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15 October 2014
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“If one of those shells hits the boat we’re all finished!”

by ritsonvaljos

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Patrick Kelly 'Pat', James Kelly (Senior), Isabel Kelly (née McAlay), James Kelly (Junior) 'Jimmy', Henry Kelly, Joseph Kelly 'Joe', Catherine Kelly, Hannah Kelly, Cyril Walker, Pauline Kelly, Evelyn Mills, Robert Casson, Joseph Casson, Patrick Delaforce, Major General 'Pip' Roberts
Location of story: 
Whitehaven, Drigg, Cumbria, Brundle Sands, Burtonwood Warrington, Gamlingay Bedfordhire, Surrey, Hull, Aldershot, Gosport Hampshire, English Channel, Juno Beach, Caen, Bayeux, Ryes, Normandy, Antwerp Belgium, Netherlands, Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Schübin, Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 March 2005

4 June 2004. Pat Kelly, at the 11th Armoured Division Memorial, Flers, Normandy. The Memorial was unveiled by the Division's CO, Major General 'Pip' Roberts in 1974. The sculpture displays the Division's insignia of 'The Black Bull'. The Division charged from Normandy to the Baltic.


I am submitting this article on behalf of Mr Pat Kelly from Whitehaven, Cumbria who served in the with army during World War Two between October 1941 and May 1946. In 1944, Pat was part of the 11th Armoured Division and took part in the Normandy Landings, arriving at Juno Beach on 17 June.

Pat has also been a member of Branch No 51 of the Normandy Veterans Association (West Cumbria) for many years and has been Branch Treasurer since 1989. Pat and a number of other members of the West Cumbria Branch of the NVA have assisted me with a lot of information for my university research about the Battle of Normandy. I am pleased to acknowledge this help and dedicate this article in honour of Pat.

Pat signed a form agreeing that I could write about his memories of the war, that they could be donated to an archive and that others could read them if they wished. The terms of “The People’s War” website have been read and understood.

Growing up in Whitehaven

“My name is Pat Kelly and I was I was born in Catherine Street, Whitehaven on the 10th of the 9th 1922. My father was James Kelly, born in 1881 and he was a coal miner. My mother was a housewife after she married and she was called Isabel Kelly. Before she was married, she was called Isabel McAlay. I had three brothers and two sisters: Jimmy, Henry, Joe, Catherine and Hannah. In 1929 we moved to George Street, Whitehaven and that’s where we lived when war broke out in 1939.

The first school I went to was Quay Street Catholic School, Whitehaven near the harbour. Well when I was there, I had a lot of illness at this First School. I was off for twelve months with bronchitis. And I think it set me back a bit developing at school, because of not having had education right through, you know? So, I effectively lost out at one year of my educational life. The people I went to school with there, at Quay Street, they went through school life with me to St. Begh’s Junior and Senior Schools. My three brothers and two sisters, they all went to St. Begh’s School, Whitehaven.

I left school when I was fourteen. Then, after that I went to work for a grocer called Cyril Walker as an errand boy. He had a shop on George Street, Whitehaven. I was there for two years. What we used to do was when people used to come in, they used to order their groceries. Then we used to take them out to their houses, all round Whitehaven: Loop Road, Hensingham, Inkerman Terrace and all that area of the town.

We used to walk round with hand-baskets, you know? Our arms used to be red raw with the weight of them because we were only young at the time and it was hard work. But it was good to meet other chaps of about my own age, fourteen to sixteen. I think nearly every shop in Whitehaven had an errand boy at that time.

I had moved on from errand boy when I was sixteen. There was no work at the time, so we went to a Juvenile Training Centre. It was an Instruction Centre for trades in Whitehaven. It’s known as Catherine Mill today. That’s where I went, and I was there when war broke out and for quite a while afterwards until 1940.

Called up to the Army

Then I got a job at Drigg, with the Ministry, which would have been in 1940. I was labouring, and working with all the scaffolders, and most of the joiners as well. It was a munitions place, it’s just part of Sellafield now. Then I went to another place with the joiners.

Then I got my call-up papers. I could have got a deferment for six months because I already had three brothers and a sister in the armed forces. They were all in by then. But, I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to go some time!”  So, I decided to go in the army. Well, actually I was called up to the army: the Royal Army Service Corps.

It was on the 31st of October 1941 when I signed up. Then, the next day I was posted to Liverpool, 913 Ack-Ack Battery. I wrote to the Ministry of Defence for a copy of my Service Record, and everything is listed so it’s a good reminder.

