World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                                     Robert M Crossley

My War – Part 1

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Robert M. Crossley, Colin Haxby, Betty Patterson, Sgt. Sharp, Peter Watson , Jack Crabtree, Greenwood, Frank Ledger, Frank Cordingley, Joe Wilcock, Mike Williamson, George Smart, Ted Hewitt, Major E. M. W
Location of story: Bingley, Hatfield Woodhouse, Doncaster, Belton, Lincolnshire, Bassgarth, Goxhill, Barton-upon-Humber, Hutton Cranswick, Sunderlandwick, Driffield, Nafferton, Middleton-on-the-Wolds, Leconfield, Stanwell
Unit name: 397 Coy. 49th West Yorkshire Regt., R.E., 416 Battery, 127 LAA Regt., R.A.
Background to story: Army

 


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Robert M. Crossley, and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

My War – Part 1
By
Robert M. Crossley

Between August 1939, when I was called up for service in the Army, and demobilisation in July, 1946, I remember very little of happenings in my home town of Bingley, in West Yoprkshire. My mother and my Auntie Margaret, both at 'Hardy Nook' wrote regularly to Peter and me at many many addresses, keeping us posted with family and local news. I knew that my father had joined the local home Guard unit, that my sister had joined the A.T.S., my future brother-in-law, Colin Haxby, was in the Army, and that my cousin Peter's fiancé, Betty Patterson, had joined the W.A.A.F.s. I only remember the occasional incident or a party attended whilst at home enjoying some leave.

I remember the 24th August, 1939 quite well. My cousin Peter and I were at work: at Brown, Muffs when at lunchtime, word was going around the store about rumours that the 'Terriers' were being called up, and sure enough before tea-time, we were ordered to return home. We just had time for a quick meal before reporting to Shipley Barracks in our uniforms with kit. The whole 397th Company was transported in a fleet of buses to Hatfield Woodhouse, near Doncaster, and our fifteen strong searchlight detachment was soon to be installed on our first site at a farm in Belton, Lincolnshire.

A week later on the 1st September, we heard on the wireless that German forces had entered Poland, and it came as no surprise a few days later, on the 3rd, that we and France had declared war on Germany. I was eighteen years of age and soon settled down to army life. I considered myself lucky to have a pal like Peter with me for, the first, few months, and knowing the rest of the detachment well through our weekly training evenings at Green Lane Barracks. In the detachment at that time were Sgt. Sharp, Peter Watson (my cousin), myself, Jack Crabtree, the Greenwood brothers, Frank Ledger, Frank Cordingley, Joe Wilcock, Mike Williamson, George Smart, and Ted Hewitt the cook. We were living under canvas, having good meals, and I soon became proficient in my new role as Searchlight Operator.

On 'Action Stations’, my post was at the searchlight, being fully responsible for the light. The power came from a generator over 200 yards away manned by one of the Greenwood brothers. On the command 'Expose' from the sergeant, I used to slam home the knife switch and the beam shot into the dark night sky, at the same time illuminating most of us in the vicinity. I had boxes of carbons to hand which I looked after like gold, and when the carbons in the light needed replacing, I donned my special gloves and leaned into the very hot interior to fit the new ones (whilst the light was 'doused'). Peter was sat in a special Spotter’s chair with a pair of binoculars about 75 yards from the light, watching for aircraft, his companion Spotter, Jack Greenwood, 75 yards away in the opposite direction.

In a few months time, the Company moved to Barton-upon-Humber and our detachment occupied a site at Bassgarth, near Goxhill, and this was followed with a move to the Hutton Cranswick area with our own detachment on a farm at Sunderlandwick, near Driffield. There were moves for us to Nafferton, Middleton-on-the-Wolds, and Leconfield. Major E. M. Wright was now in charge of the Company, and it was a time when we ‘stood to' every night lighting up German aircraft for the Ack Ack batteries to fire on. My first ringside seat to bombing was whilst at the side of the large Driffield Aerodrome, when over 50 German Junkers bombed the airfield. They had direct hits on the W.A.A.F. quarters and many women were killed. Bombers that were standing on the side of the runway were hit and were left burning with a pall of black smoke. The attack was sudden and Driffield was one of the first airfields to be bombed. I remember that it was a clear blue sky and the Junkers dived from a very great height. It was all over in a few minutes and they were away, leaving much damage. Our fighters eventually passed over heading for the coast in pursuit.

