R D Baker
- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Raymond Dennis Baker
- Location of story:
- Western Europe and India
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 July 2005
Bombardier R.D. Baker. 8 Troop 209 Battery 53 Medium Regiment Royal Artillery.
April 1944. Regiment moved from Scotland to Oxted, Surrey. One sunday I thought I could get home,despite all leave being cancelled. I got up at 6 a.m. and started walking. I got a train to Tonbridge and caught a bus to Tenterden. However, the bus crashed with a car on the bridge between Goudhurst and Cranbrook. Anyway made it home by 1 p.m. and had to leave by 2.30 p.m. to ensure that I got back in time.
Regiment issued with new guns. All the vehicles had their exhausts turned up over the cabs and the engines were waterproofed with putty type stuff. We were told then that was so vehicles could drive off landing craft into water and not stop. Begining of June we all pack up and go down to Gosport, near Southampton. All lined up along the road for hours. We were then issued with one man 24 hour ration packs and told not to eat them yet. Of course some did. Later on we all went down and got on a large landing craft. After a while we all had to get off and go back up the line again. Found out later D Day was going to be then, but weather too bad.
Next time it was for real. Heading across the Channel, ships all around us, everybody a bit edgy wondering what we were in for. Our landing time was zero plus 2,two hous after the first ashore. Held back as sea still rough, didn't get ashore until next morning. We lost 3 guns getting ashore, two got stuck in the sea. They were just unhooked and left. Rest of us get off beach and on small road with a small church on the left. Ended up in a field near a small apple orchard. One 3 ton ammo truck gets hit. Driver and mate killed. First night german bombers came over, soon all anti aircraft guns firing at them. One gets hit and came down and exploded not far away, must have still had bombs on. Busy all the time firing, used 3 men next day on other gun. Most time only know what is happening with your troops 4 guns.
One day Sergeant Baker said " got anything to eat", I said "I'll see what I can do". Borrowed the paratroopers folding bike and cycle back to the village. About one mile. Column of lorries passed as I cycled along. The drivers kept waving at me, I waved back. I didn't think until the next day that they were waving because I was cycling on the wrong side of the road. ( I didn't know they drove on the right ).
Anyway got to a small shop and bought a box of camembert cheese which I thought looked a bit shrivelled up. I could pay because we were all issued with 200 French Francs ( 200 Francs to the £. ). Another day I went back to a farm and bought some eggs for the gun team. My French must have been ok out of the phrase book everybody was issued with.
When in front of Caen three of us go to some bombed and empty houses and get a barrel of cider and take back to the gun. Wasn't very good but we drunk it. Didn't touch anything else not allowed to take anything. Didn't think who we got the cider from would mind.
Moving and firing all the time, sometimes only stop in position one day, longest three days. See village sign Hermanville. In a sloping field we use german slit trenches. Thunderstorm breaks out. River of water pours into the trenches. Everybody not wanted takes cover in empty farmhouse at rear. Get fired on by germans, airburst: everybody ok. Next day sun shines, all try and dry out. One officer had bought his dress uniform. Hangs it out on some bushes, Germans start shelling again. One shell explodes near his uniform and it is blown to pieces.
Another day an ME 109 suddenly flies over the gun position. We have a Bofors anti aircraft gun at back beside the command post. The ME 109 goes very low over the trees and then turns round to come back at us. But the Bofors was waiting and as soon as he came back over the trees three rounds were fired and blew his tail clean off. The pilot bales out and he and the plane were down on the ground in no time. He was lucky to get out, he only looked about 50 ft up. One of the gunners marched him back to the command post. Another time a Spitfire came over, I looked up, as always to check, but he turns around and starts shooting at us. Luckily someone runs out and spreads the bright yellow cross on the ground. The pilot turned his aircraft away without doing too much damage. In July 44 leave started. I get 7 days leave with others and get truck back to Calais and over to Dover. That night we slept in the Castle and ate half a tin of corned beef and some biscuits. Next day get train to Ashford, no buses, so I start walking. About a mile past Great Chart, American landing strip with lots of Tomahawk fighters, also some B17 Flying Fortresses. Some had crash landed. Find out they lose nearly all as they ran out of fuel from a bombing raid over Germany. Some went down in the sea off Dungeness. An airman pulled up in a jeep and gave me a lift home.
