- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Arthur Oates; Frieda Oates (first wife;) Phyllis Oates (nee Amer - second wife)
- Location of story:
- England; France.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 January 2006
Contact with Home
I had sent home previously the Army card which just said that “I am well”. I wrote home from Chesterfield asking Father to send me some money, which he did by special delivery. However, before it arrived movement orders came and I was moved to Bradbury Lines, Hereford where my Company was being reformed, and where I rejoined my pals Cliff and Wiggy (Douglas Wigston). Dad had to get his money back.
Again I wrote home and the following Saturday or Sunday I went out with the lads to visit Hereford, and unbeknown to me my father and mother and Frieda came to visit me. We missed one another and so I had to wait for a leave pass. When I did get home on leave it was a very happy and joyous time, because Father had said to Mother — during the evacuation — if we do not hear from our Arthur soon it will mean he has been captured or missing, but Mother said that she would have known.
Marriage plans and a family tragedy
However, during that leave Frieda and I had discussed marriage and decided yes we would; arrangements to be made by her family. When I got back from leave within a short time we were re-equipped with new vehicles, 3-ton Commers, and we moved to Chillerton, N. Devon, again in the country and in farms. That September Frieda wrote that arrangements for the wedding were complete, so I obtained leave and went home to be wed. Sadly I cannot remember any details (though there is a photograph in the album). We had a lovely few days honeymoon at Broadway, then it was back to Devon for me. In Devon we were collecting supplies from Crown Barracks, St. Bordeaux, Plymouth, and delivering them to units around, Looe and Polperro, Launceston and Tavistock.
During October I played in a friendly game of football, scored a goal, was then tackled when I had the ball and was carried off the field with a broken ankle. The ride to hospital in a truck with my ankle swaying from side to side was not exactly relaxing. Once in hospital though with the ankle and leg plastered it was not too bad; at least it was after the swelling had gone down and a new plaster put on the ankle and leg. Fortunately I was taken to the Plymouth General Hospital, and not the Army Hospital (at Notley I think). We were treated very well and occasionally taken out to a show. It was at this time that the Germans began their bombing attack on Plymouth. Thank goodness they were after the Docks. It was now December and coming up to Christmas, and I asked for Christmas leave and got it, so in full kit and with my ankle and leg strapped up I travelled all the way to Birmingham in the corridor of the train; was I glad to get home!
Sadly my memory is rather hazy as to what I did during that leave. Frieda was not very well, she had jaundice, however soon after my return to my RASC Company — via the holding Barracks at Woking — Frieda was admitted to hospital and her condition got worse, so much so that I requested and was granted compassionate leave. I was therefore near her when she died at the end of February 1941.
My Company was now stationed at Elkington Hall, Near Louth, Lincolnshire. The Hall was a very old building with many rooms, lots of rambling staircases. The lighting was provided by a not very dependable generator, which very often broke down during the dark evenings.
I cannot remember the date when I was promoted to Lance Corporal and moved into the Platoon Office as Admin. Clerk. It was a very cold January/February and we were expected to join the physical training parade, outside in the snow in shorts and vest. Not my idea of keeping fit. Within a couple of months I was called into Company Office to be told I was being promoted to Corporal and I was to report to the Ammunition Company, stationed at Moretonhampstead, in Devon. With full kit therefore I entrained to Morton, via Exeter, and reported to HQ to be told I was to be the Admin. Corporal for Workshops. My duties were to take the morning roll call and march the platoon to the Workshops, which were in the local Bus Station. The platoon was billeted in the local pub, the Plymouth Inn. HQ was in the White Hart.
Next morning the Platoon fell in outside the pub, I took the roll call, and the Workshops Staff Sergeant told me to report to HQ with the Roll Call Sheet, while he would march the Platoon to the Workshops. However, on the way there the Platoon passed their Officer — Captain Gill — he noticed I was not with them so he placed me on charge “neglect of duty”. I was marched in before the Commanding Officer and given a warning to watch my conduct in future. Captain Gill, however, was to make my life hell; part of my duties was to visit outlying small workshops; Zeale, South Tawton, to take spares etc. If I used the small truck I was wasting petrol so I should use a motorcycle, if I used the motorcycle then why wasn’t I taking the truck, whatever I did was wrong. Fortunately the MSM (Mechanical Sergeant Major) was a very caring and understanding man and managed to keep me out of Captain Gill’s way where possible. To my great relief by the end of 1941 Captain Gill had been posted to another Command and we came under Lieutenant Bailey, a real gentleman. On occasions he would visit his lady friend at Yelverton across the Moor beyond Princetown. The MSM would receive a call for Lt. Bailey to report to the O.C. I would then be sent off on a motorcycle to tear across the Moor to Yelverton to contact Lt. Bailey. He would get astride my motorcycle and shoot off to Morton, while I would drive his little Austin staff car back. Once coming back across the Moor, I had to change a punctured tyre — fortunately all the tools were available.
