stamps - or whatever the postal cost was then (they were red stamps, anyway, with King George VI's head on). Rumsey-Williams loaned him his pen and a bottle of `Quink' ink, and even offered to draft each letter for the prodigal Geordie. Wheeler turned down this offer. He loved his mam and didn't want her to worry, and so every week from that day in October 1942 onwards, he sent the same personal, loving message home.

`Prodigal son reporting, all's well'.

A few days into the month of November 1942 and their sojourn in Attleborough was over, perhaps to the relief of its citizens. 133 Coy RASC was on the move to Glasgow prior to sailing from the Clyde to North Africa.

 

CHAPTER 12: Notes on the war in North Africa prior to 133's landing

The Suez canal in Egypt was regarded as the lifeline of the British Empire but in 1940, it was defended by only 36,000 British troops backed up by a further 9,000 in Sudan and Kenya.
The Italians under Mussolini, keen to establish an Empire in Africa, had invaded Abyssinia and Eritrea and with 200,000 troops there and 250,000 in Cyrenaica, (Libya) outnumbered the British overwhelmingly.

Mussolini decided to invade Egypt but Marshal Graziani got no further than Sidi Barrani, just over the Egyptian border. The British commander-in-chief, General Wavell, and General O'Connor counter-attacked using the small number of tanks at their disposal for a series of lightning left flanking movements, between December 1940 and February 1941, out into the desert at the rear of the Italians. Within weeks they had advanced 800 kilometres to the south of Benghazi and had captured many thousands of Italian troops.

At the same time British troops from Sudan and Kenya defeated the much larger numbers of Italians in Abyssinia and Eritrea. In May 1941, thanks to the British army, the Emperor of Abyssinia re-entered his capital Addis-Abbaba.

As with the Germans in Europe and the Japanese at Singapore, much bigger concentrations of troops had been defeated by brilliant strategy and lightning armoured (blitzkrieg) offensives.
At sea the British mounted a successful air attack on Italian battleships at Taranto in November 1940, and won a sea engagement at Cape Matapan in March 1941, helped by the boffins at Bletchley Park who had cracked the Enigma code.

It was a brilliant victory, leading Churchill to say words to the effect that, when the history of the Second Roman Empire was written by a future Gibbon, it would be a much slimmer volume than the original!

There had been a rapid build up of British and Empire troops, but in February 1941, their advance from Benghazi was stopped on Churchill's orders, so forces could be diverted to Greece, now threatened by Hitler.

At the same time, German General Rommel arrived in Tripoli, in turn launched lightning attacks when the British were in the middle of reorganization, and drove them right back to the port of Tobruk in Libya, just west of the Egyptian border. General Wavell was replaced by General Auchinleck who fought a swift moving duel with Rommel in the desert until August 1942. Both Generals had supply problems - Auchinleck's supplies came right round via the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (though Churchill had risked a convoy through the Mediterranean and four out of five ships reached Alexandria, Egypt, with 238 tanks).

Rommel's supplies came across the Mediterranean, harassed by attacks from Malta, where the command there knew of the convoys sailing thanks to Bletchley...

In April 1942, Hitler contemplated a landing in Malta, but heavy losses in Crete of his elite airborne troops (though they took the island), coupled with his mistrust of the Italians made him abandon the idea.

The British 8th Army was getting battle-hardened, but the port of Tobruk fell to the Germans in June 1942, and the British withdrew to El Alamein, only 240 kilometres west of Cairo. It was a good spot to confront Rommel since the huge Quattara depression of quicksand to the south prevented outflanking movement.

In August 1942 Churchill, on his way to Moscow, flew to Cairo and replaced General Auchinleck with General Sir Harold Alexander as commander-in-chief, while General Sir Bernard Montgomery took over command of the 8th Army (Monty was second choice. General Gott was to have commanded the 8th Army but was shot down in the aircraft bringing him to Cairo).

Monty was worshipped by most and detested by a few even among some of his own men in the 8th Army. The British had beaten the Italians, but there was the myth of German - of Rommel's - invincibility. Withdrawals were expected if and when Rommel counter-attacked. There were rumours that lorries were lined up with seats booked for retreat to Cairo!
Monty scotched these rumours by sending the lorries back empty to Cairo. There would be no retreat. No more withdrawals.

Both Alexander and Montgomery had known the carnage of the first world war - they had seen how the generals of the War to End Wars had lived in French chateaux, far from the troops on the front line. Alexander established an HQ, 'Caledon Camp', named after his home in Northern Ireland near the front and near Monty's 8th Army HQ. They visited the troops - Monty inspired them - they were going to deal the Germans a blow from which they would never recover. There would be no undue risks. It would be hard pounding.
El Alamein would be a milestone - the first defeat of the German army - a turning point in the war. Perhaps the turning point.

It was in fact Monty v General Stumme but on the first day, 23rd October 1942, when the Frontal attack by British and Empire and Commonwealth troops was preceded by an immense bombardment, the German General suffered a heart attack and died. Rommel was ill but took over command. The British troops broke through at three points to create a gap for the armoured divisions to pour through. Within twelve days the Germans were in disarray and retreated westwards. The Rommel myth, the Wehrmacht invincibility myth, had been laid.

When 133 Company landed in Algiers, they were buoyed up by this famous victory. El Alamein came at huge cost, not like the Somme in World War I, when 60,000 British troops died on one day, the 1st of July, 1916; but 10,000 men died at El Alamein in one week and nine out of every ten men who died were infantrymen. When he knew of this, Butch gave inward thanks to his dad for his advice to avoid the Infantry.

Butch didn't find out until the end of the war that his old friend Ron Gregory, a commissioned officer in an Infantry Regiment, was killed there. A lad had fallen off a lorry, Ron jumped off to pick him up and was carrying him back when he trod on a mine.

Butch didn't know it but there'd be no more bike trips to Bakewell together after the war.

 

CHAPTER 13: By Cruise Liner - Glasgow to North Africa 8th November 1942 "Operation Torch"

The Supreme Commander of this invasion was American General Eisenhower, though there was a feeling among the British that General Alexander should have overall command. Churchill was satisfied though, since he wanted to ensure that the main focus of the American war effort should be against Germany rather than Japan, and the British did `run the show' in executive command: Alexander - land forces, Cunningham - naval forces: Tedder - air forces.

There were to be three landings:
- a US force sailing direct from Virginia to Casablanca in French Morocco,
a US force from the Clyde to Oran in Algeria and the mixed British/US force from the Clyde, including our lads, to Algiers.

Algeria was a French colony and there were 120,000 French and French colonial troops in the country under Petain's Vichy Government. The invasion had been preceded by soundings of the locals, partly undertaken by US General Mark Clark, who was landed secretly in Algiers from a British submarine.

Petain's second in command, Admiral Darlan, was in Algiers and offered cautious collaboration (acceptance of the allies in Algeria became outright after Hitler ordered the occupation of Vichy France on l0th November 1942, two days after the invasion. To the allies' relief, the French fleet at Toulon then scuttled itself rather than be taken over by the Germans.).

So much for the background to the great invasion of French North Africa, Operation Torch. What about the nitty-gritty? - T/68784 Fitter 2nd class seventeen shillings and sixpence per week R.W. Reid of A platoon 133 Company RASC with a 303 rifle and kitbag slung over his shoulder, marching up the gangplank of the luxury cruise ship MV Strathmore, on that November day in Glasgow 1942.

The ship had been converted to troop carrier and seemingly endless columns of men from units of the 1st Armoured Division, and of the 51st Highland Division as well as engineers, medics and the 170 or so men of 133 Company RASC entered into the bowels of the ship. It was claustrophobic, and the lads, all landlubbers, had trouble slinging their hammocks, so many spread them on the floor or on tables.

For open-air types like Butch, golf course grounds-man by trade, and Billy Grills, of Devonian farming stock, the atmosphere deep inside the ship was hell - they didn't want to be battened down in this. What if the ship was attacked by the German wolf pack submarines?

After the evening roll call parade, and as all the other men marched down into the hold of the ship, they slipped behind some derricks and crept into a lifeboat to kip down for the night - their `pog' for 15 nights in fact, 15 uncomfortable nights! The huge ship sailed through mountainous seas far out into the Atlantic. They were in a very large convoy, on very rough seas; now you would see an armada of vessels scattered to the horizons, then you would just see hills of sea.

After a few days, U boats were spotted, the ships were sailing at a steady rate of seven knots, when suddenly the Strathmore with its precious cargo of thousands of troops suddenly shot ahead through the convoy, with two escort destroyers, at 20 knots. At a right `rate of knots' we could say. A naval rating told Butch about a friend of his, a radar operator on a destroyer. He saw a large dot on the radar screen and told an officer who said it was "just an island". "Sir," the operator replied, "That island is doing thirty knots!" It was the Queen Mary loaded with 15,000 G.I.'s relying on speed to outwit the enemy.

In this Operation Torch convoy, the Strathmore was the largest vessel, but when they rose high in the waves, Butch might have caught a glimpse of another troopship nearby, the HMT Bergensfjord. I feel I have to mention this because my father, Fred Alexander, who, as a boy soldier with KOYLI, had written the letter home from Deolali, India, in 1922, was now an `old sod' of thirty-eight on this ship with the RAF Regiment. He could have been excused the call-up, being a shell steel examiner for the Admiralty on Janson Street, Sheffield, as this was classed as a reserved occupation but he volunteered for service with this most unglamorous but vital section of the RAF.

Back to Butch. Driver Billy Grills got a job in the officers' Mess and Butch too was employed there washing dishes. Meals were good but, sickened by the violent motion of the ship, the sliding and crashing of plates off the tables, even the motion of the water in the big sink made him heave up into said sink among the pots and pans and mucky water. What a life!
Some lads, such as Wheeler, Warhurst and Petty were unaffected by sickness and wolfed down two or even three breakfasts, left by those with weaker stomachs, who couldn't face going to breakfast, let alone eating it.

Even going at speed, the Strathmore was at sea 15 days heading as if on the India run, to mislead the enemy, then doubling back to Gibraltar. They left Gibraltar at dawn, sailing at a rate of knots to Algiers, where they disembarked and marched inland to the small town of Blida. (Can you imagine the troops' puns on this town's name?)

CHAPTER 14: Blida, Algeria. A Dear John letter Lieutenant Baker replaces Errington

They marched because virtually all their lorries were still on the high seas on cargo vessels, or it was even possible that they were still in Glasgow. Just a couple of lorries and a couple of Austin pick-ups were with them on the Strathmore.

At Blida they were billeted in a flour mill, built by the French. There were big vats with concrete platforms on high - the floor below was concrete. It was cold, very cold even with three blankets on the concrete, three on top plus greatcoat. One HQ lad, billeted on one of the high platforms, made a quick return to Blighty - on a stretcher. He had stepped back to make his bed, fell over the edge of the platform on to the concrete floor ten feet below and broke his back.

Then a lad from another unit got killed walking on the wrong side of the road. The Citroen didn't stop. Most of the lads had never been abroad before and didn't realise or had forgotten that Johnny foreigner drives on, the wrong side of the road! As drivers, they had been told, though, and had been given a little manual on service overseas:
`Remember when you walk off the ship down the gangplank it is you, not the man on the quayside, who is the foreigner'.

One lad with a broken back and one killed; troubles come in threes, would a letter Butch received be the third? No. It was only a `Dear John' letter from `Girly' Ruth Hawes. He wasn't upset, in fact he burst out laughing. Other lads were heartbroken when they got theirs. One took to drink, said he had nothing to live for, was never sober, and even later when driving in convoys was slumped at the wheel, his mate guiding it for him.

Girly Ruth Hawes confirmed that she was in love with the RAF lad they had met on the train from Sheffield. Despite his laughter, Butch did feel a wave of hatred for the `Brylcreem boy' and the RAF in general. They were issued with sheets for their beds like bloody puffs! And what's more they'd got mobile showers! Mobile bloody showers - he'd seen them on their lorries. What a load of puffs!

Perhaps the RAF Regiment wouldn't have agreed with him, and no one in 133 Company grumbled when the army was also issued with mobile showers several months later.
He was a bit rankled by the thought that Ruth had his £100, plus suit in his suitcase plus the revolver and 500 rounds he had posted to her, but he didn't make a meal of worrying about it. Just a mental note to retrieve them when he next called at High Wycombe.

Butch made use of the opportunity to take stock of his life, where to go, what to do after demob. The pondering took place as he lay on his three blankets, under three more blankets and a greatcoat, on the cold concrete floor.

Life would be his oyster. He could return to Sheffield, Ron Gregory, good natured lasses, the Derbyshire hills. Ron might have turned posh having been an officer, but he'd soon knock that out of him.

He could go to Stoke, catch up with his mam. Jobs had been offered him by the two Jocks, servicing tractors and machinery on their respective farms in the Lowlands. Johnny O'Toole offered him the job of servicing lorries in the market garden business he was hoping to build up, and Billy Grills suggested he service tractors and other vehicles at his family farm in Devon. This job prospect had the added bonus of salmon fishing rights along a stretch of river. Finally Manny Smith had offered to employ him in the family's Billingsgate wholesale fish market business, servicing lorries. So with these thoughts and a final "Christ, it's cold on this floor!" he got some kip.

Troubles did come in threes. Major Dodds got Lieutenant Errington, the man they liked and respected and would follow through thick and thin, transferred to another unit. The Major, he of the gloves and polished cane and mincing gait, put Lieutenant Baker in charge of A platoon. It was assumed the change was because Errington got on too well with the lads.
Lieutenant Errington had certainly been unconventional. Too much so for the army. For instance, if any in the platoon got in trouble and were punished by Major Dodds with, say, four days confined to barracks, Errington would let them take their punishment piecemeal - say a day here, two days there, another day there - at times of their choosing. He called it `CB' on hire-purchase.

Once some of the platoon were on jankers while others had gone out to a cinema. The ones confined to barracks were having so much fun he ordered them to get off to the cinema too as a punishment.

Lieutenant Baker was the complete opposite - ex-infantry and with a keen belief in infantry training and discipline. He felt he needed to get a grip of these men; he was `bullshit baffles brains' personified. Some lads among themselves called him `a right bastard', but he couldn't browbeat them. He could lecture them though and lined them up outside the flour mill, out of the fierce sunshine thank goodness, and gave them the fruits of his military wisdom. A big map of North Africa stood on an easel.

Lieutenant Baker's lecture:

"You men are lorry drivers and mechanics. Eventually you'll be moving and sleeping in your vehicles, stopping in barracks if we can find them, or putting up tents.
We're going to move east and quickly, whether our vehicles have arrived or not."
He took hold of and used a long wooden pointer lodged on the easel.

"We are at Blida here. General Montgomery has won a brilliant victory over the Germans at El Alamein over there in Egypt, and his 8th Army, the Desert Rats, are pushing the enemy, Germans and Italians, back through Libya towards us.

Hitler continues to push supplies and troops into Tripoli, there, and they will possibly fall back to Bizerta and Tunis, here, unless we get there first.

Our allies the Americans have disembarked at Oran, there, about 300 miles behind us on the Algerian coast and at Casablanca, here, which is about 700 miles behind us in French Morocco.

Shortly we shall move to Constantine, here, in the Atlas Mountains - most probably by train. We may not get our vehicles for several days or even weeks yet. Until we do, you are infantrymen and a British Infantry platoon works like a pack of hounds - not a flock of sheep,”

Chorus of baas from the lads. Black look from Baker.

"We need to remember and practise if we can the basic infantry fieldcraft which demands physical fitness, mental alertness, mastery of weapons, knowledge of ground and, above all, discipline. Discipline is founded on the barrack square. Good drill which you may have done reluctantly at Broxmore, Dunipace and Attleborough gives you the habit of obedience and pride in your appearance and your unit. Such discipline must be carried on during situations in the field - in the desert in this case.

Under the stress of modern war, the highest standard of discipline is required of every man. I and my N.C.O's, Sergeant Allen here and Corporals Greenholgh, King and Mulchinok there, have to make it clear what you have to do in carrying out plans I get from Major Dodds. You men need to know of any plan of action and if you end up in the shit, if you get separated or if you get your vehicle and it breaks down - and Fitter Reid isn't around to repair the bloody thing - then you have to act on your own initiative, informing the rank above you as soon as you can. This is the difference between German `blind obedience' and British `intelligent obedience'. Any questions at this point?"

`Rice' Cheeseborough (yes, he was back, after they'd had the luxury of the Sergeant Cook at Dunipace House) called out,

"Yes sir. Can we sit down?"

Lieutenant Baker allowed them to sit cross-legged in the sand and went on, "If your lorry breaks down it's a sitting duck so you'd have to leave it and use ground cover - and this doesn't mean cowering in a hole out of the enemy's fare. You must use the ground as a hunter uses it - to get closer to the prey whom he is going to kill ... "

"Whom he is going to kill - nice English, sir," said Powell, precise Welsh accent as usual, adding under his breath, "if a little pe-dan-tic.”

Baker ignored this and went on,
"You have to be physically fit - under your previous lieutenant fitness lapsed - I know that you only did two thirds, if that, of the route march at Bonnybridge.”

Butch couldn't hold back:
"'A' platoon under Lieutenant Errington were acting on their initiative, sir.”
Baker replied,

"That's not initiative - that's skiving -fitness lax, discipline lax." "Morale good". - Butch again.
"Listen to my words, Reid. It might save your life one day.”

"You've said a broken down lorry is a sitting duck sir. What about poor bloody Butch then, sir, underneath it, sir, repairing it. Where does that leave him, sir?”

Apart from saying Fitter Reid's a survivor, Lieutenant Baker ignored this outburst of concern for Butch Reid by young Wheeler and went on: "Movement by night - watch and listen...
First: The ghost walk - for all night movements silence is more important than speed. Silence depends on perfect balance. Stand up. Lift the legs high to avoid long grass.”

As Lieutenant Baker lifted his leg, I regret to say that someone in `A' platoon made a farting noise - no names no pack drill, but the guilty man could have been the man from Gateshead. Pausing only to say, "Take that man's name sergeant!". Lieutenant Baker went on:
"Sweep the legs outwards in a semi-circular motion, feel gently with the toe for a foothold. Make sure that one foot is safe before the next foot moves, knees slightly bent. Always lie down when you halt at night.

Second: the cat walk Reid, you can demonstrate this. Sling your rifle across your back."
"I haven't got it sir."

"Imagine you have, man. Get down on your hands and knees and move each hand forward searching the ground carefully with the hand..."

"As if you're looking for a tanner, Butch," Brotherstone suggested helpfully. Lieutenant Baker continued: "....making sure there are no twigs or desert thorn bushes etc., then raise the knee and put it down where the hand is. Then move again. This is a very slow method but very sure and silent - like a cat.

Third: the kitten crawl."
Butch rose up, "Can somebody else do the kitten crawl sir? I'm tired." "Which just proves my point, Reid, about lack of fitness, lack of discipline." "All right, sir, I'll do it." Butch goes down on all fours again.

"Third, the kitten crawl. If the ground is covered with twigs the normal stomach crawl would make a noise. When moving very close to the enemy, perfect silence is essential and the only sure method is to keep raising the whole body off the ground on the forearms and the toes, pressing forward, lowering the body, feeling carefully with the hands each time. This is a very slow and tiring method which requires considerable practice, but it is invaluable. Accurate information at night can often only be obtained by movement very close to the enemy."

