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Stories from the men of Phantom

by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk

You are browsing in:

Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Sergeant Arthur Wood
Location of story: 
Norfolk/Yorkshire/Surrey/Scotland/France
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6115628
Contributed on: 
12 October 2005

This contribution to WW2 People's War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk. The story has been written by Sergeant Arthur Wood and has been submitted to the site by Mrs. Iris Hagan and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs. Hagan fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

STORIES FROM THE MEN OF PHANTOM

PART I

I was born in Norwich in 1921 and grew up in this great capital of the County of Norfolk. I left Thorpe Hamlet school when I was fourteen and went to work for the firm of Boulton and Paul, who at that time were making aircraft. I joined them as an electrical plater, when the company moved to Wolverhampton I found work in the local foundry which, when war broke out, started to make war components. This was a reserved occupation and as such I did not have to go to war, but the work I was doing was not good for my health, so I thought I would be better off in the Army! I was by this time a married man living in a village close to Norwich, so in September 1940 I walked into the local recruiting office to volunteer my services. Having previously been in the TA 4th Norfolks, I was given my old army number and was sent to the local drill hall where I was provided with a uniform.

After my initial six weeks training at Aylsham, twelve miles from Norwich, I was posted to a small airfield where I was put on guard duty, but soon I was on the move again, this time, to Coltishall airfield — and more guard duty! Despite this I was enjoying the Army; the outdoor life, and the discipline. This was just after the Battle of Britain, and Squadron Leaders Tuck and Bader were there at that time.

The 70th Battalion Royal Norfolks, which I was serving in, was basically for young Norfolk lads, so when I reached my 20th birthday I was given three choices as to which regiment I would like to join — the Grenadier Guards; the Royal Corp of Signals; or the Norfolk Regiment. Being six feet tall I thought I would be well-suited to the Guards, but instead was assigned to the Signals. I suppose because I had done some radio work when I had been in the TA.

Now I was off to Huddersfield up in Yorkshire where I trained to be a wireless operator. During my six months there I learned Morse Code, to send and receive, how to repair radio sets , and general wireless work, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After qualifying in 1941, I was sent to the General Headquarters Liaison Regiment, and that is how I came to be in Phantom.

For a time I was operating radios at the Richmond Headquarters of this great regiment until I was sent down to Dorking in Surrey to a radio station on Leith Hill, 900 ft above sea-level and the site of an old hill fort. Here my three comrades and I, under a Lance Corporal, were the link between Phantom's 'G' Squadron in Northern Ireland and 'H' Squadron in the North African desert. We had to be on the air at certain times to take the messages, which were all in code so we had no idea of the content.

I was then sent to 'J' Squadron commanded by Major the Hon. Jakie Astor and often went down to Cliveden, the family seat of the Astor family. Two of Lord and Lady Astor's sons were officers of Phanton, Jakie and his younger brother Michael, and both were very friendly down-to earth men. It was while at Cliveden that Lord Banbury, another Phantom officer, taught me to drive — in an Austin pick-up truck! Banbury was a big man who was loved by all his men.

With 'J' my patrol was on the move all the time. I was working as a wireless operator from a Scout car back to base. The Squadron was attached to other branches of the British Army, and at one time to combined operations. We worked with the Commandos in Scotland and with the 1 Corps which was to be involved in the invasion of France. There were exciting times, we did beach landings, with suitcase radio sets, and climbed mountains with all the equipment that was needed.
In February 1943, 'J' Squadron , to avoid confusion with the Eighth Army's 'J' Service, became 'F' Squadron. Seven months later our Squadron was to be disbanded and we were to be sent to other squadrons — or to volunteer for parachuting. Having no idea what our ultimate role would be all 80 of us stepped forward, and so still as 'F' we found ourselves back in Scotland, this time at Auchinleck in Ayrshire. Here a PE instructor had to toughen us up before we began our parachute training at Ringway, now incidentally, the site of Manchester Airport. Back in Auchinleck we were put into patrols of five — an officer, and NCO, and three wireless operators — and sent to various squadrons of the SAS. 'F' Squadron became SAS Phantom, and our role was to provide signals for this very special service.

My patrol, no. 2 which consisted of Lieutenant Moore, my self ( Corporal Wood), Rifleman Ralli, Trooper Harris and Private Brinton, was posted to 'A' squadron of 1st SAS which was at Marvel, still in Scotland.

