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15 October 2014
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Reg's War: One Man and the War

by The Fernhurst Centre

Contributed by 
The Fernhurst Centre
People in story: 
Reg Parkhouse
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2431838
Contributed on: 
16 March 2004

Reg Parkhouse - Salerno 1945

This is Reg Parkhouse’s story: it has been added by Pauline Colcutt (on behalf of the Fernhurst Centre), with permission from the author who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website.

REG’S WAR — ONE MAN AND THE WAR

Being in the Territorial Army, I was called up the day before war was declared on September 3rd 1939 to Sutton Drill Hall, where the 57th East Surrey Anti Tank Regiment RA was based. After a few days we were sent to Epsom racecourse, (not Derby Day!!) where we lived in the Grandstand, for training etc. until December. It was a very cold place, being mostly concrete. We then moved to Kent to a large house at Hadlow, until March. We then left for France (King George VI had been to inspect us), via Southampton to Cherbourg, forming part of the 44th Home Counties Division now. We drove to the Le Mans racecourse and stayed about three days before moving up to the ‘Lille’ area, close to the Belgium border. When Hitler invaded Belgium (and other countries) we moved into Belgium. After numerous battles we became encircled and our unit, like others, got split up in the process. We did the best we could, but eventually we were told to withdraw and make for the sea, (Dunkirk). I only had one person I knew with me. After all the hardware was put in to a huge compound and immobilised, we set off on our journey which was pretty hectic. We got to the sea by following everybody else. The town and port jetty area had been very heavily bombed and was covered by a huge area of black smoke. There were a lot of sunken ships just visible above the water including a hospital ship (with a heavy loss of life) and more to follow. We were about three days among the sand dunes waiting to be taken off. On and off we were shelled and attacked by Stuka dive bombers, but the duller the weather the better it was for us. We were amongst the last to be taken off. Our turn came at night and about twelve of us we were put on a very small fishing boat. We landed at Ramsgate, by this time I only had underwear and a blanket. We went by train to Derby where we lived in Army huts. It took three weeks to get some fresh clothes, but at least I did not have to worry about looking smart!! Our next move was to Port Meadows in Oxford to rest. It was a nice break and I enjoyed boating on the river. The weather was nice too (June 1940). Between now and July 1942 we moved to many places, such as Tonbridge, Folkestone, Deal, Ashford, Dymchurch, Winchelsea in Kent, Battle (a peaceful place!!) in Sussex, Chard and Frome in Somerset (plenty of cider!), Askham near Doncaster, Yorkshire where there was a coal mine, (we lived in the miners’ empty houses - plenty of soot!), and London, Raynes Park from where we left to go overseas again. In July 1942 we went by train to Glasgow and boarded an American banana boat (no bananas) at Gourock, we were seven weeks on the water, via the Gold Coast, Africa, then to Cape Town where we were able to land for a visit and go to Sea Point. We then went up the East coast of Africa to the Suez Canal and Port Suez - about a 12,000 mile journey. It was very hot. We were then taken to somewhere in the desert by an old train with carriages like cattle trucks, (but no cows), it was obvious we would not be breaking the speed limit! We were now to be part of the 8th Army. After about ten days we became involved in the battle of Alam Halfa which was to be Rommel’s last fling for Alexandria. My Brigade was with the 2nd New Zealand Division. This was about 29th August to 4th September. Luckily Rommel was stopped and had to withdraw, with costly losses on both sides. (The German General von Bismarck was killed and General Nehrins was badly wounded in the clash). From then until 23rd October we were involved in the preparation for the Alamein offensive. The first attack started at 9.40pm with a 950 gun artillery barrage lasting for twenty minutes. (I understand the combined rate of shells was 1000 a minute for twenty minutes). At a given signal it all began again when the real offensive started; it is something you cannot explain. After about ten days (longer than planned), Rommel began to withdraw, it was the beginning of the end. He was pursued for 1800 miles, to Tunisia with several clashes on the way. After Alamein, the Division was split up into brigade numbers. 131, 132 and 133. I was now part of 131 Brigade. From then on we supported other Divisions as and when required, such as the 51st Highland Division and the Guards at the Mareth line. We did not stay long in Tunisia, instead returning to Tripoli still in the desert. We picked up some new vehicles while we were there, after refitting etc and then we had to wait for our next move. It was very, very hot! Then, about Sept.9th. 1943, our next move came, it was to take part in the invasion of Salerno, Italy. We travelled in three new British landing craft, large enough for our equipment. It took two or three days, the weather was calm. Our landing on the beaches was followed by an unplanned paddle! Gradually we moved inland to the south of Naples, near Vesuvius, which seemed to be okay. As time went by we came to the Cassino area, the weather was bad for three months or more and held things up. The monastery (Monte Cassino) had a commanding view over the area and was occupied by the enemy which did not help matters. The forward infantry were having very, very, bad conditions. The town had been bombed to pieces, but the Germans fought-on in the ruins. The monastery was later bombed but it did not help much. In the meantime another operation was going on at Anzio to try and help. In the end success came, but I think it cost about 80,000 lives including the enemy. I think it was the worst place I saw. Gradually after many battles the war was won in Italy. We then went to a seaside town called Cattolica. In August 1945, I came home on leave by lorry via Austria, stopping at Innsbruck, then into Germany, stopping at Bonn, then into France and home. While I was home the war in Japan ended, so all the war was over now. At then end of my leave (one month) I went back to Italy by train through France via Paris, Switzerland, through the Simplon tunnel into Milan, Italy and on to Cattolica again. So I got my bucket and spade out again!! After four months I came home for good, this time by train via Austria but we were held up for about two days because of heavy snow, spending Christmas at Villach. We then moved on through Germany and France again, arriving in England on January 1st 1946. It was the seventh Christmas I had spent away from home. During the war I estimate I travelled about 25000 miles and 20 yards!! When looking back on my experiences I also remember the people in England who suffered for so long during the bombings and many other hardships. It was a case of every one doing their bit.

Reg Parkhouse

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