He went on to talk about camouflage - personal concealment and why you should mistrust road signs, town signs etc. because they may have been switched round by the enemy. Some of the lads had nodded off. It was too soon after landing. They had only just found their feet after 15 days on rough seas. Their lorries had not yet arrived and Lieutenant Baker's was a lecture too much. When he asked if there were any questions one lad pointed out that an eighth army friend in a letter to him had said there were just two things to learn:
Don't put your food out of your reach for the shite hawks to steal. - Shake your boots out in the morning to make sure there are no scorpions in them.
-
Another lad asked,
"What's the German for I surrender, sir?"

“B in B”s red socks

Using one of the lorries that came with them on the Strathmore, Butch drove two sergeants, Sergeant Allen and Sergeant `Bollocks in Brackets' to Algiers docks, checking on the vessels to see if their lorries had arrived.

The sergeants sat on the bench-like passenger seat of the lorry and `Bollocks in Brackets' nearest the window cockily put a leg out of the window - like a bloody Yank, thought Butch - and wearing red socks, to boot!

Their lorries hadn't arrived and, wandering around the dockland area, they were attracted by young Arabic women plus the occasional French girl hanging around a doorway. Obviously it was the doorway to a brothel, and eventually the lure of the female overcame them and they walked in, only to look, of course. `Red Socks' said "I've been away from the missus six months but I've never paid for it, and never will.”

The blinding sunlight outside gave way to a velvety darkness, which, when the eyes were accustomed to it, became a room in darkness except for a low light on a low table. Women sat around talking to men - mainly matelots, with a few British and American Servicemen, and every now and again a client was taken to one of the small cubicles lining the room. The wooden doors on the cubicles had a six-inch gap at the bottom, so that the huge madam in her huge armchair, could see which cubicles were in business. It reminded Butch of the cubicles at Hillsborough baths!

He went to have a word with her. She was surrounded by bunches of red Algerian roses and bottles of red Algerian wine, which were for sale if you wanted to give a girl an extra treat.
She spoke good English with a French accent, in a matter of fact way.

"You want a girl? Which one? You can't have me but there's a lovely young Arabic girl - lovely black hair - or blonde French girl, very forward. She'll put it in for you."
"No thanks. I'm engaged to be married," he lied. It seemed a bit of a sordid place - and anyway, the fear of disease overcame any lust for the women, whether they put it in for you or not.

The madam continued to chat with him and sold him a bottle of red wine. "You'll be back - see that room there? A RAF man, an Englishman who came in just to look has fallen for a girl - he's been with her all day. Can't bear to think of her with other men. You'll be back I've got nice girls. Your friend has chosen one."

Butch followed her gaze and in the cubicle next to the RAF lad, visible through the gap at the bottom of the door, were a pair of black army boots and a neatly folded pair of red socks!
As they drove back to their flour mill billets, `B in B' put a leg casually out of the cab window again, giving a foot and a red sock a bit of an airing.

"No," he reiterated, "I'd never pay for it, me." "I bet you would though, Butch."

Butch smiled to himself and said nowt as he drove on.

CHAPTER 15: Algeria: Blida to Constantine to Medjez el Bab Tug Wilson's diving lesson

133 Company were on the move again - without their lorries. They couldn't wait and would have to collect them as and when they arrived in port. They were moving nearer the front - to Constantine in fact, up in the mountains, by rail from Blida. The little train chugged up steep gradients round inclines, Butch and a few of the other lads jumped off, it was going so slowly, they were standing anyway on the train, if not sitting on uncomfortable wooden slatted seats. They jumped off and walked up the hill and beat it to the mountain resort. They got on again at the station to retrieve their kitbags and rifles.

(My father Fred Alexander travelled with the RAF Regiment in cattle trucks, on this same line to Constantine - so we can't say the RAF always got priority treatment - though the passenger trains were little different from the cattle trucks).

Constantine was bracing and cold. Fortunately the two lorries and two pickups that had landed with them from the Strathmore had brought all the blankets that they had needed in the flour mill at Blida. It was Sod's law that as soon as they reached Constantine news reached them of the arrival of ships carrying their lorries, so drivers were immediately packed into the two lorries and pickups, plus American trucks borrowed for the occasion, to fetch them up into the mountains. There were about fifty of their vehicles on a ship in Algiers and a further fifty or so on a ship further back in Oran. They were mainly 3 ton lorries -about seventy-five of them - plus workshops repair/breakdown lorries plus assorted pick ups, Jeeps now as well as Austins, even a Humber car for Major Dodds.

They spent a few nights in the resort sleeping in the back of the lorries, awaiting further movement orders. Then they were on the move again down the steep, rough mountain road to a little town called Medjez el Bab which overlooked the holy city of Kerouan and Sousse to the east and Tunis to the north east.

Butch was sitting in the cab of a Bedford 3 tonner next to driver Tug Wilson. They were at the tail end of the convoy, Butch's box of tools and boxes of army rations secured in the back.
Tug was the baby of the platoon, only seventeen years old, a recent, army trained driver. He marvelled at the mountains and the road winding ever down replete with the hundred or so vehicles of 133 Company. He took deep breaths and shouted above the roar of the engines
"What a wonderful sight-If only my mother could see this!!" "Ne'er mind thi mother. Keep thi eyes on' rooad"

Butch could relapse into Sheffield dialect because Tug was a Barnsley lad. His hobbies he listed as liggin' and laikin' and now driving. Ligging in bed, laiking at football and now driving the Bedford 3 tonner.

With all due respect to the army though, as we've pointed out before, army trained lads weren't as good as civvy trained. Tug had been told that civvy trained `old sods' like Brotherstone got double the miles per gallon as he did; he took this to heart and jerked the lorry into neutral to save petrol! Butch clung to the bench as they freewheeled steeply down the rough road with its constant hair-pin bends.

Fortunately Brotherstone, driving the lorry in front of them, had seen, through his rear view mirror, Tug's lorry jerk as the lad put it in neutral so he slowed right down until they touched bumper to bumper. After about a mile of this Tug realised he should be in first gear. He turned to Butch,

"Why didn't tha warn me?"

"Because I wanted thee to learn summat"

Tug later thanked Brotherstone for being concerned for him and Brothers explained he was more concerned about the army rations in Tug's lorry!

Medjez-el-Bab - Butch commandeers a Mercedes

They had now left Algeria and reached this little town in Tunisia, which was a heaving mass of military build up and activity in late 1942 early 1943. There were British, Empire and Commonwealth fighting troops there, French and American troops nearby - as well as RASC 133 Company with Butch Reid and the RAF Regiment with Fred Alexander. (Fred and the "mob" had arrived via RAF landing strips and stops at Souk Ahras, Setif, Lekef, Duvivier, Souk-elArba, Souk-el-Khemis, to Beja.)

Medjez-el-Bab remained 133's base for a few months - or was it just a few weeks? Events were moving so fast it's hard to judge sixty years later. They were billeted in an abandoned French farm which had extensive outbuildings and a huge yard for many of the lorries.

Monty's 8th Army had swept the German and Italian armies westwards and at the end of January 1943 took Tripoli, the Libyan port, that was receiving supplies for the Wehrmacht. Rommel retreated into Tunisia establishing the "Mareth Line" at the south of the country bordering Libya while fellow German General Von Arnin organised defensive positions around the port of Bizerta and Tunis itself, as Lieutenant Baker had suggested they might do in his lecture. (Not such a daft lad was he!)

The headlong retreat of the axis forces led to the capture of a hundred thousand troops, German and Italian, who were shepherded into makeshift prison camps surrounded by rolls of barbed wire. One such camp was at Medjez-el-Bab.

Thus it was that Butch was on a desert road in a pick-up with his box of tools, repairing a lorry, when he saw a long cloud of dust approaching in the sand. His inquisitiveness turned to alarm when he made out streams of enemy troops, Italians in fact, walking in their hundreds - it must have been a whole brigade at least - a few in cars and lorries, raising a cloud of dust as they approached. Alarm turned to astonishment when he saw they had their hands raised to give themselves up.

Butch had his pistol, which he fingered nervously then put it down and just waved them on. Then - what's this! An old Mercedes driven by an Italian officer with higher ranking officers in the passenger seats, plumes in their hats, passed slowly by.
Private R.W. Reid put his hand up for them to stop and ordered them out, pointing towards the town, "Medjez-el-Bab - Con il piede. By foot, that way!" How are the mighty fallen! To the victor the spoils! - it was exhilarating. He was acting on his own initiative in the absence of his immediate superior - as Lieutenant Baker had advised. He let the stream of Italians thin out, finished his repair and then left the lorry and his pick-up on the side of the desert road to go for a spin deeper into the desert with the Merc. He swept round in a big arc passing the odd camel train and the frequent British, French or American lorries, remembering to drive half off the road when passing.

Most of the roads were too narrow for two vehicles to pass and it was polite therefore to pass half on - half off the carriageway. Driver Warhurst ignored this unwritten rule of the desert roads and had driven in the middle of the carriageway forcing others coming towards him off the road, until he was taught an expensive lesson by an American soldier with truck and trailer.

The Yank didn't give way until the last moment then he lurched his Dodge truck to one side and the trailer whiplashed and crashed into Warhurst's Bedford.

This finished Warhurst's career as a driver.

Cautionary tale over, now back to Butch and the Mercedes. He drove into Medjez-el-Bab admiring the Arabic and French colonial architecture, mainly a blinding white with black velvety shadows. What with palm trees, camels, prewar French cars, Arabs in flowing robes, it was so exotic, so foreign. He's seen nowt like it! He slowed down for a team of donkeys led by a lad with a stick.

Less exotic and foreign were six artillery officers who saw Butch, flagged him down, ordered him out and commandeered his car.

One muttered "Bloody private".

Butch muttered "Bloody thieving artillery".

Still, he'd had it an hour or so. Easy come, easy go.

He got Brotherstone and Powell to take him from the camp to retrieve the lorry and the pick-up.

Lieutenant Baker thinks ahead - then leaves Butch in the desert

Lieutenant Baker led `A' platoon in a convoy to the docks at Bone, an Algerian port near the border with Tunisia about a hundred miles from the Germans at Bizerta. Butch set off with his box of tools in a 3 tonner about ten minutes later, the `tail end Johnny', prepared to repair any of the platoon's lorries that fell by the wayside.

Sometimes drivers simply ran out of fuel on convoys. As well as the stout steel gerricans of petrol some cheaper tin petrol containers were issued - shipped over from Blighty - someone's bright idea back home to save money. Drivers called them `flimsies'. They would slowly leak on the voyage over and by the time they could be secured to working lorries for use in the desert they were only half full.

All manner of supplies were coming for the allied armies to the ports of Bone and Tripoli now as well as Algiers and Oran. The German and Italian armies were hemmed into Tunis but Hitler continued to push troops and supplies to Generals Arnin and Rommel through Bizerta and Tunis.

`A' platoon had orders to pick up ammunition and weapons for the 7th Armoured Division of the 8th Army in Libya, south of Tunis.

Our `tail end Johnny' reached a crossroads where a signpost as well as a British Army Military Policeman on duty there indicated straight on to Bone. At the docks Butch, singing to himself `nick nack paddywack, give the dog a bone...' looked in vain for `A' Platoon and broke off his song to say to himself:

"Where the bleeding Heeley is Baker?"

Algerian dockers supervised by British troops had nearly finished unloading a couple of vessels.

"Where the hell is that daft chuff?"

Half an hour later the "daft chuff" appeared as the convoy roared into the dockyard. Lieutenant Baker looked surprised.

"How long have you been here Reid?"

"Half an hour sir ".

"Did you go straight ahead at the crossroad?”

"Yes sir, I followed the instructions, the sign and the redcap"

"Aaaah. I told you Reid you can't place your trust in signs - How do you know the enemy hadn't turned them round?"

"And the MP sir?"

"The MP might not have been aware the sign might have been turned round. Or he might have been the enemy in disguise. The Germans have been known to do that Reid. Officers have to get into their devious little Teutonic minds!"

The Billingsgate market man driver Manny Smith whispered loudly "For Christ's sake, Butch, let him have the last word - or we'll never get done ". They then all got on with loading the supplies.

`B' and `C' Platoons had collected provisions from Algiers dockyards and at dawn the following day seventy-five lorries of 133 Company `A', `B' and `C' Platoons moved south into the desert and round into Libya at speed with supplies for the 7th Armoured Division.
They gave a wide berth to Rommel's men on their Mareth defensive line in south Tunis. This was a series of French built forts now occupied by German and Italian troops. Butch was in the back of Lieutenant Baker's pick-up with his box of tools. What an honour for the lad.

They were at the end, of the convoy, which was led by Major Dodds in his Humber. Lieutenant Baker confided that 133 Company would be incorporated in the 7th Armoured Division shortly. That was why the brass in the shape of Major Dodds was going on this "mission" to meet for discussions with a colonel of the 7th Armoured Division. He leaned round and tapped Butch's upper arm - "You'll soon be stitching the Desert Rat insignia on that sleeve, Reid. We'll be in the 7th Armoured Division of Monty's 8th Army. This is in confidence. Major Dodds will give everybody the gen. at roll call tonight. "

Butch said he'd be proud of this and in course of further conversations said he loved the peace of the desert. He didn't go to church but could understand how Jesus had found solace in the desert.

Liuetenant Baker told his batman to stop the pick-up and told Butch he could stay in the desert keeping in sight of the road if he wished with his tools, his mess tin and water bottle. If a lorry broke down they knew where Reid was and would get him to the scene or get the break down lorry to tow it back to the workshops at Medjez-el-Bab. This was a chance the young mechanic appreciated - he valued the perfect peace, savoured the moment, not a sound, an almost religious atmosphere, and he alone except for one or two Kite Hawks (or shite hawks as the 8th Army called them) wheeling noiselessly black against the late afternoon sky high above him. He instinctively drew his mess tin and water bottle towards him.

The desert wasn't really empty of course - especially nearer the coast - Yanks, Tommies, Poilus, Jerries, Ities, Ozzies, Kiwis, Indians, Poles as well as Arabs strode the scene. Sometimes Bedouin Arabs, "the burrowin' Arabs" as they were called, unseen in their dugouts, camouflaged by sand-coloured tarpaulins, would send out their children with eggs to sell to the troops.

The little Arabs seemed to appear from nowhere: "Oeufs Tommy. Oeufs Johnny" and the lads of `A' Platoon invariably bought them even if grossly overpriced - it was worth it for the amusement caused by the little Arabs sudden appearance - and even quicker disappearance with the Tommies' money. A kindly lot, the British troops - though Fred Alexander used to speak of the times in the 1920s going through Suez, when some of the troops selling tins of tea to Arabs in boats who came alongside, put only a thin layer of tea in the tins with sand underneath. One Arab, putting his finger in the tea, shouted up to the guilty troops,
"You British are like this tea - good on top, bad underneath ".

Not true. Not true. Certainly not true as far as `A' Platoon was concerned. Back to Butch in the desert alone as the sun went down giving a dazzling effect to the landscape. But its beauty was overshadowed by a thought: Had Baker forgotten him? He felt just a bit alarmed - Baker's three or four had become five or six hours, so when a mini convoy of six vehicles came by he hitched a lift. They were 8th Army lorries and, amazingly, were heading for Medjez-elBab.

Lieutenant Baker passed his apologies via Sergeant Allen. 133 Company, now incorporated in the 7th Armoured Division, came back by a slightly varied route out of range of Rommel's guns on the Mareth line. Butch had been forgotten!

Mid February 1943 - Medjez-el-Bab - 133 Company supporting 7th Armoured Division credited with a Great Victory whilst not leaving camp.

The liaison colonel from the 7th Armoured Division who'd had discussions with Major Dodds in the Libyan Desert came to address the assembled company one day in mid February 1943. He came unexpectedly so there was no time for Major Dodds, his lieutenants and NCOs to work up to the degree of bull they would have liked but he congratulated them on their state of readiness and went on:

"Shortly the balloon will go up and any morning now - at dawn or predawn - you'll be called on to move munitions, food and possibly troops. Get as much food and drink and sleep as you can while you can. It's essential we win this battle".

Lieutenant Baker had a look of triumph on his face, a `what did I tell you' look.
Reveille was early, before dawn the next morning - 133 RASC (7th Armoured Division) faced the unknown with apprehension, even a bit of pain in the stomach, though moral in `A' Platoon was high. They had the feeling `they'll never get us. We'll win through!'

What happened next? Nothing. - They weren't called upon.

They weren't called upon the following morning - or the one after - or the one after, etc. etc. A week passed and they were still on high alert doing details to the docks, etc., with a greater sense of urgency, but they still weren't called to battle.

A message came to Major Dodds that the colonel was coming to address them again. He came in dust covered Jeep, red-eyed and in what Sergeant Allen would call 'crap-order'.
Not smart at all.

Dodds had the lads brassed and bulled-up this time, to a very high degree. Lieutenant Baker, Sergeant Allen and the corporals had harassed and encouraged them right from reveille. They really thought this was it - let battle commence. Let battle commence looking smart at least. Sergeant Allen even came out with a remark popular with sergeants since it was first used in Wellington's day:
"Come on lads - if you die today, you don't have to die tomorrow!" Imagine the whole company - three lines of men, in perfectly straight lines, in front of their seventy-five lorries - all neatly aligned too, the dusty colonel on the back of his Jeep to address them. Imagine the astonishment at his words:

"Well done, men: the offensive action, with your support, was bold and effective and has dealt a blow to the Axis powers. Rommel and his troops, German and Italian are now cowering behind their defences at Bizerta and Tunis. It won't be long before we finish the job thanks to your recent action. I want to congratulate you each in person. "

One by one they marched up to the colonel saluted and shook hands. Brotherstone had winked at Butch and whispered "Bold and effective action, eh, boyo" and they both had difficulty restraining their laughter.

Rommel's plan for the Axis forces was first to strike out westwards in mid February 1943 at the British, French and American troops massing against him, after which he would turn south against Monty's 8'h Army in Libya near the Mareth line.

The Americans suffered serious casualties at Kasserine Pass, but Monty knew of his adversary's plans via Bletchley Park, and Rommel lost Mareth and was pushed back to the Axis strongholds of Tunis and Bizerta.

This was the bold and effective action that had been spoken of.

Butch commandeers another car plus notes on `friendly fire' and Anglo American rivalry

On detail outside Medjez-el-Bab, Butch stood with his box of tools waiting to be picked up and taken back to camp, when mamma mia! a beautiful car, a Lancia Aureola, hove into view in the midst of a batch of Italian troops, defeated following Monty's bold and effective action. They were stragglers making their own way to the prisoner of war camp - not too demoralised. Not many Italians seemed to support Mussolini, and in prison camps from Orkney or Lodge Moor, Sheffield, to the desert, spent their time doing beautiful paintings and drawings and making exquisite artifacts out of humble everyday
objects. (In Orkney you can see today a beautiful Catholic Church they made out of two Nissen huts with wall painting of the Madonna etc. that wouldn't have shamed Leonardo himself, and with candlesticks made from brass stair rods and lanterns made from old corned beef tins etc.)

Driver Dougie Pope had a water wagon and one of his duties was supplying the Italian prisoner of war camp at Medjez-el-Bab. They had no thoughts of making plans to escape the barbed wire and spent their time making clever little gifts from discarded toothbrushes etc. Officially there was no fraternisation but Dougie bought a lot and resold them to the lads at a profit for them to send home...Butch wasn't the only entrepreneur.

