- Contributed by
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- Herbert (tommy) Handley
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 September 2005
Herbert (tommy) Handley 1944
Herbert (Tommy) Handley DVR R.A.S.C.
My army travels
This is an account of my travels. I may have some facts or dates wrong for which I apologise, but forgive me; this happened a long time ago.
I was born in the small village of Tugford in Shropshire, working on farms, and didn’t have much experience of life outside of Tugford. When I was eighteen I received notification to report to the Lion Hotel at Shrewsbury for medical examination and assessment for call up to the armed forces. I received a free railway warrant so I cycled to Much Wenlock, got on the train to Buildwas, got off at the high station and got on again at the lower station for the train to Shrewsbury. The train to Shrewsbury was, I believe, one of the first small diesel single carriage trains.
April 1944 I got notice to report to the KSLI Barracks at Shrewsbury for the duration of the emergencies of the war. I spent six weeks being drilled, PT and general army training. Some of the PT training was done by Billy Wright and ? Brown from the Wolves football club. On being asked which branch I’d like to join I opted for the Royal Army Service Corp, so was sent to Alfreton in Derbyshire for driving tuition. After passing my driving test I volunteered for motor cycle training, moving to Ripley, and after that moved to Bagshot Heath by Reading for advanced motor cycle training.
Iservice owing to the fact that Tommy handley of Itma fame was a great programe on the wireless at that time
We sailed to France on 12 September 1944 and landed on the beach at Arramanches in France, then walked to a camp near Bayeux. (I put walked because the army usually marched but we were told to make our own way up the road until we were ushered into a tented camp, being directed at several points along the way).
We stopped at this camp for a few days and during this time at morning parade myself and five others were volunteered by the ‘you and you’ method to attend the camp dentist, where I had a tooth drilled and filled. Next move was a slow train journey in trucks with innumerable stops until we reached Belgium. Then a lorry ride for four of us over the Grave bridge to Nimagen, Holland, where we finally joined 111 (MAC) 30 Corp and were issued with a leaping black boar on a white circle arm flash to sew on the arm of our tunic. The company was an ambulance company and two of the lads that came with me were given an ambulance. The other joined the cookhouse staff and I was spare for a time. After a few weeks they were short of a dispatch rider so I volunteered and after a few runs with other dispatch riders I was on my own.
The food at Nimagen mainly consisted of soup or stew with about three very hard square biscuits, like dog biscuits, which I believe were captured German rations. There were three riders in the company, with myself making four. One was usually out attached to another company or 30 Corp HQ. Now I was on my own, delivering top secret, secret and general dispatches to field dressing stations, casualty clearing stations, field hospitals and medical adjunct department 30 Corp HQ. We used to get a free ration of cigarettes and sometimes a tot of rum. Sometimes we had the chance to see a show. The only one I can remember had a slow motion act by Nervo and Knox. At one time I was awarded a free weekend in Brussels and, with another soldier, stayed with a Belgian family who were very good to us. When we left they gave me a small pewter shoe as a token to keep safe. I still have the shoe! We moved around quite a lot in Holland and Belgium. On one of my journeys I used to stop at the café at Best in Holland for a cup of coffee to help me on my way.
The next big move was when 30 Corp moved down the Ardennes on 21 December in frost, ice, snow and fog. The dispatch riders were told that they would be relieved of their convoy duties because of the ice and snow on the roads and to just keep in with the convoy because there was no vehicle available to load the bikes on. When we got there, the first night three of us were billeted with civilians in their house, sleeping on the floor of their living room. The next morning we were found accommodation in an empty school where we stayed over Christmas, bedded down on the stone floor, waking up in the mornings with condensation running down the walls. We stayed there for a few weeks and in January moved back to Nimagen, billeted in a burnt out stable block, but with bunk beds. From there we moved around with other stops, then up to the Rhine with smoke canisters lining the roads. We could tell by the activity, the planes going over and their dropping of shredded silver paper, that the crossing of the Rhine had begun. We followed over on the pontoon and Bailey bridges that had been built. The first crossing I made was on a pontoon bridge, which was a scary crossing, so I always used the Bailey bridges after that. We followed on into Germany with several stops on the way, until we started to hear rumours that the war would soon be over. Coming back one night the sky started to fill with tracer bullets, flares and floodlights. I thought the war must be over, so knocking the mask off the headlight of my bike I drove back to base as quickly as I could. The war had finished.
While thanks giving celebration parades etc were going on, I was sent back to England for embarkation leave after being selected to join other companies being sent to the Far East to help with the Japanese war.
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