I must have been doing things right for in 1942 I was promoted to Lance Sergeant (three stripes but only a Corporal’s pay) and became the Admin L/Sgt for B Platoon. There were four Platoons to the company, A, B, C and D. A Platoon comprised of Lieutenant, Sergeant, L/Sergeant, 2 Corporals and a Lance Corporal, a batman, Cook’s staff, drivers, clerk, a total of 30. I settled in well with my new Platoon and shared a bedroom with Sergeant Turner (known as Mac).
I forgot to mention that my main buddy while in workshops was Harry Watts, and we stayed friends up till his death in the 1980s.
During this early period of 1942 the whole Company took part in many training exercises on Bodmin Moor and later in the area of Grantham and Boston.
Making up a Foursome
Also during the summer months in June, a young woman, Phyllis Amer, came to stay with her cousin Veronica Yeoman for a short holiday. Now Veronica was going out with Cpl. Henry Ford (Workshops) and the thought of having Phyllis making up a threesome was not well received by Henry and Veronica, so I was approached by Henry to look after Phyllis (why me, I was not exactly a close friend of Henry?). I was nothing loath to accept, and after duty spent some lovely hours with Phyllis, she was a lovely and charming companion. With Henry having access to workshops we did some of our courting there; Henry and Veronica in the ambulance, Phyllis and I in the front of one of the 3-ton vehicles. No naughties, but life was very pleasant for that short period. I also was taken to meet her grandfather and grandmother Yeoman and some of her uncles; they were a happy, generous and most enjoyable family and made me welcome after Phyllis had returned home (her mother was one of the older sisters, a family of 7 boys and 6 girls).
The Platoon kept busy, and Phyllis and I corresponded with each other; then after Christmas 1943 I obtained some leave which I spent in Birmingham and in London, because Phyllis and her parents wanted me to spend a few days with them. Fortunately we all got on very well together, probably sizing me up to see if I would make an eventual good son-in-law. I am not sure whether my mind had moved so far ahead at that stage; it was an enjoyable leave though as I had never been to London before.
Battalion moves North
On my return to Morton it was to begin packing for a move north. It was a Battalion move, Infantry, the lot, and I was chosen to go with the advance party of motorcyclists from the other Regiments and Companies, and Military Police. It was a bitter morning when I joined with the other riders and off we set, being early morning the road on the icy side (black ice). However, we were proceeding at a reasonable pace when the two MPs in front of me skidded and I braked and took avoiding action only to have my bike slide away from me as I shot along on my backside. The riders between me skidded and came off; fortunately no-one was injured and we eventually arrived at a Race Course, covered with tents, where we awaited the arrival of the Battalion.
Next morning, after a not so comfortable night we were off again, another bitter day with snow in the air. In those days, other than a crash helmet and motoring gloves, we rode in ordinary uniform and greatcoat; my hands and feet were usually frozen, especially by the time we arrived at the next harbouring area.
The next day, after another restless night, we set off in snow, during which I came off the bike twice. I was then detached and joined my own company to lead them towards Elton, the area of our new base and company HQ. The adjutant told me to report to HQ and how to get there and he also stated that if the Commanding Officer was not there, I was to proceed beyond to a certain crossroads where the C.O. would be waiting to lead the Company in. I arrived at HQ to be ordered by the Officer there to go back and tell the Adjutant to bring the Company in This I did and was soon in trouble because the C.O. was still awaiting news of the Company at the “Crossroads”. I was marched into his office and severely reprimanded for not carrying out orders to report to him; my fault really, I should have ignored the HQ Officer’s instructions, but at the time I followed the last orders given. I think that put paid to hopes of promotion to full Sergeant, because the C.O. told me that my good conduct work on the advance part saved me from losing my L/Sgt. stripes.
In April I had a week’s leave, and Phyllis came to meet my Mom and Dad in Birmingham for the first time; we became engaged and bought a ring.