Back to Butch again: he commandeered the Lancia and ordered the four officers out of the beautiful machine and `con il piede' or some such phrase to walk with their men. He drove to the RASC 7th Armoured Division camp at the farm, hid it in bushes, covered it with tarpaulins, and backed a lorry up against it, and bob's your uncle, it was his and hidden!
Over the next few days as he used it to carry his tools to jobs, and for spins with lads into the desert, several NCOs were covetous of it and he had to tell them: "It needs a lot of work doing on it - it would let you down, perhaps in the desert, and you'd be at the mercy of the merciless sun, the kite hawks, the Nazis. "

Incidentally, one of the other fitters suffered burns working in the merciless sun. Wearing just a helmet, shorts, socks and boots he tripped against a lorry's mudguard heated by the sun and sustained nasty burns to his chest. Butch and a medic rushed him to a burns unit in the military hospital at Medjez...He might have seen my father in the same ward.

The RAF Regiment came under attack by the USAF! - in what we call nowadays `friendly fire.' The lads in blue were cooking on an open fire and when the American bombers attacked the RAF lads threw gerricans of water to douse the flames. Gerricans of water and gerricans of petrol were same shape, same capacity but different colours. Butch had forgotten which colour was which.

Unfortunately at that long forgotten RAF base someone threw a gerrican of petrol on to the fire in error. It was dusk and the petrol exploded lighting up the sky and some lads were burned, my father on his chest. Fred, who died in 1961 when I was doing National Service in Berlin, told me that the huge matron, before ripping a huge plaster off his back, had assured him: "This will hurt me more than it hurts you!"

So much for the merciless heat, the merciless yanks and the merciless matron! The German General Kesselering is credited with a rather mean remark about our cousins `over the Pond':
`When the Germans attack the British duck down... When the British attack the Germans duck down... When the Americans attack everybody ducks down!'

General Alexander had to orchestrate the multinational allied effort to finally beat the beleaguered German troops in Bizerta and Tunis. The II US Corps, the IX British Corps and XIX French Corps from the west, all eager to be in at the kill - feeling that they should have a degree of priority over the hugely confident and successful Monty and the British 8th Army. Alexander had to get the troops that had landed in Algeria and Morocco up to 8th Army standards.

The French troops were good and knew the country, but were ill equipped. The Americans were well equipped but inexperienced; Rommel had mauled them at Kasserine Pass and US General Fredenhall was replaced by General Patton. American General Bradley was commander of II US Corps near the coast.

Alexander told Churchill in a report at this stage of the war in North Africa, "My main anxiety is the poor fighting quality of the Americans. "

Perhaps he was getting back, if subconsciously, at US General Stilwell (Vinegar Joe!) who, in the Far East, had expressed a poor opinion of Alexander and the British surrender in Singapore.

US official history records:

`General Alexander's unfavourable estimate was destined to linger, encouraging him to depend more heavily upon British Units than later circumstances warranted.'

 

CHAPTER 16: March to May 1943 - Butch and the `Entente Cordiale' - The final push against Bizerta and Tunis 133 Company (7th Armoured Division) play their part. Benghazis. Major Dodds' demise.

The Germans pushed supplies and troop reinforcements into Rommel's enclaves at Bizerta and Tunis but, helped by intelligence reports from Bletchley Park, the RAF shot down many of the supply planes, and Royal Navy submarines sank many of the supply vessels.
General Alexander ordered General Bradley II (US) Corps to go for Bizerta, the British 1st Army, to take Tunis and Monty's 8th Army to take Enfidaville and to be prepared for a last concentration of Axis forces at Cape Bon.
Large groupings of American forces were put in reserve - to be saved for the planned invasion of Sicily from Bizerta agreed by Churchill and Rooseveldt at a meeting in Casablanca in January 1943.

I've not been able to find what role the French troops played in the final drama, though the six French Arabian troops who walked into 133 Company (7th Armoured Division's) farm had rusted cavalry rifles which confirmed their poor equipment.
Butch challenged them to a shooting competition over 100 yards. He hit the target every time with his Lee Enfield 303 - all the French Arabians missed. They suggested that his British 303 rifle was better than their cavalry rifles - which it was - and that they should swop over. They did and still missed with his 303. Butch saw their cavalry rifles were red rusted inside the barrels - and yet still managed to hit the target. He wasn't called Butch for nothing!
They wanted to know about the British way of life and Butch, being naturally curious, wanted to know about theirs. They said they made a strong liqueur from tea and Butch gave them a few packets of best Naafi tea from `Rice' Cheeseborough's stock. They were overwhelmed with gratitude and offered to get the two Englishmen a couple of Arab girls. Cheeseborough looked interested but Butch quickly refused their kind offer!

He was annoyed though at what we would now call their `racist' attitude towards Staff-Sergeant Smith who was half-caste, black father, white mother, from Liverpool. The workshops' staff sergeant had walked up and they asked Butch why he had got stripes.
How could Englishmen serve under a black man? They called him `shit', and Butch boiled up, but restrained himself from lashing out at them, merely suggesting they call the staff sergeant that to his face! They left still on reasonably good terms - The `Entente Cordiale' was saved. Cheeseborough was amused that Butch had actually contemplated defending an NCO - such is life!

The only other contact with the French Army Butch can recall is an encounter in Medjez- el-Bab when he was on detail with driver Jack Powell. Jack, showing off his French, shouted from his cab "qa va mon brave?" to a Foreign Legionnaire striding across a square.
"Ey up lad, how are you?" the legionnaire shouted back. He was from Manchester and had joined the Legion to forget.
What did he want to forget? - He'd forgotten! (Not really - this old joke ,courtesy of Laurel and Hardy, who, you will recall, joined the Legion when Ollie's girlfriend jilted him).
`Benghazis'

There was a period of furious activity with convoys backing up the 7th Armoured Division of the 8th Army as they ranged northwards and the long hours were spent on the desert roads. The lads picked up a useful tip from the Desert Rats. They were issued with biscuit tins - stout sealed square metal boxes with a round hole in the top from which you could shake out the `hard tack' biscuits one at a time. One Desert Rat must have had an inspiration - he put sand in an empty tin, poured petrol through the hole, soaking the sand, struck a match and whoosh - he'd got a flame to boil water for tea or to cook meals on metal plates. He punched two holes in the side of the tin with the marlin spike on his Sheffield made army knife and put wire through these to hang the tin, when not in use, on the back of the lorry. These ingenious little `stoves' came to be known as "benghazis" - after the Libyan town.
On the move you'd hear the clanking of metal as the "benghazis" swung around and when lines of lorries stopped at the side of the road for a tea break you'd see the flares as the tins were brought to use. Butch found the sight of Benghazis firing up especially impressive at night - there was now little fear of Luftwaffe planes, more of `friendly fire' from the USAF.

Major Dodds' demise

Back at camp Major Dodds showed more regard for possible Luftwaffe action. To defend the camp he had the back of a lorry converted to a gimcrack brengun carrier. The bren was placed on a high trestle table, and was operated by a very small soldier called driver Dutton (`Button' to the lads) who was not much over five foot and had to stand on a box to fire the gun. His six foot assistant was extremely shortsighted but usually managed to feed the bullets in. They could range the camp, the farmyard and surrounding countryside if necessary. The camp now had 180 degrees cover from attack!
The first day Driver Petty took them on a reconnoitre outside the camp, he went under a very low bridge and gunners, trestles and gun were knocked flying.
What blew it for Major Dodds though wasn't this episode but a meeting of Dodds in his Humber and sand covered soldiers emerging from a sand covered Jeep on a sand covered desert road.

"Stand to attention when you speak to me", he had shouted before realising the soldier he addressed was the liaison colonel who had been responsible for merging 133 into the 8th Army. The colonel didn't react to that but went with him back to the camp and tore a strip off him for having guards placed with gleaming brass visible for many hundreds of yards - compared with his men who could merge unnoticed into the desert scene.
The colonel determined at that moment that Dodds would have to go but he didn't tell the major immediately because there was to be shortly an opportunity for him to really shine. (Also the 8th Army had been unlucky with majors recently - one killed at Tripoli and another had been decapitated leaning too far out of a Jeep and struck by an American army lorry.)

The North African conflict was now over: General Bradley had led his II (US) Corps to take Bizerta. Montgomery's 8th Army had broken through' Rommel's lines on 20th March 1943, swept all before them, and took Tunis alongside the 1" Army, who'd been allocated the job.
The 1st had grumbled, thought the 8th under their flamboyant commander were over- confident, but there was no denying Monty was the man and it was over by May 1943 - a great allied victory, orchestrated by General Alexander - later Lord Alexander of Tunis.
Rommel had been flown out of Tunis by the Luftwaffe and some of his troops had also escaped, evacuated by the German Navy from Bizerta, but the remaining defeated German and Italian troops, numbering 150,000, were put into makeshift prison camps. With the 100,000 prisoners taken earlier it was a massive blow to the Axis powers, and more prisoners were taken by this British-led campaign than by the Russians at Stalingrad.
On 13th May 1943 General Alexander signalled Churchill, "Sir, it is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shores. "

On the same day driver Wheeler sent his weekly letter to his mam in Gateshead; "Prodigal reporting. All's well. "
Butch, Brotherstone and Alexander's Victory Parade Tunis 1943 Butch loses his Lancia
The opportunity for Major Dodds to shine was to be General Alexander's victory parade in Tunis.
They do get some rain in the winter in Medjez-el-Bab which is still fairly high up in the mountains, interspersed with weather hot enough, even in May, to burn the fitter who fell against a lorry mudguard. A rainwater pond at the farm had degenerated to a little patch of mud in early June yet one of the lads managed to drop his belt into this mud, the day before the big parade. He laid it out to dry in the hot sun - two hours later he brushed the mud off to find he'd got the best belt in all three platoons ...other lads immediately dropped their belts in the mud too...

Every man, every vehicle was bulled up to a very high degree on the day - every man, that is, except Reid and Brotherstone who were in fatigues. Lieutenant Baker thanked them for volunteering to look after the camp, thus missing a moment in world history - the parade to mark victory for the allies in North Africa over Fascism, the salute to be taken by General Alexander himself, with Monty, Bradley and all the other top brass.
Butch and Brothers found it amusing that they should be thanked for missing the biggest bull shit parade ever in history (Butch's words).
They didn't intend to mooch around camp though and decided to go with the Lancia Aureola to a beach west of Tunis for a swim. On the road to Tunis they found themselves in a huge British Army convoy with troops sitting in open lorries with their rifles, tanks, bren gun carriers, artillery pieces, the lot - Yanks too, and French, all bulled up to high heaven. A Scots regiment's pipe band made the hair stand up on the back of the neck.
"Butch boyo, we are in Alexander's victory parade and we are in crap order!!"

There they were - two Tommies in dirty fatigues driving a car commandeered from the enemy!...
The 8th Army lads in the lorry in front of them had big grins on their faces... soon they could see in the distance Alex himself on a dais taking the salute... Brotherstone turned to Butch.

"You can do the salute, man of Sheffield Steel - and, while you are at it, throw one up for me!" and with this he rolled himself into a ball out of view under the dashboard.
A traffic MP reared up on his wooden box at a cross roads, saw them, and pointed angrily directing them off the parade route. The road they were directed to was more of a track which led to the coast by a range of sand dunes to the beach. They parked the Aureola, clambered over the dunes on the beach and into the sea in their underpants!

"If Lucy could see me now!" Brothers was thinking of his sweetheart in Connah's Quay as he floated on the water.
"She'd think you looked a right chuff... I'm sure `Girly' Ruth Hawes in High Wycombe isn't thinking of me -perhaps she would be doing if I'd had my head blown off in bloody Burma! - Christ it's hot here - otherwise the sands are like Skegness. "
"Except they stretch inland for 800 miles". "You mean like Southport?"
"Have you heard, one lad in `C' platoon wrote home that we're going back to Blighty soon ...It didn't pass the censor so they've posted him, the daft bugger, for possible leak of information to the enemy. "
"Where've they posted him?" "To Blighty ".
"Not such a daft bugger then!"

They got back into their fatigues and were passing a solitary bungalow in the dunes to go back to the car when an old lady beckoned to them from the
porch. They went over to talk to her and she invited them in to meet her husband.
"Excuse our mucky clothes - we've had a good swim though so at least we're clean. "
"We can't expect you to be well turned out after the battle for Tunis. Isn't the victory parade today? Did you manage to get out of it?"
"Yes - just. " Butch then changed the subject. "Your English is very good. You could be English, you two. "
"We are English. We retired here ten years ago for peace and quiet. Didn't ever think the tide of war would lap up to our little bungalow. "
"I should have thought the Germans or Ities would have locked you up as undesirable aliens. "
"The Italian troops were very nice to us - we did have a couple of German soldiers too, questioning us. We think they were military intelligence but they were nice too - if a bit serious. "

Butch and Brothers wished them well and got to camp before the troops returned.
It was to be the last trip out in the Aureola though. Lieutenant Baker had seen Butch in it, going in and out of camp on many occasions and in Medjez-el-Bab so, despite protestations that "it needed work on it", he commandeered the vehicle.
"Bad luck Butch - thanks for running us around in it - I thought it was too good to last. I thought Captain Mascoid would get it."
This was Wheeler being a little serious for once. Butch replied "Mascoid's an ex ranker - he wouldn't exploit any of the lads. " "Not like Baker - it takes the bloody biscuit him getting it... "

Wheeler was alluding to Lieutenant Baker's civvy role - a biscuit salesman for Huntley & Palmers, Reading. Captain Mascoid didn't pull rank either with Lieutenant Baker - another captain at HQ saw Baker showing off in the Lancia and took it from him.
Baker had had the car six hours.

The captain's ownership lasted just one hour. He found an Italian automatic pistol in the glove box, took it out, put one up the spout, got his finger on the trigger instead of the trigger guard and accidentally shot himself in the elbow.
The new O.C. thought the captain wasn't a fit person to be in charge of the vehicle and commandeered it for himself.

 

 

CHAPTER 17: Kairouan - A Holy City - June 1943

The French farmers reclaimed their farm and 133 Company of the 7th Armoured Division then moved down from Medjez-el-Bab to the holy city of Kairouan to meet up with backup units of the 8th Army. The city, spelt Khairwan on 1943 military maps, is set on a plain, very cold in winter, scorching hot in summer.

In the 7th century A.D. Muslim Arabs had conquered the Middle East and Egypt, then Okba, a companion of the prophet Mohammed, leading an army into Byzantine Africa stopped at this barren, arid place and legend has it that snakes and scorpions departed at his command, and his horse stumbled across a goblet which had been lost in Mecca. Water flowed from this goblet from the sacred spring of Zemzem in Mecca. Okba founded the Great Mosque in 671 in Kairouan and another companion of the prophet founded the `Barber's' mosque, so-called because he carried about him three hairs from the prophet's beard. His tomb is there as well as the mausoleum of the builder of the great mosque, with access forbidden to non-Muslims. Word got around 133 Company that four black GIs had violated the sanctuary of this holy place and next morning their heads were discovered on a wall nearby.

Hopefully this was a modern legend but Jews and Christians were not allowed and black Africans were regarded as slaves there until French troops arrived in 1881.

It was said that seven visits to Kairouan for a Muslim were the equivalent of one obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca.

Our troops were urged to respect the local laws and customs and were ordered to bivouac just outside the city. There was to be no repeat of such disrespect as Victorian Scottish troops had shown in the Sudan by playing football with the `Mad Madhi's' skull. (Queen Victoria wasn't amused.)

Here in 1943 two men would dig a trench five feet wide x six feet long and three feet deep and put a tent over it - they became like the `burrowing' Arabs of the desert. The heat was blistering. The Sirocco blew hot across the camp - when Butch lathered up to shave he found the lather turned to powder. He had to get into a boiling hot cab to shave.

There was a whirlwind - fascinating to watch sucking up sand and whirling it into ever changing shapes and as it scudded about near them fascination turned to alarm as it veered suddenly towards them, lifting a lorry off the ground which burst all its tyres as it dropped down again. Lads shot off in all directions as it zig zagged around then fortunately it went on its merry way into the desert.

Wheeler commented, "I thought Churchill said it'd be the Jerries who'd reap the whirlwind: "
It was a welcome sight when either Dougie Pope's or Sid Porter's water wagon arrived at camp - even if the water was stale. And even if Dougie Pope pointed out they'd fare better if they were German or Italian prisoners of war.

He'd met an American driver at one camp and found that US wagons offered a choice of spring water, orange juice, cola or milk!

Latrines were simply trenches dug out with a plank across, which after a while were filled over with sand, and others were then dug out to replace them. Dysentery swept through the camp at one stage and so many lads rushed to sit on the planks that one broke under them landing them `in the shite'. . . sordid but part of life's pattern.

Butch had excelled against the Arabs with his shooting prowess and now thought he would challenge them at another sport - bareback horse riding.

A little lad used to ride through the camp - gallop rather - on a black steed without a saddle. He made it look so easy that a knot of `A' platoon wallahs stopped their work loading vehicles in order to watch in admiration. Butch one day blurted out "I could do that with a bit of practice ".

The Arab lad was beckoned over by Wheeler and there was some whispering and pointing and basic French, perhaps even, money was exchanged. Butch mounted the steed and had scarcely grabbed its mane when the lad smacked its rear and it galloped off. He clung on desperately, then slid around, hanging under the horse's neck, still grasping its mane for grim life, until it eventually slowed down and he could drop off without being trampled!

With the lads shouts, "Ride 'em cowboy" and "Butch Cassidy rides again", ringing in his ears he limped back, followed by the horse, making its way back to its young, grinning owner.
"Now I know why cowboys are bow legged. They're allus on the verge o' crappin" theirsens!"
Some of the lads including Butch sampled the local sticky date cakes and were cultured enough to admire the sights especially the Great Mosque with its 1,200 year old unusual three tiered square minaret topped by a ribbed dome. They weren't allowed in the prayer hall but could visit the courtyard half paved with marble, half with limestone and a sundial indicating times of the five daily prayers.

It was many years before the days of mass tourism and now the war was over in North Africa they assumed they would never have chance to pass this way again, so wished to make the most of it. The Romans and the Jews, the Normans, the French, even the Vandals had roamed and fought over these lands as well as Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim Arabs - now the British, Americans, Germans and Italians had fought in the country and would soon leave.
RASC and 8th Army lads would wander the narrow streets within the high walls of the Medina as much to escape the blistering heat as to soak up the culture, and would meet GIs trailing Kairouan carpets they'd been persuaded they must buy.

Butch had the eye of a romantic, an artist, and when he learned that they were moving to empty police barracks at Sousse by the sea, he had a good last look at the sights of Kairouan to fix them in his mind - the Great Mosque silhouetted against the setting sun, the camel train far off in the desert, the mule train that came by the camp every day, one wizened old fellow in white turban and robes always asleep on his mule. Some of what Browning called `immortal moments' - especially when one of our younger lads led said mule, with said sleeping Arab, out of the mule train, and turned the beast round so that it set off walking back whence it came. Surely not Wheeler again?... Probably.

The other muleteers just grinned broadly and let their colleague disappear, still asleep, back along the desert trail.

 CHAPTER 18: Sousse by the Sea - July 1943

Beaches of find sand, turquoise sea, the Pearl of the Sahel. The war damage of 1943 long since built over, and grandiose white tourist hotels built, strung along the coast to the north of the city.

That's how it is in the 21st century. Back in the 20th century in July 1943 the lads were glad to leave their bivouacs in the Holy City and head for the coast. They were billeted in abandoned police barracks in the old city with its fascinating history. It was early July 1943 and the invasion of Sicily, agreed by Rooseveldt and Churchill in Casablanca, was about to be launched. 133 Company didn't know when, or even if, they would follow the infantry and artillery into this new theatre of war.

Driver-mechanic Harold Rumsey-Williams of Potters Bar had a keen love of history which rubbed off on the other lads. And what a history had the old city of Sousse, now `snided' with British and Commonwealth troops!

