- Contributed by
- Colin Paine
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 January 2005
Taken in Nieuport, Belgium - circa early 1945
"Remembering the 40's"
.... a few memory 'bullets' plus edited extracts from .... 'While I Remember"
(The personal life-story-memoirs of Colin R Paine. )
End of August - September 3rd 1939 ... a prelude to the 1940's - and to war ..
aged 14, on holiday in Herne Bay, Kent with family and schoolfriend Dennis ... pier concert party shows, trips on paddle steamers 'Medway Queen' plus ... a heatwave ...most houses with windows and doors wide open ... wireless (radios!) on for crisis news as Germnany invades Poland.
Herne Bay fishermen tell us of receiving call-up papers for the Merchant and the Royal Navies ... ultimatum given to Hitler to withdraw from Poland by Sunday 3rd September 'or a state of war will exist...'. Friday 1st September, seafront lights turned off.
Holiday cut short ... Saturday September 2nd, Herne Bay railway station crowded with holidaymakers rushing to return home ... we cross a London transformed ... sandbag-clad buildings, trenches being dug in the royal parks, uniforms everywhere... home to improvise blackout cover for all windows ... hold breath for tomorrows announcement in response to ultimatum.
Sunday 3rd September, 11.00am, all gatherted round wireless for announcement ... war declared ... air-raid sirens wail immediately ... irrational fear of immediate obliteration ... 'All Clear' sounds minutes later! ... false alarm.
September '39 - to early 40's ... Get job as dairy boy at local farm... phoney war', but in October the battleship H.M.S. Royal Oak is torpedoed by a U-Boat when at her home base in the Scapa Flow, in December 1939 the Nazi battleship 'Graf Spee' is trapped in the River Plate by the Royal Navy and is scuttled by her captain Hans Lansdorf who then shot himself .... otherwise not a lot of action to report !!!. ...
Spring and summer 1940, Hitler's troops invade Denmark and Norway then proceed to over-run the low countries ... allied forces forced to retreat ... Dunkirk!, our holiday paddle steamers of a few months back now in the the thick of battle rescuing troops from the beaches.
Autumn 1940 ... German air-offensive on Britain commences ... watch 'Battle of Britain' from the fields of Hertfordshire .. as a fourteen year old, collect fighter plane's
spent machine gun and cannon cartridges ... London's Silvertown Docks bombed, paper-debris reaches as far as Cuffley, twenty miles from central London.
Nightly 'Blitz (krieg)' on London commences and minimally spills over into our area .. collect Ack-Ack (Anti-aircraft guns) shrapnel, pick it up too soon and get burnt fingers! ... Land-mine descends on parachute, settles on a hedge in the village,
fails to explode, Royal Navy Bomb Disposal team make safe and remove ...
durng a daylight attack a stick of bombs (some delayed action) fall as a 'near-miss' to the railway viaduct... at night a German bomber jettisons a load of incendiary bombs across the village, urgent action with stirrup pumps and buckets of sand prevent any severe damage.
Autumn 1940, now aged 15, get job as 'runner-boy' for Press Photographers (Fox Photos) in Tudor Street (off Fleet Street), London ... London continues to be devastated nightly ... one morning I exit from Chancery Lane Underground Station, and 'I'm 'lost'! - the daily familiar terrain now unrecognisable, Shoe Lane disappeared overnight, and much of Holborn similar ...
Before dusk every evening Underground stations and tunnels across the city are filled with sheltering humanity, seething masses of bodies packed cheek by jowl and yet courageously singing to keep up their spirits - all extremely smelly by morning!.
Every day as a 'runner-boy' - throughout the autumn of 1940 and until November 1941 - I rush news photographs to the art-editors of all the newspaper offices in the city, going over and round the fresh rubble of the night before ... frequent journeys to 'The Press Cafe' (Tudor Street) and 'Jones Dairy' (Bouverie Street?) to get buttered rolls and large billy-cans of hot sweet tea for the overworked and over harrassed photographers and editors. Also take copies of war photographs to the Ministry of Information in Russell Square in order to get authority (or otherwise) to release for publication.
Every hour of the day handwritten newspaper placards report new disasters on land and sea throughout the world ... tragedies and a few victories ... the battle of the Atlantic ... convoys v U Boats, .. German battleship Bismark sunk (May 1941) ....
Germany breaks pact with and attacks Russia ... offensives, retreats, gains, losses, North Africa battles to-and-fro ... H.M.S Ark Royal torpedoed ... the news varied hour-by-hour - but mainly they were black-news days during 1940/41..
