World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         Fred Johnson

125 Wagons

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Fred Johnson
Location of story: Europe and North Africa
Unit name: 276 Battery 68th Regmnt, Royak artillery.
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Fred Johnson.

My story begins in 1938 when I joined the Territorials. I was actually mobilised in July of 1939 at the camp at Highfields University in Nottingham, and in September of that year, I went to Scunthorpe where I was operating the Protector, which was a device that computed air speed and altitude, then relayed the information to gun sights in Nottingham. In January of 1940, I went to the Celanese Works at Spondon near Derby and then to Burgh Head in Scotland where I was using 3” naval guns. In February of that year, I was sent to Southend-on-Sea, in Essex for remobilising, but there was no gun training there.

Later, I went to Liverpool where I boarded the ship named ‘The City of Northumberland’. I left that ship in Glasgow for a short period, whilst the boat was being equipped. In March, we lset sail for Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leon but I stayed aboard the ship whilst there. We bypassed Capetown and went on to Durban in South Africa. We were based at the Clarewood Race Camp where there was a Wesleyan Chapel. People were really good there, they really put themselves out for us and took us into their houses. We were warned not to go into certain areas, but one man ignored the warning and was stabbed to death.

After some time, here, we boarded the ‘City of Canterbury,” and sailed for Egypt. We stayed at Ismalia for about a month, just to get acclimatized. We had to parade in the intense heat whilst wearing a tropical uniform. We were at the Tepel Kebia transit camp for about four weeks, then we went to the desert, to a place called Mensa Matrum which was on the coast. Here was the whitest sand I have ever seen. We came under attack from Messerschmitt aircraft; our only defense against them came from our Gloucester Gladiators, which were bi-planes.

We then went to Sidi Berani and the Hall fire Pass, known colloquially as the Hellfire Pass. Here, there was a lot of fighting; the guards had a bad time, they lost quite a lot of men. In Mesheefa, we extended the railroad. All the stocks went here. Then we went to Fort Cappuzo, where I was wounded. We were shelled and three men were killed. However, I was soon back on gun laying, but I felt a large hole in my back. I became quite relaxed whilst lying there and adopted a “couldn’t care less” attitude. But the firing had been horrendous. Monty had done a good job however.

In Tripoli, I saw Churchill. He said, “Where do you want to go next?” “Home!!” came the emphatic and simultaneous reply from all of the men. “Well, good news,” he said, “you’re going to Rome.” We actually went to Bengarden, which was on the border with Libya, then on to Tunisia (Sfaxx Suisee).
Next port of call was Sicily (Augusta), then on to Italy; west to Tarante then to Brendisi and Bari. There, the volcano, Vesuvius erupted and we were all covered in debris from the fallout. But there were no casualties, fortunately.

Next was Naples, and Foggia where we were defending the aerodrome, then we went to Lanciano. There were casualties here; there had been a show at a theatre. 125 wagons had brought in the troops who attended the theatre. When the theatre turned out at the end of the show, they were shelled. We were just picking bodies out. Jack Wood was under a wagon, repairing it. The wagon just dropped onto him and caught fire. A bombardier lifted the wagon and we dragged Jack out, but he was dead. The bombardier was awarded the Military Medal for his effort.

We then went to Piombino where the U.S. fifth army was, they were led by Mark Clarke. We returned to the eighth army in Arezzo where we saw the England Army Football Team who were playing against a team that was under Bryn Jones.

When we were finished there, we went to Florence (Firenze), to Bologna then to Venice (Mestre). Supplies went to Udine and Klagenfurt (Austria). Then we went back to Naples, from there, back home to England in 1945.