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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Bridport Museum
People in story: 
Frederick Jack Roberts
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3917243
Contributed on: 
19 April 2005

Mr Frederick Jack Roberts (2nd backrow 5th from left.

I was sent for a medical in Dorchester, in 1942. I went up and saw five doctors, and the last one said “you’re not fit for the Navy; we shall be sending you to the Army. You have something wrong with you, a hernia.. you’ll be hearing from the Army in about a fortnight/three weeks time.” It wasn’t long before I did hear from them. Me and a friend of mine, that was me and Eric, we went up to Boscombe, the Burlington Hotel. Sounds posh! But it wasn’t so posh as it sounds, because we found out when we got there that we were sleeping on the floor, draught blowing under the door, and it was very uncomfortable! Then we went to the Pier Hotel, where we were kitted out, then we had a paliasse, which we had to fill with straw. From there, we had a month’s intensive training. After a passing-out parade, we had a seven day leave, at the end of the month. We had all sorts: we had injections and goodness knows what — it was a bit hectic. We were up at five in the morning (half-past five if you wanted to go sick!) I went sick — I had the flu — it was bad conditions I think, because I’d come from a fairly good home, I had a bed, which was completely different from the Army.
We had gas mask training, and we had to run around without a gas mask, there was coughing and spluttering and everything…

After my seven days leave I came back there and reported back for training on the lorries, driving, which I didn’t get on so well with, but I did a little bit of driving, round the New Forest. They decided afterwards I wasn’t fit for the roads, so I became a storeman. Then they said I had to have an operation at the Military Hospital, at Shaftesbury, where the remand home is now. It was a gigantic place with miles of corridors. I had the hernia operation, it was three weeks, not like today. They gave me chloroform and I said to the nurse when I came back off the operation “Will you give me a drink of water” and I was promptly sick, because I couldn’t stand the chloroform. Then I had another two weeks in another ward, then they said I could go to a Convalescent Home, at Shapwick near Bridgewater, then I stayed there for a fortnight or three weeks. From there I went to Westbury, which was a Convalescent Depot, to get me ready to go back into the Army again. We had coloured tags: red, yellow and white and when you got onto white, you were supposed to be fit. I was sent on another leave then. I then had to report back to Guildford. Then they said “We’re posting you to the First Div Troops”, which was in Norfolk, and that was the start of me going north, and I was forever going north afterwards. I went up to Scotland, Rothsay, where we loaded and unloaded lorries for the invasion, for the barges. We had a civilian billet there, which was very good. We had beds!

The troop was going to South Africa, but in the middle of this I had an urgent compassionate leave, to go home, because my parents were bombed out of East Street (in Bridport). The top of the house was blown completely off. It was lucky that my mother had shut the stair door and was in the passage, when this happened. It took the top of the house clean off. It was a nice little house too — I don’t think my mother ever forgot it. It was very harrowing for her; she was there on her own. My father was working in the factory, at Gundry’s. At the same time, there was a man working at the factory in the paint shop whose wife was killed, and a little girl of three. That was at the same time. It was a very harrowing time. I had to come home and try to find them somewhere to live. They couldn’t get in anywhere, and they finished up going in with Mr Good at West Allington. I got 14 days leave altogether, and I managed to find them a little place by Gundry’s but they didn’t want to stop there because it was right by the factory, they were a little bit frightened, I think. They managed to get a place down at The Cedars, then eventually to Court Orchard. By that time I had gone back to my Unit. By that time the Unit was gone, over to Africa I think. The corporal said “We’re only the rearguard, we’re clearing up. You won’t be going with us, you’ll be going to Barr Head (in Scotland)”. I stayed there for about a fortnight or three weeks, then I went to Paisley for about three weeks. Then they said “you’re posted” and I thought “I wonder where I’m going now”? I went down to Sheffield and I stayed there for about a year. I was on “semi-permanent staff”. At the time, 1943, the Canadians were there, thousands of Canadians. I was in No 6 Training Battalion. I did all sorts of jobs, Batman… Then I went from there to York, then to Carlisle and I stayed there for a while. I went out on manoeuvres and my stomach filled up with water. I was sent to a civilian doctor who said “Hospital for you, you’ve got things there I can’t deal with, I’m a civilian doctor” I went to the General Hospital in Carlisle. They wrote and asked my parents for their permission to give me an operation because I was under 21. I went back up to Scotland again to a Convalescent Home, and I went from there to Blackburn. From Blackburn I went right down through the country, and that was getting on towards D-Day. I went to Lavington in Wiltshire. I joined the Mobile Petrol Filling Centre (MPFC) for PLUTO. Then I went to Bordon in Hampshire. There were loads of Americans there, girls and all sorts. They were very kind to us. They used to say “You come and have a cup of coffee with us”.. They said “you chaps haven’t got much, have you, I’ll give you a couple of shirts, and a packet of fags”