In December 1941 Japan attacks the American fleet in Pearl Harbour and America moves into the World War 2. However, by the end of November, I had left the daily and nightly hazzards of London and moved into Buckinghamshire as, a stable-lad to a privately owned string of National Hunt horses. This episode of my life spanned only three short months because it was soon made very apparent to me that my love of horses was not mutually regarded ... my 17 hands mare bolted with me and I was given the sack!.
So I returned home to Cuffley and, thanks to my father and his friends, I gained the position of sales assistant in a highly respected antiquarian booksellers (Bernard Quaritch) situated in London's Grafton Street, off Bond Street, and I was back to commuting to and from London daily. I was now 16.
On the domestic front things changed comparatively little, I still spent a good deal of time at Hanyards Farm in Cuffley, Hertfordshire, the home of my best friend Dennis, but both Den' and I had much less spare time than when we were at school together. Whilst I was working in the English department of the Bernard Quaritch, Dennis was at that time I believe working at Wrighton Aircraft (previously and post war Wrighton Kitchen Furniture) making the all-wood-construction fighter-bomber aeroplanes, the 'Mosquito'.
The biggest drain on our spare time was caused - I think somewhere towards the end of 1942 - by the pair of us joining the 'Home Guard'. We were fortunate enough at this time to be issued with complete uniforms. Had we joined a few months earlier this would have been most unlikely.
The original 'force' was known as 'The Local Defence Volunteers' and an LDV armband and a pitchfork or pike would have been about the best 'issue' one might have expected. Now, as new recruits, we even had rifles and we drilled and trained with them on the playing fields of Newgate Street one or two evenings in the week as well as on Sunday mornings.
The village of Newgate Street, as well as boasting two pubs also proudly posessed
a really traditional village blacksmith whose forge was even more traditionally shadowed by an enormous 'spreading chestnut tree'. The Blacksmith was named Walter Brighty and he was a really traditional character with whom we shared many a yarn and to whom we regularly took (to be fitted with sizzling hot new shoes) the farm horses and those from the local riding school.
But to revert to our 'engagement' with the Home Guard ... anyone who is conversant with the TV programme 'Dad's Army' will be acquainted with the very extraordinary things that the mythical 'Warmington-on-Sea' lot did - and in real life at Newgate Street - it wasn't that much different!.
Our Commanding Officer was not the bank manager captain of 'Dad's Army' although he did in fact work I believe as a manager in a bank. Our CO only
carried the rank of Lieutenant (Lt Dawson) rather than the three 'pips'
on the shoulder tabs of the Warmington-on-Sea Home Guard's gallant leader.
A few passing memories of our days in the Home Guard ...
I was an 'EY Rifleman'. The 'E.Y'. rifle was named after Sir Ernest Youlle (?) who invented it, or more accurately, adapted it from the standard Lee-Enfield rifle.
To convert the Lee Enfield to an 'EY rifle' it was first reinforced by binding the rifle stock with tough wire, then to the muzzle was affixed a cup, and into the breech
was inserted a ballistite* cartridge (that may not be how it was spelt but it is as
I remember it and I assumed that it was a corruption of ballista), and finally, into the cup was popped a mortar sized bomb.
There was always a chance (due to the fact that the cartridge packed a real blast-off punch and the rifles with which we had been issued were first world war weakened left-overs) that pulling the trigger would see the whole jolly caboodle blow up in your
face and leave the enemy smiling - but anyway, I alone was honoured with this formidable weapon in the platoon!.
Because my little bomb was intended to blow up the nasty pocket of German invaders who would presumably conveniently gather for me in a nice tight little fox-hole, I had to be accorded 'covering fire' by my comrades and we practised the routine religiously, instead of going to church, every Sunday morning.
We would parade on the Newgate Street playing field, the roll would be called, we would do a bit of drill and then we warmed up to my moment of glory - which, had it ever been 'for real' would I am quite certain have been accurately described as death or glory with death being the absolute certainty - for me!.
Anyway, the platoon would be split into two groups the size of which would depend on how many HG's were available because frequently the country demands of milking, harvesting and the like had to take preference over the defence of the realm... these two sections would be designated 'Party A' and 'Party B', and then there was little me, all alone, and known as 'EY Rifleman'.
The CO or NCO would then embed a stick in a strategic position in the middle of the field and we were encouraged to let our imaginations run riot and regard it as our pocket of nasty German invaders. Our CO would then cast us into action by commanding in a yell (sufficient to be heard over the sounds of the imaginary battle!) 'A Party - advance twenty paces and give covering fire'.
This meant that the two or three (and sometimes more) in 'A Party' would run as
fast as their (mainly old) legs would carry them for twenty paces and then fling themselves exhausted and gratefully to the ground and give the required 'covering fire'. Ammunition being either non existant or far too scarce to waste, our gallant infantrymen would all furiously work the bolts of their old rifles and with each pull of the trigger would yell 'bang... bang...bang'!.