Training and exercises

Anyway, by the time I was called up it was 1941. I was called up at nineteen and I was one of the first batch of ‘nineteens’ to be called up. By then, I felt as though if I didn’t go then I was going to be on my own you know? I thought, “Surely it won’t last that long“, you know? “We’ll be back home soon.” But it lasted longer than what I thought, or anybody else thought for that matter.

So for training after I joined up, we went to Brundle Sands, Liverpool and we did a month’s training there. It was infantry training. Then we had a month learning to drive three-ton lorries, and I passed that out after a month. Then I was posted from there to driving an ambulance with another chap at Burtonwood Aerodrome, Warrington. I was there about six months, 20th January 1942 to 19th June 1942. Then I was posted back to the 913 Company for a short while. Then I was posted from there to the 11th Armoured Division on 1st August 1942. You can read the dates from my Service Record I got from the MoD, so it’s really useful remembering.

At that time they were just forming the Division and they were all getting separated. Some were going here, some were going there. So I went to the Headquarters of 173 Company. So we were stationed near a place called Gamlingay near Bedfordshire and we went from there to Surrey.

Then, when we were in Surrey, we did a lot of manoeuvres. These army manoeuvres were preparing us, as we all know now, for the Normandy Invasion. Then, after Surrey, we were posted to Hull and we were there in Hull for twelve months. Next we went down to Aldershot before going overseas. I was stationed in the Tawny Barracks, Aldershot and it was there we were waiting to go for D-Day.

Well, we didn’t really know when or where it was going to be until it happened, you know? Because everybody was keyed up and everybody was wanting to go. As a matter of fact, because we had been on manoeuvre after manoeuvre I think everybody was really just about cheesed off with the with the manoeuvres! So, we wanted some action. And then, as it happened, D-Day arrived and we were in Aldershot ready to go. We just waited, day in, day out! Some were leaving one day, some were leaving another day. At last, our turn came and I left on 17th June 1944.

The Battle of Normandy

So at last, we were going over on the sea crossing to Normandy. When we eventually got on the boats at Gosport, Portsmouth, we were going over and we got talking to the naval lads. They were saying to us, “What have you got on those lorries?” Because, of course, all the lorries were camouflaged. So we told them: “Twenty-five pounders!” So, they all said back to us, “I wish you would get off this boat. Let us get back home! Because, if one of those shells hits the boat we’re all finished!” It’s funny when you think back now, you know?

But eventually we did get off. We’d a rough night. We couldn’t get off that night. We had to wait until morning. Because the weather was that bad. Eventually, when we got off we just did it as quickly as possible. We had to go to a field where camouflage, again, was the first thing we did. Then it was from there we went into battle. It’s all history now! We landed on one of the Beaches, it was Juno Beach we landed on. And believe me, we transferred as quickly as we could from that Beach to an open field where we could camouflage our lorries and dig in for the night, you know?

Well, we were mostly supplying ‘twenty-five pounders’. Also, sometimes we were on petrol runs. Sometimes we had various ammunition to supply and sometimes we would get an odd call-out for food. But mostly it was just keeping in there with the artillery. Whatever was needed we supplied it That was it. We kept moving as they kept moving along. We were with them all the time. I have two books that tell all about the experiences of the 11th Armoured Division during the war. They are really good and detail what we did and where we went.

For us, the first big battle was for Caen. That was when the first thousand bomber raid came over. We were more or less powerless to do anything. You can’t believe such a thing would happen, a thousand bombers going over. The noise was terrific! You couldn’t hear one another speaking hardly. Then eventually, when Caen was taken, and we went through Caen, the amount of damage was unbelievable! After Caen, we went into the Falaise Gap and we went through lots of these other places in France.

From Normandy to the Baltic and back home

After that we moved fast though northern France, Belgium and into Holland, on the river Maas. That’s where we were all over Christmas time 1944 and New Year 1945. I think we were static there We were there for about six weeks, and I think the reason we were static was because the weather was that bad. It was snowing and everything you could name. It just seemed as though there was a lull in the fighting because the enemy was taken aback.

We were so near to each other, the weather was that bad so nobody wanted to make a move, you know? They were also digging in for Christmas time and there was the Battle of the Bulge around then. Then, after that, we started to move of again.