At Lavington, we had to put a big tent up, it was blowing half a gale and it was a hell of a job to put it up, it was like a circus tent. Then I went down to Tilbury, on to American troop ships. They had wonderful quarters there — I slept under a big gun. We knew we were going to France, but not whereabouts. We went all the way down the French coast, past Calais — the Germans were still in Calais — down towards Bayeux in Normandy. We landed there, on Juno Beach. The first thing I saw in France was a woman hurrying in a cloud of dust — it was awful. It was shortly after the invasion. We stayed at Bayeux for a little while, for about six weeks, then we went on up to… we stopped in a little village along the way, and that’s where I got to know a girl, but that’s another story!...She was a farmers daughter and they were very friendly. They took us to their homes and what little they had they shared. I never knew the name of that village, we were moving so fast. We finished up going up to Calais. We worked on the pipeline there, PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), and we simply went on up into Belgium, filling gerrycans, thousands of them, taking them up to the tanks which were going to the front line. We stayed for a fortnight in a monastery in Belgium, I’ll never forget it, with nuns. They took us in. Their gardens were magnificent. They grew everything, they were completely self-supporting, I think. We did very well there, thank you very much! Their gardens were a picture to see.

Then from Belgium we went on up to Holland, then from Holland the next jump up to was in Germany, into a place just inside the border. Mr Montgomery was going to have a major inspection, but he didn’t turn up. We got ready, cleaned up, picked up all the leaves, whitewashed everything, but he didn’t come, he was 14 miles up the road! The officers and Sergeant Major were all very nice, but I was put on a charge by the Redcaps for wearing shoes instead of boots one time. I was sentenced to 7 days CB, in the cookhouse. But that was all right because I got on very well with the cook. My only pair of boots were being repaired

I had seven days leave in Paris, we went all over Paris. I went up the Eiffel Tower, Paris was mined at the time, the Germans had only just been driven out. I went up to the top of Notre Dame and looked all over Paris, and I thought “What a wonderful city!”

We went back to Germany, and then I got posted again, in Germany. They used to have trams going through the forest, then to Bad Einhausen, an ex-German barracks, they had double glazing and everything, a beautiful place. Then I went to Munster, that was a University town, bombed nearly flat (by us, of course), then to Menden, near Dortmund, I had nearly 18 months there, in that one place. I liked it there, I got to know some people there, and we got on well with the people, we had time to stop to speak to them. I got to know a local girl and her family; they always called me Frederick, not Jack. It was very difficult for the family, after the War. I used to give them cigarettes so they could barter them for food, everything had collapsed in Germany. Officially, you weren’t supposed to talk to Germans, but eventually they lifted the ban, because they found that we had to talk to somebody, to help run the place. The Burgomeister (like our Mayor) was in charge, still in charge. Crops were left in the fields. So many people suffered, very much so. In France, and Germany — and I can well understand people not wanting to go to war, or any part of it, because it was so harrowing. Thousands of people I saw, people from Poland and Czechoslovakia — they were either chased out of their own country by the Germans or the Russians. The Russians were there, and of course they never showed no mercy on Germany. What they (the Germans) did to them, they (the Russians) did back to them, they left it in a frightful mess. That’s why they built that wall.

I came back to England, to York and was demobbed at York. Then I came back here, and they gave me a wallet with a pound note in it and “Our Grateful Thanks”. The officer over there said, “Roberts, you should consider staying on, we want men like you”. At that time they wanted time-served people, to teach the youngsters. He said I would have promotion, I would have done very well if I had stayed. But I didn’t want to stay. I thought about my parents, who were very old. It was so different, and it was the ordinary people who lost out, in the War. No-one achieved very much, I think you lost more than you gained. In the end they did better in Germany than we did — they got on the road to recovery quicker than we did. They were a very go-ahead nation. The women were there, knocking stuff off the bricks and re-building, even when I was there, they were starting to rebuild the place.

I was 18 when I went in, and 23 when I was demobbed in 1946/47. The wallet my pound note was in had “1939-45” printed on it.

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