It was founded by Phoenicians in the 9th century B.C. and entered the sphere of influence of Carthage in the 4th century B.C. (Carthage is now a suburb of Tunis). During the second Punic - Roman war Hannibal used Sousse as his base - yes, the man himself, Hannibal who famously led his troops and elephants over the Alps to surprise the Romans.

He was beaten in Sousse in 202 BC and during the 3rd Punic - Roman war Sousse switched allegiance to Rome, avoiding destruction and gaining the status of free town and the Latin name of Hadrumetum. A resounding name!

Unfortunately with the victory of Caesar over Pompeii just down the coast Sousse found itself on the wrong side and Caesar imposed heavy taxes. Under the Roman Diocletian (AD 284-305) Sousse became the capital of the new province of Byzacium and was home to a flourishing Christian community, hence the catacombs containing up to 15,000 tombs.
Under the Vandals it was renamed Hunericopolis, and under the Byzantines Justianopolis.
The Arabs invaded in the 7th century and destroyed it but it eventually prospered again as the port for Kairouan. Muslim armies invading Sicily embarked from Sousse. In the 12th century the Normans, who had conquered Sicily in 1066 AD - the very year they conquered England - invaded North Africa and took Sousse.

All fascinating stuff. The invading Normans in the 12th century, the Spanish in the 16th and the French in the 19th however didn't destroy the medieval Medina in Sousse. Its old walls were first built in 859 AD and contained a Kasbah, a Grand Mosque, a Great Mosque, the Ribat Fort built in the 9th century against marauding Christians, and Souqs -including Souq el Reba, specialising in fabrics and - in 1943, thanks to Butch - in army blankets.

A lot of the blankets needed in the cold corn mill in winter at Blida, and still in winter at Constantine in the mountains when they slept in the backs of their lorries, and at Medjez in the foothills, and even when bivouacked at Kairouan, were now superfluous to requirements and were stacked in a lorry for disposal. Butch thought the best means of disposal would be Sousse market so, on a day off duty, he drove there, stacked some on a chair brought from the barracks, and started haggling happily with the locals. Sales were brisk and when the pile on the chair had gone he replenished it from the lorry nearby. He thought of home - selling pottery on Bakewell market with his father. After Sousse, selling on Sheffield or Bakewell markets would be a doddle.

He thought of Hathersage, near Sheffield, in the Peak, final resting place of Little John, he of Sherwood Forest fame, once home of a needle industry to rival Redditch's, home of the Eyre family, source of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Why did he think of Hathersage? Why the train of thought? Because a bloke, briefly spotted through hanging fabrics browsing on a nearby stall, looked like Captain Craig - the Hathersage bloke in the 39th Ack-Ack RASC in 1939, when they were supplying guns and searchlight units from their Newark base... It's funny how an Arabic face with dark colouring and a little smile on his face could look so much like a British face like Craigy's... "Christ, it is Craigy's with a sun tan, tha's done it now Reidy!" Butch kept his eyes on an old Arab fingering one of the blankets, not daring to look directly at Captain Craig, who passed by, still with a slight smile on his face.
Phew! Carry on selling! Carry on selling!

At the end of the day he pocketed a nice wad of Tunisian bank notes. It crossed his mind he could pay for drinks for the whole platoon - but quickly dismissed the idea. He shunned the demon drink - or tried to most of the time. He'd once seen a lad from Worskhops, blind drunk, headbutting a stone wall to show how tough he was...

Wheeler, ever helpful, joked that Butch could pay for the whole platoon to have sex with Ack Ack Annie...

The forward troops had moved on to victory, abandoning an ack-ack post near Sousse - abandoned, that is, except for a solitary Arab prostitute, christened Ack Ack Annie by the lads. She must have had some custom to stay the pace - though she was said to have a face like a sergeant major's! Her fellow workers in what is called in these enlightened days `the sex industry' had moved on along with the troops, whether German, British, Indian, American, French or whatever.

Wheeler's remark was prompted by his foray to the ack ack site with Petty when lust overcame their common sense. They drove up in an officer's jeep, had their wicked way with Annie, then offered to pay her with two tins of corned beef. She took these and hurled them in quick succession through their windscreen!

The money docked off their pay to repair this would have paid for several sessions with her...
Butch didn't smoke either and sold his ration, determined that his only vice would be making money and at the army's expense! He said to himself, "I'm going to get through this bloody war and keep these good friends" (in `A' platoon) but no booze, fags, loose women - no disease...

With these virtuous thoughts he fell asleep to the rhythm of `A' platoon's snores in the police barracks - and woke up with an abscess on his left arm. Fate had dealt him a little blow, but being lucky Butch Reid, he used this little setback to gain a little advantage. He came out of the Medical Unit, left arm in a sling and, being excused driving and maintenance duties, walked in to Sousse's walled Medina, the fascinating old town teeming with life and history. He strolled along and a French family strolled alongside him so far as this was possible in the narrow streets. Butch bade them `bonjour' - The family, Maman, Papa, un flls, une jeune fille, were keen to be friendly with this young Tommy, obviously battle hardened and wounded in the recent battle. "Tommy, bataille?" the father asked, with a nod of the head towards Butch's arm in the sling. "Cartouche?"

"Oui ", Butch replied.

He didn't know the word cartouche but he knew bataille. He saw the young daughter's bosom swell at the thought of what the handsome young Briton had been through - at least that's what he thought she thought!

Advice in the Services booklet on France and its colonies issued to the troops: `Address French and French Arabians as Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle - not just `Oi you'!'
Then Butch's knowledge of French phrases picked up from the same booklet burst forth! "Voulez vous promenader avec moi, mademoiselle?"

She agreed with a demure smile and he led her to the market for a tea, she asking him questions in French with the occasional English word, he replying in English, with the occasional French word, guessing what she had said. She was lovely, the way she moved was so graceful, the way she pursed her lips as she spoke, her startling blue eyes as she leaned towards him, elbows on the table ...and the stream of French as she addressed her brother who was glowering a few yards away.

He was acting as her chaperone and she eventually excused herself, gave Butch a `thank you and goodbye' kiss and was gone. "Well". he reasoned, "she's only a young lass - can't be more than seventeen or eighteen and I'm a mature twenty-four year old. I'd be cradle-snatching. " She was sweet though.

Sousse: Butch joins workshops platoon, mends lorries and sells tea. Captain Mascoid. B & C Platoons invade Sicily.

Captain Mascoid, in charge of Workshops, had Butch transferred from being `A' platoon's fitter to working with the team of mechanics in Workshops platoon. Essentially the platoon fitter did running repairs on detail, that is, by the roadside wherever needed, and checked over the lorries at the base every four weeks. Workshops theoretically were established at a fixed base - in this case, the former police barracks at Sousse - and did major repairs of vehicles brought in by the two break-down lorries. Each lorry in 133 Company would have a major check every four weeks, engine, gear box, back axle, brakes etc. All the Austin .pick-ups, jeeps and even Despatch Riders' motor bikes had these regular checks.

Mascoid, ex-ranker, was a bit of a lad, a bit of a rogue - the lads' hero now that Errington had gone. He insisted on good work but would overlook the minor `fiddle job'. Butch's army records from DR in Newark to mechanic in Sousse preceded him and it's a moot point whether Mascoid wanted him in Workshops because he admired his work, admired his cheek, or just wanted to keep an eye on him!

Two events conspired to give Butch a chance to show his enterprising nature. First, `B' and `C' platoons went on the allied invasion of Sicily launched on l0th July 1943 from the ports of Bizerta and Tunis. The fighting troops went on this day followed over the following days and weeks by ancillary troops and services such as `B' and `C' platoons.
Second, a lorry from another unit arrived, towed in by a breakdown wagon. Butch got to work underneath it while the driver asked around if anyone would sign for his load - four crates of tea for 133 Company and some of the 7th Armoured Division lads.

Butch popped out from underneath the lorry - "I'll sign ". "It's got to be a sergeant".
"I am a sergeant, I just don't have stripes on this working gear. Come here... !"
He took the driver's pencil and delivery note, duplicated with carbon paper, and signed it
`received in good order, Sergeant Smith'.

Sousse: Couscous then where to next? Italy? Blighty? The Riviera? A Restcamp?

Being someone who could then (and can now) chat and make friends with anyone, whatever their social class, colour, race, politics, creed, disability, sexual orientation, whether they be Wednesdayites or Unitedites, Hittites or Israelites, it was easy for Butch to befriend a rich Arab who had been high up in the French-Tunisian police service. He had come to Sousse from Tunis to see the barracks, now occupied by the British, where he had trained as a lad. Butch showed him round with Wheeler and Petty trailing behind them and got him tea and cakes at Cheesborough's pog.

The rich man invited them to his home for `couscous' - the spicy North African dish of steamed semolina served with stew.

His chauffer collected the three lads in his posh black citroen limousine, and at a dazzling large white house they sat cross-legged on carpets eating couscous, while the Arab men sat with their backs to them. It's a good job that Lieutenant Baker, in a lecture on local customs, had said this was out of politeness. Baker had also said that they should always leave some food for the women and children, who ate after the men. Don't `scoff the lot', in other words. Butch looked round and, sure enough, three women, who covered their faces as he turned, and about nine children were staring at them.

Frej, the lad who worked in the army cookhouse, heard that Butch and two friends had had couscous at the rich man's house. Not to be outdone he invited Butch and three friends, Brotherstone, Powell and Sid Porter to his house for couscous. Sid was another water tank driver and was regarded by the lads as a bit of a mucky beggar. Wheeler unkindly said you could get cholera just by looking at him. The lads called him `Gunga Din' after Kipling's heroic water carrier - not that Sid was a hero. Powell, Welsh and literate, used to quote the line:

`Despite his dirty hide he was white, pure white inside'

Frej laid down an army blanket - bought from you know who - outside his house and the four lads sat down cross legged on this in front of a large bowl of couscous, four dishes and a finger bowl of water. Frej and a couple of his friends stood and watched the British eat. (They weren't as polite as their rich compatriot).

After the meal, knowing the lads' opinion of him, Sid thought he would be clean and hygienic for once - took his false teeth out and swished them about in the finger bowl...
Back at the barracks Butch rounded on him:

"Mucky chuff, weshin' thi false teeth in 'finger bowl. Where was you brung
up.

"What's wrong? I thought that's what it was for".
"Frej's a friend of mine. His mates were disgusted. Didn't you see 'em make a quick exit when they saw you do that? No more couscous for us now. "

"Arabs have no room to talk: Eating with their right hands, left hands put behind them to wipe their arses!"

Butch let him have the last word. He was both incredulous and amused at our Sid...
Next day was Tunisia's revenge - Butch felt fine but the other three lads had severe dysentery!

Sousse - then where to next?

The 8th Army in Sicily met some tough German resistance by the Panzers but at the end of August 1943 they had conquered the island with their allies. General Patton's 2nd US Army reached Messina opposite the toe of mainland Italy on 17th August 1943.

General Alexander was in overall command of the Italian campaign and Montgomery returned to Britain to prepare for the invasion of France under the overall command of US General Eisenhower.

Eisenhower also planned a sea borne invasion of the French Riviera called "Dragoon" and in the meantime there were landings to come at Naples and Anzio in Italy by the troops based in Tunisia.

I must give my father, Fred Alexander in the RAF Regiment, a final little mention - He went from Bizerta to Naples in a tank landing ship following his namesake General Alexander' troops to Caserta, to Punchinello Monastery, to Capua, to Cassino. The only other note I have on an old atlas is that he then went on a tank landing craft in 1944, Tilbury to Ostend.
And what about Butch and Co.?

They could head for Italy, Blighty or the Riviera - In fact they were given in turns 48 hour passes to Monastir Rest Camp, on a headland about 15 miles south of Sousse.

Monastir was then a sleepy walled town, an attractive fishing port, chiefly known for its huge Ribat Coastal Fort. It's a pity the lads only had 48 hours because it was said that spending three days there opened the gates to paradise!

They could visit the salt lake shimmering in the heat, and swim in the blue Mediterranean. Best of all there was absolutely no bull - just one parade each
morning before breakfast at 08:00 hours, then they could eat, see the sights, swim and lounge about.

Back at Sousse the order was given to clean up and vacate the barracks and for the whole company to move to the docks at Tunis. Most of the lorries that Butch had worked on so diligently were driven to a huge army dump to be handed over to the Tunisian authorities to make use of or to hand over to entrepreneurs or scrap dealers. Some lorries were comparatively new when they reached North Africa but were subject to so much wear and tear on the desert roads that they were deemed to have had their day. RAF lorries were not even taken to the dump, but were abandoned by the roadside.
133 Company were booked to sail in October 1943 back to Blighty to prepare for the invasion of Nazi Europe across the English Channel.

 

CHAPTER 19: Tunis to Glasgow - October 1943

In the velvety darkness at the Port of Tunis the troopship returning 133 Company to England slipped its ropes, there was the faint thud thud of the main engines and it eased away on to a calm sea. All the lads wore life wings though the sailing was a pleasure compared with the hazards of the voyage from England with its mountainous seas, sickness and Admiral Karl Doenitz's wolf packs. Germany wasn't yet defeated but the submarine danger had subsided. There were no more qualms, there was no more sea sickness - at least not until they reached the Irish Sea.

There the seas were very rough indeed. Johnny O'Toole was a Scouser and had found on the Tunis battlefield a powerful pair of German military binoculars. From saying they might have been Rommel's he was coming round to think they definitely were Rommel's. They were strapped carefully round his neck - a prize of war, of Germany's defeat in the desert. He scanned the horizon and claimed he could discern the Liver Buildings.

Brotherstone mentioned that they were not far from Connah's Quay now and his Lucy.

"Let's have a look". Wheeler to Johnny O'Toole.

Brotherstone: "You can't see Connah's Quay ".

Wheeler: "I know you can't. Daft bat. Who wants to see Connah's Quay? Let's have a look at Liverpool, Johnny".

Johnny O'Toole carefully took his binoculars from around his neck, passed them to Wheeler; the vessel lurched and Wheeler dropped them into the heaving seas.

The sea was so rough that the ship couldn't land at the 'Pool. They changed course and headed for Glasgow.

Johnny O'Toole's comments to Wheeler are not recorded.

Glasgow to Clacton-on-Sea, Essex
Leave in Sheffield - November - December 1943

A train was laid on for 133 to go from Glasgow to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. Wheeler tied a child's tin bucket and spade to his kit bag - "To think this train journey to the seaside is provided free by his Majesty's Government", he said wonderingly.

The Essex seaside town, full of cheerful Cockneys in summer paddling in the sea with trousers rolled up and skirts hitched up, was a bit gloomy in November. Butch's memory of the town was gloomier still because he had toothache. Too much rock? - assuming rock was available in war time. If it was available it would be `on points' - rationed. Be that as it may, the army dentist's view was that with one tooth aching and a few others blackened and broken it would be kindest to pull the lot out and give him army issue false ones.

All the lads were then granted fourteen days leave and Butch headed for Sheffield - where his mother was staying briefly with a relative. She had done her stint in a Stoke munitions factory and wanted to go back to being a waitress. She was due an interview at the Queen's Hotel, Leeds, the best hotel in the city. It would mean uprooting again but then Northerners tended to tip well - even in Leeds!

In Fitzalan Square, Sheffield, Butch met a friend of Ron Gregory's who thought it remarkable that Butch and Ron, two 8th Army "Desert Rats" had not met in the desert. Since the Sahara could swallow Britain, France and Germany together with much more of Europe Butch thought it wasn't too remarkable. Neither knew Ron was killed at El Alamein. Butch didn't want to go to Dore to see Mrs. Gregory - in fact he didn't really fancy seeing and chatting with anybody thanks to those damned false teeth.

That blasted army dentist!

The General Alexander - Montgomery winning team in North Africa had now split up and Alex was forcing the Germans into a slow bloody retreat through Italy while Monty was in England preparing for the big one - the invasion of Europe. Ron could have been in either theatre of war.

It was nice going on trams again squeezed into the upstairs back bay with four or five Sheffield lasses, squashed between them shoulder against shoulder, thigh against thigh - steady on, Butch - and don't smile too much - not yet anyway with these damn false teeth. The girls, from Bassets Liquorice Allsorts, Batchelor's Peas Factories or the Hope and Anchor Brewery, inquisitive and high spirited at the end of their shifts, laughed and joked as the tram rolled and clanged and screeched along the rails.

Male passengers on the trams either worked with hot metal - you could tell these by their white silk sweat scarves - or with cold metal, their overalls smelling of machine oil, a prevalent smell in Sheffield from the time you got off the train at Midland or Victoria Stations.

Otherwise it made sense to be in uniform rather than civvies - Girls would give you packets of liquorice allsorts, mis-shapes or bottles of Hope & Anchor Breweries Jubilee Stout:

`Land of Hope & Anchor, Mother of the free
how can we extoll thee, who art born of thee'

(With all that theeing and thouing, even the hymn writer must have been a Sheffielder!)
A man in uniform could get on the Spion Kop end at Hillsborough or Bramall Lane for nowt - not that Butch was bothered about football. Communists leaning over the Five Arches railway bridge with their white paint and brushes had smartened up the slogan `OPEN SECOND FRONT NOW!'

The original had been there soon after Hitler invaded the vast reaches of the Soviet Union in June 1941- Operation Barbarrossa.

Stalin, that other great tyrant of the times, had called Churchill a coward for holding back, but Winston, like Monty, had known the horrors of the First World War. Should we wring our hands and risk untold thousands of British and allied lives in an early invasion to help the Soviet Union? Their war, their `Great Patriotic War', didn't start until mid 1941; until then they had a pact with National Socialist Germany. When Germany had invaded Poland from the west Russia invaded Poland from the east. Poles had no great love of either dictatorship.

Britain had pushed huge amounts of military equipment to Arkhangelsk to help the Soviet Union - and thousands of our merchant seamen and Royal Navy lads died for their pains.

Would Stalin have helped us - yes, but only if it suited the interests of the Soviet Union!

Such, unfortunately, is the way of the world - what did that old Victorian fox Disraeli say - something to the effect that we have no permanent enemies or permanent friends and must work solely on what suits British interests and the interests of the British Empire. When soldiers' mothers saw the slogan `OPEN SECOND FRONT NOW' most thought "why should we?" - though British troops with Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Polish and French swarming all over Southern England wanted to go through with it, get it over with, go all the way to Berlin.

Butch didn't ponder on these things - not on the trams anyway. Lieutenant Errington's advice and years of army service had given him the confidence to look at and talk to the young women workers with their lovely, scrubbed, sometimes tired, faces, their hair hidden by "turbans"; even when older women joked that they'd take him home to bed with them, he wasn't too embarrassed. He had to look at them - the tram windows were embedded with wire mesh to protect against bomb blast and he knew the gold painted notices, for instance, forbidding spitting on the tram by heart.

He was sympathetic to the women, thousands of whom worked in munitions and steel works. In melting shops they worked the overhead cranes high above the furnaces, sitting in their little cabins, sometimes knitting while waiting to lift a ladle of molten steel or scrap. In the rolling mills some even worked on the shop floor catching the red hot steel bars or strip with tongs as it snaked across the floor and directing it through rolls. `On 'floor workin' wi' tongs!' Their men, husbands or sons might also be working with steel and they'd both arrive home dog-tired, `aif deead', or their men might be in uniform - perhaps killed. They might have lost loved ones or their homes in the Sheffield Blitz in September 1940. (Seven hundred killed, many thousands injured, 82,000 properties damaged including thousands destroyed beyond repair.)

He felt like hugging them all - but restrained himself.