I can recall the time we went into Belgium and especially going into Antwerp. From Antwerp we went down again into Holland and eventually we went in, to Germany. We were all over northern Germany. In particular, I always remember being outside Hamburg and then we went to Lübeck. It always seemed that, the Division I was in, the 11th Armoured Division, was mostly always in the spearhead of the attack. We were moving that fast! It was unbelievable at times.

While we were in France and later on in Belgium and the Netherlands we didn’t really have a lot of contact with civilians. We just got on with the job we were there to do. Then when we eventually reached Germany I think everybody was told “No fraternisation with the Germans!” But, the way it went, some did, and some didn’t! Eventually we finished up on the border of Denmark and Germany at Flensburg. Of course now, Flensburg is the twin town of Carlisle. Also near Flensburg we were at Schleswig-Holstein and a little place called Schübin. They are both near enough to Flensburg. We celebrated V.E. Day in Germany. That day we were all really happy! I can also recall having a real good night out, that night!

I carried on in the army for a year or so, until 27th May 1946. Then, suddenly, I was called up before the Major and he explained to me that I’d been asked to go out on a ‘B-release’. This was to help builders in doing the building work in certain areas of Britain. I was asked to come, if I wanted to. So, I thought, “Well, I’ll take the opportunity.” In fact, I was advised to take the opportunity and come home.

So it was in 1946 when I started work for a building firm in this area, back home in West Cumbria. To begin with, I was on construction work at the Sellafield Nuclear Plant. Later on, I was a Process Worker there. Finally, I went to work at the Marchon Chemical Works until I retired in 1984.

Remembering those who died

There were one or two of my pals who were killed in the war. One of my best pals in the army at that particular time, he got killed. It was the day before the end of the War and he was in H.Q. Platoon. I had got transferred to ‘A-Platoon’ I was away from HQ and then when I got back I was told he had been killed the day before. It was a lone fighter that came over. We were living in then, sleeping in two-man bivouac tents. He was machine-gunned by this aircraft. There were two of them, him and his mate in the tent. They must have heard a noise and I think it was about half five or six o’clock in the morning. He leaned over and he was just shot in two. The top knocked off him, it was tragic. That’s the way it goes unfortunately.

Of course, the best thing that happened to me in life was meeting my wife Pauline! We married in 1952. Pauline likes going with me to the Veterans Association activities. I am in the Normandy Veterans Association, West Cumbria Branch, and I’m also in the Market Garden Association. Our Normandy Veterans Branch hold regular services at St Nicholas Gardens, Whitehaven, and we go to Whitehaven Cenotaph for Remembrance Sunday every year. We do our best to go into schools and explain about the war. It’s good to see their faces. They ask you questions and it’s unbelievable what they come up with!

Then you know about the two Casson brothers, Robert and Joseph who are buried in Normandy. I knew one of them who was at school around the same time as me. A few years ago, on one of our Normandy Veterans pilgrimages, we went to see these two Casson brothers’ graves. One of their sisters, Evelyn Mills, she was with the party. I think she’s since died. But, we went and looked for this cemetery at Ryes, near Bayeux.

We had a little service while we were there, for about five to ten minutes. We took our Standard as well so that gave it a bit of a military occasion as well. Everybody from this area on that trip was pleased to see that service. They didn‘t mind going there at all. It was very sad to see things like that. And those two Casson brothers were only two of thousands in the cemeteries.”


I wish to thank Pat for sharing so many of his memories of World War Two with me over several years. Pat has been Treasurer of the West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans since 1989. The Branch have made several official pilgrimages to Normandy, including the 60th Anniversary Commemorative Services in 2004. Pat was among the Veterans seen on television sets all over the world taking part in the services held over the weekend of 5th and 6th June 2004 in the presence of many Heads of State and Heads of Government.

The 11th Armoured Division, whose symbol was ‘The Black Bull’ have a memorial sculpture at Flers in Normandy, and Pat visited this during the 60th Anniversary Commemorations. There are a number of books that give details of what happened to the 11th Armoured during 1944 and 1945. Pat owns two books he regularly looks through to remind him of those years. The first book is ‘The Black Bull: From Normandy To The Baltic With The 11th Armoured Division’, by Patrick Delaforce. The second book is ‘The Charge of the Bull’ by J. Brisset and M. Bates.

There is also another excellent book written by the Divisional Commander of 11th Armoured Division, Major-General ‘Pip’ Roberts entitled ‘From The Desert To The Baltic’. It gives a good insight into all the actions of the Division.

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