World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                        John Bailey 

From Barnsley Town Hall to Dept. Propaganda and Psychological Warfare

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: John Bailey, aged 104 (b. 24.12.1900)
Location of story: Barnsley, London, France, Brussels, Badherdhysin
Unit name: Dept. Propaganda and Psychological Warfare
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anne Payne of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of John Bailey.

I was called up at age 42 and felt a bit annoyed at that as I was in a reserved occupation, working as I did for Barnsley Corporation Electrical Dept. (as electricity came under the local council in those days). Because it was a reserved occupation, they put the manager’s son in my job instead. I was sent to Aldershot and did 6 weeks of basic training. While there, we were divided into two groups on one occasion and told to debate something. They appointed me as chairman and I had to make the opening speech about a pit disaster (which I knew something about as I’d been a pit pony lad in a local pit when I was younger and had actually been in a disaster, being one of the few who had walked out alive) and we won the debate. I’ve wondered since if this was one reason why they sent me with a letter to London afterwards, and told me I’d to give this letter to no-one but the police. I’d no idea what was in it.

When I got to London, I approached the first police-man I saw who opened the letter and said “Bloody Hell!” and took me to a police station where I was seen by an Inspector and he arranged for me to be transported in a police van to a private address in Kensington. I still didn’t know what the place was but eventually learned that it was to be the headquarters of the new Dept. for Propaganda and Psychological Warfare. I was then Pte. Bailey, and along with a sergeant and a brigadier, I was the first recruit. The place was bare and there were no mattresses, so you just put your army great coat on the floor and used your hat as a pillow. I was told by the sergeant to find an envelope of a particular size for the brigadier, but the place was bare, but I found one eventually and took it to him. He asked who I was and I learned that some-one else had arrived, so that made four of us! We never did get any mattresses, but you learned to sleep anywhere.

Eventually, as the war progressed, our commanding officer came to us all and said “Hands up anyone who wants to go to France”. As this was followed by complete silence, he then said, “Well all you buggers are going anyway!” I was part of the D-Day Landings on D-Day +1. (I think I’m probably the oldest survivor of the D-Day Landings, and possibly the oldest member of the British Legion.) We went with an officer and on the way out of harbour, our ship did the same as every other ship leaving---we shot a cannon at a nearby wreck, trying to sink it. We arrived at Aramanche beach. We managed to get to Lisle and then on to Menzies where 1000’s of us had gathered in the street. Our troops took over a German barracks where all personnel had been killed, but we eventually got to a camp, where we slept in a field in branches and under twigs. That was where we met up with Brigadier Neville again. He lived in a caravan, and when he moved out, the Colonel wasted no time in moving in. I’d chummed up with another private and we had to cook the Colonel’s breakfast each day. One day, the Colonel had said to my mate, “I’m getting blaadey tired of white eggs.” When I heard that I asked what he expected us to do about it, given that everything was in such short supply. My mate said, “Well he wants brown ones”. So I said, “Right, we’ll boil them in coffee”, and we did!

Soon after, we reached Monty’s HQ in Rue de Loire, Brussels. We lived a bit rough at times, but eventually we got into a building in Rue Justalips, which we shared with some officers. There was a captain there who was a bit of a pansy and he said to me one day “You’d have to follow me if I went over the top”. I told him I would follow him anywhere---I don’t think he understood my sense of humour! Also sharing the same building at times were officers of the press, including on occasions, Richard Dimbleby. By this time I’d got 1 stripe (lance corporal) and every evening, I had to take a canvas bag marked Press to HQ. There were often up to 13 newspapers in it and as I handed in the new ones, I was given the old ones to take away. These were all marked to show what I needed to cut out and put in an album for Monty. You see, I was never involved in any battles, but I was always in the middle of it. No, I fought my war with 2 bottles of Gloy (glue)! They made use of me in other ways as well, though, because years before, I’d been in the butchery business, so on one occasion when we’d managed to get hold of a lamb, I butchered it. With the help of two ladies, we succeeded in providing food for everyone for a long time. I even taught the ladies to make tea!

One evening, while still in Brussels, I went for a walk and as I rounded a corner, I heard a crash and saw someone thrown through a window, following a fight. Nearby a door opened and a man called Paul came out. He was a watch-maker and they were having a party. He could see I was startled and said in broken English “What’s up Tommy?” He invited me in to their party, but I said I’d better not. He understood my hesitation and reassured me that they were all for the invasion and against the Germans, so I went in and joined them for a while. I went back several times and he made me a ring and a watch. One day they took me to a hotel to meet some footballers. By then I was a corporal, and I “slapped down” a private who was also there and taking over---ordering people about. I “pulled rank” on him and told him not to take advantage of these good folk. Later, Paul and his friends asked me to sing for them. (I’d done a lot of singing before the war, mainly in amateur operatics, and after the war I sang with Male Voice Choirs.)

Soon afterwards, we were moved to Badherdhysin, where the hotel became the sergeant’s mess. By coincidence, I saw an old colleague from Barnsley and said, “Hallo Joe”. He showed no sign of recognition and pointed to his stripes (sergeant), saying “Hey, watch who you’re talking to---there’s no Joe here, it’s sergeant to you!” At the sergeant’s mess, we also employed two Germans who’d been anti-Hitler, and they invited me to sing---word had got round! While we were there, I met the Commander-in-Chief (Monty), who wanted to meet the person who’d been making up the albums. He asked me what I would do with them if I were him so I said, “Well sir, if it were me, I’d give them to my son to keep”. Monty said, “Well that’s what I’ll do then”.

On another day, I was told to get ready as they needed me to take a bust of Monty to the C-in-C in Caen. It had been made by a French sculptor, and I had to go and collect it from him in Caen. I was dropped by jeep on the outskirts of the town, but it was in the middle of a battle, so I was phoned through every 10 yards to say who I was, and most of the way I was walking through dead bodies---the stench was terrible. When I reached base, the Colonel was pinning up Christmas cards, which seemed wrong when men were getting killed. I was given food and taken safely back, phoning me through again, every 10 yards.

At the end of the war, I was given a certificate of merit by Monty and a photo was taken of the occasion, which I still have, but unfortunately, someone stood in front of Monty while it was being taken. I also have a photo of me holding Monty’s Dachsund puppies, and a picture of all of the people in publicity and psychological warfare. I was demobbed in 1945 after 2½ years, and this for me was the best day of the war. From the sergeant’s mess, six officers carried me shoulder high and sang God Save the King. We were de-mobbed from Salz.... in Germany, and there were big battle ships everywhere. I slept in a hammock, which was a new experience, and when we got to Hull, there was an announcement, “Will Sgt. Bailey move forward,” and then I led the men off the boat. When we arrived in Sheffield, there were 100’s of British soldiers in this office we were taken to, and it was going to be a long wait for transport home. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, the place was nearly deserted, but I was just in time to get the train home to Barnsley.

When I got back to work at Barnsley town hall, my boss asked me what I’d done during the war, because they’d had to send information about me and give a character reference, but they’d never known what it was for. From the Electrical Dept. I moved to the Housing Dept. and from there I went to work in the Education Dept. where I stayed as a school bobby until my retirement. Since then, I’ve kept myself busy by writing poetry and have written up most of my life’s story up till joining the army. Also, there’s a local historian called Brian Elliott who’s written a number of books, and he seems to find me interesting, so he’s got me in some of them. Then, last year, I was awarded a veteran’s medal from the Chairman of the British Legion. The presentation was at a special do at Doncaster Race-Course, which I thoroughly enjoyed.