CHAPTER 20: Clacton to Bognor to Lymington and the Solent D. Day. January to June 1944

133 Company moved to another seaside town, Bognor Regis in Sussex.

Just outside the town on a track between trees, sappers dug a large pit, sloping at each end, which they filled with about four feet of water. An `A' Platoon joker with a Geordie accent left a toy tin bucket and spade by the water's side but, of course, the pit had a serious purpose.

Butch and Workshops Platoon were made responsible for waterproofing the lorries, Austin pick-ups and jeeps. A pipe from the carburettor was fitted to lead up above the driver's window and the exhaust pipe was extended above the back of the cab. Distributors and sparking plugs etc. were triple sealed by heatproof and waterproof sealant plus two waterproof sealants. The breather pipe, differential and gearbox had tapes round each joint. The plan was that on landing in France the tape would be pulled off, air would get to the distributor stopping condensation, plugs, carburettor etc. would be freed and it would be `all systems go'. Drivers were taught to drive through the water filled training pit very slowly, very gently accelerating - not blasting away through in a blind panic and stalling. Some lads did panic at first on seeing a low wave hitting the windscreen, took their foot off the accelerator in alarm, stalled, and had to be towed out. The balance had to be got right and they practised again and again until they got just the right amount of acceleration to get through. It would be potentially disastrous if one or two stalled at the foot of the landing ship ramp in the sea in France and had to be towed to the beach, holding up disembarkation of the remaining vehicles.

Butch can't recall how long they were at Bognor. You know the forces - hours, weeks, or months of intense activity interspersed by hours, weeks or months of comparative inactivity. From Bognor, 133 moved to Lymington in the New Forest near the Solent, where LDVs and tank landing craft were being prepared.

The Big Day was looming. The pleasant woods and fields and lanes of southern England were a sea of agitation. 133 knew they wouldn't be in the first wave. The P.B.I. would storm the beaches - the infantry lads didn't seem worried though - most of them were rarin' to go, and in pubs and cafes they laughed and joked - only one or two caught in a reflective mood might have looked a bit grey.

Butch was still conscious of his teeth - but at least they were even and white now, if false. `A' Platoon and Workshops used to laugh at the state of their teeth - most had at least one or two uneven. In general it wasn't the custom in those days during childhood for boys to wear a tooth brace - only girls got them. The noshers of the British Tommy, irregular shape, gaps, stained by Park Drive or Woodbines and tea, sometimes rotted by three or four sugars in tea, sweets and chocolates compared unfavourably with the Yanks and their film star looks. No wonder our women fell for them. Still - our lads had character and humour and with sweets and chocolate on ration - `on points' - perhaps the next generation would fare better.

Even the Wehrmacht, though, were portrayed as handsome lads with bright and even master race tushy pegs as they stormed through Europe. Now the British Tommy was going to bite back at them - despite his inferior gnashers. Anyway the Nazi troops were automatons - at least as portrayed in the propaganda films our intelligence wallahs put on. We'd got the brains. German leaders, the top National Socialists, were an oddball, un-Aryan lot and British Army Intelligence was credited with the famous little ditty belittling their manhood.

You must all know it - sung to the tune of `Colonel Bogey'. `Hitler had only got one ball
Goering had two but very small, Himmler had two quite similar, And poor old Goeballs had no balls at all'.

Every schoolboy in industrial Sheffield found this hugely amusing - and so did `A' Platoon. They were going to survive the war - laugh their way through it.

Powells's encouraging shout in his precise Welsh tones rang in their ears. "Are we down-hearted?

Of course we bloo-dy well are!"

The Workshops' Platoon were a bit more serious so Butch tended to gravitate towards his old mates in `A' Platoon.

Somebody played a joke on "Rice" Cheeseborough. We thought we'd heard the last of him but like the US General he had returned! He'd hit upon the idea of having a permanent crease in his trousers.

All of you who've served with the Colours know what slobs army cooks can be - only an overfed, slovenly minority, one hastens to add... It must be too much nourishing food and lack of exercise that makes this minority rather overweight with uniforms that never seem to look smart on them. Remember Frank Randle's reply when on parade and the sergeant calls him to attention?

"I am at attention, serj. -It's my uniform that's at ease. "

Cheeseborough wanted to be smart without constantly having to work at it. He dampened his trousers and put them neatly between two sheets of plywood on hard, flat ground, then drove his lorry over them and parked, one pair of back wheels right over said plywood, pressing said trousers.

In the firm belief this would leave them with a permanent crease to cut your finger on he then went to the canteen to work.

Wheeler noticed this vignette of army life, drove Cheesborough's lorry off the plywood, took the trousers, dampened them again, and re-laid them flat `arse upwards' this time. He then parked the lorry over them again.

Cheeseborough hadn't been able to resist boasting of his bull-beating brainwave and sundry members of `A' Platoon were gathered round when he climbed into his lorry...

He shouted the drill for each action:

"One starts the lorry like so ... two, three. One moves off a few feet like so ... two, three. One gets out of the cab like so ... two, three. One removes the plywood like so ... two, three. One takes the trousers like so ... two, three. "

Saying this he waved the trousers with a flourish towards the onlookers, smug expression turning to horror when he saw they were square legged - permanently!

Butch couldn't stop himself:
"One looks an utter twerp ... two, three. "

The lads treated the cook to a pint or two in a local pub that evening - lest he carry out his threat to gob on their spuds and piss in their tea.

Wheeler even refrained from telling him that New Forest ponies had turned their noses up at cookhouse grub `A' Platoon lads had offered them. He didn't want to upset him any more.

D - DAY! D - DAY! - 6th June 1944

On the 5th June 1944 US General Eisenhower (Ike) gave the go ahead for the long awaited Anglo-American cross-Channel invasion. British General Montgomery, the first man to lead an army to victory against the Germans (The great turning point of the war at El Alamein) was rewarded by overall operational command of all the land forces - including, of course our men in 133 Company. Lieutenant Baker read out to `A' Platoon the personal letter from the C-in-C starting "The time has come to deal the enemy a terrific blow in Western Europe" and ending "Good luck to each of you. And good hunting on the mainland of Europe. " B.L. Montgomery. General C-in-C 21" Army Group. Wheeler irreverently shouted "TALLYHO' CHAPS!"

D-Day! D-Day! Cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war! In the early morning of 6th June 1944 more than 4,000 landing craft put down the assault troops of six infantry divisions with artillery and tanks on five separate beachheads in Normandy: three British and Canadian in the East, two American in the West.

There had been two overnight airborne landings at the boundaries of the invasion beaches, one American, one British. The British Sixth Airborne had captured Pegasus Bridge over the canal by the river Orne in the east.

Massive air and naval bombardment supported the troops, but even so, the Germans were deceived by British Intelligence into thinking the actual invasion was a diversion - but what a diversion! The real thing was still expected further up the Channel coast.

Rommel's advice, that any attacking force should be immediately pushed back into the sea using the speed of the Panzer divisions, wasn't taken. There were fifty-nine German divisions at the time in France, including ten of the fearsome Panzers, each of which had 10,000 men and 200 tanks, plus 14 of the Tiger tanks and assorted ammunition and fuel trucks. The Tigers with their 88mm guns and ability to hit targets from long range had proved their worth on the vast plains of the Soviet Union. Thanks to skilled British deception they weren't unleashed immediately in Normandy.

Flying bombs and rockets were due to be aimed at England but British Intelligence, including the boffins at Bletchley Park, had followed these developments since 1943, and the RAF bombed the Peenemunde missile launching sites and producing factories, delaying the launch of these frightening weapons until after the invasion.

Half the German Army was tied up on the Eastern Front against the Russians. General Alexander had tied up 25 German Divisions in Italy and similar numbers were engaged in both Yugoslavia and Norway.

Despite all these commitments the Wehrmacht with its 59 Divisions in France remained a very powerful force, and even though Germany no longer had superiority in the air and at sea, the invasion remained a huge risk. Three thousand five hundred British and Canadian troops got killed on D-Day alone. In the three months from D-Day to the end of August 1944, the British and Canadian losses were 16,000 dead, 60,000 wounded and 10,000 missing. The Americans had similar casualties and a massive number of Germans were killed: 240,000 men.

Infantry made up only 14% of the allied troop numbers but 90% of the casualties. Reginald William Reid's advice to his son back in June 1938 had been sound.

Troops, artillery, tanks, lorries were shipped over day after day, week after week, month after month.

At dawn on D-Day plus 6, 12th June 1944, 133 Company drove in convoy from Lymington down to an embarkation point on the Solent. They joined long queues of vehicles waiting patiently, "like mechanised cattle heading for a mechanised slaughter house ", was one lad's discouraging comment. Not an `A' Platoon lad, needless to say. This platoon, to a man, expected to survive. Butch drove a Workshops' officer's Austin pick-up. Why he was driving it and not the officer's batman he can't recall. He was with `A' Platoon, but not of them any more. He clutched a letter from his mother - she'd now got the job at the Queen's Hotel, Leeds. Eventually their turn came: a landing craft dropped its ramp and Butch was first to drive on, with two other Austin pick-ups following. They drove on to a platform that raised them side by side, then the third to the top deck. Troops shared the deck with them taking in the sea air! `A' Platoon's lorries then drove on to the bottom deck, the ramp was lifted and the craft reversed into the sea. It only went two hundred yards - or whatever that is in nautical lingo - when it stopped to allow two big steel and wood `Mulberry Harbour' raft-like sections to be towed behind them.

Huge sections of this artificial harbour were towed by assorted vessels on day six and onwards. What a plan, what an example of British ingenuity this harbour was. Near, if not absolute, control of the air and sea was essential; otherwise the vessels would have been sitting ducks for U-Boats and the Luftwaffe.

All the troops were issued with a twenty-four hour, 4,000 calories, ration pack in a mess tin plus a solid fuel portable stove. The mess tin contained:
Biscuits - 10
Oatmeal - 2 blocks
Salt - 1 block
Tea/Sugar/Milk - 3 blocks (ingredients combined)
Extract of meat cubes - 1 block
Slabs of chocolate with raisins - Two
Slabs of chocolate - One
Boiled sweets - Six
Chewing gum - 2
Plus latrine paper!

After two days they would be on "compo" rations and tinned foods. "Compo" rations essentially were biscuits, corned beef and tea/sugar/milk cubes. After a week or so of this it would be "come back, `Rice' Cheeseborough, all is forgiven. "

Back to `A' Platoon's LDV. This was defended somewhat sparsely by two bren guns aft, two forward, manned by Royal Navy personnel.

Before they had set sail Lieutenant Baker had put Butch on guard halfway down a staircase leading to the lower deck by a porthole, 303 rifle at the ready.

The entire platoon was put on a high state of readiness with the lieutenant striding the deck, prepared to repulse any Nazis.

Butch watched the sea rise as the vessel ploughed into the waves, into the `deep end' as he called it, thinking again, oddly enough, of Hillsborough baths - and that was deep enough. The sea rose above the porthole - good job it wasn't open. He aimed his rifle in desultory fashion at the grey water with its occasional marine life floating past.

After a while he thought `sod this for a lark' and went on deck. "Reid, why have you deserted your post?"

Lieutenant Baker's shrill voice rose above the sound of the sea and the pick up trucks straining at their leashes by the rolling motion.

"To be on guard down there, sir, I'd need a torpedo. It's six foot under the waves ".

Nearing the French coast the slow moving craft were attacked by Messerschmidts which strafed the boats, missing 133's, but snapping the steel cable attached to one of the Mulberry sections. The LDV was slewed sideways and they were delayed while the other section was detached and manoeuvred to its place in the artificial harbour. The sections were like big rafts wide enough to take a lorry and each powered by its own outboard motor.

The plan was for LDV to land at high tide, offload its troops and vehicles inside half an hour, so although the tide would then be on the turn the LDV would be empty, so lighter, higher in the water and would be able to reverse out to sea, still afloat. Not beached by the receding tide.

On reaching the beach the tide was already on the turn, the LDV stopped short, its ramp was lowered and troops and the lorries disembarked. The lift then took two pick-ups down - one headed down the ramp and disappeared under the water into the deep ruts made by the lorries. The driver managed to swim and struggle to the beach, but the ship's captain couldn't afford any more delay so he ordered the ramp to be lifted and the bows closed.

The LDV then returned as fast as it could to England with Butch and the other pick-up driver, an officer's batman from `C' Platoon, and their two vehicles still on board. All the troops had a numbered brass tally for handing to a corporal tallyman on the beach. Butch looked ruefully at his tally - number 13.

`A' Platoon knew that he was still alive and on his way back to England - Lucky Butch Reid does it again - but the tallyman listed on his report back to England `No. 13. T/68784 Pt. R. W. Reid - missing believed drowned'.

The journey back was uneventful but in truth Butch can't recall where they landed in England, only that they were directed to the back of a very long queue of vehicles waiting for the next day's sailings. In fact two days passed before they drew up in front of a spanking new LDV on the seashore - two days in which they had spent 48 uncomfortable hours in their pick-ups. Two days of mess tin rations - edging forward as if in a nightmare traffic jam with `toilet stops' in the woods by the road. Ten minutes of drama when Butch found a phone box, rang his mother at the Queen's Hotel, Leeds, who broke down at her son's voice. She had just received a telegram saying he was missing believed dead. He was relieved he had got through to her and joked to the `C' Platoon batman that she was upset because she'd got his co-op life insurance money lined up!

Two nights of fitful sleep in their cabs, then the dawn encounter with the spanking new LDV, bows open, ramp down to receive them.

It was D-Day plus 8, the 14th June 1944, and the sailors to welcome them aboard this time were Yanks, and a nice welcome too: thick pork, beef, chicken or cheese sandwiches, choice of mugs of hot chocolate, milk, coffee, even tea, cold orange, cola. It made a change from R.N. corned beef and hard tack biscuits washed down by a mug of tea. Still, there was a war on! The Yanks also gave them fags and chewing gum. Butch buttoned these last in a pocket - it might come in handy to attract girls who commonly asked "Got any gum, chum?"
The defence of the vessel was more reassuring than the British LDV's four bren guns.
The Yanks had eight Oerlikon heavy machine guns, four down each side, and when Messerschmidts dived down at them the Oerlikons let off a barrage of shells, forming an umbrella over our men.

They were a motley lot on board - all British, RASC, Engineers with their motto `Ubique' (everywhere) with heavy lorries and even lorry-mounted cranes, Royal Signals, RAMC with their lorries sporting big red crosses on a white background. These medics had missed boarding a designated ambulance ship.

The sea was calm; the faint splash of the waves above the sound of the engine was the only sound. Even the gulls were quiet. The men were quiet, apprehension hung in the air, no cheerful `sod it all' atmosphere of `A' Platoon's crossing and the solemnity transferred itself to `C' platoon's batman and Butch as they drove off the craft. Heavy lorries had gone before them but there were no deep water filled grooves for the pick up to tumble into this time.
The Yanks wished them well and an MP corporal took their tallies. There was a bit of delay taking Butch's details and in the meantime a Despatch Rider from 133 roared off leading the Batman back to the unit.

"The D.R. will come back for you Private Reid ". The MP had a reassuring Rotherham accent. "The war can't be won without you lad".

Butch followed in the direction they'd gone. He couldn't believe it. They were now on French soil: remember to call any Froggies you meet `Monsieur' and not just `Oi you' - and remember to drive on the right!

Summer smells in the air, flashes in the sky followed by faint sound of shells in the distance. He felt elated until he came to a fork in the road - which one to take? One direction was to Bayeux the other was unmarked. He pulled over to the side of the road and sniffed the air again like a dog. It smelt foreign, different again from the hot air of North Africa, new vegetation, new life, sound of cicadas - then sudden sound of British or German artillery fire rumbled like thunder, a bit too close for comfort, as they did their best to kill each other.

He decided to have a nap for a while until the D.R. came. "Why can't those gunners be more civilised and keep quiet and let me get some kip"? As well as Yankee fags and chewing gum he had a lucky Queen Victoria `honolulu' penny in his pocket. He decided he would toss this when he woke up to determine which road to take if the D.R. didn't turn up... Such is how great decisions in the war are made. His nap then took him into the night and a cold dawn, and loud shots. He thought the Germans were shooting at him but it was D.R. Billy Grills' motorbike backfiring. Billy led him to a string of 133 vehicles near Bayeux. Butch was clapped out but revived when Johnny O'Toole showed him the Workshops' lorry Butch was to share with first class mechanic Ritchie. What a magnificent beast this was - a 15 tonner and fitted with a lathe, drill, grinder and electric welder with power from a diesel generator. It had no glass windscreen, which would shatter over very rough ground but it had steel tracks, like tank tracks, which could be fitted over its twin wheels to help it over such ground.

Johnny was less interested in this technological masterpiece - he was looking intently towards the sea in the distance.

Butch said to him "Can you hear that dog whining?" "That's not a dog - it's the sound of Naval shells, look!"

An offshore British battleship lit up the dull skies with flashes as its big guns fired broadsides, and shells as big as dustbins hurtled overhead, angled into the sky. They were aimed miles inland at the German positions. O'Toole from the 'Pool had a natural interest in the sea but he and landlubber Butch could only watch in awe as the battleship's captain ordered the broadsides to be fired just as the ship tilted on the waves...

"If he gets it wrong the shells would be angled straight at us” was Johnny's final admiring comment.

 

 

CHAPTER 21: Bayeux. A minefield. German helmets. A Bailey Bridge. Bottles of Guinness.

The British troops had been under intense fire at Bayeaux, but reinforcements, landing every day, helped the subsequent quite rapid advance through Northern France.

133 tailed and served the 7th Armoured Division in those hectic days and Butch, proud co-owner with Ritchie of the big workshop lorry, tailed and served 133. Even in the midst of the alarms of war though, Butch found time with Brotherstone & Powell to visit Bayeaux Cathedral and the famous tapestry then draped inside.

"At least we've fared better than 'arold with the 'arrer in 'is eye. So far the good Lord has looked after us in 133 Company and I dare say in His presence in this magnificent cathedral, He will continue to do so throughout this war".

Why is it that the Welsh can sound so poetic, even when stating the obvious? It's nice to know, nonetheless, that British youth can, or could, appreciate culture and the broad sweep of history - mature youth anyway.

The `silly old sods' of the beginning of the war, like Brotherstone and Powell, were now in their mid thirties. The `silly young sods' of `A' Platoon, Warhurst, Wheeler and Petty, etc., were now twenty-two years old. Butch Reid, who linked the two age groups - `the missing link' as Wheeler called him - had had his 25th birthday on May 19th 1944, just before the invasion.

Onward through the `vasty' fields of France!- Ritchie and Butch found their services much in demand though they did find on one occasion while towing a 3 tonner over a bomb hole they themselves got stuck in a rut.

Even with the `crawler tracks' they couldn't move, and were eventually pulled out by a passing tank!

Not all Tank Corps were so co-operative, as they found one morning when they noticed, and even thought they smelled, breakfast of bacon and eggs being cooked amidst a number of British tanks in a field. An entrance to the field and part of the field itself was taped off but Ritchie drove through ignoring the tapes and a notice, half hidden by grass, propped against a wall.

They'd gone about 50 yards down a track when a sergeant appeared gesticulating wildly
"STOP. STOP WHERE YOU ARE".

Ritchie couldn't resist:
"Can we have some bacon and eggs?"

"NO, YOU BLOODY CAN'T. REVERSE ALONG YOUR TRACKS - YOU'RE IN
A MINEFIELD!"
They reversed very carefully back onto the road, Butch jumped out and put the notice in a more prominent position - It featured a skull and crossbones with the words `DANGER. MINES'.

