- Contributed by
- Tom the Pom
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 October 2003
EYE WITNESS TRUE STORIES OF WORLD WAR TWO
My name is Tom Barker. I was born on the 23rd of May 1921 in a small house on the corner of Brigg road and opposite Hopper's Offices in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, England.
By dodging my Father's heavy hand I managed to survive till I was 17 and tried to join the Boy's Service in the Navy. However due to a wily Scottish Recruiting Sergeant who lined his pockets at my expense when I was working out my notice of quitting my job whilst lodging in Glasgow, Scotland, I ended up in a Scottish Regiment. My Military title for next seven years was No 2982252 Pte T.O. Barker. My Regiment was, The First Battalion. Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
I had signed up for a total of twelve years, seven years with the colours and five years with the reserves.
This is an eyewitness account of what I saw, heard and could not avoid from September 1938 to 1945.
It has been written from memory, but since there is no way I can remember the actual conversations but can vividly remember the dialects and the faces of the speakers and the situations I am able to write this in some detail.
Many books have been written about the miseries and tragedies of war with dates and witnesses and whilst being informative can at times be boring.
With this in mind I have leaned toward the lighter side and some of the happier or comical episodes of my service abroad.
Since some memories invade my mind when I try to sleep I have been forced to take medication for the rest of my life. But I have made bold with the happier times of my service. I would point out however, that if one were to go to the zoo and on finding no animals there, and were informed that the R.S.P.C.A. had demanded they all be returned to the wild, one would feel cheated.
To write this and omit some of the detail because it may offend some would be akin to the zoo with no animals and therefore pointless. In short if one removes the walls from a house there is nothing to hold up the roof.
If one wishes to check the validity of this enterprise please contact British WW2 Service records, Ministry of Defence, CS(RM) 2b, Bourne Avenue, Hayes, Middlesex, UB3 IRF.
To avoid confusion later I would point out here that I changed identity tags for the last two years of the War with one Harry Tenny who was a Sgt Engineer in the R.A.F. The reason for which will be found in the following pages.
Lets leave today (May 23rd 2003) and travel back to the 9th of August 1938 when I first walked into the Recruiting Office in Suchiehall St, Glasgow, Scotland.
Tommy's War Part 2
9th August 1938
It was pouring with rain yet again.
I used to think God would to sit on high and as soon as I got out of bed he would signal to Big Gabbie,(God's number one Minder) to pull the chain and it would then rain for the rest of the day.
The last nine days had been made miserable by rain and cold, and each day I had re-assured myself that "Tomorrow must be a better day"
A week before, on the onset of bad weather I had been thinking again of joining the Royal Navy.
I had voiced my intentions to my stand in Father who was the Foreman of the gang who roamed about the countryside digging trenches in the ground and laying heavy ceramic pipes in them and then covering them up with earth.
I reflect on the fact that we humans had to be taught how to do this when cats and dogs do it naturally and without the aid of compasses or maps.
The Post Office Engineers would come along at a later date and complete the job by pulling massive tarred cables through the pipes and thus enable some of the outlying towns to communicate better instead of gathering wood as they had done over the ages for a huge bonfire on the nearest hill to light should the area come under attack from marauding Sassenachs, Vikings and Danes.
The length of a cable on its huge wooden bobbin would correspond to the distance between the joint boxes we had to build in concrete complete with round iron lid and iron rungs in the wall to allow workmen known as 'Cable Jointers' to descend into the box and join the ends of the cable using solder and blow lamps plus large amount of tarred tape.
I had joined this roaming gang of human moles as a tea boy in my hometown, and when they had finished there I begged my Father to let me travel with them, since there was no work on offer where I lived.
At first my Father was quiet adamant, "Tha cin go on't bluddy dole same as t' rest on us, tha's not leavin' 'ome to work away"
A few crisp words accompanied by a steely glare from my Mother and he wavered, then Mum side stepped smartly and her left arm came up to shield her face as Dad pursed his lips like a duck's bum and ejected a wet torpedo of tobacco juice that hit the wall with a 'SPLAT' and slowly meandered down making little wet bridges over the mortar gaps between the bricks.
A week later on idly perusing the spot I noticed that either the mortar had retreated between the bricks from the tobacco juice or it was the acid in the juice that had eroded the mortar and the rain washed it down into the garden where it snuffed out any garden life for a radius of about fifteen inches.
It occurred to me that should one get one of these lethal torpedoes in ones eye, one could be blinded for life.
Dad always spat when he did not get his own way.
Mum always thought it a filthy habit.
One local in the Village Pub stressed his own opinion over a pint, "Nivver argue wi yon Barker unless app'n tha's weerin' saefety goggles!"
"Yon b****r as lives near Thornton Abbey cin nail a cockroach t' wall wi' a jet o' terbaccy juice frum 'is gob an' if 'e gets yu in't eye tha'll be blint fer life"
Dad relented when Mum dug him in the ribs again and gave him a second helping of glare.
"Well ah suppose it might just do summat fer 'is hedifercation,'cos 'e can't allus stay 'ere an' play chase the bluddy rabbits."
I smiled, my Mother smiled, but my Father glowered.
Then a hug from Mum who was quick to point out,"And don't forget to send half a crown a week home because you haven't finished paying for your new bike yet"
I thought,"Yup! and guess who will be riding my new bike without paying a penny towards it"
As if reading my thoughts my Dad growled,"Don't you werry about yer bike,ah'll look efter it till tha' cums 'ome aggin' "
Dad had to have the last say as he addressed Bill Billingsgale, "Owt happens tu that lad,"
and he pointed with his wet pipe stem at me,"An ah'll cum lukkin' fer thee Bill"
Then my Father turned and walked away with out so much as, "Tha cin kiss me kiss me other foot," or "By yer leave".
The West Construction Co of Latherland Rd Liverpool was based in Liverpool.
The agent for this Construction Company would visit us every Friday afternoon to pay the wages and general liase, sometimes we got the latest risqué joke that was popular in Liverpool.
Our group consisted of the Foreman 'Bill Billingsgale' the pipe layer 'Paddy' an Irishman.
The lamp filler and odd job man 'Pongo' a London man, and myself who had joined this unit as a tea lad in Barton, Lincolnshire.
The cherry red coloured Morris motor lorry was loaded with all the tools and the orange coloured wooden office with it's black tarred and oft repaired felt roof and one cracked window pane.
Bill the Foreman in his mustard coloured heavy donkey jacket (duffle coat) got into the passenger seat in the cab of the lorry and dragged out a handful of road maps and began a dialog with the driver who's name now eludes me.
The others and myself got into the wooden office that was now stowed away on the back of the truck and with all the other tools and gear we settled down for the long drive to Scotland.
I stood up looking through the window of the hut as Barton began to disappear into the distance.
But soon I got tired of standing and with mixed feelings I joined the others who were lolling on sacking and half asleep.
I suppose the novelty of moving had worn off long ago for them.
To me it was another new adventure.
Having travelled for about an hour the driver would stop and get out, then after a short walk would get back in and off we would go again.
After about three hours one of the chaps stood up and stretched and had a look out of the window and said, "Looks like they 'as 'ad some snaw up 'ere"
Then the lorry stopped and Bill shouted, "We are near some woods, anyone want to take a walk?"
I looked out and sure enough everything was covered with snow.
But I was puzzled, "Why waste time stopping here just to go for a walk?"
There wasn't a sign of life anywhere, just the long road now covered with snow going back into the distance with our lorry tracks freshly imprinted in it.
And looking the other way one could just see the road for about a hundred yards then it seemed to merge with everything else that was white with snow.
At each side of the road were tall trees with outstreched branches the top half of which were laden with snow.
Then it became obvious why we had stopped, as the others made for trees and stood behind them silently like it was Eleventh of November and they were observing the two minutes silence for WW1 with down cast eyes.
The Penny sort of dropped as I observed steam rising suddenly from the now wet base of a tree as the snow began to disappear like a family of moths eating a hole in a blanket.
Another chap lingered to admire his paintings of eyeholes in the snow and decided to sign it with a flourish and half filled his left boot.
Then we had the pantomime of watching him trying to balance on one foot as he unlaced his boot and then removed it.
Taking off the wet sock and wringing out most of the liquid manure he then replaced the sock and boot and laced it up again to the grins of us who were stood watching his antics.
It suddenly occurred to me why some of these trees could be leaning over at alarming angles when others were so straight and proud.
These trees growing at all angles were on the edge of the wood, so I assessed they had been extra watered over the years by passing travellers who having topped up at the last Inn in Town now had stopped to water their horses behind a chosen tree as they hid from the view of other likely passers by on the road.
One can only ponder the outcome of a tree suddenly hiccuping as it sampled the waste product of Johnny Walker Whiskey and Worthington's finest ales as the bloke sighed with relief.
Then there was a snowball fight that petered out when Bill snarled, "Pack it in yu lot an' ger on the bleed'n' truck, we ain't got time tu play bleed'n snawballs" and we got onto the truck again with some albiet a bit sullen at the reprimand but glad to be on our way none the less, and we resumed our journeymore or less in silence.
The noise of the engine must have lulled me to sleep because the next thing I knew someone was shaking me and saying, "Come on young un, were 'ere"
We unloaded the tools and wooden office and by the time we had finished it was getting dark.
It was too late to go looking for digs so we spent the night in the wooden office and the next day Bill set off for the local Labour Exchange to see if he could get some Men to work for us digging the trenches.
I found out that this town was Galasheils in the lowlands of Scotland.
I must confess I cannot remember too much about Galasheils except to say it was a bit on the quiet side except for the local drunk who would come and watch us work while he stood there in a daze hiccupping and glassy eyed wondering what we were looking for digging up on the grass on the side of the road.
From there we moved to Selkirk.
Each time we moved Bill sat in the nice warm cab next to the engine while we sat in the cold wooden office hut on the back of the truck watching the snow cascading past the window.
While we had a plentiful supply of old potato sacks to sit on and cover our legs it was still bitterly cold in that draughty cabin when it was moving.
Selkirk Town I remember well. It had a huge hill as a backdrop to the railway station that terminated at Selkirk.
It also had lots of Woollen Mills and bonny Lasses.
But it was also very cold and wet.
One of the drawbacks of Scotland from Bill's point of view was that all the Pubs on Sunday were closed unless one was a Traveller, then one had to sign a book to say where one was from and going where?
Most of the places we had never heard of let alone seen, but Bill had a map and a magic pin.
Bill would close his eyes and stab with the pin.
Then open his eyes and grunt with disgust, " Nah, the bleed'n' bus fare wud cost more than the bleed'n' pint," so he would close his eyes and have another stab with the pin.
Once he missed the map and stabbed his own knee with the pin and for the rest of that day walked round like a wounded zombie convinced he was going to lose his leg to gangrene.
But after several dabs with an iodine brush and a sticking plaster he was free of the miseries the next day.
Sometimes the local pub would be so close it negated the regulations so Bill would have to have more stabs with the pin knowing that he would not get served in the local boozer on a Sunday.
I kept clear of Pubs because Bill had warned me in his Scouse accent "Ger off ter the pitchers (movies) Tommy, an' don' ever let me catch yer in a pub" wastin' all yer hard earned money, then looked a bit puzzled because I looked at him a bit confused but had a mental picture of Bull charging it's own reflection in a mirror.
One of Bill's favourite pastimes in the pub was making a bet he could down a pint faster than anyone else, and the loser pays.
I lost count of the times Bill would end the evening behind the Pub with Pongo and Paddy holding him up in a bent over position while he spray painted the pub wall with bad beer and diced vegies.
Sometimes on these occasions it was just as well he had companions to look after him because he would wander out on to the road.
Wearing moleskin bell-bottom trousers that sported a flap at the front like the sun-blind on a shop front held up by a button at either side.
The problem with that kind leg and buttock attire though was, having just relieved himself he would forget to button up the flap, and because they fitted tight at the hip and with a belt to secure them, they could not fall down.
Some dear old lady Sunday school teacher would be motoring home in the dark with dipped headlights and would suddenly be confronted by what looked like a baby elephant wandering towards her with great flapping ears and a purple trunk lolling from side to side as it lurched with it's front legs perambulating in moleskin trousers atop a pair of mildewed shoes.
The next day Bill would spend most of the morning nursing a thick head, but in the afternoon he would emerge from the wooden office and the trench diggers would nudge each other and mutter, "Watch yersel, the midd'n's awake"
"Wot's this then?" Bill would bark on taking a measuring stick and holding it to the bottom of the newly dug trench and eying the extra bit of stick poking above ground.
"Yer settin' bleed'n'n spuds or diggin a bleedin' trench,? ger it aht, ah wants ter see another foot deeper, awroight"
"Aye ok, keep yer shert oan" muttered the Scots digger, and attacked the trench anew.
Having rousted the men Bill would retire to the orange colored wooden office with it's black roof and make himself a cup of tea on the little Primus stove then he would settle down and read the paper.
Bill would tear the paper, just a little nick on the spine.
I thought it was a little idiosyncrasy but later realised he was reading the paper and also peeking at the blokes digging through the little slit in the middle of the now opened newspaper.
Two chaps having a breather for too long and having a discussion about Celtic and Glasgow Rangers would suddenly get a verbal broadside from the little hut on small cast iron wheels wheels.
"Yer can't play bleed'n' football carryin' a bleed'n' pick an' shovel but yu cin swap em fer yer bleed'n' cards anytime yus like?"
They obviously didn't like, because they suddenly clammed up and began digging very aggressively.
Then we moved to Auld Reekie.
Known to Sassenachs and sundry as Edinbrough.
It was not long before we were digging up the grass verge outside the barracks of the Seaforth Highlandes.
The road that came out of Edinbrough had tram lines to Collinton.
One could get off the tram and on walking through a gap in the iron railing at the side of the footpath descend the few stone steps that led to the path that meandered through Collinton Dell.
Collinton Dell was to me then like the pretty pictures I had seen in children's coloured story books.
The noise of the street would be left behind and it was like being in another place in time.
It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland and I wondered how long it would be before someone came and scolded me for being in such a delightful place for free and without a ticket.
Somewhere in the distance I could hear the sound of water rushing along between rocks.
Also from the far distance came the sound of some one playing a haunting melody on the bagpipes.
On turning a bend round some tall ferns the source of the rushing water sound was revealed and the bagpipe music would be over powered by the noise of rushing water.
Clear water sparkling in the sun was cascading over a man made weir and on leaving the weir was now foaming on it's way into some tall reeds and bull rushes.
It was near Christmas time and I had to do my share as night watchman.
I had just finished checking that all the red lamps were lit and trimmed, and properly hooked onto the ropes that prevented anyone from wandering into the trenches that had been dug almost the full length of the Military Barracks behind the hut.
Tiny flakes of snow were falling, when out of the darkness on the footpath an old bloke sort of waltzed into view but on spotting the old oil drum with lots of holes made in it with a pickaxe and the red hot coke now therein sending out waves of heat, he signalled his legs two points to Starb'd and staggered over the grass and began warming his hands at the coke fire.
"Aye it's a gey cauld yin the nicht aw recht!"
he muttered half to himself.
The old bloke almost jumped out of his skin.
" Jasus! Ah dedn't see yus there, yu scared the hell oot o' me laddie!"
I had been lounging back inside the shadow of the watchman's hut where the heat from the coke fire made the inside nice and warm, but as soon as one moves the spell is broken but it's nice to have someone to talk to to break the monotony of the long night.
Then we were joined by two young ladies who were trainee nurses who had been to a party and were walking home to Collinton, since the last tram had gone.
The old chap piped up, " Well ah'm awa ti mah bed,
but afore ah go wid ye no like a wee drappie ti keep ye warm through the nicht?" and offered his half full hip bottle to me and I was tempted, but I declined on realising Bill would probably have detected the smell of booze on my breath the moment I opened my mouth the next morning and I would also be letting him down.
We finished that job and moved to Glasgow.
And I began to miss the Sunday afternoon tram trip to Collinton Dell where I would sit on a wooden bench seat and read the book I had bought about the last of the Mohicans.
We got digs in Glasgow and resided with a Mrs Moig for a while in a street not far from Suchihall st.
The first night was hilarious.
" Your bedroom is up the stairs and first left" warbled Mrs Moig
I went up but there was no bed in the room so I came back down stairs and said, " Someone has nicked your bed Missus!"
Mrs Moig sighed, then climbed the stairs with me in tow and she went to the wall and pulled a cord and a curtain opened and there was the bed in a niche in the wall.
There were also three little steps to climb to enable one to get into the bed.
"Wid ye no like me ti undress ye an' poot ye ti bed as weel laddie?" warbled Mrs Moig with a wee smile as she left and closed the door.
I pondered the pun and it was then I suddenly realised my face was burning red.
The next morning at breakfast Mrs Moig had a twinkle in her eye as she asked, "Did ye hev
sweet dreams in the bed ye cudnie find laddie?"
and again I got a red face as Bill and Paddy looked at each other enquiringly as if they were missing out on something.
Bill and his mates hadn't found their beds either and were too befuddled to enquire, and while debating what to do next, slumped to the floor in a drunken stupor and went to sleep.
Bill was in deep trouble with Mrs Moig the next day but it was a happy ending when Bill bought her a new bit of carpet to replace the partly digested one Bill had puked on.
At work the next day Bill wanted to know what the bed and Mrs Moig issue was all about, but it was all cleared up when I told him that I was unaware that some Scottish beds are hidden in the walls and Mrs Moig had only shewn me where the bed was and was old enough to be my Granny.
Bill accepted the explanation and relaxed.
It was about three o' clock one sunny Sunday afternoon and I was strolling nonchalantly on the dry grass of Glasgow Green.
On my right was the river Clyde, On my left was a waist high hawthorn hedge with gaps in it at odd intervals which led me to believe people or children were continually pushed through breaking off some light branches thus making the gaps.
Perhaps this was due to some people were too lazy or in a hurry and could not be bothered to go to the end of the hedge and walk round it to access the nearby lane that led to the street beyond.
I paused in my walk to watch a small sailing boat as the weak breeze gallantly tried to fill the sail and push the boat over the glassy surface of the water.
The breeze probably thought the same as I and decided it was a waste of time, and the sail that had been moving, albeit listlessly, went limp and hung there quiet still, like the baddy the lynch mob had caught and strung up without so much as a polite, "Now are you sure that's comfy?" as they adjusted the noose round his neck.
The chap in the boat who had been lounging back enjoying the view sat with a disgusted look on his face moved the sail boom back and forth hoping to catch just a little breeze to at least to get the boat and him back to the shore.
But all that happened was the boat just rocked a bit as the center of gravity was altered.
As I watched, the thought crossed my mind that his next move would be to get on his knees and pray.
If I had been in his position I would certainly have prayed for just enough wind to blow my boat to the side so I could get out and go home.
Since the weather in Glasgow and the surrounding area could change at the drop of a hat I would not want to be trapped in a wee boat in the middle of the Clyde should the skies open up.
Come to think of it I would be loath to drop my hat should the heavens open and Moses sent forth the flood.
A good broad rimmed hat can stop an aufie lot o' watter going down the back of ones neck at times.
A cold night in a small boat was not my idea of a pleasant pastime.
The thought did cross my mind that if the man in the boat had been Jesus Christ he would not have needed to pray for wind to move the boat, he could have got out and dragged it or pushed it or even left it there and walked to the shore and the nearest fish and chip shop, bought himself a nice hot fish supper and gone home.
Having made a note of the man's plight and being a Christian I thought, "If he is still there tomorrow I might chuck him a rope and haul him to safety".
However night on the Clyde could be a bit dicey for someone who, having got into the middle of the river and become becalmed could finish up being run down by a huge cargo ship.
It is common knowledge that big ships reduce their speed when entering the river but even at slow speed the ship still needs half a mile to stop in, and if in the dark the small sailing boat was spotted the chances of the big ship stopping in time? Let us just say I would not put any money on the outcome.
I was so busy day-dreaming about the stranded chap in the wee boat I was totally unaware of the fracas until suddenly I was almost involved.
A motley screaming body of youths suddenly burst through a gap in the hedge like the foam one sees from a flagon of champagne that has been vigorously shaken before opening.
So too the mouths of this ménage of menacing maniacs reminded one of a huge glass tank full of starving guppy fish who had just heard the trough (food) bell being sounded
The louts came charging across the Green and the thought flashed through my head, "Bloody 'ell, some bugger has blabbed that I am a Sassenach!"
The onrush of bodies with gnashing teeth and some almost foaming at the mouth and wild staring eyes grew ever bigger as I stood rooted to the spot.
I had heard tales of the Gorbals (a suburb of Glasgow) where one take ones life in ones hands if one strays there after dark.
I thought the sea is a bit like that, all the sharks swim together and get along fine, but should someone fall into the sea there is a swirl of action before everything goes back to normal but minus what or whom ever fell into the sea.
And the day after tomorrow what or whom ever would be so much shark manure on the sea bed where other little monsters will come and pick at it and they in turn expel it and so on down the food chain.
Then we get a net and catch them and it all starts over again.
By that time I had gathered my wits and had one leg raised and both arms in the rapid take off position and my head tucked in to lessen wind resistance.
I once did contemplate buying a leather crash helmet for emergencies such as this but never did get round to it.
Then the screaming mob veered to miss me and were going by me like the railings of a picket fence passing a carriage window on a train when one glances at the landscape outside as the train clackerty clacks along at high speed.
My brain that had hitherto been somewhat numbed by this sudden rapid assault of events on a quiet Sunday afternoon, suddenly got back into gear and began frantically signalling, "ABORT TAKE OFF"
Looking a bit guilty I relaxed and with relief watched the cloud of dust mixed with a motley assortment of foot wear fast disappearing off the far end of the Green.
Then I caught a whiff of something fragrant on the wind and deduced that more than one of the runners could have been forgiven for doing what nature demanded of all animals that are in fear of their lives, dumping any excess weight.
Then I saw it on the grass, a long thin line of what looked like curried prawns and rice pointing in the general direction of the fast disappearing mob.
I glanced at other people who having heard and seen the screaming mob and were now coming out of hiding.
Some came through gaps in the hedge where they had scuttled through and bend down behind out of sight.
One young lad suddenly popped up in a dustbin with the lid on his head, and a couple laughed at the comedy of it, or possibly just relief or the release of built up tension.
Some of the Ladies were holding tiny lace hankies to their noses and complaining of the aroma that was hanging around due to no breeze blowing to clear it.
One bloke chuckled, "Jasus that's a bit ripe, ah 'hed a cowd in mah heed but that's shifted it"
But suddenly, and the first thing that crossed my mind was that the screaming mob had done a complete circle and were coming back again covering the same ground with a view to duffying up those they had missed on the first time round.
But no! As I saw the first frantic charging figures I saw these were older and different. Also as they ran some were ripping the wooden stakes that made up the fencing along the hedgerow of the Green.
I took a quick couple of steps back, if I had had the time to turn around I would have taken lots more steps in quick succession, but since I had not, I did the polite thing and stood back a few paces to let them pass by without hindrance.
I had read that article in the American Magazine that informed all and sundry, "If you are an 8 stone weakling sign on the dotted line below and post now and I will make you into, "THIS" and an arrow took one's eye to a picture of Chas Atlas who needed two whole pages just to get his chest in the magazine.
Under the picture was a caption that stated, "With a body like this you will never have sand kicked in your face again."
I agree, but why bother kicking sand in his face when one can walk into the nearest gun store and buy a small pistol and stick it in his ear and tell him and all his muscles to bugger off.
What the advert does not mention that due to your size now you may have to pay double air fare if you want to fly anywhere in a hurry.
The thought that came immediately to my mind was that in the African jungle there were huge buffalo and everyone kept well clear of them, but sometimes a pride of lions that were hungry and desperate would stalk and kill one for food.
Since I was a before Atlas weakling and very fast on my feet I decided I had the advantage over most of these lumbering louts.
The people who had just come out of hiding disappeared again as if by magic.
The frenzied mob of youths now waving pickets of wood ignored me and swept past like a wave of those little animals in South America that queue up to dive off high cliff tops and swim out to sea where they drown or get eaten by sharks.
This new mob also disappeared into the distance howling obscenities, and I gathered from the dialect they were Irish.
Finally the Green returned to being a quiet sunny afternoon and once again the people came drifting out of their hiding place.
Some walked away, and I thought " Discretion the better part of valor"
Others sat on the nearest seat and enjoyed what was left of the afternoon, but, every now and then like a wild animal drinking at a pool in the jungle they were looking left and right before
settling back with a contented sigh.
The wee boat was still there, but I noticed a small tugboat had left the far side of the river and was chugging toward him.
I was happy the wee boat would soon be in safe hands so I decided I would not push my luck further in case someone did actually discover I was a Sassenach.
On getting into my lodgings, my landlady Mrs Moig, a charming lady, asked me if I had had a pleasant afternoon.
Mrs Moig was a practical Lady, and so long as she got paid at the weekend regularly I could have had three legs, a red scaly shin and a horn in the middle of my forehead.
I thanked her and told her of the bully boy incident.
She smiled a bit wistful and said, "aye, that'll be the lads frae the Gorbals at it agin' wi' the Irish"
The next day it was on page two of the Glasgow Herald.
Apparently the two gangs had a get together and one bloke was killed and half a dozen finished up in hospital.
The usual weaponry of these gangs was a paling out of the hedgerow, a broken bottle, a razor blade sewn in the tippy of a flat cap.
The cap could be taken off and used with a wide swipe.
If your face happened to be handy when he lashed out with the now folded cap the vistim could finish up with the quickest face lift in history.
I saw a bloke who ducked once as the cap was swung at him but the cap wielder was equal to the situation,
He simply met the ducking head with his own and the bloke went down as though polaxed.
Another time a wee fella from the Gorbals was clattering his way home in clogs when a big bloke stopped him with a snarled demand, " Gees awe yer fags an' money, hey!!!"
The wee fella did a wee run towards the big bloke and did a handstand in front of him and while the big bloke is pondering what is happening both the heavily studded clogs of the wee falla smashed into his face and knocked out most of his front teeth.
With blood spurting from a now broken nose and multiple cuts to the face the bloke was in no shape to demand anything anymore.
The blokes wielding the broken bottles graduated to that position .
It would start off with a full bottle, usually nicked while the publican was being side tracked by another of the gang.
The bottle would pass from hand to hand until empty, then it would be used as a club.
If the bottle broke on some hard head then it would be used to jab into someone's face.
Nothing was ever wasted in the Gorbals.
I never went back to Glasgow Green, my philosophy was, "If you play with fire you could get burnt".
Instead I would go to the Zoo and pull faces at the monkeys safe in the knowledge that they did not have hacksaws to cut through the steel bars of their cages.
I preferred also to go to the local cinema and watch the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy.
But aye, I had my fair share o' fechts and brawls. Some were indeed happy days.
Then I had another birthday but I was getting a bit fed up with the bad weather and living rough sometimes.
I think Bill was a bit of a mind reader because one day he said, "Termorra ah want yu tu go wi' the bloke on the dumper an' 'e' ll show yu 'ow tu do it"
I learned how to operate, and take to pieces, and re-assemble the dumper.
The dumper was like a one-footed robot with a short metal tube handles sticking out of each shoulder.
To start the thing one had to lean on the handles and it would sink on its spring and one heavy rubber foot.
Then taking weight off the handles the body of the dumper would rise on the compressed sprung foot thus drawing in the mixture of air and petrol and compressing it.
Under the right side handle was a lever and when this lever was pulled a spark fired the mixture and the dumper leapt about a foot into the air.
It's heavy rubber covered steel foot would crash down on the loose soil and rocks and compress the lot.
Once the operator of this machine got the rhythm one could almost go along a stretch of trench at a slow walking pace.
I was a very happy lad when I got my pay packet at the weekend.
About a month later we hit some very rocky ground out on the moors.
Bill phoned up the Office and about three days later a truck with a compressor and pneumatic digging tools were on site and Bill told the driver to teach me how to drive the truck.
I learned how to drive and how to use the tools and I got another increase in wages.
But the weather in winter was bleak and cracked fingers with blisters and people with icicles hanging from their nose hair did not enhance their visage or mine.
It was brought to a head one day when the Mounted Police rode past Suchiehall Street and there was I up to my armpits in the mud and rain and blue with cold.
The long string of beautifully groomed horses with their highly polished saddles and the smart looking mounted policemen each passed by me and some looked straight ahead as if to ignore the waif in the mud, but the odd ones who did look down at me had a look one gives a starving puppy dog.
As they disappeared in a clattering of iron hooves and jingling bridles up the street I made my mind up.
I had thought about it for a while, which was unusual for me, and remembering the leaflets at home I had collected informing lads of sixteen to eighteen that life in the Royal Navy was the way to go and I decided anything was better than mimicking an African hippo wallowing around in liquid to freezing mud all day.
With this in mind I approached Bill.
Having promised my Father he would watch out for my welfare Bill Billingsgale was upset because he regarded me like a son.
When Bill saw I was adamant, he suggested I write to my Father asking him to send Bill a letter releasing him from any obligations regarding my safety since I wanted to part their company.
The letter from my Father finally arrived and I was a bit surprised that my Father had actually written "Thank you" to Bill for looking out for me.
But when Bill gave me the letter back I saw it was my Mother's handwriting.
That night the group went down to the local boozer and Bill was carried back to the digs looking like an Egyptian mummy minus bandages and with tears in his eyes.
But all was not lost, he did get a free de-odorant and the flies loved it.
Prior to going down the boozer Bill had demanded, "Ger off ter the pictures, 'cos yer not bleedin' comin' wiv us ter the bleed'n' boozer".
So I would go to the local cinema and spend the evening on my own.
One time I noticed the girl about two seats away whose eyelashes looked like they had just been trimmed with a lawn edger.
Bill had already warned me of the dangers where lasses where concerned and had ended the conversation with, " Yer cud finish up thinkin' yer pee'n' through a bleed'n' flute.
The next day I said goodbye to Bill, Paddy and Pongo, the blokes I had worked with in England and different places in Scotland.
Walking up Suchiehall St in Glasgow Scotland, I again saw the display board with a notice beckoning the reader to 'Come and join the Argylls'.
I always had wanted to join the Navy so here was my chance to do just that, because this was a Government Recruiting Office, or so I thought.
Having noticed some of the Gentry nicking off to Spain when the weather got a bit parky in Britain during the winter months, it occurred to me that on the amount of money I was making I would not be rubbing shoulders with any of them on some veranda on the Costa Del Sol.
The nearest I would get to snuggling up to something warm in the bed would be a Woolworth's two bob red rubber hot water bottle with two bicycle inner tube patches stuck on it wrapped in an old pillow case.
But if I joined the Forces I could go abroad for free.
I also learned later it does not matter what country one is in, one still gets wet through if it rains and one is stupid enough to be out in it.
Being a person prone to doing things on impulse I walked up the steps and went through the huge doorway to find myself in a kind of foyer.
All the woodwork was dark and highly polished.
Brass fittings gleamed everywhere and on the wall was a circle of flintlock pistols with all the muzzles pointing inward.
On the wall of the hallway was a huge portrait of a man in armour and his dour gaze seemed to follow me as I moved.
Perhaps I was in the wrong building and this was the City Morgue or a Witches Coven.
I was about to turn and leave when I saw a small white bit of card on a doorway to my left.
It was pinned to the door with a drawing pin. The first thing that crossed my mind was, 'Why would some idiot push a drawing pin into such beautifully polished wood'
Someone had printed in capitol letters with a pen using black ink, "Recruiting Office A&SH. Please Knock"
The door was opened eventually by a soldier in a kilt and three white stripes on the arm of his khaki tunic.
That's when all the fun started.
Once I was past the door post was like the fly getting stuck to the web so to speak, because the moment I was inside this charmer put his best Sunday smile on, and I suddenly thought I was Prince Charming or at least King of the Gipsies.
There was a one bar electric fire in the room the reflector of which was badly rusted and it was trying to keep the chill air in the room at bay.
Then an affable voice warbled, "Hello laddie, set ye doon, wid ye like a nice cup o' tea, et's aufie cauld oot there, ahm 'ony juist en mahsel ye ken'.
I sat on the nearest chair and replied, 'Thanks very much, yes it is quiet cold, must be the weather'.
I could have bit my tongue for adding the last bit because where I come from it's the standard joke but in Scotland they may not see the humour in it.
I bet he thought, 'Bliddy Sassenachs, we got us a right one 'ere', but very politely and with a little smile he asked?
'Wid ye no like ti poo yer chair a wee bitty nearer ti the table so ah dinny hev tae shout at ye'
'Oh sorry' I blurted, and moved my chair as he suggested.
But he added quickly, 'Och no, et's mah fau't ah should hae moved et mah'sel, ony ah wus just efter cleanin' ye ken' an ah wus readin' aboot Oor Wullie en the Broons in the Sunday Times an got carried awa, whit can ah do fer ye?'
When I suggested I would like to join the Navy his face suddenly darkened and lost the smile and I thought he was about to grab the cup of tea back.
But he regained his composure and forced another grin as he asked, 'How old are ye laddie?'
I replied 'Eighteen next May' so he counted on his fingers, I think for my benefit, 'Anither nine months?' said he, 'Ah wid venture yer a gey poasitive thinker tho' aye'. Then added, 'D'ye no ken ye will be ony oan a boy's pay ti' next May, ah can get ye enti the Argylls an ye will be oan a man's pay'.
'Besides thaat I hed a brother en the Navy an' when he got ship wrecked a sherk bit his leg noo he hes ti' walk en the gutter cos he's yin leg shorter then the ither'.
So I changed tack and asked him about the Air Force, and as quick as a flash he came back with, 'Did ye ever go up in an airy plane' to which I shook my head and said, 'No, but then there's a first time for everything.'
'And I think it would be quiet exciting', I parried
'Aye' said he 'But when yer ingine packs up oan yer it's an aufie lang ways doon'" and he grinned again and I noticed he had a tooth missing on the left behind his left eye tooth, probably the results of a brawl or a punch up with his wife.
He got up and walked over to a shelf and took down a folder, then walked back to the table and sat down.
He looked at me a bit old-fashioned, as if perhaps he was wasting his time with me.
Then with a quick grin he twirled the folder round because it was on the table upside down, then opening it and deftly running his fingers through the pages it contained, he said, 'Thes es aw aboot a Regiment that is beyond compare laddie, hae a wee gleg at et'.
Having pushed the now open folder across the table and turning it so I could read it, he opened a small drawer and took out a little bottle of amber liquid.
Pouring a little in his tea, and noticing me trying to read the small label from where I was sitting he grinned and held up the bottle and said, 'Ah need tae tak a wee drappy medicine.'
'Doctor's order's ye ken'
But since two of his fingers covered the label, I could not make out what the medicine was, all I could see of the label was the bottom bit where it stated 'Scotland's Finest Whisky.'
I was brought back to earth as the kilted Sgt said to me, 'Et tastes sae terrible ah hev tae tek et in mah tea tae kell the awfie taste'
And noticing my fascination with his bottle of fluid, he guessed that I guessed what it really was and blurted 'Ye would'ny like et at aw' and hurriedly stashed it back into his little drawer.
Then came the tales of India and maidens dancing in the moonlight and I suddenly realised I had my mouth open and was signing my name.
The out come of my encounter with this Scottish Gentleman was that I was now enlisted in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
Having left school at fourteen with a fair knowledge of the three R's and having been raised on a farm I thought I knew it all, but boy was I over due for a rude awakening.
At home in my cupboard were books on some of the cowboy hero's of the old west and a couple of names that spring to mind are Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp.
However, back to the recruiting office.
I thought Wyatt Earp was fast with a gun, but this bloke with his file on the Argylls would have made him look like an amateur.
I came out of the recruiting office clutching a railway travel warrant to take me to Stirling Castle.
My head was still spinning from the encounter with the recruiting Sgt who saw me off the premises with a toothy grin, a wave, and a cheeky, "Cheerio the noo, hic."
I made my way to the railway station and sat in the waiting room to wait for my train that would transport me to Stirling.
A lady came in with a little boy in tow and sat down on the same seat, and turning to me enquired was I waiting for the Stirling train.
I said I was, and the little boy dragged the arm of his snot encrusted jacket sleeve across his top lip and blurted out "Yer Englesh ent yer" as if England was on Mars or the Moon.
The train arrived and I waited until the lady and her charge with the wet jacket arm sleeves got into a compartment, then I found an empty compartment.
As the train left the station the last glimpse I got was the porter carrying some heavy cases for a little old lady.
Then we were gliding clear of the station.
I noticed the paintings in their little frames above the seats opposite.
I was a bit disappointed because they were the same as the ones I had seen at home when getting into the train to go to Hull with my Mum when I was a small boy.
I had thought they would have been views of the Highlands
The view from the window of the carriage was magnificent and I was sorry when the journey was over.
On arriving at the town of Stirling I got out of the train and said, 'Good day' to the railway porter but he looked at me as though I was a Martian, muttered something and slouched away pushing an empty handcart.
Personally I didn't care if he had a good day or a bad one, it was just good manners to say it in passing if one caught a person's eye.
Outside the station there was a taxi so I jumped in and was whisked up to Stirling Castle.
I paid the taxi driver who had not spoken except to say, 'Where to sir,' but as I paid him and shut the door he said 'Good luck.'
I thanked him.
I wondered how many young men he had brought to Stirling Castle.
I walked through the big stone archway and noticed the Sentry to my front.
The Sentry was wearing a purple, black and green plaid kilt, I learned later it was the Campbell or Government tartan, white spats over highly polished black shoes, red and white diced socks with a double red flash showing from beneath the turn over at the top of the socks.
He was also wearing a khaki jacket that was cut away at the front to allow for the sporran of black hair with six white tassels that flared out from brass ferrules.
On his head was a Glengarry cap with two black ribbons falling down at the back.
The Glengarry was dark blue with rows of offset white and red squares going completely round the bottom half of the cap. The cap was finished off with what looked like a single red cherry at the top and in the middle and a huge silver badge on a black silk background.
I was informed later that the badge that depicted a wreath of thistles surrounding a cat and boar's head within a circle of letters forming "Argyll and Sutherland" was in fact the largest cap badge in the British Army.
As I walked by the Sentry he suddenly came to attention and sloped arms with the rifle he was holding, then turning smartly to his right he walked about ten paces about turned and began to walk back.
I pondered if he was short sighted since he never gave a hint that I was there and continues to look glassy eyed to his front.
Suddenly a voice cried, 'In here laddie' and I was amused and thought who ever shouted must have a mirror somewhere and saw me approaching.
It was then that I saw the open doorway on my right, so I walked toward it and entered.
However on getting inside the Guardroom I put the documents I had received from the recruiting Sgt in Glasgow in the outstretched hand of the Sgt of the Guard and jerking a thumb in the direction of the Sentry I asked, 'How often do you have to wind him up then?'
The Guard Sgt sat stony faced and silent as he perused the documents, then as if he had not heard my comment informed me to go to the right of the sentry outside, and continue up the hill.
'At the end of the wall turn left, and go to a small door painted green and go up the wee flight of stairs and the door on the right was for me.'
"A smart lad like you will know your left from your right" was the cold parting shot from the still stony faced Guard Sgt.
I thought "Oops!,harraway man Thomas, had yer wisht" Which roughly translated from my Mother's Gateshead Geordie to the North Lincolnshire dialect where I was born as "Keep thi gob shut Tom lad".
Following the instructions I walked past the glassy eyed Sentry and along the cobbled walkway till I got to the end of the wall and I was confronted by a parade ground covered with the same grey granite blocks that seemed to cover most of the ground here at the Castle.
Around the parade ground were buildings also of grey granite and since these were cheek by jowl the parade ground was boxed in so to speak, with the only entry and exit being where I had just entered via the Guard Room and main gate.
Leaving the three yard wide entrance at the end of the wall I veered to my left and made for the green door I could now see about a hundred yards away to my front.
On arriving at this room I saw there were about six beds with a metal locker along side each bed so I dumped my small suitcase in the locker and plonked my butt on the bed and thought, 'Well, now I've gone and done it'.
But then I cheered up as visions of blue seas and sandy beaches with me laid out in the sun like a corn beef dinner frying in the heat while a dusky Maiden dropped grapes into my mouth.
Ah yes this was the life and the Construction Company and the freezing weather were just another bad dream.
I missed that gang of good mates and by now also realised that my freedom was drasicaly curtailed.
But the consolation was that now I had a chance to better myself and the thought of being in a cold muddy trench half of the time was not the way to go.
At first I sat on the bed, then I lounged and finally I stretched out on it and thought how everyone had been so helpful so far, and because it was so quiet I began to doze, but it was cold.
I became aware of footsteps and then the door opened and a bloke came in and tossed his case on to the next bed to me and said.