We push East, North East to Abbeville and on to Lille. People all came out cheering, we throw out cigarettes, one girl runs up and gives me a kiss. Move on to Antwerp where meet up with the Maquis ( Resistance ).
Head man says he is very glad to see us. They had been holding off the Germans who wanted to blow up a tunnel. Next I go forward with Officers etc in a jeep to meet a resistance group in a school. The others go off to look at something else. The head man asks me to look at a german machine gun that was jammed. I soon sort it out and tell him that it was the wrong ammo. They were holding a girl of about 18 years in the room, they had cut her hair off because she had been with the Germans. She kept looking at me with the gun. I think she thought I was going to shoot her, but that was nothing to do with us.
One day going forward again in a jeep come across a german staff car. See a bottle of Schnapps in the back. We thought probably a booby trap. Check around, found ok, officer drives it back to our position. Later officers drove it back to Paris and sold it for good money. Soon the Colonel had a crack down. He said it looked more like a circus with all the old german vehicles etc we had collected on the way. I remember that the Gun Artillery Officer was driving a german one man tank. I had to get rid of 3 rifles and a Smeisher machine gun. Others had a german twin barrelled .5mm anti aircraft gun and quite a few cars, all had to go.
We were moving into position somewhere near Breda along a high road with signs along, Dust means Death. We had only gone 30 yards when a shell from an 88mm gun went between us and the next truck hitting the bank on the far side of the road. It was very close to our gun tractor with 30 one hundred pound shells and charges on it. You could always tell an 88 high velocity fire, we called them Wizz Bangs.
December 23rd 1944. Pull out of the line for the first time. Back to Brussels for Christmas Break. Sergeant wakes us at 3.30
a.m. on christmas eve and says " get up we are moving in half an hour the Germans have broken through in the Ardennes. We soon get going as we were already packed up. Get there about 6.30 a.m. Freezing cold, snow on the ground, have job to breath as it froze your nose. Start firing guns, blow lots of tiles off roofs of houses 50 yds in front. Move forward again through village. American trucks pulling back as we go forward. People in the village booing the americans and cheering us. 53 Regiment only british there , nobody could get there as quick as us. Christmas Day. Half a tin of corned beef and biscuits. Move forward again and have orders " no retreat, stand and fight ! ". I was posted on a hill about a mile up front overlooking valley and fir trees. I dig a slit trench and have a Bren Gun and a telephone to Command Post. I was just waiting for the german tanks to come around the wood in front. I thought they would get a surprise when 16 guns opened up on them. They never got that far as they ran out of fuel. They had gambled on capturing some fuel but it didn't happen like that. Later joined by Airborne Regt. Two killed close by as soon as they got there. Also the other battery gets some Americans to patrol around the gun position. 2 Americans got shot. Shot each other in the dark, suppose they thought each other was a German. Typical Americans, trigger happy.
In another position near a farm, the ground is covered with snow and it is freezing. We use the dug out left by the Germans and find some coal briquettes and make a fire with one in a petrol can. Not very warm sleeping in tents all the winter and standing out in it all day. One time it was so cold didn't take clothes or boots off for 3 weeks. At night time can't say hang on while I get dressed if ( take post ) firing order comes in.
Early 1945: With the Polish division again, us advancing quick with tanks, firing at 800 yards, at dusk tanks pull back behind us, leaving us to hold the line. Glad the Germans didn't counter attack that night. Two infantry chaps got killed close by, they were in a slit trench and a tank ran over them in the dark. A day or two later we were being shelled and a piece of shrapnel goes straight through the arm of my great coat near the top. I was amused that it had not hit my arm. Another chap in a slit trench close by had a large piece of shrapnel stick into a piece of wood about 2 inches above his head and he wasn't wearing a steel helmet!.