They passed through a village that was reduced to rubble with a single track winding through it, cleared by army bulldozers. There was hardly a wall standing, the stump of a church being the only significant ruin. The movement of the army was infantry, tanks, artillery followed by support services, RASC, RAMC etc. The RASC shuttled all over the place with supplies; Workshops' Platoon were usually in a known position where repairable broken down vehicles could be brought to them.

Unusually, Ritchie and Butch were following right behind 133 through the village, and their lorries kicked up dust. The big 15 tonner stood higher off the ground but, without the luxury of windscreens - just tiny windshields - they had to pull canvas flaps up to their noses for protection as the dust swirled around them. They could see well enough to spot six dead German soldiers though, lying in a ditch - in varying poses, as if asleep. They stopped. Both had fancied the prize of a German helmet, but seeing these lads - dead, but not a blemish on their white dusty faces - they hadn't the heart to take a couple.

"Not Axis but angels", was Ritchie's comment. "Poor sods ", was all Butch could offer.
He reflected on the futility yet seeming inevitability of war. A friend back in Sheffield had worked at Hadfield's in the 1930s producing their manganese steel for export to the world's armies - including the German army. This work hardening steel was ideal for helmets. He mused that his city was responsible for both killing and protecting the enemy. Bayonets or surgical scalpel blades. Bombs or helmets. You pays your money, you makes your choice!

Guinness and the Bailey Bridge

A Rotherham engineer made a big contribution to British success in the war: Mr. Bailey, inventor of the type of bridge that bears his name, which could be carried in steel sections and was comparatively quick and easy to assemble. They were strong, and though temporary, there are examples found across rivers around the world to this day, including the River Don in Sheffield. The most impressive ones were across such rivers as the Rhine and Meuse (Maas). Ritchie and Butch could vouch for their sturdiness.

Driving through the French countryside they came across a most unusual sight - crates of Guinness taped around with big British Field Hospital signs and even bigger `UNFIT FOR HUMAN CONSUIMPTION' labels. "Seeing as it's unfit for human beings I'll make a pig of myself", Ritchie commented and quickly downed four bottles. Another 133 Company lorry pulled up behind them and the driver shouted "I'll prove it's not unfit for human consumption. The medics have put that sign to put us off. They'll be back you bet, to pick 'em up - well they won't get these buggers" - with that he made an even bigger pig of himself than Ritchie, downed six bottles and then seemed to collapse in a drunken state over his steering wheel.

Though Butch generally avoided alcohol he couldn't resist this buckshee booze, drank a few bottles and loaded four crates into the back of the wagon for the lads. It wasn't as good as Jubilee stout but you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Ritchie was a civvy-trained mechanic - a Southampton lad whose father had a fleet of coaches that he'd worked on as an apprentice. (He said Butch could have a job as mechanic for the company there after the war.)

Normally an intelligent, cautious and sober driver, Ritchie threw caution to the wind after his four bottles of Guinness and set off at speed.

Butch saw the single track Bailey Bridge with its retarder hump over an unnamed French canal or river, approaching them fast and ducked down with his hands covering his face. The Southampton lad was aiming the fifteen ton canvas sided lorry at the narrow bridge - it seemed too narrow for their vehicle - but to his credit he cut his speed down from 40 to 30 MPH. Despite this, the fifteen tonner hit the hump fast enough for the beast to sail in the air, land like a cat, eight wheels spinning, and apart from ripping canvas, screeches and sparks of steel against steel as they banged and lurched from side to side of the bridge, they suffered no harm.

"Good job there's no effin' windscreen in this wagon ", was Butch's comment as they were both convulsed with laughter, right up to the time they passed into that night's overnight camp, slinging bottles of Guinness to the lads.

 

CHAPTER 22: People that pass in the Day. Scots Dewar. The Yankee Pilot. The Medic. Brussels. River Maas. Fraternisation.

A Scots lad called Dewar, with a posh English accent, had joined 133 as a driver just before the invasion, and since the lads seemed to shy away from him and his accent, Butch became interested in his background and started chatting to him.

The half-caste Workshops Staff Sergeant Smith, the Scouser who had been scorned for his colour by French Arabs at Medjez-el-Bab, was particularly nasty to Dewar. Perhaps it was inverted snobbery but he constantly bullied the gentle, soft-spoken lad. Butch had defended the Staff Sergeant in Medjez-elBab, now he was prone to defend Dewar.

In chatting with the Scot he mentioned what a beautiful car the Alvis was, owned by Captain Mascoid, and that Sheffield police had a few of them. He was amazed when Dewar said he had three of them, and that he was, in fact, one of the Dewar Whisky family.

At university he had studied marine engineering - specifically submarine engineering - and was alarmed when war erupted that he would be called up in the Submarine Service of the Royal Navy. He was claustrophobic and couldn't bear the thought of this, so joined up as a humble RASC driver.

A few weeks later Staff Sergeant Smith approached Dewar with an ill concealed smirk on his face.

"You're in trouble now Dewar. A colonel from the Artillery is asking to see you. At the double!"

Dewar had had a slight accident on the road with an artillery wagon pulling a howitzer. Surely it wouldn't need a colonel to get involved with a minor road accident?

The Staff Sergeant took him to Captain Mascoid, the colonel breezed in and clasped Dewar: "Good to see you, brother!"

The colonel had got his brother a commission - Second Lieutenant, Royal Artillery.
The Workshops' base was constantly moved forward.

Back on the road with Ritchie as the push through France continued: Bayeux, Caen, Falaise Gap, The Seine, The Somme. Ever onwards. The weeks, the seasons passed, summer to autumn.

One morning a Yankee pilot flagged them down. He'd landed his light single seater US Army spotter plane in the field nearby and got bogged down. Could they pull him out?

The Yank got back in his little cockpit and radioed his unit as the two Limeys put tracks on their fifteen tonner, reversed into the field, pulled long wire rope out - power driven, fastened it to the plane, anchored the lorry (chocs under the wheels), put the power winch on and slowly edged the plane to the road. A huge US Army low loader came along - the plane's wings were folded and away it went with a casual wave and thanks to the Limeys.

"I'd love one of their sheepskin lined coats ", said Butch, wistfully.

At their next base an RAMC driver brought an ambulance in. Would Butch get it tested for roadworthiness straight away? Four of his officers wanted to be driven to a French nightspot to celebrate, and the ambulance needed testing.

Butch examined it, got a certificate, had it signed by the Mechanical Sergeant Major, and was given a bottle of whisky by the RAMC lad.

He didn't like whisky so gave it to the MSM, who, surprised at this generosity, asked if there was anything Butch would like.

"I'd love one of the Yankee sheepskin lined coats for when I have to sleep under the wagon".

Two days in Brussels - September 1944

Advance units of the British Army liberated Brussels and Antwerp. There had been an agreement between the British and German armies in the Belgian capital. The German army would make an orderly retreat and there would be no more damage done to the ancient and beautiful buildings in the centre of the city.

133 COY's convoy trundled in on the heels of the infantry.

Captain Mascoid took the opportunity to look round antique shops and make contact with antique furniture dealers with a view to future business. Butch, with half a dozen of the lads, including Wheeler, wandered round the historic centre and were greeted as heroes by the people of Brussels. It was heartwarming and flattering. He asked a man if he could recommend a local bar and was directed to one with an English name, the `Blue Pig'.

The lads trooped in to be treated effusively by the landlady, with free drinks all round. She had a little white Scottie dog and called Butch over:
"Say `Hitler"'.

Butch said "Hitler" and the dog showed its teeth and growled, snarled and barked.

"Say 'Mussolini"'.

Again the little dog showed its teeth and growled, snarled and barked.

"Say 'Churchill"'. "Churchill".

The dog sat up and begged!
One of the lads suggested the dog would snarl then sit up and beg at the third name, whichever it was, so she called to a red-haired Scots lad in their party whose eyes were fixed on a red-haired girl sitting with other girls along one side of the bar, as if in a doctor's waiting room.

"You red-haired Englishman, you say this".

"He's not English, he's a Scottie - like your dog". Wheeler put in helpfully. "You red-haired Scottie man, say 'Churchill"'.

Jock (or whatever his name was - Butch has forgotten over the years) said "Churchill". and again the dog sat up and begged.

They were in a brothel and the girls were lovely but all the lads resisted the temptation - even Wheeler - all except Jock. He'd never had a girlfriend, was very shy, but had taken a fancy to the red-haired girl. He couldn't take his eyes off her. It was love at first sight.

The lads agreed he should go with the girl, paid the landlady - with Butch's money of course, he being the one with the most cash - and the redhead took Jock's hand and led him upstairs.
He stayed all night - couldn't bear to leave her, asked her to marry him... but we have no more information on their little romance. The army were on the move and they left Brussels after two days.

September '44 - January '45. The River Maas (Meuse) and the Ardennes. Our 1st Class Mechanic's progress.

The Army had the airborne setback at Arnhem but reached the River Maas (Meuse) in September 1944. The MSM took Butch along with him in his jeep to Antwerp Port to collect some supplies now the city was free. There they saw American sailors actually burning winter jackets and rubber over-boots, the jackets, sheepskin-lined, beaver-collared, looked new. What waste - even though for these sailors the European war was over, they were about to sail to the tropics to fight the Japanese.

The MSM asked if they could have a coat and pair of boots each and the Yanks told them to help themselves. So Butch got his wish!

The 133 Company crossed over into Belgium and the foothills of the Ardennes. These, visible in the distance, were not too much higher than Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, but were heavily wooded - impenetrable it had been thought, prior to 1940, by armoured columns. At a stop Butch got talking to an R.A.O.C. captain instructor and a driver who had brought his pick-up to be repaired. He was impressed by the Sheffielder's efficient work and told him he should complete his education towards being a first class mechanic, adding that he'd be his examiner.

"It will be in two parts. First part: make me a hinge in steel. I'll be back in 90 minutes".

With the machines and steel in his Workshops' lorry Butch used his 'savvy' to cut, turn, grind and assemble a neat four-inch steel hinge.

The instructor returned and examined it admiringly (so Butch thought) and said
"Well done, lad. You've passed first class!"

"What about the second part, sir?"

"Our Intelligence believe the Germans will counterattack through the Ardennes. There will be no second part. You're a 1st class mechanic, laddie!"

At this the captain wrote out a temporary certificate, then left.

Butch clutched it to his chest.

"A 1st class mechanic! And pay increased from seventeen shillings and sixpence a week to twenty-one shillings! -plus any fiddle money!"

He was ordered to move on to help infantry units' vehicles - alone this time, and, unusually for him, forward of 133.

The roads had become dangerously icy as he climbed uphill - so bad that infantry vehicles were slipping and slewing across the road. He helped to retrieve one, but decided it was too dangerous to go on, and pulled off to a side road that was comparatively flat, and stopped. He'd wait until 133 caught up.

Soon D.R. Billy Grills, bike skidding off the main road as he caught sight of the familiar monster lorry, came and told the first class mechanic to stay as an advance guard through the night. In view of the cold, two others would be detailed to relieve him and they would all do just one hour on guard, two off.

`Thank God for the Yanks', he thought as D.R. Billy pulled away and he pulled on his US Navy sheepskin-lined, beaver-collared storm coat and his Yankee rubber over boots.

`I'll let the lads who relieve me borrow the coat and boots - what a kind little chuff I am'.

He reflected that some lads he knew at home would at this very hour be working with molten steel, tapping furnaces or working with tongs handling red hot bars in the rolling mills: `They'll be warm but there again I'm here in a foreign land looking up at the stars for twenty-one bob a week... and freezing to bloody deeath!

Thank God I've only got one hour then it's in the cab with the engine on'.

Time elapsed, he walked round and round the lorry - counted about a hundred times, looked at his watch: `Christ, two hours have gone'.

He sat in the cab for a long while tried to have a nap... the sods, it was the desert all over again. They'd gone and left him. He wished Ritchie were with him. Two first class mechanics together. Could the army afford it?

He heard rumbling and low voices, and walking the short journey to the main road was surprised to see streams of civilians, young and old, heading purposely downhill, in the moonlight, some in or alongside carts piled with possessions; one even had an armchair with a cat curled up in it. There were dogs, goats, even the occasional cow, slipping, slairing as Sheffielders say, on the ice.

Intelligence, probably via Bletchley, was right. When he asked a woman in English where they were going she said the Germans had broken through the Ardennes in a counterattack.
Ike was caught off balance by Von Rundstedt's Ardennes offensive and British General Alexander (from Tunis to Sicily to Italy to Greece) had to send troops from Greece to help him.

It was December 1944. The main Russian offensive had stalled in the east giving the Germans time to muster a force from the ruin of their armies defeated in Normandy. They surprised everyone by the major counterattack on 16th December 1944 with twenty divisions, seven of which armoured - the feared Panzers. These included their `Tiger' tanks, which had been more than a match for the Russian T34 on the vast Russian Plains with the superior 88mm guns firing much greater distances. In the Ardennes though they were not manoeuvrable enough, especially their new King Tigers. Bridges had to be strengthened, they had to have greater support units, fuel etc. than the standard tanks and there were tales later of SS troops abandoning them and resorting to hand to hand fighting.

The German aim was for Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army to cross the Maas (Meuse) near Liege and make for Antwerp and for Manteuffel's 5th Panzer Army to sweep wide over the Maas between Namur and Dinant, then into Brussels.

In fact neither army crossed the Maas - Dietricht was stopped near Stavelot half a kilometre from a vast fuel dump. Manteuffel simply ran out of fuel, but they succeeded in cutting the US front in half and Ike gave command of the whole northern sector to Montgomery - to the fury of his own generals.

That, in a nutshell, is why Butch found himself driving slowly downhill among the civilians with an old lady sitting next to him looking eternally grateful, but unable to express her thanks in English apart from the two words she knew - `Tommy' and `Churchill'. Her daughter, who had been pushing a cart with meagre belongings, had begged him to give her old and infirm mam a lift. She herself was in the back of the lorry with their meagre belongings, but minus the cart, clinging to one of the machines.

133 had not forgot him - but they'd forgotten that he'd gone on ahead and Billy Grills had forgotten to tell them. Butch was usually a `tail-end Johnny' as a consequence of his job.

Eventually he caught them up and resumed his purpose in life; they crossed the Maas and made their way towards the small Belgian town of Maaseijk.

Near the town they stopped, sheltered by trees from German view for supposedly just an overnight stop, but they were there four nights.

Most of the lads slept in the back of their lorries, nicely stretched out. With all the machinery in theirs Butch let Ritchie stretch out in the cab while he slept underneath. After four nights he approached Captain Mascoid and complained:
"Sir, my trousers are green with mildew".

The army, including 133, had set up an HQ/hospital in the town with adjacent cookhouse, and Captain Mascoid got our Workshop lorry crew digs in a cafe - to the envy of the other lads.

That night scrubbed and fed and in a comfortable bed at last Butch couldn't sleep... Was it too comfortable, used as he was to roughing it? Was it thoughts of home?

Or was it the heavy footsteps clumping up and down the stairs all night, laughter - girls', women’s', lads', men's voices speaking, shouting in French, Flemish, even English?..

Next morning he approached the Captain again: "Sir, you put us in a brothel!"

"So what are you grumbling at, Reid?" was the ex-ranker's comment, but he got a sergeant to check and as a result got Butch and Ritchie billeted with a telephone engineer, his wife and family.

This was good but the nights in the hills and under the lorry had taken its toll and Butch got an abscess in his nose. A medical orderly took him to the army hospital passing the cook Cheeseborough's billet on the way. The `A' platoon cook had been promoted and inflicted upon the officer's mess as sergeant cook. He was off duty, standing outside his billet, hands behind his back and didn't acknowledge Private Reid. Butch thought he had a `serves you right for my trousers episode' attitude about him.

The abscess was lanced and as he passed Cheesborough's pog again the sergeant cook called him over. He'd been waiting and got him a pint of hot tea and a large steak sandwich.

Can't you misjudge people? From then on they were good friends.

Stalemate on the Maas. Fraternisation

Monty had reinforced points at which he correctly guessed the Germans wished to cross the Maas, but in his cautious way he did not begin his attack from the north until 3rd January 1945.

Meanwhile there was a bit of a stalemate at Maaseijk. German supply lines had been heavily bombed and their armies were short of fuel, Allied air forces outnumbered the Luftwaffe, but the German Army was like a wounded beast - still dangerous, though they must have realised that they couldn't win.

The main bridge over the Maas at Maaseijk had a twenty-four hour guard at each side. British troops were on the West bank, German on the East. One evening when 133 were mounting the guard Butch passed by with Brotherstone and Powell to find Wheeler there, defending democracy. Powell shouted that he looked "like a frozen turd standing there - move around man - show the Jerries how smart we are".

"Tha looks like Lilli Marlene under 'gas lamp". Butch was amused but he immediately picked up interest when Wheeler said the Germans were willing to swap their tinned ham for our corned beef.

Somebody pointed out that Lieutenant Baker had warned against fraternisation, giving or selling rations to the Germans.

"We're not giving or selling, we're swapping."

Even while uttering this comment Butch was off like the clappers and came back with a dozen tins of corned beef in a cardboard box from Cheeseborough's stock.

As if on cue a German soldier came towards the middle of the bridge. "Hey Tommy, hey Johnny, corn-ed beef? Ve hev pork for exchange".

Tins were exchanged in the middle of the bridge.

There was a regular exchange of German ham and British corned beef too by night boat patrols from each army, which theoretically should pass each other and check each other’s bank for military activity. In reality the boats met in the middle of the river, food was exchanged as well as fags and schnaps and then each would return to their own side to get some kip.

Wheeler asked Butch to show him the cafe he'd first been billeted in, and the following evening found them enjoying a coffee and the company of a lady of the night who joined their table uninvited. She was out to lure them with her long black hair and tight white dress with slit to upper thigh, but unfortunately for her, she coupled her good looks and innocent expression with a surprising stream of vulgarities pronounced in a guttural Flemish accent.
"You come with me Tommiesh - both of you - and I'll make you bounce sho high you'll hit the eff ng sheiling ".

Wheeler, the veteran of Sousse's Ack Ack Annie, collapsed laughing at her graphic words, Butch too spluttering in his coffee, and her chance was lost. She altered tack.

"Shee dose American sholdiers jusht going out? They are German troopsh checking on you British".

"They sounded like real Yanks to me".

"I wish they were real Yanks. I'd get shome business. They are Americanborn Germansh. - I'll have a drink for that informashion. I won't get anything elsh I can see".

They bought her a very overpriced drink and she left their company muttering to herself.

 

CHAPTER 23: Winterslag, Belgium

The 133 Convoy left Maaseijk and moved up through Belgium bypassing Borg Leopold on their way to Winterslag. Ritchie and Butch in the Workshop's lorry were set back by 48 hours attending to various breakdowns en route.

The most interesting one was at a crossroads, where an MP was vigorously directing traffic. A brand new civilian 10 ton lorry was at the crossroads, abandoned.

They pulled into a lay-by just before the crossing to make themselves mugs of tea.

Butch supped his quickly and took a mug to the MP traffic cop. "Go and sit in our cab with this and I'll direct the traffic."

The MP did so with pleasure, giving Butch his armband. MPs are not used to being treated so kindly.

Do a good turn and it comes back to you. The MP returned after twenty minutes chatting in the cab with Ritchie, took his armband back and asked Butch:

"Do you want that civvy lorry? It broke down and Belgian black marketeers in it scarpered when they saw us. It won't go. I've tried it. If you can mend it, it's yours ".

It was brand new, with NAAFI supplies in the back - whisky, gin, fags, beer. All this for giving a bloke a twenty minute tea break!