'Hi, my names George Gillies.
George had a Yorkshire accent, I accepted the outstretched hand and replied,'My name is Tom Barker'.
'Are we the only ones here' asked George, and I replied 'I wouldn't have a clue, I've only been here half an hour myself'
George opened his case and after rummaging around in it withdrew a tooth brush and a small tube of tooth paste and said, 'Do you know where the wash place is?' and I shook my head, and said, 'The bloke said stay put so I suppose we better had, because you can bet your life if you move that's when they will come for you'.
I noticed since we were strangers just met we were both conversing in the King's English and it was a trait I was to use often when addressing Officers and strangers.
'Yes I suppose you could be right, but it won't hurt to look outside', and he got up off his bed.
I followed him down the short flight of stone steps, but before we got to the door it opened and suddenly gusts of cold wind were coming through the now open door.
'You'se blokes wan' somethin' tae eat yu better get over tu the dinin' hall pronto,' warbled a muffled voice through the woolly scarf, then the figure disappeared and the door shut with a bang.
'Well' said George, 'Might as well keep my coat on, you coming?'
Since I had not taken off the raincoat I was wearing I jumped up and said, 'Let's go'.
And together we braved the elements.
And having got out into the square had to ask a passing bloke in a uniform with a Crown and a Pip on his shoulder,'Where's the dining hall mate?' and his reply reminded me of the time I heard the King speak to the nation one Christmas morning
'I think you will find it where it normally is, over there, I am sure no one has had time to move it since I was there about five minutes ago'
And still looking at us as if we were deformed dust cart attendants he motioned with his right hand to his right and waved his index finger vaguely in the direction of some stone steps.
Thanking him we set off for the stone steps and when I glanced back the bloke was still standing there with a bemused look on his face and the wind was whipping his face with the two black ribbons from the back of his Glengarry cap.
We learned later the bloke with the Pip and Crown was actually the C.O.
The Commanding Officer. Stirling Castle.
We found the dining hall, and the menu to our delight was roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and cabbage, followed by custard and banana slice, and a mug of tea.
We sat a table for new boys.
But next to us was a table with blokes dressed in brown fatigues, and as one of them got up with his plate in his hand one of his mates said, "There he goes, always after seconds, he'd eat yin mare tottie (one more potato) than a pig", and a ripple of laughter accompanied this remark.
Having enjoyed and finished our meal George and I saw that anyone having finished their dinner now picked up their empty crockery and utensils and return it to the dirty dishes counter, so we did the same.
We wandered back to the room and sat on our beds discussing things in general, like where do you live and what did you do before you decided, and what made you decide to become a Soldier.
George said, 'I've been all over the place and thought since I can't afford to go abroad I'll join up and see the world that way.'
'What prompted you to join?' he asked
I said, 'I was fed up of being wet and cold, don't get me wrong, when the weather was good the job was interesting enough.'
'I have worked in Selkirk, lot's of Mills and bonny lasses there'.
'Galasheilds, Edinbrough, Glasgow and the Clyde, Glasgow Green and the Gorbals.
"Thon' Gorbals es a wee bet rough!" offered a voice.
'They are all pretty much alike'.
" No the Gorbals!, ye kin go en at yin end an' no come oot at the ither but!!!" said the voice
'But like you I thought there has to be something different', said I
Then I added, 'Actually I wanted to join the Navy but I reckon that recruiting Sgt in Glasgow was a bit of a hypnotist'
'Yea' said George, 'Trouble is with this job you just can't ask for your cards after a weeks notice'.
I replied, 'Well if that mob in the dining hall are an example of life in the Army I don't think we have a problem.'
The door opened and another young man came in looked round and asked, 'Are you blokes new
Recruits?' and George answered, 'You could say that' and the young man said, 'I just did' and we all laughed.
During the course of the afternoon the room filled up till all six beds were occupied and two groups of three were soon discussing food, local talent (girls) and when do we go down to look at Stirling town.
There must have been some more rooms some where because the talk was of a new Platoon, what ever that was, and on finding out I thought it would take more than six men to make up a platoon.
Stirling town had to take a back seat for a while. Now we were in the Army and we had to toe the line. We were not free agents any more, so we just sat there and waited, and waited, and waited, and some one suggested, 'Ah thenk they hev fergotten aboot us'.
Someone else piped up, 'Don't yer wish?'
Well I thought this is not so bad, warm bed, good grub, good company, what more could a bloke ask for, at least we did not have to wade through mud every day.
The next day a Sgt arrived and our lazy days and speculation were over.
'Roight youse blokes, foller me' and he set off, not even bothering to check if we were in fact following him.
One bloke ventured, 'I read about a mob of blokes followin' this geezer an' the blokes in the tempul 'ad 'im nailed up on a bleed'n' cross, an' all his mates nicked off.'
And another voice said, 'Yea well this bloke don't remotely resemble the bloke yo is talkin' aboot, so ah think we is safe enough'
Now that, I thought, was confidence, he had spoken, and like a mob of sheep, half of the mob Scottish and the rest English or Sassenachs, Welch, and a couple of Irish, we followed him and he led us to a doorway.
And turning he waited patiently while we all trundled up to him.
When all movement had ceased and he had looked us over and commented, 'Cor dear o' bleedin dear, what DO we 'ave 'ere then?'
And looking up to the Heaven hoping perhaps God would transplant him to pastures a bit greener, and seeing as how nothing happened, he looked at us again and said, 'Roit then, when oi says yu nime yu answer 'ere Sergeant, gor it?'
One or two 'Yes Sergeant' was heard.
After calling about thirty names the Sgt looked us over.
Then the Sgt asked, 'Any wun 'ere's name oi didn't call aht.
'You missed me Sgt' said a voice.
'Oh, an' 'oo might you be miss?' asked the Sgt, looking at his pad then peering to see the speaker.
'Mah name's Wullie, ye ken'.
And the Sgt brightened and said, 'They writ' a song aboot yu ah think, Wullie no cum back agin' or somethin?' then he scowled because no one laughed and tersely he asked, 'An' what pray is yu last name, Wullie Wot?'
'So woy ain't ah got yu name on me list?'
'Och, ah ony juist got en, Sgt.' an' yer cudnie poot mah name doon ef yer didnie ken wit et wis!
The Sgt looked to one bloke then another and all he got was blank looks.
Then the Sgt warbled, "Woi cud yu not ev ed a simpul name loik Smiff or Brahn?"
Shaking his head and licking the pencil he added another name to his list.
'Roight, nah yu all go over tu that buildin' and yu see that door?' and he pointed, 'Yus go through that door and through the first door on yu left gorrit?'
Now a chorus of, 'Yes Sgt' and the Sgt beamed, 'Nah you'se is getting' the hang uv it'.
'When yu gets inter that room yu will each find a bed, one man one bed, O.K.?'
'On each bed yu will find blankits an' a piller, yu will report tu the stores and each man will be issued with two clean sheets an' a piller case.'
'Yea Sarg, ah'm used ti 'avin a big piller, can I 'ave two'.
The Sgt looked at him and sighed, but did not answer, so we assumed that verbal exchange had been put to bed.
We wandered over to the stores and collected two clean sheets and a pillow case, and the bloke who wanted two pillows asked, 'Ah need ti hev' two pillers or I can't sleep'
'Good', said the bloke behind the counter, 'Us cin put yuz on permanent Guard duty, anybody else got sleeping problems?'
Cries of, 'No mate, we'll get used to the one pillow thanks'.
A glare from the Sgt acompanied by a gruff, "It
might be mate in civvy street, but while yus is in 'ere it's Sergeant, gor it?"
"Duh!! yea Sarg" warbled the offending voice.
We all returned to the barrack room and someone noticed the steam radiators and they had to have a go at them and it wasn't long before the room, which had been cold, began to be pleasantly warm.
All the blokes were exploring their new dark green metal lockers with a key tied to the handle and wooden foot locker at the bottom of the bed with a lock with its key in the lock.
'Ooh look, this uns got drawers in it', cooed a voice,
'Yu gor a wun track bleed'n' mind mate', said a gravelly voice.
Then the door opened and the Sgt marched in with a board and pencil at the ready and stopped in the middle of the room.
He looked around then said, 'Roight then youse blokes, pay attention'.
Everyone stopped chatting and sat with faces turned toward the Sgt waiting for the next pearl of wisdom.
'Yu will no daht 'ave noticed that there is a lock an' key on yu foot locker, there is also a key for sed metal locker."
'An' when youse people leave 'ere yu will hand in two keys tu me" and he looked round the assembled faces, 'Anyone who loses 'is key will pay for a new lock and key, is that understood?'
And like Indian Miner birds in unison they all warbled, 'Yes Sargeant'.
'Roight then, termorrer we is goin' ter git yu all kitted out and everybody, wiv aht hexeption', and he glanced at a skin head near him, is goin' tu 'ave 'is 'aircut, gor it!'
The minor birds again chortled, 'Yes Sargeant'.
And the Sgt moved to the door and as it was closing it stopped and the head popped back for a final parting shot, 'Reveille is at six'
'S--t', said a voice, 'That's in the middle of the night'
Another voice said, 'Yea I might go for a walk in the middle of the night and get lost, stuff this for a lark'
Another voice said quietly, 'Yu'll nivver get past the bloody Guardroom Mac, so fergit it'.
One bloke was putting boots, socks and tins of boot polish into his foot locker.
The bloke laying on his bed opposite was reading a book.
Then on observing the activity opposite he lowered his book and warbled,
"Wit ye daen thaat fer?" he inquired, and the bloke looked up and replied, "Well it's a foot locker ain't it?"
The puzzled bloke with the book warbled, "Oor C.O. is the heed man o' thes ootfit but it disnie meen he's got twa heeds"
"Foot locker means it sets at the foot o' yer bed an' ye dinnie hev ti sleep wi' yer feet in it, jengs how stoopid' can yer get?"
But then the door shut and I watched as one bloke got a blanket and spread it on his bead and looked round and inquired "Anybody wan' a game of pontoon or nine card brag?"
A couple of blokes wandered over, but the remainder made their beds.
I made my bed and lay on it to read, but I put the book down and thought about Bill, Paddy and Pongo, and thought it had been a long day.
After a while I got between the sheets and thought here endeth the first day, but I was soon off to the land of nod-----and what followed was no dream.
Tommy's War Part 3
I did my training at Stirling Castle, Scotland.
I would like to thank all those instructors who really put us through the hoop as they repeated over and over again 'You will do it, and do it till you get it right, and one day you will thank me for being so tough on you'
They were right and that is why I can now write this story as a salute to them.
Sgt Hampbell and Sgt Cutchinson I can remember vividly.
Sgt Cutchinson had tears in his eyes, I think he was a 'wee bit foo,' he had had a drink and was feeling sentimental perhaps as he bid us farewell on the last cold morning as we marched out of the main arch at Stirling Castle en rout for Aldershot.
We had been instructed the previous evening to put all our personal belongings into our kit bag and it would follow us to the railway station.
We left Stirling Castle and marched down to the railway station.
Each man had on a Glengarry cap, khaki tunic, kilt and a great coat etc.
Gas masks, water bottles, webbing equipment with Bren gun pouches.
The big pack contained our little pack that held our cleaning gear and cardigan plus the great coat when we were not wearing it.
Over the big pack our steel helmets were strapped and held in place by two crossed straps of webbing.
In the Bren gun pouches we carried dry rations on this occasion.
The blunted bayonet and drill purposes only rifle had been left for the next lot of recruits passing through Stirling Castle.
We were assured we would be issued with rifles that would shoot and bayonets that had not been blunted.
A special train was laid on to move this new batch of trained soldiers to Wellington Barracks Aldershot.
At first it appeared to be a drab and dreary looking place, and the drizzling rain did nothing to cheer us up when we arrived there.
The two story brick and tile barracks looked cold and sparse but once inside it looked clean and tidy and was indeed warm.
When I was issued with a rifle and bayonet the first thing I did was to clean it of all the heavy grease
And make a note of the number on the butt disk and bayonet boss.
The number stamped onto the brass disk and secured to the butt of the rifle corresponded to the number stamped on my bayonets handle, which was No 211.
The number stamped on my rifle's bayonet boss was No 78354.
These Lee Enfield rifles could hurtle a .303 bullet two thousand yards but I never did find out at what range they could hit anything without penetrating.
I do support the theory that they were amongst the most accurate rifle of the two world wars.
The main Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Battalion was a surprise to me.
I had been used to drilling with about a hundred men
When the Pipe Band struck up and a thousand men marched as one in full Highland regalia, cameras began to click as civilian tourists took pictures.
A few days later we travelled to the outdoor .303 range to zero the rifle we had been issued.
We were informed by the Sgt on the range 'If yoos blokes don't do it properly, yo only got yo self to blame if the enemy gets yus instead'.
Some of us looked a bit blank and muttered 'What enemy?'
Once we had the rifle zeroed, the drill was to fire at a target and get as small a group as possible.
Sometimes the position of the group on the target suggested the front sight should be moved sideways to get the next group nearer to the bullseye, once that was lined up the shooter had to get used to adjusting his back sight properly.
This was the only the beginning.
We then had to shoot from different distances such as one thousand yards, then eight hundred yards and finally at five hundred yards.
At five hundred yards a soldier who can put five rounds through the bull and if each round makes a hole that invades one already made by the previous round then he is considered to be a marksman.
This is called group shooting and if the group is so tight that a shilling coin can cover the holes the soldier is indeed a good shot.
The next lot of instructions regarding shooting I found boring because I had learnt it all before on the farm.
But in the Army one does it the Army's way no matter what someone else has taught one
"Allow fi wind blawin' fi yer left" the Sergeant would bellow to the shooters. " 'En yis kin fi'gett wit onyin else hez telt ye!"
Then a moving target would be dragged across the range and we were told to lead the target before we squeezed the trigger.
The Armourer Sgt was there and he granted one's every whim. 'A little to the right o.k' and he would fit a tool and move the foresight just a wee bit then center pop it and with a grin said, " Noo try thaat'
I remember the lyric, 'With the tip of the foresight in line with the shoulders and in the centre of the U in the back sight, look at the target'
Also take a breath then squeeze the trigger and don't pull. And reload at the shoulder for rapid fire.
Then the Sgt on the range screamed at one bloke for shooting at fat low flying pigeons that were taking a short cut home across the range after a day feeding in the corn fields.
After a day on the range near Aldershot we were ready for bed.
We finally got into the swing of things and a few months later we had to supply a Honour Guard to King George the Sixth as he performed an opening ceremony of King George the Fifth's Memorial Chapel not far from Aldershot.
Cameras of the news media were everywhere and Pathe News had a ball.
Then we were transported to Palestine on the troop ship HMT Somersetshire.
I remember one bloke had to be physically prized from the arms of his true love, and had to dash to catch the gangway that began to move to be stowed so the ship could get under way.
He evaded the outstretched arms of one bloke who tried to stop him then he ran up the gangway as it was moving back to clear the ship and he leaped the yard gap at the top and grabbed onto the ships rails and he was helped over the rails by other men who were now grinning at the chap's good fortune in not falling into the drink.
One bloke missed the boat as it left the quayside but not to be outdone he bribed a bloke who just happened to be polishing the deck of his speed boat and it was not long before the two were chasing the now working up to speed His Majesty's Troopship Somersetshire.
Soon our lads were whooping and cheering at the rails as the little boat bounced up and down like a cork on the wake of our huge Troopship.
Someone let down a rope ladder as the little boat got alongside to cries of, "Aw jengs laddie! ded she no wan' ti pairt wi' ye!" from the motley lot gathered at the rail and the red faced embarrassed bloke was assisted over the rail and the little boat turned and headed back the way it had come.
The Military Band on the docks had played Auld Langs Syne and there were lots of handkerchiefs being waved and wrung out as tears fell.
The view of the waving people on the docks got smaller and smaller until all that could be seen of dear old Blighty was a purple smudge on the misty horizon.
Then when one gazed around at the horizon the penny sort of drops with a clang, because all one can see is water, and it seems to be continually heaving, and there is no land in sight so if this ship goes down which way do we swim to get home, and all of a sudden one feels that there is an awful lot of water out there and suddenly the boat that we were standing on didn't look quiet as big as it had done before we got on it.
We stopped at Gibraltar and some of the blokes got leave to go sight seeing among other things.
I seem to remember we were there about a week.
Some of the lads could be seen in the evenings cavorting on the quay-side with the young ladies of Giraltar.
Then we were at sea again and the Doctor's trade picked up a bit as some of the blokes who had been sight seeing in Gibraltar admitted they had done more than just look.
The Doc said, 'Didn't your Mother ever tell you, you can look but it's rude to point' Then with a grin said,
'But you ignored dear old Mum's advice and not only pointed but shoved, and you ended up with the clap, jolly good what!"
"Cooks to the galley!" Would be the cry from a voice down below and some of the old soldiers brightened up a bit.
Soon a bloke arrived with a ladle and began dishing out a rum ration to each man, it was then I took a swig and thought it had burnt a hole through the back of my neck.
A passing Matlo saw me in distress as I was coughing and grabbed what was left in my enamelled mug and swallowed it at one gulp and handing the mug back said cheerfully, " There's a knack to downing that stuff old mate, cheers!" and strode off without looking back.
I wondered how many others he had given that advice to when it was Grog issue time in the Navy?
We arrived in Haifa harbour and had to wait to dock.
A couple of Arabs sculled their little boats out to us and offered us oranges.
All of a sudden a crane that was unloading crates from our ship to a small barge let one of the crates drop and it split open scattering tins of bully beef onto the deck.
I thought at the time it was indeed fortunate that no one was standing there at the time.
Some of our lads decided to swap the little tins of bully for the Arabs oranges.
But the Arab insisted on having the bully before he would part with any oranges.
Our lads threw down the tins of bully until the little boat that was now over loaded with oranges and bully in small tins and it sank leaving the Arab babbling up to Heaven in Arabic as he began to swim for the dock side as his now overloaded wee boat disappeared.
Finally the Troopship docked and we trooped off down the gangway and onto the dock half expecting the orange Wallad (boy) waiting for us with some of his mates, but there were too many armed British Military Policemen present for someone to be so bold.
We got off the ship and got packed like sardines on to some hired motor busses that took us to Jenin.
camp that was huge and completely surrounded by barbed wire.
Our job in Palestine was to back up the British Palestine Police and also assist Glubb Pasha and the Trans Jordan Arab Legion when necessary.
We got used to marching in the hot sun, and being sniped at.
The only Arabs allowed inside the wire at Jenin were the Dhobi wallah and his offsiders who would wander round the camp selling locally made sweetmeats.
But if they lost their pass they could not get into the camp until they had been re-screened and issued new passes
One beautiful clear warm night there was a big moon and the N.A.F.F.I. Canteen was doing a roaring trade when suddenly a window facing the hills shattered, then another and another.
With glass flying everywhere a voice yelled, " Here we go again!"
Then we could hear the noise of shots coming from the hills not far away and the Canteen emptied like magic.
When the firing ceased and the lads went back to their tables they found all the bottles of beer they had just bought were now missing.
We took lots of walks from that Camp and into the hills but that will be in another story.
Then we were moved to a place called La Trune near Jerico , I always thought it should have been called La Trene, 'cos it was a right toilet of a place but I swam in the Dead Sea just so I could say I had done it.
A Jewish contractor to the Military had an open air cinema at La Trune.
The Queens Regiment and the Leicestershire Regiment were there when we arrived and got settled in.
One night when Shirley Temple was showing at the Cinema there was an almighty punch up between the three Regiments.
And the Hospital staff got suddenly jolted out of the doldrums.
Tommy's War part 4
Jericho Palestine 1939.
'Aye up, 'ave yust 'eerd app'n us is gittin' sum pitchers'
As this dramatic bit of info permeated the brains of most blokes who were sitting on their beds cleaning rifles, writing letters home or just reading, all activity ceased.
Cries of 'Wha telt ye thaat Wully', an' 'ye've bin oot in the sun agin, yer f-n' eejit
'It's true' cried Wully, 'Gan an' loowk fer yer sel'
'Am awa tae hae a wee gleg', said one Highlander and kicking the foot of the bloke next to him he said 'Watch ma' rifle Jim' and the Highlander laid his rifle down and walked to the head of his bed and then out of the tent.
Another bloke with an Oxford accent suggested, 'With our luck it will probably be for Officers only'
A Geordie voice offered, 'Aye, an' blue bloody blue movies nae doot'
The tents were cottage type tents and could accommodate twenty beds.
Each bed was made up of two wooden trestles that kept the bed boards about a foot off the sand.
Onto these trestles three 'six foot by one foot by one inch' planks were laid side by side.
The planks had been trimmed at each end and a metal strip had been nailed on, presumably to ensure they did not suffer damage while being transported.
On top of the planks three 'three foot by three foot by six inches' canvas squares filled with wood shavings and or coir.
One pillow, two sheets and a blanket, and a mosquito net completed the assembly.
Some blokes had pet chameleons crawling on the outside of their nets.
It was sometimes comical to see a bloke writing a letter home when suddenly he would stop writing and sit still mesmerized by the sudden demise of a fly that had been buzzing round his bed for about five minutes.
The fly would settle on his net and the chameleon would creep ever so slowly towards it.
The chameleon's eyes swivelled around independently like two wizened miniature ice cream cones stuck on either side of it's head with what looked like a tiny polished black bead in the tip of each.
The chameleon's foot would unclamp off the net and move slowly forward then as if testing the net it would finally clamp on to this new position and another foot would do like wise.
It all seemed so painfully slow.
Then the body would move, albeit jerkily and slowly toward the fly who appeared to be cleaning his wings and leering at the letter writer, " Nae nae, yu can't catch me!"
As the chameleon's mouth began to slowly open the onlooker found it difficult to believe the fly could become a victim at that range.
Then as if a trigger had been pulled the long tongue with the sticky ball on the end would zap out and zip back into the chameleon's mouth carrying the luckless fly with it.
The onlooker is sometimes taken completely by surprise when the chameleon strikes because of the distance between it and it's prey, and the last glimpse of the fly the onlooker gets is a very clean but now crumpled wing disappearing into the mouth of the gulping lizard.
The bloke who had been watching entranced grimaced, and muttering 'Bloody flies' and returned to his correspondence.
The beds were ten down one side and ten down the other, so there was a walkway down the centre length of the tent.
Since the foot of all beds pointed toward the centre of the tent the heads were against the walls.
Two stout poles held up the tent and at each pole in the ceiling of the canvas were two air vents.
The canvas of the tents was white on the outside while the inside was a buff colour.
On hot days the walls of these tents were rolled back to each corner so as to let any cooling breezes blow through.
The only trouble was when it was hot nights and the walls remained open one tended to awaken at the slightest sound because the Asian Indian and the Arab had the nasty habit of creeping up on one in the dark and silently cutting the throat of any unfortunate who happened to have something they coveted, namely rifles and ammo.
The reader can be forgiven for mentally querying, 'Wot, no guards posted?'
One could have guards all round the camp, because then there would be no sleepers to protect.
All regiments post Guards in peace time as well as war time.
But service abroad among hostile natives hones the guards to a point where even when they have left the services they still obey the instinct to self preservation.
In short, on hearing a noise in the back yard ex soldiers tend to investigate rather than, "oh don't worry about it probably next door's cat".
Then in the morning the cat do-gooder flies into a rage because some thief has removed the kids two new bikes.
The Highlander paused as he was leaving the tent and removing his Tam o' Shanter bonnet he pointed to the round tassle on the top, 'If yer evvin' me oen Wull mah bonnet's goin' tae look like thon Pawnbroker's sign, cos ah'l decorate et wi' yer ba's'
Then he was gone.
About five minutes later he was back with a huge grin on his face.
'Ah dinnae believe et', Wully wes richt, sum biddy ca'ed Shafto hez a truck wi hez name splattered ower et an' they'se pootin' canvas aw roond, an' they hae a screen up' awe ready.
Wully, who had been beaming with delight since his info had been verified began to calm down but when no one offered to pat him on the back he slumped onto his bed and laid there reflected his efforts of the last fifteen minutes.
Suddenly he cheered up considerably when it dawned on him he was not about to have his family jewels snipped off and worn as a hock shop sign on Jock's cap.
The first night the cinema opened was hilarious.
Because it was situated near our lines, " The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders'
The main body of the audience was Argylls
The film that night was something about Paris with Leslie Caron cavorting on a table top dressed in fish net stockings that went all the way up under the tight short dress she was wriggling about in.
There were lots whistling until the film broke and then the whistles turned to boo's as the screen had only a glaring white light on it.
Then suddenly a huge cheer went up as it turned into a picture shadow show as some one at the back lifted up a cardboard cut out of two dogs fornicating.
The cardboard dog at the rear had a pivot at the hip and by moving the back foot of the cardboard the shadows on the screen suddenly came to life.
The place was in uproar as the rear dogs hind quarters began to move like a fiddler's elbow.
Officers who were sitting with lady friends suddenly got up and left the enclosure with bright red faces while their lady friends were giggling and looking back at the screen while the escorting Officer could not get them out quick enough.
The film was repaired and the interlude was over.
Another break down occurred but we did not see the shadowy dog again due to the fact that now there were M.Ps loitering in front of the projection truck.
A week later word got round that Shirley Temple was going to be on at the cinema.
Since we had only just got back off a stint of Police work some of our lads decided they would go and pay the cinema a visit.
I was sitting on my bed writing a letter home.
The night sky was full of stars and I thought fondly of the Oxford Theatre in Barton -on-Humber.
I wondered what would be showing there.
My reverie was shattered by a couple of our lads limping into the tent.
'Bloody Hell' said I, looking at one blokes torn shirt and the other with a bloody nose, "Wor 'appened tu you two.
'Ther wis a ficht, aye, but ya shid see tuther yin, ah gid hem the heed' sniff.
The next day we heard all about it.
Some of the Queen's regiment and a couple of our lads were in hospital.
Then a notice was nailed up on the company orders board.
It detailed times and dates when we could go to the cinema and owing to the fracas of a certain date this would be the procedure from now on, etc etc.
It appeared the Queens and the Leicestershire Regiments were at the cinema that night and a couple of Jocks were not being admitted, and of course most Jocks took this as an affront and did what Jocks do best when affronted.
They came back to our lines and soon a huge crowd of belligerent Jocks was making it's way to the cinema.
"Nae biddy comes an' teks ower oor Pectures," then the manure hit the fan and the hospital that had been enjoying the doldrums was suddenly on overtime.
Cries of, 'remember Bannochburn' from the Jocks.
And from the Queens and Leicesters, ' You b--s remember it because it's the only f-n' battle yas ever won.'
So the three camps had to be kept apart and peace reigned, albeit until they met by accident, then the hospital trade picked up again.
One day I was returning from Guard duty and was on my way back to my tent when I saw a couple of blokes looking at a five foot long black dead snake.
It had been run over by a truck.
One of the blokes said, 'Watch this Tommo, a quick demo of how to clear a tent in one second flat.'
And with that he grabbed the snake by it's tail and with a whirl and a heave it went sailing toward our tent where a crowd of blokes were playing cards for cigarettes on one of the beds.
The dead black snake hit the sand just short of the doorway but then inertia caused it to slide in the loose sand and it slid about three yards and ended up about a foot away from the nearest bloke playing cards.
He saw it move out of the corner of his eye and he played a card, then did a double take and his eyes popped out onto his cheeks and he yelped and dropped his cards and pointed, then pandemonium broke loose.
One bloke shot up the tent pole next to him as if he was on a winch and on reaching the top he was trying vainly to get through the small air vent at the top.
Through the now enveloping clouds of fine dust being stirred up by feet which were wind milling at max revs shadowy figures could be seen evacuating the tent in all directions.
Skid marks in the sand and scattered cards on the now dusty blanket was all that was left of an afternoon of serenity.
The bloke who had thrown the snake was hanging on to his mate and both were in tears of laughter.
Finally they took the snake and dug a hole and buried it.
No one ever found out who had slung the snake, most thought it had just crawled away. We were not about to enlighten them.
The Jewish Binocular shop in Tel Aviv began to pick up some extra business because some of our crafty lads had bought binoculars and were now watching the film from their tents.
They sometimes swung over to the officers lines when a car pulled up and some filly got out in a tight skirt and dead straight seams in her stockings.
Somebody finally got wise to it.
They also wised up to the fact that some blokes were bringing their own seats and sitting outside the canvas and avoiding the entrance fee.
This did not sit well with the contractor who noticed his entrance fee was being spent at the N.A.A.F.I. on grog and fizzy drinks plus nuts and fruit.
When the contractor confronted some of the lads lounging in their deck chairs and requested them to move them away from just outside his cinema he was told to stop acting like a fruit or he would get a swift kick in the nuts.
Seeing he was in a no win situation the contractor had the canvas altered so we could no longer see over it and get our evening entertainment for free.
Then someone informed us WW2 had been declared on Germany.
Tommy's War Part 5
WORLD WAR TWO
It was not long after that we found ourselves in the Libyan Desert at a place called Fuka and there was an airstrip not far away.
One of our lads suggested the air strip had been built special so that Betty Grable or some of the other
film actresses could come and visit us.
Cries of, 'Don't yu wish' and 'Gawd, you must believe in bleed'n' Fairies mate'
We had been in the desert for months but it seemed like years, every day the same hot sand, the burning sun.
Warm water in water bottles that also contained tablets so it was drinkable, and someone said, 'Your ration of water is half a bottle so make it last'
I was loath to drink the evil smelling concoction but when thirst took a hand I had no choice.
We had moved from Palestine to Mersa Matru via El Alamein the last railway station in Egypt to this position in the desert.
The trip from Cairo to the last railway station in Egypt was more like a travelling circus, than an Army on the move.
There were Arabs running up and down the length of the train screaming 'Eggs a bread, eggs a bread, you want bread effendi, very nice, very clean, very fresh, or my friend, he have oran-ges'
These blokes were running bare foot on the roof of the train as its overloaded carriages were swaying from side to side as the train chuffed along. Heads were hanging out of windows trying to keep cool as the further away from civilisation we got the hotter it seemed to get.
The fact that the train was over crowded did not help the fresh air situation either, however we got to El Alamain and it was a pleasure to get off that over heated tin of sardines and by now it began to smell like one.
We moved from the railway to a position in the desert and almost immediately began to dig into what we thought was going to be sand, but under two to three inches of sand was solid rock.
The Officer with us was upper crust, young and knew it all.
'I'll take that pick Barker' he said, and he passed me the glasses he had been wearing, 'Here, hold those for me while I show you how to do this' he said.
When I suggested he wear the glasses to stop chips of rock hitting him in the eye, he stopped picking and snarled 'Then the bladdy rock would shatter the bladdy glasses, idiot, and I would get glass in my eye'
The other blokes had a titter at this and the Officer resumed his attack on the rock only to have the pick bounce off the hard rock and hit him on the ankle.
With a howl accompanied by 'S--t that hurts' and something about procreation but there were only four letters in it.
I dodged as in a rage he flung down the pick.
But I was on cloud nine for the rest of that day.
The next day a compressor and drill arrived.
All the blokes wanted a turn on the hammer, because one bloke who had a go remarked 'Oh I love this, it's like dancing with Betty Grable'
Having used this kind of drill in Civvy Street, I was not about to volunteer, so I edged to the back of the crowd.
'Lyin'pillock' snarled one bloke.
'What?'asked our mate with a hurt look.
'Yo ent not never bin to America' snarled the bloke glaring.
'I never said I had' replied our mate with a puzzled look.
'Then 'ow the bleed'n' 'ell could yu dance wi' Betty Grable, cos she ain't not never bin in the bleed'n' desert?' snarled the bloke.
'Oh that, that was just a figure of speech,' said our mate stepping back a pace just in case the other bloke stopped snarling and took a swing at him.
The bloke who came with the machine said' Yuz might fink different arter an 'our or two of digging wiv it'
The Officer said 'Cut all the crap and get the trench dug, the compressor has got to be returned in two days, so if it is not finished then we have to do it by hand'
A voice muttered, Yea 'loike every thin' else ra'nd 'ere'
"Ah'm gittin' sick of this,' said one bloke and suddenly scooped up a shovel full of sand and he heaved it wide so the breeze caught it and the Officer and a couple of bloke stood near him got showered with sand.
And I think the Officer knew it was done on purpose but decided it would be safer to sweep the far horizon with his binoculars and pretend it never happened.
We were labouring and sweating, and tempers were fraying, because the sand stuck to sweaty bodies and sometimes when a shovel full of sand was thrown out the breeze would catch it, and all in the trench would be covered with fine dust and sand.
Flies were everywhere, trying to crawl up the nose and into the ears.
And it didn't help to take off the shirt because the sun made the back red and when one asked someone to dust the sand from one's back it was as if he was using a hot wire brush.
We got the trenches finished, the compressor was returned to the Royal Engineers and we were tossing up who was going to sleep where in our new home.
And we all were looking forward to a good nights sleep after all our recent toil when our Officer rolled up in the P.U. and announced, 'Right, get dressed, we're moving.'
Everyone stood still there for a moment as if some one had flicked a switch .
I think the Officer was as dischuffed as we were, and when our lads suddenly let loose with a barrage of abuse aimed at all and sundry who were above the rank of private it sounded like the opening bars of The Barber of Saville.
I was disgusted about this because we had put so much effort in the hot sun to get that trench dug and now someone else was going to occupy it without having moved a handful of sand.
Still the new surroundings would be different,
But just the same miles and miles of excreta coloured procreation was present while the rocks would be in different places.
The only relief we got was when a truck would come and take us to the sea where we could bathe and with our clothes on we washed them at the same time.
Only trouble with that tho' was if we did a lot of walking the salt tended to chafe and make the skin sore.
We beat the hell out of our clothes to get rid of the salt.
We had to keep an eye open for enemy fighter aircraft because the waves made so much noise they could dive on us without warning.
The heat of the day would dry our clothes in no time at all.
Sometimes we would send our clothes back to Egypt to be laundered but there were times when they did not get there due to enemy action.
Or got blown up on the way back to us, so that is why sometimes we had to make do with what we had on at the time
Then back to our position in the desert.
We had for some time now sent patrols out at night, sometimes we lost a man, sometimes we brought back a prisoner.
These groups would go out at dusk and find out where the Italian positions were and sometimes if a dust storm blew up we would not get back that night.
Also at home, you walk down a street and another day if you walk down the same street you think I was here yesterday.
But in the desert when you walk, it can change overnight and you come back the same way tomorrow but it has changed so much you think you are travelling the wrong way.
There is no wonder people get lost.
The wind can move massive sand dunes over night.
I sometimes thought that if some one were to take a movie of the desert, and speed it up, it would look like an enormous pot of yellow brown porridge boiling. studded with raisins (rocks)
Also men got lost in the desert due to dust storms, quicksands, snipers, booby traps, etc,
Later on in the piece some bright boy came up with a good idea, 'Why not motorise this operation'
The Long Range Desert Group was formed.
This move gave us some respite, but the powers that be thought we should not be idle so they gave us some more marching to do.
We would do a compass march to this spot, then when we got there we had to go to another point, then we could go back to where we started. And it kept us fit and on our toes.
These rambles or nature walks, call them what you will became to be known as stunts,
'We are going on another stunt tomorrow' said one bloke.
'Oh aye, that's nice, would you bring me back an ice cream?' Someone would ask, and another would add his two pence worth, 'If ye thenk ye wull find an ice cream ceart oot here, yer heed's fu 'o' wee motors an' they es aw' broke'
This would bring a guffaw of laughter and we would make light of it, but it was getting very boring.
We would take off our small pack and drop it on the hot sand and sit on it while we ate our hard tack.
Talk would drift to what some of us would be doing now at home if we had been there.
Funny how one talks of an alternative to what one is at present doing. But then I suppose it is but another form of escapism.
Then a voice would utter concern with, " Wid ye look at that noo!" and point to the huge cloud of dust that was slowly creeping upon us, and the hot breeze had suddenly dropped and all was still.
Then a voice screamed "It's a bliddy dust storm, get a shovel man, move it!"
We dug just deep enough to get our bodies below the surface of the sand when it hit.
It was like standing in front of a blast furnace as suddenly the hot breeze that had dropped was now replaced by a howling fury that was driving millions of particles of hot sand and stripped paint off any metal and indeed began to remove the skin that was exposed to it, and we wrapped our cardigans around our faces and necks so we could just breathe as we lay with our hands hidden in the shallow pits we had dug.
We had to move so that the hot sand would not cover and smother us.
Later we would rise like Zombies returning from the grave and dust each other off.
At Fuka Airstrip a British bomber was returning from a strike on some Italian positions but he had one wheel down and a bomb hung up.
The Pilot would go off into the desert and wiggle his wings but he could not dislodge the bomb.
Then we saw chutes coming down and the heavy bomber came back and we all stood with mouths open as he lined up and lost height coming up to the airstrip.
The one wheel spun as it made contact with the hard ground of the airstrip and as the weight of the bomber increased as it lost speed the other wing dipped and skidded on the ground and the plane began to spin and the wing broke up.
In a cloud of dust and sand the bomber skidded to a halt, then a tiny figure ran away from the aircraft and got down behind some dunes.
After about fifteen minutes when the dust had settled a group of R.A.F. lads reported the bomb was still hooked up and we heard later that it was blown up to clear the area and make it safe.
Tommy's War Part 6
You will get it back when it's over.
Having been in the North African desert now for some months we were politely requested by our sergeant, "Right yous blokes, drop what yu is doin' an' listen ter me, ---kilt sporran spats and all the gear yu aint be goin tu be usin' in the desert ah wan yu tu put it all in yu black kit bag cos it's goin 'ome tu Blighty.(Britain)
All yous blokes wi' photy alybums ger rid of em cos yu ain't goin' ter ev time tu luke at em not no more, o.k."
"But rest assured yous will get it all back when all this is over" but he forgot to add, " Those of you that are lucky enough to get back to Blighty".
So we sorted everything out and put all the gear we could spare into the black kit bag and soon a pile of these were sitting on the sand. It was collected by truck later and we watched as our treasured possessions disappeared in the swirling dust as the truck sped along the track.
The gear we retained was kept in a white kit bag.
For a while we used this as a pillow until it was also whisked off to Alex and put in a safe place, and could be retrieved at short notice.
We ended up with more or less what we stood up in, and a like uniform would be on it's way to Alex and the Dhobi Walla to wash and iron and if it did not get blown up on the way to or from Alex.
Then we could look forward to a nice clean pressed uniform for next week.
Most days the sky was clear with no clouds and the sun would be beating onto the sand and rocks and if you didn't think and decided to stop and have a sit down for a wee bitty rest you could suddenly get a hot bum.
One time a bloke came back off leave and upset all the lads.
Having just finished their dinner of small packet of hard biscuits and a bit of bully beef, they were discussing the meat pies, steaks, other savouries one could acquire at Lyons corner house in London.
Suddenly there was a noise like some one was frying an egg.
Someone yelled "What the bloody 'ell d'yu think yu doin' wi' mi' truck, gerroff it"
The bloke ignored him and continued basting the two eggs he was frying on the flat top of the trucks front mudguard.
The old hands would say nothing but sometimes one would grin or wink at his mate and they would nod.
Happy memories of India no doubt.
Sometimes we would get a new Officer to take over while our bloke had a spot of leave in Cairo or Alexandria.
This new bloke would jump out of the 15 cwt Morris P.U. Truck.
Stamp on the ground to ease his cramped legs, then stretch his arms up to Heaven.
Some one would whisper, "Don't reach up theer matey, yu'll be there soon enough".
Usually the truck was used by most Officers as transport and keeping their esky of cold drinks in.
One day I inquired "Why can't we have an esky full of cold drinks?"
"You can" said the Sgt, "Do you have the money to pay for it?"
That ended the conversation.
I remember one day on an exercise, one of these trucks was racing past us and he hit a bump and the esky in the back catapulted out and landed with a bang onto the sand.
One of our blokes went over and upon finding a full frozen bottle of Johny Walker Scotch Whisky with the glass shattered, he picking off the broken glass he walked on sucking the frozen whisky like an ice lolly.
When we found him later he burped "I'm pissed, hic".
Having jumped out of the P. U. the new Officer would, if he had anything about him, call everyone over and have a natter, like "I'm so and so, and hope we can get on together", and sort of general " I'm o.k. Jack how are you".
And when the pleasantries have been exchanged he might terminate the confab by turning away and putting binoculars to eyes would sweep the shimmering horizon while muttering something like "Bladdy charming, nothing but miles and miles of s--t coloured f-k all"
So we dug holes in the S.C.F.A. Pooh to live in, and put our ground sheets over the hole to keep the sun out, then we would make a brew of tea by half filling an old petrol tin with sand and soaking it with petrol, stick a match to it and walla, good as a gas stove.
