- Contributed by
- People in story:
- George Morrison Daily
- Location of story:
- UK, France
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 January 2005
George Daily in Greece 1945
George Daily’s war Part 1
George Morrison Daily, who served in The Black Watch throughout the Second World War, died on 14 November 2002 aged 84. Some four years earlier he had been persuaded by his niece to ‘jot down’ his memories of that time. They were printed privately and are now submitted to the People’s War site on behalf of and with permission of his widow, Maisie, who understands the site’s terms and conditions, by one who served in the same battalion and has inserted a few dates (in brackets) in order to make the chronology clearer. For a fuller narrative of his battalion’s service in the war see A2780273.
The trials and tribulations of a young conscript George Morrison Daily, 1939-1946.
The year was 1939 and I was in the last year as an apprentice Ships Joiner aged twenty years old, when the Government of the day in their wisdom decreed that young men in my age group be “called up” to do six months’ Military Service. War clouds were gathering over Europe! Luckily I was posted to Maryhill Barracks, the Headquarters of the Highland Light Infantry or HLI for short. I say luckily because it was not too far from home.
Our training started immediately with a regular sergeant and a corporal to lick us into shape. They obviously loved their work and were determined that we would somehow end up as proper soldiers. After a few weeks of arms drill the sergeant said that we looked as though we were shovelling “shite” which caused an embarrassed titter. The next stage of our training was drill on the barracks square, one poor recruit could not keep in step with the rest of the squad causing the sergeant to call us to a halt. “Did you have a woman last night?” he asked the poor lad. When the lad shook his head as a definite NO! the sarge suggested that he have “a good blow through that night to help improve his marching ability”. This was the same sergeant who had us lined up on parade and with his back to us all shouted out that he could see what we were up to even though he was facing front. Without more ado he threw his kilt over his head and there tattooed on his buttock was a large eye. What a man!
Next, rifle and bayonet practice. We were given a rifle with a bayonet attached and told to charge at a sack full of straw, stick the bayonet in the sack and all the while scream our heads off. The idea was when I charged the enemy screaming at the top of my lungs he would be so scared that he would drop his weapon and run away. The Top Brass obviously had forgotten all about machine guns and hand grenades. We all had better luck on the firing range, well at least some of us did. We lay on the ground in front of a small burn, facing the targets and holding onto our rifles, “Now” said the sergeant “just waste a couple of rounds before you start”. So a young lad lying at the side of me took two bullets and threw them into the water. I won’t mention the sergeant’s response.
Despite all these distractions life got back to normal and we were allowed out of barracks at night, which suited me as I could get home in about half an hour, change into civvies and nip up to the dancing at The Wee Burgh Dance Hall. On a Saturday night it was 1/6d to get in and 3d for a lemonade at the interval — now that was high living. The band was called The Barn Stormers and we had to queue to get in. When it was over we had to dash up Byres Road to get back to barracks on time. It was on one such occasion during a thick fog that my companion ran into a lamp post, and two old dears that were standing in the street said “Look, Our Defenders”.
I remember so well having to do guard duty at the barracks. I used to patrol outside the canteen which was on the second floor. On a cold night I would stand under the canteen window with a fixed bayonet and a hand would reach out and stick a hot mutton pie on the end of it. I would then find a quiet spot to eat the pie, it went down well on a winter night.
It was only a few weeks later that war was declared on Germany and the barrack gates were closed on us with the sergeant shouting at the top of his voice “Yer in the Army now, no more running hame tae yer mammie”.
Our stay at Maryhill Barracks ended and we were transferred to Albufera Barracks in Aldershot far away in England, I had never been so far from home before. I became Private G M Daily 3316733 6th Black Watch and started to train in earnest.
After a few months we were transferred to a town in the south of England where we joined the 51st Highland division, and found ourselves en route to France with The British Expeditionary Force. It was the winter of 1939.
It was a terrible winter with freezing winds and snow, far from home and with little comfort. After crossing the Channel we travelled by train in cattle trucks to our first stop, a small village called Faubly Begametz. We passed the time and also kept warm by cleaning the streets and pavements of ice and snow. We borrowed brushes from the local shop and cafe owners, and were rewarded with real coffee or a glass of wine. Most of us had never tasted such things before.
Our stay was short and soon we were on our way again, this time on the march. Our destination was Northern France, this was the industrial part of the country and we were headed for a town called Lille. On the way we changed places with the 2nd Battalion Black Watch and we took their place in the British 4th Division [4th March 1940]. So it was goodbye to the Highland Division forces. There were few dry eyes and quite a few tears shed as the sound of bagpipes faded into the distance. Goodbye and good luck 2nd Black Watch.
Eventually we reached our destination on the French-Belgian border. A series of pill boxes and barbed wire, not much protection from the Panzers of the Wehrmacht. We had only been there for a short time when the German full scale offensive swept across Holland and Belgium.
