World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         David Heydon 

Thomas Heydon’s World War 2 service in Palestine, Egypt, Italy as well as Europe. – Part 1

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Thomas William Heydon
Location of story: Perham Down, Egypt, Normandy
Unit name: 98 Squad
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 David Heydon.

My father, Thomas William Heydon, served all through the second world war but would not talk about his experiences apart from a few amusing anecdotes. He saw service in Palestine, Egypt, Italy as well as Europe.

My father was enlisted at Perham Down on the 20th February 1941, and went on to be a motor mechanic doing his initial training at Swindon. He recalled that during his training, they were having a lecture on the workings of the turret fitted to a tank (I think it was a Sherman tank). My father said that one of his fellow trainees had fallen asleep. Inevitably the instructor also noticed this and called him down to the front of the class, implying that as he had fallen asleep, he must know it all and ordered him to tell the class about the turret. This he proceeded to do and went into greater detail than the instructor. It turned out that this man was the designer of the turret.

While in Egypt and the surrounding area he said that water was very precious, and to shave, you only had a small mug of water. If you wanted to wash any clothes, petrol was used, as this was more plentiful. After washing, the clothes were laid out on the sand to dry and air, to get rid of the petrol smell. For a bit of fun, what used to happen occasionally was that, after the clothes had been laid out someone would come along and toss a lighted match onto the clothes. All that was left was a charred outline of the clothes and a neat line of buttons.

Also in the desert, he tells of an officer who was forever complaining that his jeep would not start. As a mechanic, my father was given the task to find out what was wrong with it. He said he would recover the jeep but could never find anything wrong with it. Eventually, after questioning the officer on his starting procedure, he had a habit of pumping the accelerator several times before trying to start the engine. My father realised that the engine was being flooded. He told the officer that the problem was that he had too much electricity in his body and in order to start the jeep, he was to make sure that it was in neutral, and then whilst standing at the side of the jeep, reach into the jeep and press the starter. This worked perfectly and he never had any more trouble from this officer or his jeep.

The last two stories concern his time when he was in Normandy. He and a group of other mechanics were sitting round a small wood burning stove trying to keep warm and drinking what he called Applejack (this being Normandy was either cider or more likely Calvados). Suddenly a bomb went off somewhere close by. Everyone naturally dived for cover, and he said that one of the men had rolled several times across the floor and that when he sat up, he had not spilt a drop of his drink, the only one who hadn’t.

On another night a group of them were sitting round a pot bellied stove trying to keep warm. Another trooper came in and asked to join the circle round the fire, but no one would move or give him room. He then promptly climbed over them and urinated all over the stove saying, “If you won't let me join you, none of you are going to enjoy the heat.”