The petrol tin was about about 30cm by30cm by 45cm and was made of thin tin and some times if the seam split you could lose all your petrol or have a nasty accident.
The Germans had a far superior fuel container known to us as a Jerry Can.
And some of our lads used to spout "If Jerry can so can we" I don't know to what they were referring however.
The inactivity was boring, the same hot sun every day, the same bully and biscuits every day, the same warm smelly water laced with tablets to do in those nasty little buggers that were just waiting to do you a mischief, or to quote one burly Highlander
"Ah wood'ny drenk thaat watter, eff'n there's nae taablets en et, ets foo o' wee creepie craawlie thengs, an they dae thengs tae yer ensides, yince they get 'en." and he would add, "D'ye no ken whit ah'm sayen tae yez aw?"
The mail truck would come but no mail for me so I just did what every one else did mooch round and have a yarn to this bloke, then make sure my rifle was clean.
Check my gear to make sure no creepy crawlies have got into my equipment, like a 15inch long centipede or a scorpion that owing to it's size could easily have been mistaken for a small lobster.
Then scan the quivering horizon for little black dots or clouds of dust, then relax, for a short time any way because you can't relax for too long.
An example on how alert we were manifested itself one day as I was sitting there on the sand counting the sand grains when I noticed the sand move about fifty yards away.
I watched but since for about five minutes there was nothing obvious, so I thought perhaps a small lizard or simular was under the sand.
But then the sand moved again at a different spot and I began to get a bit apprehensive, was I seeing things, so I called to one of the nearest blokes, "Did yu see that".
He looked up from writing on a pad of writing paper and said, "Did ah see whit?"
"The sand moved" said I.
"Ochyer sand happy" said he wi a grin.
"I saw the bloody sand move" I exploded.
Just then there was a kind of sighing sound and the paper on his pad he was holding began to flutter like a trapped bird.
Then to my left the sand moved as though there was some one invisible with an invisible vacuum cleaner with no bag on it drawing a line through the sand.
Then the sand and dust began to spiral upwards and like a ghostly figure in baggy pants it spiralled away across the dunes, some times changing it's mind and coming back a few paces then gliding ever further away, finally it was out of sight.
The bloke with the writing pad looked at me and then said "Shet, ahm gey I glad ah hevn'y been at the baw'tle ti day:
One day while the water truck was away and the officers P.U. was away I was sitting in my dug out yarning with a couple of our blokes when one bloke stuck his hand up and put his finger to his lip and we stopped nattering and listened.
Sure enough in the distance the sound of a motor so we peeked over the top and there was nothing but flat sand as far as the eye could see with a bit of scrub here and there.
To any one stood on top looking round he could not even tell there was a position here.
In the far distance was a tiny cloud of dust coming our way.
It looked like the wind willy willy that had formed and left us about ten minutes ago and was now coming back our way.
But as we watched there appeared to be a solid middle to it and began to take the form of a truck
And it was indeed a truck moving at speed.
Keeping an eye on it we waited till we were sure it was one of ours, then we continued with our debate.
We kept checking on the truck.
Until finally the truck was about three feet away from our dugout when it stopped, and a very educated voice said "But they MUST be here somewhere, we've been everywhere else.
One of our blokes suddenly popped up from under a sanded groundsheet covering the hole we were in and asked "Can I help you sir?"
The Officer with the white knees leaped about three feet in to the air, and upon recovering his composure snarled, "Don't you salute Officers out here then?"
Well poor begger, I suppose our bloke did give him a bit of a start.
Because the Officer had slightly knock knees for a long time after that we had a "Knock knock, " "Who's there?" Whitney", "Whitney who?", "Whitney be in your shoes fer quids" and "There'll be knock knees over the white cliffs of Dover etc"
The water truck came back before dark and we got an issue of half a water bottle and a tablet to put in it the very next morning.
The Driver said "There's some magazines in the cab if any of you blokes are interested"
"Oh yea," said a voice, "How tu keep bleedin' gold fish ah shouldn't wonder"
"Naw", said the Driver "Unless gold fish 'as legs 'an tits"
Suddenly there was a mad scramble, and the Driver stood back and just grinned as blokes sat on the sand co-ed "Cor look at 'em," and "She can 'ave the top off my egg any time!"
And "ere, borra me 'anky, yer droolin' mate",
What wouldn't we have given for an ice-cold glass of beer with the tears streaming down the outside of the glass.
Little did we know what all this re-shuffling and extra route marching was all about until we were casually informed that we were going for another route march on the morrow...
Tommy's War Part 7
THE BATTLE FOR SIDI BARRANI
Before World War 2 Mussolini had been busy invading and harassing the populace of Ethiopia.
At first the Italian army encountered set backs at the hands of some of the local residents who led the Italians a merry dance across the sands.
They tried to persuade them that it was not a good idea to enter their country and try to change it's laws without so much as a by your leave, etc.
But the natives of that country had no chance against the modern equipment of a mechanised army.
Haili Selassi the Emperor had moved to Britain and was in exile.
Meanwhile Mussolini's Marshal Graziani plundered and murdered in Ethiopia.
Barbed wire was strung across the country, the people were segregated and young women were dragged off to serve the desires of the Italian soldiers.
Anyone who resisted the Fascists and lived were given a mock trial then hung in public before their neighbours and friends.
Two posts were erected with a cross bar fitted across the top of both and the nooses required were tied to the crossbar.
Wooden ammunition boxes or chairs would be placed under each noose.
The people to be hung would have their hands tied behind their backs then assisted onto the box or chair, then the noose would be put round the neck and the chair or box would be kicked out from under them.
They were then left kicking, twisting, and choking to death while weeping relatives had to be held at bay by the Italian soldiers.
Hitler came to power and after some initial successes attacked Poland and that started World War 2 German Forces then swept through Europe and Britain was left to face the German Ogre.
Meanwhile Mussolini had been more or less sitting on the fence, but on seeing how Hitler had waltzed through most countries and was about to invade Britain he decided he would join the Fuhrer and get a slice of the cake before it was too late, so to speak.
But Britain after having tried repeatedly to avoid war was not about to give up just like that, and took on Hitler.
Britain declared war on Germany.
Fascist Italy declared war against Britain and France on June 10th 1940.
Mussolini could not subue the Greeks let alone take on the might of Britain and France.
A little later in the piece a British General O'Connor was in the Western Desert and under his command were a number of well-trained soldiers, one of these units was the 4th Indian Division.
Part of the 4th Indian Division were the 1st Bn The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The Argyll's were stationed near Jerico in Palestine when WW2 broke out.
They had been busily engaged in enforcing the law by assisting Glubb Pasha and the Arab Legion, also the Palestine Police.
The Argylls moved to the Western Desert by railway and having got off at El Alamein, the last station in Egypt, they moved to Mersa Matru.
The Italians in Egypt were boasting, and with some influence in some quarters in Cairo had made no secret of their hopes to drive the British out of Egypt.
A force of approx 140 thousand Italians soldiers with equipment moved into Cirenaica and once there awaited the order to move into Egypt.
The expected Italian drive now took place. The British as a pivot point for defensive operations re-enforced Mersa Matru.
The Italians advanced to the east of Sidi Barrani and came to a halt with a broad no man's land of arid desert between them and Mersa Matru.
The 40 thousand British dug in and waited.
The Italians went to work between Sollum and Sidi Barrani to pave the way for more supplies and men for their push to the east.
The Italians built little forts and strung a line of these into the desert.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders moved out into the desert and dug in.
One company was moved a little further out into the desert and dug holes in the sand to live in.
As time went by they got used to the hot sun with no place to avoid it but the ground sheets laced together to form a roof over the hole they lived in.
Mail forms were issued once a week so the men could write home.
Kit bags were filled with what was not used in the desert and taken to Alexandria, so the men were left with one K.D. Tropical uniform while the other one was on it's way to Alexandria to be washed and pressed.
At night patrols were sent out on foot to locate the Italian positions and these would be noted and marked on maps.
Sometimes they returned to their position the next morning with a prisoner.
Sometimes they lost personnel due to sandstorms or mines or enemy actions.
At Mersa Matru the Western Desert Force carefully prepared an exercise to test the strength of the invaders from Libya.
Having done lots of exercises in the desert the Argylls were glad of another walk to ease the boredom of desert life, with it's never ending flies, dysentery, sand fly fever, etc.
So it was whispered that tomorrow on the 9th of December they were going on another nature walk.
My name is Tom Barker and I was one of the Argylls who along with the rest of 'B' company was dug in some where in the desert.
It was no thrill though, because having slept on sand, in sand, under sand, we ate sand, we walked on sand, cleaned our mess tins with sand, we grabbed a shovel and walking behind the next sand dune and digging a hole we buried things in the sand.
Sometimes when a bloke was seen going for a walk with a shovel over his shoulder one of his mates would shout, "Why bother plantin' it Danny? it cannie graw oot 'ere wi nae watter!"
But even this bit of light hearted banter became boring after a couple of days and blokes would go for a walk with a shovel and no one would heed them.
The only thing that stopped one from going mad from sand and boredom was to move, and wave the flies away.
If one moved, the sand would still be there but the rocks would be in different places.
But the flies would follow no matter where one went.
One was always on the look out for booby traps and trip wires, also at night the odd visit from a desert spider or a scorpion.
Centipedes in the Middle East at dusk could easily be mistaken for twenty hermit crabs in heat, each one trying to couple with the one in front of it while staggering all over the place.
God must have thought, "It must be a bit boring for those poor buggers down there, I'll stir em up a bit."
Some days a small 'willy willy' would be seen skipping along the surface of the sand.
Like a twisting piece of rope made up of fine sand particles it would dance over the dunes and back then race away across the desert at the whim of the breeze.
One day it seemed to be extra hot and still and someone even remarked on it then someone shouted, "Wit the f---s' that?" and he was pointing to the distance where what looked like a brown mountain of cocoa powder was silently edging our way.
It appeared to reach to the underside of some low clouds and it looked like it was boiling. It stretched right across the horizon.
Suddenly one became aware that the whisper of cooling breeze that had been blowing was gone and an eerie silence had taken its place.
One bloke who had been cleaning his gun hurriedly put it all back together and others who had been chatting suddenly grabbed trench spades and shoveled at the sand like gophers desperate to get away from a predator.
Once they had a hollow dug that would accommodate their body they dug into their pack and got out their cardigans to act as a air filter, then pulling a ground sheet over themselves they hunkered down to wait for the sand storm.
"Take cover" someone shouted, as bits of twigs and other debris began to drift by driven by a now gusting hot wind.
The hot wind gradually increased and was no longer gusting, it was now a steady very powerful blast of very hot air and the moaning also had changed, it sounded like a huge choir but instead of singing now it was like a screaming banshee.
Some used a ground sheet others a blanket, anything to cover the body as protection against the stinging sand particles.
I had never experienced anything like this before and did not know what to expect.
As I looked out from under my ground sheet I could see others doing likewise with a quizzical look on their face as they wondered same as myself, what was about to happen.
Then it hit.
Where before we had been quietly minding our own business in the silence of the desert, small stones began to move on their own as if an invisible finger were pushing them, it was eerie.
Sand began to lift into the air as if there was no more gravity.
A huge scorpion came out from under a small rock that had moved and sampled the air then quickly made for a bigger rock and began to urgently burrow under it, and having got under pushed sand to seal the entrance.
Then it was as if someone had reached up and switched off the sun because it suddenly got dark and there was hot gray dust as fine as flour swirling around us.
Then a howling blast of burning hot air carrying dust and debris hit us.
It was as if the gates of hell could no longer contain the fury of Satan and had burst asunder.
The searing wind tried to drag my groundsheet away but since I was laying on part of it and in a depression there was no way it could be carried off.
The hot wind shrieked and buffeted and the burning sand stung and was so abrasive it rubbed any exposed skin off.
After a while one had to move because the sand began to pile on top of the blanket and it was hot.
So it was a case of move or be barbecued in the hot sand.
Wet through now with perspiration I grabbed a flapping loose corner and held on to it.
We laid there a long time patiently waiting for it to pass, after what seemed like hours it began to slacken and someone was shouting "Give me a hand somebody".
Someone had lain still too long and had got covered with hot sand and did not have his pullover and was having breathing problems.
We got him out and he along with another bloke with a badly skinned ear and blood running down his neck were sent to hospital.
We were issued extra water and salt tablets after the sandstorm was gone, everyone was wet through with perspiration and the warm water that we drank didn't help the situation very much.
But after what seemed an extra cool night the next day we were back to normal or near enough.
I heard later that sometimes these storms could last for three or four days.
Thank God that one only lasted a day.
The side of the Bren gun carrier and our truck that had been facing the sandstorm was stripped of paint as efficiently as a sand blaster in a factory.
Someone was on the ball because it was not long before the paint was replaced to hide the shining metal polished bright by the sand.
We could hear a small plane somewhere very high up in the sky and were ready to dive for cover
should he decide to dive on us.
It was some hours later we discovered hands were being blown off when someone found a fountain pen lying on the sand.
Then one of the lads picked up a thermos flask, assuming it had fallen out of some Officer's truck he tried to unscrew the top to have a nice cold drink.
But the top would not budge, a Sergeant grabbed it just as a young Lieutenant pulled up in his p.u. truck and called, "I'll take that Sergeant."
The Officer had a go at getting the top off, but he too was unsuccessful so he held it near his ear and shook it, presumably to see if it was worth the trouble of opening it.
Meanwhile our Sergeant having encountered a bloke with a hand missing guessed what was afoot and began yelling at the inquisitive crowd of blokes round the flask, but it was too late and the flask suddenly detonated with a roar and a cloud of sand and dust.
The Officer's head, shoulder and one arm were gone, the Sergeant was dead, two blokes were laid moaning in the hole the flask bomb had made
Five men were lost to one thermos flask bomb.
The Italian pilots would fly very high then switch off and glide over our positions and drop these little presents, and at first they did a lot of damage until we woke up to what was happening.
We did not take kindly to this sneaky kind of warfare.
One afternoon we saw a cloud of dust that usually accompanies vehicles on the move and sure enough a column of 30 cwt trucks came toward us and we relaxed as we identified them as ours. As the first truck stopped the others stopped along side.
Soon there were about 20 trucks parked side by side.
The first thing that was obvious to me was, all we need now is for a enemy plane swoop over and he
would get the lot with one hit.
Some of our lads were coming out of their dugouts to see what was happening and since the trucks were empty they suggested we were going for a paddle in the sea.
They could not have been more wrong.
"Anyone got any paper work on them burn it now" roared a voice, and
"Make sure you have your identity discs round your necks and then get dressed to move".
About half an hour later, "On truck" roared the voice again, and we got into the trucks and soon we were being whisked across the desert, dust from the truck in front were making it difficult to breath so we got our pullover's out and wrapped them round our face.
The ride was also very bumpy because we were not on a road and some times a small hillock would bounce the truck and everyone in it would rise and come down with a bone jarring thump onto the wooden seats.
Finally the trucks stopped and we got out and formed up to march. I noticed some blokes dressed in uniforms I had never seen before and upon inquiring who they were I was informed they were Spanish Mercenaries who would fight with us, since they did not like the Fascist or the Nazis.
Lots of speculation was flying round, like, "I hear the bloke in charge of the Italians is a bloke called Electric beard".
"Oh, you must mean General Berganzoli, yea well that's because he uses a battery driven electric shaver, but I think Marshal Graziani is the big noise."
" That's the back stud who strung up all those people in Ethiopia before the war an' put barbed wire across the country"
"Yea mate, but you got fat chance o' meetin' 'im aht 'ere"
Then all the patter ceased as an Officer strode to the front of the now gathered force and held up his hand.
Everyone was quiet as the Officer began to speak, "You men have trained hard in this desert and now we are about to see if it will pay off,"
"I have no doubts in my mind that you are the cream of the British Army and as such this is going to be a doddle, we are going to take Siddi Barrani from the Italians and we are going to hold it.
"We will now say a prayer"
"Our father who is in heaven' etc.
He then went on to say that there was no doubt in his mind on the outcome of this venture since we were in the right, etc.
And when that was finished the Medical Officer stepped forward and said "O.K. now any one wanting to go to the toilet I suggest you go now, because if you get hit you stand a better chance with empty bowels.
"Bloody charming" I heard some one mutter, "This is for real"
Someone else muttered, "Prayin' ain't goin' ti 'elp, on'y bugger that's goin' tae cum oot o' this is 'im wi' biggest guns".
And now there was a hum of conversation over the whole gathering.
Soon we were forming up in the now fading light and we set off across the desert.
'No talking', was the order, I did not feel like talking, my mind was full of "What are we marching into " this was no stunt this was for real". And it did cross my mind "Would I ever see England again?"
We marched until we stopped and word was passed along the ranks "The Italian positions are only half a mile away so keep the noise down."
The trucks with now no load to carry were just creeping quietly along in bottom gear about a hundred yards behind us.
The only noisy thing was a Bren gun carrier, and an Officer told him to stop and he could catch up later. It stopped and looked like it was being left behind. But at least the noise of it was not now as loud .
Noise carries a long way in the desert at night.
We trudged on in the dim light of the African night just following the bloke in front until at last a halt was called and whispered commands were issued.
This was about 2 in the morning so we set to and quietly dug a depression in the ground to just accommodate our body. The order was whispered from mouth to ear, " No smoking no talking, lay down in your pit and wait for day light and the whistle.
I got a hole dug and lay in it and tried to doze, but I could not even do that because it was so cold, and it really can get cold in the desert at night, and because of the inactivity it seemed to be colder than usual.
Also my mind was conjuring up all kinds of fantasy
I also was aware that if the Italians knew we were there they could creep up on us and the surprise would be on us
I laid there under the bright stars and thought "Yea, they look brighter than normal, but then that could be because I ain't goin' ter see 'em no more cum mornin'.
The night dragged on, and the mind churns as the stars twinkled and a million miles away one shot across the heavens like some one striking a giant match.
I knew the Lord's prayer off by heart that night.
I wasn't about to sleep when some bloody ice cream walla from Italy might just pop in to slit me throat from ear to ear in the early morning.
I sat there and waited on the alert with my eyes just scanning for any movement until the sky began to lighten.
It seemed an eternity till dawn and in the desert one can see a false dawn.
The sky begins to lighten then half an hour later changes it's mind and begins darken and I became aware of my dry mouth.
Then the sky began to lighten a lot quicker and finally a thin red bright strip began to get wider and wider and shadows begin to form.
As I raised my head slowly to peer over the lip of my cover again I looked left and right and in the dim light I could just make out some of the bumps of greatcoats now, covering some blokes as they hunkered down in their cover, but only the shadows moved.
Then the real dawn began to lighten the sky and as the tip of the blood red sun began to show on the horizon the long shadows began to creep ever faster across the sand like an army of scurrying beetles.
I wished the sun would hurry so I could get warm, but now I wished it would not rise as I was fearful of what daylight would bring.
The chill of night was gone and I was aware we had not slept for about forty hours and was beginning to feel drowsy as I got warmer when I saw a movement.
Suddenly I was wide awake.
Some of our blokes began to stand up and stretch, and one bloke began to shake his blanket,
I thought "WHAT ARE THEY DOING IF THE ENEMY IS ONLY HALF A MILE AWAY?'
I began to think to myself "This is just another exercise."
Suddenly the silence was shattered by a sound like a heavy truck traveling at high speed with flat tyres.
The noise came rushing through the air and then an enormous explosion and the bloke with the blanket was gone.
Where he had been there was just a huge cloud of dust swirling and rising in the air and a ringing in the ears and a blast of hot air and sand and an acrid smell.
A bloke was on the ground and writhing in agony while another was walking in circles as though drunk until someone jumped up and pulled him to the ground and held him down.
Everyone who had been standing now for a brief second stood like statues then as if by magic they disappeared into the ground as more whistling noises and explosions were heard.
Now when I looked out but all I could see was dust and fine sand hanging in the air.
Then all hell let loose as shell after shell hit the ground.
The ground was now shuddering as explosion after explosion made the sand and dust into a blanket it
was impossible to see through.
I could feel grit in my mouth, my eyes were watering, even though I was wearing eye shields made of thin clear plastic the dust still got in.
There was another smell that reminded me of when I was a child and stood in awe as I watched fireworks being let off by adults, it was hot and stung the nose.
I checked to make sure I had a round up the spout and the safety was off, but the bolt was sluggish and difficult to open.
My rifle would not work because it was clogged with dust, and the bloke next to me had managed to get his bolt out and was licking the dust and sand off it with his tongue and spitting it out on to the ground.
There were snapping noises like some one slapping a wet leather belt on a table top and I suddenly realised they were bullets going by, so close.
I saw the bloke put his rifle bolt back in and he beckoned so I moved with him and we blundered into a truck, and we ducked under it for cover as with a huge roar something smashed into the front of the truck.
I pondered the futility of this venture.
What were the people who were in charge of us thinking of to send us into this predicament.
We might just have well have been armed with a big stick as a rifle that could not be used in desert conditions.
There was a bloke under the truck's diff gearbox on the back axle, obviously thinking it was a safe place to be.
But I saw he was in danger of being crushed should a tyre be hit.
I shouted for him to get out of there.
But there was so much noise he either did not hear or he was content to risk it.
If the tyre got hit he would be trapped.
Then I heard him screaming as one back tire slowly deflated as something ripped through it and the bloke was too slow moving as he realised it was the diff touching his back. With his two Bren gun pouches pressed into the sand he had no chance of wriggling free.
Trapped he was slowly crushed into the sand as the diff settled down on his back.
The terrible screams.
We tried frantically to get the sand from under him with our bare hands but it was hopeless.
Then he could not draw in breath so the screaming stopped and he expired.
Someone was shouting, "Get away from the transport they are aiming at the transport"
And I suddenly realised that made sense, we were trying to shelter from the small arms fire but the Italian artillery was firing at the transport.
I nudged the other bloke and as we got up we could see into the cab and the bloke behind the wheel was dead.
We did not have to check because half of his head was missing and there was a hole through the back of the cab.
The bloke on this side was struggling to open the door, he had the window down but the door was jammed tight.
So I grabbed the handle and pulled but the handle was hot and burnt my hand.
The other bloke with me was trying to get the chap in the cab out of the window.
Flames were now licking the inside of the cab and I shouted 'get through the window"
He shouted "I can't the engine has pushed back and caught my bloody foot, I can't see it for the flames.
He was gasping and shouted, "It's gittin' too bloody 'ot in 'ere"
Then there was a whooshing noise as flames leaped up and the heat drove me back from the window.
The bloke inside began screaming "Shoot me, I'm burning, shoot me you stupid b-d shoot me.
Then suddenly he slumped and was quiet and as the flames died down I reached in to see if I could pull him nearer to the window,
Everything was red hot, and as I pulled on his arm it was like peeling a pullover off, the skin peeled away and I had to let go and retire because I had moved him and the flames got higher again and now I could see he too was burning.
I was brought back to earth by clanging noises as metal fragments ripped through the body of the truck.
The windscreen now and again starred as a bullet smashed it's way through leaving a little spidery hole.
Some one in the fog of sand and dust was screaming, "FIX BAYONETS"
As I drew my bayonet I saw Ginger Craig next to me he grinned at me and slammed down on his bayonet to fix it to his rifle.
We moved forward away from the now useless truck as another shell exploded and suddenly there were noises like angry hornets as bits of shrapnel whizzed by.
Ginger Craig sank to the ground like a balloon losing air.
I went over to him, and he was very pale and his mouth was moving, I had to put my ear to his mouth to hear him whisper, I'm cold Tommo".
I took off my great coat and wrapped it round him
I asked him, "Where are you hit?"
He said "I don't know but I'm cold Tommo and my chest is numb"
"My chest is just numb, I can't feel anything" Mumbled Ginger Craig
I undid his equipment buckle and ripped open his shirt and fitted a field dressing but it could not contain the blood .
I felt so helpless because I could do nothing to stop it.
Another bloke came and put his coat over Ginger, but he still whispered "I'm cold Tommo"
Then someone hit me on the shoulder and screamed in my ear.
"LEAVE HIM, YOU CAN'T HELP HIM"
I was loath to leave Ginger Craig
But I had to go or I would let the others down.
" Leave him you can't help him, listen for the whistle" screamed a voice and he was gone in the fog of dust.
Everything seemed to be so urgent all of a sudden, I was torn between two desires, Ginger Craig who was dying, and to get at the back studs who had done this.
I moved his pack up so his head could rest on it, I wanted to re-assure him he would be all right but I guessed he knew what was happening and I did not want to make it worse with a clumsy lie.
His mouth moved, I put my ear down to his mouth but I could hear nothing, and when I looked at his face he was looking past me at the sky and he was gone and fine sand was settling on his open eyes.
I thought about wild dogs and hyenas and Ginger Craig lying there in the open, but I did not have a choice.
With mixed feelings I got up and followed those I could see and we seemed to move into clearer light.
Now I could see the others and we were more or less in a skirmish line about four yards apart.
The apprehension I had felt earlier had disappeared, I was so full of hate all I wanted to do now was get to the enemy lines and kill as many as I could
On my right was a bloke called Harry Chalmers and one time as we lay on the sand a shell landed right between us
It threw up a little sand but did not go off but twisted side ways and booled away behind us.
It was buff coloured and had coloured rings round the nose, and my guess is it was about a foot long and four inches in circumference.
I looked from the rolling shell and caught the eye of Harry Chalmers who was just to my right.
He had also watched the same shell and as it stopped rolling we looked at each other then he held up his thumb and grinned.
I remember giving a weak grin in return.
Then we were up again and advancing on the dug in Italians, the Officer in charge of our lot was up to the mark.
He would blow his whistle when he saw the enemy guns were being reloaded we would get up and move forward, and when we heard the whine of the shells we got down.
Trouble was when we got up to advance again some of our blokes were writhing in the sand and some would never move again.
The bloke on my left grinned and nodded and indicated with his eyes.
I looked and saw our R.S.M calmly stoking his pipe with his walking stick over one arm.
Reaching into his top pocket he calmly took out a box of matches, lit his pipe, put away his matches, and having got his pipe going he said something to the Piper beside him.
Taking the stick from his arm he leaned on it while puffing at his pipe and waiting for the whistle to blow.
The Piper began playing as soon as the whistle blew and we advanced again.
The R.S.M. was swinging his stick with one hand and a .38 Smith and Webley revolver in the other and the pipe going full blast in his mouth as if he were having a Sunday afternoon stroll.
One bloke was advancing the next minute his head was gone and twin spurts of red came from his neck as he collapsed to the sand.
Another was trying to keep pace with us while holding his intestines in, he had dropped his rifle and was hugging his middle with both arms while staggering forward.
The whistle blew and we all got down, but he kept staggering hoping to catch up, then he jerked as though hit by a big fist and sank to the sand and remained still.
It was not a bayonet charge like in the First World War where everyone went over the top yelling and screaming and getting mown down.
This was more sedate in that we stupidly walked forward for half a mile like the metal ducks at the fairground while the Italians in the cover of dugouts in the sand potted at us when they felt like it.
It was a bit unequal in that we were in full view of their guns while all we could see was a steel helmet with two eyes peering out over the sand.
And most of us could not shoot back at these tiny targets because of the clogging dust on our rifle bolts.
However this was now about to change because we had got so close to them they were now not sighting their guns but looking down the barrel and firing direct.
This had a negative affect because the shells were hitting the ground and not going off, also some of the Italians were now panicking and running off into the desert.
At one time I was laid behind a rock and my tin hat was protecting my head while I snugged my rifle close to my face in case of flying shrapnel.
I heard myself muttering " If I get out of this I will go to church every Sunday I promise, and I will help little old ladies across the street, meanwhile I was trying to shrink behind this tiny rock.
"Don't worry me old son, nutt'n an' no body is gonna' get yer, trust me" I could just imagine Bill with his Liverpool accent standing there grinning down at me.
I have often pondered why I thought of Bill Nightingale when I was near death, instead of my Father.
Then my reverie was shattered as the whistle blew and I got up.
Upon seeing some of our blokes writhing in pain and some not moving I felt the terrible rage building up inside again.
Also one or two Italians were now standing up and raising their arms, but some were still frantically shooting at us.
All I wanted to do now was get at these back studs who had been firing at us since dawn.
It was now past midday.
Now we had got this close did they expect to put their hands up and surrender just like that, because now there was a chance of their lives being in danger.
We had suffered for months in the desert.
Hands being blown off, disfigurement, blokes killed by imitation flasks of drink, land mines, quick sands, poisoned water, flies, strafed from the air, sickness, and now this final showdown and they wanted to put their hands in the air and walk away from it.
We ploughed into them and suddenly I was face to face with an Italian who was desperately trying to reload his rifle, he never succeeded.
It is enough to say I survived these actions and I will not belittle the enemy, who, unlike some of their mates stood their ground and died for what they believed in.
I suddenly became aware of my hand was smarting and it was wet and when I looked a huge blister caused by the hot truck handle had burst on the palm of my hand. I put the loose skin back on and wrapped it with a piece of cloth cut off a field dressing.
We were now upon the dugouts where the Italians were hunkering down.
Some jumped out and ran away into the desert, some stayed to fight and were butchered.
I heard later that one of our blokes had found an Italian hiding in a dug out and the man raised his hands with a white rag above his head and came out, but as soon as our bloke turned his back the Italian pulled a stiletto from his sock and struck the bloke in the back.
One of our Officers who observed the incident calmly walked over to the Italian and pointing his revolver at the man's head, the Italian put up his hands instinctively to ward off the bullet but the bullet went through one of his hands and on into his head and he fell dead onto the sand.
"Anywhere to get away from that advancing line of bayonets "One Italian said
There were Italian bodies laying in all kinds of postures, one had a bayonet still in his body and I thought the Jock it belonged to had either not fixed it properly and it came off his rifle as he withdrew
Or he had used it like a sword and maybe had been too busy fending off another Italian and just forgot about it, either way it did not matter now because it was over.
I sat on the sand and ran the blade through the sand and that cleaned my bayonet, all my anger was gone and I felt empty and very sad, what had happened here today was beyond tears.
The quiet was unreal except for a ringing in the ears and a bloke came to me and his mouth was working but I could not hear him.
A big bang would be felt rather than heard as a truck petrol tank blew up, and the odd flash of a pistol shot could be seen rather than heard.
The Bren gun carrier had a shell hole through the front of it and when we looked in the drivers seat and surrounding walls were black and there was one boot on the floor with a foot still in it.
Somebody said "Look how white the bone is" and I was delighted that it suddenly occurred to me that I had heard him, so I was not going to be deaf for the rest of my life.
The driver of that Bren gun carrier was to my knowledge, one Sgt McFee 1st A&SH
Wrecked trucks were littered about on the landscape and smoke was ascending from them as they burned to the now clear blue sky above.
From a dugout came the sounds of some one groaning and weeping.
Black patches in the sand were moving and on approaching these I discovered they were in fact masses of flies attracted to blood soaking into the sand.
One of out blokes walked over to where I was sitting and said something.
I could see his mouth working but all I could hear was a ringing in my ears.
I just grinned and he grinned and walked away and saw a bottle of wine stood up in the sand so he went over and picked it up and it blew his hand off, it had a hand grenade tied under it.
Then when I got up to go to him my right foot felt wet in my boot but I did not bother about it I was more concerned for the bloke minus one hand, but a medic came and took him away.
I sat down and took of my gaiter, boot, and finally my sock and my foot was bloody, but my foot was o.k., blood was running down from a cut in my leg.
I think a shell must have hit a rock and shattered it, and a fragment of rock had hit me in the leg.
It had cut clean through the top of my sock where it was turned over, so it had gone through a double thickness of wool, I considered I was lucky because the wool would have slowed it down a lot.
We took prisoners and they seemed to be glad it was over.
I think the final count of prisoners was in the region of 44,000.
During that evening some of the Italians came out of the desert and one Officer came toward our Officer and offered to surrender in exchange for food and water.
Our Officer politely requested him to f---k off back into the desert and come back in the morning.
And they did.
We stood some bottles in the sand and potted at them with the Italian rifles.
They fired a bullet not unlike a .22 but the bullet was twice as long as a .22 also the charge was bigger more like a .303, the brass casing that is.
But the rifles were pathetic. I think the bores were worn out.
I aimed at one bottle and the bullet hit the next bottle to the left of it, and at fifty yards.
But I had just come through a battle against a superior number of the enemy and survived it.
Perhaps I should be grateful that their rifles were not accurate, but then we did not use ours except to fix our bayonets to.
All I have to show today is a blue scar on my leg and memories for the Sidi Barrani battle.
The blue scar I can put up with but memories at night are something else. I did hear later that we
should have been supported by tanks and air cover,
But we saw neither. But we had given Britain her first land victory in WW2,
The only consolation we got was a rum issue after the event, and that should have been issued before we set off, however the times we had been taunted out in the desert with trip wires and mines and machine gunned from the air was enough to try the patience of a Saint and finally came to a head at Sidi Barrani.
But like every army we had our fair share of cock-ups to coin a phrase.
Then we were taken from the 4th Indian Div and sent to garrison Solum.
Also the Australians went on to attack and take Bardia.
We watched the skyline light up at night as if it were Guy Fawk's night the Australian guns put down barrage after barrage.
Tommy's War Part 8
SNIPER ON CRETE
For any Soldier in any Army to hear 'SNIPER' is like anyone hearing 'GHOST' 'RATTLESNAKE' or 'BLACK WIDOW'.
A bomb or a shell gives warning and people in peril can take cover, so too the crackle of rifle fire can warn the target if the bullets miss their mark.
If the bullets find their mark then they usually are not heard at all.
Thunder and lightning are also a bit like a Sniper in that there is a strike, then depending on how far away the strike originated you can hear the rumble or bang in the distance,-------later.
That on it's own gives the Sniper an edge because when a man falls down no one knows why until they discover he has been shot.
By the time they have wildly looked round not knowing where the shot came from or who is going to be next, the Sniper is long gone.
He will kill any enemy he encounters, but his primary concern is to put out of action groups of the enemy who are being guided by radio or spotter plane, and the first target is the man with the radio pack conspicuous by it's aerial waving in the air.
The next target is the man who is pointing and mouthing off, he is obviously in command of this unit.
Some German Officers or N.C.O.s on Crete dressed much like every other rank except for a small badge of rank that at a distance even with a scope it was difficult to make out the leader.
Having got rid of these two the Sniper can pick the others off at his leisure if he so wishes.
He has to bear in mind that once he is out of ammunition he can become the hunted, so with this in mind he will endeavour to get back to his own lines while still in command of the situation.
Like the person in the super market choosing the best cuts of meat, he takes out people who are in key positions.
Some enemy units' thus disabled and having lost contact can easily mistake their own units and fire on them with disastrous results before they realise their mistake.
When a Regiment goes into battle it can encounter an enemy force and lots of ammunition is wasted as one side tries to knock off the other.
To get a strike force to this point involves Commanders, Map- Readers, Cooks, and so on.
So it is a joint effort and each relies on the other.
Aircraft have crews, Tanks have crews, so do Ships, and they don't see individuals they just see a
Not so the Sniper, he is alone, he does his own map reading, doesn't cook, smoke would give away his position, lives off the land, and he is a loner by nature, also he misses nothing, he can't afford to.
Bearing in mind that a Sniper can be picked off by another Sniper it is hardly suprising that a Sniper can and does somtimes make mistakes when he sees someone pointing a gun in his direction
'Patience is a virtue,' an old proverb, and an invaluable tool.
But sometimes waiting to make sure that the Enemy is indeed the Enemy can cost the Sniper his life so he shoots first and asks question afterwards.
A lot of things in the movies are put there by people who are trying to tell a story the best way they know how, and some do it better than others.
Without the aid of sound in the beginning of the cinema era, the actors had to rely on subtle movements or sometimes-exaggerated body language to get their message across to the audience.
But in real life some things are quite different. And the Sniper does just the opposite as he tries to travel as far as he can as silent and unobtrusive as possible.
If he doesn't get it right the first time he sometimes does not get a second chance.
So the Sniper like a ghost fades into the bushes and although he cannot walk through walls he evades the enemy and continues to be a thorn in their side.
Most of the targets a Sniper engages don't fire back because he is out of range or they just can't see him.
The only thing the Sniper has to fear is his opposite number in the enemy ranks and getting boxed in.
Getting boxed in a good Sniper can avoid, because a lot of the enemy will not take him on owing to the fact he can out shoot most who are foolish enough to attempt it.
But his enemy opposite number is an unknown threat and if Lady Luck is smiling down on on him the Sniper can outwit his opposite number.
I watched a movie one night called 'Sniper,' and found it entertaining, but in real life the bloke would have been dead the moment he stepped from cover, and to take a novice with him to show him the ropes? a definite no no.
No one in his right mind would take someone out to teach him the ropes on a live mission.
Two people would leave a double trail, be twice the target for an enemy Sniper and it would be a waste of a good man, because one of them could be employed more efficiently elsewhere.
This was my opinion then and some ex Soldier readers may not share my views on this, but at the age of 82 while I write this I ponder the reasoning of all the training and instruction I recieved to enable me to survive in this world of "Dog eat dog, and stuff you Jack I'm fireproof"
Some readers may have a different opinion?
I was issued with a Sniper's rifle and thrown in at the deep end and told to get on with it.
I did not volunteer for it, but would surmise that all Service people would be sorted out in due course on joining the Forces and would be selected to do a job that suited them best.
Since I was brought up on a Farm and could hit a rabbit on the run at two hundred yards a gun was second nature to me.
It was also noted on the main shooting range at Aldershot that I could group five rounds into the bull's eye from eight hundred yards and the group could be covered by a silver half crown coin.
At one shoot off the the four holes were so tightly packed that the fifth shot went through with out touching the canvas of the bull.
The bloke in the butts waved a flag to indicate that the fifth round had missed the target.
I protested and the Officer in charge of the butts
ordered me on to the miniture range the next day.
Five miniature targets were wound out to represent the big range targets and I was told to put one round through each of the five targets
with a .22 rifle.
This I did and the targets were collected and the Officer grinned and stuck a pencil through all the holes that were almost identical through each target since they were all held together a person could see straight through all the holes when held to the eye.
"There's no doubt about it laddie, you are a good shot indeed"
But I noticed they didn't bother to upgrade my pay by three pence a day.
Then we moved to Palestine and I missed out on that pay rise for the next twelve years.
But that is a small price to pay when I think of all those who were not as fortunate as me and did not get back home.
I was below decks on the destroyer HMS Glenroy, we had been moved from Sollum in the desert to Alexandria harbour.
There was a lot of speculation amongst our lads.
"Well we bin' up the desert so long they is goin' tae gi' us a trip rand't Med, (Mediterranean sea) sa'ht see'n no da'ht, (sight seeing no doubt) warbled a voice.
"Ah shouldn't wonder" someone else chimed in.
"Na, they wouldn't do that, not in a destroyer they wouldn't, would they"? Queried a third voice.
And "Yu wan' a bet", chirped the first speaker.
So it was bandied back and forth until one of our officers poked his head through a door at the top of the stepladder.
" I say, would you chaps keep the noise down a little, we don't want the world to know there are troops on this ship".
The bloke next to me chortled, " Nice one, when we trooped up the bloody gangway half o' bloody Alexandria knew."
But we simmered down, and a few minutes later two Sailors appeared and began to close the hatches.
We protested, cries of "It's gonna to get bloody hot wi' they thengs closed."
And "'ere yu can't do tha', 'ow the bleed'n' 'ell are we supposed tu breeve?"
But the Matlo said " Sorry lads, but I got orders, there's an air raid on an' there's some enemy planes comin' over an' I got to shut yus in, just in case."
"In case of what?" wavered a voice from the back.
"That's bliddy charmin' " said another voice, " A chuffin' bomb 'its us, an' we goes to the bottom an' we can't ger aht."
But Naval discipline being what it was, cries of "Leave the bloody covers were they are" fell on deaf ears.
The hatch covers were stacked one on top of the other at each end and above the hold.
Since a hatch cover was shaped like a wooden bowed bridge and about four metres long by a metre wide it needed a man at each end to lift it.
The opening to the hatch we were in was about ten metres long by four metres wide.
So there were five of these hatch covers at one end up top, stacked one atop the other, and the same at the other end.
The Sailor cried "Come on then we ain't gor all bleed'n' day"
Two more Sailors appeared, one at each side of the hold, and grabbing hold of the top cover at each end, then imitating two crabs they scuttled sideways, thus transporting the heavy cover over the hold.
When they got to the middle of the opening up top they dropped the cover into position and a fine film of dust began to drift down.
Returning to the stacked up covers, they repeated the operation until half of the opening was covered.
