- Contributed by
- bill blewitt
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- Bill Blewitt
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- 23 May 2005
This was me in 1939 when I was nineteen years old, happy days!!
As a Territorial soldier, I was called up on August 24th 1939, into the Regular Army. It was a Darlington Company 923 RASC and the camp was at Scorton, nearby under canvas. The wagons were all shapes and sizes having been commandeered for the duration. The situation changed later on when we were allocated Bedford OY's and QL's
The Company was under the command of the North-East Anti-Aircraft DIV.
This meant we spent all our time going round Search-Light and Anti-Aircraft Units supplying them with food rations and ammunitions. This lasted about 18 months and then I got posted along with two mates up to SCOTLAND.
Around 50 of us were greeted by a Captain on Glasgow Station, who congratulated us on volunteering for Combined Operations? (WE DID WHAT?) Apparently this new Company 239 had been practicing landings with water-proof engines etc and were under-manned!
However they were a great bunch of lads and when we had settled in after a few weeks we were accepted as one of them!! The Company was up on the Rifle Ranges one month later in the hills overlooking Gourock and there was quite a gathering of Ships in the Harbour. (Hi-Hi, some-ones for the off) we said!! quite right, it was US.
A few days later , we boarded the ship that was to take us to NORTH AFRICA on the INVASION as part of the 1st ARMY.
About a week later we docked at ALGIERS, this time walking off the ship. We were making our way to the ZOO a few miles out of Town (we got lost once, and had to turn round). This incident didn't endear us to our Officers, leading the way and there was a few ribald comments from the lads i/e IF we march much Bloody further we could be prisoners of WAR by tonight!!
IN the Event we managed to find the ZOO, and settled in for a few days, while the powers to be Pondered our next move!! After we got our lorries off the ship, we were sent up to SOUK-ARRAS where we set up camp, and started taking supplies up to the front!
LE-KEF, Djeifa, Medjas el bab and Kasserine were some of the places I remembered, but when we entered Tebessa with our convoy of ammunition we were shocked to see the YANKS wiring the place up, ready to blow it up!! In the finish however the AXIS forces surrendered, and we got the job of taking them back to the POW camps that had been hastily prepared!
A few weeks later the COMPANY was paraded and told we were splitting up! Half to keep on the wagons, and the rest on DUKWS Two PLATOONS (ours B and C) were then sent up to the RAIL-HEAD to bring them back!!! This was our first sight of the Trucks that was to be our future companions for the duration! WE found out later there were an adaptation of the YANKS beloved GMC lorries and a YANK coy and us were the first to get them.
We set off down to SOUSSE to begin our training on the water! Our workshops officer gave us a pep talk on maintenance on the Ducks as we called them, but seeing as how he was reading from a manual, it was obvious he didn't know any more than us, and we would learn as we went along!!
An American Capt was appointed to show us the ropes and he knew his stuff (I'm sure he was a sales-man for the firm, that made them). His favourite saying, ("Put it in Grandma, and this duck will climb up the side of a house). Bottom Gear, of course!!
After weeks at SOUSSE in and out of the water, we felt we had mastered our new craft and off we went to MALTA in LCTS Tank landing Craft for the build-up to the invasion of SICILY. ON JULY 10th 1943 came our big day, ferrying troops and stores ashore.
We were attached to the CANADIAN DIV, for a-while in between jobs and when the fighting was over in SICILY we took them over The MESSINA STRAITS in the DUKWS to REGIO where we said our farewells as they took off for the front, and we resumed our job, taking up supplies!!
This was our main role, as the PORTS had been bombed so much the ships couldn't get in to unload, so we had to go out to them, get loaded up and bring the supplies in-land! 8 hours on 8 off until the situation eased a bit and we resumed normal working hours.
To relieve the situation at SALERNO, a FIELD BAKERY was urgently needed in the forward area, but the roads were so congested it was impossible to go by land, so it was decided to take them by sea. WE got the job, A convoy of 58 DUKWS took the Bakery 135 miles by sea, a Venture that required 9800 gallons of petrol. About this time, I went down with Malaria and was evacuated to SICILY. There I got Diphtheria and was so ill, I was given the Last Rites and a Telegram sent home to the family!
I was sent back further to the 66th General Hospital in North Africa! (Back to where I started.)
However I slowly recovered and eventually recuperated enough to be discharged and sent to a (GRTD) General Re-Enforcement - Training-Depot 20 miles outside ALGIERS! There, route marches were the order of the day to get you fit again. Being a Driver, I didn't like it at all but it must have worked, because after about a month, 100 of us were Shipped off back to ITALY.
