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With the RAOC and REME

by johnboon1

Contributed by 
johnboon1
People in story: 
Alfred John Boon
Location of story: 
England, North Africa, Italy and Greece
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4460122
Contributed on: 
15 July 2005

Alfred John Boon’s war.

Part I, 1939 to 1943

7610470 Alfred John Boon joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps on 4 October 1939, and trained as an Armaments Artificer at Lydd.

He was promoted to Corporal in January 1940, Staff Sergeant in October 1941, WOII in September 1942, transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers 1 December 1942 and ended his career in the army on 28 February 1958 as a WOI.

He left an account of his war experiences, from which the following has been compiled. His account, in the form of a diary, is headed;

'Re-written from various notes. Extracted gory and most unpleasant parts. At 84 years memory poor. Dates may not be right, or locations. However...'

He must have destroyed his original diaries, which have not been found.

'Hilsea, 1940. Guard Commander for the first time. Orderly Officer asked why I hadn’t a lock and chain on the main gate, as in orders. I said there was only one gate, as the other had been knocked off by a lorry that day. “Well put it on one gate”, he ordered.
Next morning. Orderly Officer, “Why didn’t you remove the lock and chain when you opened the gates?”'

In 1941 Alfred John Boon was stationed with the Royal Artillery at Houndstone Camp, in Somerset. His wife May Irene Strutt and son John were living nearby in Yeovil. His work entailed travelling around the local area carrying out repairs to searchlights and Bofors anti-aircraft guns.

'…a gun and lights had been damaged by enemy action, a Dornier? damaged by the camp Lewis Gun, and a raid on the camp causing six deaths(or was this last after I left?) There was also the “carpeting” by me of 1 major, 1 Captain and a Lt. for misuse of equipment. I also remember I represented the Army at fisticuffs at Yeovil F.C. against the Navy. Got a hiding.

On 1st August he was posted to Billborough, Nottingham, prior to going overseas. He was not very happy, especially as he was not granted any embarkation leave. He drew his Khaki Drill uniform and was billeted in a farmhouse.

'Aug 4th Wish something would happen.

Aug 10th Left Nottingham without the band playing, stopped at Leeds for two hours. Went to the Y.M.C.A. where the police arrested a spy.

Aug 11th Arrived at Ayr, to our hotel. Surprise, congratulated by O.C. troops at Dam Park Camp, on smartness of appearance, after all night travel.'

Later in August he was granted 6 days leave. The train journey from Glasgow to Yeovil took 24 hours. In September, on leave again, he had to Walk from Central London to Abbey Wood because of damage to the railway.

He moved from Ayr to Glasgow, and appears to have been employed repairing guns and searchlights again.

'The hospitality of the people of this town was out of this world. Everybody I spoke to had a “second home”, feet under the table, supper “on rations”.'

Oct 5th Not so good today. Low temperature and haemorrhage. Saw M.O.

Oct 7th Went to East Kilbride Hospital. Eventually had injections and not operation. This treatment in its infancy and very painful. Like a bevy of cats having a fight for about seven hours.
Saw a serious case of “shell shock” in the ward. Every time the door slammed this young lad hid under the bed clothes. One night when there was local enemy activity the Ward Sister cuddled him.

There was also an infantry R.S.M. who had ruptured himself, and then marched 25 miles over the mountains on an exercise before collapsing at the destination.'

Then it was back to Ayr once again. By this time it is April 1942. He had been waiting to travel overseas since the previous August!

'April 18th Arrived at new quarters. Linlathen House. Lovely house about 60 rooms. Belongs to the shipbuilding family - John Brown, Left in a filthy condition by the last tenants. Polish. W.C.s never flushed, full to top.

April 19th Everybody pulling their weight to get place straight. Dawn to dusk. Hard work and feet sore.

Another weeks leave was granted, then
May 4th We’re off. By train. Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle. Platform cleared of all public. Tea is served.

May 5th Next station I saw was Nottingham (Victoria). This during the night. Then Banbury, Oxford, and Reading. Long stop at Eastleigh, then Fratton Park (Portsmouth). Went out to the Queen’s Hotel in the evening, with others, and walking down a corridor to the lav, saw a very recognisable pair of bandy legs heading the same way. It was George Downes (my cousin).'

They spent 3 days loading their equipment onto a ship, and were then ordered to unload it again AJB spent the next few days on the Isle of Wight, repairing equipment.

'While there, a German recce plane came over every day. With great accuracy one of our guns got it. Top brass did their nut. They had specially arranged “things” for it to photograph every day.

May 18th Set off for Broughty Ferry to return to Scotland. It was hissing down. I told the Battery Commander “Major Double-Barrel Name” that I wouldn’t march my party 18 miles in these conditions, as they had to travel at least 24 hours in the train to Scotland. Threats to put me under arrest wouldn’t change my mind. The episode amused the assembled R.A. We went by bus, cheered by the Battery troops, when we passed them on the road.

(There was transport available to carry everybody even if they ran a shuttle.)