Then they transferred their attention to the other stack of five covers.
More fine dust was drifting down as we watched our view of the star-studded heavens disappear as more covers were fitted.
As the last cover was dropped into place it suddenly became very dark, but as our eyes adjusted to the now dim light we could just make out the bloke next to us.
Then a dim light was switched on up on the bulkhead.
A voice drawled "Fank Gawd fer dat, ah fought fur 'orrible minit' somebudy wus abaht ti do me a mischief".
Elsewhere this attempt at brevity might have brought a laugh, but since this situation we now found ourselves in was entirely new, we didn't yet have a clue of how to deal with it.
For starters we were all close together and the not too clever of us knew that it only needed a small bomb to come through those covers and not necessarily explode because it would go straight through the bottom of the Destroyer.
In that event we would be the first to drown.
We were stood so close together one bloke enlightened us with the amusing information, if a bomb did go off we would not have enough room to fall down.
There was not a lot of room below decks on a destroyer, not for a whole regiment, minus Head Quarters that is, they stayed in Alex.
Lucky back studs
About ten minutes went by and we could hear the aircraft now, and a silence descended on the lads as we wondered what was happening up top and we strained to hear any faint sounds.
I didn't like the situation one bit, how do we get out?
Suddenly every one jumped as above us pom pom guns opened up.
Then they were joined by a Bofa gun just beyond the quayside, WUMP, WUMP, WUMP, WUMP, WUMP.
"Bloody 'ell" cried a voice, "Somebodies coppin' it"
Then there was one hell of a thunderous crash and a matlo shouted, "We must be using our main armaments".
I pictured the big guns on the deck lowering and creeping back their original position after the sudden recoil as the shell left the muzzle.
Lowering to be re-loaded with smoke wreathing from the muzzles, then rising again and another tremendous crash as they fired and kicked back.
Meanwhile dust was every where and each time the big guns fired more dust fell down and the matlo with a shaky grin said, "So that's where those idle back studs have been hidin' all the muck they swept up off the deck all these months".
"Hidin' it under the bleedin' covers."
The floor beneath us was shuddering and blokes had dust in their hair and all over their gear, and we were coughing and wiping our eyes.
Some took out their woollen pullover from their packs and covered their mouths to breathe easier.
For a brief moment there was a lull and we could hear shrapnel coming down, a bit over here, a bit over there, like some one sighing, then there would be a thud as it landed.
Sometimes a pitter patter like hail stones as a group of small shrapnel came down together and hit the deck.
Someone said, "Good job that bloke put the covers on ar'ter all"
Another said, "Yu can say that agin mate"
He did, but half way through his sentence some one yelled "Shurrup yu pillock!---listen"
Then we heard it, a noise like some one playing one very high note on a violin and it got louder and then shrill, almost like a scream.
Every one shrunk down to make as small a target as possible.
Someone who had been holding his breath suddenly bawled, " It's that bloomin' pink elephant you've been seein' Dicko, she in heat, an' she's lookin' fer yer"
Then it hit.
I don't know where the bomb hit.
But there was one hell of an explosion.
A voice released pent up emotion with, "S--T".
Another said, "Funny…. so did I" and a nervous titter ran round the group, but silenced as suddenly as it started as the ship seemed to shudder as more dust fell on us from somewhere up above us where the covers had been put on by our friendly Sailor mates.
Then more whistling and more bombs.
But they were moving further away now, and more dust and we could hear yelling and pandemonium up top.
The droning of the planes had gone and the guns had stopped firing, but there was still a lot of bustle up top.
I glanced round and there were lots of anxious faces, some one forced a sickly grin and said,
"Don't worry lads if yu can hear it it's not for you."
Someone else chimed in with, "That's 'cos yu' f---n' dead a'ready"
A voice very controlled and calm said, " Why have I got sea water climbing up my legs?"
There was a tense silence as every one looked down, expecting to see water rising, my first thought was, "s**t , we must be sinking"
"Good bye mum" and my next thought was well swim as long as you can because when the water gets to the covers they will float off as the ship sinks, so grab one and hold on to it.
"Dosey bugger, yu p----d yussel," snarled the bloke next to the speaker, moving away in disgust.
A murmur of relief trickled through the crowd of blokes as they realised the noise had now abated and the boat was indeed still on the surface and not heading for the bottom of the harbour as we thought, and we were indeed safe, albeit for the moment.
Whistles were blowing up top and someone was shouting orders.
Down in the hold the dust and grime was beginning to settle onto its new home, the floor, and us.
Some jauntily, began dusting themselves off as others offered what I thought was good advice, "Leave it aht mate till we git inta the fresh air".
So the culprits desisted, and with a sheepish grin one murmured, " Yea well, come to think of it there is enough dust to go round, ah'll do it when we ger off the ship"
"Good lad" said the advice Offerer, and patted him on the back, then they both coughed as the cloud of dust from the blokes shirt enveloped them both.
Finally the noise of the planes faded and the covers were removed and the fresh air was like champagne.
Some one groaned "Would yu luck at this, I just got this back from the dhobi walla an' luck at it nah" and the speaker brushed off dust from the shoulders of his shirt.
His mate nudged him and nodded upward and I followed his gaze in time to see two Matlos with some one on a stretcher, then sirens were heard and army ambulances were screeching to a halt on the dockside.
"Just be grateful that's not you on that bleed'n stretcher mate" said a voice.
The Sailor held up his hand and cried, "listen"
I could hear a faint throbbing of engines, and the Matlo said with a grin, "Say goodbye to Alex lads, no more Tombola in the Fleet Club for a while, I think we're off on that Mediterranean cruise.
We were told we could come up on deck and get some fresh air.
There was a scramble for the ladder.
We climbed the iron rungs welded to the bulkhead.
Although impatient to get on deck we had to wait till the bloke above us got a little higher, or one could collect a kick in the face from the heel of his boot as he swung it clear of the iron rungs to get onto the deck.
It was great to stand there hanging on to a stanchion while now and again a wave would crash into the bow and spray would be flung high into the air and anyone who did not duck for cover got a salt water shower gratis the Navy.
As I got sprinkled with salt water a sudden regret welled up inside me, why had I not followed my desire and joined the Navy.
Later I was to regret it a lot more. But today I am grateful to be here, so I really do not have a grouse.
I am content being a live pheasant plucker.
I could have ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Destroyer ploughed through the heavy swell and after a few hours it began to get light and we saw land in the distance. One Matlo said, "Welcome to Crete".
Crete is an isolated island between the coast of Africa and Greece.
The Island seemed to slowly get bigger as we got ever closer.
Suddenly a Tannoy speaker crackled and a voice said "Attention the Argylls, anyone leaving the ship via the T.L.C, will make sure there is not a round up the spout of his rifle, this is a safety precaution, you can reload once you are on the T.L.C., over"
I was standing by the rail and watched the foam caused by the Destroyers bow wave race away down the side of the ship.
It seemed to disappear round the stern where it joined once again with the foam from the other side and the foam from the props of the ship and the whole ribbon of frothy white seemed to be a creaming toward the horizon to our rear.
Our Sgt came lurching across the deck and he had to shout because of the noise, there was a stiff breeze blowing and the ships blowers were flat out. "Report to the armourer Sgt and take your rifle and bayonet with you, now."
Having asked a Matlo where the armoury was he grinned and said, "Ah can tek yer quicker than tell yer" and I followed him down a ladder, along an alleyway, left turn, right turn, "Mind yer 'ed mate"
"That door there mate" and he pointed, turned and trotted back the way we had come.
When I got to the ships armoury I reported to the Armourer Sgt and said " I'm 2252 Barker I was told to report here.
I gathered he was Welsh when he looked up and said "That's very nice of you bo-yo"
"Just leave yo ri-fle an' bay-onet by there now", indicating a bench.
There was no way was I going to be parted from my rifle, and the Armourer grinned as he saw I was not about to take it off my shoulder where is was slung.
"Tell yu what bo-yo, you put yours by there an' I will gi-ve you a bet-ter, one alright?"
So I leaned my rifle by there.
"Bay-onet too" grinned the Armourer Sgt.
I removed my bayonet and scabbard from the webbing frog and fixed the bayonet in its scabbard on to the rifle.
I thought about the number on my rifle's bayonet boss, 78354, and the number on the brass butt disk that matched the number stamped on my bayonet, 211.
The Armourer Sgt thrust another rifle into my hand, it looked the same as the one I had just put down except it had about three inches of barrel sticking out at the muzzle, it also had a scope on it.
But it did not have a butt disk or a number on the bayonet boss, nor did the bayonet have a number.
The bayonet fitted the rifle so nothing else mattered.
I opened the bolt and put my fingertip over the firing pin hole and pulled back on the firing pin lug and let go.
I got a stinging tap on my finger end as the pin snapped through the hole and hit my finger.
"Oh it works bo-yo," said the Sgt.
It had nice balance, a silky smooth action, and my reverie was interrupted by the Sgt "See what yu can do with that bo-yo, don't wo-rry, it's been zeroed an' it's spot on, so do-n't shoot y'sel' in the foot, alright?"
Then with a wry grin he asked, "And how many times can you hit the bull at a thou-sand yards then".
I replied, with a straight face, " Every time?"
"Cocky too eh?" he grinned.
I said, "Who's idea was this, I am used to my own rifle, I don't know what this one can do, and I don't want to be in a situation where I have to rely on a faulty rifle."
"Don't wo-rry boyo, it won't let yu down, you will get a pleas-ant surp-rise when you see how much fur-ther you can see with that on it", and he pointed to the scope sitting atop the rifle.
Then he pointed out how much was wasted when one bomber dropped a ton of bombs he was lucky if one hit the target.
And when they put down a creeping barrage using thousands of shells they might hit a tank or kill a rabbit, and all the blokes and equipment that was used to such a meagre end.
"But you son-ny Jim are on your own, you make the decis-ions and if they is wrong it's your
And he ended the lesson with, "One target one shot."
Having watched cowboy films on a Saturday afternoon as a kid I was always impressed by the hero.
All the kids expressed their hatred of the baddie who lay in wait for our hero and intended to do him a mischief as he went by singing and playing on his guitar.
As if he didn't have enough to do looking after all the cattle, and breaking in the wild horses, while fending off all the marauding Indians?
Then rescue the damsel in distress, or no dress! those Red Indians were a bad lot.
And finishing off the day by cooking his baked beans, then washing up, then if he was bored he could stick an iron in the fire and brand a few cows.
I forgot to mention cattle rustlers and coyotes, and the odd sidewinder snake, never mind, I think you have got the drift.
I relayed my sentiments on shooting from ambush to the Armourer.
He quietly said "What about the la-st war when the Ger-mans came over in sil-ent zeps and dropped bombs on slee-ping women and kids, and they are do-ing it again now boyo."
"You is not a kid at the pic-tures any more, we are at war, time tu grow up".
He was right.
I was about to leave when I missed the tap of the scabbard against my leg so I turned back and picked up the bayonet in its scabbard that fitted the new rifle.
As I put it in the webbing frog of my equipment the Armourer shouted with a grin, "Yea, you might need that."
When I got back to the other blokes I got a mixed reception.
"Yu' must be a good shot Doggy fur them tu gi' yu' a special rifle", and a chilling remark, "Hey that's a sniper's rifle, if'n yu get caught with that they's gonna shoot yu, no bugger likes snipers."
The Destroyer ploughed on through the sea which had a bit of a swell causing everyone to lean this way then that and sometimes a little waltz step or tap dance was needed just to keep balanced.
We raced towards Crete and I had mixed feelings as we saw land coming up ahead. I also noticed all the big guns on the Destroyer were aimed at the land.
No matter how the Destroyer moved in the water the guns would move to keep pointing at the land.
I heard two sailors discussing the situation.
One said "I think the boss must be in a hurry, cos we usually zig zag.
His mate replied, "Yea, that's ok if you just want to avoid U boars, but I think he wants to get in and out again before the Stukas spot us.
The Destroyer was doing a little turn but the guns kept moving and continued to aim at the beach.
Then there was a change in the engine noise, it was less urgent it seemed, and we began to slow down
Sailors began moving things and seemed to be getting ready, but for what?
A voice said "We'll never make it to land from 'ere with all our gear on in this sea"
And "We aint goin' ter swim from 'ere are we?'
"Och dinnae be sae daft man" and "Ah dinnae wan' tae get mah hair wet, ah jist washed it ye ken"
Another quavered " Ah can't even bleed'n swim, ahl go straight dahn tu the bleed'n bottom, even wiv aht me bleed'n gear on"
An educated voice joined in with, "Use your common sense man, and don't jump over the side until the ship stops"
"Tac's me aw mah time tae walk wi awe thes gear on, let alone jump ony where" said one Jock.
"Fat lot o' good that'll do 'im" said another pointing at the bloke, who now pale faced was adament he was definitely not related to Neptune, or any of the Mermaids for that matter.
The engines slowed some more and finally stopped, the ship hove to and hoists on the Destroyer put two Tank Landing Craft over the side.
On seeing this the faces of the blokes suddenly lost that hunted look, and most looked a lot more confident now.
Some even brightened enough to crack crude jokes, but they drew no laughter.
No one knew what awaited us on that beach.
Sailors from the Destroyer manned these landing craft, and if I remember correctly there were two sailors to each T.L.C
The T.L.C. were bouncing up and down on the waves like the horses one sees at the fair ground on the roundabouts.
We assembled on deck and forming a queue we inched to the stepping off point.
Word was passed back from the front of the queue.
We were supposed to step off the deck of the destroyer and on to the T.L.C.
When told this there was another heated debate.
"I was trained to be a sodjer not a f-n' acrobat, an' if ah had known this was about tu happen ah would 'ave joined a f-n' circus, the pay would be better as weel".
" Yea well, yu wud 'ave made a good clown Yorkie, that's for sure" quipped his mate.
One bright lad said, " This beats the circus mate, yer cudnae get aw this watter inty a circus tent fu starters?'
I knew how to walk, jump and run so this was going to be a new experience for me.
Pondering as we inched along, since we did not have wings how were we going to get into these two metal boxes which were bouncing up and down like the pistons of a two stroke lawn mower.
I did a bit of mental arithmetic.
I thought that since my legs had been designed to carry my body weight even allowing for jumping great heights, what was going to happen when I descended onto the floor of that T.L.C. with all my equipment on, plus my rifle.
I thought about the day when I was a kid as I watched the Gentlemen farmers shooting at birds that had been scared into the air by paid beaters on the farm.
The beaters would walk forward in a line beating at bushes with sticks, and the birds would take fright and soar into the air only to be hit by lead pellets from shotguns the Farmers would be aiming at them.
One bird I remember well had risen from a bush and looked like it was going to make it, but at about 100 ft it suddenly appeared to jerk then with it's wings tight to it's body it dived to earth and landed with a thud and lay still.
I had vision of that happening to me as I descended into the T.L.C
The Destroyer was heaving up and down and some times rolling sideways on the heaving sea.
As I looked at the T.L.C. I was getting close to it was just on it's way down the ships side like an elevator with its winch wires cut.
Suddenly it changed its mind as a huge wave came heaving across the surface of the sea and the T.L.C. came charging back up again as the wave swept under it and lifted it as though to throw it over the ship like an empty shoe box.
The matlo next to me gripped my arm and shouted above the wind "Wait till it's at the top of its climb then step into it."
And I tittered mentally and thought, the Navy must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if this nutter is an example, does he seriously think I'm going to step on to that bloody yoyo, not on yer nellie mate.
However the matlo had other ideas
I had on my pack, and in one hand I was clutching my rifle with the scope on it.
And I remembered the armourer Sgt's parting shot "Don't drop yu rifle or bang it against anything."
"Treat it like it is a baby or a valuable camera, because any heavy shock could put the telescopic sight out of alignment.
Stuff the rifle I thought as I watched as though hypnotised the T.L.C. as it came charging up the side of the ship, then it began to slow down.
But it was too far away, it was an impossible distance to jump and I watched as it descended into the next trough and then it began to inch nearer to the side of the ship and climb again.
My reverie was shattered suddenly as the Matlo screamed "Now" and I did not have much choice because he loosened his grip and pushed on my pack and to keep my balance I sprang outward towards the T.L.C.
I must admire that Matlo's timing because as I descended the T.L.C. had just reach top dead center and as it went down again I went with it, and it was like being on the big dipper on the fair ground as with a woosh it plummeted down.
Only trouble was as I saw it, to be married means to be as one, but the T.L.C. and I did not tie the knot so to speak until we reached the bottom.
I don't think I had actually landed because as the toes of my boots were frantically feeling downwards for the floor it disappeared in a downward direction.
My legs not being made of rubber refused to go any further down and try as I may I remained airborne but hurtling downwards.
So the T.L.C. was racing down and I was racing down after it, but there was a gap of about two inches between the toes of my boots and the bottom of the T.L.C.
Then the T.L.C. began to slow down and my feet gratefully planted themselves on the bottom of it.
It passed through my mind, "Wouldn't it be good to have magnetic boots or hooks even".
I thought, thank God for that, but I had thought too soon.
As the T.L.C. got to the bottom of the wave another one came and started it's next climb.
It suddenly felt like some one had put a load of rocks in my pack, it felt so heavy and my legs buckled and I plonked onto my butt on the bottom of the T.L.C.
I scrambled to my feet with a lot of effort and got the feel of the deck, and just managed to get out of the way as the next bloke crashed onto the deck beside me.
This went on until we had about fifteen blokes on the T.L.C.
The next bloke didn't make it, the matlo pushed but he did not jump at the same time and missed his footing and with a yell fell into the sea.
He had all his equipment on and was carrying his rifle, he must have let his rifle go and wriggled out of his pack because he surfaced and someone had already thrown down a line to him.
We could see him under the surface desperately trying to unbuckle his equipment, then suddenly he surfaced gasping for air minus his equipment.
He grabbed the line but before they could pull him in the T.L.C. went whooshing down and closed with the ship.
As the T.L.C. continued its decent there was suddenly a red patch down the ships side following the T.L.C. down as if some one had thrown a bucket of red paint and it was running down the side of the ship.
Then a wave came and the long red smear was gone, and so was the bloke.
Someone murmured "Now you see him now you don't."
Another said, "What a waste, what a way to go, well at least it were quick." Suddenly a lot of the humour and banter that had been there before was gone.
Suddenly there was a bitter taste and it spoilt the day for those who had seen the incident.
The Matlo who had thrown the rope was still searching the water with his eyes when a bloke told him to coil up the rope and stow it.
Finally we had the full compliment of men on the T.L.C and it was freed from the ship.
The Matlo got the motor going and we cleared the Destroyer and since we were facing away from the Island we had to do a turn to starb'd and do a huge semicircle and this brought the front of the T.L.C. round so it was now pointing at the Island.
I looked round and saw the other T.L.C. making for the island and as I watched a wave collided with the front of it and it seemed to stand still for a while, then it got going again.
I wished they were speed boats, I was imagining the Germans having now being alerted were feverishly loading and sighting theirs guns, any minute now and the whistle of shells would be heard.
But nothing happened.
We kept plodding on.
And each time a big wave hit the front and slowed the T.L.C. down, I thought this is it, any minute now, we are a sitting duck.
There were lots of steel plates on hinges attached to the rim of the opening to the deck of the T.L.C and these were clipped back and common sense told me these were there to be swung into place should we suddenly be strafed from the air.
Since there were no German Stukas around to dive bomb or strafe us they had been left clpped and secure.
I was going to ask someone but on looking round all I saw were anxious stares and one bloke who's mouth was working as if he was saying prayers to himself.
Another bloke had the bolt out of his rifle and was cleaning it with a bit of rag.
I watched him as he painstakingly screwed the end off the bolt and wiped the firing pin, then re-assembling the whole thing, he pushed a clip of five into the magazine.
Then he looked at me and grinned and patted the rifle that was now over his shoulder on its strap. Another bloke had a rosary in one hand and was counting off the beads.
Suddenly everyone lurched forward as a big wave crashed into the front of our T.L.C.
Because a T.L.C. has a flat front door that can be lowered the big waves were crashing into it.
All the feet pounded as the owners tried to keep upright, then the T.L.C. would get up speed only to have another wave smash into the front and it and it was like running into a brick wall.
But as we neared the beach the waves became smaller and we began to move a little faster and I became aware of my dry mouth and heart thudding as we expected to be met by enemy fire.
But all was still quiet and the other T.L.C also landed without mishap.
Wait for it I thought, the mire will hit the fan the moment those big doors hit the sand.
There will be Krauts in every bush and behind every rock.
We nudged up on to the beach and the huge door at the front fell to the sand with a thud.
Nothing else happened.
It was so quiet except for the sound of small waves splashing against the rear of the T.L.C and on to the beach where they wet the sand then changed their minds and wandered back the way they had come, like disappointed ducks departing from a dry stream bed.
I stepped on to the sand in about half an inch of water.
We maybe got our boots wet but that was about all, which is how close to the beach we got before disembarking.
Then one of the sailers with us shouted "That b----ds leaving us on the beach, and sure enough the Destroyer was indeed getting under way, it got up speed and curved away to the horizon leaving a long curved creamy wake in the shimmering sea.
The Sailors who had been left were understandably upset and one threatened what he was going to do to that back stud when he next saw him, some thing about gutless or nutless?
I gathered all the Sailors were a bit upset.
We know what he did was right.
There is nothing more tempting to a Stuka pilot than a ship not moving, a ship on the move has steerage and the skipper can anticipate and dodge the bombs from an enemy aircraft, if he's lucky that is, but a ship not moving is a sitting duck.
So to save his ship and all the men on it, four sailors and two T.L.C.s was a cheap price to pay.
Depends on your point of view though, if you are one of the Sailors left on the beach you could be forgiven for not agreeing with this.
However back to the beach, we moved inland with tongue in cheek but there was no opposition and finding some open ground we got settled down.
Some blokes were sent to scout out the land and report back.
Over there two Officers were having an argument as to who had seniority.
The Sgt came over to me and said, "You know what to do with that" nodding at the rifle hanging on the sling over my shoulder.
He continued with " Get grub where yu can and watch yer sel."
We carried on as if we had come here to sight see.
And were greeted by the locals as long lost friends.
They were very nice people and to my delight two of us were invited to have a meal in a small house. Some of the other lads were invited to other local houses.
As I watched the Lady prepare the meal I saw how they cooked eggs, instead of frying them as we do she just broke the shell and dropped the eggs into a pot of hot olive oil.
The man of the house got some wine glasses and producing a bottle of red wine proceeded to carefully fill the wine glasses to half full but the lady said something to him and he shrugged and filled them to the top.
Then every one took a glass and we said good health, while they said something in Greek, and we all smiled at each other.
The lady then put what looked like brown oblong rocks, (slightly bigger than a Mars Bar of chocolate) on the table and said, "Psomi".
Because we looked puzzled, she got one of these rocks and dipped it into the wineglass, so we copied her and found that it was indeed bread that was dried so it would keep to be used later.
Dipping it for a short time in wine made it edible again.
We reciprocated by giving a bar of chocolate to the lady and she and her husband were delighted.
I think luxuries here were a bit thin here abouts.
We gathered from the local fare that these people lived a very frugal life.
The socialising suddenly came to an abrupt standstill when someone outside screamed "Aircraft" and another joined in with "Paratroops".
Everyone leapt to their feet, but it was a false alarm, an aircraft had indeed flown over because we could hear the drone of it fading away.
A few minutes' later sheets of paper began to float down everywhere.
I can't remember the exact wording but the jist of the message was "Lay down your arms and
we will treat you well, resist us and we will bomb your villages and towns to ashes, and if a German soldier is killed we will kill ten of you as a reprisal".
Charming, I thought.
Needless to say a lot of fingers jerked skyward
The next day I was sitting in the back of a Morris truck with two other bods, we had been moving gear to a new position.
We were just cruising along when some one shouted, "AIRCRAFT" we all looked up and now above the noise of our engine I could hear the Stuka as it came screaming straight down on us.
The screaming noise it made grew louder and louder and everything seemed to shrink except the Stuka as it got bigger and bigger and the shrieking siren sounded like all hell let loose
I saw the bomb detach from the aircraft and as the gap between the two gradually widened the driver yanked the hand brake on and dived for cover.
With its back wheels skidding the truck was slowing down and veering to the left as we leapt for our lives and run to a gully at the side of the road and jumped straight into a bunch of thorns.
I watched fascinated as the bomb hit the ground.
The Stuka hauled itself out of the dive.
At first I thought he's left it too late and waited for the crash.
But he swooped away.
And I ducked.
Then there was a crash like I had never heard before as the bomb hit the truck and shards of metal and debris was flying all over the place.
Suddenly there was a blast of hot air and pressure that seemed to leave a vacuum which suddenly reversed and it made me gasp.
It was as if someone had suddenly wrapped a bandage round the ribs too tight for me to breathe then suddenly cut it off.
Then it was gone and I felt a tingling of the skin as if lots of ants were biting.
Every thing I looked at was dancing side ways but this gradually stopped and now my ears were ringing.
The truck was twisted and on fire and dust was swirling everywhere.
One of its front wheels was still wobbling as it rolled about a hundred yards away from the truck trailing bits of the track rod with it.
One of our blokes put his mouth to my ear and yelled "Therrre goes ma no claims bonus" and I noticed he had a lot of blood on his leg, and when I enquired he said " Och dinna wurry aboot et, they ruddy thorrrns en the ditch ye ken"
One of the other lads had a bit of twig stuck through the side of his face.
He was dazed and unsteady on his feet, he grinned but his eyes were a bit vacant, and he kept falling down so we sat him down and after half an hour he was almost back to normal.
The next day the Stuka came back and we had a Bren gun mounted on a tripod for anti aircraft.
We were sitting under an olive tree enjoying the shade, the Officer and another bloke were poring over a map, and there was a signaller under another tree with his headphones on and a pencil stuck behind one ear.
Now and again he would reach out and give the Morse key a couple of clicks, then he would pull out the head phones jack and wander over to the Officer and hand him a slip of paper with a message on it.
Then returning to his seat he would put the headphones jack back into to the radio transmitter and pick up a book to read while waiting for any messages.
One of our blokes had climbed up a tree and thrown down what looked like small flat brown bananas.
Someone said "Oh yea, them is locus beans, that's what they is".
Another bod remarked, " I didn't know yu was an authority on tropical fruits, Dicko?".
The Sgt said, "Ee' aint exactly an authority on the English language eiver"
Then we heard the Stuka a long time before it got to us.
We stayed put under the tree, one bloke had got stretched out and I thought he was trying to copy a stick insect, but I suppose from the air it would be difficult to see him if he kept still.
A Stuka has bombs and multiple machine guns so it is madness to challenge a fully armed Stuka from the ground with only a rifle or a single Bren gun.
The target on the ground from a Stuka point of view is stationary, therefore an easy target.
A Stuka in the air is moving all the time and is a difficult target to hit.
But one of our blokes decided to take on this Stuka.
The Stuka was cruising along at a hight were we could plainly make out the black crosses on the wings and seemed obvious to me he was looking for a target.
Somebody said, "Just keep still lads, he'll bugger off in a minute"
We had been advised " If you hear any aircraft, get into the shade of a tree and keep absolutely still until he has gone".
One of our blokes suddenly moved away from the tight group under the tree and snarled
"What the f-k are we hiding for, I'll take that b----d on any time"
He dashed out to where the Bren was mounted and was shouting "Come on you b----d have a taste of this".
Pulling back on the cocking handle he swivelled round to get a bead on the Stuka.
He fired a long burst and because every fifth round was tracer I could see every now and again what looked like a red hot cinder spit out from the Bren gun and lazily curl up into the sky reaching for the Stuka but missing it.
The Stuka Pilot must have seen the movement on the ground because he suddenly veered and did a part climb then turned and came screaming down.
Suddenly what looked like kids sparklers began to twinkle on the front edge of the wings of the Stuka.
We got round the other side of the tree while screaming to the bloke to leave it and take cover.
Bits of twigs were suddenly being chipped off trees nearby and pale patches appeared on the trunks of trees as the bark was ripped off by bullets from the Stuka.
The bloke was so obsessed with the Stuka he was in a world of his own.
He ripped off the used magazine, and suddenly spurts of dust began to creep along the ground toward the Bren gunner.
.The Stuka zoomed up and away as the bloke followed him with the chattering Bren gun.
As the Stuka gained hight he swept round to come back at the Bren gunner.
Two of our blokes pleaded with the gunner to leave it and get under cover, but the bloke was adamant,
"F-k off, ah'm about tu get me a Kraut, and as the Stuka came in for his second attack the Bren gunner opened up, and the Stuka's wings sparkled and the bullets kicked the dust up as they crept up to the Bren gunner again.
Knocking the now empty magazine off and grabbing a full one, he was about to fit it when an invisible force grabbed him and slammed him to the ground.
There was a thud, thud, thudding noise at the same time leaves and bits of bark were ripped from the tree behind him.
The noise of the siren along with the snarling engine of the Stuka was like an orchestra backing the noise of the bullets as like hailstones they hit the ground and odd ones would zing and buzz angrily as they ricocheted and sang off rocks.
Our blokes fell to the ground to make a less target for those whizzing wasp like bits of metal.
The Bren gunner lay there, not moving, but dark patches were appearing on his clothing and near his body the dry ground was darkening as it soaked up the liquid from the still body.
The Stuka zoomed up and away and we listened to its engine fade in the distance.
I didn't know his name, I wished I did, but I think that bloke should have got the highest award.
Someone did get his dog tags and I heard him say," You will always be remembered old mate, no question, and ah'l see to it yu gits a medal"
I heard some one mutter "Fat lot o' good a meddle will do 'im nah"
I thought what a mad, rash act, but I admired what he had done.
Later I heard one company was moving out, " We're off to Heraklion mate " I heard, so I decided I would tag along and cover for them.
As they moved out I got on higher ground so I could see better and kept more or less in sight of them.
But I got on higher ground and soon got left behind because I had to negotiate rough country while they were on the track.
It was a nice quiet walk, the sun was shining and I looked at the tree shadows to get my bearing.
I was as happy as Larry, I was on my own, it was a nice day, and there was no one screaming do this do that.
Now and again I got my compass out and had a look at the hill in front.
I was on the lookout for the slightest movement up ahead, so I would take cover and survey the terrain then move quickly to another location.
The drill here was get into a clump of bushes and have a good look round through my scope and having made sure there was no one around, I could then head for the next cover.
There was someone a long way off moving but the heat haze made it difficult to tell what he or she was wearing.
An aircraft flew over but he was too high but caution made me wait till he had gone.
I also retained the habit of looking as well as listening because I knew the Germans would also use the 'switch off the engine and glide silently' trick.
Having had a last look round I moved to keep as much cover between the unknown target and me.
I thought the person I had seen would have to be a local, because out here a German alone would be a good target for the locals, a lot of whom had guns.
After about an hour of bush hopping I was behind a big tree and having made sure there was no one around I pulled some flat dry brown bean like fruit from the tree, some were sweet tasting.
I was now on the lookout for the target I had seen earlier so now I was being more wary and I made sure I didn't tread on any dry twigs.
It was possible he/she could think I was a German and shoot me.
I got the warning via my nose, so I followed it very quietly.
Then I could see the silhouette of something moving behind the bush to my right at about thirty yards.
I got a rock and hurled it at the bush.
A man rose pulling up his breeks and when he saw the gun pointing at him he gabbled away in Greek
and his hands shot in the air and his breeks fell down.
I knew he was no German so I lowered the rifle but I held it still in his direction, and he again pulled up his dacks and tied them with string round the waist.
I also took note of the curved knife in it's fancy sheath he tucked into his string belt.
He stood grinning not knowing what to do, so I did the walking bit with my fingers and pointed to the distant village and he grasped it straight away and with a hesitant wave he scurried away.
I watched till I was sure he was gone then I moved to a group of bushes that had a view of where I had just been and waited for about an hour, he did not come back to trail me.
So satisfied no one knew I was here I felt more comfortable.
Later in the afternoon I heard firing in the distance.
There was also a machine gun chattering and the sharp crack of other rifles and suddenly I got just the merest scent coming down wind and I crouched under cover.
It was hot and I had my mouth open.
I found that if one keeps one mouth closed one hears oneself breathing and it blocks any faint sound that might spell a message.
Keeping still and quiet I waited and waited as the sweat trickled down my back.
I could hear a faint metalic tic, tinc, was it some one wearing equipment, how many would there be.
Could they be ours?
I could hear a thud thud thudding and realised suddenly I was so up tight and my mouth was so dry, but I dare not move in case I would be spotted.
And after about ten minutes I saw a pair of horns start to bob up and down at the crest of the hill and now and then a faint metalic tinc, tinc.
Bloody goats, I thought, and relaxed as a goat came into full view.
Nibbling this bit then move a bit further and a nibble at that bit, and I moved.
It caught the movement immediately.
And stood for a moment staring at me, then with a thin bleat it whirled and was gone the way it came, the bell round it's neck jangling and jingling, it was a noise and would draw attention.
I stayed put a long time under that bush because I knew if some one with binocs had seen that goats behaviour he would be scanning hoping to get a glimpse of movement.
I began to doze when a breath of wind caught the leaves and they rustled as if to say it's time you were gone so I took the hint, but not before I had a good look round with my scope.
Everything would speed past in a blur then I would stop and go back a little, only a goat, so I would sweep again to the right, then sweep back a little lower and it could get tedious.
I thought dead is a lot more tedious, you can't even get to the cinema, so I continued scanning the terrain. I could see no movement so I moved out.
I could still hear sporadic firing and working ever closer I discovered on looking over the top of some rocks some of our blokes were engaged by a company of Germans.
I was about eight hundred yards away up the hill and the bloke who caught my eye was using heavy machine gun.
Aiming at his head as he was firing a burst, I snapped his picture, he sort of keeled over still holding the gun to his shoulder and the gun was still firing as he went down.
The other Germans scattered, afraid of being hit by their own gun.
Some were now looking wildly round not knowing where the shot had come from since having seen the wound in the gunners head was not from the front they though some of our blokes were behind them.
It never occurred to them the shot had come from half a mile away up on the hill.
I had a new position next to a tree with a thick bush at the bottom of it.
I was now peering through this bush at the antics of the Jerries and one had braid on his lapels indicating he was a Feldwabel (Sgt) and he was screaming orders when he suddenly clutched his neck and fell to remain still.
I suddenly realised I dare not shoot at the others because they had moved and if any of my shots ricocheted I could now hit my own men but the Jerry had had enough and melted into the trees.
Through my scope I could see one of our blokes looking my way with his binocs but judging by the way he was sweeping with them I guessed he could not see me.
I potted at different groups on other occasions.
The ones I upset the most were groups having a rest in the shade and they would have the helmet over the eyes and maybe one would be reading a book, and I would remember him as 'The one with a book'.
The one reading the book had an electric emblem on his sleeve so he could have been a sigs man.
Knock him off and they were isolated from their main unit.
The others would look round at the hills when in the distance they heard a shot and shrug, but it was not until some one spoke to the reader and realised he was never going to finish the story or send or receive any more signals.
I had to work my way back to get more ammo and a change of diet. I had been living on locust beans and was getting sick of them.
Also I wanted a good swim in the sea, I was getting heat or sweat rash, and I had to be just as cautious disengaging from the enemy because a sniper could get behind me.
I got back ok and scrounged some food, had a swim and collected some ammo.
I didn't like going to Greek houses because I realised these people would give food even though they were short of it themselves, so I had to content myself with bully and biscuits or locust beans off the trees.
I also learned the Stuka had come back and demolished some houses where we had been, and some of the people had been killed.
It was heart breaking to see some of these families, who had been isolated for so long, suddenly torn apart by a modern war.
Somebody told me that the Germans in one village had made all the village people walk in front of them as they advanced.
One of our Officers sent a captured German to this force and made it clear that any Germans involved in this practice negated the Geneva code and could expect no quarter to be given if captured.
The practice ceased.
The next day it was a different bloke at the ammo table so I asked for more ammo and I had about three hundred and fifty rounds.
I had two pale brown cloth bandoliers round my waist, one over each shoulder, and one in each Bren gun pouch plus some loose rounds, so the ones over my shoulders I hid further out so I did not have to come all the way back.
350 rounds are heavy when one has to move quietly and quickly.
By the way a cloth bandolier holds 50 rounds.
I did a bit more foraging about half way to and in the general direction of Heraklion and thinned out a few more baddies so to speak, and I would keep coming back to base.
One day I went to the top of a hill and looked over and the views were magnificent.
Because there was a track or rough road into the distance I thought if any one were to come this way they would come along that road.
I made it a regular place to lay and observe the landscape, and on one afternoon I saw dust in the distance and then it went behind a shoulder of a hill.
The haze shimmering in the distance made it difficult to see whatever it was that was moving.
So as always I was patient and waited.
Then a bit later as I watched it appeared again but this time it was round the next hill nearer to me.
Again it disappeared behind a hill, then as I watched the next bit where the road came from behind a hill a bit nearer I saw this motor cycle and side car gradually taking shape as it rounded the base of the hill.
I looked through my scope and could make out a bloke sitting in the sidecar behind a mounted machine gun, he and the driver both had goggles on the driver had a rifle slung over his back.
They were just cruising along as if they own the place, and I thought, "Not yet you don't."
I saw there were a few trees and bushes where they were so I waited because as they drew nearer and clearer they were soon going to be where there was no cover.
I did a quick check round and I was alone under the cover of my favourite bush, so all I had to do was wait.
There was a light air plane somewhere but he was way up high.
Since I was under this bush there was no way he could see me, and now I could faintly hear the engine of the motor bike and it was echoing from the hills so it sounded like a whole mob of motor bikes were coming.
Then I thought, "That's as far as you go Fritz", The picture now filled my rifle scope.
The driver of the motor cycle sort of curled up and fell and rolled over and over making a cloud of dust rise up as the motor cycle continued on its way with the bloke in the side car now trying to reach the handle bars to regain control of the bike.
The bloke in the side car stood up and tried to grab the handle bar to keep the motor cycle on the road and it flashed through my mind when the photographer takes a picture he says "Smile please" and as everyone smiles he snaps the pic.
He stood up I snapped his picture and he collapsed in a heap.
Then sagged and fell out onto the road and because the bottom half of his legs were hooked over the side of the side car he was dragged for about 50 yards.
Then his legs became free and he slid to a halt and was still, while the motor bike careened on
The motor bike kept on going until it veered and left the road. That is how I recall the last of the motor cycle.
Well I think it did, but I'm not sure, because suddenly I got a bang on my tin hat and I saw lots of pretty stars.
Tommy's War Part 9
HOW I BECAME A P.O.W. ON CRETE
On or about the 1st of June 1940, a group of mixed remnants of Regiments, about 200 in all, were on the beach.
Also sheltering amongst the rocks were about a hundred wounded.
I can vaguely remember two Australians taking me to the beach because my head was bloody so they washed me off in the sea according to them.
I was in a sorry state when they found me knocked out with a wound to my head so they assisted me to the beach.
Because Stukers would come over without warning the wounded were hidden among the rocks and caves,
Anyone who could move under his own steam had to forage for food and assist those that could not move because of wounds.
Water was no problem and I was surprised one day when I saw a bloke with water bottles tied round his middle going off to get water from a spring not far away.
We slept on the beach at night.
The reason for this was that the Submarine, if it did come, would not surface in day light because of the Stuka threat.
We had a lookout system organised, also we would sleep within touching distance of the next man, so if the Sub signaled at night the whole mob could be awakened in total silence and be ready to be taken off in small boats.
Sound at night carries a long way, and we were not going to give a roaming sniper a chance to pick us off one by one.
We had a lookout posted on top of a hill and he would signal with his shirt or at night with a torch.
He was a good whistler but if the wind happened to be blowing the wrong way we wouldn't hear him, hence the shirt.
He would let us know if Stukas were approaching or any other hostile bods, he was also a target for a Jerry sniper, when I pointed this out somebody quietly said, "Better one than all of us, and he knows that".
The second day on the beach a group got together and began repairs to a TLC on the beach.
Another TLC was in a cave farther along the beach, it was also damaged.
The Navy boys who had crewed these two TLC's were definitely dis-chuffed at the male organ who had left them behind.
" Na mate ahm tellin' yer" said one irate Matlo," when we landed on the beach on Crete I just 'appened to look back and an' would you bleedin' Adam an' Eve it, the soddin' Destroyer wus 'eadin' fer the bleedin' horizon mate , flat aht e' were an' all."
Some said he did right to get going before the Stukas came, however some days later a Stuka did come and while he was setting himself up to dive on the TLC stranded on the beach all the lads working on it downed tools and ran for cover.