Whilst in this area I remember occasions when Heinkels and Junkers on bombing raids inland fired down our searchlight beam, but we avoided any injuries, and at Nafferton, one Heinkel dropped a large bomb on our site. Luckily it fell behind a nearby barn and we were spared injury. I recall attending two or three Radar courses, one at Queensbury and one at Huddersfield before our move to the south of England. The move was to the Iver, Bucks., area and our detachment found ourselves at Stanwell near to where Heathrow airport is today, and to Bushey Park. It gave us the opportunity to get to know London well on our day or weekend leaves. London was having the worst of the bombing and one of my most frightening times was the night, staying in a Church Army Hostel, when one of those Land Mines dropped and exploded in the street behind. Most of the windows in the hostel and street were shattered from the tremor. I remember having been to the Hammersmith Palais earlier in the evening.

It was 1940 and Winston Churchill had become Prime Minister. Germany had invaded Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg, and we had seen the evacuation of our troops in the B.E.F. from Dunkirk. At home, my sister, Pat had joined the A.T.S., training at Catterick, and then being posted to Forfar in Scotland for service with the Royal Corps of Signals. This year my father had attended the annual dinner of 93rd Infantry Brigade at the Queens hotel in Bradford. In the 1914-18 war, he had served with the 16th West Yorks and was one of the Bradford Pals with service in the Dardenelles and France. He was Brigade Q.M.S.

On the radio we were listening to 'Hi Gang' with Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels and Vic Oliver. There was also 'Garrison Theatre" with Jack Warner, and 'Murgatroyd and Winterbottom' with Tommy Handley and Ronald Frenkau.

July 1940 found the Company stationed in the Empire Hotel, Buxton, where we were to change from a, searchlight company to an artillery battery. There was a complete reorganisation and our unit was to become 416 Battery, 127 L.A.A. Regiment, R. A. We were to man 40mm Bofor guns with Predictor equipment and there began intensive training. Peter had left our detachment many months ago and there were changes in personnel. My closest pals now were Bob Beldon and Jack Crabtree. We were now Gunners instead, of Sappers.

Jack and I had been selected for training on Predictors. I was No 3 (vertical) and Jack was a No 2 (traversing). Aside the Predictor, we peered through small telescopes, one on each side and with wheels and handles, aligned the Predictor on the target, the Bofor gun being immediately aimed at the target by remote control. It was teamwork and after weeks of training we soon became efficient.

Our first Firing Camp was at Stiffkey on the Norfolk coast. A plane dragging a linen target used to fly above the sea across our range and the detachment that had the most hits throughout the four-week stay became Battery champions. Jack and I had success from the start and became a well known team. There was keen competition between the six Battery detachments.

There was a break from the Bofors for a few weeks when we were sent to Waltham abbey for experience and there we manned a sophisticated type of four-barrelled two pounder ‘Pom Pom’ anti-aircraft gun in the defence of an explosives factory. It was a gun site that I will never forget. It was weird in some ways. The factory was surrounded by a high security fence with the main gate manned by some Infantry unit and the concrete gun emplacement was next to the factory at roof level, overlooking a yard, workers’ entrance, and a deep beck flowing with a green chemical waste. I remember the workers at the plant. Their faces and clothing were all yellow through the material they handled, and alarm sirens sounded at certain times of the day when it was said that they were doing a 'mix'. It was the only site occupied where we never fired the gun, which perhaps was a blessing.

There were light moments though at Waltham Abbey, and always many of us who didn’t object to being on duty at the emplacement on a Sunday afternoon, where there were extensive views. Across the river was a nudist camp, which was a field of activity on a warm weekend afternoon. Always handy by the gun were two pairs of powerful binoculars!

By now, in every town or city there were N.A.A.F.I., Y.M.C.A., Church Army, Red Shield or Toc H hostels, providing accommodation, canteen and reading room services for any serviceman and woman on leave. Even when out on isolated sites, there were regular calls by mobile canteens selling tea, cakes, toiletries and cigarettes. We also had our share of the many E.N.S.A. concert parties touring the country.

Watchet, on the Somerset coast, was the next Firing Camp our Battery was to attend for three weeks, and the detachment had further success by attaining the most hits. It was here that I won a Battery competition together with a man named Kent, the prize being a flight in a Gypsy Moth from a nearby airfield. The pilot was a Czech of the R.A.F., and it was my first flight in an aeroplane. Flying towards Oxford, he did a roll and then a 'loop the loop', returning from Oxford, over the intercom and headphones, he asked if I was ready for another roll and loop. I shook my head because my stomach was still in my mouth from his last two manoeuvres. However, I remember that we not only did a loop, but a right roll and then a left roll before landing on the airfield. Apart from the aerobatics, it was a really enjoyable trip though. I remember going in to the canteen to await my friend Kent, and the aircrews telling me that the Czech pilot had a false leg, having lost a leg in a crash.