At the weekly H.Q dinner incident brought up by Major D-B. M.O’s comment, no Ordnance reported sick, 10% of Battery did.'

They finally embarked at Greenock on the 17,000 ton 'Narkunder' on October 29th 1942. Alfred John Boon, now a Warrant Officer, shared a cabin with 5 other W.O.s. After the austerity of rationed Britain, the food on board was very plentiful. The ship was joined by many others as they sailed south.

'Nov 5th More shipping. Lovely weather. Some air activity and depth charges. Destroyers and corvettes fussing round in circles.

Nov 6th Our pom-poms used for first time. Missed us. What a racket. Repaired some sick gun sights. I work on guns during the day, but still get night duties.

Nov 8th Deck watch tonight. Dodging under hammocks and dodging vomit. Gale blowing.
Nov 11th Mediterranean. Greeted by Italian aircraft. Poor shots. Don’t think there was any damage.

Nov 12th Put into Algiers. Marvellous sights. There must be 500 ships in sight. We had been beaten to it. No hostility except for the occasional high Italian bomber.

Nov 14th Arrived off Bougie. Down the side into Landing Craft. Hostile activity, but not at us. 4 - 5 miles march. I marched the last half mile by motorcycle, due to a torn toe. Camped on a hill under shade of figs, cactus (Prickly Pear) and lotus.

Nov 15th Had some tangerines today. Ground dry - arid - stony. Drew water for washing from well. Water cart landed with guns. Fireworks by night. Our Bofors in action. Captured sunken ship (Monitor) in Bougie harbour, used as A.A. platform.

Nov 16th Weather varies all day. “Lively place”. Beetles - lizards - goats - rangy sheep - Arabs and flies, flies, flies.

Nov 17th Arabs come begging in rags. Tell us Germans and French military have taken all food and clothing. A lot of conjunctivitis. Treated some children. (Found out after this was caused by congenital Syphilis).

Nov 18th Had some walnuts today. French boy wanted a shilling for twenty. I got 40 for a bar of chocolate.

Nov 19th Washed a shirt and put it on a bush to dry. Gone in two minutes flat. No cover for 50 yards around the tree. How do they do it?

Nov 20th Left Bougie for Bone, in the back of a 6-ton diesel. Marvellous cliff road over the sea. Where cliff overhung tunnels had been cut through. Great engineers, the French. Quite a negative thrill when the driver missed his gears coming over a pass. Some miles on the brakes. Did they stink and smoke. Camped in the rough near Philippeville.

Nov 21st Off again. Philippeville looks nice, Plenty of orange, lime and lemon groves. Arrived near Bone. Saw on a hill, a magnificent mosque, that was in fact St Augustines Monastery. Never managed a visit. We had again entered the bang and fireworks area. Bone is a very good residential town. Not much damage yet. Took over a big house. Owner had removed himself. Shared a room with Sam (RSM).

Dec 7th Service equipment every day. Some Bofors overlook harbour. Marvellous Stuka pilots. Can look down on them before they release their bombs. Guns get one now and again. Pilot no chance. To low to use jettison.

Dec 8th Stood looking down on Stuka. Didn’t notice the gun traverse to about a couple of feet above my head. Opened up with a clip. Knocked me flat. Took about an hour to recover from “shell shock”.

Dec 9th Direct hit on 100 octane petrol stack on docks. Couldn’t help those who were near.

Dec 10th Ammo train direct hit on docks. 2 R.E.s drove it out of town. Spectacular sight as truck by truck exploded, as they drove it out. Sniping frequent. Had a go with a Tommy at one building. Stopped the rot. Sniper could be French.

Dec 17th Had a Stuka bomb land near billet. Brought down overhead cable. Evidently no circuit breakers. Whipping all over the road. “Sparks” good target for planes. Earthed it on railway lines. Still didn’t “blow”.

Dec 18th Excited Arab took us to see a transmitter/receiver in a bombed house. It was a knitting machine.

Dec 19th Bone Airdrome. British soldiers nutty or brave? Bomb near miss on Bofors. Layers casualties. Loader blown off with full clip that exploded unhurt except for shock. Detachment manned immediately. D.C. ordered “cease fire”. Saved their lives. Barrel bent. Would have been a premature. Reduced a bad femoral haemorrhage.

Dec 21st Morning explosion. Direct hit on dock unloading party.

Dec 25th Xmas. Today spent in builders yard, on edge of docks. Steak and kidney pudding for dinner (tinned). Change from bully and biscuits. Had some eau-de-vie. Party at RHQ very nice.

Dec 29th Went aboard “Apoura” cruiser in dock. When in 6" turrets, air raid warning and attack. What a bloody racket, no ear plugs. We did get some hot bread. Wondered what it was. Bread? Saluted officer of the watch, when we went down gangplank. Loaf fell out from tunic. He looked out to sea.

1943
Jan 1st R.H.Q party. Where do they get the booze? Beer, eau-de-vie, Moet-Chandon, Muscat, White Horse, Vin Blanc, Booths Gin etc.