It was just as well because he put a bomb right through the middle of the TLC and it didn't go off but it made too big a hole to repair.
Later the disappointed repair mob scavenged off it what could be used and repaired the one in the cave.
It was loaded with wounded and got back to Tobruk.
There was also a three masted schooner up on the beach and if you have ever seen ants transporting a dead cockroach this is what it looked like, the similarity ends there because this boat was going nowhere.
There were blokes on the end of a rope tied to the front of the boat and they even had rollers under it,
Some were pushing and there was lots of foreign language flying about.
An old Greek bloke was talking to me and I didn't have a clue what he was raving on about till a little lad maybe six or seven came running up to us and talked to the old man.
The old man pointed at me then the boat then the water and I thought he was blaming me for trying to nick his boat.
Then the little boy had a go at me, him I could make some sense of.
It appeared the boat had been beached some years ago with a view to repairing some of the hull, to quote the little lad, "Boat no swim, on sand too long, big hole in bottom, not good, goodbye.
"I said "Thanks and goodbye" and they left.
The little boy with his hand covered by the old man's fist, I think it was his Grandad,
I shouted "Thanks" again, and the lad turned his head and shouted, "Soright" and waved then they were gone. I wondered where he had learned his English.
Soon it got dark and all that could be heard were the waves pounding on the beach, sometimes the beach can be a very lonely place.
Came the night and we got down to sleep on the beach when with a roar a big aircraft flying low went over and we waited for the whistle of bombs but instead he signaled with a light but nobody was quick enough to read it,
Then it seemed the last contact with our own people was gone and I accepted the fact we were now stranded on this Island and in no shape to offer resistance to a superior force.
Also if the Germans had seen the aircraft signalling he would guess men were on the beach and it would not be long before we got unwelcome visitors.
So we had to keep a sharp look out all the time.
In the morning light every one had red-rimmed eyes through staying alert and peering into the gloom.
The next day a group went round with a hat and the spiel was, 'We are going to buy a sheep from the man up the road, he has two."
Someone piped up, "Why don't we just go and take both?"
Major McNab 1st A&SH said, "Because we are not brigands, we pay for one if he agrees, the man has already been approached and he needs to keep the other one for his family".
"Also" continued Mc Nab, "Since I appear to be the senior Officer here I would like to make one thing clear"
"We are no longer a unit and it is every man for himself, and those who wish to take off can do so, but I will remain with the wounded and try to negotiate with the Germans on their behalf should they find us before our people do, which I doubt since they will not risk sacrificing a Destroyer to rescue a handful of men."
To me that was like the knell of doom.
We had no rations as such so each man had to forage for himself.
Most trees that bore fruit had long since been stripped.
Even the bony dry locus beans had all gone from the trees.
We would not invade Greek homes because we knew they were struggling to feed themselves.
But one local Greek on realizing our predicament offered us a sheep for free simply because we were fighting for Greece.
Since we had money that was not going to be spent we might as well chuck it all into the bag and let the Greek think all his birthdays had come at once and we accepted his offer of one sheep.
But we would pay him for it.
When the blokes got back with the sheep one of them told me "You should have seen that Greek blokes eyes when we handed over the bag of money for one sheep,
They popped out like organ stops and he insisted there were too many drachma (money) for one sheep and if he got to keep the bag of money we could take both sheep.
We said take the money pushing the bag into his hands we took one sheep and when he understood he nodded vigorously and chanted "Endatcy endatcy", (ok ok), we gathered he was happy with the deal, he said something about now he could buy a new house.
Then the RAF bloke, who had the sheep on a bit of rope asked, "Now what?" to which some wit replied "Why don't you just kiss it goodbye"?
Then an Australian Soldier grabbed the sheep, cut it's throat in the manner we had seen the Greeks use, had it skinned, cleaned and quartered, and into an iron pot with a fire under it.
Any resemblance to the Hansel und Gretal yarn is coincidental, other scroungers put in onions potatoes etc, if it could be eaten it went into the pot.
About mid morning the next day somebody pointed down the beach and in the distance about half a mile two figures were approaching,
Everybody stopped to look because suddenly someone said, they look like Germans"
I had a long barrelled Canadian Ross with a telescopic sight and I lifted it up to take a look to varify they were indeed Germans.
One an was Officer and the other an Orderly who turned out to be an Interpreter, somebody yelled, "Don't shoot, they are carrying a white flag."
When the two reached us the Officer saluted and said "I salute you all not because of military protocol but because you have put up a hell of a fight you are to be admired among fighters,"
"With German Officers you could rule the world", somebody replied, " Wot a load of old cobblers mate!"
The Officer turned to the Interpreter and asked, " Was ist loadofoldcobblersmate?"
The Interpreter shrugged, " Ich weis nicht" ( I know not )
The German Officer then went on to say "I will come back tomorrow at dawn with a company of men and you will be treated as honourable prisoners off war,"
"And as a German Officer I give you my word you will be treated as such."
The voice muttered again, "Yea an' pigs might bleed'n' fly?"
Ignoring the muttered comment the German Officer continued,
"Those of you who wish to continue to fight on in the hills do not have hope, but if that is your wish very well, but you could be shot if you are taken again later" and he added "Crete now is all ours".
When he had gone Major McNab said "I am not going to pull rank on you people but as the Senior Officer here it is up to me to organize some way to minimize casualties,
"Hands up those who have guns?".
A few put up hands some said "But we have no ammo" so our Officer said "OK to put up a fight is out of the question, also we have no food and if Jerry takes us at least the wounded will be looked after, and we have done all we can and now it is in the hands of the Gods"
Those who wish to can go into the hills and survive".
Some left during the course of the day.
McNab told me to get rid of that, pointing to my rifle "Jerry doesn't like snipers, not ours anyway, how much ammo have you got"?
I replied, "Four rounds, a few days ago days ago I had three hundred and fifty".
"You have been busy," he said, "Now go throw it into the sea".
Next morning a Company of Germans arrived.
Most of us with guns had already thrown them into the sea.
So when they collected us they got blokes only, no watches or food only identity tags, and the rags we were wearing.
We had given anything of value to the Greeks.
They fell us in and a Jerry started walking across the front rank counting "Iens zwei drie"
Somebody had a little laugh where upon the Jerry Sergeant asked with a snarl "Warum lauchen sie? (why do you laugh)
One of our blokes said, "Charming" But the German counting us off continued with a stony face and showed no emotion, which made me think of the English Hangman Pierpoint who would adjusted the noose around many a murderer's neck before pulling the lever and sending them through the hole in the floor to have their neck snapped or choke to death.
Most of us kept quiet because we didn't know which way the pendulum was about to swing.
We could have been lined up so the Hun could make a tally then shoot us where we stood.
I was quick to notice that there were no Germans behind us but in front there were four Germans with machine pistols at the ready.
If they chose to shoot us the bullets would not hit their own men.
If the Sergeant now moved out of the line of fire we could have been mown down.
It was a very tense few seconds as the German Officer reached the end of the line counting.
Then he made a note in his notebook and folded it closed and returned it to a top pocket.
Time seemed to suddenly stand still as we waited for the next move.
The Officer barked out an order and the Guards motioned us to turn to out left and we marched off the beach in columns of three.
They marched us off that beach and it was then I sighed a deep sigh as I realized if they were going to shoot us they would not be marching us and we eventually arrived at Heraklion a small town on the coast where another Officer looked us over,
I was picked out along with about nine others who all had bandages on and we were escorted to a building with a sign in German informing anybody interested it was a hospital.
A bloke in a white outfit took off the bit of shirt that had been wrapped round my head for three or four days.
With a lot of tutting and a smile he dabbed some stuff on and said I was very fortunate because now for me the war was over.
There was a putrid smell everywhere.
Burst pipes and rubbish were prevalent and it was an epidemic waiting to hatch in the hot sun.
Then we were marched to Canea.
This was a forced march the full length of Crete since we had already marched from where we had landed at Timbakion
Somebody guessed it was about one hundred and forty miles.
During the march we were rested ten minutes in the hour.
Being an Infantryman and having marched in Palestine on different skirmishes against Syrian bandits and the PLO since early 1939 it did not affect me as it did some others like Clerics, Sigs, and Tank crewmen.
But on a low food diet it makes a big difference, and lack of water now made a difference.
Jerry was also smart because at certain places along the route he had placed a new set of Guards so that every day we had a fresh set of Guards.
The German Paratroops we had fought were like the College type of young man one would expect to meet at public schools in England, educated, good manners,
But the Guards now had changed and brutality took over from orders, now the rifle butt in the back or a savage kick, a fist in the face, and while some who fell by the wayside sometimes a truck picked them up but some were not seen again.
Some blokes took off boots, could not get them back on,
Big open sores etc, some times if a bloke straggled behind the main group he would be kicked to keep up.
This only served to add to his misery and if there was no truck handy and he got too far behind one of the Guards would turn round and to boo's and cat call's shoot him.
We were too tired to care any more, and the thought crossed my mind " Well it's quick".
And the smell of death persisted.
When we arrived at Canea we were locked up in rooms in a building.
I was with about twenty others and looking through the window I could see the sea,
The room looked like a work place but my attention was drawn to a chest of drawers beneath the window, I pulled open one of the two top drawers to find it full of old hand guns,
There was what looked like a double barrel Derringer and a flintlock, lots of bits and pieces of guns and when I stared at these somebody said "For Christ sake shut the bloody drawer before the Guard comes," They could have used this excuse to shoot us, who knows they must have known about the drawer, or did they? We will never know.
Others were locked in other rooms and when on the march we looked to be a thousand strong or more.
Filthy and pathetic.
One thing that stood out during that long week's march was that no matter where one was the smell of death was everywhere.
One of our lads bitten by a snake in the grass he was sitting on during one rest period and he died from lack of attention.
The German Guards offered no assistance to any who fell by the way side and shot any who could not keep up with the main column.
It was bandied about later that the excuse given to the Protecting Power was, "Shot while attempting to escape"
When I was a lad I can't ever remember passing out or feeling faint but since Crete funny things were happening.
One day I was looking at a tall tree and as my eye got half way up the trunk the pattern changed and as I looked up at where the branches should have been and a giraffe was looking down at me,
I glanced down and the roots of the tree were firmly in the ground but when I looked up again there was the giraffe chewing away.
I was taken to another medical place because sometimes I was seeing double like a t/v with bad ghosting.
By the way there are no loose giraffes on Crete.
We were put on Greek fishing boats under heavy guard and discussed with another bloke the possibility of leaving the boat before it got to Greece.
The conversation suddenly changed to sharks and possible prop damage and the chance of being shot in the water.
I lost interest and consoled myself with the fact "There is always tomorrow", and a tour of Germany would not come amiss.
We arrived in Greece and the Camp that had once been an Army barracks was now a POW camp.
Kreigsgefangenen Lager Salonika.
The vermin of this camp had to be seen to be believed.
They all had the same cap badge, skull and cross bones. They were the SS POW Guards.
These animals were recruited from doss houses, brothels, black marketeers, I could go on but I think you get my drift.
Then there were the permanent residents rats, bed bugs, lice, and a lot you could not see in the dark.
I sometimes think about the German Officer on the beach "I giff you my vord as a Chorman Officer" That promise ended when we stepped into Salonika P.O.W. camp.
Most of the time we lay around discussing how to get out, but with an empty belly even this was half hearted.
Then one day an Ox pulling a cart loaded with bread came into the camp and the Jerry rounded up some of us to form a chain from the cart to a building up some steps where the bread was to be stored.
Immediately the conversation turned to lock picking, and if there were any ex circus bods who could imitate flies, to whit, walk up walls and get through cracked windows.
We handed the bread from the cart to the building and we got a rhythm going but now and again as the pace picked up odd loaves would fall under the cart so I got under the cart and passed out these loaves,
Now this cart was a very old world cart in that it had what at first glance looked like a tree trunk running from the back to the front of the cart and between the floor of the cart and the trunk was a gap.
Making sure the Guard wasn't looking I tucked myself into this gap.
Ten minutes later I was out of the camp.
The cart was about a hundred yards from the gate when the Guard on the gate spotted my coat dragging on the ground.
"Halt" then a thudding of feet, the Guard bent and peered under at me and crooked his finger "Los come rous Tommy" He didn't know my name but Jerry calls all Brits Tommy.
I came out and he assisted me back to the gate, I could tell he was a bit dischuffed, because when we got to the gate he kicked me in the back and I was hurled into a group of our blokes who had gathered to see what was happening.
Somebody pushed my head down and said "Quick get to the back of the crowd and take that coat off".
This I did just as a SS officer came running up waving a pistol shouting to the Guard "Where is that man"?
Then I really enjoyed the Guard's discomfort as the Officer stomped up and down screaming at him.
There were quite a lot of words so I don't think, "Dumkopf" would cover the conversation.
One day I joined a group blokes, well I didn't sign anything but they were going into this drain so I decided I would also nick off with them.
We got down into this hole which turned into a concrete pipe about thirty inches across, wide enough to crawl down but one could not turn round in it.
We got so far along it when all movement stopped, there were cries of "Move it, what's the hold up" and God knows how many were down that hole.
It was stifling hot and smelly there was refuse on the bottom and sides of the tube, slime every where and it crossed my mind even in a situation like this blokes can make fun of a situation that could suddenly become very dangerous.
The air was so foul and if Jerry decided to fire down the pipe he did not have to aim, ricocheting bullets would do terrible damage also if anybody was hit Jerry would probably not bother to get them out, just leave them in the pipe to die.
Then somebody passed the word back we can't go any further there is a blockage, someone else said "Keep your voices down Jerry will hear us".
So we began inching our way backwards and as we were getting out of the hole we were spotted.
Four of us were first bundled into a small compound of wire by the irate Guards and the next day the sun seemed to be extra hot all that long day,
No water and no food, and we were covered in slime from the sewer the smell was so bad the only consolation I got was the Guard had to move from his shady place every time the wind shifted.
I cannot remember how long they kept us there but I found myself alone in a black dark room, there was just a grey thread of light under the door.
Some times it would brighten then I would hear footsteps.
I don't know how long I was in this room,
It seemed a very long time, then the light under the door got bright and footsteps came but went by and I heard a door being unlocked then more footsteps a door banged shut, the light under the door dimmed and I was left in the quiet dark again.
I must have dozed because all of a sudden there was a noise like a fight going on voices were raised now and then a thud, a moan, then quiet.
Then it would start all over again. This went on for a long time.
It was very quiet for a long time, perhaps half a day.
I didn't know if it was night or day, in fact I was now spending most of my time walking along a wall made of glass blocks.
It seemed to reached to the sky in any case one could not climb it there were no footholds and it was too slippery, I walked miles to find a door through it but to no avail.
So I would turn and walk miles in the opposite direction but could find no door.
Then I would think I ought to be going the other way.
The light under the door brightened and this brought me back to earth, footsteps, the key rattled, and the door opened and I was half dragged to a room where a Jerry was sitting behind a table, I was asked things like "Who was going to hide you"?
I gave my name rank and number.
"Where were you going"? Who organised the attempted escape"? and so on.
I was told later while this was very brave and proper it was also very stupid, people like the SS only react to this line by beating the daylights out of you.
I also think it is a human quirk, also, this was a good chance to get their own back, because we wiped out the cream of their Para troopers on Crete.
Four thousand killed or missing, two and a half thousand wounded, sometimes one wonders how does one go missing,?
What I mean is one can understand a chap taking cover in a shell hole, and getting blown up by the next shell? I'm thinking stuff this for a game of soldiers I'm off, but when some unhappy bloke is dangling from the end of a bit of string attached to a chute, he has no place to hide, and the answer is simple, most of the Para's had grenades stuck in their boots, in their belts, and any other place that was handy.
Trouble was a lot of the grenades were being hit.
There would be a puff of smoke, the unhappy Jerry would just disappear, and the now empty chute would drift in the breeze and gently fall to earth.
Now HE is missing in action.
One of these brave interrogators had a two foot long piece of rubber pipe like bit cut off an air compressor hose, and would smash it against the back of the knee, elbow, across the face, any where were it would hurt most.
He would beat on a prisoner until the bloke collapsed and was out for the count.
Fortunately by this time one is passed caring, and the louts realize this and take a rest.
One bloke suggested to me later they used the rubber hose so as to leave no marks on their victims for the Red Cross to see, and I queried, if so, then why didn't they wear wellies and rubber gloves when endeavouring to kick someone to death?
The Red Cross were not aware that you exist until you are allowed to notify them.
I came to aware of of itching and a very dry mouth, I hurt all over, when I moved clouds of bedbugs scurried over the floor.
I dusted most of them off my clothes but in doing so I squashed a lot of them and they stunk, I was covered with so many bites I thought I had measles.
My chest hurt when I moved but as I looked around I discovered I had company, there was a bloke lying on the floor and as I was he also was surrounded by bed bugs in fact he looked like an ant heap absolutely crawling with red ants.
The floor looked like planking tongued and grooved it looked like it had been a barrack room.
But at this time it was empty except for this bloke and myself.
I tried talking to him but his back was to me and I could hear him wheezing as he breathed.
The floor was filthy, bits of paper lay around a window was open because beneath the window on the floor was a small scattering of leaves.
I must have fallen asleep or passed out again because two blokes where carrying me in an overcoat and I opened my eyes and when I saw the beautiful blue sky with fleecy clouds I thought Jerry had done it and the next stop was Heaven.
Then I was aware of the two blokes carrying, me I asked about the other bloke on the floor, somebody said "He was dead when we found you, we thought you were too".
"Mabye that's what Jerry thought"?
I have wondered could t other chap have died from loss of blood, there were an awful lot of bed bugs.
Well it was just a thought.
We were eventually taken to a Railway yard in Salonica and loaded into horse box wagons.
It will save a lot of time at this point if I ask you to look at the film Von Ryan's Express
Now the part where all the prisoners are loaded on and a Guard sat on the roof of each wagon is just the same.
But we did not get to take over the train.
We stopped at Belgrade and were given soup and a piece of bread and I was a bit surprised at its size, about four thick slices,
The Jerry with the megaphone said, "Don't eat it all at once there will be no further rations for this journey the next food will be at your destination Luckenwald in Germany.
So we set off and the problem then arose where to hide the bread.
If one went to sleep one could wake up with none.
I gave it some thought and decided if I eat two slices now and don't go to sleep, I can eat two slices tomorrow and go to sleep then with nothing to worry about.
And the next day can look after itself.
But I did fall asleep and my bread was still in my pocket.
I happened to glance through the wire encrusted window when I woke and in the distance a big sign informed us we were passing ZAGREB.
We also came to hate body lice, friction sores because of travelling in swaying wagons, and dirty clothes, everybody had dirty clothes.
Eventually the train did stop and this time we got out.
I would like to just mention that sometimes when it had stopped before at times, it was because it had to be side tracked to let a Military train or Goods Train go by.
And then sometimes we would be sitting there for hours.
It was hot and smelly.
However eventually we arrived at a P.O.W. camp and found it to be full of French P.O.W.
Almost immediately someone yelled, "Line up".
We were marched past a French bloke who had a ladle and he was dishing out soup and a slice of bread to each man, I have never ever tasted soup like it, The French certainly know how to tickle the taste buds.
But I think when you are really hungry a raw potato tastes like ice cream.
So this was Luckenwald, P.O.W. Lager. " Welcome to Germany I thought"
A lot went on in that Camp, we got to wash our clothes and have a shave and a shower.
I remember there was a Guard in the room with us, and somebody said, "If he makes a move for the door we go out with him, don't let him lock us in".
We had heard rumours of some people being gassed, we also had a photo and finger tips and thumb prints taken, this was stuck to a type written sheet where there was the name rank and number of each individual.
The next day we were issued with a slice of bread and a teaspoon of sugar also a piece of cheese the size of four sugar lumps.
The cheese was like a cake of chalk covered with a solution that looked and smelled like the glue we used to mend bike punctures with back home.
Also each man was issued with a voucher for soup, it was about the same size as a bingo ticket but it was divided into days of the week inc Sunday by perforations, so there was Montag, Deinstag, Mittwock, Donnerstag, Fritag, Sunarbend, Suntag.
The last square had the date on it, so if you lost your ticket it was goodbye grub.
Usually if you were genuine the other blokes would give a spoon full each to make up the lost ration, but it did not happen very often believe me.
The next day was the same except instead of the teaspoon of sugar we got a teaspoon of marmalade, and so on.
One day there was a buzz going round and sure enough we got red cross cards to fill in to send home, Name, Rank, Number, and now another number POW 12244.
Somebody then made a comforting remark "Well that's good, now when somebody gets shot the Red Cross can inform the next of kin".
We were issued with what looked like kippers, somebody remarked "Cor don't they remind you of somebody" another voice said "Sorry, but Jeeves forgot to put my deodorant out this morning
when I had my bath!"
I had blacked out a couple of times in the rail wagon and one day when I fell flat on my face on roll call parade, I was taken to the Camp Hospital where the German Doctor fumed, why had I not been treated before this.
I was treated for three damaged ribs, a bone in the neck was chipped, I had pleurisy due to lung lining damage.
I also had a broken jaw, the Doc suggested when I was hit on the head on Crete my head was whipped round so quick it dislocated my jaw then when I fell that's what broke it.
I can't remember how long I was in that place, but it was not unpleasant.
One day a group of us was taken to the railway station and we boarded a train.
We had to stand in the isle, the train was full and to my left sitting were a group of Hitler youth about six of them.
As I glanced toward them the nearest youth maybe seventeen years old stared at me.
Then said something, and he now had the attention of his mates, and still staring he mimed picking bugs off his shirt, dropping them on the floor then grinding his boot on then.
They all had a laugh at this.
I kept my gaze fixed on him and he finally looked away, when he did look back again as I guessed he would I still was looking at him.
He finally went pink in the face and looked uncomfortable.
I left it at that and turned my back to them for the rest of the journey.
Don't push it I thought.
We got off that train and waited in the lee of the station house wall because there was a biting cold wind blowing.
One of our blokes had got a fag from somebody but he had no way of lighting it.
Near us was a German Civilian he looked like an Office walla.
Our bloke strolls over and asks "Haben sie fire bitte"? (light please) the bloke scowled back and refused and our bloke said "Remind me never to come here for a holiday" "Miserable turd!"
We got on the train without further ado and when we got off the Guard said now we march to the camp, and we did, somebody said lets show these back studs how to march, and we did.
All the way to the camp, I think we could have given the Grenadier Guards a run for their money. Anyway the Guard had a smile on his face as we marched into camp, halted, right turned and stood at ease.
This was Stalag 303 near the Village of Teltow.
The Camp Commandant's name was Herr Montag, He would put up no nonsense.
He was a decent enough bloke though and his view on life was the War cannot last forever so if we have mutual respect there would be every chance of us getting home safe at the end of it.
If you imagine this PC screen as a map of the camp then it would be surrounded by a double barbed wire fence, the only exit-entry gate was at top left, the recreation hall and cookhouse complex was across the top, now another double fence ran centre screen across.
There was a gate in this fence just left of centre.
The bottom half of the screen contained all six wooden huts four were filled with POW.
One was used as the camp hospital and one was used as a canteen cum library but as yet there were no books and nothing in the canteen.
From the middle wire to the cookhouse there was a veg patch.
To the right of that was a concrete swimming pool, well actually it was there in case of fire, but as I said before Herr Montag was a decent bloke, and he let us swim in it on Sundays when it was hot weather.
From the middle wire to the gate was the Guards barracks, so there was always a sentry at the main gate with a Guard house backup.
There was a Sentry on the middle gate only at night.
About 200yrds across the road and some tall grass was a Railway shunting yard.
About half a mile further and we could see the Village.
If one walked from the Railway on the main road one took the first left and one came to our camp, but if one were to carry on up this lane another 500yrds one would arrive at a Political prisoners camp.
Now and again almost every day we became aware of bodies being brought out and dumped in a large hole in the ground.
We did not work on a Sunday.
On one Sunday I heard, "Ayeup what goin' on over there then".
At the opposite side of the camp to the Railway was a slight hill.
Its top could be seen over the roofs of our buildings, and running like mad was a scarecrow of a man, he had escaped from the Political camp, his mad dash soon became a stumbling shamble as the incline of the hill took its toll on his painfully thin body.
We were soon all at the wire shouting, "Run you can do it," Soon it was obvious he wasn't going to make it because he fell down and it wasn't long before the Guards reached him and we stood and watched unbelieving as they slowly beat him to death with rifle butts and one man with a piece of four by two inches of wood about three feet long.
We knew he was dead because when the Guard left they left the body lying there.
Half an hour later two blokes in vertical black and white striped pyjamas came with a Sentry and picked up the body and took it back to the pit and tipped it in then with a shovel threw lime over it.
We found out later that when somebody died his mates would say he was sick so they could
collect and share his rations.
In Winter they were lucky, but in summer they could not get away with it for so long, and if the wind was blowing our way we also knew.
Then there was an air raid.
One night we all tumbled out of the barracks to get down into the shelters and as we glanced out past the Guard we could see the searchlights sweeping around looking for a target.
The searchlights picked up a plane high up and all hell let loose, soon I heard zip thud and more hissing and thuds until suddenly I realised it was shrapnel coming down all over the place.
The Guard also woke up and we all dived under cover, somebody said make room for the Guard.
Somebody else said "Stuff im 'e's gor a tin 'at on an' we ain't".
There was a big explosion and we thought it was so close the Cookhouse was gone.
But next morning we learned it had mown down a huge circle of grass and pieces of shrapnel had scythed through our Hospital and it killed one of our blokes in his sick bed.
But the rail shunting yard was a mess, there were rail lines pointing at the sky, one still had wooden sleepers hanging off it, buildings had been blown away, and part of a signal arm was found at the other side of our camp.
It was mid winter so the powers that be decided it would be a good time to dredge a stream under a bridge.
So we got on the train for a few miles got off and walked to where this bridge was, a Jerry Civvy came and unlocked a wooden hut and issued us with rubber thigh boots, then a long handled bull nosed shovel and explained that he wanted us to go into the water.
"How do we go into the water some one asked"?" same way as you got here dummy, put one leg in front of the other and if you are as stupid as you look you'll fall over.
"But there's thick ice on the water" complained the winger, After about an hour of pantomime we still didn't understand, "Nix verstehen " "Nix compri".
Then the Guard put a round up the spout and pointed his rifle at us and suddenly it all became very clear.
So with out more ado we broke the ice and entered the water.
One thing I learned very quickly was don't touch any metal with your bare hands, if you did, you're skin immediately stuck to it, it was freezing.
And if you complained of the cold and tried to get out the guard would push with his rifle so you had to stay in.
I discovered by working faster I could raise my body heat so the blood to my feet was that little bit warmer plus I had wrapped my feet in rags, this worked in my favor, or so I thought?"
Some of the lads who had only the rubber boots on got frostbite and lost toes, one bloke lost his foot on one leg and all his toes on the other.
We sent a deputation to the camp Commandant.
The Guard was transferred to another camp, I think what swung it was a Lady who lived nearby the bridge saw our plight and made some hot erzats coffee but when she brought it out to us the Guard said, "Nein" ( no) he also told her to go away and not come back.
Perhaps she rang up and protested.
Anyway the Commandant informed us that job could be resumed come summer when the weather would be warmer.
The food and soup was usually served round about six when all work parties got in.
The Camp Interpreter who was also a P.O.W. told us that there would be cakes in the canteen also drinks, starting next week, there were loud hoorahs and roll on next week.
When next week arrived there was a queue a mile long outside the canteen.
Then we found out the drink was a rough apple cider, sour to taste and gave some blokes belly pains.
The cakes turned out to be cakes of soap, it was like candle wax mixed with sand, but it worked, after a fashion.
We found out the soap was being made at a political camp and guessed it was body fat so we refused to use it, eventually all the boxes of soap began to overflow in the canteen so Herr Montag had them all taken away.
We never got another issue of that particular soap again in that camp.
A notice was put up one day informing us that since we had been such good boys the Camp Commandant had arranged with one of the local village elders to put on a film show for us.
"Oh goody I hope its Betty Grable" and other such comments.
Sunday afternoon we were all assembled in the recreation hall and waited and waited and waited, finally the Camp Commandant came in and said "Sorry Gentlemen, I got the wrong Sunday" 'It's next week".
The next week we were there again and we were told the bloke with the film had a bad cold.
A lot of Betty Grable fans trundled back to their barracks.
We did finally get to see a film, but it was a dreary old comedy in German so nobody could understand it, but we pretended we enjoyed it.
After all, the Camp Commandant didn't have to go out of his way for us.
The next job three of us got, was to walk to the Village with a Guard and he went to a shed at the back of this Pub next to the Railway Station.
He came back with a saw and some rope and pointed to a tree that had a branch that looked like it was going to grow straight through one of the bedroom windows of the Pub.
I got up the tree, tied the rope on then began to saw through the branch.
The window suddenly slid open and out popped the head of a pretty blond girl, Gawd !! this was even better than the movies I thought.
She shouted down to the Guard and he nodded and smiled and said "Ya ya".
I nearly fell out of the tree as she smiled at me sweetly withdrew her head and closed the window.
Up to now all girls I'd ever known always said, "No!, me Mam wouldn' t like it"
And I would ponder, "Well I don't really fancy your Mam that much either, so just forget it"
With the branch cut and safely on the ground we had just got tidied up when the blond girl came out with what looked like four stubbies of beer, she put them on the table with another of those sweet smiles turned and disappeared back into the pub, it was only then did we all, and the Guard included, tear our gaze from the closed door that had chopped off our view of the pretty rear end rhumbering across the Pub's courtyard.
The Guard changed the points in my brain just then because he gave me a friendly nudge with his elbow and said "Shoene vas" ( pretty yes,) I agreed.
The label on the bottles informed us it was Kinderbrot Beer.
After that things got a bit mundane, we did however get one or two lighter moments like when a Guard came in to each room inquiring if there was anyone interested in rabbits, one answer he got was "We all are if they are in a pie".
Another was "Keep your rabbits but could we have some dancing girls instead"?
He looked at us a bit shocked and said "What do you want with dancing girls"?
To which came the reply "Cor, don't yore Dad tell you nuffink?" and "There wouldn't be a lot of dancing done "
Some work parties would walk down a lane behind a small row of houses and passing one back garden we noticed a young woman doing some gardening, now we all knew fratting with the enemy was a very, and I do mean very dicy game.
However this did not deter one young Irish hopeful.
It all started with that pretty smile again, then it moved on to passing little notes.
They did it like this.
The Guard was always up front and us walking along in three ranks, the Irish bloke always made sure to be in the rank nearest the wall, and as we walked past the bottom of that particular garden he waited till she was looking then threw the note into her garden.
Since the note had a stone wrapped in it and it landed not too far away from her she did a quick look round then picked it up and put it in her pocket.
There were a few reprimands from the other blokes when they saw what he was up to.
"Bloody fool, you know she will shot with you if you are caught".
But love is blind? also because they weren't Robert Taylor types I think maybe it was a bit of sour grapes, envy, whatever?
Anyway they refined their postal system until not even we could see what was happening.
Well, not without making a point of watching.
The love notes were written in German by who else but the POW camp Interp and when Irish got an answer the Interp would translate for him
out loud and all the internees of the barracks was drooling.
By now Irish was madly in love and didn't seem to care if he did get caught.
Well they do say love is blind, en at!
Then after weeks and weeks of misery God switched the light on for him.
"I want to see the camp Commandant" he told the Interp.
"You are mad" said he, but Irish said, "ssssss" in his ear.
They both went to the Camp Office and it was agreed that Irish escorted by a Guard could go out into the woods to forage for rabbit food for the camp Commandant's pet rabbits.
Irish said he loved rabbits so much that he gave his word he would not attempt to escape.
We all agreed certain rabbit habits were beginning to rub off onto Irish.
Then Lady Luck in the guise of The Red Cross stepped in.
We got one parcel between two men, it was like Xmas had come early, so now Irish had some ammo to further his cause.
He told us that when he went to get rabbit food that Sunday with the Guard, he took out of his pocket a bar of chocolate broke a bit off and watched the Guard drool.
After a while he gave the Guard a bit of the chocolate.
The next Sunday he gave him a whole bar of choc and told him "For your wife, but don't tell any body," the Guard agreed.
He was also hooked, now Irish let his girl friend know where he would be every Sunday afternoon.
So now every Sunday afternoon the Guard and Irish would go to the wood.
The Guard would pocket a unopened tin of coffee worth about six months pay on the black market, he would sit quietly at the edge of the wood and wait for the return of the happy wanderer.
Irish would go into the gloom of the wood for half an hour or more and perhaps a bit longer and return flushed and happy with a bag full of rabbit food that to an observent person would have taken about five minutes to gather if he was impatient enough.
I lost track of Irish after a while, the only sad thing I thought was Irish was wed and the girl's husband was in Russia, so it could not have a happy ending.
Come to think of it Walt Disney's Snow White was a lot better.
I took some of the empty tins (ex Red Cross) and by joining them together made a boat, one of the Guards said he had an old gramophone I could have if I would make a boat for his son.
I now had a motor for my boat, all the other boats I made had sails.
Can you imagine a nice summer day sitting by a pool watching blokes racing each others model boats, the Commandant and some of the Guards got caught up in the spirit of the meet and I was complemented on my ingenuity.
I thing the Guards were bored, but now even they would join in.
Soon, the enthusiasm of this sporty event was not lost on some of the punting fraternity, little cards were being erected round the pool declaring Big Fred or Lucky Norm would give 4 to 1 on number five.
My boat was clockwork, the other boats were sail and while they could really move sometimes and reach the other end of the pool, they could not be controlled once freed to go.
If I set the rudder the boat would go to the other end, albeit slowly.
Call it sour grapes if you wish but I thought it was pay back time for some of these punters who were giving some of the lads a hard time.
Cum Sunday and I told some of my mates I would remove the governor from my boat and the boat would streak to the other end of the pool.
Put all your fags on it, I gloated.
Well, I think some of the other lads got wind of it, so lots of fags changed hands and a great air of excitement prevailed round the pool, also I noticed there were a lot more blokes round the pond.
Ready, get set, go, all the boats were away.
The sailing boats looked very pretty as they set off across the pond.
My boat was a disappointment, for a second the prop churned the water to a froth the boat lurched forward then as the prop got a grip of the water the reaction turned the boat on to its side and it sank.
I thought I'd get it tomorrow.
I never did.
There was talk of "Chuck him after his bloody boat", but they soon drifted back to their huts muttering like a lot off disgruntled ducks, thinking about lost cigarettes.
There was an air raid one night, we got one about once a month, one where we actually had to take cover in the dugouts, the dugouts were like slit trenches lined with sheets of straight corrugated iron, another sheet fixed over the top and the whole thing filled over with sand there was a hole in the middle and steps were cut into the sandy soil with bits of wood to stop them collapsing when it rained.
One time I was amongst the first in and sometimes you could get a snapshot because Jerry fired something called flaming onions and as they lit up the sky so you could have a quick shufti at your surroundings which before was black as ink.
I found that with a little effort I could move the corner of the metal sheet and after a whispered confab pressed it back.
When the all clear sounded and we got back to our beds there were exited whispering going on about how far was the wire to the air raid shelter and if a tunnel came up outside the wire which sentry box was nearest.
So once all the relevant intelligence had been fed to the escape committee after about a month of pretending to be Sherlock Holmes, well you couldn't go up to one the Jerries, come to think of it that name fits, well most of them are lavatories anyway, you could not go to Jerry and say "er exuse me Hans," I would have preferred to call him Dick but Hans sounds more German, " But that grassy patch near #4 tower that reaches from the air raid shelter to the wire we were thinking of putting in some potatoes and maybe some beans in could you tell us how long
it is "?.
I will not dwell on that because I can remember the long nights staying awake waiting for an air raid and thinking all Jerry's were Dicks anyway, or at least the female equivalent, then I thought about how the sand transported from the hole was pathetic.
Having bent the metal just enough to scrape sand out we now had to use a peg to keep it back in it's original position.
Jerry made good use of Ferrets.
These were usually somebody who had been wounded and had a working knowledge of another language.
For a French camp the Ferret would be a Jerry with a second language in French, our's had a second language in English and if we knew he was listening we would break into Indi or Arabic, some Welsh blokes used Welsh and used to taunt the hell out of him.
Sometimes on the train you would get a lot of fun watching some of the smart looking civvies, if you were discussing something you could spot straight away if he was listening.
"Oh I know where you mean" this was the signal to set the ball rolling. "I thought they pulled that place down" and if they were having a drink from a flask you waited to come out with the punch line, "Na they're building wings for Spitfires now, sometimes they stopped in mid gulp and made a choking noise.
"You'll be ok in a minute mate "Somebody would grin at him "Just take a few deep breffs."
Some used Cockney slang to good effect.
The people I had no time for and most were above the rank of private were the people who would make remarks like "Well I've done my bit I can sit here till its over", I don't think I heard it ever from a regular soldier.
My view was I was still a soldier and my pay would not stop until I was dead.
My motto was stuff the Germans. It still is.
And a lot of this bulls**t 'Forgive and forget' is not on in my book, they will try it on again one way or the other.
If and when I got the chance to do some thing useful to stuff up the Germans I did it.
We only come round this way once.
For instance, on a work party near a rail siding, call to the Guard with a bit of pantomime clutching ones middle call out "Pingle pause Postern,"(Toilet break, Guard) he would wave and shout "Ja ja"and continue looking at a dirty book.
Once round behind the wagons I would lift the lid on an axle box and scoop most of the grease out, then fill it with sand and gravel and whack as much grease in to hide it.
Then I would wipe my hands on the grass and emerge adjusting my clothing, then get as far away from that spot as I could.
I must have done this a total of thirty to forty times over about eight months, others did it too, I wasn't alone, I would have been if I'd been caught.
But when young etc.
By the way all German rail engines had Rader Mussen Rollen fur den Sieg (Wheels must roll for victory) painted on the side of the tender (that's the bit immediately behind the engine with coal in it) some of these wheels were due for a rest.
The stub end of an axle on a goods wagon goes into the axle box and it turns round inside two white metal castings.
To make these castings requires just a little more heat than is used to melt lead, so the wagon would not get far before the sand would cause friction and friction creates heat.
The metal melts and leaks out of the axle box, when this happens the wagon starts to bounce.
The coupling can snap that means the train is cut in two and if on an incline it can stop then roll the other way.
If another train is coming he can't get out of the way in time.
The wagon could jump the rails and it would drag all the following rolling stock with it.
Half of a white metal casting was half brick in size. Two put together made a complete bearing.
Another work party I worked for was Lenz & Weber Baugeselshaft.
On this party I was the Interpreter
The old Gaffer had been in the First World War.
So too had the head Bricklayer.
The head Bricky proudly opened his jacket to show the label, "Made in Manchester England "
"Ja I vos in England erst var as prisoner I was cald und vet, (cold , wet,)
The Gaffer and I got on well together.
He would rant on and I would nod or shake my head, somebody took pity on him one day, he was filling this old pipe with dried daisy heads and this bloke, one of our bods who also had a pipe, pulled out a tin of Digger Flake and took the pipe off the old bloke, he reamed out the daisy heads and stuffed it full of Digger Flake and handed it back, the old boy lit up inhaled and "Shizer, opium"? he gasped then he had to sit down because it made him giddy.
The Old Boy always called me Freidrich,"
All day I had to guess what he wanted when he spoke, actually body language helped mostly. I think some of the lads knew as much German as me but I was dumb enough to think I was smarter than they were.
Or they were smart enough not to get involved?
We built, or rather the Jerry old blokes were building a complex with concrete and bricks.
It looked like a small house, and next to it was a huge square hole where it turned out a twenty foot square of concrete was to be poured.
We threw tools into the wet concrete and poked them under while the Germans were busy stuffing their faces at lunch time.
The Guard searched each of us at the end of work time when we fell in to go home, we stopped doing this particular practice when we found the old bloke was getting a rough time from his Boss plus it really did not effect the war effort anyway.
Then we found out what the concrete was for, it was the foundation for a crane which would load Loco's with coal from a bunker.
So it was on again, little old ladies were not going to live in this house and sit watching trains go by, it was the control cabin for this complex that would water and coal engines on the railway. Somebody sneaked a look at the plans on the table in the hut held down by a brick so the wind didn't blow them away.
So we had a heads together, " Yea let's do it"
Well one day it was presented to us like the proverbial Xmas turkey.
Measuring took place, sticks were hammered into the ground.
A Jerry bloke came out with a spyglass on a tripod and when he got it set up and looked though it two of our blokes got in front of it put their arms round each other and pretended to be two shy girls fluttering their eyes at the camera.
The old Gaffer laughed, the bloke with the apparatus had no sense of humour, the Guard just scowled.