The Rhine crossing next. We move behind the bank under the cover of darkness. Get guns into position and camouflage nets up before daylight.Next night carrying shells etc one mile up a muddy track. Good job we now have wellingtons as some places mud 6" deep. Care not to lose your boots though. Can't put a 100lb shell down, everybody going up and down all night in the pitch dark. Rest in the daytime under canvas.
Next day another gunner and I go up and peer over the Rhine to the other side, not getting up too high. While there we see a group of officers come up behind us and also peer over. We recognise Churchill amongst the company. We didn't do anything and waited until they had left.
Next day zero hour, everythihg opens up at once, 800 guns and 600 tanks. Deafening and glad we were on this side. After a day or two go over and find ourselves with French Canadians.
Billeted in a cowshed at one position. A cow wanders in. I realise it has come to be milked. I get a biscuit tin and milk her. All have fresh milk for a few days. All were happy to drink it but nobody else milked the cow. It always seemed that I had to get the extras.
In another position near a big house, we go up to it and a man comes out, hobbling with a stick. He says he is an officer wounded on the Russian Front. We leave him, we are not supposed to talk to German people. Another place some chaps went into an occupied German house that had a large cuckoo clock on the wall. The next time I looked the clock had vanished. We moved on past a concentration camp, see people just standing there, we do not stop, leave this to the infantry. Go past Cologne, looks a mess apart from the church with it's two tall spires still standing. End up firing on Wilhelmshaven. Word comes through that we are to fire all night and cease at 8.00 a.m. All of a sudden we realise that we are out of a job, after all this time from 39 when everything was done for the war. One of the officers fires his Very Pistol in the air, it lands on a hay stack setting it alight. Next few days have to clean everything up and have a Regimental Victory Parade with a band. Given 30 days special leave and told to report to Woolwich Barracks. At Woolwich soon find out that we were all bound for India.
We got on ship at Southampton and takes 3 weeks to get to Bombay. From Bombay to Calcutta by train which took 3 days and nights. Stop one night in Calcutta, go to the pictures, then on train again to Bunchi, 146 Fechal Regiment ( Royal Artillery ); wrong side of the Bramaputra river to get the Burma Medal. Ranchi about 200 miles north of Calcutta. 5 mile ride to regimental camp. Camped out under canvas, it was sleeping in tents again for the next 12 months. We have 6 to a tent, beds off the ground and covered in mosquito nets. The first morning I was woken up with a Indian standing over me with a cut throat razor in his hand. I didn't know whether to try to jump out of the bed on the other side or to hit him. But he soon put me right by saying " shave sahib ", but I declined saying I would shave myself.
The Regiment was regrouping before going into Burma. One time having a lecture in the hut, each troop doing different things, four troops of about 40 men. All sat down and Officer just got started when a 3ft snake drops onto one of the tables from a beam above. There was a big scramble to get out of the way.
I was asked many times to become a Bombardier by various Sergeants and Officers and in the end I said ok. I never really liked shouting orders. The first night I got my stripe they put me down for Regimental Guard Commander. I had 8 guardsmen to line up and march down to the guardroom ( about 100yds ). I had never done this before and I saw some of the Sergeants looking to see if I made a mistake. But I didn't.
We were all ready to move into Burma, then the atom bomb was dropped and the war was over. Soon after we get forms for quick release. I got one for the building trade. Then I contracted yellow jaundice and ended up in hospital for 3 weeks. When I came out I was sent to Darjeeling for 4 weeks. Unforgettable ride on mountain railway from plains to Darjeeling, 12,000ft up. An officer gave me my papers and said "make your own way home". I left Bombay on H.M.S. Torontes on July 1st 1946 and arrived in Southampton on July 17th. First had to go to Woolwich Barracks and was released on reserve on July 19th. Was issued with a new pinstriped blue suit and a trilby hat. When I arrive home Mum said " You're home then" and carried on doing her washing
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