We then had moves to Clifton, near Bristol, to Andover, Salisbury Plain, and the large R.A.F. fighter base at Middle Wallop where Sqdn. Leader 'Cats-Eyes' Cunningham operated from. This was followed by moves to Ringwood, and Fordingbridge, Hants, and to Bulbarrow Hill, then to Boscombe, Bournemouth, where our gun site was on the cliff top overlooking the sea. Through this period and the Battle of Britain, we were continually manning the Bofor day and night, firing at any plane within range and also at the numerous 'doodle-bugs’ (flying bombs) which were within our range. We were credited with several hits. We assume that it was for a rest, because the Battery was then moved from Bournemouth on the south coast to the northern coast of Scotland. The whole unit was conveyed by rail from Bournemouth railway station to Wick in Caithness, which took two- days. Our detachment was stationed in a Wick brewery and there was plenty of the local brew available to us at a cost price. It was wet and dismal in Wick and a complete contrast to Bournemouth. I remember visiting John O Groats and Thorso on the northern tip on a run out from Wick.

From Wick we moved into another Firing Camp at Nethertown, Cumbria, for a month, and then north again into the West Highlands. I had volunteered for a Physical Training Instructors Course, although volunteering in the army wasn’t always going of your own free will. I spent three weeks on one of Lord Lovat’s estates at Beauly, near to Inverness. I remember the fresh salmon from the river was lovely. The idea of the course was to have one member of each detachment trained, in taking P.T. so as to ensure everyone was fit.

After the course I journeyed by train East to Poolewe to join my own detachment that was occupying a site on the banks of Loch Ewe. The Loch was a hive of activity where convoys of ships bound for Russia with supplies sheltered for several days at a time. I remember that there were nationalities of many kind in the local pubs. During this period, I had to take the detachment on P.T. daily, being so qualified, but the practice soon died a sudden death and was forgotten. After a long stay in the highlands we were to attend our last Firing Camp for a few weeks and this time it was in mid-Wales at a place called Pen-y-bont, near Llandrindod-Wells, Radnorshire.

From there we were to move south again to the Chichester area and, one of our sites was at Fareham on the side of a main railway line. The south was full of Americans at this time and every public house was full to overflowing.

It was early 1943 and the Battery had a strange move to Leeds in Yorkshire. We found ourselves billeted in terrace houses down Brudenall Road, Headingley. We were parted from our guns and there were strong rumours that we were to be kitted out for service in the far East. We were doing regular drill up and down Brudenall Road, rifle practise and general infantry training, but enjoyed for a change having every evening free, unless you were picked for the few guard duties.

I took full advantage of being so near to my home, slipping home many an evening, with the odd weekend leave too. At home, I learned that my sister Pat had been posted out to Ceylon, serving with the Royal Signals, together with Colin Liaxby, whom she was to marry after the war, My father was a Sergeant in the Home Guard. The Duke of Kent had been killed in an air crash, and on the radio we were listening to shows from America, such as the Charlie McCarthy Show, the Bob Hope Show, and the Jack Benny Hour.

A Miss Betty Patterson of Bingley, who cousin Peter was courting and was to marry, come the end of the war, had joined the W.A.A.F.s. Back at Leeds and the good life, there must have been a change of mind at Army H.Q, because the Battery was suddenly whisked away back to the South coast, this time to the Lymington area. Our detachment occupied gun sites on the shores of the Solent, and at Brockenhurst in the New Forest. There were many other sites not recalled.

The loneliest Christmas I remember was at Warmwell in 1944. Only one member of the detachment was allowed out on an evening. Mine fell on Christmas Eve and I spent it at an R.A.F. Station nearby. I was on my own and everyone else was paired up, and the band played ‘I am dreaming of a White Christmas’ over and over again. I remember going, back to camp early and it proved to be the worst Christmas of my life. Strangely enough there were less calls out for action these days as the German Luftwaffe had been mastered by our Air Force, and we watched the 1,000 bomber raids leave our shores for Germany.
Next it was a move to Clacton-on-Sea for a few months, and then North yet again to the Hull area. Here our detachment occupied a gun site at the Brough aircraft factory and airfield, one at the side of Beverley racecourse, and a rat infested site at Little Kelk.

Not mentioned in this first four years of my army life are the odd four week stays in Army barracks, such as Aldershot and Brayton, where we underwent strict infantry training - doing guard duty on the main gate (2 hours on, four hours off), the 20 mile route marches, the hard, assault courses, living to the daily bugle calls, parade drill on the square, arms training, target practise and general barrack life.

In early 1944 we were sent to the South East coast, to the Romney Marshes and were stationed at the pebbled seaside resort of Littlestone-on-Sea. The Battery H.Q. was at Dungeness. I remember our food rations came by the commandeered Romney to Dymchurch miniature railway that ran along the coast, and we were living in the holiday chalets that seemed to stretch for miles on end.

