World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Maurice Dykes 

How a 2 week break from the Post Office became a 7 year absence

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Maurice Raymond Dykes
Location of story: Leeds, Yorkshire; Devon; the Far East
Unit name: Royal Artillery
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Mr Maurice Raymond Dykes.

In May of 1939, two of us aged 17 joined the Royal Artillery at Fenton Street Barracks in Leeds as Territorials so that we could have two weeks break from the Post Office and for no other reason. My mother (a widow) wasn’t happy as I recall but signed for me as required. I had a younger sister.

Had I not been a Territorial, I would have been called up later. However with the 121st Field Regiment RA 276 Battery I went to camp at Bridlington on about the 27th August 1939, and we returned to Bramley in Leeds on the 2nd September to occupy a school as war was declared on Germany on Sunday 3rd September.

This was a shock to my mother and sister, and to me I suppose, but one was younger then and able to accept the discipline and training that ensued. So I was a gunner / signaller in the unit.

I remember we were all vaccinated against smallpox, which I had not taken up when I joined the Post Office as a Boy Messenger at 14 ½. My mother had vetoed it, but the Army overruled it, it seems, and I had a very difficult time with it for a while. We had various inoculations and similar during the war years in the Army.

By the time of my 18th birthday I had been posted to a Territorial unit in Plymouth, the 165 Bty of 56th Heavy Anti-Aircraft, from Redruth in Cornwall. The gun site was near Saltash and we were “blitzed” one night in 1940. A German aircraft dive bombed our gun flashes and straddled our site leaving four craters, which in daylight showed we had not suffered any damage. How fortunate!

In 1941 we became mobile and travelled to Scotland and elsewhere, arriving at Southend in November to be kitted out with tropical gear. We had undergone all kinds of training in ’41 including infantry and on my 20th birthday, 3 January 1942 we travelled to Liverpool to board a troop ship, forming a convoy bound for Singapore, which eventually reached Durban, South Africa – apparently just as Singapore was being captured by the Japs! We had set off again travelling east when a destroyer from Ceylon came out to the flagship and we were turned back into Bombay.

All our 3.7 AA guns, vehicles and equipment were taken to Madras where we dug our gunpits and awaited an expected attack by the enemy. I had my 21st and 22nd birthdays thereabouts but no enemy attack ever materialised. The Japs were too busy in the South Pacific and Burma. We were doing all forms of training, for jungle warfare etc but it seemed our 3.7 Heavy Ack Ack equipment could not be adapted for use in Burma.

Eventually two of us (driver / operators (radio)) were posted to the 16th Field Regt. RA prior to their return from Mandalay area of Burma. We reached a camp near Calcutta and prepared to be used in an attack on Rangoon – but fortunately once again for me an Indian Division re-took Rangoon and as VE Day came in May 1945 we heard the 2nd Div of 14th Army were training for a possible “D” Day on Japan itself. By now I was 23.

However by July 1945 I was repatriated (via Deolali, India) and was returning to Liverpool as the atom bombs were dropped on Japan.

It seemed I had a fair kind of war, despite all our forms of training both at home and overseas. I spent the end of ’45 and up to 25 May ’46 in Germany where I had my 24th birthday as de-mobilisation started. On 26th may I was demobbed at York and after 3 months leave returned to the Post Office on 2nd September 1946 – having left them in August 1939.

Generally speaking I suppose I had a steady if uneventful war in comparison with many other veterans. Had I not been a Territorial and being sent overseas, I would probably have been in D Day or whatever. We were disciplined, fit, and well trained, but I found my 3½ years tropical service oppressive. I suffered dysentery and malaria and altogether I had four spells in hospital during the war years. My Army No. was 915570.

My war service was not very distinguished perhaps,but we did do everything that was ever asked of us during that period.

After the war I married in July 1951, and was then called up for Z Reserve service in September.Fortunately this was for a fortnight only and I returned home aged 29 somewhat gratefully! Needless to say I did't join the Territorial Army again!