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The Army at Sixteen

by Lancshomeguard

Contributed by 
People in story: 
William Higham
Location of story: 
Gt Britain and Europe
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 May 2005

This story has been submitted to the People’s war site by Anne Wareing on behalf of William Higham and has been added to the site with his permission..

War broke out on my 16th birthday 1st Septebember 1939 and instead of going to work I went to join the Army. Giving my age as 18. I started my training on the 17th June and I remember my mother being in tears when I went. The training took part in Sefton Park, 6 months’ living under canvas. Once trained are first duties were guarding the docks in Liverpool and trying to make sure that the dockers didn’t smoke around all the ammunition that was there. Imagination a lad of 16 trying to tell a burly docker what he could and couldn’t do. I spent 2 years in the infantry guarding Manchester Ringway as it was then, Bridlington and Catfoss Aerodrome, and I was at Kingston—upon-Hull when it was bombed in 1941.

After these 2 years I was transferred to The Royal Armoured Tank Corp. where I did a further 6 months training, learning such skills as wireless operator, gun training and driving. After this I was transferred to the North Hants Yeomanry and in June 1944 went over to Normandy for the D Day landings. I was a gunner on a Sherman Tank; sadly my tank commander Ted Bowden from London was killed, as were many of the tank commanders, a dangerous job. Around 20 tanks were lost on both sides and supporting the Canadians and the 51st Highland Division we fought our way right through Normandy and into Holland. Then without a break, we went straight to the Battle of the Bulge at Ardiennes. Following this we were re-trained on Buffaloes, smaller open topped tanks and in 1945 we ferried troupes and ammunition and the 51st Highland Division across the Reine.

We stayed in Holland until the war ended and celebrated VE Day in Zwoller. We were billeted in private houses, the Dutch people were starving and I remember we had taken over a big gym to use as a cookhouse and they would come and scavenge from the bins of waste food we left behind the building. After the war instead of bombs food parcels were dropped into Holland, to try and help relieve the situation.

From Holland we went to Luneberg in Germany, where the treaty was signed. We weren’t suppose to fraternize with the Germans, even though we were again billeted in private houses, difficult not to do with all the young ladies around, so that didn’t last very long. There were thousands of displaced people in camps; all nationalities and we had to make sure they kept to the curfews. A lot of them wanted revenge on the Germans and would try and smash their windows if they got the chance.

In July 1946 I had been in the Army 6 years and 1 month, I am still in touch with some of my former comrades and we have been back to the Ardienne and Holland on occasions and whenever we go we get a wonderful reception, they are so grateful for what we did for them.

A more detailed account of Bill’s time with the North Hants Yeomanry can be found in Ken Tout’s Book ‘A Fine Night for Tanks’

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