The days of the Invasion of Europe were drawing near and we were to learn what our role was to be for the time of the Landings. We were taken out from Folkestone harbour in commandeered fishing boats, a detachment to each boat, and introduced to the large 6,000 ton concrete Phoenix caissons, which were to form the outer wall of the Mulberry Harbour, to be assembled at Arromanches in the coming June, after each section had been floated and towed across the channel by sea-going tugs. We didn’t know this at the time. On the way, we noted that the caissons, each over 70 metres long, 30 feet high from the water level, were dotted along the coastline, each laying about a 1/4 mile off shore and had Bofor guns mounted upon a central tower. We climbed from the fishing boat on to a lower ledge of the caisson and then had to climb 25-30 feet up a vertical iron runged ladder to reach the top and deck. I remember that there were one or two members who were too scared to make the climb, which was understandable, and they had to be roped up.

Once on the top, we found that the caisson was hollow, divided into about 16 compartments, each compartment filled with water to the level of the tide at the time (when it had been positioned there the seacocks would have been opened allowing the sea to flow in thereby allowing the caisson to sink on to the seabed). We found a small deck at each end with a catwalk leading down the middle of the caisson to the gun tower. We were to live on these monsters for a week at a time to get used to them. The designers had made a small concrete room at one end with a small window for any gun crew to-shelter in. We found that sleeping was impossible there and we all had Claustrophobia, preferring to bunk down underneath the gun tower. Equipment on the caisson was found to consist of many ropes, a generator for pumping out the water when the time came to 'float', several lifebuoys and signalling lamps.

This practise of going to Folkestone by lorry, by boat to the caisson, staying aboard for a week, and returning to Littlestone, carried on for a long time. Rations were delivered to us by boat with everything having to be roped up from the lower-platform. Only part of the end decks were railed and there was the continual fear that one day a man would fall from the top of the caisson to the lower platform with instant death.

During the middle of May, 1944, our whole unit moved down the coast to Selsey Bill, near Portsmouth, and after a few days in a sealed camp, we were to be put aboard Caisson A54 and realising then that our Battery had been selected to travel across to Normandy on these particular sections of the Mulberry Harbour, and there defend the harbour with the Bofors.

The South coast at this time was packed with troops and equipment of the Allied Forces. There was tight security, all leave had been cancelled, and everyone was aware that it was all ready to happen. There had been changes over the years and our detachment was now made up of and myself. Bob was to become a good friend who I was to maintain contact with after the war. As darkness fell on the eve of the 6th June, the dark clouded sky was blackened further with gliders and aircraft bearing the 6th Airborne and others towards Normandy, and we also watched from our vantage point the thousands of craft of the Invasion force assembling in the Solent, and head out into the Channel.

We had already received our copies of the personal messages and good wishes from General Eisenhower the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, and from General Montgomery, Commander of the Allied Armies. Through the day of June 6th, we were made aware that all the landings on the French coast had been successful. On the caisson we waited for our turn to come. There was no more leave and we were on those boxed rations. Each box contained a day’s ration for so many men, and included a supply of biscuits, chocolate, cigarettes and even toilet roll. The boxes had different letters on so that you could vary your menu throughout a week. It was to be a long time before we had fresh meat and vegetables again.

Eventually our big day arrived. First, two Royal Engineer Sappers and two Royal Navy ratings came aboard to accompany us across the Channel, the Engineers to man the generator and 'pump out', and the Naval men to assist in the positioning of our caisson at Arromanches. Also to join us were about three men from our Battery Headquarters, again just for the crossing. I remember that two of them I knew were Ernest Martin, an orderly, and Fitton, a clerk. Sadly both of them were soon to lose their lives.

A blue U.S.A. ocean going tug came alongside, which was to tow our 6,000-ton concrete caisson over to France. The seacocks had been closed and the generator was working flat out pumping the water out of the caissons interior chambers. After what seemed hours of pumping and watching the level of the water fall suddenly we were floating. Another long wait until as little water as possible remained in the caisson, and then the crew of the tug from their vessel attached two steel hawsers to one end of the caisson for the big tow. WE WERE OFF, but it was to be a long and very slow journey. I do remember seeing ahead another of our detachments was on a similar caisson making about the same knots, and the tug towing it was dwarfed by the concrete hulk behind it. At this time, there was little roll, on account of our weight, and the journey seemed quite smooth. The weather was deteriorating though and at night we huddled in blankets under the gun tower with hardly any sleep.

