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Diary of Hector Buckland, L/Cp, May-December 1944, Part 3

by gmractiondesk

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Archive List > British Army

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.

The following day we had orders to dig ourselves in, so I got busy with pick and shovel while Bert was away with the post, and Arthur fiddled about. It was a busy day but by nightfall we had the place more or less finished. My chief anxiety was to get a letter home, if only I could send a telegram to relieve their anxiety, but that was impossible. As there were no Field Cards available I wrote a letter. A day or two later we received the Field Cards and I despatched one or two. On the 12th June Sgt. Elton and I made an attempt to get to the Dock Office started, Cpl. Whitaker was supposed to be another member of the staff but preferred to sun himself. It was a hopeless job at the beginning as we had no office or even a table to work on. Our request for a tarpaulin to build an office was refused so we had to look elsewhere. The only place available was a barn above the cookhouse where a barn door supported on combo boxes had to suffice for a table. All was chaos and confusion, no one knew which gangs were out or the ships they were on. We carried on in this way until Sunday, 18th June when we received orders to move to the Command Post, situated at Le Hamel. The building was formerly a Sanatorium but it was badly damaged in the invasion, the floors being littered with broken glass. We moved in on the Sunday evening, and we now had changed Cpl. Whitaker for Cpl. Rayner. We took our Combo rations with us which the Border Regt. kindly warmed up for us. Our meals we ate in the office until Major Richardson took objection by putting a notice on the door to the effect that the place was an office and not a British Restaurant. It made us very fed up having to tolerate such nonsense on active service. From this time we went back to camp for our dinner, and Cpl. Rayner and I took it in turns, one doing the morning shift for a week and then changing to afternoon. We were now getting some system into the work and we were thus able to allow the man on the morning shift to remain in the camp for the rest of the day, of course by the time he got his dinner it was usually about 3pm. We managed to get a bicycle which saved us a lot of walking but I personally enjoyed the walk in the early summer morning, especially when I found the way through Asnelles. Practically all this time we were kept awake most of the night with air raids and the thunder of A.A. fire which shook the ground on which we lay. One began to feel the need for a good sleep, and it was a relief when we occasionally got a quite night. On Friday, 23rd June I tackled my washing for the first time and found it no easy job what with collecting and carrying water from the Naval Camp, I also experienced a bath in a biscuit tin for the first time, it was better than none at all, but far from satisfactory. By this time Valerie’s third birthday had passed, and I was unable to send neither card or present which made me feel rather sick. On the 26th June I received at last my first letter in France which was from Freda, it was written before they had received news of my safe landing and she was anxious, how I longed to get some news that she had heard from me. Our life now became a normal routine, work in morning or afternoon, all our spare time being taken up with washing or letter writing. On 30th June the rear party which I left at Bedford arrived, it was a wet night and being cloudy an excellent night for Jerry to come over, which he did in force and we spent another sleepless night.

If it was a cloudy night he was almost certain to come over. All this time there was fierce fighting in the neighbourhood of Caen, and we were told that crack Panzer Divisions were massing for a break through. From the time of our arrival up to this period we never took our clothes off at night and slept with a steel helmet beside us. On the afternoon of 4th July I was working at the Command Post. One of the vessels which we were working was the Blackwater, a sinister name I thought, she was beached below the Command Post. At about 6.30pm there was an explosion on the vessel, and when I returned to camp that night I learned that Sapper Gregg had been killed and another sapper seriously injured. The vessel was carrying ammunition and it was a box of fuses that exploded killing him almost instantly. This was our first casualty, a young man of 24, married with a child, yet another life cut off in its prime for what?

On the evening of the 7th July we saw another memorable sight. A vast fleet of Bombers which came in from an easterly direction flying in the direction of Caen. From the position of our camp we were able to watch them fly right over Caen, where they sky was filled with Flak. Having dropped their bombs, they returned flying right over the camp. In all there must have been about 500 of them. We had now got settled in the Command Post when we got orders to move to another part of the building, much to our disgust. On Friday, 14th July Bastille Day the French people were entertained on the village green and we gave our daily chocolate for the children. In the evening I went along with Arthur to see the entertainment, but to our disappointment it had just finished when we arrived. As we were by the Church we decided to have a look inside and during our tour we suddenly heard the A.A. guns open fire. This was almost unusual in daylight, so we rushed outside to find the cause. As we got outside the guns ceased, and we saw a Spitfire chasing a Jerry plane. Then followed a thrilling fight and after a few bursts of machine gun fire the jerry plane came hurtling to the ground, the pilot making a landing by parachute. On Sunday, 16th July I attended for the first time a Church service which was held in a small hall in the village of Asnelles. The service was organised by the Border Regt., and in particular by a Sgt. Scantlebury and a corporal whose name I never knew, the latter conducting the community hymn singing at the end of the service. It was an inspiring service and did me a lot of good. The weather from the beginning of our stay had steadily improved and was now real hot summer weather. On Thursday, 20th July we were again moved from our office into a part of the building which had no glass in the windows, and by this time we were feeling very fed up with 6 P.O.G. in general. On the 23rd I again attended the service, and Dvr Cadle accompanied me. On my return to camp I was informed that we were to move from the dugout on which we had worked so hard, and we felt rather fed up about it. Our new dugout was in the centre of the field, a fact which we did not relish, but once we settled down we were quite comfortable. It was much larger than our previous home and we were able to stand up inside. The occupants were Bert Sharpe, Arthur, Bill Sturdgess, Doug and myself, Sgt. Watts also occupied one end but carefully screened off from the “common herd”. On the evening of 31st July I had my first dip in the sea in company with Jack Rowley and Ted Burke and found it very enjoyable and refreshing, after all the heat and and dust of the day. The Command Post contained some very fine showers and on 4th August I sampled them for the first time. It was a great treat after fiddling about in a biscuit tin and for the first time I felt really clean since my arrival in France.
On Sunday, 6th August I was eating my dinner in the “Bivvy” and reading an Echo that had just reached me when I saw the announcement of Stanley’s death, it was a terrible shock to me and I felt sick at heart for days.

