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15 October 2014
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EM Shelley’s Wartime Experiences part 4: After the war’s end and demobilisation

by DudleyArchives

Contributed by 
DudleyArchives
People in story: 
E.M.Shelley
Location of story: 
Hamburg, Germany; Brussels, Belgium; The Middle East
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A5091077
Contributed on: 
15 August 2005

When I got back to my outfit it was based in Hamburg, in the Hotel Atlantic, by the huge An der Alst lake there. We didn't get to see much of the city, which had been heavily bombed. We were also restricted to non-fraternisation because there was concern over the likelihood of some form of resistance movement. Strangely, one of our Regiments used to display a 'bulled up' ceremonial parade of mounting the guard for the area every evening, and the locals used to turn up to witness it. The hotel only provided basic accommodation as the Army fed us, but at least we could have the luxury of a good bath.

Our next move was to Munchen Gladbach for a short time where we were part of monitoring the movement of displaced people from West to East and vice-versa. We were then told that we were to be part of huge force for the final assault on Japan. This was to include British, Canadians, Americans and other nationalities. We could look forward to travelling to Canada, through America and on to the far East. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan made this unnecessary.

The Division was re-grouped and moved to a large barracks at Brussels. It was here we learned that we were to be sent out to the Middle East. Technically, it was here that I found myself in the 71st Anti-Tank Regt. According to the records this was on the 12th of August, 1945, but then the records show that on the 14th of August I was in the 20th Anti-Tank Regt. There wasn’t any sort of movement. This regiment, I later learned was part of the 3rd British Division. It was to have troops who were not due for early de-mob, or were Regulars. As I remember, half the Division was to be flown out from Brussels and the other to travel by sea. As Signals we had the job of reporting the movement of the personnel to the airport. In our free time we could go into Brussels and saw the famous Palace square with the little statue of the Mannikenpis. We also had the benefit of a Forces club, named the Montgomery Club. It was here that we had a photo taken of our group, including my good pal Jim Packer. It eventually became our turn to fly out, which we did in the bomb bay of a Liberator bomber, sitting on canvas seats. The route was via a pause stop in North Africa Tripoli, then on to Cairo.

After landing at Cairo, in the heat, wearing serge battledress, we were shipped to a camp which was almost within walking distance of the Pyramids. What a contrast, and camels about outside of a zoo.
There were huge concentrations of tented Army Units about and we were eventually settled at an area called Tel-el-Kebir. We were also issued with Khaki drill uniforms with shorts and long trousers, commonly referred to as KD.

A small number of us took the opportunity to go on an organised trip to the Pyramids, where we were able to go inside the largest, known as Cleops Pyramid. The pre-war lighting had been removed so we had candles for illumination, after a haggle with the local guides. It meant crawling through some narrow passages at times, but a fascinating experience, particularly when the large chamber at the top end was reached. This was where the main tomb had been placed. We also saw the well known Sphinx near to the Pyramids.

The next destination for the Regiment was Palestine. There is a photo of our convoy crossing the Suez Canal in my collection. We made our way into the Sinai desert on the one highway that runs from Egypt. The area we stopped in overnight was as barren as far as you could see, but as soon as we halted a small number of local Arabs appeared out of nowhere. We had to sleep in two man bivouacs and were instructed to have our rifle underneath us for safe keeping -uncomfortable, but it's theft was a court martial offence. Next day, as we moved on, it was quite something to see the greenery ahead of us; this was the cultivated orange groves etc. The Battery HQ I was with was located on the approaches of Tiberius, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We had to dig slit trenches on the edges of the camp and stand to at dawn each day for a few days, Army tradition, because of the threat of Jewish guerrillas. There was a British Palestine Police Force barracks close by, still operative.