Butch got in. The engine fired beautifully but it didn't move in gear. Ritchie checked the drive shaft and found that a universal joint made of rubber and canvas was broken. In a big tool box were six spares, they repaired the lorry and Butch drove away, waved through by the MP, Ritchie following in the 15 tonner.

It was a few days on from Maaseijk and the unit had bypassed Borg Leopold to reach Winterslag where all the lads were settled in civvy billets. Our two were now trailing two and a half days behind, when they reached a huge wired and watch towered prisoner of war camp, built by sappers and housing German prisoners and 133 Company HQ cum hospital and cookhouse.

They parked the civilian lorry discreetly nearby, drove into the camp and reported to the MSM.

He said there were no more civvy billets - the small town was groaning with British, Yankee and Canadian troops.

"You two will have to stay with the Jerries in this camp. Get a couple of palliasses and kip down tonight in the guard room - at least you've got your US Navy sheepskin, Reid ".

The guard room was so bleak they left everything to `hit the town' - it was only mid afternoon and Winterslag was an half hour walk away. Troops were milling around the Town Hall Square and every local bar and cafe, even at that early hour, was bustling with troops. A wall of sound hit them as they went into one or two - South Yorkshire, Scouse, Geordie, Cockney, Scots, Welsh, American, Canadian, French, Flemish voices, but through the fog of cigarette smoke they couldn't recognise any of the lads and didn't fancy wading through crowds to get to the bars.

They wandered down side streets and eventually found Cafe Wilhelm, with not many inside - in fact just six Yankee airmen lounging about, half drunk. The Limeys joined them and chatted.

The booze had made the Americans happy and frank - not aggressive. Perhaps they thought Butch was a Yank in his US Navy issue sheepskin lined coat and were surprised to find he was a Limey, albeit with what they thought was a Flemish accent!

The Limeys were surprised to find the Yanks were fighter pilots, semi-intoxicated when on call. They were drooling over the cafe owner's wife who was nice and friendly, pretty face, well built, in her mid forties perhaps and, lets be frank, nice tits, which she showed in a low cut dress. You know what it's like - the only woman in a group of men who've not had female company for some while and who are slightly drunk - all eyes on her, even if she's not unduly attractive - and the cafe owners wife was very attractive. A little dog walked at her heels as if to repulse any advances.

A snooker table took up much of the main room. One of only three in Belgium, she said. She knew it was a British game, invented by the British Army in India, a long time ago. British lads often came in for a game.

Ritchie challenged Butch to a game. Butch was shaping up for an expert shot when some people came loudly into the cafe, putting him off. He paused, shaped up for a shot again and was just on the verge of letting fly when someone knocked his elbow. He turned round angrily to find the cafe owner's wife smiling at him.

The people who'd just come in were the American airmen back from their operation after what seemed to be only an hour or so. They had been called into the air to escort US bombers to the Ruhr - a mere fifteen minutes away by Super-Fortress. Das Ruhrgebiet, the Ruhr district, with its massive steel and armaments centres at Essen, Dortmund, Bochum, Duisburg etc. was essential to Hitler's war effort. As in the Don Valley where, worried about the concentration of special steels in the area, the British Government had encouraged satellite electric melting plants around Northern England, so had the Germans expanded the steel making area of Silesia, Poland, and had established steel plants in Hitler's home town of Linz in Austria. Poland and Austria had now been overrun by the Red Army, and Germany had to defend the Ruhr at all costs. Lose the Ruhr and the war would be lost.

Back to the Cafe Wilhelm. The Yanks were modest about their `op'. It was uneventful. Some flak. They said the Super-Fortresses dropped their bombs short of the target - Krupps at Essen, and returned.

They reverted to drinking and admiring the cafe owner's wife but one did speak frankly to Butch as the game with Ritchie continued. He confessed admiration for the RAF lads who queued up to bomb a target, sometimes going round twice if they weren't lined up correctly first time. The RAF fighter pilots too held in there.

"We go in and if we can't hammer the Krauts first go we get the hell out of it. - Still, it's your war really. Europe's war, not ours ".

He asked them to teach him the `Limey game'. Ritchie let him take his place for a while. Butch tried to explain the rules, the significance of the different coloured balls. Cocky as ever he bent down:

"Watch how I pot this one - a long shot".

He drew the cue back but as he shot his elbow was nudged again. He turned and faced the low cut dress of the cafe owner's wife.

She was jolly and liked the reaction she got from the young men. She had taken especially to the cheeky faced Sheffielder.

"Where are you billeted?"

"In the German prisoner's camp".

"I've got two rooms. You can have them ".

They hurried back to the camp. It was now midnight but the Mechanical Sergeant Major was still at HQ. He was basically kind - aren't they all? - and said "get your kit, borrow my 15 cwt truck and take the rooms - then I won't have to see your 'orrible faces again tonight. "

They settled in the cafe nicely. What a luxury it was to have a bath, clean sheets on the beds, breakfast with the cafe owner's wife.

Back at work next morning Butch had a word with Captain Mascoid ("As big a bloody rogue as me" - Reg Reid's words in 2002)

"I've got you a new 10 ton civvy lorry sir ".

"Get rid of the effin' thing".

"Yes Sir".

Just the words he wanted to hear, and back at the Cafe Wilhelm with Ritchie he asked the owner's wife if she wanted to buy a new civilian lorry complete with a stock of whisky, gin, fags and beer. He said he thought Belgians deserved a bargain for suffering under the Nazi occupation.

"How much?"

"Five hundred quid".

"Let me see it".

The lorry was still in its discreet spot near the camp and they drove it to town and parked it outside Cafe Wilhelm. She got in it and drove it round the back and agreed.

"O.K. - I'll get you the money. £500 in Belgian Francs ".

After work that day they treated the lads to drinks at the cafe. Brotherstone, Powell, Johnny O'Toole, Wheeler, Petty, Rumsey-Williams, half `A' Platoon plus some from Workshops were there - Wheeler even helped serve drinks alongside a neat young live- in waitress. Lads were crammed in both rooms and corridor. The cafe owner's wife was at her jolly, flirtatious best. We can't go on calling her the cafe owner's wife. She was the force behind the business: her husband, much older, with a small holding to look after, kept a low profile in the background. Let's call her A.W. (short for `her' at Wilhelm's or `all woman' - take your pick) Butch was very fond of her and we've a picture of her to show you.

Next morning at breakfast A.W. asked Butch if he could get spare engines and offered £100 in Belgian Francs for each engine. She would take every one they could get.

The MSM let them have a chit for the `Help yourself dump' - the resting place for irreparable bren carriers, lorries, pick-up and tanks. Some bren carriers were smashed at the front or rear but had sound engines. These could be lifted straight out and were identical to A.W.'s lorry engine.

At the dump Butch squared it with the sergeant in charge - gave him a few quid and over the next few weeks took four engines at a time on three different occasions helped by Ritchie, an army lorry and a breakdown truck with crane.

Three lots of £400 were divided between Butch, Ritchie, the MSM and Captain Mascoid.
The engines were dropped at a spot designated by A.W., by thorn bushes near Winterslag.
A.W. was a keen businesswoman and usually got what she wanted. Her husband got tired and could hardly keep up with her. It was not unknown for her to slip into a young soldier's bed while hubby was snoring in the next room. No names, no pack drill!

Always with an eye for more business, Butch supplied her with petrol and wheels during their stay at Cafe Wilhelm. Ritchie, for his part, touched lucky with the young live-in waitress. The Winterslag idyll lasted a mere four weeks - yet what vivid times.

 

CHAPTER 25: Hamburg to High Wycombe to Hamburg to High Wycombe again to Hamburg again

They were in Hamburg of course, more specifically at Itzehoe, a small town north of Hamburg, south of the Kiel canal. Oh, and on the subject of Monty's famous caravan - Workshops' Captain Mascoid fancied himself as Monty and had a lorry converted to a caravan, Monty-style.

Unfortunately the ex-ranker didn't have Monty's high God-fearing standards and one night entertained a German farm girl in his caravan. Obviously he had not read the letter by the Commander in Chief on non-fraternisation dated March 1945, which included the paragraph:

`There are Allied organisations whose work it is to single out, separate and destroy the dangerous elements in German life. It is too soon for you to distinguish between `good' and `bad' Germans: you have a positive part to play in winning the peace by a definite code of behaviour. In streets, houses, cafes, cinemas etc., you must keep clear of Germans, man, woman and child, unless you meet them in the course of duty. You must not walk out with them, or shake hands, or visit their homes, or make them gifts, or take gifts from them. You must not play games with them or share any social event with them. In short, you must not fraternise with Germans at all.'

This letter was signed B.L. Montgomery, Field-Marshal C-in-C 21" Army Group.
Back in 133's camp at Itzehoe, spread on farmland with a big old shed acting as Workshops' base, the guard on duty saw Captain Mascoid's caravan rocking slightly and noticed chinks of light where the woodwork on the side of the truck had shrunk in hot weather. He peeped through a gap - and one or two other `A' Platoon lads, alerted to the action, also peeped through gaps and they saw the said Captain, `bollock naked', stand up, look down at his manhood and at the lovely naked girl, and hear him say these romantic words:
"I hope you haven't got VD!... "

The guard couldn't stop himself - you know what it's like when you can't resist saying something even though it might cause you trouble - and he shouted through the crack:
"Too effin' well late to worry about that now, sir"... and hurried quickly away.

Ritchie and Butch missed this little episode and also the subsequent episode of the Polish girls, since, as usual they were `tail end Johnnies' doing repair jobs, three days behind the rest of 133 Company.

There were two big factories, relatively unscathed, near 133's camp in the environs of Hamburg: the Phoenix Glass Company and the Earl Cement factory, both British owned before the war and now to be reclaimed by the British.

Railway wagons in nearby sidings housed hundreds of Polish women who had been used by the Germans as prostitutes and for forced labour in the cement factory.

133 were detailed to find them work - they were thought more reliable than German women who might still harbour Nazi feelings - also the Army wanted to give victims of the Nazis first chance. They were pleased to do cooking and cleaning for the British, and sweeping the roads and cleaning rubble in the city, with comparatively good pay and freedom to come and go as they wished. Unfortunately they were so grateful they showed it with sexual favours to drivers and when Ritchie and Butch arrived days later some of the lads were already showing signs of VD. These obviously had ignored Army films back in England giving advice on avoiding the disease.

Butch resolved at this point to have platonic friendships with women until the right one came along. Lads with VD were denied leave home until they were cured - this meant more days off for good living - or lucky types like Ritchie and Butch.

They got on a troop ship sailing from Hamburg right down to Southampton - Ritchie's home town. Ritchie would have shown our Sheffielder round his father's coach firm where a job was on offer on demob, but Butch preferred to keep his options open, and anyway wanted to go to the Heavy Repair Shops at High Wycombe to see old friends, Stan Smith, Frank Turton and Chris Bray.

Back there the men reflected on the past, days at Newark etc., but it wasn't the same. They had spent all the war in High Wycombe. There was an unspoken barrier between those who were sent abroad and those who stayed in England. They were happy among themselves, had married, got toddlers, were settled down. Their wives were local girls not wanting to know of what was possibly a riotous past. Butch didn't feel particularly welcome, especially when their wives were around.

"We want to forget the war now", was the prevailing attitude. It was rather depressing. He even toyed with the idea of signing on again in the army.

One thing he couldn't forget about High Wycombe, though, was his suitcase with civvy clothes and the hundred pounds in the care of `Girly' Ruth Hawes. He had a sudden rush of anger, when he knocked on the door at 63 Suffield Road and caught sight of her with Brylcreem boy at an upstairs window looking down at him. She didn't have the courtesy to come down to speak to him.

Perhaps they were scared of him - justifiably when he shouted that he'd return and "shoot their bloody door down ". When Frank Turton saw him later he was worried Butch would carry out this threat and quickly went to retrieve the cash and the case for him.

Butch vowed never to visit the Buckinghamshire town again but in fact was there again a month or so later. American airmen in the town told him they'd pay £100 each for German Luger or Walther pistols. "If you ever get any just bring them to the base ".

Back in Itzehoe Captain Mascoid suggested he saw the Hamburg Chief of Police, "a very approachable bloke ", who had a whole armoury at his disposal. Mascoid explained:
"We're in overall charge of the city now and are de-militarising the police ".

We next meet Butch emerging from the Hamburg Police Headquarters bowed down with kitbag containing twenty Luger and Walther pistols plus some ammunition. The Chief of Police had told him to take his pick in exchange for whisky, 200 fags and 20 tins of bully beef! The German had studied in Liverpool pre-war, was pro-British despite the RAF's 1000 bomber raids in autumn 1943 on his city.

Butch was both elated at this exchange and dismayed at the desolate scene about him as he drove back to Itzehoe. The Luftwaffe's `Operation Crucible' raids on Sheffield in December 1940 with 300 bombers had caused widespread destruction so you can imagine the devastation in Hamburg. They had certainly `reaped the whirlwind', USAF as well as RAF, and huge swathes of the city were just piles of rubble. Children would emerge from holes in the ground, like Bedouin Arabs (or 133 Company at Kairouan) and head to British Army barracks to forage. Troops got extra porridge, bread etc. at meal times to take out to them. Wheeler quoted Monty and mimicked his short-tongued speech as he doled out his portions:
"To wefwain fwom fwaternisation is not easy!"

So much for Monty's non fraternisation order - though Captain Mascoid did his bit to "single out, separate, and destroy the dangerous elements in German life ", by helping to destroy the wealth of high ranking Nazis. He commandeered any antique furniture they might have and sent it to England.

It was one such `Mascoid furniture run' to Hamburg docks that took Butch to a US Navy vessel back to Blighty again.

The easygoing Americans allowed anything on board - one British soldier even led on a couple of racehorses! Butch lugged his Lugers and Walthers on board, and off board, lugged them on and off a train to London, across London and on and off a train to High Wycombe, and what seemed like up the Chilterns to the Yankee airbase... which was closed!
The Yanks had gone home.

Thoughts of £2,000 evaporated. On the boat back to Hamburg - US Navy again - Butch emptied his kitbag on deck and told the American sailors "If you want these -you can have 'em ". Easy come, easy go.

He reflected that `Girly' Ruth Hawes had a pistol of his he'd asked her to put `in the bottom drawer' - which she had thought was a wedding gift! So what! She could keep it.

At the camp there was a bunch of German lads, flotsam of war, still in Wehrmacht fatigues, hanging around, wondering if their erstwhile enemies had any jobs for them. Butch took them to see Mascoid and he agreed to take them on.

They spoke some English and one would be an interpreter for him on `Workshop duties'. One would be a labourer with Workshops Platoon, two were despatched to the cookhouse under `Rice' Cheeseborough, and two to work as cleaners under Polish female supervision. Mascoid thought this last was a nice touch, Germans working for Poles.

He warned them that the unit would shortly be moving to Berlin - would they want to move there? Their eyes lit up - two were in fact Berliners. Butch went with them to stores and they exchanged their Wehrmacht fatigues for British Army fatigues.

He spread the news to `A' Platoon and Workshops' lads - they were going to move to Berlin, the heart of the collapsed `Thousand year Reich'. What an opportunity! Some lads were gloomy - especially those married or `courting' - they were moving further away from home. Demob seemed still far off - It was now July 1945 - there were rumours it could take months, if not years, to sort Germany out. One lad came up with the classic:
"Roll on death, demob's too far away!"

CHAPTER 26: Berlin August 1945 - February 1946

Can you imagine what it was like to be in Berlin in 1945?

The `Thousand Year Reich' had collapsed around him when Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. The capital city of the Third Reich had been blasted from the air by the RAF and the USAF. The Red Army had bludgeoned its way through its streets and beyond. The city, surrounded by a sea of Red, had been split in half: half Russian, the other half divided into US, British and French military zones. This concession by the Russians was in exchange for land in the west over-run by British and US troops.

The Allies in Western Germany had to cope with seven million prisoners of war and there were another seven million displaced persons - Slavs brought into the Reich as forced labour, and Jews, Slavs and Gypsies freed from concentration camps. Very few wanted to be sent back East under communist control. In the East twelve million Germans were forced to move from their homelands by the Russians. Imagine that - as if the whole population of Scotland, Wales and Ireland were pushed out! The Russians in effect pushed their boundaries west displacing Germans. Some of these huge movements of people were through Berlin.

The Russians had a deep hatred of the Germans who had treated Slavs as slaves, as subhuman. When the Red hordes swept through Berlin they destroyed what they couldn't loot. They looted what they could take away down to the last bath plug, and destroyed what they couldn't. They raped and pillaged (when f did National Service in Berlin in 1960 there were still wards in a mental hospital containing German women who'd lost their sanity after multiple rapes by Russian and Mongol troops).

The Mongolians were especially feared by the Germans. Many had started with nothing, no supply lines, and pillaged food and even weapons on the march. An ex-Wehrmacht machine gunner told Butch he was firing at the Mongolians and they just kept coming forward, ignoring their own fallen. He ran out of bullets but they simply passed him by with their women, children, horses and carts.

Butch was at Spandau, Berlin. Workshops Platoon and `B' Platoon plus HQ were there in former German police barracks. `A' and `C' Platoons had been left behind in Itzehoe. In typical army style the convoy to Berlin had moved at dawn and he'd not been able to say goodbye to friends he'd had for years.

Spandau was now in the British zone and the barracks were solid two storey red brick buildings. Mongolian troops had occupied them previously with their families and horses. Horses had even been led upstairs and the troops slept by them. This ensured warmth in their barracks, but what a stink!

As they had vacated the barracks upon the Four Power agreement Butch got laughing and joking with a Mongolian lad and was photographed by his cart. Neither knew what the other was talking about but they got on famously. The Mongolian grinned like a Cheshire cat.
Long queues of German women had formed seeking work with the British, and the lads were allowed to choose six each to clean out and disinfect the barracks. Lads were going around swapping details: "You should see my six", etc. Butch led his six to the stores to collect brushes, brooms, buckets, disinfectant, soap etc. It was a dreadful job but the women set about the task eagerly and efficiently with an almost childlike desire to please.

The Workshops' wagons and break-down lorries were in use but there wasn't too much work since `A' and `C' Platoons were 300 miles away in Itzehoe and had been detailed to take supplies back into France and Belgium and also operate a shuttle service from Hamburg to Amsterdam docks. Their servicing and repairs were undertaken by another RASC unit in Hamburg.

Captain Mascoid judged that First Class Mechanics Ritchie and Jock McLeod and their teams could handle the Workshops repairs and he called over Butch and Johnny O'Toole. Lady luck was about to strike again.

"Reid and O'Toole. I've got a first class job for you two first class mechanics. The major's commandeered three cabin cruisers based on the Havel Lake, from the S.S. He's detailed me to look after them and in turn I'm detailing you. Here's three keys, Reid, the biggest cruiser is the major's, the other two are yours and mine. Mines called ERIKA and yours is LAURA ".
Along with the keys he gave them instructions to get to the Havel moorings. "It's not all pleasure, Reid. You've to service the engines and conduct repairs. Otherwise you've my permission to take your boat out and test run ours whenever you like".

Permission to enjoy himself. Yippee! Butch and Johnny went straight over to Havel to view their charges - beautiful big sleek white cabin cruisers in a beautiful setting. The Havel is quite an extensive stretch of water - perhaps as big as Ladybower and, like Ladybower, surrounded by pine woods.

There were wooden holiday cabins and beaches at several points and a small island, `Pfaueninsel' (Peacock Island) in the middle with a small castle on it. The German for castle is SCHLOSS and during the war and for a few years after a big notice proclaimed its closure:
`DER SCHLOSS IST GESCHLOSSEN'.

