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15 October 2014
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My Life - Born in 1918, then a Soldier in WW2 - Part 1

by robert beesley

Contributed by 
robert beesley
People in story: 
Phil Lofthouse, Mr W Benham, Mr Von Thompson and his wife, Bill Grimshaw and Mr and Mrs Beesley
Location of story: 
Croydon in Surrey, Mortlake and Richmond in Surrey, Chatham in Kent,Fecamp and Rouen in France,St Valery in France.
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 December 2004

I was born in Croydon in Surrey on 3 July 1918. Before the First World War had ended in 1920, my family returned to Mortlake in Surrey, where my mother's family lived. My father had a job as a Stoker Engineer and he had served in the Royal Navy from 1900 to 1912.
In my childhood, I met Ex-Veterans that lived in Richmond in Surrey, which was near to where I lived. At Richmond there was The Star and Garter Home, which was for the limbless and badly injured Army, Navy and Airmen War Veterans. Also in Richmond was the Poppy Factory.
Our schoolteachers were also War Veterans and so the War was all around us as children. As we grew older and learnt to read and write, we learnt more about the War. Mr Benham, Mr Grimshaw and Mr Thompson, who was my teachers and others told us different War stories. They and others would tell us that the War was not over in Germany because they would not forget and forgive.
Men were out of work, so there was little money to go round. There was the Welfare State for handouts.
The League of Nations was formed but that did not stop the men stating that the War was far from over. We read that things were not much better in Germany. There was food shortages and no work. We also heard of Hitler and the Nazi Party. In 1933, when Hitler won the Election and became Chancellor, those men that had spoken about the next War, said that it had already started. People called them crazy.
In 1933 Hitler, got the German people back to work, they now had bread on their table.
I joined the 2/6 Battalion East Surrey Regiment at the age of nearly 16 years of age. I put my age down as 18 years old,as I had started shaving so I had no problem in joining the Territorial Army. men from the 1914-1918 War also had joined up in the Territorial Army.
My first summer camp was at Camberley in Surrey with the Territorial Army. We learnt a lot. On returning home, after the camp, Mondays and Thursdays were training nights. At the Easter holidays. the Officers and the other ranks were at Bisley Rifle range in Surrey shooting at targets, with rifles and also the Lewis gun.
As Hitler and his Nazi party took control of Germany, the German Government complained to the League of Nations about the payment, that Germany had to make to the Allies after the War. They agreed that it was a high price to pay. At this time, the man in the street was saying that the War was not far off. Hitler broke every treaty made in 1919 with the Allies and the World stood by, while the Germans walked in and took back Countries, that had once been theirs.
In 1936 I joined the Royal navy and trained as a Stoker. After passing out on square bashing and engineering training, it was Christmas time, we then had a week's leave.
In January 1937 I was drafted to H M S Furious, which was a AirCraft Carrier. It had been built in 1917 as a Battleship, the first Battleship in the World to carry
18 inch guns. But after the War of 1914 -1918, she was then made into an Aircraft carrier and was used to train Fleet Airarm Pilots.
In 1938, I found that I was deaf in my left ear. I then reported as sick ad was sent to Stone House Hospital in Plymouth. When I was seen by the Doctor, he told me that I would need an operation to remove a bone from my nose and I said no to this. A month later, I was discharged as unfit . During this time, in 1936, the German Army marched in on the Rhineland. The league of nations just wrote a letter to the German Government. The Communists and the Nazi party were at each others throats. The Communists wanted to take over Germany. There was also trouble with the jewish People. Britain and france made an agreement with Poland. They had arranged that if Poland was attacked then both Britain and France would come to their aid. I was out of the Navy so I went to see my Doctor about my deafness. He then sent me to West London hospital for treatment. I then rejoined the Territorial Army.
The summer of 1938, Mr Chamberlain M.P. returned home from a meeting with Hitler. He landed at Croydon Aerodrome and came out waving, to what looked like a piece of paper shouting "Peace in our time".
The man in the street just said "Bull".