The next morning there was bad luck for us when one of the steel hawsers between the tug and the caisson snapped, so we were being towed with one line at a slightly off-straight angle, and the weather getting rougher, as were the seas. We estimated that we were midway over the Channel. The worst thing was that we were taking in water because of the high seas and the angle of our course. We signalled by Morse lamp to the tug's crew and we had the reply that 'She looked OK'. The tug was perhaps 60-70 yards ahead and rolling heavily and ever from our high position on the caisson we sometimes almost lost view of her. Our other detachment's caisson had forged ahead and out of sight.

After a worrying day, darkness fell and we were taking in more water. The caisson now had a list to starboard and I remember that we moved anything of weight to the port side and even bedded down on that side, though it made no difference. Credit to the Sergeant and the Corporal who had been signalling all night at intervals to the tug towing us and to any other ship that came in sight.

The next day a British Naval frigate, obviously in answer to our S.O.S. calls, came as near to us as she dare. I will never forget our cheers and joy to see her. I am sure that each one of us expected a miracle and to find ourselves magically, winched into the safe and warm quarters of the frigate, but it was not to be and impossible in these seas. The crew of the frigate fired lines by rocket towards us, but they failed to land a line near enough for us to catch owing to the high seas. The frigate was rolling and heaving in the swell, more than we were, and moving with us about 60 yards to starboard. I remember that they made about six attempts on this dark cloudy rainy day without success, and then they gave up. Sailing in our sight for an hour, and continually exchanging signals with the American tug, the frigate was eventually to sail away.

Reaching the Normandy coast, still listing badly, we saw through the rain and mist, a mass of vessels, which would be at the half assembled harbour. Still in contact with the American tug by lamp, we were made to understand from the Captain that it was not possible to land us owing to the weather and seas and that we were a danger to other shipping. We were to spend another night at sea and were towed up and down the coast, well away and out of sight of any other craft. Moral was low, and everyone was getting frightened at this stage because of darkness falling. Tempers were frayed at the assumed attitude of the American tug's crew who seemed to have no interest in our plight. The water in the caissons chambers was deeper at one end than the other and the list was getting worse. There was nobody to communicate with and the tug crew were now ignoring us.

We had all worn our life jackets for the last 48 hours. Two of the lads were too scared to speak even and just sat huddled up in blankets. I was scared myself and most of us realised the strong possibility of the caisson going down during the night. There was a feeling of helplessness. Some of us took it in turns, in pairs, to walk the catwalk to the far end and check the water level by torch. It was always reported higher. By 3am in the morning I remember agreeing with Jack Crabtree that we 'jump together', as we were certain now that the caisson was doomed. Most of us thought that it was best to get down to the lower platform that ran the full length of the caisson and which was only eight feet above normal sea level. So we climbed down in turn, that 27 feet of iron runged ladder and positioned ourselves on the highest corner. I remember that some of them must have been too scared to climb down such a ladder in those circumstances because I only remember being aware of about eight of us on the lower ledge. Sergeant Wally Newcombe was there, signalling to the last. According to a letter that I wrote to my mother a few days hence, the caisson actually went down at 3-30am.

At that particular time on the caisson I remember seeing in the distance, the far end of our lower platform go under water, at the same time, aware that our end was getting higher. It was obvious that the thing was going under so I jumped. I seemed to go a long way down in the water for a long time and when I surfaced I remember thanking God for a large wooden beam that had appeared from nowhere. I slung my arm over it and called out to two bobbing heads nearby. They were Jack Crabtree and Alf Holmes and they joined me. I saw nothing of any caisson and no other heads in the water, though there was still a heavy swell.

As the hours passed Jack's condition got worse. He was an older man and had swallowed too much water. I was determined to survive and trod the water continually to keep my blood circulating and to avoid, any cramp.

At dawn a fishing trawler suddenly appeared and spotted us. It was commanded by a Sub-Lieutenant Brown and had been engaged in laying smoke screens off the beaches and was returning to its homeport in England. I remember being pulled in by a boat hook and lifted aboard by the crew, and then nothing except drinking rum and put into a bunk with warm blankets below decks. The first thing that I noted on waking up was a mess tabletop covered with our personal possessions that had been dried. The vessel was rolling and pitching, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was alive and safe. We had been picked up at about six o’clock according to the crew, and were heading for Portland Bill and Weymouth Harbour. The Captain and crew were super and gave us all 50 cigarettes.

In dried clothes, with a meal inside us, and in the calm waters; of Weymouth Bay, I went on deck with Alf Holmes and Arthur New to find the covered bodies of Jack Crabtree, Fitton, an Engineer and one other. I had survived the ordeal with only a very stiff shoulder and bruising. We were landed, examined by a doctor in a room at the quayside, and then transported to a Holding Camp, 103 Reinforcement Group, at Aldershot. Holding Camps were where any soldier lost or strayed were sent to until they were re-drafted or returned to their regiments. Eventually, I learned that my other close pal, Bob Beldon, had been picked up by a U.S. transport ship, downgraded and hospitalised, that Hannon, Martin, Fitton, both Engineers, one of the sailors, and two others had been drowned.