Meanwhile a similar order would soon follow for 'B Party' which group would then advance circling behind 'A Party ' by a further twenty paces and moving closer to our 'stick' of Germans where 'B Party' would also take to the ground, work their bolts and cry 'bang.. bang...bang'.
This process would continue with the intrepid EY Rifleman (me) moving up with both groups, until they had bang - bang - bang 'covered' me into a position (unobserved of course by our target stick!!) to where our imaginary German invaders were nearly within range of my secret weapon.
Then the dramatic order would be given ...'Both Parties give covering fire' - whereupon there was a combined and deafening fusillade of 'bang..bang...bang's' from two quarters ...and (Oh the tension!) the CO would yell - 'EY Rifleman, ten paces forward' at which I would (upright and in full view of the stick) trot forward ten paces, load a make-believe cartridge into the breech and then dig the heel of the stock of my rifle in the ground with the trigger upwards, then pop a make believe bomb in the cup and shout 'EY Rifleman ready sir!' (the bang, bangs continuing to cover and protect me on all sides).
All now being all ready for the grand finale (in any real action probably mine!), the CO would give the order 'EY Rifleman - Fire!' - and I would pull the trigger and say a big 'BANG!'.
After which, all Germans now being adjudged wiped out by our cunning manoeuvre, we would be given the order to withdraw, congratulate ourselves and in due course retire to the pub or our Sunday lunches.
I suppose that if we'd ever played 'for real' and if the Germans had very kindly dug themselves in precisely in the appointed spot in the middle of the Newgate Street playing fields and if all of them had been as blind as our stick, we might just have given them a headache - providing we had had live ammunition at the time!.
Actually I was on at least one occasion allowed to use a live cartridge 'in order to get the feel of the kick' - and kick it did, the recoil shoved the rifle back through my hand so that it's reinforcing wire tore chunks out of it. Risky business killing Germans!..
The Home Guard never let me play with a live bomb or grenade, for which I was
truly thankful however later on, when in the Royal Artillery, I would find that similar dubious pleasures had been held in store for me.
On another occasion it was arranged that the HG platoon(s) of a nearby village, Little Berkhamsted or Essendon or maybe both, would adopt the role of our enemy and attack the Newgate Street mob in force. The date of this moonlit night attack was of course arranged in advance with the agreement of the 'offenders' and 'defenders' alike - I'm not sure that the Germans would have been quite so obliging!.
It was decided then that we (our platoon), would engage in espionage in advance of the attack, so our CO co-opted myself to go with him (both of us under cover of 'civvies') to the enemy's local pub and eavesdrop on their plans.
I'm not sure how much we learned from our espionage but I do remember we came away well pleased at the time, neither do I recall how much it proved to our benefit, but I do know that on the night of our action we took prisoners because we locked them in a shed adjoining our pub and - came the dawn following our night excercise, one prisoner was ceaselessly hammering on the corrugated iron walls loudly bellowing 'Let oi out - Let oi out you silly buggers, I got to milk my bloody cows...let oi out!'.
I think we did eventually let our prisoners go, but the poor old cow's udders must have been stretched at least to the same extent suffered by the temper of their keeper!.
On looking back I begin to wonder whether our CO was trying to take care of me or whether he fancied me!, after all he bestowed upon me our soilitary EY rifle, he took me with him as an apprentice spy and I recall that on the night of the inter-village fracas I had to crawl along the gound with him on a reconnaissance (in the manner as trained, rifle resting on forearm).
We were doing reasonably well in our stealthy approach to the enemy until there was a pounding of hooves and a loud snorting very close to us, whereupon all thoughts of stealth and the enemy took to the wind and the pair of us with the wind up took to our heels in headlong flight!. It turned out that our imagined ferocious bull was in fact a poor old horse who was no doubt quite as frightened by us as we were by him - and who wouldn't be to find a couple of armed khaki-clad goons crawling over your dew-laden breakfast?!.
Another little escapade that my friend Dennis and I got used to enjoying was post parade and pre-prandial Sunday. On the way home from Newgate Street to Cuffley we would sometimes walk across a field in which we, discovered one day, was a billy goat.
There we were (Den and I, not the billy goat!), deep in earnest conversation and paying no attention to anything else when a thundering noise impinged upon our minds and we discovered it's source was rapidly approaching our unprotected rears, so we did what all well trained soldiers did - we legged it.
Although the goat was undoubtedly faster than us we had one very valuable asset on our side and his neck - a chain. We were just far enough ahead of Billy boy when the chain by which he was tethered ran it's full length with the result that Billy's impetus carried him further than the chain would let him go and he 'flipped' on his back with a resounding thud, a stretched neck, sore throat and no doubt swearing retribution.