Then we noticed a bloke holding a pole up with numbers on it and the bloke with the spyglass
waved him a little bit this way then back a bit so to add to the confusion two of our blokes got a long plank and walked in between them then stopped and argued.
Meanwhile the bloke with the spyglass is doing his nut because he can't see the numbers on the pole.
String was finally attached to the sticks so if you can imagine a twenty feet slab of concrete in the ground and about three yards away from it and going all the way round it were two lines of strings.
At the corners where they crossed each other they formed a square about three feet square.
The locals were in the cabin at midday, busy scoffing huge wads of meat sandwiches.
So we moved the string, nothing haphazard, we got a bit of stick and moved each string six inches further out.
From then on we pondered what we had done, till someone came up with the magnificent idea.
On the train sometimes would be French blokes who worked all over the place, they did not have Guards maybe they were pro German, who cares, but what mattered was we could scrounge off them or barter Frog ciggies.
They were shocking to smoke, anyway the idea was to cut them into short stubs which were lit then put out.
If suddenly we were searched these were ignored but when the time came we put some of these round the building site.
It looked to the Germans as if The French Underground movement had struck again.
The name of those ciggies by the way was SWEET CAPAREL in a blue packet and packaged just like American camel cigs.
By the way if you knew why they had that particular brand name you would cease smoking forthwith.
Come to think of it the Frog cigs used to rip your throat out as well.
Someone suggested that Russian cigs were dried budgie droppings ground up and mixed with red pepper to hide the aroma only trouble with those if you forgot to pinch the tube in two or three places you wouldn't have to wait for lung cancer, you could quite easily choke to death on the spot.
The effort we put into this project bore fruit,
On the top of the concrete block another was made and on top of this they would mount a crane.
Now the brickies set to and at each corner of the concrete about tree feet away (plus our added six inches), were four footings of concrete where they built up four columns, when these were finished a steel girder was to be fitted to the main concrete and rest on these pillars.
Well said the Boss with a puzzled look "I don't understand how they could be so stupid to make these girders short."
That afternoon was like going to see The Three Stooges.
The people who had supplied the steel were there, the bloke who had drawn the plans was there, the Gestapo were there, they glared at us, and they wanted a stooge because we were handy, but the old man wouldn't have any of it.
It was obvious he stuck up for us, and it was just as well, because a lot of sabotage was going on in our area and they could not find somebody to shoot.
Then one Jerry a bit brighter than the others pulled out a big leather bound tape measure, he had a quick squiz at the drawing and went round all the columns then started screaming at the old man.
One of the Gestapo glared at one of our blokes as he pushed passed him, he had plenty of room but it was obvious to us he wanted blood and he made a point of pushing him out of the way.
We had had this kind of treatment before and there was no way one of us was going to fall for it, and it fizzled out.
To get round the discrepancy for which we were to blame, Jerry dug out one side of each column, then got some big wooden levers and ho heaved the columns to a new position so the iron girders would now fit.
Then they put the earth back behind the columns and stomped it in with his foot somebody remarked "Now we know were we got the term, Jerry Building"
About a quarter of a mile away was a Factory and you would not believe the security.
Towers, Patrols, Dogs, we were interested in this factory because it was Daimler Benz.
With the security they had we decided they could carry on making what ever they wished.
Then one day a train went roaring past and somebody shouted look at that, smoke was streaming from one wagon as it sped past us.
Later that after noon I asked the Guard "Pingle pauser bitte?" (leak)
"Ja ja" quaffed the Guard motioning with his hand to some bushes.
As I walked over the line I picked up tear drops of white metal that had melted and dropped from the smoking wagon's axle box and onto the sleepers and metal support of the lines.
I put them in my pocket.
These I saved till I had enough to make useful things like spoons, cap badges, keys etc.
To melt the metal I made a small blower..
This was made from a Canadian Klim dried milk tin, and indeed was a blacksmith's forge in miniature.
I could boil a dixie of water to make tea in a matter of minutes.
Cries of make me one, make me one, soon the ablution block would have smoke pouring out of the windows and any one going in for wash or to shave would come out coughing and wiping eyes.
The first time we lit up Jerry came running he thought the place was on fire, we politely told him to "f--k off " we were making morning tea.
There was a Sergeant from a Welsh regiment who resided across the passage with nine other bods.
He got permission from the camp Commandant to go up into the rec hall when everybody got in from work and had had their nourishing soup.
I must tell you about the soup here cos if I don't I may forget.
It's no big deal but it gives you a clue how like an animal one can once there is adversity.
Each room had a dixie, the dixie is an oval shaped container on which there is a clamped lid.
It had a handle to carry it with.
It was big enough to hold soup for twenty people, so, since we were ten men to a room, the dixie would be half filled, and when the whistle blew to let us know it was trough time, you could if you weren't a dancer get knocked off your feet.
The Camp town races or Dixie rush, take your pick.
Somebody leaning against his bed drawled "You'd thing Betty Grable was on the front lawn doing a strip the way some of these blokes carry on "Well ah mean, what must Jerry think"?
At first it was like that, then it got sneaky,
It started with this cockny bloke, Thomps.
He was always laid on his bunk reading a book.
He had on thick glasses, he was a dodger, (bludger) what I mean is everybody either washed windows when necessary or swept the floor, he did nothing.
At home he probably lived in a pig pen.
I don't know where or how he got them, but he seemed to have an unending supply of apples.
When it was quiet at night all one would hear was a suddenly waaaaaaark.
If you were quick enough you would see him lowering his leg, scrruncch chomp -chomp-chom.
I don't know if he enjoyed eating apples all day or if he was just trying to get the room to himself by filling it with foul gas with the hope of driving everyone else to seek residence elsewhere.
Then one day we found out it could talk, "You blokes need a farver figure," he said looking round the room, and his eyes looked like two big gold fish bowls full of mucky watter.
And he continued, "I bin thinkin', that soup, corse I ain't volunteerin' tu fetch it but if somebody used their loaf us cud be be-er off than we are, naw'a'meen".
Making himself comfortable on his bunk he warmed to his task of telling how sneaky one could get.
"Na eres wat yu do" he waffled, "Yer bloke wi dixie waits till there's a queue then he gets in line wi rest on em, savvy, cos them big vats is full o' soup and them idle beggers don't stir em tu much".
"Well ah mean it only common sense if yer think abaht it, first there gets water offen the top, in the middle it gets thicker, but like ah sed, use yer loaf an ger all that thick stuff off 'n bottom."
Some looked at each other and slowly nodded at this brilliant strategy, somebody said quietly "How sick do you have to be to get repatriated"?
But the greedy prevailed and this plan was implemented.
The first time it worked and would you believe it, this Thomps put half of his stew into another tin topped up both tins with hot water then tried to flog off one for cigarettes.
We ganged up on him and he moved to another hut where he continued with his greedy habits.
Trouble was the whole thing back fired on everybody who tried this tactic, you see it was not long before word got round so that now when the whistle blew chow time everybody was hanging back.
Well eventually the Commandant saw what was happening and nipped it in the bud straight away, because without warning one day the whistle blew and everybody hung back and we knew after twenty minutes the gate would be shut and started to drift up to collect the soup.
About fifteen dixies were half filled, that was the correct amount for each room but the last five dixie carriers where informed "Sorry there is not enough soup left, you can have a bit of bread instead."
The following Sunday the camp was searched, then there was a roll call, then the Camp Commandant addressed the assembly, "I am disappointed with you men, normally I would begin a meeting with Gentlemen but today I cannot because you don't act like Gentlemen".
" I will not tolerate this kind of behavior."
"I am aware that some of you did not participate in this venture, but in Germany because you did not stop it, you are all equally guilty."
"I will address you as Gentlemen when you have earned the right to that title".
He had made his point and the atmosphere in the camp now was beginning to be oppressive, "Any body coming for a swim"? ventured one bloke.
"P--s off and drown yersel why do'nt yer", Snarled another.
"Well I on'y arsked "
"You don't have to get your knickers in a twist" and other such niceties were bandied round the room.
And "Weere's that book I lent you Chalky? "
An indignant Chalky White retorted, "Oi aint got yer soddin book, oi puts it on yer soddin flea pit din oi" an if yer can't look arter yer soddin gear don't epect me to, sod off".
I wondered if in peacetime perchance he was a Gardener.
Maybe not, the flowers would wilt, well it is said they do respond to music.
Getting back to the Welsh Sergeant, he wanted to start a Welsh Choir, and as I said before he had got the ok to use the recreation hall, so he gets all these budding Bing Crosby type's and you should have heard the noise that suddenly erupted from the rec hall, one bright bod remarked "Ow can you 'ave a bleed'n' Welsh choir wiv on'y one bleed'n' Welsh man in it?"
Most of the Jerry Guards were on their way to the shelters when they realised it was not an air raid, perhaps somebody was being interviewed by the Gestapo in the rec hall?
Anyway they practiced, and as it turned out one of the better of the tunes was "Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more" to which a visiting Padre remarked "My goodness! they really do sing that rather well don't you think?"
Finally a Guard would collect about ten of us and we were told to parade in half an hour outside the Guardroom.
We sauntered up to the Guard room and sat on the grass, five minutes later this ghost about six foot tall comes out, actually he looked taller because he was slim built, a better word would be gaunt.
He was also very pale, and some one whispered "Ere, that bloke ain't 'ere for long"
He came out of the Guard room rifle slung over his shoulder and what looked like railway warrants which he was stuffing into his tunic.
"Aufstehen" (stand up) he said looking at and counting us.
We fell in, in three ranks, and just as quietly the Guard said "Rech's rum, we turned to the right" "Commando marsh" we marched out of the gate to the Railway Station.
We got on the train and travelled about ten miles then got off and walked half a mile down a lane and came to a field.
A German civilian in a truck that had what looked like a steam boiler on one side arrived with tools.
As soon as he stopped he opened the top of this boiler thing and stuffed a load of wood chips into it.
Then wriggled a little lever at the bottom and a load of ash fell out, so the truck engine ran on gas that came from the wood cooking in the top bit.
How very ingenious I thought.
On Monday we again went to this field down a lane, again this truck turned up, the civvy was a friendly sort of bloke and handing out a pair of shears to me indicated he would like me to go round the field trimming all the hedges
"Nien nien, ein wocke wieliecht" (no, no, perhaps it will take a week) and he chuckled.
The others got tools like a scythe, a rake, some a ball of string to tie up all the clipped branches.
We lost our selves in our work, it was a nice day and I got back ache, I lay on the grass hoping to relieve it the bloke came over and had a smile on his face, "Immer langsam" (don't work so hard).
The others were engrossed in their work.
One was reaping and you could see he was not used to using a scythe, another was following him raking up the clover and hay.
"Mind you don't cut your foot off" to which our wistful mate replied, "I should be that lucky".
"You won't find too many angels in this lot, but they're not a bad crowd."
Then the Guard got a name, one of our blokes yelled "Ayup, where's Lofty?"
We all looked round and somebody said "Well I'll be b-----d there he is" and about quarter of a mile away sure enough was the Guard carrying his food dixie and with his rifleover his shoulder coming toward us.
Behind him about half a mile away was a Factory and Factories have Canteens and Lofty had gone all that way to get stew.
Then we got another surprise the Civvy bloke digs out some old cracked small plates and bent spoons and told us to sit, Lofty put the dixie on the grass and motioned with his hand to get stuck in.
We did, and when one of our blokes asked Lofty if he was having some he gave us to understand he'd had a good lunch at the Factory.
We also found out he had been wounded two or three times, and had been in hospital a long time.
He showed us a photo of his wife and two kids, he was proud of them.
One day as we came off the Railway Station we had to wait because Lofty was having an argument with the ticket collector, we had got through the barrier and were maybe some twenty yards away and we waited.
At another gate were three Jerry Civvy Police and one was demanding people to show their identidy cards, "Auswise cart bitte" they were parroting.
We had with us a bloke called Smith and he fancied himself as a comedian.
"Auswice cart bitte" Squarked Smith, mimicking a parrot.
The Cop nearest to him heard him and came charging over pulling out a pistol.
The Cop would perhaps be fifty years old with greying hair, beer gut, about five eight or nine, and appeared to be in charge of the group.
But he was the typical Nazi bully boy and now he was purple with rage and grabbing one off Smith's arms and twisting upwards he rammed the gun behind Smith's head and was mouthing off in German.
It looked like he was trying to break Smith's arm.
Everybody, including civilian passengers stopped and waited for the bang, the ticket collector and Lofty turned to see what was happening and immediately Lofty came running.
Lofty shouted to the Cop who took no notice and as Smith involuntarily bent forward as if to ease the pressure on his now twisted arm the pistol at the back of his head followed him down.
At this point Lofty suddenly whipped the rifle off his shoulder and with a quick movement of the hand put a round up the spout then stuck the muzzle in the Cop's ear and quietly said "Weg traiten" "yetz" (Walk away, now).
A train in the background was hissing off steam and everyone was very still.
For about ten seconds nobody moved, then Lofty made a jabbing movement in the Cop's ear with his gun muzzle and the Cop suddenly let go of Smith's arm and began to tub his bruised and now skinned bleeding ear.
Smith now on the ground had the common sense to stay still.
The Cop turned to Lofty with the pistol in his hand.
Lofty said something and now had the rifle muzzle tight under the Cop's chin and the Cop suddenly deflated and put the pistol in its holster then Lofty gave him a barrage of words among which were something to do with fighting at the front.
The Cop went bright red and seething with anger turning on his heel went over to his mates.
He was still massaging his ear as he proceeded to give his mates a hard time, maybe because they didn't back him up or perhaps trying to save face in front of his mates.
Only when the civvy Cops were out of sight did Lofty put the safety catch on and put the rifle back on his shoulder.
Then he wagged a finger at us and said "Pass auf" (watch out).
We suddenly slacked off with the mick taking, in so far as Civvy Cops were concerned.
We got another issue of Red Cross parcels, one between two again.
After being on just enough food to do a certain amount of work, this extra food was not only better tasting but it caused, how does one say, well funny 'as in strange things began to happen.
The first night about midnight there was this long rasping noise, ten minutes went by and it sounded like a long long sigh with a full stop at the end, then there was a smell which began to seep round the room.
"Gawd some bugger's gone an' died" an' its night time, an' we can't even open a bloomin' winder.
"I'm going to have a fag.
"S--t, you'll blow us all up". "
Soon some were dropping off to sleep.
Lofty wasn't just a German Guard any more he was one of us, the only difference was he slept in the Jerry barracks and wasn't locked in at night.
Lofty would go to the toilet and his rifle would still be leaning against a tree, nobody would touch it, we had I think, respect for each other.
We could wait and we just wouldn't drop Lofty in it.
We would wait and kill two birds with one escape so to speak when we got a Guard who was a bad egg.
Summer slipped into autumn and all the leaves turned to yellow and brown, blue skies turned to grey and one afternoon one of our blokes was sitting on a pile of leaves wiping his eyes.
"What's the matter mate"? queried one bloke.
"Aw," came the reply, "Me kid's goin' to be growed up when I gets 'ome" 'e won't bloody know me".
I think maybe what switched him on was the fact that snowflakes were falling and memories of Christmas were beginning to surface, it was a time to be with family and your kids if you had any.
Those that didn't had a Mum and Dad. But some of those would be missing for some who got home in one piece to an empty house or no house at all.
Also it was obvious Christmas would be here before it all ended.
Fortunately we had no Clairvoyant with us to tell us we would miss the next three.
Then one Saturday as we were dismissing at the Guard room, having just got in from work, Lofty told us "Morgan ich bin zu hauser gehen".(tomorrow I'm going home on leave).
Immediately there were cries of "How long for" and "Good on yer Lofty" and at the back of your mind is that little niggle, will we get him back?
And what is the next Guard going to be like?
Anyway as soon as we got into our barrack room a suggestion was put forward and carried.
We would all chip in something from our R. C. parcel so that Lofty and his Family could have a good Christmas.
A bloke called Howard went round and negotiated and he collected a bar of Palmolive soap, now you may think "Huh! big deal? a bar of soap'? ?
In Germany in WW2 a bar of Palmolive was worth the equivalent of $100 Aust today.
A tin of coffee would be in the region of $1000 on the black market, so Howard would barter this for that and that for this.
A chap putting in a tin of coffee took out maybe two bars of soap and two blocks of chocolate as change so to speak.
Well this worked out pretty good because we came up with a grand total of a tin of coffee, four bars of chocolate, three bars of Palmolive, a tin of pipe tobacco and a fifty tin of Player's cigs.
And when one considers that the Germans had been drinking roasted ground acorns as coffee the delight of drinking real coffee was like a dream come true. And real scented soap that lathered instead of grease and sand.
Then we got the camp Interpreter to go to the gate with the Camp Senior Officer, (our bloke) and he requested to see the Camp Commandant.
They were escorted to his Office and the Senior Brit Officer (our bloke) asked if we could give Lofty and his family this parcel.
The Commandant frowned.
"It is not customary for POW to give presents to Guards, especially since none come even close to resembling Lilly Marlene, I only wish I could be so popular with my own men, however that is neither here nor there, of course you may".
And wagging a forefinger at them accompanied by a wry smirk he continued "But only because it will soon be Christmas."
He asked his batman to fetch Lofty.
"You may hand it to him personally" he said to our bloke.
Our bloke muttered "He's only getting a parcel, and not being bluddy Knighted by the King."
Lofty came in and our bloke handed him the parcel and said through the Interpreter "For your kids Lofty" have a good Christmas and if we don't meet again, good luck".
That bloke had the wrong job and he should have been a prophet.
The next day was Sunday some blokes were doing their washing, others just lazing or appeared to be lazing around.
In a POW camp you never know when the lid is going to blow off.
However somebody walking round the wire suddenly piped up "There goes Lofty" and there he was on the out side of the wire on the way to the Railway Station.
Someone yelled "Aufweidersehen Lofty" somebody else called "Let's hear it for Lofty, fo-or he's a golly good fellow, he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fe-elow and so say all of us, hip,hip,ra hip,hip, ra hip,hip,ra
Lofty turned and waved and held up his parcel, and a gruff voice said "B----r me, he's cryin"
We drifted from the wire in ones and twos and soon there was just one bloke slowly strolling round the wire with an open book in his hand.
It seemed like a long day.
Somebody shouted "Hey there's a van at the gate" and "So what, it's been before".
"Yea, but I think it's a Post van.
Suddenly the card game is abandoned.
There is a rush to the window, cries of 's--t your right" and "Wonder if she's sent me ciggies" and "You got a 'ope" some big fat slob of a Gestapo bloke ull be sittin' back smokin' issel sisk, serve the b-d right 'n all, thievin' g--s.
About an hour later our Postie comes in to our barracks and shouts "Mail up" and listen for yu name "
Quiet prevailed and the Mail man who had been patiently waiting for the parry and thrust of wit to subside finally took the first letter from the bundle held in his hand.
"Bell" he cried,"
"Where's ding dong"?
"In the lew ah think," "Ahl tek it fr'im".
"McCartney!", "Here", "Farnsworth!", "Over here old boy, thank you!".
"I say old chum do you mind, but the name is De-Aath with a hyphon and thanks awfully, I say it looks like a bill, good lord it's from my Tailor,"
"Another voice piped up, "Aint 'e the unlucky one."
The Postie nodded to De-ath and said, "Right mate, "Death wiv a 'ifon"
Then dipping into the bag again the Postie brought out another fist full of letters,
when these had been claimed he brought out a parcel, and another until finally the bag was empty.
Some disappointed bods picked up books others just laid on their bunks and gazed at the bed boards supporting the bloke above, another bloke was taking his disappointment out of the home made dart board, finally every thing got back to normal.
"Whose for a game of cards"?
"Awe shove your cards", "Yea, one at a time bleed'n' end ways"
"Don' be like that" "What did I do"?
"Nuffink ahm just cheesed off,"
"Well aint we all".
Then there was a bloke ashen faced at the door "They just cut a bloke down in't wash house"
"I dunno, I wen' in for a wash an' I seed all these blokes roun' 'im, somebody said he'd gor a le'er, y'naw wun o' they dear John things.
. "Well that's one way to escape".
"Yea, but there's no future in it".
Monday morning "Lose, aufstehen, mach shnell, siet zum arbiet", (Monday morning hurry,get up quickly time for work,)
We had our new Guard.
The Commandant was full of his usual wit, "Well Gentlemen, are we ready for our morning stroll?'" he began.
Then one had a job to hear who was saying what because there was muttering in the ranks, like "All of a sudden we are Gentlemen!", and "Cut the crap!" and up yours Kraut!"
Then the Commandant said "Gentlemen please!" And some replied, "Ah ha! a Kraut begging? Well that's one for the book!""
And the Commandant was suddenly and completely lost in this morass of words.
Finally he stalked off into his office in a huff and banged shut the door.
"Stuffuenall owd mate," somebody shouted after him.
Charming we thought, now we've got one Guard that was just the opposite.
The new Guard marched us down to the Railway station and we got onto the train and we got off the train and waited for another one.
That was the day I found out that I too could do something stupid.
We were about twenty blokes on this Commando, and if you could picture a Railway Station house and adjoining buildings with a platform on the other and a metal bridge joining the two platforms that was the back drop.
We were on the platform having come over the bridge, and we were lazing about waiting for the train when in the far blue yonder I could see these two dots moving ever so slowly to my left I whispered "Aircraft" somebody said "What you whisperin' fer"? Where"? You o.k. mate"?
I said, "Look at the top of that flag mast, now come half way down it, and they are passing it------now."
"Yea, I see em they're ME109's they're coming over the station and they are low".
"Ere! ah don't like the look o' this, an ' if them back studs open up we are in the line of fire"
If they had opened up they would have mown down a lot of German civilians as well.
And it was just as well they didn't fire because we would have been too late moving anyway.
The quiet of the Railway Station was suddenly shattered as with an ear splitting roar they passed over the Station House, and on impulse I shouted "ACTUNG SPITFIRE".
I still wonder today how nobody was trampled to death, I also wondered what would have happened if our train had come just then because most of the people on our side platform were hiding on the side of the line under the platform overhang.
A civvy cop came and had a go at us but maybe because he was on his own and we did not cringe when he snarled at us but he thought better of it.
Anyway the magically cleared platforms were soon humming with life again and now most of the German Civilians knew who we were all of a sudden as fingers were pointed, and one German youth began mouthing off at us until one of our blokes snarled at him, "If yu don't shut yer gob ah'll come ower theer an' bluddy thump yer"
Of course the Youth didn't under stand the language but he got the message from the posture and the huge doubled up fist shaken at him and he suddenly faded in to the crowd.
When the train finally came we got on and traveled a few miles then got off, formed up and walked to some sand pits.
There was grass on the top so it looked like an ordinary field or paddock but some one had dug down about twenty feet so there was a sand face for about a mile long and the bottom of the gully was about fifty yards wide.
Close to the sand face was a set of narrow gauge lines, and sitting on these lines was a small steam engine attached to about ten steel tip up skips on wheels.
The railway lines curled out of the field and disappeared into the distance.
The German civvy told us what to do, go to the buda (shed) pick up a shovel each, come back here and with two men to a wagon fill them with sand.
This is a piece of cake some body scoffed, "I love playing with bucket and spade, bit like Blackpool."
But as we had nearly filled one skip and were contemplating having a lay in the sun another little engine with ten skips came chuffing round the corner.
We all stopped to stare at it with cries of
" Fair crack of the whip" and I want me cards (employment cards necessary in England to get a job)
The boss holds them while you are working for him.
The Jerry civvy began shouting "Lose,lose,arbiet, arbiet,(Hurry, hurry, work, work)" and he pushed the nearest bloke to him towards the sand and made motions to dig, the Guard who was sitting on the grass about fifty yards away was busy picking his teeth with a match and didn't seem to be interested.
The bloke who had been pushed by the civvy just stood there.
The civvy went to push him again at the same time mouthing "Arbiet, arbiet" but he got the shock of his life when the bloke lifted the shovel like a double handed sword and snarled at the German the next f-'n' step will be yerr last.
"F--k off you kraut back stud or I'll do ya".
By this time the Guards interest had been aroused and he ambled over and pointed the rifle at our bloke and warbled "Lose, arbiet"
But I think our bloke had pulled the plug and he was not about to back down.
We were in it together so we stuck together and when one bloke said "Posten" (Guard) the Guard looked at him and the bloke pointed to the Guards rifle and held up four fingers then pointed to each of us in turn.
The Guard got the message, at most he could, if fast enough have shot four blokes but then he would have to reload and realizing this he lowered the rifle because he knew if he shot one he in turn would be killed.
Then one of our blokes snarled at the German Civvy, "Englander Kriegsgefangenen " (British P.O.W.) p--s off square 'ed."
It was a stalemate until midmorning when a natty dressed Civvy came with another one who could translate, more or less.
He got the gist of the situation and explained at great length to the top man who in turn had a lot of heated words with the Civvy who had started it all.
So we thrashed out the details, no we were not going to load two trains on the trot we needed a rest in between",
"OK! but well how long a rest"?" asked the Civvy
How about the rest of the day?" suggested one of our Chaps.
" Let's be serious Gentlemen" and we suggested" "OK how about one train per hour"
It was bandied back and forth then the Civvy Gent realized it was getting past lunch time and no more wagons had been filled also the Commando at the other end would be idle, so without more ado he agreed to our terms and we went back to work.
But the crafty so and so moved starting time up one hour so we retaliated by going slow.
Well we had agreed to one skip per hour, that's four in the morning and four in the after noon total eight.
But now he alters the start time an hour that means six extra loads per week.
So we parried by going slow, now he is getting five a day six if he's lucky.
The Guard meanwhile is there only to see no one escapes he wants no part of what's going on and stresses this in no uncertain terms when the Civvy appeals to him to make us work faster.
They threatened to shoot some of us and one of our barrack room lawyers drawled "I thought Germans were intelligent, obviously I was wrong, how stupid can you get, the more you shoot the less work gets done."
Heads were nodded to the validity of this statement.
So they tried another angle, let's make them work Sundays, so we agreed.
There were smiles all round.
Until our bloke pointed out that in England when a holiday is worked you got paid double time or two days off in lue thereof.
"Bat ve air not in England" to which our man replied "Yea well that makes it worse still don't it, cos normally we would get workin away from 'ome allowance I think it's called 'ardship money, I think i'm right in sayin that ain't I Chalky.
"Chalky White nodded in agreement while trying desperately to keep a straight face. "
"Bat ve air at var"
"To which our bloke replied "I know that," "You know that ", but he said" Try telling it to our shop steward"
By now the Jerry is slowly edging round the twist, purple in the face now he throws up his arms "Vat ist a shop stevart"? "Yo don hev shop stevart in chormany "
Quick as a flash someone said ,"No mate you got some thin' a lot bleedin' worse, you got bleedin' 'itler "personally I'd raa'ver 'ave bleedin' foul pest or Colorado bleedin' beetle,
f-k 'itler, and like a mob of monks some others intoned "Aahhmmen"
This bickering was finally resolved when the powers that be understood they had a time bomb waiting to go off, and only needed the right jolt.
So they finally accepted a proposal set by our blokes who had worked it out and it worked like a charm.
They decided and Jerry accepted eight wagons a day.
We queried even if we fill them all by three o clock.
They laughed "Ya ya, you cen fill zem by midday ent go beck to zer Lager".
So we did, and most days they were filled by midday.
And during summer it was nice just lounging all afternoon by the pool in the camp.
By the way the system of work proposed by us and accepted so readily by the Bosch was called "Pensum arbiet."
In English it is known as peace work (a quota)
That really got up Jerry's nose, and when the bloke in the posh suit came to see the Commandant he was told to nick off, a bargain is a bargain he was politely informed.
Tommy's War Part 10
TRAINS AND FARMS
Trains always fascinated me when I was a lad so it's not surprising my interest in them was renewed when I was forced to work near any railway yards while a Prisoner of War in Germany for four years during 1941-45
As I grew up I also accumulated (alongside the three R's that one learns) more by keeping quiet and listening to others.
I also learned that to do unto others as you would be done by sometimes didn't work so I adapted my own theme, do unto others then run.
Well it seemed to work better, for me, ---that is.
The first labour camp I was in was Stalag 3D near a village called Teltow and Herr Montag was the
A labour camp was so named because if you did not work you did not eat so you did not have a choice but to work to live, and I think one does what one has to just to survive, because who knows what tomorrow may bring.
The food we got was just enough to sustain us so that we could work.
One day when we were on the station platform, waiting for a train to take us to our work.
The Guard who was watching us was told by the station Master to move us away from the Station, also everyone else was ushered away from the station and I thought to myself there must be an unexploded bomb somewhere.
But a little while later an all black heavily armoured railway train bristling with anti aircraft guns came gliding into the railway station and stopped amid clouds of steam.
SS guards blocked all doors, and through one of the huge oblong windows of what looked like the lounge carriage I could plainly see Adolf Hitler talking to some one opposite to him across a table.
We were approximately a hundred yards away.
The thought flashed through my mind to grab the rifle off the Guard who's only interest was picking his teeth and not a bit interested in what was happening around him, but then I thought if the glass was bullet proof I would achieve nothing and we would all have been shot, probably the Guard along with us also.
And to me the swap was unequal, fifteen POW even plus one uninterested German Guard, I didn't consider even Hitler was worth that much.
The train moved on about fifteen minutes later, so I had just missed getting my name into the history books.
When the train had gone we were allowed back on the platform and we got our train and went to work.
Later on in the day while at work I would say to the Guard "Pingle pauser' meaning I wanted to relieve myself because of discomfort from accumulated waste water and I would point behind some rail wagons.
Since my hearing was also acute I hated the sloshing noise the water made that sounded like a washing machine on the wash cycle as I perambulated hither and yon.
The Guard would shout ya, ya, and wave o.k.
He couldn't care less what we did while at work, the only thing he was worried about was making sure he went back to camp with the same number of blokes that he came out with.
So I would crouch behind the wagons and pretend to be looking for ants in the gravel and having leaked on a bunch of wild dandelion flowers that would probably be dead by the next morning I was no longer like a Spanish galleon with water sloshing round in the bilges every time the wind shifted the sails in the rigging.
When I was sure no one could see me I would lift the metal lid on the axle grease box of the nearest wagon and scoop out a hand full of grease.
Then push into the grease boxes a lot of sand and gravel then put the grease back on top of it and shut the lid.
Then I would emerge with a contented smile at the Guard and to add a bit of colour I would be adjusting my clothing.
I knew what I was doing, so if I got caught I would be shot as a saboteur.
Also we never knew who we were talking to, so it payed to keep mum. I did not push my luck and I would sometimes make up for lost chances, what I mean is I never stuck to a pattern.
One Guard we had was a bit different to most in that he was actually in love with his mirror image.
He used to wait till we were working and he would then pull out a little mirror and look at himself while smoothing his eye brows and tweaking his nose, and one day he was so busy looking in the mirror he tripped over a tree root and nearly fell down,.
Only thing was all the blokes had stopped working and had been stood watching him for a while and there were comments like, " Look at that pilluck!, 'e don' arf loike hissel" and " It's just as well, 'cos no bugger else does!"
There would be a titter of mirth from our blokes and when the Guard tripped every one shouted, "Bravo encore, author" and we all clapped our hands and the Guard got real nasty so we hurriedlywent back to working.
What happens to the bearings in the axle box?
Since the bearings in the axle box were made of white metal whose melting point is a little above that of lead and while they are lubricated by the grease packed in the box they stay relatively cool.
But should impurities like sand get in and cause friction which in turn generates heat, then the grease melts and runs out of the box and the now dry bearings get hotter and hotter until they turn to liquid and leak out of the box.
The axle turning between two halves of greased white metal now has a whole box about a foot square to jump about in.
So the end result is the continued buffeting of the axle in the cast iron box smashes the box and the wagon is derailed and all wagons following it pile up onto each other causing chaos on that line.
And if it happens near a built up area or hilly area it really causes havoc for a long time, and the cost to the British Government was not so many Lancaster bombers and crews but 10/- a week for a Pte Soldier.
And the best part about it was partisans were being blamed for it, "The French under ground has struck again" would be the cry.
Don't get me wrong I think the French Underground did a terrific job, as did lots of individuals, but I have not read or heard any one mention about those few of us who did what we did right under the noses of the Germans Guards and without tools or explosives.
The only thing that got up my nose were the blokes who would say, "I can stick this till the War ends" and "Your a bloody idiot risking getting caught and shot, and for what? When it's all over who will care what any of us did.
Be that as it may, but I have no regrets for what I did.
I did feel sorry for those blokes who had that, "Could not care less attitude" because with their lack of zeal or zest for life they may just as well have been flushed down the toilet in a one man rubber submarine tied tight at one end so the little begger could not get out.
I would lay on my bunk and think out different ways I could put a spanner in the works so to speak, maybe I was flag happy but I was not alone.
Maybe my Mum bought me too many comics when I was a kid, but I would do it again given the chance.
Why suddenly am I writing this?
Well I am 82, no big deal.
Lots of people get to be 100 but no one cares any more once the lid is screwed down.
The only trouble is we don't get a ticket or a pass that guarantees we will get to be 100 so I thought it was time to write this and clue in some people who seemed to think we sat around on our backsides waiting to be rescued.
We would be working one day and suddenly a cheer would go up when a train went racing past with smoke pouring from one and sometimes two of the wagon axles and we would hear from the Guards that the underground had struck again.
Little did they know?
I would be really chuffed when the smoke coming from an axle belonged to a train loaded with Tiger Tanks.
And it was good to see the wagon with the smoky wheel was in front of the wagons loaded with Tanks because all the wagons after the smoky would be derailed so fifty Tanks would be late for the front if any got there at all.
Certainly some would be damaged.
Some would say I was mad to go picking up the white metal off the sleepers where it had dropped from the wagon forming shapes like coins and some times like tear drops.
When I got this metal back to camp I would save it until I had enough to make utensils.
Then we got moved
Stalag 404 near a Village called Grossbeeren was a different camp in that during our short stay there we never got to play with trains or any thing else for that matter.
But I did almost put my foot in it so to speak when I thought I was being smart.
I had been rounded up with other blokes because we said we could lay bricks, so Jerry decided to use us to help out the local contractor to repair some buildings.
Well I thought this a golden opportunity to get up to mischief.
When I built up this wall that was supposed to key into an existing wall at right angles, I left out the key brick so when the wall was finished if some one leaned a ladder against it would fall down.
If you have ever seen a wall with half bricks missing every other layer then these were the bricks I left out.
But the snag was before they got covered up the Guard spotted what I was up to and stopped me doing that job anymore and he made me join the lads who were mixing the mortar.
I must admit that particular Guard proved to me that there were some half decent blokes even though they were working for Hitler.
Sabotage in Germany during WW2 covered lots of scenarios like the sinking of ships and blowing up of railways, or taking an apple off a tree on the road side because one is hungry, or accidentally knocking over the local Policeman's bicycle where it is propped up by the kerbside.
This Guard did not report any of the incidents and I should have been warned.
So I put in less cement and stuck it to the Jerry that way, and the next day I was not with the building brigade any more.
Methinks I got off light for tempting fate.
But alas I was now missing out on those hot potatoes at midday and had to settle for what passed as soup.
And yes it looked like someone had just passed it.
And some times smelled like it as well.
To make matters worse anyone in the camp all day had to put up with being roused about by some of the Ferrets.
Ferrets were the German Guards who did not patrol the wire, but roamed all the camp just watching and waiting for an excuse to harangue or abuse anyone they thought hadn't been abused lately.
They took to baiting anyone.
For example one day a bloke with a broken leg was hobbling along and a Ferret coming from the opposite direction turned his foot a little and tapped his toe against the near crutch causing the bloke to crash to the ground and all the Guards had a good laugh.
Meanwhile the Ferret was saying how sorry he was and added, "Vie don' you look vare you are goink dumkopf ?" there were lots of little incidents that were more frustrating than annoying.
Some of us thought the mentality of these Germans such that that was the reason they were here.
They were too stupid to be otherwise employed, and when some of us voiced this opinion it was like some one had scored a goal at a footy match and it helped to get us through the day.
We would pass the time by telling jokes or making up stories of what we were going to do when we got home and some of the suggestions were hilarious and even if we were hungry we could still laugh.
It also served as a cloak because while Jerry was busy wondering why we were so jolly when we had nothing to be jolly about others were busy with escape plans and diggings.
I did hear that in one Camp there were so many tunnels under the barracks the whole block sank four feet one night due to a lot of rain water all night .
In another barracks the roof collapsed because of dry earth piled up in the ceiling got wet and doubled it's weight.
One wooden shed finally collapsed because we had scavenged most of the nails that held it together.
Nails made good tools and they also made good axles for fans in tea blowers, (like in a miniature blacksmiths forge).
Then one day a Jerry on a tractor was mowing the clover outside the wire, and the Guard out side the wire stopped to watch as he passed, when all of a sudden one of the big rear wheels of the tractor sank down and the engine stalled, and when Jerry brought in another tractor to tow the bogged down one out they discovered a tunnel out of our camp.
For the next week they had a search looking for more tunnels.
We had fun because when Jerry found a tunnel he would smirk at us and say " Vie du yu vaste yore tiame dikkink tannals ven yu k'now vie hef vays of findink zem."?
But most were old tunnels so we couldn't care less, but it did keep Jerry busy while we were interested in other projects.
Anyway if I made a Jerry miserable if only for a short time it was worth it. The main clue to success was think like a German and do the opposite.
Then a new Commando was formed and we were asked if anyone was familiar with Farm work.
I was the first to stick my hand up and the Guard took my number and wrote it in his little notebook.
On Monday morning about twenty of us were taken to the railway station and after maybe fourty miles we got off and walked to a Village and the first old bloke we saw the Guard asked him directions.
The old German asked "Wer sind die Auslander" (Who are the foreigners) to which the Guard replied, "Englander" and the old bloke muttered, "Mach's nichts" (does'nt matter) and pointed to a house on the corner of a lane.
The house had a high wall with broken glass set in concrete on top and it reached to the next building on the left. To the right was what looked like a long barn and from the back of that to the next tall building was another wall also covered in broken glass.
The barn type building had barbed wire criss-crossed across the windows and I counted four big windows and the far one was smaller and narrow, I was quick to note the small window had no barbed wire over it so it probably did not open.
In the left wall where two big gates which when opened could admit two horses and a farm wagon and it was this gate we were marched through and we right turned and walked into a big barn.
On entering the barn we found near the door but more to the centre of the room a big pot bellied stove, on the left was what looked like a stage, so I thought maybe it was used as a theatre for the entire village 'cum Michaelmas' or when ever there was a special event.
On the floor were sacks of straw and the Guard pointed to these and said, " Zum schlafen", so we gathered these were our new beds.
The Guard then walked through the barn and turning to the right went into a passageway that led to the house.
At this stage I was looking at the windows from the inside looking out and all the windows facing the lane had barbed wire nailed on but the ones facing into the farmyard had none, well it was pretty obvious with broken glass on the wall top we would not be going out that way, to start with we would need a ladder to get up the wall and having got to the top you could break a leg jumping down not counting the sharp glass to cross. Finally the guard came back with blankets and gave us one each and when we pointed out it was cold in this big old barn he pointed to the stove and shrugged.
We got settled in and wondered what was going to happen next. We got a fire going in the stove and when it got going it changed everything, soon the pot belly started to glow a dull red and even at three yards away you could feel the warmth from it, this was not so bad after all, then the Guard brought in a dixie full of stew along with tin plates and spoons and a slice of bread each and it wasn't long before we were lounging on these sacks of straw.
One had to get used to them or one would just roll off them. After jumping up and down on them once or twice then turn them over and do the same to that side they finally capitulated and allowed one to lay there without being thrown off, the only trouble was because the sacks were only so long one had to roll up another empty sack to use as a pillow, trouble with this was if a person moved too much during the night the straw sack parted company with the pillow sack and one could wake up with a stiff neck, which tended to remind us of other perks we were missing out on.
To overcome this problem we would tie string round both ends of the pillow and sew it through the top of the straw sack and it solved the problem. We didn't know it at the time but this was only the first problem we were to encounter on this job.
Another was washing our clothes, to do this meant one had to strip, wrap a drying cloth or rag or newspaper wrapped round and held in check by a bit of string, then wash clothes and put them near the stove to dry, now in a P.O.W. camp there is no problem because there are no Civilians, but here there are windows all over the place and any one coming in from the house, well you never can tell when it might just not be the Guard, I could just imagine a little old Lady not knowing we were there and hearing us being noisy thinking perhaps there was a concert for the Village going on and she was missing out, coming in and suddenly seeing us all naked and having a heart attack.