Jan 4th Left Bone for Tebbesa. Stopped night at Claire Fountain. Usual gathering of Arabs. No aerial activity.

Jan 5th Arrived at Tebbesa. Greeted with divers. Missed. Us at any rate.

Jan 8th Terribly cold here at night. Frost will stay in shaded places all day. About 90° in the sun.

Jan 11th Went with Col. Steddle (C.O. i/c A.A.) to see Bofors manned by newly arrived American troops. Bombed by a couple of Stukas. Not a shot fired. Our mates dived in the slit trenches. Was the Col. pleased. A Top Sgt. told me that that was the first hostile encounter they had had. Who can blame them. They soon learned.

Jan 13th Off to repair equipment at fighter airfield up the pass. Attack cut us off. Spent night and part of next day defending perimeter. Lots of small arms fire, but only mortar from hills. Took pot shots at flashes, and anything that moved. Friends novices at defence. Rescued by Guards Brigade. No casualties among my men.

Jan 15th Went to Roman baths at Joux. Hot springs. Best bit of Roman ruins I have seen. Very useful.

Jan 20th Glad to get away from constant dive bombers. Off over the mountains to Souk-el-Khemis. Passed through Haidra. Roman ruins. Standing arches and columns. Via El Kef - Souk Arras and Souk-el-Arba. Overshot Souk-el-Khemis. Nearly got to Medtis-El-Bab - Beja line. Though it was getting noisy.

Jan 21st Billet in school. Good mess. Nice room. Share with Sam.

Jan 25th Tonsillitis. Went to hospital. Hospital 5 miles from active line. Untouched by war. Like our school.

Jan 26th Hospital run by Sisters of Mercy. Very kind. One speaks several languages.

Jan 27th Up and helped overworked ladies with patients. Arabs, war wounded, Allies and enemy. All are just patients to these marvellous ladies. Some nasty sights, but good experience.

Jan 29th Storks nesting everywhere. Left hospital.

Feb 20th Went to Souk-el-Arbra today. Got strafed on a straight bit of road. Missed us but got a small convoy in front. Hawk didn’t come back luckily. Did what we could. Attended to whom we could. Put two badly wounded in the back of our utility, and took them to town.

Feb 26th Went to Souk-el-Arbra. Got a shaking up. Heard firing behind us. Dived in ditch. It was a couple of Spits emptying bands.

During end of Feb and beginning of March there had been very heavy gunfire. This resulted in a lot of activity at the railhead at Souk-el-Khemis, where the ambulances unloaded the wounded for the hospital trains. The regimental M.O. put those unfit to travel in our little local hospital. I and a few others helped change dressings etc. When I had time I went to the hospital and helped, sometimes in op. At this time the hospital was crowded even in the corridors with British, American and German troops, and civilians. Every time I went there, day or night, the M.O. was working, mostly covered with blood in op. This went for the couple of orderlies and the Sisters of Mercy. They all deserved fifty medals, but better still, fifty nights rest. We learned that this had been a big German push, which had nearly come off. Evidently a L.A.A. mob had held them up with the Hampshire Regiment. One young soldier had a piece of his skull exposing the brain. Made a small stainless steel plate to cover it, so that he could be evacuated to base.

May 2nd Signs of battle dying away. We are moving forward. Peaceful. No enemy aircraft.

May 7th ARM. 6th and 7th units in Tunis. Plenty of signs of fighting. Burning tanks and vehicles both sides. Some dead casualties not yet removed. Moved smartly in case we were pulled in to help. Germans retreating north. Passed north of Tunis, to Utique to guard airport.

May 20th Victory parade in Tunis. Didn’t get involved.

May 27th Birthday. My present to myself, a good swim. Good beach. Picturesque town.

June 2nd La Goulet and Carthage today. Not a lot to see at Carthage.

June 3rd La Marsa to Prolville. Good place. Several different trees, dates, lotus, very shady.

June 15th Took Gunner Garten to hospital. Gunner Garten was attached to us as a general duties man. He was very important, as one of his jobs was hygiene, latrines etc., keeping the area clean. He used to moan about his jobs, but I told him he was as important as even “I” (big head) in the make up of the unit. Nottingham miner they could not keep down a mine. Strong - dumb - loyal - and my R/H man. He had injured humself jumping off a lorry. I never saw him again, but remember him as always ready to assist even when I was in a distressed state with bowel trouble was too weak to move. He was one of many unsung heroes. He would pick me up and carry me.

June 26th Kharouan. What a place. No shade. Dust a foot deep. Prickly pear. Bombed or shelled graveyard. Had some fresh figs.

July 9th We had been briefed about the invasion of Sicily. This was the day. The sky was alive with planes towing gliders.

Sept 8th Italy capitulates.

Dec 21st Sailed on Liberty ship.

Dec 22nd Passed Sicily. Entered Bay of Naples.

Dec 23rd Landed at Naples (Castel Nuova) and moved to Gragnano. Set up workshop in a spaghetti/macaroni factory. No flour for pasta.'

Continued…

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