He was a bit of a dumb goat because in successive weeks he gave many a repeat performance at our provocative 'command' - we just had to judge speed and
distance to a nicety!.
Anyway, enough of the Home Guard - all too soon I would be leaving them and moving up with the big boys.
At the London booksellers by whom I was employed I was being paid thirty shillings (£1:50p) a week.
I though that I was worth more and so did my manager who frequently asked the managing director to give me an increase but he was a mean old beggar and refused to give me the extra five bob for which he had been asked.
My salary had to pay for my keep at home, all my travel and other general expenses including five lunches a week - anything left over was for entertainment!.. .
I think I made my £1:50 (less contribution of 15 shillings to the household expenses) last to a weekly ninepenny seat in the cinema and might even have had a half pint or so in a pub but that was about it.
So, feeling aggrieved and at the same time realising that the time was approaching when I would be called up, I one day took it into my head to volunteer for the army and my entire being along to the recruitment office at New Scotland Yard in order to do so. I see from my preserved 'Certified Copy of Attestation' that I was as a result subsequently summoned to 'take the King's shilling' at Recruiting Centre No5. Holloway N7. on the 28th June 1943.
I enjoyed my days in the bookshop and am forever grateful for all that I had the privelege of experiencing within it's portals, the general ambience and the lovely
old bow windows which I had, each week, the pleasure of 'dressing' because manager decided that I had a flair for it. I also had the experience of serving
many notable members of the community including politicians, Lords, Ladies and
'Honourables' and top brass of the armed services. In particular I remember General Sir Alan Brooke (later Field Marshall Sir AB).
The reason that I remember the General's visit is because shortly before he entered the shop, I had been despatched to the Hyde Park Hotel with instructions to collate two (or was it three?) folio sized tomes of 'Dressers Birds' and if found complete to pay over a cheque to the person selling same and return per taxi to Grafton Street - all of which I did.
A week or two later whilst alone in the shop, General A.B. came in and said
that he was becoming interested in ornithology and could I recommend suitable books?!?!. Well, the only ornithological work that I knew about at all were the volumes that I had collated a few days back, so I arranged to show them to him -
and then had the pleasure of charging them to the General's account. My boss
was well pleased with me!.
I believe that somewhere in the Winston Churchilll and/or Alan Brooke biographies or their accounts, of WW2 is to be found a reference to AB, persuading Churchill to let him accompany him to the middle east because he wanted to have the opprtunity of studying the local birds of the feathered variety.
As I remember I took my leave of Bernard Quaritch almost immediately after my June 28th 'attestation', in order to have a few weeks in which to say my farewells to relatives and friends. During this 'holiday' I spent a few days with my brother Derrick and his wife Daphne who lived in the city of Bath.
Derrick and Daphne had been unfortunate enough to choose the day of their wedding to co-incide with Hitler's 'Baedeker' schedule for severely swiping the city of Bath in a couple of air-raids. They lost all of their goods including their clothes and they had to borrow whatever they could in order to attend the ceremony. Whilst they were away on a few days honeymoon Hitler kindly asked his Luftwaffe to bomb their new flat and destroy virtually all the rest of their posessions, but this had happened a year or so before my July 1943 visit.
At the time that I visited them they were 'fortunate' enough to have accommodation in Bathampton in a lovely old mansion known as 'Deepdene' and which was owned by a Lady Wilkinson.
I understand that Derrick had beeen overheard on a bus telling someone of their difficulties in finding somewhere to put their heads particularly as Daphne was by then expecting their first child. The story has it that a passenger said that she
would have a word with a friend of hers (Lady Wilkinson) - and the result was the availability of a small flat at the top of 'Deepdene'.
After all my fond farewells, the fateful day came when I would change the 'Home Guard' flashes on my battledress for those of a regular army regiment.
It was on August the 5th.1943 that accompanied (at his insistance) by my loving
but very sad father, we made our way by a number 15 bus along a war wearied
and worn Piccadilly to Victoria station.
There, we shook hands and my father with a prayer in his heavy heart said 'Take care of yourself lad - God Bless you', and I joined the train to chug my way off to
No: 63 General Services Primary Training Wing in Maidstone, Kent, and, at the age of seventeen and eleven months, to embark upon another episode in my life.
After six weeks primary training I was posted to the 52nd Royal Artillery Signals Training Regiment in Whitby. There my comrades and I were in twelve weeks taught to drive trucks, ride motor bikes, the morse code, wireless telegraphy, the
use of the '19 set', the 'SUC 10' telephone exchange, the 'Don V' and 'Tele F' field telephones, linesmanship and the covert mysteries of two secret Code systems the names of which I cannot recall - somewhere I still have my training note-books!.