We were ordered to cross the border into Belgium and the local people showered us with flowers and kisses and cheered us on our way. We got as far as the outskirts of Brussels and formed a thin line of resistance. The platoon that I was a member of found a nice un-occupied flat, so we took up residence. However, we had to move out a bit sharpish when the Belgian soldiers decided to go home, leaving great gaps in the line. We received orders to retreat back into France. Before we were cut off, the very same people who had welcomed us were throwing flowers because they were glad to see the back of us, they were making ready to welcome the Germans. In fact one civilian tried to sell us water! Can you imagine it, living on the march, retreating, and this scumbag had the nerve to try and sell water!
The sergeant soon persuaded him to change his mind, when we lined him up against a wall and threatened to shoot him (only kidding of course). He changed his mind and tune and willingly filled all our water bottles and canteens.
On our way back into France we suffered our first casualty of war. We were seated in an open truck, when a shell exploded behind us and poor Pat Murphy, a nice lad from Ireland, was hit. A piece of shrapnel pierced his forehead and he was killed instantly, right in front of our eyes. We buried him by the road side, with a marker to identify him. The long road to Dunkirk had begun.
We arrived on the outskirts of Dunkirk safe and sound, we made our way to the beach where thousands of men from all regiments waited in hope to get away across the Channel.
The German planes kept swooping down, strafing us as we dived into the sand dunes to hide from the hail of bullets. It would have been pandemonium in our sector, if it had not been for the efforts of a young British officer who was riding up and down the beach on a large white horse, trying to organise things. I don’t know who he was but he should have been awarded a VC. I will never forget seeing this horse and the young rider amidst all the chaos.
I wasn’t very happy about the situation and decided to go further along the beach with a member of my platoon a fellow Glaswegian like myself, and after a wee while we came to a mole or pier, where a fairly large ship was loading troops. We decided it might be best to join the queue in true British tradition.
We had been waiting a long, long time, when I happened to look over the side of the pier and spotted a wee fishing vessel at the foot of a metal ladder. I walked back to where my mate was waiting and quietly fetched him back to the metal ladder. I asked the skipper of the boat if he would take us. He would take men but not equipment, so we had to dump all our gear and surplus equipment over the side into the sea. Imagine my heart ache as this included my mouth organ, which I used to play whenever possible to my mates in the platoon. Still, we shimmied down the ladder to the fishing boat which was ready to cast off. The boat belonged to a fisherman and his son and he sailed out of Weymouth on the Dorset coast. As we came onboard he gave us a blanket each and said “come on boys you will be alright now”. I wrapped myself in the blanket and lay down to sleep. My mate said “you are never going to sleep in this?” I replied “If I am going to die I don’t want to see it happen”. He agreed with me and did the same. The big ship that we had been queuing for was struck by dive bombers and all the men on board were thrown into the water. A German plane followed us for a time but I expect that he did not want to waste his ammo on such a small target, not when there were greater ones to be had. Anyway he left us alone “Thank God”.
The weather across was perfect, the water like a millpond. Someone was on our side, just as if a Divine Force was looking after us. I looked up at the blue skies and the sun shining down, and fell fast asleep. When we woke up we were in Dover Harbour, safe and sound. Can anyone imagine the relief, the wonderful feeling that we were safe and sound in our ain country .On the way over we had acquired a French soldier, he was swimming the Channel to safety and the fisherman obliged by bringing him on board.
After disembarking, WVS ladies on the quayside gave us cups of tea and postcards to send home. Reporters were giving out scrolls with the picture of a soldier in full battledress, full pack and steel helmet, kneeling in front of a cross. The quotation on the scroll was “We kneel only to Thee”. This was to be sent to our loved ones, to let them know that we were safe. I sent mine to Maisie Logan. I met her in Glasgow before the war but she was now living in Birmingham in England.
We were sent to the railway station and then on to Yeovil Camp which was a centre for waifs and strays. They tried to link us up with our regiments if possible.
The Battalion of the Black Watch that we waived goodbye to in France made their stand at St. Valery. They stood no chance! It was the first time in all their history that the “Jocks” of the Highland Division had stood with their hands in the air. Most were killed, the rest captured and they spent the rest of a long war cooped up in a Stalag prison camp.
They were very embittered to be so let down, no ships came to pick them up from St. Valery as they were all at Dunkirk. I heard all of this on a tape made by one of the highlanders of the 2nd Black Watch who, when released after the war, emigrated to Canada. He vowed never to return to Britain. However he now tours with his pipe band whose signature tune is “The Lament of St. Valery”.
The King, George VI, granted 24 hours’ leave for us to go home and see our families. It took 12 hours to get from the south of England to Glasgow and 12 hours back, so where was the justice in that? The lad who escaped with me from Dunkirk lived in Govan so he was in the same position as me. We decided to take extra leave in Glasgow and every day, after checking with each other, we decided to add another day to our leave. The result was we had taken an extra week before we reported back to barracks. We certainly weren’t the only ones, we joined a long line of absentees. I was sitting on a wall at the end of a long queue when a sergeant spotted me and told me “to stop loitering and clear off or I would be on a charge.” I made myself scarce, while all the others had two weeks CB (confined to barracks).
We returned to Yeovil, and after a few weeks in temporary billets we found ourselves on the Isle of Wight, along with the rest of the battalion who had managed to get off the beaches of Dunkirk. It was amazing to all meet up again after all that we had been through.
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