After a few trips round the Havel on a few consecutive days Johnny O'Toole rather lost interest, and Butch invited his friend, Sergeant Cook `Rice' Cheeseborough to take his place. He invited his six cleaning girls too - two at a time. `Rice' couldn't service the boats' engines of course - he hadn't a clue - but he did bring a lot to the days out - a lot of officer's mess food in hampers!

He left German chefs to prepare the officers' meals. What would the `A' Platoon wallahs think of all this? Butch missed his friends there, especially Roy Brotherstone, Jack Powell, Wheeler and Petty - but didn't miss them much when surging through the water with a nice blonde by his side.

The blonde was his favourite; Cheeseborough also had a favourite, a redhead, and the four of them became good friends. Nothing serious you understand. Not like Sid Porter, the water carrier who'd fallen madly in love with one of the other cleaning women. His wife in England had been unfaithful and he determined to forget her and his daughter and stay with his new love in Germany. He spent all his spare time now learning German rather than chatting and drinking with his pals.

One morning on the Havel as the mist lifted and the sun shone through, a big yacht sailed slowly and very close by the moorings where Butch, greased up in overalls, had just finished a job on the engine. His girlfriend, blonde tresses glowing, leant upon the cabin cruiser's rail watching the world go by, and coots bobbing on the yacht's wake. She smiled at the four crew members, RAF officers and WAAFs, but was taken aback when the WAAFs hurled abuse at her and Butch. WAAF lasses normally ignored army lads - rich Yanks or RAF pilots were better catches - but these were offended at the sight of a soldier with a German girl.

"Who's that in the monkey suit - army shit! Kraut bitch! Whore!" were some of the expressions that came to mind.

Butch's girlfriend was what would be called today a `feisty' blonde. She didn't reply to the insults but started the engine, took the wheel and roared round the yacht twice setting the vessel, its airmen and women rocking violently. Then she steered up the lake giving the WAAFs the `V' sign.

 

The Brandenburg Gate

This was where the British sector met the Russian sector, where capitalist met communist as well as the defeated National Socialists. British, Russians, Americans, French and Germans teemed around the memorial to lost Prussian glory. And it was where Butch took fags to barter for cameras. He had become 133 Company's unofficial photographer. The German firm Zeiss was in the Russian zone and there were Red Army soldiers eager to barter these for British cigarettes. Winston Churchill's famous speech about an `iron curtain' descending across Europe didn't yet apply. All troops could go into each other's zone.

The Red Army was a mixture of all the peoples of the Soviet Union, with officers and senior NCO Russians. There was a political officer in every platoon constantly expounding the virtues of communism over the evils of capitalism. In every British platoon there was a `barrack room lawyer' - e.g. in Workshops there was one Harry Marks, son of a Brummie car industry shop steward, who also, more often than not, expounded the virtues of communism.
Probably the most feared troops of the Soviet Empire were the Mongolians - echoes of Genghis Khan resounding down the centuries! And trotting through the Brandenburg Gate on one September morning was the selfsame horse and cart driven by the selfsame Red Army Mongolian Butch had met at Spandau. At least he thought it was him - all Mongolians looked alike especially when they were grinning like Cheshire cats. Harry Marks had assured Butch we all looked alike to them, and how happy and equal all different races were in the Soviet Union.

This one looked happy enough anyway - he saw Butch, stopped his cart, dismounted grinning and slapped the Sheffielder on the back. There they were, unlikely comrades laughing and joking without understanding a word each said apart from `Stalin' and `Churchill'. Butch gave the lad a few fags.

Some in the Red Army were more equal than others and at this juncture a Russian corporal came up to them, had a few words with the Mongolian who then drove away, without a word.
Perhaps the corporal was a political NCO Even so he was very friendly to Butch. He was an intellectual - a cultured cove. Russians tend to admire culture and an insult in Russian is to describe someone as `nye-kul-tur-ney', uncultured. The corporal in course of conversation asked if Butch knew Shelley and Keats.

"No", Butch replied. "Which unit are they in?"

The corporal was hugely amused at this. He thought the English soldier was joking. He knew of the Tommies sense of humour despite their being under the yoke of capitalism.

Butch was invited to his camp in the Russian sector of Berlin in woodland just off the road leading to Potsdam. A time and date was fixed, the corporal advising him to wait for him a few hundred metres from the camp. The reason for this was clear when Butch arrived before the corporal, walked towards the camp gate and warning shots whistled above his head into the trees. The corporal came out grinning. "The guard would have shot you if you'd got any closer!"

He was proud of the serried ranks of T34 tanks all bulled up with numbers freshly painted white, as if on parade for the Englishman in a big clearing in the woods.

"All lined up for your inspection - but we have more recent models hidden under netting - in case you are a British spy ".

He laughed at his own sense of humour and in response to an invitation from Butch said he would be pleased to visit the British camp at Spandau.

In fact Butch never saw him or the Mongolian again.

The Russians stopped their troops visiting the Allied sectors shortly afterwards, and banned our troops from their sector. It was of course to protect their ideology from Western contamination. Their troops had had a glimpse of freedom - who knows where it could end?

They had also seen the unacceptable face of capitalism, having been fleeced by spivs and street girls alike. The Red Army men were given four years back pay at the end of the war and there were people - even, we regret to say, in the US forces, PX stores and the British NAAFI, that grossly overcharged them. Bartering continued at the Brandenburg Gate though. Butch took a towel wrapped round a hundred fags.

One day a sergeant MP stopped him.

"What are you doing here with that towel, laddie?"

"I'm off for a swim, sergeant".

"Show me your swimming costume, laddie ".

"I'm wearing it, sergeant".

The sergeant moved on. Phew!

He then did business with a German bloke, exchanging 80 fags for a Zeiss camera with film. He took a photograph of a young, pretty but dowdy girl who was forlornly holding up her mother's jewellery for food. Butch, being Butch, got to know this pretty girl - she was from East Berlin; civilians were still, at that time, allowed into the western zones until 18:00 hours each day. She came to barter and he gave her his remaining twenty fags to help her. One fag could be bartered for one egg and it was worth this little act of generosity to see her face light up. They arranged to see each other on his `bartering days' and other lads in Workshops Platoon gave him fags for her.

Like the relationship with the blonde cleaning girl on the Havel, the Brandenburg Gate friendship was platonic. The East Berliner was perhaps only eighteen or nineteen and he was getting on now - a mature twenty-six year old.

Friends reunited - for a month anyway

It was January 1946 and Butch was walking outside the barracks taking mental stock of his finances. With the princely sum of twenty-one shillings per week mechanic 1st class pay, with all the money he'd accumulated and sent home to his mother for safe keeping, he reckoned he was worth two and a half to three thousand pounds. On the other hand most of his friends made during his army service were scattered to the wind - he might never meet up with them again. Friendships were more valuable than money. He'd still got photos of Roy Brotherstone and Jack Powell taken in front of a German tank in his pocket. "Get us a copy", they'd said and he'd got them each a copy, then was despatched to Berlin. Roy Brotherstone had said the German tank was the only vehicle Butch hadn't managed to sell!

"There's a mate of yours over here", a sergeant in the former Wehrmacht barracks, next door to Workshops' former Polizei barracks, shouted from over the wall when he caught sight of Butch.

All through his army career Butch had thought he had a guardian angel looking after him, visualised in the shape of his Grandma - and here she was, at it again! The mate was Roy Brotherstone himself, in Spandau for a month prior to going on to Warsaw as a chauffeur to the head of the British Military Mission there.

They had a month together to reflect on old times and enjoy new times. Butch took him to cafes and bars in Berlin, introduced him to yachting on the Havel, and Brothers even joined him to see the maestro at work bartering at Brandenburg Gate. Sergeant Cook `Rice' Cheeseborough was pleased to meet up with an `A' Platoon wallah, did them all proud with his picnic hampers for the trips out with the cleaning girls and Butch introduced Brothers to his other girlfriend from the Russian zone when bartering.

The sweet girl from East Berlin was extremely fond of Butch - it wasn't just the fags he brought her that attracted her to him. Perhaps he was a bit smitten by her too - he didn't often give so many fags away! He wondered whether sooner or later he would have to choose between her and the `feisty' blonde.

He never had to choose between them. First thing next morning they were told they were moving back to Itzehoe and two hours later the convoy was on the move.

No goodbyes to the blonde cleaning woman - the feisty yachtswoman. No goodbye to the sweet East Berliner.

Over the years Butch has forgotten their names*

No goodbye to Roy Brotherstone but he'd got his address at Connah's Quay, North Wales, and he'd learned from Roy that Wheeler and Petty were doing convoy duties between Amsterdam, Hamburg and Berlin and that Jack Powell and Rumsey-Williams were doing a Berlin - Warsaw run. Rumsey-Williams was due to go to work on D.U.K.W.'s. It seemed strange that he would be working on these amphibious craft now the war was over, but who can guess what's in the mind of the military? Captain Mascoid cancelled further deliveries of looted Nazi furniture, etc., to the U.K. and to a Brussels auction house he dealt with. 133 Company was falling apart - they were heading back to Itzehoe, it was said, to be allotted demob dates and numbers.


The convoy stopped halfway, at Wittenberge on the Rive Elbe, and in another of life's coincidences, he bumped into Wheeler and Petty crossing a road. They had stopped at the same town on their way to Berlin. It was a regular call for them - they had got girlfriends there and were just off to see them.

"We're late Butch. Great to see you. Take this and write your Sheffield address on it and put it in the cab".

Butch looked at the screwed up paper. It was typed part one orders, Itzehoe Camp 133 RASC `A' and `C' Platoon, by Lieutenant T.H. Yates and signed T.H.Y., followed in Wheeler's scrawled handwriting "WILL BE DONE."

Butch wrote his mother's address on the back - she was now back in Sheffield and ran a little grocery shop in Winter Street.

* The `yachtswoman' was in fact Erika of Berlin. (Not to be confused with Erika of Hamburg in the next chapter!)

 

 

CHAPTER 27: Itzehoe to Essdorf tank barracks to Hamburg
March to May 1946

Back at Itzehoe, 133 were split up and men were detailed to different units. Butch was only there a few days before he was ordered to get his kit bag packed and along with a few others, including a sergeant, `Tiny' Watson, `Wardy', and Harry Marks, was posted to Essdorf tank barracks to await demob.

`Tiny' Watson was a very tall lad with feet so big his boots had to be specially made. He wore shoes and put his boots in his kit bag and there was barely room for anything else. Harry Marks was the Brummie Union man and `Wardy' was the lad who had fallen in love with a Dutch girl who worked at the Phillips radio factory.

As usual, the posting happened so fast Butch had no time to say goodbye to the other 1st class mechanics, Ritchie, O'Toole and McLeod or to any stray ex133 personnel who might have been around. He didn't say goodbye either to the German lads who'd followed them to Berlin and back. These subsequently helped to form the nucleus of a new German army trained by the British. In view of their service in British Army uniforms they were made NCO's immediately. All the lads sent to Essdorf tank barracks were twenty-six years old and so number twenty-six was their demob, group number. Or perhaps this was a coincidence.

Anyway Butch had done longer service than most, having signed on in 1938, so he was due out before most. Even so he was to be in Hamburg several months before his papers came through. He didn't do much work. Some civilian German mechanics had been set on under his supervision. They were older men who hadn't been called up because of their age, and they were very good mechanics. One set himself up as the team leader and offered Butch the chance to stay in a flat in Hamburg owned by his aunty and adjacent to her flat. She was widowed and ill fed so payment would be welcomed in NAAFI food!

Butch jumped at this chance to be in the big city rather than miles out as they were in the rather dreary tank barracks.

He took her first of all a big jar of coffee - no, not taken from NAAFI or cookhouse stock, O ye of little faith! It had been posted to him by his mother from stock in her little grocery shop on Winter Street.

Everyone seemed nice to each other in those far off days after such a vicious war. Even the MSM had been kind back in Berlin to our Butch, lending him his Warrant Officer jacket to get him in a club for officers and non commissioned officers only.

Butch was kind to the bull-necked, bolshie Brummie Harry Marks, buying him a posh meal in a posh Hamburg restaurant. Despite telling Harry that he'd never join a union if it was "full of thick obstreperous buggers like thee and thi mates in 'Midlands motor trade", Butch liked the man. Trading insults came naturally to them both but even a straightforward barbed comment delivered in a broad Brummie accent seemed hilarious to Butch.

With his accumulated wealth, he had access to restaurants and nightspots that normally mere privates, corporals, sergeants and even second lieutenants couldn't aspire to.

In this particular restaurant the two of them were at a table for four on a balcony overlooking a cheaper cafeteria on the ground floor. The tables next to theirs were occupied by top brass with their wives or girlfriends, all wondering how privates could afford to eat there.

In spite of his socialist tendencies Harry didn't object to eating well and lording it over others. He was quite rude about the fare on offer down below. Two lovely girls were eating at plain wooden tables talking earnestly with each other and ignoring comments from troops at adjacent tables.

Harry peered at the food on their plates and remarked in a loud Brummie accent:
"Look at that crap they're eating down there!"

He got glacial looks from the top brass and one muttered to the effect that it was "damned bad form." The girls didn't ignore Harry's comment and both looked up sharply, one giving as good as she got in perfect English:

"If you know of better crap perhaps you'll be kind enough to let us know ". Harry, far from being embarrassed, was delighted at the response and insisted that they came up to make a foursome. The girls had a brief discussion with each other, then agreed! All got on well together; the girls were flirtatious, perhaps, Butch thought, hiding some sadness in their lives.

She who'd made the quick rejoinder, a brunette, got into playful banter with Harry, while the other girl, a blonde, quizzed Butch on army life. She seemed especially interested that he'd visited a Russian Army Camp in Berlin and asked his opinion of the Russians. Butch made some facetious remark about them being all right once they'd wiped the snow from their boots - then asked her if she knew Shelley and Keats. "Of course I know of them - but I have only read one or two of Keats' poems. `Ode to a Nightingale' I remember was one. Why do you ask?"

Butch told her about the Russian corporal but he was diplomatic and didn't mention the Russians' hatred of the Germans and desire for revenge. Then the reason for her interest in the Russians surfaced: their previous boyfriends had been pilots in the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front. Her friend's boyfriend got killed and her own boyfriend was somewhere in Russia in a prisoner of war camp. She had had one letter from him and he spoke of a train journey lasting several days. She feared he was in Siberia and that she would never see him again.

This put a bit of a damper on things but they met on several more occasions and the girls, only in their mid twenties, seemed to be determined to put the past behind them and enjoy themselves. They usually gravitated towards the St. Pauli area with many of its fine old buildings still standing, including those along its most famous street, the Reeperbahn, home to night clubs, bars, restaurants and brothels.

One night, standing in a long queue outside a nightclub, Erika (yes, Butch remembers her name!) suggested that he hold up a few fags in the air to get the doorman's attention. He did and they were signalled through a back entrance, through the kitchen and up into the club on an upper floor.

There was a stage down below and a cabaret with a chanteuse singing melancholic, romantic German songs. When she sang "Unter den roten Laterne von Saint Pauli" fixing her gaze up at Butch he was captivated by her, the song and the atmosphere and shouted "wunderbar ". The chanteuse extended her arms out to him in acknowledgement.

Erika had a word with a waiter asking him to tell the chanteuse how much Butch had enjoyed the song about St. Pauli and requesting she sang it every time they came in.

She was the resident artiste, and thereafter, whenever she spotted Butch enter with his friends, she spoke with the pianist and launched into the St. Pauli song just to please him.
Harry Marks smoked like a chimney; as you know, Butch didn't, and his army issue fags were used to open doors for him, to barter for goods, or to give away to friends. Some men even bought sex with them - but to Butch that would really have been `bad form'.

He did slip a few to his landlady, the German mechanic's Aunt, though, to smooth over any objections she might have should he bring Erika back to the flat.

Their relationship was getting serious even after only a few evenings out. Harry was getting on well, too, with her friend, leading Erika to invite the three of them to her flat. Butch felt he was beginning to fall in love with his woman, and he couldn't get her out of his mind. It was pleasing that women in general seemed to find him attractive but he wondered whether he should improve his confidence and social graces by drinking more. He had a few tots of whisky before setting out for her flat and took quite a lot of bottles of whisky, wine and beer.
He should have read about Cassio's downfall in Shakespeare's Othello.

He didn't. He drank far too much and when Erika invited him into her bedroom he was almost immediately violently sick.

`Reputation. Reputation. Reputation. I have lost my reputation and what remains is base'.
(Shakespeare's words, not ours)

Harry kept seeing his girl but classy Erika never wanted to see Butch again.

 

 

CHAPTER 28: Hamburg to Sheffield to Catterick Camp June 1946

Papers for the release of 1st Class Mechanic T/68784 Pte. Reid R.W.,
Height Five feet six and a half inches
Weight 147 lbs
Eyes Brown
Complexion Fresh
Hair Black
Max. Chest Thirty seven and a half inches
Distinctive marks/minor defects Tattoo mark right forearm
Age and service release group 26 C
Civilian occupation Golf Course Groundsman
arrived in June 1946 at Essdorf Barracks, along with rail/boat ticket, valid all frontiers, HAMBURG TO CATTERICK CAMP, North Yorkshire.

Catterick was where he would be officially demobilised with demob. papers, demob. money and demob. suit made by Montagu Burton in Leeds.

As the train from Hamburg, packed with troops, slowed to a crawl through Eindhoven on its way to Amsterdam Docks, Wardy opened a window, threw his kit bag out, then jumped out himself.

"What's Wardy doing? He won't get his demob money - or suit!"

`Tiny' Watson reassured Butch that Wardy had far too many valuables stacked away in a Dutch barn - lorries, spares and petrol, to be worried about demob. money or suit. He was off to see his loved one and set up his haulage business, thanks to 1st Class Mechanic Reid.
In London, Butch said goodbye to `Tiny' Watson, and watched him go with his kit bag, bulging with his outsize boots, over his shoulder.

"That's it. It's all over. I'm on my own."

He didn't know whether to feel elated or dejected as the train pulled out of St. Pancras towards Sheffield.

He decided to stay at his mother's on Winter Street for a couple of days before going to Catterick Camp. They hugged each other and she cried with emotion at having her son back fit and well after so many years. He'd joined up as a callow teenager and was now a confident twenty-seven-year-old man. His mother had had his motorbike brought up from storage in Stoke, and on his second day at home, he drove the faithful Manxman up to Dore to see his old mate Ron Gregory. Ron's mother cried on seeing him and called out, "Ron! Ron!" She was so upset and distressed at the loss of her son at El Alamein, that she imagined that she saw him, not Butch, approaching her. Her grief was inconsolable and her husband said it might be better if Reg didn't call on them again.

Reg was very upset at the news of Ron's death back in 1943 - and he had not known all these years.

He was Reg again, no longer Butch. His world had fallen apart -he'd even lost his name! He was determined to get a grip and sign on again in the Army - say for nine years. He was never low for long - he always bounced back.

On to Catterick, past the Spivs offering to buy demob. suits at £5 a time, Reg got his suit and money and papers, but went straight to the recruiting sergeant in another block at the camp, and said he wanted to sign on again.

The sergeant found and carefully checked through confidential reports of Reg's army career, looked at him, and gave his verdict:

"Reid - the army can't afford you!"

P.S. Reg (Butch) Reid settled in `civvy street', built up a painting and decorating business; married his right woman, Jackie, and they live near the beautiful Botanical Gardens in Sheffield. They have children and grandchildren, also living in the city. Reg's son runs the business as well as being a professional musician.


Pr-BR