In early 1944 I was posted to the 205 HAA mobile Training Regiment at Saighton Camp, Huntington, near Chester. There we were introduced to the methods that would be required in action as a mobile unit of 3.7mm artillery. These roles would encompass both Ack-Ack and counter battery work in action in the field. It was whilst at Saighton that I also met the very young lady who lived nearby and who has (as @ July 2004) has now been my dear wife of nearly 57 years!.
At the training regiment we were constantly on the move on schemes into north Wales and other areas, simmulating battle conditions. On the morning of June the 6th 1944 we were about to depart on a scheme and I was busy in my wireless truck 'netting' my station to control and the network when I was told to immediately 'close down'. 'D DAY' had arrived aand the air was to be left clear of all non-active radio commuinication.
Although still a training regiment, our guns were at one point quite hurriedly turned 'active' and moved to Sittingbourne in Kent in order to shoot down Hitlers new secret weapon the V1 flying bomb, which was soon to become known as a the 'doodlebug'.
In September 1944 our group of D/OPs (Driver / WIreless Operators) were posted to Woolwich to await overseas postings.
At Woolwich, and much to my annoyance, I was told to fall out because I was considered too young to go with that particular overeseas draft. Apparently there had in Parliament been a lot of 'questions asked in the House' concerning the number of men of the age of eighteen being sent into battle zones and an edict had been issued saying that you now had to be nineteen before you could be despatched anywhere and be a qualifying member for the casualty list!. True or false I know not, but I was sent back to a holding unit at Oswestry until another month had passed and I became eligible!.
I was then returned to Woolwich and sent on a draft (RELRS, only one letter varied its position form the previous draft of RELSR!).
By late 1944 Hitler had also launched his V2 weapon upon England and whilst
we were on parade at Woolwich one of these rockets fell somwhere in the region and some debris fell around us as we were also very rapidly ordered to 'fall-out'!
I collected a strange bit of what I imagine to have been the V2 itself (a large bolt made of a sort of aliminium looking metal) which for years afterwards was to be
used as an ash tray! Later and very tragically my (step) cousin, aged about six
or seven as I remember, was to be killed by a V2 which destroyed the home of a relative that he was visiting at the time.
Our draft at Woolwich was very soon sent to a bell-tent canvas camp at Eastleigh
(Nr Southampton) where, in a sea of mud and floating duckboards we were (in the interests of security ... 'Careless Talk Costs Lives') confined without any outside contact until we were taken by army lorries to the docks at Southampton and embarked upon 'The Ben Ma Cree' a pre-war Isle of Man packet ship.
That night the ship moved to Dover and we lay-off for the night. In the early hours we headed out across the channel. The sea, according to the crew, was the roughest that they had ever encountered and the deck and below deck became a shambles and any food that had been consumed by the troops rapidly made a return visit and added to the quite disgusting state of things!.
It was no better when, having given a wide berth to the part of the French coast still under German occupation, we eventually arrived at the approach to our destined port. We were not told then which port it was and for the life of me I cannot remember because we never arrived there anyway!. The sea was considerd too rough for us to attempt to enter the harbour, so the ship about-turned and we returned to lay-off Dover for another night.
Next day the conditions were better so we set sail once more, but this time our arrival outside the French port was greeted with the news that the enemy had mined the harbour and it's approaches the night before - so back we went to Dover for another night.
The crossing, with a solid mass of troops on board, had been intended to take less than 24 hours, so by now provisions had virtually run out and the troop's emergency rations were being broached. The ship's 'heads' were too disgusting for words and the decks weren't much better. There was many an unfortunate slip into the mire when some bright spark suggested that we alleviate boredom by joing in a seemingly never ending 'Hokey-Cokey' line both topside and below decks. It will be rather nicer to leave it to the reader's imagination than to describe the scene!.
Great embarrassment lay ahead because the following morning the Ben Ma Cree took us all back to Southampton where we all disembarked to the loud applause and cheers of the population on the dockside who imagined us to be returning heroes instead of just returning from a somewhat prolonged day 'excursion'!
Next we were martialled onto trains and taken to Newhaven where we immediately embarked on a gathering of Landing Craft and, over a now mill-pond-flat calm sea and in brilliant winter sunshine, we were transported within hours to Dieppe. On the quayside at Dieppe were gathered lines of German prisoners who would be transported back to Britain on the Landing Craft.
After a few days spent at a transit campbased in an old flour mill at Corbie (on the Somme), we received our postings to active regiments and I was posted to replace
a Driver/Op casualty with the 285 Battery, 90th HAA Regiment Royal Artillery at their location at Helmond in northern Holland.