Towards the end of May 1944, we were all taken down to Fairford Glos, little knowing that the long-planned invasion of Europe was less than two weeks away. Here we were put in barbed-wire compounds, for now security was paramount. We were briefed as to where we were to drop and shown maps of the areas. After the 6th June, D-Day, every night a truck would come and take a patrol away, our turn come on the 10th June.

We were taken to an airfield where we drew our parachutes, picked up our wirelesses with our kit bags and got aboard a plane, but not before our CO came along and took a photo of us all. Our party consisted of Major Bill Fraser, 2 or 3 of his men, my patrol and Colonel Hastings of SOE.

I remember we took off at 10.30 pm, crossed the Channel and the Normandy beachheads and flew on over France to the Massif Central area, where we were to drop 150 miles south of Paris. When we arrived, however, low cloud obscured the drop zone (DZ) and we couldn't see the reception committee, or rather the pilot couldn't , but we went ahead anyway and found ourselves spread out over a large area. Major Fraser and two of his men had dropped a long way off and we didn't see them until a week later!

Luckily, our patrol officer found us and took control. At first light, about 3.30 am, we buried our parachutes and decided what to do. We didn't know where we were but moved east, looking for a disused railway line on our map. We never did find it!. After six days, moving early in the morning before people were about or later in the evening, we were cold, wet and hungry, so our officer took one man with him and went into a village. I was one who stayed behind, where we lit a fire to dry out. It attracted an old peasant farmer who came along and we were able to make him understand who we were. He went away and returned with his two sons. They in turn went off, only to return and hour later in a truck with the local Maquis, who we should have met up with in the first place. We had been in touch with the UK by radio every day so they knew that all was well with us but we were having difficulty in finding a base. However we did find a base and brought in the rest of the squadron, about eighty in all, I think. That was our task, you see, as an advanced party, to set up as a base. Well, now we were able to set up a camp and an ammo dump and get settled in.

We were in the middle of a field one day, reporting back to UK at one of our scheduled times, when a battle started near us between the Germans and the local Maquis. We abandoned our radio and took cover and the rest of the Squadron joined in and helped. The Germans didn't know that there was an SAS Squadron there so they got a nasty shock! As a result our Sergeant Major, Reg Seekings, was shot in the head. He won the Distinguished Conduct medal in the Western Desert with Col. David Stirling. I remember him, with a bullet lodged in his head, walking into the camp with the back of his battledress soaked in blood. They couldn't operate on him in case it did more damage, so he carried the bullet in his head, right through our mission. And he survived!.

Once we were established we divided into three camps. Our Major was in the headquarters near the village of Mansauche, where I was, and the two outstations were at Dijon and Chinon. Our only link with them was via England as we had no direct link. The aim of our operation, Houndsworth, was to stop Rommel's Panzers, which were in the south of France when the invasion took place, from moving up to Normandy. When this task was complete we took out other targets, including an oil refinery, and radioed information about train movements back to England. The RAF soon flew in and sorted these out.

One of my tasks we to re-supply and it worked that in the morning I would receive a message such as ' One plane, ten containers to blue DZ, estimated time of arrival 0100 hours, running in from north to south, recognition letter P. Acknowledge'. About half an hour before time of arrival I would take another operator up to the DZ with my 'Eureka' which worked to the 'Rebecca' in the plane. If a plane flew over and I didn't get a high-pitched noise through my headphones I would let it go. When I did get the high-pitch I would light up a small flare path with sand soaked in petrol and the supplied would be dropped by parachute.

On one occasion a Frenchman came along and said that his château had been taken over by Rommel as his headquarters. Major Fraser decided that two or three Jeeps would go to the château. I would go with then and another wireless operator to lay on an air raid. In the confusion the other two Jeeps would go in and capture Rommel. He said we would all get a medal if we survived. I think it was such a hair-brained scheme that the ' powers that be' back in Britain vetoed it straight away. The RAF. did come in and bomb the château from our map references, but Rommel was not there at the time.

We lived in the forest for three months until the Germans had retreated into Germany and Paddy Mayne came down on the 6th September and relieved us. Paddy Mayne knew of our work, usually 16 hours a day. We had been in touch with England every single day, decoding and encoding the messages sending them over the air and arranging the re-supplies at night. He sent a message back to England saying that my wireless patrol had made the whole operation a success, because of the way we had done our job. We were all mentioned in Dispatches, except our patrol officer.

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