On Monday, 14th August the weather was very bad and there was a gale and high seas. Once again we were working the Blackwater and orders came that a shift had to work throughout the night. It was during the night we had our second casualty — Spr. Remington being struck with a set whilst standing on a Dukw. This was the end of the night work on the beaches, as quite a few lives were lost that night and a lot of damage done. On 19th August I sampled for the first time the Mobile Bath situated at Crepon, it was excellent especially after the biscuit tin. On the 23rd August I had my first full day off. During the morning I interviewed carpenters and persuaded them to make me a bed. The day being fine and sunny I went down to the beach in the afternoon with my towel and a book and spent the time bathing both sea and sun. it was on this day we heard of the fall of Paris and excitement ran high. Due to the efforts of an RAF unit a barn adjoining the camp was converted into a theatre and christened the “Citadel”, and on Friday, 25th August I saw the first Ensa show during the afternoon. In the evening I saw another one at the camp of 1036. On the night of 30th August we were all in bed as it was now getting dark much earlier, when we were given a bottle of whisky, which sent us all to sleep feeling warm and contented.

On the 8th September the work at Le Hamel came to an end and we transferred our office to the Normandy Hotel at Arromanches. On the 12th September I had the pleasure of a visit from Harry Taplin, who called for me in the evening and took me back to camp.

On the 15th September we moved from Meauvaines to Asnelles, and H.Q. were billeted in a fine house standing in its own grounds. The wood at the rear of the house provided a fine place in which to do our washing, in addition to the necessary field for the fire. In this wood grew a profusion of wild cyclamen of all shades, and they looked very pretty among the dark green leaves. Mushrooms could also be found, and one afternoon Bert and I had a feed which we cooked on the fire in the wood.

On the 5th October I paid my first visit to the cinema at Crepon in company with Sapper Newberry, now a member of the Dock Office Staff. The show was given by some Artillery boys known as the “Crusaders” and was the best show of its kind I have ever seen. On 16th October the hall in Asnelles was taken over by the Company for recreation and was opened with a cinema show “Four Jills in a Jeep” which I attended in the evening in company with Joe Newberry. The following night we paid another visit to the cinema at Crepon and saw “Jack London”. On Friday, 20th October a concert was held in the recreation hall but turned out to be nothing else than a drunken brawl.

On the 31st October I paid my first visit to the Yank cinema and it was the start of many visits as they changed the programme three times a week. By this time it was dark early and our only light in the billets was a candle. There was no fire and many an evening we had to go to bed as early as 8pm in order to keep warm.

On the 7th November for some reason unknown to me I was posted to a section and finished work in the Dock Office. On the 9th November I went with the ration lorry to Bayeaux, Bert accompanied me and showed me round the town. Apart from a magnificent cathedral there is nothing of note.
On 19th November I resumed work in the Dock Office again. On 29th November Group moved off to Brussels, we then took up our abode in Movement Control and for the first time in my army career had excellent food.

On 5th December the last M.T. ship M.T.122 Fort Musquarro completed loading and sailed. On the 9th December we completed loading the Crewhill with Whale equipment and this was the last vessel to work on Spud Pier, a few days later the pier being dismantled.

Now followed a period of complete rest, when we spent days in each chair reading. Apart from an occasional visit to H.Q. or a walk along the beach to collect fuel for the stove there was nothing to do.

News at last of leave in the New Year, followed by the usual speculation as to percentage which the “Sappers Union” put at 33 1/3. On Saturday 16th December Sgt. Elton had instructions to leave the Dock Office and he went to Brussels the following day.

For parts 1 and 2, see IDs A5020444 (P.1) and A5031316 (P.2).

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