The regiment had recently (in September) been disappointed at not being able to advance in relief of the airborne troops cut-off at Arnhem and Nijmegen. I believe that I was a replacement for a Driver/Op killed whilst on duty at an observation post.
The regiment was, when I joined it, providing the defence of an airfield which along with other airfields, 'intelligence' had reported as being under threat from a German airborne attempt to retake for use by the Luftwaffe as the German army retreated from their attempted Ardennes ('Battle of the Bulge') break out.
Apart from the cold and the mud at Helmond there were two incidents which
On guard duty one night I had taken a few minutes of relief-cover in our bivouac
in the hope of thawing out. Whilst there I turned on the NAAFI supplied radio and heard (somewhat tinnily) soul stirring orchestral music - but then I was horrified to feel hot breath on the back of my neck and I feared that my last moment was about to come at the knife edge of a German paratrooper!.
However the voice accompanying the breath just said 'beautiful isn't it ?' - then, after a pause, 'that is Max Bruch's violin concerto No1 ... and it;'s played I think by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra'.
It was my first introduction to classical music and I later discovered that Bombardier Eric Lawson, (the voice behind me) had been a 1st violinist with either the Halle or the Liverpool Philharmonic - I cannot now remember which. I gather that he would have recognised the style of the orchestra and been able from experience to identify same - this still strikes me as amazing.
It also struck me at that time that it was somewhat odd that we should be standing there admiring a German Orchestra playing music by a German composer whilst in the background we could hear our artillery exchanging death and destruction with the German artillery!. Strange old world I thought.
From one of our deployment locations we had the unhappiness of watching the
trails of the V2's as they were blasted off on their way to England from the as yet uncaptured German launch sites. We had however, during our movements forward,
had the satisfaction of seeing the remnants of several 'Doodlebug' launch structures
that the advancing allies had destroyed.
On January 1st 1945, Hitler in desperation threw every aircraft he could muster into one last offensive fling - and a number of them swooped extremely low over our site.
They were flying too low to engage by artillery fire but small arms were brought into action and one of our bombardiers manning a Bren gun shot down a Messerschmidt
The CO and another officer dashed off in their Jeep in order to claim the 'kill' which had crashed nearby. They returned with a souvenir propeller from which I obtained
a small portion and then over ensuing weeks and with some help from our workshop, I fashioned into a brooch depicting the 2nd Army shield badge. My wife still has it.
The pilot of the 109 had died instantly from a bullet through the head. It was the first day of a New Year and sadly one has to realise that some mother/father/wife/ child would never see their loved one again - they would certainly not have a 'Happy New Year' ... killing people really is not pleasant.
Later the regiment moved 'onwards and upwards'. We carried out counter battery work over the rivers Maas and Roer. When stationed near Roermond we 'adopted' 'The Restaurant de Peel' as our battery headquarters it came complete with two dear little old lady residents who would periodically take to the cupboard under the stairs if things got too noisy.
Our 'homes' were in holes in the ground in a nearby copse. First you dig a big hole, then you find wooden 'beams' to cover the top of the hole, then on top of those you place empty 3.7 metal shell containers and fill them with earth or sand to prevent (you hope) any shrapnel finding its way through - then you try to sleep therein whilst you freeze with cold .. and/or as we did, find an old stove, take it in to you hole in the ground, make a small hole for a chimney ... scrounge some wood ... light a fire ... smoke yourselves silly and everything within into a variety of shades of sooty black.
At one stage we drew lots to see which Dvr/Ops would go to an OP (observation post) at Boxmeer. I was one of those with the short straw and we arrived to be told that as the no-mans-land deserted town was at night occupied variously by both German and Canadian troops, the OP party locked itself in the terraced house adopted as our night time base and kept very quiet whilst any footsteps were left to 'pass by our window in the still of the night', no matter to whom they may belong - but that should anyone attempt to get in via our barricaded doors then, we were told ...
'.. you dont ask questions, you just lob grenades out through the bloody fanlights!.'
Fortunately the footsteps kept going which was not only a great relief to us but possibly saved the lives of anybody who might have had an inquisitive nature.
During the daytime and from the observation post we watched the German tank crews playing football around their vehicles - before signalling their positions back to
our battery HQ and stopping their game!.
On another occasion I was detailed to provide transport for a Dutch liaison officer and we were togehter sent into a newly liberated Dutch town (of which my memory faails to recall the name) where the officer was to install the new Town Major who was required to re-establish Dutch administration in the wake of the departed German forces.
As the allied liberating forces had already moved on in persuit of the Wermacht, the Dutch officer and I were the only signs of the liberation army within the town - and the reception was rapturous. The euphoria of the inhabitants rose to the greatest of heights when I distributed amongst them my stored packets of cigarettes!
