- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Hector Sinclair Buckland, Freda (wife), Valerie Lowe (daughter)
- Location of story:
- Birkenhead; Normandy, France
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 August 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War website by Julia Shuvalova for GMR Actiondesk on behalf of Ms Valerie Lowe and and has been added with her permission. The author is fully aware of the terms and conditions of the site.
After three months spent in Birkenhead the time came to take the next step in preparation for the assault of Western Europe.
Following a spate of rumours and counter rumours from the "Sappers Union" the main party left Birkenhead on 9th May 1944 for a secret destination.
A small rear party were left to clean the billets, and fortunately for me I was one of the party. It enabled me to have a few more precious days in my dear old home town and a few more nights at home. There were not many more opportunities for going home and on Friday 12th May when I went home I did not realise that it would be the last time for a many long day. Freda and I parted in the morning fully expecting to meet again in the afternoon.
During the morning Sgt. Bianas left to take up his appointment at Longmoor which left me alone in the office. In the afternoon Lt. Morrison went home to Wallasey to say farewell to his people, and I spent a miserable afternoon in the office. It was late in the day when Mr. Morrison returned and too late for me to go to Meols to see Freda and Valerie. During the evening I had to go to Kingsmead Road North to hand over the Red Cross Fund money, and while I was out I rang up Freda and Mother.
At 10.00 pm the buses arrived to take us to Lime Street Station. On arrival we had some time to spare so we went into the canteen and had a cup of tea. As we waited for the train to start Mr. Morrison said to me "I wonder when we shall see Lime Street Station again?" I wondered. We travelled in reserved compartments and I managed to sleep part of the night. In the early hours of the morning we arrived at Bletchley where we left the train. A canteen was open on the station so we refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea. Shortly afterwards the transport arrived to take us to Bedford. On our arrival we were amazed to find that the main party had left that morning, and from all accounts it had been a sudden departure. I think most of us had visions of being in France within the next few days. I found myself in the office with Jack Rice and Bert Roberts, Bertis Hall and "Joppie" acting as batmen.
In the evening I went out for a walk and explored the town which was very busy being full of Americans. I found a Methodist Church and went in to the service, after which I had some supper in a canteen in the hall of the church.
We now learned that the main party were in London and the reports about the camp they were occupying were anything but pleasant. Much to my regret at the time I received orders to get myself ready to join the main party.
On Wednesday, 17th May my brief stay at Bedford came to an end and I left by lorry in the evening for London.
The camp, known as T2 was situated in Canning Town and was a cleared site originally covered with slum property until the German bombs had demolished them. It was a terrible scene of desolation and made one feel very depressed. Not far from the Company Office were the remains of a School in which some hundreds of children were killed while waiting for transport to convey them to a safe area. At all time there was that horrible smell of slums, and the cold winds that blew at the time covered everything and everybody with filthy dust. The Company Office was in the bottom of a hovel, the Pay Office being situated in the scullery where four of us tried to work. The Company were billeted in tents, H.Q. being in the Q.M. stores tent adjoining the office. The weather being cold and wet, most of us slept in the office on tables or forms. From this camp a number of men were given 24 hours leave, but it only covered a fraction of the Company.
On Saturday 20th May Arthur and I went into the City, and after a walk we adjourned to the Nuffield Centre, where I had a hot shower followed by a meal. I then spent most of the evening in the very comfortable writing room and later made a telephone call to Freda.
On Monday night 22nd May we went to an Ensa show which was given in what was originally a small chapel. The show was called "Blitz and Pieces" and gave us a real hearty laugh. During my stay here I met Eric Storer who was in command of a Detachment, how unreal it seemed to meet under such circumstances.
We had one or two pay days during our stay here, the cash being drawn from the Field Cashier who was situated in another hovel in the same street as the Company Office. We were fascinated by the enormous amount of new money kept in this place, and it was no trouble to them to supply you with £500 all in new half crowns.
And so the week passed with another visit to the City, and another telephone call. At this time the mail was very uncertain and letters were taking a very long time to reach home, I was therefore very glad of the opportunity of using the telephone.
On Friday, 26th May the camp was sealed, and no one was allowed outside, except on Company business and then only under escort. Following the sealing of the camp we were paid in French francs, each man receiving 200. All the speculation about our ultimate destination seemed to be settled now, but there were those who were still sceptical and said the franc notes were a bit of bluff.
The following day, Saturday 27th May things began to happen, and in the early morning one party left the camp for a destination not known to us although we heard later in the day that they were just over the wall at T3.
I was attached to no. 3 party with Lt. Allen in charge, and we had orders to be ready to move at 5.00 pm. The weather was now very hot and it was most unpleasant being loaded up with full kit which now included a leather jerkin. We assembled at last, all dreading a long march, but to our relief buses arrived at the camp to take us to our destination. On leaving the camp we headed for the docks and we really thought we were off. However, after taking a very circuitous route we arrived at T7 which was situated on Wansted Flats. This was a vast common, now covered with tents, but how pleasing to the eye to see green grass again, and smell the fresh air. We were eventually shepherded to our tents, 8 to 10 men in each with was a horrible crush with all the kit in addition. I had now lost all my Orderly Room pals and would feel very lonely had it not been for Charlie Mountfort who was one of my party. At this camp 1026 had the administration of a group and I had a very busy time trailling round the camp trying to locate them all. The weather was boiling hot, a perfect Whit week end, but not for us incarcerated inside the camp which soon came to be known as Stalag 4. On White Sunday night hundreds of troops stood along the barbed wire watching the crowd of pedestrians and cyclists who passed along the main road and firing all sorts of remarks at them, some not being very polite. The loud speakers were going all day calling for the various serial numbers to attend meetings, and I spent a busy time between our tents and the office collecting and delivering mail, also tickets for the various shows held in the camp.
During the week we had visits from several famous bands, there was also an Ensa party, and film shows. Every day we expected news of our next move which we now knew would be overseas. As the days passed by all sorts of strange vehicles arrived at the camp, and it was here I first saw DUKWS which were destined to play such an important part in the invasion of Europe. On Friday, 2nd of June when most of us were just about to visit the cinema tent we were called on parade and ordered to be ready to move off the next morning. We then immediately began to wrestle with the packing of our kit, a difficult job without a kit bag. A wash and shave followed, and so to bed. Saturday, 3rd June, reveille at 4.30 am, followed by breakfast at 5.30 am. We then marched down to the Camp Q.M. to draw still further supplies which included, 2 24hr. ration packs, 1 emergency ration, 20 cigarettes, 2 boxes fuel and a tommy cooker, 1 tin of dubbin and a "Mae West". Then followed the almost impossible task of packing all these extras into our already overloaded kit, but somehow we managed it, in my case with the exception of the dubbin which I left behind.
For parts 2 and 3, see IDs A5031316 (P.2) and A5031352 (P.3).
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