My Platoon settled in well at Elton in buildings near to HQ and we were kept fairly active. Phyllis came up for a week’s holiday in June and I found her some accommodation. Somehow I managed to meet her at Beverley Station, but could only see her during the evenings, being on duty during the day. The week soon passed; I think I was able to take Phyllis to Beverley and put her on the train for home.
Move to Bishop Auckland
Shortly after this we were on the move again to Bishop Auckland, not far from Scotch Corner between Richmond and Darlington, North Yorkshire. Bishop Auckland was a very busy and lively market town. We had a nice house for our Sergeants’ Quarters; the administration was carried out within the town. Again my memory is somewhat hazy because we had soon become a training company, receiving new intake that were documented and then sent out for training to our Platoons stationed in the country areas around Bishop Auckland. In September during this period Phyl came up for a few days visit; I managed to find her a room and the people fed her well.
The new intake, after a number of weeks training, were then kitted out with tropical kit and off they went. Although we often wondered in the Sergeants Mess whether any of us would be posted, we never were. Mind you, we were lucky not to have been for we had arranged a dance to be held in the local dance hall, the Officer Commanding, his wife and other Officers, local officials, etc. were invited. Unfortunately we Sergeants were late leaving our mess after a few drinks, so that when we arrived at the Dance Hall it was to find the O.C. and guests already there, no reception committee. The O.C. was not very happy and cancelled any ideas of further dances. However, life went on. My pal Harry Watts met a local girl, and later married her. It was now approaching December 1943 and we moved to Bradford, the area of Manington. Phyllis came up for a few days holiday and spent Christmas with me; she was accommodated by a very nice lady, but she had to amuse herself my being on duty.
In Bradford we lived in empty houses in Manington, the roads were wide and tree lined and good parking for our vehicles. Early 1944 we took over new vehicles, 10 toners, Albions (driving cabs built over and around the engines — like buses), and American Whites and Macks, four gears and an overdrive. The Macks seemed very big and the cabs high off the ground. Eventually we moved to Walton on the Naze on the East Coast into empty hotels. The local school at Frinton was used once as a bathhouse when the Army mobile bath unit moved in and supplied us with clean underwear, shirt, socks and uniform. We took off our clothes at one end of the school, ran naked to where the showers stood, showered, gathered up clean things and ran back naked to get dressed. I think this only happened once, because the Company moved to Eastleigh near Southampton to help unload “American Liberty Ships” bringing over portions of the Mulberry Harbour. The Company was billeted in empty houses at Eastleigh and the vehicles were driven to the Docks daily.
During the move there Phyl had made arrangements for our marriage. She had discussed it with her parents and mine, and I had to obtain permission from my Commanding Officer. I asked if Sgt. Watts could be my best man, but no luck, so off I went to London — Hither Green Station, and then to Phyl’s home. My mother and father had arrived and her brother Walter. In the evening together with Phyl’s dad, my dad, Walter and Uncle Stanley (who was to be my best man) I went for a drink — my stag night — calm, sober and respectable.
The wedding next day, Saturday 6th May, was a very happy and lovely occasion. Phyl looked very lovely in her white wedding outfit, with a young cousin as bridesmaid. Phyl’s Aunt and Uncle in Hereford (bakers) sent us a lovely wedding cake, marvellous really, because of the severe rationing during those times. We held our reception at the local Co-operative Hall (Phyl’s Dad was a committee member), with those relatives and friends able to get there. After the reception Phyl and I caught the train to Hereford to spend a few days honeymoon with Uncle Stan and Aunty May at their lovely home and bakery. They made us so welcome and we had a lovely few days, then a telegram arrived for me to report to Eastleigh. Phyl saw me off on the train and I arrived at Eastleigh about 11 p.m.; no transport so I had a few miles walk to my billet, along quiet country roads with not a soul for company. Being a town lad, if someone had booed or roared at me from the hedge I would have taken off like a rocket!
I think we were unloading for about three weeks, and then back to Walton on the Naze where we carried out waterproofing our vehicles.
On June 6th. We witnessed the awe-inspiring sight of the terrific air armada off to Normandy to soften up the German defences, in support of the Allied sea invasion by British, Canadian, American and Free French Forces. The excitement was tremendous and I am sure everyone was praying for a successful landing, which was achieved after some very anxious hours, especially on one American beach. Extravagant hopes had been expressed by the English Commander, General Montgomery that British and Canadian Forces may get to Caen within a few days. It took three weeks with heavy losses. The Germans had allocated up to 10 Panzer Divisions in and around Caen; it showed their respect and that they did not underrate the determination of our troops.
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