Although for the majority their joy was 'unbounded', I was somewhat depressed by the sight of some of the inhabitants taking reprisals against the fellow country men and women who had collaborated with the Germans during the occupation of the town. The situations could not have been easy for anyone at that time and it was sad to see the elements of anger and revenge continuing into the new era of freedom from Nazi oppression..
The regiment was temporarily withdrawn from action and sent to Niewport in Belgium where it was re-kitted, updated and generally prepared to take part in the final push into and across Germany.
I was, yet again!, detached from the 285/90's and sent to Diest (still in Belgium) and to the rest centre from where I would also provide my 15cwt truck as transport for postal distribution from the army postal service base to the outlying units.
Almost coinciding with my arrival, all the bod's who had been granted respite at the rest centre received immediate orders to return to their units. There remained only about a dozen of us that had been seconded there as temporary staff ... with little to do and somewhat frustrated we all drowned our sorrows in the pool of alcoholic
beverages turned out from our respective kit bags and from the stock in the rest -camp bar.
One of my duties, together with an NCO, was to lock up the premises for the night. The double doors, at the top of a flight of wide steps, were typically continentally tall and wide. The top bolts were beyond the standing reach of either of us and necessitated a bit of piggy-back work. In our totally drunk and incapable state, the sergeant and I time and again failed in our attempts to push the bolts home and finished up rolling down the flight of steps and sitting there in helpless and stupefied laughter.
I was only in Diest for a few days but enough to just miss my own regiment's crossing of the river Rhine. In Diest we stood outside our postal HQ and watched as a seemingly endless stream of aircraft and gliders passed overhead on their way to cross the Rhine. Our regiment was the first heavy artillery regiment to cross the Rhine and the day after the crossing I was ordered to 'return to unit'.
I drove alone in my 15cwt truck through a countryside in total turmoil and had the bewildering experience of trying to locate my regiment amongst the vast mass of infantry, armoured columns, artillery units and all other men and material necessary to the waging of war, as it all converged on the Bailey bridges and other points of river crossing.
The 90th HAA Regiment crossed at Xanten and Wesel. I found them eventually but they had had to wait until the infantry had cleared the Germans from the 90th's destined location for deployment.
After the crossing of the Rhine the advance across Germany was more or less 'at-the-gallop' and the heavy units were not only less needed but also would have trouble keeping up with the speed of the advance, so we began to move into a phase of virtual 'stand-down' as we progressed in it's wake.
The whole of Germany suddenly became a scene of retreating Germans trying to leave the front and return to their homes supplemented on the congested roads by the thousands upon thousands of 'displaced persons', these being an uncountable variety of nationalities that had been moved into the Nazi war machine as slave labour. No matter whether German or any other nationality it was a very heartrending sight to see those thousands of underfed, bodies of all ages clad in tattered clothing and with rags tied on their feet to act as shoes.
I was once again detached from the regiment and this time sent to provide assistance at a newly set up UNRRA (United Nations Refugee Relief) centre in Bocholt.
Bocholt had been almost totally destroyed by the combined attacks of the RAF and the American Air Force. Rumour had it that the town was wiped out in some fifteen minutes by the combined high and low level bombing, however long it might actually have taken, it was terrifyingly thorough. Gaps had been bulldozed through the rubble to act as 'roads', and the rubble was said to be covering the bodies of thousands of the inhabitants killed in the raids.
The UNRRA centre was in what little remained of a Siemens factory ofn the outskirts of the town. In a word it was 'pitiful'. Most of the refugees had, over the years of slave labour, lost all sense of hope and dignity and had become accustomed to totally uncivilised behaviour - and those three words summarise the situation with which the UNRRA personnel attempted to deal.
The Royal Engineers endeavoured to set up water supplies and had set up rows
and rows of communal, side-by-bummy-side latrines. Sadly, during my week or
two at Bocholt, I witnessed repeated misuse and vandalism of the former and the necessary demolishment and burning of the latter by the Royal Engineers due to the health hazzards arising from the state of the latrines. Heaven knows what happened after that because, fortunately for me, I was once again returned to my unit!.
I hope and believe that the occupants of the Bocholt UNRRA centre were then moved further south to another temporary position in their respective treks to their homelands.
During the allied armies rapid advance through Germany there occurred the terrible discovery of the Nazi concentration camps. We were close enough to be able to smell the death and degradation but fortunate enough to have very narrowly avoiding the task of going in and helping to clear Belsen. This awful job fell to a sister regiment and to other services. One of our officers was sent to report on the findings and returned a few days later totally haggard and looking twenty years older than he had when he had left us.