With Bill Farrell and Alf Holmes at Aldershot, we luckily saw on the first day, a truck bearing our Battery's colour and emblem. It was learned that it was our rear party ready to leave for Normandy. Wishing to be reunited with our own unit we saw the C.O. and quickly found ourselves at Tilbury Docks, joining a small party of our Battery Headquarters, and aboard an American manned L.S.T. bound for France, and Arromanches. It felt strange that within seven days of leaving Selsey Bill on that piece of the Mulberry Harbour, I was to arrive at Arromanches once more, but this time on a L.S.T. crammed with vehicles, equipment, and follow-up troops.

The weather had dramatically changed for the better and I was soon in an orchard on the west of the town with 416 Battery again. My cousin Peter, now a Sergeant in H.Q., had also crossed the Channel by caisson as everyone had, except that rear party. Meeting Peter again was a memorable moment and I remember him putting his arms around me, saying how pleased he was to see me safe. He gave me a bottle of whisky.

In Arromanches, I was to join a new gun detachment, the members being Sgt. Sharp, Joe Wilcock, Arthur New, Bill Farrell, and many new faces in replacement of those lost. I remember there was a Geordie Thompson, a Duggie, Eddie, Gilbert, and a man called Eglin, the officer in charge being a Lt. Carey.

We took over one of the vacant Bofor guns on a caisson forming part of the outer wall of the prefabricated harbour. Many of the caissons had been badly damaged on ‘D’ plus 13 when there had been one of the worst June storms for forty years, but even damaged, they were to function successfully in providing that breakwater that they were designed for.

The German Air force was being mastered by our R.A.F., but we did experience one big raid on the harbour, and with so much armour that was amassed in the Arromanches area, the barrage we put up was really spectacular, and said to rival that well known barrage in the Western Desert by the 8th Army a year ago. It was now a hot summer and there seemed to be dust everywhere, especially in the badly damaged town. There were signs everywhere, expertly erected by the R.A.S.C.

I will never forget the daily scene at Arromanches. It was a hive of activity. There were three steel roadways an pontoons leading from what was a promenade out to the pier heads. There were ships unloading day and night and the supplies being taken by lorry from the piers to the town by way of these steel roads. On one steel road which was reserved for outward traffic, there was always that fleet of army ambulances, taking the injured out to the hospital ships, waiting near the pier-heads. It was a continual traffic of troops, tanks and supplies coming in, and the sick and injured returning the other way bound for home.

There were occasions when we travelled inland on various duties; and I will never forget the Falaise Gap area, and towns and villages that come to mind such as Caumont, St. Lo, Tilly and Villers Bocage, all reduced to a pile of rubble. What was not destroyed by bombing from the air was seen off by rockets, cannon, shell, or bulldozed by our tanks. I remember in one farmyard, counting over eleven dead horses that had been piled upon each other, and coming upon the many temporary graves of the fallen, buried hastily with some kind of makeshift cross at the head. Many were left with their boots sticking out (Later of course the War Graves Commission was to collect them all and take them to a central point). We all had identity discs-that never left our necks. We were soon to leave Arromanches and become a mobile unit, each detachment being supplied with a Bofor Gun and towing truck, the truck having seating for each member of the crew.

We were still in 30 Corps, with the white boar, on our sleeves, but became attached to the 1st Canadian Army. I never thought when leaving Arromanches and the harbour, that in forty years time I would be revisiting the town on several occasions to view the model of the harbour in the fine Arromanches Museum.

We followed the advance North, via Caen, Lisieux, Rouen, Amiens, Lille, and into Belgium. Passing through one Belgian town, which had been taken by the Canadians, I remember that we were the first British soldiers that the inhabitants had seen and in the square, the women and children gave to us a piece of black, yellow and red ribbon to pin on our tunics.
The advance troops had now taken Antwerp and we were to take up positions in defence of shipping in the Scheldt Estuary, as the Allies were now to use the deep-water port of Antwerp for supplies instead of the far distant port at Arromanches.

Columns of German prisoners, being taken south from the front line, were passing us daily and we were given ten of them to put to work sandbagging, so as to make us a temporary gun emplacement. I remember in true British style giving them plenty of food and cigarettes, and most of them were pleased to be out of the fighting. The ones that we got were very young, arrogant, and sure that they would still win the war. I remember that there was many an argument and several ears clipped. During this period we had our gun positioned in Antwerp, Bruges, St. Pauwels and St. Nicholas, but there were very few nights in action. Next it was to Terneuzen at the mouth of the Scheldt, where we could see, through our glasses, the Germans on the Walcheren Islands that were opposite. They had been abandoned by the fast advancing Allies, to be mopped up at a later date. They were stranded and could go nowhere.

