- Contributed by
- Essex Action Desk
- People in story:
- Harold Francis Porter
- Location of story:
- London, Essex, Gebralter, North Africa, Italy, Far East, Scotland, Wales
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 08 August 2005
I was 17 years old when war came in 1939. I lived in a village that was surrounded by military targets, ie: 6 airfields within a ten mile radius, two main line railway stations within 4 miles and Blake Hall, a strategic decoding centre. We were constantly bombed, mostly every night and occasionally in daytime raids.
At seventeen-and-a-half years old, I was called into the Home Guard. My job was a lorry driver. From 6am until whatever time, usually after 6pm, my job involved clearing debris from bomb sites in the East end of London. A lot of the time I worked during daylight bombing raids by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force). For three nights a week, I was on Home Guard duty from 10pm until 6am, also on every Sunday — manoeuvres and training.
On occasions, returning from London to Brentwood via Leytonstone, Epping and Ongar, I was stopped by the police and ordered to extinguish ALL lights on my lorry from Epping to Ongar due to a current air raid. On one occasion, close to Blake Hall, the Germans had released a stick of bombs and had hit the road, creating a large crater, 8 to 10 feet deep and completely removing the road. This was in pitch dark — no white lines on the roads then, and no lights. This happened about 3 minutes before I got there.
Another occasion, I was hauling timber from Brentwood rail station to Thorndon Park. Another daylight air raid — the target was Brentwood station which I had just left 5 minutes previously. On my return to the station, I saw the damage to the station and goods yard caused by the bombs and, in fact, one of my mates, a young lad of about 18 whose name was Mills, had been killed.
At 19, on 10 June 1942, I was conscripted into the Royal Navy. I was drafted to Scotland and boarded a tank landing craft as a crew member. We trained all around the Scottish islands of Arran, Brora and Skye. We sailed down to Milford Haven and tied up there for several days, awaiting our next orders. Eight days later, we docked in Gibraltar, bearing in mind that these flat-bottomed landing craft were built to cross the English Channel; they were not constructed as deep sea craft.
At a lecture in Troon, prior to our voyage, we were told by Lt Cdr Wheeler: “We are going on a trip that has never been attempted by these craft. We might make it! We might not. If we do make it, more will follow. If we don’t make it, we will try again.”
After a short stay in Gibraltar, we set sail again with 3 Sherman tanks and their crews, the Texas Rangers of the American 5th Army in conjunction with the British 1st Army. On 8th November 1942, we landed in North Africa on the beach at Arzew between Oran and Algiers.
We then ran supplies from Algiers to Bona — mixed cargo including 100 octane fuel for Spitfires, TNT, gun cotton, land mines and shells, anti-aircraft and machine guns, week after week.
When we drove the Germans from North Africa, we then took the Americans and their tanks across the Mediterranean to land on an island called Pantelaria . We were bombed in the harbour by German dive bombers, Stukas and Messerschmitts, and I spent my 21st birthday in an American field hospital with a wound to my right leg. We ran supplies from North Africa to Pantelaria for several weeks.
We then went to Soussa in North Africa and took aboard more Yanks with their tanks - this time General Grant’s — and went across to land in Sicily.
We brought German POWs back to North Africa and carried on taking supplies and ammunition across to Sicily. When Sicily was finished, we returned to Soussa and once again took aboard Yanks and tanks.
This time, the destination was Salerno, beach head for the invasion of Italy.
Came back to UK, December 1943.
August 1944 — compulsorily transferred from the Royal Navy to the army. Reason given: reinforcements for the Burma campaign.
Northern Ireland — six weeks’ intensive infantry training.
Ten days’ leave then a troopship for 6 weeks’ voyage to the Far East as a soldier.
Came back home, de-mobbed in 1946 and all this on starvation rations and very little respite, sleep or relaxation and never knowing if one would survive or live or die.
Could someone please tell me why?
*THIS STORY WAS SUBMITTED TO THE PEOPLES' WAR WEBSITE BY A VOLUNTEER FROM BBC ESSEX ON BEHALF OF HAROLD FRANCIS PORTER AND HAS BEEN ADDED TO THE SITE WITH HIS ERMISSION. HE UNDERSTANDS THE SITE'S TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
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