Another GRTD Camp 20 miles from NAPLES and there we waited for our next move. However as I was a DUKW driver, I was held back until my Company was informed and they sent a 15cwt truck from the rear party in NAPLES!
I had missed the ANZIO Landings by about a Week so, after three days in NAPLES getting all the news, 10 of us were shipped up the coast to re-join our Platoons, on the BEACHHEAD.
When I arrived after being Greeted by my mates and the Officer i/c I was shown where my Section was quartered. DOWN in a cellar!! IT seemed everybody was living below Ground Level on account of the Shelling that was pretty constant (what had I got myself into).
I was thrown in at the deep end, next morning my SHIFT started 8am - and we worked round the clock 8 on 8 off! unloading the Ships in the Bay. It was a bit dodgy as we went back and forth because ANZIO ANNIE so-called by the lads was a 280mm Gun mounted on Railway Lines which was shunted down the track, fired off about 30 or so rounds and then went back up the line! (We found this out after the break-out.)
Although the targets were the large ships, some of the shells fell short so anything in the way got it! So it was fingers crossed and buttocks clenched when the Shelling started and you were on the water. This was brought home to us when our first casualty was killed, maintaining his DUKW in the car park.
After that incident, BULL-DOZERS came and dug pits for the DUKWS to be below ground in the car-park. This was better as soon as the shelling started we dived into the pits and waited till the finish!
So the months went by and eventually the troops broke out of the Beachhead and we set off again, this time our new camp was CITITAVECCHIA about 30 miles the other side of ROME, where we managed to get a day pass to visit 10 at a time.
Then another meeting was called. A new type of tank was being introduced (AMPHIBIOUS) and crew members were required! No one rushed forward, of course (my old man a first World WAR VET ) never volunteer for owt, except concert parties and football teams words ringing in my ears. I stayed MUTE.
In the event 50 were picked to go. Seeing as my 3 best mates were chosen, I volunteered to go as well. Four men to a tank so hoping we would all get together we decided DRIVER - GUNNER - WIRELESS-OPERATOR - gunner and TANK Commander we put forward our names! NO CHANCE. Three of us were put on a Wire-less course so we got split up straight away. For a month we were with the SIGNALS until we were deemed
good enough and then off to the TANKS. MY crew consisted of WILF-driver from Newcastle. TED GUNNER from London. Myself operator-gunner and an Officer Capt Davis from the South. We all had to be able to drive, in case of Emergency!)
We got more proficient as time went on manoeuvring in the water and landing. On the last day of training a group of staff officers, general Alexander among them, were watching to see, no doubt how we would cope under Battle conditions.
We loaded up onto TANK Transporters and taken to a spot near Lake Commachio with a complement of Commando's. First we had to go up a strip of land between the sea and our objective. Four tanks in a line, we were 2nd just as we set off, a pill-box on our left opened up and also mortar BOMBS started to fall.
One had a direct hit in the back of the first tank killing the gunner and wounding about fifteen of the commandos including our Sgt who was I/C tank. We were next to go and our gunners on both tanks gave the Pill-box a pasting as we passed (fingers crossed and buttocks clenched).
Tanks two and three got past the pill box and made our way across the river, but stuck on the opposite bank and was unable to lower the ramp to let the commandos off. Nothing loath they clambered over the front end and we gave them covering fire while they all got ashore.
When we went back for our second load of troops, we managed to get them ashore OK but on our third trip with one Commando Officer and his batman, who we took across with a small Tractor type Tank, we came under fire from a spot that was thought to be cleared. We moved farther down the river to unload him.
We carried on the rest of the day until they had established their positions, ferrying troops and supplies. Next few days were spent helping out where required.
When the fighting was over and the tanks were no longer required, we returned to our DUKW company. After a few weeks in a town called MESTRE we set off for VENICE and the LIDO-DI JESOLO where we set up CAMP.
THE 8th army and the YANKS had set up LEAVE CENTRES for all and sundry and we got the job of supplying these centres with everything required! When the gondoliers went on strike, the TOWN MAJOR ordered our company to run a Shuttle service up and down the GRAND-CANAL 8am-8pm until normal services resumed. THE company was being moved, ready for the far EAST (Rumours) but, thank goodness JAPAN surrendered. WAR-OVER.
A foot-note to our time on the TANKS. On Company ORDERS it was stated the CAPTAIN on our TANK had been awarded the MILTARY CROSS and the GUNNER (TED) the MILITARY MEDAL. When I asked him what it was for, he replied, "GOD knows, you were there as well, your guess is as good as mine."
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