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Joining up in Reading to Dunkirk and my wedding

by Elizabeth Lister

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
Elizabeth Lister
People in story: 
George and Barbara Gardiner and Tom Miller
Location of story: 
Reading
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A5398004
Contributed on: 
30 August 2005

George Gardiner Reading 1940

This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer for CSVBerkshire, Jim Grufferty,on behalf of George and Barbara Gardiner of Reading and has been added to the site with their permission.

Memories of Joining up in Reading, Dunkirk and my wedding in 1940.

I was called up on 1st September 1939 having joined the Supplementary in June 1938 at Oxford, so I went straight in. We first went to Aldershot to Bourley camp; we were all put in tents. There were ten soldiers in each tent and of course at that stage all strangers. We had all just been issued with our kit and uniforms. When I got to look at mine, I was missing a shirt. One of the others said to me “ what’s the matter then chum” so I told him I did not have a shirt and he said he had one he would sell it to me. So he sold it to me, my own shirt. That was my first day introduction to the army. I can tell you I was not caught again, soon learned about all the carry on cost me ten shillings, and that with me on just one shilling a day when I joined up. I had taken “The Kings Shilling” as it was called. When I got married this was split, my wife got sixpence and I got sixpence. My wife got one pound ten shillings when I was on duty abroad. She saved it all for four years and was used as a deposit on our first house.

Before the war I was a heavy goods driver driving petrol tankers in High Wycombe. When you joined up you skills were matched to what you did as a civilian to make best use of these skills. I was put in transport driving five ton Albions, doing pontoon work. We were sent to France via the Bay of Biscay. While in St Nazairre the ship was torpedoed to we had to wait there for a while and were later taken to a little village in Belgium called Corby, same name as the one in England. My father in law had also been there in the 1914-1918 war. This is where I did all my basic training out there never did any in England. It was a bit like a holiday really to start with, like a part time army. After church parade on Sunday we used to go around to visit all the old graveyards and battlefields of the First World War that were close to us. After six months you were entitled to ten days leave, so I took mine in February and while at home got engaged on 26th February to my girlfriend.
I got back to Belgium but never did get my next leave in June; we were evacuated from Dunkirk in May. While in France I was in No 1 Bridging company; our emblem was a Bluebird. I still have a wallet with the Bluebird embossed on the front.

On May 12th 1940 the Germans started there push through Holland and Belgium. We were driving our Albions with pontoons on board, digging trenches and setting up the defences on the Belgian frontier The first we knew of the advance was when we saw about fifty planes overhead with black crosses on, going to bomb a nearby town Bruges, the ground about us, two miles away, shook as the bombs dropped. The commanding officer Captain North (he owned a dance hall in London) informed us soon afterwards we should make our own way to Dunkirk. . When somebody asked where is Dunkirk sir, and he was told “over there”. When we got there we drove our lorries into this big field and were told not to go across it but to go round the edge of it. Then were the told to destroy them, brand new wagons, so we drained the fuel and then put a pickaxe through the engine, nothing of use was left to the enemy. All this time we were under constant shelling from the Germans and raked with machine guns from the Messerschmitt. 109s. At the milestone 5 Km from Dunkirk I recognised somebody sitting on the stone and he said hello George how are you. It was Sergeant Tom Miller a neighbour from Belmont Rd opposite Battle hospital in Reading We had lived about four doors from each other. I said what are you doing and he said the same as you George going to Dunkirk I asked if he would come with me but he said no. He asked if I had any cigarettes so I gave him a big pack of 200. He then said if I got home first to let his Mum know I had met him and that he would do the same if he got home first. I never did see him again. Another strange co-incidence is that our daughter now lives in the house once owned by the Millers, only realised after she bought it.

There were lots of boats but you had to wait you turn. I waited about three days on the beach. Several times we marched/waded into the sea only to find the boat had gone, so we would march back again with you rifle and ammunition. I think the boat I eventually got on was an old barge. When on the boat you were under naval regulations so the officer in charge said come on then Tommy give us your rifle which I gave to him and he just chucked it overboard saying you don’t need that now we will look after the Messerschmitts from now on, he did not want the extra weight. After a tot of rum I slept on board all the way to Ramsgate. From there we were put on a train and went to sleep again. Another chap woke me up and asked do you live in Reading? He said we have just gone through it. Got back eventually, this was about May 25th.

Later our company, the RASC 286 was sent to Stow in the Wold where we waited to replace the men we had lost in France. Soon after we were told to get our medical inspection ready to be posted abroad again, this time we were told for two years. Little did we know it would finish up at four years. As I was engaged I asked the commanding officer if I could telephone my fiancée to arrange our wedding and if I could have leave to go and get married. This was on the Friday. I got no money for the fare so put my haversack on and I hitched a lift, first to Oxford and after that I was lucky in getting a lift to just outside my fiancée’s home in Reading. She had made all the arrangements. On the Saturday we bought our wedding cake got our two bridesmaids and were married on the Monday July 15th. We had one nights honeymoon in Wokingham and then back to camp where you had to be back at a certain time. I met the Sergeant when I got back and he said what are you doing Gardiner, your late, and I told I had just got married and he said OK this time but don’t let it happen again. Sixty-five years later I wish I could meet him now. I was not to see my wife again for four years.

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