Sabotage, und shoot the mongrels, poor defenceless little old lady, Poland had lots of little old ladies, und men, und kids, und so on.
Enter the first day, up at seven, wash under the pump, brrr the water was freezing but it did get the circulation going, then fall in and march to a small Farm about a mile away from the Village.
There is no need for me to describe breakfast because we never got any.
There we were guided by a French bloke to a field where there were three very long heaps of what looked like straw and dirt mixed.
I recognised it for what it was, a potato pie, this is where the potatoes are stored when they are first dug up and collected, they are put in these long heaps the covered over with straw and earth is thrown on to stop the wind blowing the straw away, also it stops the frost in winter time from damaging the spuds.
By the way did you know Hitler came from Ireland originally, he was called Spud Murhpy but then he moved to Germany and changed his name to Dick Tater.
Then the French bloke took us to this what looked like a mangle but with a long drum made of meshed wire and actually it was a potato riddler.
Potatoes are loaded into one end and they were graded simply by turning the handle causing the drum to go round, the potatoes then tumble round and down the tube, small potato and dirt would drop through the mesh, bigger ones would fall through further down and the largest make it out of the end and into sacks, the smaller ones are usually saved as pig feed, the next size are saved for self use on the Farm and the biggest went to Market.
In winter everything is covered with rime so the last thing a person would want to do is grab that iron handle with bare hands, so out of some sacking we made mittens and that solved that problem.
But then the French bloke had a go at us for cutting up sacks so we told him "O.K. you turn the handle with no mittens" and as he wandered off muttering under his breath something about, "Merde le Angleterre!" but we just ignored him.
If it was a nice day, well every day is a nice day, some are just better than others, but if the sun is shining and you can look around maybe there are some wild flowers like violets in the hedge bottoms or crocus on the bank some times you can see buds pushing up through the snow keep winding the handle round and round and round and round and round, and thinking why does somebody have to spoil it, all these pretty flowers and some one comes along and pulls them up just to stick in a jug, leave them where they are, then the next person who comes by can also enjoy the view, stuffit let some body else have a go.
"Here Dicko, you have go"
"Woa--- not me mate, leave me aht ov it, oi got me own werries!"
"No nor 'im, ony time e's interestid is if it goes up an' dahn.
So somebody else would take a turn and I would take a turn at sewing the now full sacks of potatoes, but first they had to be weighed, and yes you guessed it, before you can get any work done most blokes wanted to know how much they weighed.
Perhaps it was because the scales were a bit like a seesaw it brought back marital or child hood memories, 'It's all in the mind,' a big bloke got on and we had to change the weights round because he was heavier built than most and he weighed just over twelve stone.
"Cor stone the crows" he growled, "I was fifteen stone before these back studs got me in the bag".
Somebody else chimed in with "Ow abaht stonin' some more bleed'n' crows en app'n us cud 'ave for'n'twenny bleed'n' black birds baked in a pie, hu, hu, hu,"
I also had lost weight but it did not bother me too much because I never was a fanatic in that direction.
The next day it rained so we did quite a bit of sheltering in the wagon shed, and you know what they say about idle hands, that's when one begins hatching plots.
"Doggy yo gor a brain loik a can o' worms, ah mean we're do yer ger all these mad ideas" (because I would put forward different formulae) for escaping.
Someone suggested I had a one-track mind and I agreed I said, "The track start here and ends at our front door back home".
"If you keep your eyes and ears open and make mental notes, you also can have a brain like a can of worms, to which our resident wit replied " Yea, bat in 'is case 'e don't 'ave a bleed'n' can opener, do ee".
I would catch some ones eye and they would just smile and slowly shake the head and we would continue working, they were not such a bad mob of blokes.
About four o'clock we would pack up for the night and this entailed covering over the potato pie heap so the frost during the night would be kept at bay. I think everyone had one potato in his pocket and I think the Guard knew we had but he said nothing, and when we got back to our barn cum billet, since we got stew when we got in we decided to roast them by the fire for supper and the Guard even brought in some salt and wagging a finger said, "Sie can nicht mair wie eine bringen" (Don't bring back more than one) in other words don't get greedy and spoil it.
So we left it at that and everybody was happy.
The odd egg was pilfered straight from the horses mouth so to speak so it would be made into an omlette and four blokes got to share it so next time another four would share it and so on.
One bloke really smacked his lips and said "I heard abaht this bloke who went into a cafe and the waitress warbled, "We have a special treat today"
"Is that a fact?" asked the bloke, trying to be extra polite"
"Yes" she said, "There is some nice tongue or calf cheek"
"No fanks" said the bloke
"Well I didn't fancy anyfing out of an animals mouf' so she brings me these two boiled eggs, luvly they wuz an' all!"
We were going though this potato pie like nobodies business and we had stacked up quite a sizeable pile all in bags and weighed ready for Market then these two Frenchmen would come with a wagon and an ox, load them all and take them away.
I noticed that these two Frenchmen arrived every day to work on bicycles which were leaned up against the wall and at about quarter to four they would leave on their bikes, this did not mean anything to me at the time but later on I also noticed that on a Thursday night they must stay over for the night because normally we get to working in the morning and they usually turn up at about half an hour later, but Friday morning they were already there, so they maybe get paid Thursday and stay to play cards with the Farmer.
I put this info in a pigeon hole as it were and carried on with the good work.
We did not work on Sundays so we would wash our clothes out. I was busy washing my shirt and the Guard came out and watched me with an amused look on his face suddenly he said to me, "Du lieber Gott warum so feil seife"(Dear God! why so much soap) he wasn't a bad bloke in fact a bit later on he stopped carrying his rifle round and left it in his room presumably locked up, he did not know us that well I think.
It was Sunday and I had washed my few clothes so I wandered inside.
Most of the other blokes were outside in the farmyard and the Guard was out there with them it was a good day to wash clothes, warm wind, nice sunshine, there was a bloke from the Black Watch inside and quick as a flash I checked the Guards position and whispered to Jock, "Keep your eye on the Guard "Aye richto!, wit's goan' oan?" he whispered back, "I don't know yet but I got a feeling there's no wire on that little window, "Och they wid'ny be tha stupid" he said, "Wid they?"
I said I thought the little window would have to be where the end of the stage was, so again I asked him to watch the Guard, "If he stands up have a sneeze or a cough" I said.
"Aye o.k. right, ah hope ye ken wit yer daen en at?" said Jock and added "Jist watch yerrsel".
I climbed onto the stage and to the left was a door, I opened it and it was access to a small dressing room with a few clothes on a peg, I nipped quietly over to the opposite door opened it and lo and behold there was the window.
I tried it and it opened without a sound and closing it quickly I closed the door and got off the stage then walked to the door and the Guard was sitting in the yard cleaning under his nails with a match stick and enjoying the sunshine meanwhile my heart was thumping away because suddenly a plan was taking shape and the can of worms was working overtime.
I got Jock into a corner and we had a confab. I told him my idea and he was all for it.
Actually one didn't have to be a genius to think up this idea it was mostly common sense but Jock thought it could work and I thought it would work so it was two to nothing and the vote was carried and we would start the ball rolling straight away.
That reminds me … I did watch a lot of Laurel and Hardy movies as a child.
Quite simply the idea was that since the Germans had zones and if we could get out of our zone quietly at night and hide up during the day and keeping to the country away from roads and walk in the shadows of hedges so one is less likely to be spotted in the moonlight, and we could live off the land then have no one to give us away.
Once out of the area it was that simple, and we did not have to bother with false papers or risk being caught on a train, and at a push Jock would be deaf and dumb because sometimes it took me all my time to understand him when he got into an argument and broke into his Glasgow "Och awa an' bile yer f****n' heed! " English, let alone German.
And to get our of the area in one night, two bikes would be a great help and with a bit of luck we could contact the Underground and go from there.
So we arranged it for next week and in the mean time we dried bread and sewed it into our over coats, fresh vegies we could get from farms we passed by, and then we were like two kids waiting for Christmas.
One bloke approached us and with a concerned look on his face and queried, "I hope you two blokes know what you are doing, this is not a game you know?"
I replied, "Thanks for the concern old mate, but if we get caught you will not be involved and we will no longer matter nor care any more, but at least we have the satisfaction of knowing we tried."
The Guard would retire to his room once we got in from work, maybe to have a wash up, then about half an hour would go by and he would appear with the stew or soup, the menu was varied by the way, one night we would have potato stew, the next night it would be potato soup, the next night it would be soup with potatoes in it then for a change we would have boiled potatoes with their jackets on, and soon blokes were wandering around like zombies muttering, "The Ayes have it".
Sunday night we got a change and a bowl of sauerkraut (cabbage boiled in vinegar) and one night we got lentils, all I could see were bed bugs, because they look like bed bugs, sometimes the mind plays tricks and I was so convinced they were moving so there is no way am I going to eat these.
The Guard would sit by the pot bellied stove all evening and sometimes when he felt like it he would ask one of our blokes to sit for him and he would sketch their portrait, and he was good.
When it appeared everyone was down for the night he would put out the light and retire to his quarters, and the silence would be broken only by a snore or a sound like somebody had let go of a balloon before tying some string on it, then a voice would complain , "Bloody hell mate, wotcha bin eatin? ah hed ti chew that three times afore ah could breath in" and sometimes to ease the tension somebody would say in the quiet dark, "I don't believe it" "and a weary voice would query, "Oh, and what don't you believe Fanny"?
"I'm getting fat" came the reply,
"Not on spuds yu aint" and "tek yer 'and offen it an' go ter sleep,"
Another voice volunteered "Maybe yow is pregnant",
"Yu'll both be f*****n' pregnant if yu don s**t in it an' go ti sleep".
The next morning was overcast but not raining, perhaps a bit cold but coming out of that warm barn into the cold morning air but combined with a wash in the icy water from the pump served to wake us up,.
And now a brisk walk would get the red corpuscles racing round ones system , then some twit started, "eft, 'eft, I 'ad a good job but I 'eft," and when he shut up somebody else decided to imitate RSM Britain of the Welsh guards of World renown i.e. the loudest voice in the British army, "eft 'ite, 'eft 'ite, 'eft 'ite 'eft, 'cor, yo all is a slovenly lot, wot are yuz?" and some blokes would yell back, "We are a slovenly lot Sar'n Major" and everybody would shout, "Never seen anything like it in all me loife" and the German Guard would have a puzzled smile and maybe he could be forgiven for thinking we were all cracking up, but it did let steam off.
I watched out for our friendly Froggies and they arrived about a quarter hour after we got to work, they leaned their trusty iron steeds against a shed and went into the house, "I'll bet they are having bacon and eggs, hot buttered rolls and………"
Why don't shut up about grub" somebody snarled.
About half an hour later Le Frog and his offsider came sauntering out and went into a shed where there was some farm machinery and we could hear a lot of banging and knocking " Somebody suggested they ought to put a red light up outside "Well it sounds like a Frog knockin' shop it may as well look like one" another voice said, "Yea put a sign up an' call it The Plough Inn or The Knotted Pine" to which a mournful voice "I'm pinin' ter get knotted, another replied "Yea, well don't come near me, oi got me own problems ain't oi!".
The two French blokes had nothing to do with us, they were not unsociable but they kept mostly to themselves, if they passed us we got, "Bonsoir" or "Parlay vous Francais?" or similar but apart from that they may just as well have been on the moon.
About a quarter to four they got on their bikes and pedalled off. Then at four or a little after it didn't matter really because we were not going anywhere special we would set off back for the barn and our daily watery soup.
It was always nice to sit on the straw and relax. I was next to the Black Watch Jock bloke, never did get his name, somebody got the stove going and it wasn't long before the room was warmer.
I told Jock that as soon as the Guard went to bed I would give him ten minutes to settle down then I was going to snoop behind the two big curtains that covered the stage front, I had given some thought to these windows and the only thing that jelled was since one looked into the farm yard and it was covered with wire it pointless going through that one and the other one had been missed since the curtains were drawn no one saw it at all, either way I was going to look at the one that looked onto the lane.
Some blokes played cards and another group told dirty jokes but some wanted only to lie there and enjoy the moment, perhaps thinking about family or girl friend.
Finally all was quiet and the Guard was sitting by the stove, and I was wide awake, heart going like a trip hammer, finally the Guard stretched, got up and then wandered down the passage, I waited listening and I thought I heard a bed creak so very quietly I got up and got to the stage and climbed up and slipped through the curtains, that was good because now if the Guard came out any way he could not see me if I kept still. Jock was going to cough violently should the Guard suddenly come in.
I had a look round this small dressing room there was a top hat, tails, a scarf, some coloured silks in a drawer and hanging from a peg a brightly coloured stick with a star on top, some kids magic wand no doubt and it crossed my mind so I grasped it tight and wished I was home, but there was no magic puff of smoke and nothing changed so I thought, "Bugger the Fairies, they are never around when you need them".
I had a quick shufty at the window and sure enough there was no wire on it, and I undid the latch and the window slid upwards and open silently.
I closed the window without a sound and got back to behind the curtains and peeked through and looked up the passage, now if Jerry stays put till I get to my bed and I slipped silently through the curtains and off the stage then moved to the stove because it occurred to me if Jerry suddenly opened his door he'd wonder what I was up to half way between my bed and the stage but if I was near the stove I could use the excuse I was cold, now the distance to my bed was half as long and I could say I had been warming myself, but the Guard did not come out and I told jock what I had found out.
We whispered about this and that until somebody growled. "Put a bleed'n' sock in it why don't yer!"
And we shut up and I lay looking at the glow on the stove for a long time until a zzz zzz was coming from the bloke near me and I thought what was I leading him into, but then he was all for it and it was his choice.
Then I thought if we were caught, one bloke could act as an imbecile but two would be suspicious.
I must have fallen asleep because suddenly a voice was demanding, "Aufstehen alle, guten morgen mien herren, haben sie gut geshlafen."? get up everybody, good morning,Gentlmen, did you sleep well.
We had the dried bread and carrots sewn into our coats and today was Thursday and I I was on pins and needles the Jock bloke looked at me and winked as much as to say, "Well this is it "today's the day".
We went outside and washed in the cold water from the pump after a brisk rub down with the sacking that served as a towel we fell in ready for work. Oh! And no I did not forget to mention breakfast because we never got any.
One meal a day that was soup when we got in from work, why do you think we nicked what ever we could?.
So a good Guard or a bad Guard could make life tolerable or just down right miserable.
We marched down the lane and passed a cow looking over a gate and one of the blokes shouted at it "Moo ya ugly lukin back stud, somebody else chimed in with, "You'll have to put more bull into it Dicko, she's just not interested" and another voice quipped "Oi dunno ole mate, app'n she's better lukin than ma missus".
We got to work without further ado and soon the potatoes were flying, shovel the dirt away, sew the bags up, " Bonsoir meseur"
"F***off Frog ahm busy,"
"Non mon sewer, silver plate,!" and the Frog was stood there with a pail and a tin cup, dipping the cup into the hot whatever it was he offered it to one of our blokes to cries of "Watch it Blakey you don't know where that bucket has been", another quipped "Yea mate it could 'ave bin under 'is bed all night".
It turned out to be mint tea, I think what ones does is fill the pail with boiling water then go into the garden and pull out a mint bush and dunk it into the boiled water two or three times and walla mint tea.
From my point of view the only good thing was it was hot, since there was no milk or sugar involved, there were no other advantages except perhaps it stopped your draining system from healing up or growing over.
Still it proved the Frogs were human after all, unless there was an ulterior motive for this sudden act of generosity. Well I thought, after today it would not involve us any more so I just thanked them and continued with what I was doing.
It was half past three and I could not keep my eyes from glancing at the bikes leaning against the wooden shed, four 'o'clock and the Frogs had disappeared into the house, "Lose, alle man fertig machen" (ok everybody finish what you are doing,) and we finished and fell in to come home.
On the way home we passed the five barred gate the cow had been looking over and somebody said, "Yu girl frend's gorn Dicko", to which Dicko replied, "Up yours".
As we passed the little window I looked at it out of the corner of my eye expecting maybe to see it wired over, surely somebody else must have noticed, God am I the only one that's really awake, Jock would not have known if I hadn't pointed it out to him and we had not told anyone else, but we had to tell the others before we left because we wanted them to cover for us when we left.
We turned right at the corner and I noticed the front door of the farm house was set back, the door was actually built into the corner of the house, so as you stood at the front door there was an over hang as the rest of the building seemed to loom over you. We continued round the corner to the big double doors only one of which was open and walked in to the farm yard, there were now some cows in the middle enclosure, they must have been brought in while we were at work because we had seen no sign of them before. Come to think of it we had seen no one to do with the farm or the village except the old bloke when we first arrived.
After a wash under the pump we settled down to wait for tonight's horses duvers or whatever was in the offalling.
It turned out to be millet and the manure hit the fan, "S**t, oi feeds me bleedin budgie bleedin' millet don' oi", oi aint eatin no bleedin' millet, hey Fritz" and angrily turning to the Guard and then to me he snarled "Hey Doggy tell this p***k ahm not gonna work all day for a ladle full of bleedin' bird seed, and suddenly we realised that on his own he was going nowhere.
I think we all felt the same disgust but he was more volatile and suddenly this had triggered him off. Well for the official issue of food doled out to us, not counting the odd nicked potato we suddenly knew why the Indians had gone berserk at the battle of Wounded Knee. He was right you cannot get out if you don't put in.
So I asked all the blokes what they wanted to do, and one bloke said. "O.k. ask the Guard if the Farmer will give us something else, add that we are not animals nor birds, and if he expects to get any work done tomorrow we expect to be fed accordingly."
"You might also add what we get to eat will reflect in tomorrows work, also if they are going to starve us to death we might just as well be shot now and be done with it"
I translated this to the Guard as best as I could and I couldn't have been that bad because he grabbed the Dixie and went through the passage and I could hear a heated debate going on then the Guard came back and made with his hand like he was bouncing a rubber ball on the pavement I took it to mean simmer down and wait. Since we had nothing better to do other than listen to our tum's rumbling we must have waited an hour or more then a door at the end of the passage opened and a voice shouted, "Essen" and the Guard got up and walked down the passage and after an exchange of words came back with the Dixie full of stew put it on the floor and said to me and I told the blokes word for word. "I'm to blame, I picked up the wrong dixie, the other one was for the pigs," so I asked the Guard why had it taken over an hour to change dixies, I then added "I also heard the farmer ask you to tell us this lie and I may not be fluent in German but I am also not stupid."
The Guard went very red and I was beginning to feel a little out of my depth so I said quietly, "Lass mal liegen" ("leave it at that") and the very angry Guard went and sat on his seat near the stove and we got stuck into the stew.
We had upset the Guard but if the Farmer had thought he could get away with feeding us pig swill he would have done, and I do think the Guard was not aware of what was in the dixie, so in truth the Guard was between the devil and the deep blue sea if you get my drift.
Anyway we got settled for the night and it seemed an extra long time before the Guard finally roused himself stretched and stood up looked all around put out the light and quietly walked through the passage opened a door closed the door and as he closed the door the last of the light disappeared, now all I could see was very dim because the only light came from the glow of the stove, but it was enough for what we had in mind.
Whispered instructions to the two blokes either side of us and the reaction was immediate,
"S**t, yer a crazy pair of back studs!" but Jock whispered urgently, "For Christ sake keep your voice doon", and they accepted what was about to happen but with apprehension.
We waited till all was quiet and still, some were snoring gently, then a chilling thought suddenly occurred to me, what if it was a set up, what if some warp minded Jerry had left that window on purpose and there was a Sniper waiting outside maybe up in somebodies warm bed room sipping schnapps and muttering to himself, "Come on Tommy (not me personally) yep' I'll bet a pound to a pinch of snuff he's got the rifle laid across the window sill and his feet up on a chair, probably chewing on a sausage, I was jolted out of my reverie by a nudge from Jock, "Hey" he whispered, "Are we awa' then or no?" and I whispered back, "I just had a horrible thought, before we get out of the window let's get that brush and put a coat over it and fasten a bunch of straw above it to look like a head, ok?"
"Why"? asked the puzzled Jock
"Just a wee precaution" I whispered, "Do it"
He did it, and we made our beds look like there was somebody in them by piling straw up and covering it with the blankets, then we crept onto the stage and into the little room on the right, and it was unreal because in the silence of the night the boards seemed to scream actually there was only the odd creak as an old board protested as it took our weight, it was us, or rather me, Jock didn't seem to be bothered too much, but I was hearing and sensing and sniffing the air and trying to see into the shadows out side and I could see a building in the distance only very dim because it was so dark out side and I felt relief because in this light even with a scope someone would be battling to see us anyway I was still not going to be caught with my pants down as the saying goes, so I quietly lifted up the bottom half of the window and taking the now disguised broom and standing behind the wall I pushed the ensemble through the window at the same time motioning to Jock to get behind the brickwork at his side then I began inching the brush down so it would look like a bloke slowly climbing down, I was thinking any minute now . Nothing happened, and still I waited so I made it look like he was climbing back in.
Still nothing happened so I laid down the brush and put my leg over the sill and climbed down to the ground and was immediately joined by Jock and we set off down the lane, I wanted to run spread my arms out and take off, unfortunately it's not that simple, we were now escaped British Soldiers and as such could be shot on sight, that was one problem but now we encountered another, it started to rain, our immediate goal was the two bicycles about a mile away.
At first the rain was a fine rain but it was still wet, and it wasn't too long before we were both like two drowned rats, soaked to the skin, and suddenly it dawned on me that we could now say goodbye dried food sewn in our coats, and the soaked coats were now very heavy.
We had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile when we were enveloped in a fog and suddenly a bloke on a bike with no lights came out of the fog and almost ran me down, "Shizer noch mal" ( s**t and again) spat the German civilian in sudden fright as he wobbled then sped off into the fog behind us.
Maybe he thought the expletive would cover both of us, that is if he saw Jock as well due to the fog, but we just plodded on and about five minutes later I said to Jock, "Listen" we both stood stock still and heard an engine noise coming nearer and nearer, Jock said "That back stud has shopped us, then I saw a light winking toward us and thought any minute now and as if one string worked us both we dived into the gully at the side of the road, and presto just what we both needed most a bath in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night when we were already wet through.
The gully was full of water and it was so cold and as I was about to suggest giving it away and try another day Jock said "I vote we give it away till another day" and I said " I second that motion" so Jock said, "Thank f**k fer thaaat if aahd kent that aahd ave sed it errlier" and we retraced our footsteps hoping the Guard was still abed.
All the way back and our shoes were making funny noises because of the water in them, however we got back to about a hundred yards away from the window also the rain was now pouring down so it drowned out any noise we might be making when I heard a woman laugh then some muttered words and another titter, and thought I, half his luck on a night like this, still beggars can't be choosers.
Then it suddenly dawned on me it was the Guard's voice and it was coming from the front door, that's it they are in the shelter of the front door, so I whispered to Jock and we sank down into the wet grass because if we were to proceed one of them was bound to spot us. I whispered to Jock "Won't be long now " just to perk his spirit up a little, and he whispered back "I don't see any movement maybe he's gone tae sleep on the joab, and it must be aboot three en the morrrnin".
The rain poured, we prayed, the Guard screwed literally, we screwed the Guard verbally, and all together it was a screwed up night and I wished I had a robot so I could wind it up and program it to go to Berlin and screw Hitler and all his fornicating colleagues.
Finally I heard through the noise of the rain "Gut nacht leibchen" Jock must have heard it too because he muttered, "Aboot f*****n' time, to which I whispered "No he's passed that, now it's his bed time, we both had a snigger at this wit, and I had a sneaky feeling we were both releasing tension that had been building all night.
A light suddenly streaked out from the front door and then disappeared as the door was closed, only then did I realise I was so cold we had been laid immobile for so long in the wet grass.
I whispered to Jock "Let's give him time to have a look round then go to bed" Jock nodded.
And somewhere around four in the morning we quietly got back through the window and took off our clothes and put them near the stove to dry, Jock said "What if the Guard sees em"? "Tell him we both had the runs during the night and had to wash them"
"But what if he asks what gave us the runs" "Tell him the truth that he does"
The next day was twice as long as it should have been, the Guard didn't even notice the clothes near the stove, probably because we always use this method in wet weather, it's a good job he wasn't too observant either or he would have noticed two blokes yawning their heads off all day.
We finished work and trudged home and after the usual stew which had improved markedly and laid on our beds of straw chewing the fat with the other blokes, it's always the same though, some blokes hang back, they need a paper signed by Jerry to say "We the under signed promise not to hoot, root, or shoot said P.O.W. if caught trying to escape, we do however retain the right to give them a good F****n' or reprimand which ever is applicable to each individual case, signed A.H. for the German High Command.
And to cap it off a voice about three beds away queeried ,"Der, were there any wimmin on't street wen yer was 'avin yer moonlite stroll" and I said, "Funny you should mention that Horace, well everybody else called him Horace, personally I thought horse would have fitted better, but maybe the Vicar who Christened him thought that was as close as he could get with out being offensive to the parents, "Well Horace" I said, "You now that little wood we pass on the way to work?"
Horace sits up and his eyes are peering at us, "Well" I said, "Funny things were happening in there, there were rustling noises and groans, and creaking noises," Horace is gripping his straw mattress and starting to drool, "Yea an' then wot"? whereupon Jock piped up, "It was on'y two trees get'n nawted, yu twit."
Horace came back with, "Ah didn't naw trees did that" Somebody else said,"Horace, have a lie down mate you'll feel better in the morning, "Naw ah wan't ta naw abaht thay trees, cos ah did'nt naw they did tha',
"Go ti sleep yu dawsy bugger" Somebody snarled, and someone queeried "How did he get in the Army"? and someone else replied "e won't have any trouble getting aht".
And someone else added "He should live that long"
Then somebody started the ball rolling with. "There was a young man from Kent" etc, and I must have dozed off because it only seemed like half and hour and, "Aufstehen mien herren" "Oh, Gawd it's work time agin'.
So off we trudged to work, and we riddled and piddled, and we got some more of that Frog mint tea, and we riddled and piddled some more until thankfully it was time to go home, well back to the barn.
Sunday came and we washed our clothes, the sun was shining and I thought yes a nice day, why could it not have been like this when we got out that night ell there's alway another day, also I was a bit surprised no one else seemed interested in escaping but then after giving it a bit of thought some were married and wanted to play it safe, some just had no guts and others just could not be bothered one way or the other, Maybe Jock and I were the only two that needed a visit to the shrink any way we were going to try again come Thursday, but this time we were not going to mess about with drying food, we would get out and play it by ear after that.
I was sitting out side in the sun and day dreaming when the Guard came out and queeried, "Nah younger, was machen sie den" (Now boy, what are you doing?") to which I replied, "Tag traumen nur" (Only day dreaming,) "Ya,ya," smiled the Guard and he disappeared inside.
Well I thought, at least we are on speaking terms again.
After that the Guard was his amiable self again. One night we were joking after we had eaten, some body was telling a yarn, and suddenly in the far distance I could hear thud, thud, thud-thud, thud, thud. "That's bombing" I said, and everybody clammed up, and now because it was so quiet there it was again, then a new noise joined in and it sounded like ack ack guns, "Somebody's copping it" said a voice.
We must have listened to it for about quarter of an hour or more before it was all quiet again.
Somebody broke the tension with "I wus a choir boy wunce"and another chipped in "I bet you kept trippin' over your surplus," Then another voice joined in, "Did yer 'ere abaht the free dwarfs" etc etc until finally all was quiet and the Guard sat in silence by the stove, along way off a dog barked briefly.
About half an hour later the Guard got up had a quick perv round, put out the light and silently edged to the passage where the gloom swallowed him up, a shaft of light at the end of the passage, then it too was gone.
During the night somebody startled us all awake, shouting and sobbing he was jabbing with an imaginary rifle and bayonet at an imaginary foe, "Grab im Dicko" then the Guard was there with his rifle, "For Christ sake yu stupid bugger don't you go near im, go away, and leave us alone, the Guard didn't need to understand English I think his own common sense told him not to interfere finally we got the bloke fully awake and he looked round, "What? is it work time all ready? The Guard who had stayed in the shadows of the passage now came out minus his rifle, then he surprised us all, he dug into his pocket and came out with a hip flask, unscrewing the cap he filled it with schnapps and offered it to the bloke who drank it down and grimaced, the Guard smiling took the cap and screwed it back on and put the flask back in his pocket, "Schlafen sie yetz ya"? (sleep now yes?) Then he made for the passage way and disappeared .
I was awake for a long time and I could hear the rain coming from about half a mile away, at first I heard it way off in the distance, a sound like somebody pouring rice into a wooden tub then as it came nearer you could hear it was rain, and did it rain, when it was time to get up the Guard came in and said to me "Kine arbite heuter" (no work today) then pointing out of the window, "Raigen der gansen tag"
( It was going to rain all day)."Bloody good" said one of our blokes, I can do with a day off.
But after we had played Pontoon and three card Brag, and find the Lady, no, we didn't go round groping but I had a sneaking suspicion we weren't far off that stage if we were kept locked up like this much longer.
I found my self looking out of the window, elbows on the sill, chin resting in my hands, and I was miles away, the rain was running down the window pane and puddles had formed out side, inside it was warm and dry and I would have given a million pounds just then to walk through our front door at home.
My reverie was interrupted by a couple of ducks, I don't know where they came from but they waddled into one of the pools of water that had formed outside the window and were having a good romp or bath or what ever it was that ducks do in rain water pools just outside a window where a load of blokes are locked in, flap, flap, quack, quack, look at us, we're free.
The next day was beautiful, blue sky fluffy clouds and way up high there were vapour trails and lots of them from very high flying four engine American bomber planes.
But it was good to get out and when we got to work everything seemed to be back to normal. One of our blokes strayed over to the shed with the farm machinery in it and you could see him thinking as he looked up at the building hoping perhaps if he really concentrated a red light might appear, "Half yer luck Fred, watch out fer that bleedin' dog e' likes bones"
Thursday came round again and Jock was raring to go, this time we didn't mess around with a broom and coat but we took precautions, like making sure the Guard was in his room.
We got out of the window, no problems, it was dark but we could see the odd star so there was some cloud floating around and with ears listening for different noises we walked quickly up the lane towards the farm and the Frog bikes. If we could get out of the immediate area and lie low somewhere near a farm then move on quickly to the next, at night you can burrow into a hay stack where it is warm and dry, anyway first things first.
We got to the farm and there in the dim star light were the two bikes leaning against the shed, very quietly we started to wheel them when I discovered the tyres were flat on both bikes and the valves were gone, so had the pump, "Quick put them back" I whispered, Jock was angry, "All this way fer nothin' he snarled, then he put the bike back and so did I, "Ahm away" he whispered, I whispered back to him urgently "Don't be daft man, you will be caught tomorrow but if we go back now no one be any the wiser an if we bide our time some thing else could turn up, be patient" "Aye ok yer reicht" said Jock "Soary but yur reicht, c'mon let's awa"
We got back with out mishap, and when we got nearer to the barn we laid on the grass and listened just to make sure no one was about, all was still, so very quietly we climbed back in and checked through the curtains to make sure the Guard wasn't by the stove, so silently we got back to our straw bed and thankfully collapsed.
In the morning the two blokes covering for us said no one but them knew we had gone, and I thought later it was maybe as well because if a lot had got out it could have got a bit out of hand. We decided to wait and see what turned up in the future but before next Thursday came round we were returned to the main camp.
And suprise, suprise, we got moved again and we kept moving for ever it seemed, but marching eventually we got to another camp, we were halted then counted through the main gate once inside another Guard counted us so many to a hut where we settled down wondering what was coming next. A lot were too tired to be bothered with questions and answers and just fell asleep, then a triangle rattled and somebody said grub up, and guess what, pig swill again.
In the morning we were paraded and a Guard who was the spitting image of dopy in Snowhite and the seven snakes came bumping out of the Guard room, as he walked the rifle which was slung over his shoulder kept bumping on the ground, left bump, right bump, then somebody started to whistle the blue danube and somebody said "Tread on that Dicko" "Somebody has left the lavatory door open"
This brought forth a gust of laughter from the parade, and the Jerry Sergeant didn't think it was all that funny even though he knew no English he knew we were taking the mick and he started screaming abuse at us.
We quickly realised this was not Stalag 303 Teltow any more, these were not your average German Gentlemen, and it looked like we would have to tread softly again. "
"Any of you people who have worked on a building site fall in on the left here, also bricklayers, plasterers, painters on the left here and give your number to the Guard at the table.
I knew nothing about bricklaying but I put my hand up anyway and moved over to the table where a Jerry was seated writing in a school exercise book and without looking up he continued writing but held out his hand, "Nummer" he asked ( Your Number)
I replied, Twelve two four four" whereupon he looked up and quick as a flash his hand darted out to grab the number plate hanging round my neck and he tried to pull me down so he could read the number but I stayed put, I was not about to bow to any Kraut back stud he let go and started screaming the odds a Jerry Sergeant came running but by this time I had taken off the number plate and put it on the table, "Was ist mit Ihr lose"? he queeried looking at me angrily (what is wrong with you) and I replie,"Garnicht Herr Feldwabel" mien nummer ist auf den tish ( nothing my number is on the table) and I added "Er ist krank"(he is sick) the bloke at the table nearly blew up as he handed back my number plate and told me to put it back round my neck, then he pushed me to make room for the next bloke, I thought yep you are truly in the soup, so to speak, just watch it.
I did watch it too these Jerries were just itching for a bloke to put a foot wrong.
On one job a Guard was driving a horse and wagon, a flat tray type wagon and he stopped in the gate way and one of our blokes went to push through between the cart and the corner of the brick building and as he got half way the Jerry made the horse move forward and because the cart was at an angle the movement trapped and crushed the unfortunate bloke and ribs punctured his lungs, we could not prove anything but it didn't matter if we could because nothing came of it, but we swore if given the chance that back stud would not see the end of the war.
On a brighter note we would work all morning then half hour break for lunch, I was a bit surprised but there we were sitting at a table with these French blokes and in the middle of the table was a big plate with boiled potatoes in their jackets, some cheese and bread, man this was the way to go.
The only thing that spoilt it was the weather it was bitterly cold also one of the Guards was keeping an eye on me and one of our blokes said to me one day "You're not a brickie are you" and I said "No, but don't tell them" and he said I think that Guard knows and he's been watching you and you have left out a lot of keying in bricks.
The next day the Guard singled me out and I was taken off that commando. But I was put on another one also to do with building but on this job I had to carry bricks in a hod and mix mortar, also gone was the midday break and the feed. The time spent in this camp is not only difficult to remember but what I can recall is, it was a misery hole. It was always cold at night and dogs were always either barking or wailing or sniffing under the boards. The days were not so bad because one could work and get warm the only trouble was, on less food and no RC parcels we were all losing weight rapidly, I could touch my mid finger with my thumb round the fat part of my arm, and when anybody got out we did not see them again, I would like to think they made it or if caught went to another camp.
This was just one monotonous day after another and I was glad when somebody said there is a roumer we are moving. There were so many miserable days in that camp my mind chooses to forget. There were some tall chimneys in the distance and if the wind blew our way there was always an unpleasant smell.
We marched out of the gate of Stalag 404 and no one had a clue where we were going, somebody said we were going to a big camp near Colditz, "S**t" somebody remarked, "You don't get out of Colditz in a hurry".
The march was just one monotonous day after another and the Guards rode in trucks, sometimes one would walk just for the exercise and sometimes we would notice one of the Guards pointing at some body and nudging his mate then they would have a laugh at somebody limping along, one of our blokes snarled "Come dark an' i'm gone" he could not have been more wrong.
When it got dark the truck up front had search lights on it and they looked backwards over the column, it also had twin machine guns mounted on the back and at the rear of the column was the same set up except the lights were directed forward also Lighting up the struggling pathetic column.
We marched through the night and through the next day, ten minutes rest every hour, then back on to feet that were throbbing and those first few steps were agony, soon some were walking in their bare feet and when the ten minute rest came up they found the soles of their feet were just a red pulp, it got to be afternoon and it was sunny and warm and one of our blokes carrying a piano accordion said, " Stuff it I can't take any more of this" but a bloke I was mates with used to do weight lifting and he was also in the Argylls said, "Ere give it ere" and grabbed the piano accordion and slung it over his shoulder, "I wouldn't give them back studs the satisfaction" he growled and a Jerry guard who looked more like a hungry four foot ferret than a man gave him a shove and shouted, " Halt die munde und marsh".
(Shut up and March)
The little runt German Guard did it again and five minutes later he did it again but the big bloke took no notice just trudged on and wasn't lagging so we knew the next time the little Jerry Guard came up behind him and gave him another push it was the little bloke abusing his authority as a Guard and he was deriving great satisfaction in taking it out on somebody a lot bigger than himself for a change safe in the knowledge the big bloke could not retaliate, so he did it again, but even a steel bar has its limits and when the little Guard shoved again the big bloke turned and in so doing added momentum to the sizzling right hook he swung at the Jerry'
It sounded like a meat axe chopping into a carcass as the big fist slammed into the side of the Guards head below his steel helmet and the Guard flew two yards before hitting the ground then slid on the road until the grass verge stopped the slide.
We cheered then there was a bang and looking from the still Guard to where the bang came from we were just in time to see the big bloke sink to the ground, for a second or two all was still then the German Officer who had shot the big bloke through the back of the head from behind started blowing a whistle like they have at footy matches and before we could gather our wits there were Guards everywhere.
I was not slow in noticing the pattern the Germans had a habit of using when killing someone even when the opponent was unarmed, so I was always wary of a German walking up behind me armed or not.
Suddenly the truck with the two machine guns was there, it had quickly come up the side of the column and was on the grass verge menacing the crowd who were round the big bloke, two Guards picked up the knocked out Jerry (I hoped his neck was broken) and the Officer made two of our blokes drag the now dead big bloke the side of the road and he was left there.
One wondered what would happen next as the tension at this point because of the murder just witnessed by our blokes was electric and it was touch and go as Guards and Prisoners glared at each other on the road way.
The German Officer then motioned with his pistol and snarled at us "Lose, Marsh" and it was touch and go until the Officer put his pistol to the head of another prisoner near him and repeated, "Lose Marsh" and we marched and the truck stayed put until the end of the column had passed it then it tucked itself behind the column again and crawled along behind ever watchful, and looking back all that could be seen was a mound in the grass with a khaki over coat over it.
In the distance it looked like a fort you see in western movies and as we got closer and closer we could see over the gate STALAG 4B MULEBERG.
Thank God at last we could stop walking.
We staggered through the gate and once the column was inside we were halted and counted off to huts that were either side of the road. Once inside we got a bunk and put our meagre gear on it then we were told to get ready for the showers, we were led by this jerry down the side of the block to what appeared to be an ablutions centre, we went in and stripped and I was under this torrent of water and it was terrific, clean at last.
Then I noticed a bloke who was sideling up to bathers and talking and heads were shaken and I thought maybe we have a queer amongst us so I grabbed my towel or what passed as a towel and got ready to give him a nutty flick, it can be very painful properly delivered, however when he got to me he said, "My name is Tenny, Harry Tenny" I said that's nice, " What's your problem"? "Well" he said, and I said, "You won't get any wishes here"
"No you don't understand" I'm R.A.F. and I want to swap places with somebody who goes out on work parties, nobody seems to be interested, you see anyone in the R.A.F. can't get out of the camp, and this is a good way to start, by going out on a work commando."
"You want your head looking at" I told him, " It's not that easy, what do you think I've been doing this last two years"
But he replied with "They are forming up out side all we need do is swap jackets and number disks", I thought what the hell in for a penny etc.
We swapped and agreed any mail that came was private and would be smuggled to each other when possible, parcels would be kept so if I got a parcel from home Tenny got to keep it and viccy virca.
Then the fun started or I thought it was going to be, I ran out and joined the RAF blokes outside and just in time because a Guard came and told us to fall in, he then counted us and marched us off to another hut. So it was here I got clued in as to what was happening.
Tenny had explained to his mates what he was doing so I was not exactly a total stranger to them, they on the other hand were a little stand offish to begin with, well I could have been a Jerry stooge.
The bunks were three bunks high, bottom bunk, middle bunk, and top bunk I got a middle bunk, these blokes were totally different to the mob I had spent the last two years with because they were Sergeants and upward but I think most Officer types were sent to an Offlag or camp for Officers.
One day this bloke comes over and sits on my bunk and asked what was my mothers name, and I told him it was Annie (it actually was) but since Annie was also Tenny's mother's name I was in the clear and by this time I realized they were having a go at me and as some one said later " Got to keep you on your toes old thing , what"? to which I replied, " Make sure nobody catches you touching yours," somebody at the other end of the hut was shouting Tenny where is Tenny and I shouted back "Here" and "What is it ?"
