- Contributed by
- People in story:
- William Lowe
- Location of story:
- England France and Germany
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 June 2004
Bills Story Part 3
BACK TO ENGLAND
We stayed at Ballycarry until the April, and then we were on our travels again back to England. This time the new venue for us was to be in Staffordshire at the Keele Hall now known as Keele University and a very nice place it turned out to be. I often wonder if they have still got the mirror, that when you turned the handle it came out of the wall and hid the stage? This was a very large room and I am sure you could have held shows or dances there, and this was what we used for our dining room so a lot of the lads had a bit of fun with the mirror until orders were issued to leave the said mirror alone. According to the book I am using to help refresh my memory of the years spent in the services we were sent on leave whilst we were at Keele but I cannot remember catching the train at Stoke. Just down the road from the Hall there was a nice little pub so in the evening we would stroll down and join the locals there and we were made very welcome especially when they knew that the majority of us came from Nottm. As usual we were getting settled in at our new station when it happened again, yes! It was time to pack up again and be on the move.
This time the journey was down south to the Isle of Thanet. My Battery were to be under canvas in the Quex Park at Birchington just a bus ride from Margate and Ramsgate. It was at this camp that we had gun positions sited at the back of the hedges at the side of the road, and these were manned day and night just in case Mr. Hitler decided to have a go at us. All the streets at Cliftonville off the promenade looked as though they were all trimmed up, with camouflage nets spread right across from one side to the other and end to end and if you had any business in any of the streets your vehicle had to be covered with your own nets. This camp was quite a good camp even though we were under canvas again, we were only two or three minutes walk down into Birchington. The good ladies down there had opened a canteen which was quite good, so that if you did not feel like going into town for a drink you could go in there for a cup of tea and a bit of something to eat instead of drinking a lot of beer and then have to walk through the street, which brought you to the sea. While we were here, we had to fire our guns into West Bay. At times like this the Police had to clear the area for safety reasons as we did not want any accidents to happen to the civilians living in that part. One of our duties operated in this camp was quite a good one, the reason being that some weeks we had to set up what we called an OP point which meant that we had to go into Margate to set up this point. At that time, opposite the pier there was a building which was called the Hoy Hotel, and up the passageway at the side was a pub and so we set up our OP operations in one of the rooms above which you might think was very handy for a quick slurp, but no, the duty came first.
Some evenings there would be what was called a Red or Green night. If it was red we had to stay close for any trouble starting, but green nights it was swimming trunks on and in the pool on the beach so you can see we managed to get a bit of pleasure out of things. This party was made up of an Officer, a driver, two signallers, one for the radio, one for the telephone, and a specialist plus a signals N.C.O.
Many the night we have turned out checking the line back to the gun position back at camp thinking there was something wrong, only to find that the gun crew had gone to sleep. Oh boy were we pleased, You can imagine what the air was like! And the N.C.O played merry dickens with them and so it was back to the OP and see the rest of the night through and then return to camp the next morning.
It was while we were at this camp that we watched the R.A.F fly over to support the Canadians in their attempt to make a landing at Dieppe in France, and as you read in your history books that this attempt was a failure with a heavy loss of Canadian soldiers. After a while the higher-ups thought that we had been at this camp long enough so it was up sticks and travel again back again up to Yorkshire.
The big boys must have felt sorry for us, as they decided that we could have a train journey, which gave us drivers a change from driving in convoy over long distances especially at night with only a pinpoint of light to see by. The only problem for us Nottm. fellows we could not nip home when the train passed through the Midland station. We could have got off for a couple of hours, never mind I do not think it would have done us much good as some of us would have liked to have longer than allowed and that would not have been very pleasant.
BACK TO YORKSHIRE
The train journey carried on until we reached our new destination which was another village in Yorkshire at a place called Womersley about 6 or 7 miles from Doncaster which I am sure you all know of, and that is where we stayed over Christmas 1942 and saw the New Year in for 1943. While we were stationed here we would put in for a weekend in Doncaster, catch the bus into Donny and instead of staying at the YMCA we would go to the bus station and catch a bus to Nottm. on the Saturday and return on the Sunday. This turned out alright for me as the bus passed the end of the street where I lived so I could jump off there and catch the bus on the Sunday for my return back to our billet just after tea-time. The usual routine was set up i.e. rifle and marching drill and going out on exercises firing our guns at different ranges open to us. Our regiment was to stay here for quite a while as we saw 1942 out after another Christmas this time I was on mess orderly which meant that we got first serving which was done by the Officers, that being one of their duties on this day.
We stayed here until May 1943, yes! We were on the move again this time down the country to a town called Felixstowe. The stay here was a short one as we were on the move again in August this time it was back to a place named West Drayton situated between Darlington one way and Barnard Castle back in Co. Durham where we did a lot of practice in support of a tank regt we were attached to at that time. Our time spent here was a few weeks again which gave us time to have a few runs into Darlington for an evening which gave us time to go in the N.A.A.F.I. and then walk round the fair that was running then so that gave us a nice change.