When these attrocities were uncovered by our advancing troops, photographs were taken and copies distributed to all units stationed in Germany. These horror pictures
were then displayed in every town and village and the local German population made to parade and witness what Hitler and his Nazi regime had perpetrated. Reactions varied frrom utter disbelief and the accusation that the pictures had been forged as propaganda, to (rarely) sniggers, and to the much more common and human emotions of shame and sorrow. Many tears were shed.
VE Day (Victory in Europe - 8th May 1945) arrived at last. The regiment had now reached Uelzen on the river Elbe and the Russian army by now occupied the opposing bank of the river. We attended a thanksgiving service in the field and our role as an active regiment in Europe was over.
Now our regiment was re-deployed at Harburg (near Hamburg) and had little to do.
I was instructed to prepare my 15cwt wireless truck for a new engine to be fitted but instead I became ill and so found myself progressing from a CCP (Casualty Clearing Post) to the 74th British General Hospital, Luneberg and then, in company with many other patients, via a DC3 hospital plane back to 'Blighty'.
Even whilst lying flat on my back on a stretcher it was agreat joy to be fllying over and seeing through one of the the portholes of the DC3, the patchwork of fields of
'England's green and pleasant land'.
At Swindon airfield we were met by ambulances and taken into a tented reception camp where nurses and the Red Cross team attended to our needs and also sent telegrams to our relatives telling them that we were once again on British soil.
Later that day we were transported to Swindon railway station and embarked on an ambulance train and then the train very slowly rumbled off to we knew not wither! In the early hours of the following morning we arrived at Worcester station and yet more ambulances took us on board and to Ronkswood Hospital.
Ronkswood Hospital, at that time, consisted of a collection of wooden huts that had been built in a hurry to take care of the many Canadian casualties of the disasterous landing at Dieppe earlier on in the war.
As the stretchers were wheeled into the entrance of the hospital there were NCO's standing by to identify the rank of all the patients and thus direct (e.g.) 'Officers to the Right and Other Ranks to the Left'. It was at this point that I received the most rapid promotion and demotion of any member of the armed forces!.
My name being Colin Paine, the sergeant misread my label and called 'Colonel Paine - Right', I said 'No, Sarge - Gunner Colin Paine'. The swift right-to left change of direction nearly toppled me off my trolley!.
After some months of recuperation from pleural effusion of the right lung I was
required to attend a medical examination board, classified as no longer fulfilling His Majesty's (health) requirements and notified that I was to be discharged and would receive a 30% disability pension - which amounted to 15 shillings a week.
(A few years later and at another medical board my disability was re-assessed as being 'six to fourteen percent disability, indeterminate duration' and I was awarded £40 in full and final settlement.)
So that was that. Off to Hereford for my discharge papers and to be issued with my demob suit and hat and my travel warrant home. It was now VJ day, August 15th 1945 and next month I would be twenty years old.
On the way back to Cuffley I managed to persuade an RTO (Railway Transport Officer) to re-route my travel warrant via Chester so that I could meet with my much loved girl friend from the days of Saighton Camp and to arrange for her to visit my home at Cuffley.
I needed a job - secured one by November as a junior representative (@ £5 per week) for a commercial art studio based in London's Cambridge Circus, and soon
I graduated to the position of a fully fledged rep' and started earning commission on top of my salary.
In November 1946 Margaret and I were married. Three years later I was appointed Sales Manager and I quote from the letter of appointment which was sent to me by the partners owning the company and which was dated the 10th August 1949.
" We wish to confirm that you are now appointed Sales Manager ... at the agreed
salary of £13 per week plus a drawing allowance of £2. per week for expenses,
and in addition an overall commission of 1 and 1/4% on all sales handled by your
division .... commmencing from 1st September 1949."
So ... the above extract from the letter seems an appropriate point at which to conclude my memories of the 1940's, ending as it does, almost exactly a decade
on from where it began.
I should perhaps append a plea of E&OE (Errors and Ommission Excepted), on
the grounds that some 'sixty years on', some dates, details and places may have become slightly hazed by the mists of time, but, in all the essentials this record is
of just one man's life - as it happened....
.... and that perhaps is what life is about - it 'happens'! ... we are all just carried
along in it's unstoppable tide and we make of it what we can, we ...'take it in our stride' and 'go with the flow' - as the sayings go! ... but should we not, as we live our transient lives, endeavour to leave the stream of life as wholesome as possible for those that follow on ?....
So, I'll close my contribition to the passing phase of the 1940's with the thought that we should all strive to follow the request so often seen on notices in the communal ablution areas of those years and which made the plea - ' Please leave the bathroom as you would wish to find it'!
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