"Oh it's ok old boy just checking!" this lasted for a week but I was grateful to those blokes, there were times when I almost boobed.
And I actually finally became Tenny.
Two bunks away on the top bunk was this tall bloke with a mop of sandy hair and a moustache, flying Officer Kite type moustache he was reading a Zane Grey western story when a bloke who was walking by suddenly stopped in mid stride and said "Good lord, Hawky, how are you old boy" and turning to a bloke nearby "I didn't know you had Hawsley Hill in this barracks" and Hawsley Hill sounding very bored turned on his other side and continued reading and muttering "Gawd, who left your bladdy cage door open", And the bloke continued with "When we get back Hawky don't forget you owe me a tenner" Hawky pretended to snore.
We had a picture on the wall it was about three feet square and it was painted by a bloke by the name of Coulson and it was similar to what the Yanks had on their bombers, girls that were all legs and tight blouses.
Some one requested it be taken down because of the racket that started as soon as it was lights out.
But we learned later on the other side was a map and as soon as Jerry locked the door at night out would come the pins and we would trace where the Yanks were and where the Russians were, before bed all pins were removed and the sexy picture would be turned face out again to the delight of the more depraved.
Jiggerling during the day one would boil a tin of water and if one had an agreement with another bod he would also boil a tin of water then one of you would jiggle a tea bag so many times in one tin then so many times in the other tin and you would save this tea bag until it no longer coloured the water then it was the other blokes turn to supply a tea bag and so on.
Bread, it was incredible some of the systems they cooked up to make sure no one got a crumb more that somebody else, I saw the bread issue measured, weighed, sighted along, tapped to make sure there were no air pockets in it, put on a seesaw in case one end was heavier than the other then when it was cut into rations about the size and thickness of ones hand then a playing card was put on each bit of bread and a pack of cards would be shuffled and cut then each man took a card off the top of the deck and looked for the bit of bread that had the matching card.
The whole charade looked ridicules but it worked.
The stove system was unique, it was built of bricks to about three feet high and it was five feet wide and eight feet long it had a door at one end to push fuel (wood) into and a quarter inch thick iron plate built in. On this iron plate which would ret red hot in the middle we would push our tins to boil or fry or cook and if a tin boiled some one would look at the tag attached to said tin and holler the number "Number five tin boiling, and number twelve, then if no one came to clam the tins or tin it would be put to the outside of the group of tins and slowly it would work its way to the middle again.
One day some clot got a tin of Irish stew from a RC parcel and put it on the stove well he hadn't punctured it and when it exploded with a mighty bang it scattered other tins and some bods got burns and we had to get ladders to scrape it off the ceiling before it began to stink.
Cries of "What clot forgot to puncture his pot"? and "bladdy idiot" and another idiot pointing and mouthing, "Wizard prang old boy" another was "How stupid can you get, the victim, being up the ladder doing his best to remove what was left of his irish stew from the ceiling was of course the center of attention and had to endure this ribaldry until finally he came down and sulked off to his bunk.
Grabbing a book from under his pillow he settled down to read content in the knowledge that stew would soon be in the offing from Jerry, and with a muttered "Stuff 'em" he got engrossed in his book.
Stew was issued, actually it was a change, it was sauerkraute, a kind of cabbage pickled in vinegar, I didn't mind it I was glad of the change from the everlasting spud.
Then one bloke comes over and said, "May I sit down"?, I said, "Certainly, what are you flogging?"
"No, it's nothing like that he said," and I said "Nothing like what" and he replied testily "Christ your edgy" and I said," If I was Christ I wouldn't be here to start with and I'm always edgy, now what do you want?"
He said, "One of the blokes told me you speak German, you are the bloke who swapped with Tenny,?" The hair on the back of my neck began to stand up," What bloke?" I said "I'm Tenny, and I haven't swapped anything with anybody, now bugger off before I plant you."
"O k, keep you're hair on but if you do speak German it would come in handy for some of our blokes who are thinking about getting out from one time or another, would you be prepared to teach some of our blokes German so they will have a better chance of escaping?"
I flatly refused because the last thing I needed was to draw attention to myself.
After he had gone a bloke with a pipe going came cruising across, some blokes walk a little hesitant and some boldy, if he is lucky enough to have had a bottle recently then he may stagger a little, but this bloke cruised, reminded me of one of those Stephen Foster paddle steamers on the Missisippi.
So with pipe going at flank speed ahead he cruised up to my bunk and putting every thing in full reverse he slowed to a stop, the only thing missing was the bells ringing on the ship's telegraph, then he took the pipe out and said, "Trouble with these God awful things they make you're eyes water if the wind's wrong,"
"Why do you smoke the God awful thing then"? I queried,
" Ha, ha, jolly good" he quaffed, "Well old boy actually it's for appearances that's all," and lowering his voice, "Actually I came to tell you good show about Tenny what!" and I said "I don't know what this is all about but I'm Tenny and you're the second bloke today," "No it's ok old chap we know Tenny and if it's any consolation you can rely on us to back you up, we had to run a check on you as soon as you came here, let's face it old man you could have been a Jerry ferret, what"?
Well I suppose he was right, I could have been.
And I finished the debate with "I know who you all are" (I didn't have a clue)" and you know I'm Tenny so everybody is happy" and with that I walked outside just in time to hear the Jerry whistles and yelling, "Lose appel".
We all got outside and fell in for roll call but instead of counting us off this time the Jerry Guards motioned us to a building where trestle tables had been set up and there were four Officers checking papers so we were formed into A an B queues and C and D and so on, I thought well here goes nothin', I also noted the extra Jerry Guards round the room and they did not have rifles they had auto pistols.
Of course they were looking for me of this I was sure, somebody has tipped them off, Tenny has been caught and tortured.
Now they would give me a going over, I was so busy thinking all this stuff when suddenly I am at the table and without blinking an eye I said "Tenny Harry" and gave my number plate for him to look at, then I almost fell over as he turned the page and there was Tenny's picture looking up at me, and I thought if he winks I'm dreaming, but I wasn't dreaming and the Officer said with a bored voice, "Lose weiter machen" ( Carry on,) so I left and I could not believe it, back in the barrack room I heard a voice say "Whose the lucky boy then" and another voice said, "Pack it in chaps, don't push your luck, that could have been a sticky situation and I think Tenny handled it very well."
It appeared the Germans were looking for some free French blokes who had been doing a bit of blowing up and Jerry was not a bit chuffed to learn they could be hiding in our camp.
The Bosch were very thorough in that direction and if they got an idea they acted on it immediately.
Hawksley Hill was laid on his back he had a pillow under his head and from his lofty perch on the top bunk he waved a glossy magazine, "Would you look at those he chortled, indicating a picture of a girl with what looked like two foot balls stuck up her blouse, "Not exactly moth balls would you say," and someone answered with "It would have to be a bladdy big moth" and someone else joined in with "Yea big as a Lanc bomber, Hawksley turned the page this way and that way and held it at different angles finally he burst out with, "Gawd!, it says here she is changing her sex," Somebody said, "Your joking!, with a body like that, what a waste, Hawk said "Says here she would like to write a book and somebody said " I know a good title, "From knickers to knackers or why be a c**t all your life and at this there was a roar of laughter.
I was over by the wire one day and this column of dishevelled pitifully thin figures came shambling by then I was joined by another of our blokes and he grunted" Russians, poor back studs" and just then a cart came out of an alley and it was full of trash and potato peelings and the Russians were all over it like a rash and shoving potato peelings into their mouths and flinging more off so others could get some.
But soon there were Guards there kicking and fisting and one had a pick handle and he was laying about him with gusto soon there were Russians laying knocked out or dead, then came the Blondie Guard he pulled out a pistol and would shoot to cripple, in the elbow or the knee, he never missed a chance to make their life even more unbearable.
Let's face it, one can be crawling with lice, and are already starving to death, can't remember when the last shower was, not sure when there is going to be any more food, and getting some just prolongs the misery, so eventually one gets to the stage when one decides enough is enough and in our case we had a saying "If I've got to go I'm going to take one of them with me, or two, but chance would be a fine thing.
Trolling round the compound with this bloke I'd got pally with and suddenly he pointed into the sky and said "Good lord look at that" and high, so high that I could not see the planes, were vapour trails,.
We stopped and watched for a while then we could see little black dots half way down the black dots disappeared and a little later we heard the explosions and they really were giving Leipzig a pasting.
Jerry said we could use the concert hall and I strolled up there one day for a quick sticky beak and lo and behold there was the Lone Ranger complete with sombrero spurs and chaps and he had a mate dressed likewise.
And it turned out they where country western singers, and seeing as how that was one of my favourite hobbies we got talking and comparing notes. Then when they found out I was handy with my hands they asked me to make each of them a six shooter in a holster and ammo round the belt just like Tom Mix in the movies.
I did and it really finished off the outfits, we kept the six gun bit quiet until the opening night and when they walked onto the stage the Jerries who were sitting in the front row suddenly got very nervous when they spotted the six shooters, well they could see the highly polished butts sticking out of the top of the holsters and they had a whispered confab with the Commandant who got up and asked to see one of the pistols, he had a good laugh when the bloke pulled out the butt only and handed it to him and when he saw it was made of wood and blacked with boot polish he said, "Ach du lieber unglaublich!" (unbeleivabl).
" The pistols looked so real from down there." But Jerry never left anything to chance.
Next we had a comedian, and most of his jokes were from the ark, probably Noah wrote them.
I did a bit of trading and got some paints, I think they were water colours, only because I can't remember having any varnish or turps, and because Jerry was a bit funny about inflammable liquids.
I set to and painted the battle of Sidi Barrani from a personal point of view it was about three foot by three foot and when it was finished I hung it on the wall and a group of bods used it as a dart board.
Just across the room another bloke was painting a Lancaster Bomber and his name was Coulson.
Our son Richard came to see us one day in 1995 and said to me "I've brought you a picture for your bedroom Dad" and would you believe it, I watched Coulson paint the original on the table opposite my bunk in 1943 in the POW camp.
My estimation of better educated young men took a steep dive the day one of them bought a cat from a Jerry Guard.
It appeared a group of our young gallants had clubbed together to get this cat and I knew nothing of it until this particular day I went into the wash-house to shave and this group came in with this pet cat.
The first thing that came to mind was 'That is nice, some bloke has got himself a pet'.
But then they filled a trough and dunked the cat under, and as soon as the cat got over the initial shock it started clawing, and soon one of our hero's had scratches on his arms and chest and reluctantly he had to let go but before the cat could get out another young valiant dunked it under and held it long enough to stupefy it and thinking it was dead because it had stopped struggling, another nerd took out a pen knife and started to skin it well he didn't actually get started because the cat woke up as the blade touched the cat's skin and suddenly the bloke got a hefty raking along his arms as all four of the cats feet each armed with five needle sharp claws.
Then the cat dug it's claws in and hung on to the bloke's arm and repeatedly savaged the bloke's hand
with it needle like teeth and I got the impression it was trying to chew his thumb off while the bloke is now screaming, "Get it off me!" and beating at the cat with his free hand.
Another bloke grabbed the blokes fingers and pushed the whole arm with the still chewing cat attached under the water in the now full wash trough, and bubbles from the cat's mouth together with blood from the bloke arm and badly chewed thumb began to surface.
The cat suddenly let go so it could surface and get air and was out of the trough and running.
The cat bolted but it could not get out because someone had closed the door and when I think back about it I often wish I'd been more awake but this all happened so fast I didn't get a chance to open the door, however our brave band of hero's soon had it cornered and one of them had wrapped a towel round his hand and arm and grabbed the now spitting snarling cat by it's hind legs and while it was trying to claw him through the towel he swung his arm with the cat attached against the concrete upright of the wash trough and smashed its head with such a thud it had to be dead now, however with blood now showing on it's fur the cat still showed signs of fight so the bloke hit it against the wash trough a second time but this time he swiftly pushed its head under the water in the trough and waited till there were no more bubbles coming to the surface.
Another bloke who had been minding his own business till now said " I bet you feel real big men now, five blokes to kill a cat, for what? even an animal kills for a reason, and don't use the excuse your hungry you haven't been here five minutes, some of us blokes have been here four years".
"You people give me the runs, I agree the Jerry rations are inadequate, but you get food from the Red Cross, you are not at the starving stage by a long shot, some of you haven't been here long enough to generate a fart yet, why don't you grow up?"
At this outburst one RAF bod said, "Seeing as how it's none of your business old sport I suggest you keep your nose out of it".
And with that they took their kill and went to the other end of the washroom.
Then their voices could be heard, "Well I think it was a good idea, after all we are short of protein, and if we are going to make a break for it, we will need all the help we can get.
Then to cap it off the same voice that evening was heard to say, "I'm comfy here till the end of the war, anyone want to offer me any advance on five cigs for this delicious rabbit leg?"
The next day there were vapour trails high in the sky more often and according to our map the Russians were advancing and we were getting a bit on edge, and wagging tongues were saying that Hitler had given the order for all POW to be shot if the Russians got too close.
We would cheer when we heard some place or other had fallen, then the advance would bog down and soon all the revelry died down as well and boredom would set in again.
Then the Yanks would take a town or whatever and it was on again.
One day an Aircraft came out of the blue, it was a long range fighter, and somebody recognised it as an American Mustang long range escort fighter, all the blokes in the compound who were playing football with a bundle of old rags tied with string as a ball, but they stopped to watch it as it swooped over the camp with a tremendous roar and a climb you wouldn't believe, at the top of the climb it just lazily rolled over and pointed it's nose at the footy compound were all the blokes were stood with mouths agape, suddenly somebody screamed, "S**t! look out… he is attacking! take cover take cover".
To the left of the footy compound were the ablutions, these were double brick buildings with the usual door and two windows and everybody raced toward this building and got it between themselves and the now diving plane that was screaming down and suddenly it looked like he had a row of kids sparklers flickering on the front edge of his wings and just as sudden bits of brick were being chipped away and dust was being kicked up as bullets( 505 cal)(about the size of a thumb) were thudding into the ground.
He passed over with a roar and did another steep climb then dived on us again, all the time the blokes in the compound were jockeying for position keeping him at the other side of the building, suddenly we noticed a goods train and the train driver had seen the aircraft and was desperately trying to make it to some woods and cover that was only quarter of a mile from us so we had a ring side seat so to speak.
The train was chuffing like mad and the pilot of the plane must have thought this was a more positive target so with a flick of the wings he changed course and screamed down on the train and soon bits were flying off the train.
We could hear bullets ricocheting as they hit metal then one of the wagons erupted like a giant fire cracker, it must have had ammo in it, flames were leaping out of other wagons and then the Pilot of the fighter concentrated on the engine and two little figures jumped out and ran for the woods, suddenly there was this almighty cloud of steam bursting from the engine and slowly the train came to a halt. Meanwhile some bright spark had been busy and he had acquired a bucket of white wash and was on the roof of one of the barracks painting 'POW' on the roof in big letters, "Now that's what I call using you loaf" someone casually remarked.
Then a bloke came out of the wash house and his face had blood on it, "Must ave cut mesen' shavin" he said when somebody pointed it out, "That don't look like no bleed'n' razor cut" said one concened onlooker, so when they had a perv into the wash house they found a .505 round had punched a hole through the first brick then knocked out the inside brick and carried on across the wash house brushed this blokes face just taking a bit of skin off and smashed a starry hole through the window, then the hunt was on everybody wanted that round as a souvenir
But we could not find it and one bloke suggested it would be too far down in the earth for us to dig for it.
But we had all agreed the bloke with the burn mark on his face should have had it to remind him how close to eternity he had been.
About a hundred yards away there was a hole where a light pole was to be erected, a group of blokes had been digging this hole and it was about six feet deep and about two by two feet across, when the plane had finally gone I counted five blokes getting out of this hole, and I suddenly saw the humour of the situation Jerry has ferrets so why couldn't we have moles.
Sadly one of our blokes was killed out right and another wounded, two Jerry guards were also killed, they were on a detail taking out waste to bury in the nearby field and the vehicle used looked like a gun barrel, actually it was a very long wooden barrel used only for this one purpose, unfortunately our gung ho hero in the plane did not stop to ponder, it looked like a group of blokes pulling a gun from where he sat so he cannot be condemned for doing his job.
About two days later we were having a game of footy, it was a nice day and about two in the afternoon. some blokes were just sitting around watching the game, the ball by the way the usual bundle of rags wrapped round with string, one blokes gave it a hefty kick and it sailed through the wire and hit this little wood hut in this vegy patch and fell down in among the vegies, close by was a watch tower so we waved our arms and shouted to the Guard could we get our ball, the Guard waved ok get your ball so one of my mates who I had known from Stirling castle Aldershot, Palestine, Ciaro, the desert and Crete, got on hands and knees and putting his arm through the wire began inching the ball along so he could grasp it, mean while the Guard in the tower was watching him, and then a window in the little wooden hut opened and the blond headed guard was suddenly leaning out of it and he had a Luger pistol in his hand and putting it to the back of my mates head pulled the trigger, the shot crashed out and for seconds we could not believe what we had seen, then a mighty roar went up as about sixty blokes run toward the shed and tried to climb the wire.
About a dozen blokes were climbing the wire and others were rocking the supports when suddenly all was pandemonium as whistles where blown and the Guard in the tower swung the machine gun round to face into the camp, other Guards came running and suddenly a German Officer appeared and shouted to the men to get down off the wire, as they hesitated the Officer said he would count to three then give the order to fire if there was one man still on the wire, he got to two and everybody was off the wire.
The German Officer then went to a gate in the wire and walked through to the shed and looked in but it was empty, then he came back and asked some of us what did the Guard look like, and when we explained what had happened he said he would look into it, mean while somebody had gone to the camp hospital and got a mobile stretcher, it had bicycle wheels on it, two blokes lifted the body onto the stretcher and covered it over with a blanket, I had to watch all this and it was like a slow motion film.
The next day at roll call when the counting was finished instead of being dismissed we were told to line up into A and B groups and C and D groups and somebody said "oh,oh" they are looking for some body" so eventually we shuffled closer and closer to the door into the building and once inside it was a bit warmer then word flew back to us they are checking finger prints, and here and there along the walls were posted guards with machine pistols, when I thought no one was watching I would slip back a couple of blokes and I did this quit a few times so I was working my way back to the door, then I thought one of the Guards was watching me out of the corner of his eye so I stopped doing it and decided to bluff it out but a gut feeling told me it wasn't going to work this time.
I was third from the table when all of a sudden the air raid siren sounded, everybody scattered and the Guards were caught totally unawares didn't know whether to have a shine, crap, shave, or have a hair cut.
We were out of there and long gone and I suddenly realized I was wet through with sweat and the thudding was not bombs, it was my blood pump going like the clappers, I sat on my bunk for a long time then everybody dived under their beds as this whistling sound got louder and whump with a hell of a bang the bomb went off and there was another big thud, "S**t!" somebody warbled, "That bugger did'nt go off and it's in 'ere".
After the raid was over somebody discovered the clock I had made had fallen off the wall.
The vibration from the bomb that went off had slid the clock along the nail that held it and the weight of the clock bent the nail and the clock slid off.
By the way the clock weight was a bucket of concrete.
One day the door burst open and a load of Yanks came in and because it was winter they made straight for the stove and with cries of, "Oh boy heat" they started pushing through the crowd that were already at the stove, no manners the Yanks, most of our blokes thought the same, in fact one bloke voiced his opinion "Like bloody animals" he said.
And when one picked up a tin of tea belonging to one of our blokes and put it to his mouth to drink it the owner put his hand under it and tipped it up almost choking the thief, certainly wetting him all down his neck and shirt, if he had asked it would have been different, but he didn't.
It must have been a temporary stay because by lock up time they had all been moved to an enclosure of their own. So once more peace reigned, but for how long.
We kept watching the map on the wall, first the Russians would move up and stop, then the Yanks would move some more and the two forces gradually crept closer to one another.
There was a radio somewhere and no one knew where, but that was not important, the less who knew the safer it was, and some clever bod reasoned that if the radio was moved it would not be long before Jerry knew were it was, so instead the radio stayed put and the info was fed out, and the info was fed out with a bow and arrow, sounds daft but it's true, Jerry would lock us all in at night, shutters were put over the windows and the lights would go out about nine.
Dogs would be let loose in the compound and search lights would come on when least expected, but connecting each block was a brick wash house and toilets for use by the two barracks, and these had windows but no glass and Jerry did not have shutters on these windows so when it was about midnight a bloke with a bow and arrow would shoot the arrow into the next wash house which was about fifty feet away, if he missed he could retrieve the arrow and try again because tied to the arrow was some light string, also tied to the arrow was today's news.
When read it was passed on in like manner the last hut to get it would read and burn.
The last hut by the way was no 8, but this whole camp was so big because there was the French section, the Russian compound, the Brits compound, the RAF compound, a political prisoners compound, and these had to be seen to be believed.
The RAF compound had eight wash houses that meant sixteen huts. Then somebody sidled up to me and said, "Tenny's been caught", and walked away, I made straight for my bunk and sat there wondering what to do next.
Then the bloke with a pipe and grey hair came over and sat down, "You don't look too good old son" Then said quietly, "Just carry on as if nothing has happened and play it by ear, by the way Tenny was found sheltering from the rain in a shop door way in Berlin by a civvy copper," I couldn't believe any one could be that unlucky, but then when I stopped to think about it Templehof airport was near there, maybe he was going to nick a plane, I thought that would be right, landing just outside Rochdale the local brass band playing every body flinging garlands of flowers round his neck 'our hero'.
But the bloke was right don't panic. If Tenny kept his end up he would get the cooler and I was off the hook, if not then both of us could walk the plank. Wait and see. Tenny got the cooler.
About a week later I saw a Commando going out to work and lo and behold who was waving ta ta but Tenny, I waved back and thought, "Oh Gawd! here we go again."
There was a bloke, he was one of ours but I don't which mob he belonged to but he had got this Russian Cossack hat from somewhere it was snow white and he had on this black outfit with jackboots and spurs and he had been to a dentist in Berlin who at this blokes request had taken out a tooth slightly left of center, a perfectly good tooth, then paid the dentist extra to fit a gold tooth so now when he smiled the tooth winked at the observer.
Somebody passed a comment, "Gawd, now ah've seen everythin'". "'is oss gorraway didit"?." yew got any vodca mate"?. News time, it was just after twelve and in the dark somebody had been waiting behind the door and heard the rattle of the arrow as it hit the wash trough and straight away he dived in and got the paper off the arrow and gave the line a tug and the arrow quickly vanished over the window sill.
"Right blokes keep it down" was the plea of the reader, and watch the doors, everybody settled down and the bloke read out the news quietly, then he added for those who didn't hear get it off those who did and good night.
Always after we got some news wether it was good or bad there were always some people who would have done it different, so arguments were tossed about until finally no one cared any more and went to sleep.
Usually one would wake up to cans rattling or someone at the stove arguing his tin was there first, but what has happened to roll call? "hey there's no guard in the tower".
It was true there was no Guard on the tower and I ran to the front door and was just in time to see this woman on a pony, 'A woman Cossack' I did a second take and sure enough as she raced by a full gallop she had this long whip and was really living it up, it looked like a circus had hit town, she was wearing a leather jacket and crossed over her body were bandoliers of ammo, she also had a sword, and slung over her back was a carbine.
Bloke near me said with a grin, "Can you imagine her standing up in court and saying, "I wuz raped yer 'onour".
She dashed out of sight then there was a commotion over the fence in the Russian compound and we strained to see, then it dawned on me if there were in fact no Guards what the hell were we doing here, but then my attention was taken again, what was going on over there and now some of the blokes were moving over to the wire to see better.
I couldn't believe what was happening, the Russian prisoners had found the blond Guard hiding in one of the huts, so he'd been here all the time, he was being beaten and when he put his hands up to protect his face some one grabbed and held one arm and hacked at the hand at the wrist, when it was finally hacked off they grabbed the other one they treated it in like manner, then a rope was fastened round his feet and he was hauled up on to a lamp post, his head was about five feet from the ground, the blood by now had stopped spurting from the severed wrists and was dripping, and a Russian strode forward and I thought he was giving the upside down blond Guard a hug but when he stepped back he had severed the Guards head and he lifted it up for every one to see, then he tossed it to the side of the road and urinated on it.
And I thought those who live by the sword etc. I saw this poster and went over and read it,
"You are strongly advised to stay put until your people come to get you, Russian Soldiers do not recognise any uniform that is not Russian, therefore you will be fired upon if seen out of camps.
I went back to my bunk and the bloke in the next bunk saw that I was getting ready to take off.
"Where are you going" he asked"? I explained what I was doing, also that when Italy packed in the war the POW just sat and waited and finally the Germans came and picked them up.
" But that can't happen here" he said. I said, "If you want to wait and find out that's your choice.
" I'm gone", you know what could happen when the Russians get to Berlin and the Yanks get to Berlin. It happened in Italy it can happen in Berlin, I'm not going to wait for it to go one way or the other.
And I'm not going to spend another four in bloody Siberia I'm off, t'ra."
"Hang on i'm coming with you" he said and he hurriedly took only what was necessary, and when he paused I said "don't worry about shaving gear just roll a bit of soap in your flannel wrap it in your towel and stuff it in your pocket, pocket something you can eat and let get away from here " you need the towel and soap not just to wash but if you get hit, and if you want the toilet you should go, don't wait, because if you get hit it could make the difference whether you make it or not.
"You don't sound like RAF" he queried, and I said "I'm not, I'm a regular in the Argylls" I swapped ID with Tenny and I think its ironic, he's perhaps going to be working another three months in Germany and I'll be home, still that's life for you ain't it?"
I took a long last look at the sentry tower and we set off, now according to the map behind the picture of the pinup, the Elbe river is left of the camp so face in that direction and look to see where the sun is and we set off, we must have walked for an hour when we came upon the biggest rhubarb plant I had ever seen, suddenly shots rang out and we both ducked down into the rhubarb and very carefully I edged toward the crest of the rise and looked down into this village.
A Russian soldier came out of a shop and his arms were full of crockery and a bottle in his hand, as he reached the pavement he just opened his arms and all the crockery hit the pavement with a crash, as this was happening two soldiers had a woman between them and she was crying and as they crossed the street and steered the struggling woman to a house which they entered just to my left and almost level with me was a window with shutters and a woman suddenly leaned out to grab the shutters intending to close them I suppose, unfortunately for the woman a Russian Soldier across the street saw the movement and brought up his Tommy gun and as the woman was closing the shutters he stitched a pattern right across the window, she must have died instantly behind the shutters.
We kept well down and wriggled back out of sight of the village, then we walked some more until in the distance I recognised a group chatting and slapping each other on the back and I recognised one of our uniforms.
As we approached suddenly a Russian soldier took aim at us but one lad in khaki pushed up the gun and made signs we were on the same side. As we mooched around one of the Russians suddenly grabbed a half grown pig and with a razor sharp knife cut half of it's backside off, then let it go, and I thought immediately of a firework, "Light fuse and retire" that pig thought it's backside was on fire and the last we saw of it it was heading for the woods.
The Russian gave the sliced bit of backside to me and so not to offend him I took it and thanked him.
I didn't know it at the time but later on I found out that place was in fact Torgau where we were told, "There is nothing for you here so you had better head for the American lines.
And we did. The bloke with me made a small fire and grilled the meat.
I didn't want any so he ate the lot then later he got the runs and was sick.
We walked until we came to another village and there was no one around so we had a look into some of the houses that had open doors.
In one house there was a kettle on a stove boiling itself dry so I refilled it and put it back on the stove and in one of the cupboards I found a bottle of Camp coffee, the label had an Indian with a turban holding a bottle of Camp coffee across the top where it informed the user that chicory had been added.
I said to my friend "I wonder how long they have saved this for?"
He thought because of the dust on the bottle, maybe since the first war.
I wondered if it was safe to drink then I thought what the hell I'm sick of just water, there was also some evaporated milk unopened so we had a cup of coffee very strong and it was delicious.
We went out side and a flock of geese came by my mate grabbed one and tried to wring its neck but it was so big and powerful or he was so weak he finally had to let it go.
I thought it was just as well, we had to get going and we selected what might come in handy, like a box of matches and a jar of what looked like brawn in a jam jar with a sealed lid.
If we heard any signs of life we ducked out of sight among the big bunches of ferns and other plants until it was safe to come out. After we had been doing this for a while we eventually left the village behind and it was not long before we came to a river.
This has got to be the Elbe I suggested and we walked along the bank to find some means of getting across, my mate said, "Why don't we just swim across?" and I explained to him that if we attempted this we could get swept down stream and some Russians or Jerries could pot us from the bank, no we must cross here, so we kept walking along the bank until we came to a barge tied up to a post on the bank.
We could not find a small boat tied to it so I suggested, "We ought to go further and try again" and as we were leaving a Yank voice said "Hey bud, you want some fries"? we were taken completely by surprise, and I thought, "Barker, you are slipping, if that had been a Jerry with a gun you would have been long gone.
We went back on board and settled down to chips fried in a pan and as I was stuffing myself with chips I noticed the coal fire burning on the wooden floor of the barge and I looked at the Yank and said, "That's going to burn right through the bottom of the barge" to which with a sick grin he replied, " Now aint that a cryin' shame" but we ain't gonna to watch it, we just gonna finish these, and holding up a long chip he inspected it from all angles before chomping down on it narrowly missing his fingers, "an' then we're gone".
Having finished the chips I waited for the others to finish theirs and meanwhile I had a look round the barge, it was a bit like the ones people live in on Manchester ship canal, long and narrow it was beautifully painted, more like a gipsy caravan, and I thought what a shame to burn or leave to burn some thing like this, but as the Yank said "It's a Jerry, burn it".
We had boarded the boat from the landward side but we left it on the other side and jumped into this small rowing boat that had been hidden from the bank, one of the Yanks said "shute, there's only one oar" the other said, "Now what, how do we get across Olly?" and I said, "Skull with one oar," the Yank looked and queried, "Can you do that" I said, "I did back home in the river when I was a kid, come on, but you are going to have to help, grab a long bit of flat wood each and paddle like your life depends on it, if we start to drift down river we'll be like those pot ducks you see in the shooting booth at the fairground."
We pushed away from the side of the barge and straight away the current got the boat but with me at the back skulling like mad and the others paddling with their bits of wood and sometimes missing so that we would be drenched with water a few times but gradually they got better and we were keeping the little boat level with the opposite bank which now was getting closer and my hands were getting sore but we persevered until finally we could reach out and grab at weeds growing on the bank.
Thankfully we all got out and now we had to get our bearings, we let the boat go and it swiftly disappeared down river, we then set off and walked a couple of miles when we came upon a group of houses, going to the nearest house I knocked on the door and I saw the curtain move so I knocked again and after a little wait the door opened and this middle aged lady appeared, " Bitte entschuldigung, aber wo ist die burgermiester" (please exuse me but were is the mayor.) I asked her, and in good English she replied "I worked in a hospital in Birmingham before the war" and we don't have anyone in charge here but if I were you I would go over to that shed and you will find lots of hay in there bury into it in case some one comes and I will bring you some thing to eat and drink but keep quiet because I have seen SS moving about in those woods over there and she nodded with her head towards the woods about half a mile away, then she asked, "Which camp are you from"?
Suddenly I was wary again. But we got settled into the shed and decided we would stay the night and the others didn't have a clue so I said ok we split up the watch, "I aint doin' no watchin"' said one Yank, but the other Yank said, "No the guy's right we get caught we get dead, ok " to me he said "ok so what"? and I said, "We can get caught just as easy outside as in here but in here we are warm in the hay, we need sleep, and we are out of the rain, now if that woman is genuine all we have to do is make it to morning, we do an hour each, but one of us at all times must keep watch to ensure no one creeps up on this shack," then the bloke who was peering through a crack in the door whispered, "That broad's coming", and when she arrived she said, "Don't come out, you don't know who is watching and I always come with this bucket for fire wood, so she stepped into the shed and in the bucket were some sandwiches and a pot of tea, and I mean real tea.
She then piled sticks of wood into the bucket making sure they could be seen sticking out of the top and backing out she closed the door and our bloke on the door said she has gone in now and closed the door.
It was nice and warm and it was not long before I was trying to keep my eyes open, suddenly one of the Yanks said, "Listen, that is a Jeep engine" and sure enough as I peeped through the crack in the door I could see the Jeep in the distance coming along the dirt road.
One of the Yanks made to go out but I held the door tight, "Wait" I said, "They could be Germans" but the Yank was heavier than me and he pushed me out of the way and ran toward the jeep, two figures in the back sprang to their feet and trained guns on the running Yank, the Jeep stopped and the Yank was showing his dog tags and motioning toward us, we also had come out and the woman came out of her house, the bloke in charge of the Jeep said, "We'll take our two boys but you two will have to make you're own way back to our lines, here take this to keep you going till you get there" and with that he threw us a K ration pack each and roared off in the jeep.
We got back into the hay and went straight off to sleep but I made sure we were at the back of the shed so if any one came in and started sticking sharp things into the hay the would not reach us .
In the morning we went over to the house and thanked the lady and she flushed with pleasure, "May we use you're pump" and as we washed she brought out a towel and a little packet of sandwiches each as we washed up.
Take the towels and use them when you wash in a stream or pond and good luck.
We said our thanks and good byes and set off through the wood. We had been going for about an hour when I spotted a bike, it was like the bikes coppers at home used to ride, tall frame, carrier on the back back step at the back axle, three speed, I looked up to heaven and said, "Thanks" but I think he was out for the day.
Anyway I looked around and there he was, this bloke was mowing the clover in the field and since he was eight hundred yards away, he would have a lot of catching up to do.
As I got hold of the byke the RAF bloke looked a bit shocked, "Your not going to pinch the blokes bike", I said, "Just watch me" and "Look, we are in Germany and that bike will help to get us out of Germany and the bloke who owns the bike is a German, his vote probably put Hitler in charge of Germany, but if you want to walk ok, But I'm off and getting onto the bike I was about to push off when he said, "I suppose your right" but I can't stand on that thing, "Pointing to the step, so I said "ok you get on the front and pedal and I'll get on the step."
We did it this way and we went for miles and he pedalled along at a leisurely pace and I stood with one foot on the step and the other leg kneeling on the carrier behind the seat, I bet when that bloke finished reaping in the field he would blow his top.
"Weers' me bike" "shizerund donner wetter noch mal!"
Well it had to happen and the bike had no pump, and because of the extra weight on the back wheel when matey ran over the roots of a tree sticking up in the road the back tyre got pinched and went flat.
From then on it was too painful on the knee to continue so we slung the bike and walked, and up ahead was a bend in the road and just as I heard the sound of engines it was too late to dive to the side of the road because they had already seen us and a forest of guns swung our way and we put up our hands and the motorized column stopped and we were beckoned to advance.
As we got nearer we could make out they were Yanks and maybe a couple of our blokes, they wanted to know what we were doing here and I explained we had just got out of Salag 4B .
"OK but watch it there are still armed SS in these woods and if you follow this road where we have just come along it will take you to an air strip and you go there and stay put ok?"
I said "Ok and thanks," then he threw down two K rations, "See you aroud bud" then banged on the top of the lid and with a roar off they went, we had gone quarter of a mile and I noticed the RAF bloke looking at me kind of funny and I thought what eating him now when he suddenly burst out with, "Your really with it Barker, without maps and using your head you have got us back, I wouldn't have had a clue which way to go.
I pointed out that we were now free as the birds and for the next fifty yards we cavorted and danced and yelled, "We're bloody free."
As we got nearer to the end of the wood a Jeep with one bloke in it came up to us and stopped and the bloke asked what we were doing here, "You could get shot just wandering around, there are still a lot of SS wandering about I'm a bit surprised you got through without mishap." I told him we had seen the American armed column and they had suggested we kept walking in this direction, but we had seen no one else.
I told him we were not tourists but we were ex POW and we wanted to get to the American or preferably the British lines, he asked us to jump into his jeep and we did and he turned it round and we soon were on this air strip and he asked us to get out and stay on this very spot and wait.
He told us that Lancaster bombers were ferrying people like us to France so stay put and you are at the front of the queue for tomorrow, I asked him do we stay here all night?
He said if you go some were else to sleep someone will get your place so stay put if you want to be first away, and stay away from those people, and he pointed to a group of about a thousand skinny figures in black and white pyjamas, some were trying to stay standing, others were laid down, some were busy picking and killing lice from their clothing, some were dying, some were dead.
The bloke told us the Americans have just brought these people here from the gas chambers.
We were there about an hour when this bloke comes across from the control tower and he asked us who we were and how long had we been here, we explained and he said you won't be going anywhere today we've just had a message no more air movement till tomorrow, then in the distance we saw a DC3 coming in and the bloke looked through his binoculars and said it looked like Tedder's plane and we are expecting him, he won't take you, you will have to wait till tomorrow .
The plane landed and two figures got out and one had binocs and we could see we were being looked at, then the other figure came jogging over and we discovered he was in fact a Sergeant and he asked who we were, we again explained and he said, "Come with me" and he led us over to the Dacota plane, the other figure turned out to be Air Marshal Tedder, "Now what are you two lads up to" he warbled?
We explained again, so at the end he asked the Sergeant to get us something to eat and added, " While you are doing that, I'm going over to look at that clock", and he pointed to a huge clock in the distance.
When he got back he was coming into the plane as the Sergeant was bringing in two plates of ham and eggs from the galley,"God" he said "don't give them that muck, I don't want them to be sick on my carpet, do them a hot glass of milk each and whisk an egg in it and add a splash of Johny Walker.
So we set off and I'm looking out of the window watching the ground wizz by, then somebody was shaking me, "We are nearly there" and I thought I'd fallen asleep turning the handle on the potatoe riddler.
But it was for real, Tedder picked up a phone and issued instructions to the Pilot who circled a huge building, then he said to us "Have a look at this" and pointed to this building that had really been shot up, and he continued, "The Jerries really put up a fight in that building.
Then he told the Pilot to go round it again so I could see what I had missed while being asleep.
We landed at Riemes in France and I was taken to a tent and the other bloke into another tent.
It wasn't till later that it occurred to me they had done this to interrogate us separately in case we weren't who we said we were. Also a telegram form to let my folks know where I was, plus a form to fill in to inform the people at the War Office what theatres of war I had operated in, then I was taken to a delousing station and showers, I was told to strip and leave everything and go through the shower, and having done this I was issued with clean battle dress, shirt, etc, the only thing I had were the disks round my neck to remind me of a nightmare.
The next day I wandered around and was told, "Stay near your room because you could be called any time,"
The following day a group of us were taken to the airstrip and we got into the bomb bay of a Lancaster and it was great to know we would soon be in England, till some sick head said, " I hope he doesn't forget himself and say, "Bomb doors open, and bombs away" I looked round and grabbed hold of a bracket sticking out and didn't let go until the plane had landed.
When we got out on impulse I dropped on my knees and rubbed my face in the grass and a Nurse came toward me and I said its ok I just got carried away, but she had tears in her eyes and she said that was so beautiful, and welcome home hero, she put her arm round my shoulder then I was close to tears, I was not alone, other blokes were unashamedly crying and some had relatives to greet them, and there were News reel blokes and cameras clicking I was glad to get away from it all and sit quiet.
The Nurse took me over to a table and a bloke asked questions, I can't remember what about but there were lots of tables and Nurses and blokes asking questions, it was overwhelming, then we were taken to #100 reception Camp Buckinghamshire, this was a big mansion turned over to the Government for the War I suppose, and I was shown into this dormitory with beds with snow white sheets, and somebody said, "At meal times you will hear the bell, if you don't, or you don't feel like eating you can go to the kitchen any time night or day and make a sandwich, there is always a urn of hot tea on the stove, there is a library down there and if you would like to you can go sit by the river,"
I plumped for the river so I could sit and sort myself out. It is very hard to explain to someone how for four years you have been mentally and physically abused every day, The Russians closed in, fortunately the threat was never carried out but we weren't to know that, then suddenly all this kindness, I think one Scottish gentleman put it rather aptley "Ye cannot poot bile'en watter en tae ah cauld glass, et wull shatter it". I thought that summed up our position rather well.
I set off down the stairs and out of the front door and walking across the lawn and two bods with a ball came strolling over and one asked me, "Coming for a game of footy" I shook my head and looked around to see if there was a wooden shed with a little window in it, and there were no Guard towers, no barbed wire, just beautiful trees, flowers, and green grass, and it was quiet.
From there I went home. Tenny came home about three months later, at his wedding we exchanged our POW number tags back again, and with a grin said, "Thanks".
Those are some of the things that I still remember today.
Tom Barker 1st Bn A & S Highlanders.
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