At times a few of us would go for an early morning dip in the Sea, mostly in one of the small warm springs pools at the edge. I played in the BHQ football team once or twice. Some days I had to take the Signals truck to collect the mail at a rendezvous point. This meant driving South through Nazareth to meet the truck from Regtl HQ on the plain beyond. We were at Tiberius over the Christmas period and some of us were able to go to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in the back of a three ton lorry. No tourists, mostly Service personnel. I also took the opportunity to go with a small number to see a church at Genaserat where there was a mosaic, recently uncovered, that depicted the feeding of the five thousand in that area. Also three of us went with an officer for a day to Damascus.

Early in April 1946 we returned to Egypt to be based in an Army camp at El Ballah, a few miles North of Ishmailya, and alongside the road leading to Port Said. Opposite our camp was a prisoner of war camp for German troops, who had probably been part of their Afrika Corps. It was strange to see ships in the Suez Canal a mile from camp.

While I was stationed here I was selected with five others to become Sergeant Education Instructors, appointed on 29th April, 46. Our Army records had shown we all had high I.Qs, but coincidentally, we were all signallers. We were sent on a short induction course and then set to giving brief lessons in English or Maths; this was intended to help service men relate back to civilian life in due course. The promotion elevated us to the life of the sergeants' mess. Some of the Germans were found work in our camp and we had a Regtl side play them at football - they won - probably because they had been together longer.

Some other things I remember from this time are the Sergeants' club at Lake Timsah', the one tennis court, sand based, on our camp, for the use of officers and sergeants. That is where I learned to play tennis, with a racquet bought during one of the occasional trips to Port Said. I was fortunate as very few people played tennis, probably because this was usually in the afternoons when every one stopped work because of the heat. This gave me better opportunity to improve.

At this time, those of us who had come out from Europe were granted a month's leave, this was called LIAP, which I think was Leave In Addition to something or other.

The rest of my time in the Army was roughly recorded in diaries that I kept at the time, so I have chapter and verse of particular dates which I list below out of some interest.

June 1946.
11 th Began journey home- Transit camp Port Said.
15th Embarked M. V.Devonshire.
19th, Malta,
21st T oulon- left by train 9pm.
22,23,24th Calais 8am, Dover 12pm, Home 9.45pm.

JuJy 1946.
24th Began return,
26th Toulon,
28th embarked 'Empire Mace', a Liberty ship Left Toulon 2.30pm, arrived Port Said
1st August, Regt 3rd.

January 1947
Regt moved back into Palestine, I think it was somewhere near Sarafand, near Gaza strip? The Jews were becoming more active against the British, causing real problems in places. .
We had a major exercise, code named 'Ceaser', in the Sinai desert in late February, in which live ammo was used by the infantry and artillery. Some casualties, but I was fortunate to be radio operating in one of our Sherman tanks (anti-tank guns).

March 1947
Left Regt to travel by train from Gaza to Port Said for embarkation.
18th Began journey home to be de-mobbed. Embarked on HMT ' Highland Princess.'
23rd Toulon, arr 7am, left 8pm,
24th arr Calais 8pm,
25th Dover 10.30am, on to Aldershot.
26th, on to Woking to be kitted with a demob suit, trilby, shirts and shoes. Left at 10.30 am, arrived home 6pm.

30th April 1949
Doreen and I were married at St. Matthews Church, Tipton.

July 1952
On the 5th July I was called up again for two weeks training on Salisbury Plain
with the 261 Corps Locating Regt R.A. This was because I was technically on what was called 'Z' Reserve, as were all my contemporaries

So ended my Army service.

There were, obviously, a number of different incidents throughout, particularly during the ongoing business in Europe, but the memory of some fades away in due course. It was, I suppose, a time when the shared experiences of danger, rough living conditions, and happy times, creates a bond in no other way. Particularly as it takes place in a male dominated society. A life lived very much on a day to day basis.

This story was entered onto the People’s War site by Jenni Waugh, BBC Outreach Officer, on behalf of EM Shelley who accepts the site’s terms & conditions. For the other 3 chapters, see www.bbc.co.uk/ww2/A5090933, A5090979 and A5091022

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