In February 1939, my deafness had been cleared up and I could, once again hear. I tried to return to the Navy but I was turned down. In July 1939, I wrote once again to join the Navy of which I enclosed a doctor's report and letters. I then, in due course, received a reply telling me to report to Whitehall in London for a Medical examination. This I passed and I was then informed that I could return to the Navy for duty. I was told then I would be sent for. I requested to be posted to Chatham Barracks, as my father and mother were getting older in age and it would be ideal, as I could slip up to London to visit them.
If they had sent me to Plymouth it would have been too far away. So now I waited to be recalled for service.
In August 1939, we were called to duty and we were posted to the Kent area on Guard duty. Germany had marched into Poland on 3 September 1939. Mr Chamberlain broadcasted to the Nation that we were at War with Germany. Also France had declared War on Germany. The German people had hoped that we would turn a blind eye, once again.
The man in the street had always maintained that War was coming but the idiots that we call M.P.s were just turning a blind eye. The news of War had proved that these crazy men were right after all!
The 2/6 Battalion East Surrey R egiment returned to Richmond in Surrey in December 1939 and we were billeted at the Richmond Hill Hotel.
In April 1940, we were ordered to France to join the British Expeditioary Forces. On landing in France, D Company was at Fecamp, carrying out guard duty. We did hear that in May 1940, that the Germans had attacked Holland. The 2/6 Battalion East Surrey Regiment was under orders to go to Belgium. D Company remained at Fecamp. Next we were ordered to rejoin the Battalion at Rouen in France. There, our Commanding Officer was relieved of his command and returned to England with his Batman, Corporal Lofthouse.
At Rouen, I received three letters, two of them were from home and the other was from the Royal Navy, telling me to report to
H M S Pembroke at Chatham in Kent. My mother had been involved in a hit and run accident so I reported to the Company Commander, Major Spearing with both of these letters and he told me not to worry, as we were going home.
It was June 1940, the Battalion had moved out of Rouen in convoys along the route, patrols were sent out and once the Germans had been spotted, we opened up fire as the convoy drove along. It began to get dark and we had entered a wood and here we were ambushed. There were vehicles on fire, rifle machine gun fired on Officers and other ranks and they were climbing out of their vehicles. What remained of the Battalion, which drove into that wood, twenty of us were not with the Battalion. We found a place to rest. Next morning, we ran into a German patrol, they could see us but we could not see them. But, we noticed that when they fired upon us, it had left a ring of smoke. We fired into the smoke and all that we heard was a grunt.
When the shooting had stopped, we saw dead Germans, also a Krupp machine gun, which we took with us. Later, we joined up with the Battalion, also the 51st Highland Division.
All that you heard, from the French was "Bosch in Paris in 6 months"
We found ourselves in St Valery, with our backs to the sea. There was no way to escape. We did hear that Artillery had been sent to France with No High Explosive shell, only smoke shells. What a waste of men and equipment!!
On the 12 June 1940, the French ordered the British to surrender to the Germans. Field Marshall Rommel took the surrender from General Victor Fortune.
We were now Prisoners - of -War.
One did notice that the French officers was dressed in their best uniforms and they also had suitcases. The soldiers had large back packs, filled with food. But we, the British just stood, as we had no kit, only what we were standing up in.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Memories of my life born in 1918 to being a soldier in the Second world war

Posted on: 21 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

This is a very useful and excellent story, although some statements of international events are not in their historical sequence.

"The Communists wanted to take over Germany" - this was perhaps true in 1919, but not in 1933.

"There was also trouble with the jewish People" - there was no trouble with Jewish citizens other than that created by the Nazis.

"Britain and France made an agreement with Poland. They had arranged that if Poland was attacked then both Britain and France would come to their aid." ... "The summer of 1938, Mr Chamberlain M.P. returned home from a meeting with Hitler".

The 'piece of paper' the British Prime Minister waived had been signed both by Chamberlain and Hitler. Britain and France had made no agreement with Poland prior to it; they unilaterally guaranteed Poland's independence in March 1939 - well after Munich, not before - after Germany completed its occupation of the rump of Czechoslovakia, in complete disregard of the Munich agreement.


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