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Waterloo

by ateamwar

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Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
ateamwar
People in story: 
Father of Fred McCann
Article ID: 
A4350313
Contributed on: 
04 July 2005

During the Second World War, my father served in the finest fighting force in the world. How do I know this. He told me so. from 1939, until he was invalided out in 1945, my father was a British Royal Marine. Now if you ask any marine, anywhere in the world they will tell you that the marines are the finest fighting force anywhere. My father was in the British Royal Marines therefore he was in the worlds best.
When The Second World War started, he decided although married with a child on the way, to enlist before conscription caught him up. That way he could choose whom he joined. He size and strength would otherwise see him drafted into the infantry. As he approached the army recruiting office, dad had to pass the Royal Navy recruiting office. He stopped to look at the posters and found himself talking to a large Royal Marine.

"Join the army," The man said. "A man with your build and bearing. Are you mad." He pointed to his dress uniform. "Now this is the force for you. The Royal Marines."

So, my father found himself a member of the worlds finest fighting force. (His words not mine) He was sent down south for his training, but in 1940, while still undergoing this training, he and his comrades found themselves being taken out of camp and sent to the south coast of England then placed aboard small ships and boats to cross the English Channel. The British and French Armies where being taken of the beaches of a French Port called Dunkirk. His job along with the other marines was to assist in the evacuation. Any marine will tell you that the two prime duties of the marine corps are (1) Stop sailors from getting into trouble, and (2) Get the army out of trouble. My father and his comrades where about to take part in number 2. They landed on the beaches and the harbour and for a number of days stayed there loading wounded controlling the troops as the waited to be taken off. Remaining calm although every bone in your body screamed at you to turn round and run for the safety of the evacuation ships.
The army saved, the marines returned to barracks and their training. For the rest of the war, the company would stay together apart from the usual transfers promotions and deaths. In war death is much a part of life.
After the thoughts of invasion by the Germans faded my father found himself with his company posted to North Africa where they would fight their way up and down that small stretch of coastal strip of land between Cairo and Tripoli. In 1942, along with thousands of others. he started the long advance from a small railway station in the middle of nowhere. Until that day, nobody outside of the 8th Army had ever heard of a place called El Alamein. Now it ranks with places like Waterloo Gettysburg Stalin grad as places were the tide turned forever.
Dad and his stayed with the 8th all the way through to Tunis. Then in 1943 they landed along with many others in Sicily. Still in most part the same company that had left England. Later, they would land in Salerno then later at Anzio.
Orders came that they would be going home. The Second front was about to happen, so that meant another beach and beaches meant marines. His company spent their last night before embarking for home, in an orange grove. When they left the next morning most of the oranges had gone. The people of England had been rash-ions for years. My father arrived home with an extra kit bag full of oranges. After getting off the train at Liverpool Lime Street Station, he boarded a tram to take him home. A young lady taking the fares asked him for his. My father explained that he had just arrived home, and had no change for the fare. The Clippy ( Female Tram Conductor) Insisted that he paid or left the tram. My father reached into his kit bag and pulled out a fresh orange. Something that had not been seen in England since The War started.

"Will this do?" He asked. He told me that the young girls eyes almost popped out of her head. He could imagine her taking it home that night and showing this thing of wonder to family. Then her mother would look at her and ask. "What did you have to do to get that?"

In June 1944, my father and his company once more found themselves heading for a beach. This time it was Normandy. The Second Front had opened. They fought in the hedge rows and fields then when the break out came, they fought their way up through France chasing a german army who every so often would turn back and snap at the forces following them.
Each night it would be the same routine. find somewhere to sleep. A barn a farm house a village or set up your tents in an open field. Cook a meal set the sentries and try and sleep. Always half awake in case of counter attack. Then just before dawn stand too and watch the shadows. If no attack came, cook breakfast.
So it was this night. The company set up camp in an open field somewhere on the French Belgium border. A meal was cooked, and sentries set. Then the rest of the company settled down for the night. The first thing my father noticed about that night was you could not sleep. The sentries kept turning everybody out. They were shooting at shadows. Men in uniforms could be seen approaching in the darkness. Challenges were made and un answered shots were fired, and, nothing. No return fire nothing. The shadows would vanish, only to appear a few moments later. Thus set the scene for the whole night. A number of times my father had just dozed off when he awoke startled convinced he was not alone. he would swing his rifle towards a uniform figure just seen out of the corner of his eye only to have it vanish before he could aim.
As dawn approached, the company stood too and waited. Waited for that attack that they knew was coming, for had not the German Army spent the whole night probing and wearing them down. Sure enough, in the mist, uniformed figures could be seen. But as you aimed your rifle at them they seemed to vanish. Then a cry would go up "Over this side." But they to would vanish.
Dawn came, the mists vanished and the expected counter attack never came. A very weary company set too cooking breakfast. As they did, the sentries reported a civilian approaching. A local farmer, wanting to trade fresh eggs for tea or coffee and may be some sugar.

"Good morning Gentlemen," He said. "Welcome to my country. Thank you for throwing the Boch out. Did you sleep well?"

My father being a good Scouse (Liverpool) Person, and so not known for being shy replied.

"No, we did not. Where the hell are we?"

The elderly farmer looked at my father, then at the other marines and smiled. "But gentlemen, this is Waterloo. You are camped on the old battlefield." With that, and his trade complete, the old man walked back towards his farm.
Was this a case of long dead soldiers coming to visit their live comrades on a battlefield that had seen much suffering. Or was it a case of other troops moving up through these seasoned troops. Moving so quietly that they made no noise. Troops so well trained that when fired on did not return fire. What do you think.
My father was invalided out of the Royal Marines in 1945. In went through six years of war without a scratch, then with almost the last shots being fired he broke one of the two main rules of any marine. Ask any marine anywhere in the world, and he will tell you. The two most dangerous things in the world are sailors with guns. If God had meant for sailors to have guns he would not have invented the marines, and the most dangerous of all, officers who think they know what they are doing.
The company received a new officer. A straight out of training I know what I am doing officer. He insisted that this day he was going to drive the Jeep. He did. The result was he put it into a ditch upside down and almost killed the four of them in it. That was the end of my fathers war. He suffered from those injuries almost to the day he died. But once a marine alway a marine. He went to meet his maker wearing his blazer with his Royal Marine badge on it. I know he went to heaven, because as we know, God is the ships captain, and all captains need marines to keep the others in order.
What was that line.
Another marine reporting sir. I've served my time in hell.

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

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