- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr Stanley Smith
- Location of story:
- UK, France & Holland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Steven Turner a
Peoples War Story gatherer with the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Action
Desk, following an interview with family friend, Mr Stan Smith and has been added to the site with his permission.
He fully understands the site's terms and conditions. A seperate story was entered for Stan's wife, Iris, under the title "Rissy's War".
“I joined up in 1941 and I had wanted to join the RAF and become a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, but I failed due to my eyes. They would’ve put me in a ground trade, but I said I wanted to go where the action was, so they put me in an infantry regiment!
I was sent to the Royal Norfolks and after 12 weeks basic training we spent a lot of time patrolling the coast. I was in the 9th Battalion. It was the winter of 1942 when we then moved down south, to Danbury Camp near Andover. One of my memories of that place was that we had to get water from a standpipe in the middle of a field and it kept freezing up.
Next we moved to Bournemouth and it was here that I was summoned by the C.O. The Intelligence Officer was there and he asked me to join the Intelligence section. The section consisted of one Second Lieutenant, one Sergeant, one Corporal, One Lance Corporal and six Privates.
We had to do selection tests and I was with them for a week. Only my mate Ron Wood and I got in. We went to the Isle of Wight, climbing cliffs and I got very good at map reading. They would drop us off in a closed truck in the middle of nowhere and we would have to get out and find our bearings. We’d usually do this by going to the highest piece of ground and starting from there.
After six months we were sent to County Durham and they disbanded the 9th Battalion! We were sent to a holding unit at Aldershot where I wrote lots of letters to Iris, who was then my girlfriend. They always censored the letters but she didn’t get a lot of them, I used to write daily to keep myself busy. I remember Iris coming down to see me at Aldershot.
One day the 1st Battalion C.O came along and he spoke to us. Ron and I joined the I-Section for 1st Battalion on his invitation. They sent us out on a 30-mile forced route march from Haywoods Heath and Ron couldn’t hack it, so he got chopped. I think he ended up in a Munitions factory. All that marching was good practice for France.
The six of us that passed the test got a 48-hour pass. I decided to head home for Peterborough but when I got to Kings Cross I found I had no money for the train, so I had to use the “Lucky” farthings and sixpences people had given me when I joined up.
Army pay was seven shillings a week at the start and then fourteen bob a week after that. But the Army took money off you for various things so we ended up with eight bob out of that. If you broke anything or lost anything you had to pay three times for it. The cost of the item, the cost for the replacement and then one for the stores! If you lost a rifle you would have no pay forever. No one I knew ever lost a rifle.
On the morning of D-Day it had been decided that there were enough people in the I-Section so I was to be a Bren Gunner with C Company of 1st Battalion. I had ninety-six pounds of kit plus the Bren Gun. Everyone carried three spare magazines for the Bren and three grenades. We didn’t land wearing webbing we had these big jackets with built in pouches. Food wise we had hard tack and a slab of chocolate, which was only to be eaten in emergencies (it wasn’t Terry’s or Cadburys) and I was only one of a few who went all the way to the end of the war without eating it! The French were very good to us with food and wine.
We were all scared to death; we’d been waiting in our LCI for 24 hours after it was cancelled on 5th June. There were 12 of us in the Cabin and everybody was being sick. It was nearly enough to fill the floor of the cabin and with the roll of the boat the vomit was sloshing up to the doorsill (these were high being a boat). I remember someone shouting at us to keep the door shut.
On the way in a cruiser next to us got sunk, so many boats were sinking round us and there were bodies in the water, so many bodies you can’t describe it.
We landed on Queen beach, part of Sword Beach and we starting digging in with our entrenching tools as we were being shelled and there were German aircraft attacking. We weren’t there long. Our battalion was very lucky, on the D-Day landing itself our only casualties were four bicycles lost and a wireless set. Between D-Day and the end of the war we would lose half the Battalion, dead and injured.
As we left the beach area and went into the land behind it was obvious that the Germans had blown something up to flood the land. It was up to our waists in places but we didn’t care as we had these leggings on that formed part of the anti-gas kit (These were oilskin trousers that sat over the boots and high up the waist). The German’s started firing their multi-barrelled rocket launchers at us, “Moaning Minnies” so we kept diving under the water! We were a mile or so to the right of Pegasus bridge at this point and three miles from the canal.
On D-Day, Max Hastings’s “Overlord” lists the 1st Norfolks as part of 185th Brigade of the British 3rd Division, along with 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment and 1st Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.
Our objective was the dry dock on the Caen canal but we were stopped at Lebisey, three miles south. The Warwickshire Regiment got held up ahead of us and we went in to support. German tanks started firing at us from the flanks and we got the order to withdraw. I remember we were running down this hill and I reckon I jumped this hedge that was at least six-foot high. A bullet hole had pierced my water bottle. I was trying to buy water from other people but no one would let me have any. We got to a village with a well, but there was a sign saying it had been poisoned. A lot of them were like that.
We took Lebisey on the 8th of June. I remember the shells when we attacked, they used to hit the trees and you didn’t know where they were going. We had similar problems in the Reichswald Forest later in the war, with bigger trees! We went from Lebisey to Ranville for a rest and me and some other chaps billeted in a shop. I picked up a shaving brush there that lasted me twenty-five years!
Ten days after D-Day I was back in the Headquarter’s Company, with the Intelligence Section as I think they’d lost three men by now. The section would work in the back of a half-tracked vehicle. When we went into an attack we would be the ones making up the C.O’s map. We’d use chinograph pencils on perspex and then on the reverse we’d use Indian Ink before cleaning the chinograph off afterward.
We could never get the map’s quick enough, we were always getting them mixed up, so I had an idea. I got some 3” Mortar cases and I rolled the maps up into them, numbering each case. I then got the Pioneers to make me up a wooden case to put them in and this fitted to the back wall of the half-track.
If we went out on a dawn attack, say 500 men in the first wave, our chaps would lay out cycle lamps to lead the way to the start line and then lay tape out as to where we wanted people to be. In terms of tank support we much preferred the 3rd Division’s Tank Corps rather then the Guards Division, they always took the glory!
There was one other memory that stands out, in Holland; I can’t remember where it was. I was on my own in an observation post in a church spire. I went in to the church in the early hours of darkness and knocked out one of the roof slates for a view. Next day I could see some tanks, about twenty or thirty of them in a very small area. I took a bearing on them and fortunately someone else in an O.P on my flanks could see them as well. We had 36/38 radios that you talked into quietly and the vibration of your voice would get the message through via pads on your neck. I sent a message (tanks on bearing so & so!) and the other O.P did the same. Within five minutes there was the biggest bombardment but the problem was these shells seem to creep closer to the tower. I realised I had to get out of there and I had to get down these ladders to the bottom. So I put my feet on the sides and slid down! As I got to the bottom the top of this tower was blown out! When I got back the first comment was “nice work Smudger”."
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