Our gun was eventually sited on the farm of the Vanden Bulchs, who had three daughters and a son, and the family, though none spoke any English, were very good to us. In exchange for our food they gave us the warmth of their large kitchen on evenings that we were free. It was here that we spent the Christmas of 1944.

Nearby was the Ghent Ship Canal which ran from the Scheldt into Ghent and was already being used by the Allies to bring in supplies. There was a procession of those large Liberty ships up and down the canal and I remember three of us spending Boxing Day on board one Liberty ship at the invitation of the American crew.

By April, with Berlin taken, the end of the war was in sight, and I was granted 9 days leave in the United Kingdom. I was conveniently placed and sailed for England from Ostend. It was exactly one year since my last leave and the sight of my family. To my parents it must have been a great relief to see me again, and to be assured that I was likely to come through the war safely. At home I remember my parents showing me the letter that they had received from the War Office reporting me 'missing' earlier that June.

Returning to my unit in the same area, after a wonderful leave, it was only a few weeks before the Allied Forces realised victory, and V.E. Day was on the 9th May, 1945. We had a big parade in Axel with the salute taken by a Brigadier named Horwood, and were later addressed by the 30 Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks. I remember in that same week that the elderly. Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina, visited Axel, having just returned to her country from England.

In July or August we moved in convoy into Germany, via Munster, Minden, Hanover, and Hildesheim, and were to be stationed East of Alfeld at a priory in the centre of Lamspringe. Here we were to lose our Bofor guns and adopt an infantry role in the Army of Occupation.
We were all to be granted a 12days leave in the U.K. My AB 64, which was the Army Pay book with records of leave etc. shows my leave was from the 28th Sept. to the 9th October, 1945, and it was the leave on which I met my future wife Sheila, at a dance in the Princess Hall, Bingley. It was a wonderful, well-timed leave for me.

The previous month had seen the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which brought to an end Japan’s prolongation of hostilities against the U.S.A., and we seemed bound for world peace at last. Atlee had just succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister, and three new shows had become popular on the radio: Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne in "Much Binding on the Marsh", Charlie Chester and Arthur Haynes in " Stand, Easy" and Erie Barker, and Pearl Hackney in "HMS Waterlogged". Picture Post was the most popular magazine on the bookstalls.

Back to Germany I went, which was a country in disarray, The Control Commission had taken over every large city, and there were displaced persons everywhere. At Lamspringe we were not far from the Russian border and I recall the long passenger trains passing through the district from the East into the occupied Allied territory. The trains were packed with displaced persons of all nationalities. They were full inside and people were hanging on to the sides, with as many sat on every carriage roof together with their possessions. It was an unbelievable sight. People obviously trying to get as far west as they could, and all were homeless.

Whilst in Lamspringe I was to see the beautiful Hartz Mountains, and visit the medieval town of Gaslar which was on the border.

Part of our new role as infantry was to guard strategic points and also to track down the many high ranking German officers, Gestapo members etc., that had disappeared and gone into hiding. Then one or two weeks later, I remember that we had a very unpleasant job to do. At about midnight we would all climb into trucks and then travel miles to surround a selected village in the area. Nobody was allowed to leave the village and we had to search every house, garage, barn and outhouse in the village throughout the night, for escaping German officers or members of the Gestapo.

Each armed with a rifle, six of us would take one house at a time, awaken the inhabitants and assemble them in the sitting room, whilst we checked their identities and searched the premises thoroughly. If in trouble with the language, or suspecting an unidentifiable resident, we could call upon an interpreter attached to our Company, who was positioned in a central point of the village and readily accessible. Our man was a Belgian Army Sergeant who had seen two of his family killed in his back garden by the Gestapo in 1940, so he was a man, ruthless, and with little mercy.

I remember many a night, in those sitting rooms, the German women and children in their nightdresses, screaming, half asleep, not under-standing what was happening and what was our purpose. And I remember seeing many a man being led out of a cottage, put on a truck, and driven away with others for questioning. This nightly ritual seemed to never end. On arriving back at the priory at dawn, we used to have a meal then go to bed for eight hours, with the rest of the day free until midnight. Then it was off again, to another village. This work was going on all over Germany by many units as many war criminals were on the loose.

It was an unpleasant job and I will never forget the noise and the hysteria on every occasion. The banging of the doors because everyone was well off to sleep, the raising of windows and German voices, lights going on, suddenly lighting up a very dark road. The screaming of those German villagers who must have assumed that they were going to be harmed. We looked under every bed, searched every attic and loft, pantry, hut, and outhouse. The local school and church were also searched. Many a time the village's leading citizen or vicar was taken into a house to verify the householder’s story, and it took all night for the Company to deal with one small village.