Guess what? You have guessed it, we were on the move again, back into Yorkshire to the camp where we got the potatoes boiled with the soil they were grown in but not this time. The cooks did not slip up this time but gave us a meal worth eating. Camp this time was as different again as the first time we came here in 1940. Does not time fly when you are moving about all the time. It was while we were at this camp we had to start waterproofing our vehicles in preparation for driving through water and what a laugh that turned out to be. When we had waterproofed all the vehicles they all had to be tested and this meant going into Nottinghamshire to Thoresby Park where they had built a large concrete trough containing a good depth of water, so that the vehicles got a good testing. There we were, all stripping down and putting our bathing trunks on when it was our turn to drive through the water, and believe you me it was not like bath water, it, made your hair stand on end, anyway, we had some good laughs at each other. The reason the water was so cold, we had to break the ice before we could drive through, to test the waterproofing we had done on the vehicles. We had the same routine here as at all the other places we had been stationed, exercises in support of various units in our division. The furthest distance we had to travel was up to Redesdale firing camp which was situated in Northumberland and it was not very warm up there. It was not very nice for the gun crews as they were out in the open and no cover to protect them from the weather and that included heavy snow but we drivers had got our vehicles to shelter in. I would say that we stayed there about a week and then travelled back to Yorkshire through heavy snow storms but we managed to get back to Cawthorne with out any accidents, and ready for the good hot meal waiting for us, and Christmas of 1943 was looming up ready to lead us into a New Year. Christmas was the usual routine, Officers and Sergeants waking you up with a tot of Rum, which was a drop of good stuff and I do not think anybody refused this. Well that was another year gone and now here we are in year 1944 to be precise and you all know what happened in the June.
That is quite away yet and we are still doing our excercises on the moors just outside Sheffield. We used to call it Hobson’s Choice although it was Hobsons Moss and it used to blow very cold, and there used to be a few frozen radiators. No antifreeze them days, it was drain off every night and fill up again next morning.
About late February and early March we were on our travels again, this time up to Langholm twenty miles or so north of Carlisle which meant we were going to be settling down in Bonnie Scotland. It was quite a busy period for us while we were here, as, in Ireland there was some more road making and this time it was mixing concrete. While we were here there was the usual work to be done i.e. guard duties and all the routine of camp life. One thing was different, the drivers had to concentrate on the waterproofing of the vehicles ready for the big day which seemed, by the talk that managed to seep down to us mere mortals, to be getting closer. To make sure we would be alright they sent the drivers in groups to some part of the coast, where we had to practice loading on to landing craft, and then, putting out to sea and driving off through the sea back to dry land again, which I thought was quite an experience and enjoyed.
OFF TO SOUTHEND
Coming towards the end of April 44 it was time to start moving again, this time southwards to Witham not very far from Southend and there, we had to really get to work on our vehicles to try and be sure we would have minimal trouble with our wagons. As if we had not got enough to do, a group of our drivers including my self had to go and help an R.S.C, unit to waterproof their vehicles, but it gave us a break from our unit for a few hours. The only thing we did not do were the final touches to the water proofing which would be done at our next move prior to the trip to France. As usual with these moves there is a rear party to clear up after the main party has left, and I was included in this party but when we did follow up to our next stop it was full security all round and no moving out of the area at all. This was now getting to the end of May 44 and everybody at that time were beginning to get a sweat on, waiting for the balloon to go up which it did on the 6th of June, and so we would find out whether our years of training would stand us in good stead. The main part of our battery moved on to Tilbury where they loaded all the equipment aboard the ship prior to sailing over to France, which they did, on D.plus 3. Leaving the rear party to bring the spare equipment up later which we did around D. plus 12, and what a ta, ta that turned out to be. When we had loaded up and all gone aboard our ship off we went to join our mates the other side of the Channel.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CHANNEL
On reaching the other side came the work of unloading, straight on to the landing craft ready to go ashore, but it did not turn out so easy, after clambering down the side of the ship to the craft. We set off for the shore and it was now getting dark and the alarm was raised, and so the destroyers at sea acting as escorts for the landings, started to make smoke screens in case there was going to be a bombing attack.
As it turned out, it was a false alarm but that was it for us that night as we returned to the ship, and what a game that was. There we were all having to clamber over the landing craft to get back on board our ship. Pitch black and climbing up the scrambling nets to get back on board and we had to be very careful how we moved, because all the holds were uncovered and it was said that several of the lads had fallen down on some of the ships. We got to know later that one of our own fellows and one of the officers had the misfortune to do this, but our group managed to find a place to settle down, and get a tin of self-heating soup which helped us to regain our composure again. The following morning I think we got some breakfast, I am afraid I cannot remember for sure, but I am certain we got something before we clambered down to the landing craft again and to our vehicles then made for the shore, which we managed this time without any problem. And so, here we are, on French soil after all the training we have done since joining the army in the year 1939. Ah. Well, that’s life is it not?
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