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Looking Back

by actiondesksheffield

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
actiondesksheffield
People in story: 
Charlie Parsons
Location of story: 
Leeds, Catterick, Alexandria, Egypt, Northern Syria, Taranto, Italy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4588851
Contributed on: 
28 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Charlie Parsons, and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Looking Back

By
Charlie Parsons

It was Friday night, midsummer 1939. I was in a cinema in a Leeds suburb (this was normal for a Friday Night), someone was calling my name in a stage whisper. "Go to the front office," it said. War was about to be declared and I had been 'called up'.

To explain:
I was a Territorial Soldier with the 45 Tank Regiment in Leeds; I went to work during the day and did my soldiering in my spare time. We were referred to as the `TERRIERS' or `PART TIME SOLDIERS'. This system still applies, there are Terriers serving in many parts of the world today. I joined the T.A. when I was fourteen years of age and served for nearly two years in the West York's Regiment as a Signaller. The regiment changed to TANKS early in 1939. We had to retrain to take on this quite new role.

Think of it, no more walking (marching 4 miles in 50 minutes, then to have to do it again!). Now we could ride.

I became a Wireless Operator and Gunner with this change, and found my earlier experience came in useful, as I had been taught to read MORSE CODE (10 words a minute) over the wireless. I could fire most guns and now would learn about tactics. However, as I said in the beginning, I had been appointed as a Company Clerk. We were an advanced party, organising the bringing together of the unit because of the war situation. After about 5 or 6 months, I was informed by my Sergeant that I was to be sent home, the unit was being sent to France, but due to me being under 18 years old, I wasn't allowed to go abroad. I was placed in the Z Reserve and would be called to the army forthwith when reaching the age of 18.

On March 7th 1941, I became a Trooper at the 56 Training RAC Catterick. (I've never known a colder place). They made me up to a Lance Corporal and I was put in charge of a unit of 30 men, all from civilian life. With hindsight, I think 1 was too young for such a responsibility, but it worked out.

I was then given the job of Drill Assistant, helping the Drill Sergeant on the square. From there I was posted to the Cavalry, the `27th LANCERS'. This regiment was banded solely for a war footing and then disbanded when a conflict ceased. So soldiers were brought in from all over the country to form this new regiment, basically the 12th Royal Lancers, then the Welsh Regiment, Derbyshire Yeomanry Training Regiments etc.

We were to begin this great new adventure in North Yorkshire, near Malton; we had Humber Armoured Cars, Daimler Armoured Cars, Scout Cars the lot (we were away). I still remained a Wireless Operator Gunner and I was with the Regiment until it was disbanded after the cessation of hostilities. I went to the 12th Royal Lancers as Sergeant.
After a very busy period in England, learning the rudiments of our trade, preparations were made to go overseas. At the latter end of 1943 we boarded the `Stirling Castle' at the dock of Liverpool. The day was very cold and it was snowing. The ship was a cruise liner, which was stripped and refurbished as a troop carrier. We travelled down the Atlantic in convoy, the days were grey, not a lot to do. In the Bay of Biscay, it became so rough, even the ship's crew was sick. Submarine alert and the abandoning of the convoy got us through to Gibraltar. I remember at night the lights on the coast as we had lived in a blackout for some years. We pulled into Alexandria in Egypt, some two weeks after leaving Liverpool. It was raining believe it or not.

The job we got as a regiment was the upkeep of the `CARDBOARD DIVISION', a dummy diversion, cotton tents, false vehicles tanks etc., all arranged in 2l3 square miles of desert, which from the air, gave an impression of a concentrated gathering of troop formation. Our role was to patrol the area to add movement and show dust trails of a possible convoy on the North African coast road. Submarines of cast concrete were placed in the TOBRUK Harbour. Guard mountings were added to give authenticity to the scene. The effect of this of course was to bring attention from Europe as to the 2nd Front. A game of bluff was taking place.

I was then sent to Palestine in a policing situation. The IRGUN ZVAI LUMI and the HA.GANAH (the Jewish and Arab opposing groups) were at loggerheads. We then went up to the Turkish border to relieve a Black African Regiment, that was down with Malaria. This area of Northern Syria was known as a malaria area. The mosquitoes bit during the day, which is quite unusual. The job we were required to do here was to watch Turkey, the 8th Army were aware of the possibility of a Russian Force coming that way.

At this point, we were given orders to join the 8th Army Forces in Italy. We boarded a ship from India at Port Said and landed at Taranto on the toe of Italy, some three days later. The cars were unloaded and we travelled north. The tyres an the cars had to be shielded from the heat of the sun; at halts they were inclined to explode.

It was very interesting travelling through places like Assisi, the home of St. Francis.
Casino was devastation, the Monastery on the mountain. So much to see. We travelled to the mountains (middle of the country) where we commenced our real job, the job we were trained for.

A word here about what we actually did:
We were reconnaissance people, there to find things out, working in front of the main 8th Army Force, our patrols would send or bring back information about the enemy positions, the state of the land, assess if the rivers and ditches were obstacles? What bridges existed intact? Where were the German Observation Posts? Anything that would help the advance of the main force.

Finding that the cars were not suitable for the task in hand, due to the extreme terrain, and with steep mountains, narrow paths and carriageways only fit for carts, we had to walk.

A patrol consisted of any number of men, it could be from just two to a troop of ten according to the job in hand. We were perched on a mountain side in a village called Pietra Lungha (Pietra Limga) and after a visit to the Squadron Headquarters, would be briefed for our daily task. We could be walking anything up to 8-10 miles, to give you an idea. The first job was to find out if a certain village church was being used by the Germans as an Observation Post, and pick up any other information that might be useful, then we would walk all the way back. This was one role, there were numerous others. In cars, we operated on roads as scouts; the object was still to probe and find out. This sort of life carried me into Austria where we met the Russian Army.

We returned to England for 4 weeks leave (we had been away for 2 years) and then were sent back to Austria and later posted to Palestine, which was another Police job.

I became a Civilian in the autumn of 1946.

Pr-BR

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