One week, Bill Farrell and I, and one other, had to spend every night sat in a beautifully furnished detached bungalow in a residential part of Alfeld. It was unoccupied and owned by a Gestapo General who had disappeared. It was thought that he might return to his home in the dead of night to hide there or to retrieve some of his possessions. He never came, but I remember that we looked through his photograph albums and identified him as a General who rode in the car behind Hitler at those large Nazi parades in Berlin. We had strict instructions not to touch or disturb anything in the house and I remember that we took it in turns to watch out through the net curtain.

Alfeld was a small town only a few miles from Lamspringe, and my only other memories of the town were the very good 1945 Xmas Dinner that we had at Regimental headquarters there, and mingling with the German population and choir in the snow covered square singing 'Silent Night' at midnight. Perhaps because of orders from a higher command, the next few months in the area became very enjoyable. There was less discipline, everything was more relaxed, and we all had more free time.

Lamspringe was a pretty village surrounded by lovely countryside with each road leading out of the village lined with cherry trees, and I was never to eat so many cherries in such a short time ever again. There were one or two shops, and the large priory where we were billeted was just off the one long main street. It was a time when every week another group would be saying farewell to us before they boarded a truck on their way home to be demobbed.

By the March of 1946 it was learned that the Regiment was to be disbanded and we were all to be posted to other units to await demobilisation. My turn for demobilisation was also drawing near and I was posted to Hamburg to be attached to the Royal Military Police. I had shown some clerical ability it was said, so I was the sole-member of the Company to be sent to the R.M.P, as a clerk, to serve out my remaining four weeks of active service.

Arriving in Hamburg alone with my kit, having said goodbye to all my pals, I found myself billeted at the top of Shell house, on the side of the Alster, with wonderful views over Hamburg. Shell House, obviously owned previously by the Shell Oil Co., was a very large modern building, with four lifts on each side of the large marble foyer. I remember that they were the open kind, no doors, moving slowly, and you just stepped on or off as you reached your floor. The building was used by many administration bodies, consuls, etc., with the Royal Military Police Office on about the 6th floor. I remember, when entering or leaving, I was always saluting some high ranking officer of any of our services.

I remember walking along the world famous Reperbaum, which had been badly damaged by our bombers, and whilst there, I watched the Kiwis play the B.A.O.R. Combined Services team at rugby in the Bahrenfeld Stadium. My work as a clerk was the recording of the city’s prostitutes, and registering the employees of all the brothels on to cards, which I typed, though I still wonder what value it all was. I remember, making good friends with a local Hamburg policeman who was attached to our Military Police and worked in my office.

On the 23rd.April, 1946, I was on my way back to England, and to be demobbed the next day at Fulford Barracks, York. I was issued at the centre with a light grey striped suit and other clothing, and handed in all my army kit and uniform. I would be put on Z Reserve.
I had been in uniform and on active service in the Army for the last six years and eight months, but I travelled, home to Bingley that, same day A CIVILIAN AGAIN.

LOOKING BACK
Looking back over the war years and my service in the army, I must consider myself very fortunate. Though frightening at certain periods with sights that were sad and sordid, most of the years were spent safe and secure. There were days when I was drenched to the skin, and tired and hungry. Days with sore feet and aching back but there was never anything that did harm to my body. On enlisting I was medically graded Al, and on discharge, much fitter and healthier, I was again graded Al.

Always a lover of travel, I was lucky to have been stationed in almost every county of the British Isles before serving on the Continent, and I even saw some of the country from the air on my very first flight in an aeroplane. In English and Scottish bars I had mixed with Americans, Canadian, the Free French, Australians, New Zealanders, and Polish and Czechoslovakian airmen. At the army's expense I had seen the cities of Brussels, Antwerp, Hanover, Hamburg, Essen, Cologne, and attended concerts: in Brunswick and Halle.

I had lived on and worked on one of the wonders of the Second World War, the prefabricated artificial port called 'Mulberry', and had seen the damage and devastation of Normandy. I had lived intimately with the people of the Netherlands for a long period, wearing their Dutch clogs in a cold winter and spending time on their large river going barges. I had seen the notorious camp at Belsen on the heath, dined on an American cargo ship, and had smoked and drunk Schnapps with the displaced persons from the east of every nationality.

Having accepted army discipline! I learned the value of teamwork and comradeship and enjoyed the good humour that went with it. Proud to have had some small part through those 'valiant years', I was richer for the experience but sad at the loss of so many good friends. I was awarded the T.A. Long Service & Good Conduct medal, 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, and the 1939-45 Victory medal.


Pr-BR