- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Herbert James Griffiths former Sergeant
- Location of story:
- from Essex to North Africa to Normandy to Essex
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 May 2005
In 1938 Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, went to Germany to see Hitler. He came back with a piece of paper, signed by Hitler, saying that he would not declare war. People held him up in ridicule but in my mind he gave us a years grace in which to build up our armour which was sorely lacking. An example of which was a Home Guard armed with pitchforks and Broomsticks.
It was obvious in 1938 that there was going to be a war, so in the office I worked in, we all decided that we would join the territorial army before war was declared. So in 1938 I joined the 4th County of London Yeomanry — the Sharpshooters which at the time were the 23rd London Armoured Car Company.
We went away to training camp in August. When we came back, I went to the pictures one evening and when I came home there was a telegram telling me to report to headquarters with my uniform. I was then in the real Army with the tank regiment of the 4th County of London Yeomanry.
The war really started in late 1940, when the allies wanted to get out of France. We had to man the coast in case the Germans invaded. Fortunately for us they didn’t. We were very short of weapons because before the war the government had neglected to arm us as a country and we had had a year only in which to catch up.
In the beginning of 1941 I was sent to the Middle East — Egypt. We boarded the ship the Strathnaver with all our kit. Kitbags , packs and rifles. It took 8 weeks to reach Egypt. I was on G deck which was 8 decks down. The conditions were absolutely awful. We slept in hammocks which were slung over the top of the table where we ate. The temperature was very high. We stopped at Cape Town and were meet off the boat by families who took us home for a short while. I was taken home by a lady and her daughter who showed me around the town and then we had tea at their house. They kindly wrote to my wife and told her they had seen me. When we arrived in Egypt, we were kitted out with Crusader tanks with a 2lb gun mounted on them. The division we were in was the 7th Armoured which was known as the Desert Rats. We were the one and only Desert Rats as we had the Rat sign on our shoulder.
The conditions in the desert were terrible. We were given a pint of water a day for drinking and washing. If we were near the sea, which wasn’t often we did have sea soap to use but it didn’t lather.
So washing was a problem and one day I was really itchy and I found I had lice so I got a change of clothing and dug a hole in the sand, put all my uniform in it and set fire to it all. The commanding officer came over to me and said ’are you deserting Griffiths!’
The food was mainly bully beef and hard tack which was like a large hard biscuit which when you held it up to the light you could see the weevils in it but we ate them all the same! We did have tea and when we had brewed it up we would then dry out the tealeaves and exchange them with the locals for eggs. On Christmas day the mail actually caught up with us in the middle of the desert and in it for me was a Christmas pudding and some chocolate that my wife had posted to me in the August. The chocolate had gone mouldy and was inedible but the home made Christmas pudding was perfect. The sergeant Major heard about this and said ‘I’ll have some of that boy’
We didn’t have any spare time, if we did, someone would find you something to do. The time in the desert was divided into 2 categories, boredom and terror.
In September the British troops were bottled up in Tobruk, so we and the rest of the army went to relieve Tobruk in the battle of El Adem. The Italians gave themselves up in thousands and we took thousands of prisoners of wars. Then we pushed them right the way back across Libya and then the Germans landed and their tanks were in offensive against us. They drove us back to below Benghazi where we stayed for months facing them. The Germans then put in a big attack, outflanked us and we had to go all the way back to a place called El Alamein. The blessing of El Alamein was that we had sea on the right and the Qattara Depression which was impassable on the left. We had a narrow line to hold, which we did.
Mr Churchill came out and looked at us and then sent out General Montgomry to take over the army. From then on things changed. We stayed there defending our line and the Germans put in several big attacks, which we repelled. Montgomery seemed to know exactly what to do. When we were ready he put in a big attack and we out flanked the Germans (in the desert the game was outflanking — trying to go round behind the enemy). We pushed the Germans right back to Tunisia and then right out of the African continent.
When we got to Tunisia we rested. I was in charge of a guard when my corporal came along and said that we had been posted home. I didn’t believe it at first but it was true. Myself and 5 others travelled across the desert by train in a cattle truck for 7 days and then embarked for England to join another regiment called the 24th Lancers, again a Tank regiment and part of the 8th Army Brigade, where we were to train new recruits for what turned out to be the D-Day invasion.
We were given two weeks leave and when we returned the 8th Army Brigade was moved down through England towards the South coast. We knew something big was going on it was of course the invasion of Europe. One morning we had an exercise where they issued to us all special rations- we thought; this is it we are off! But at the last minute they called it off, but when they collected in the special rations issued that morning all the chocolate was missing, eaten. They were not at all pleased.
On the evening of the 5th June we got into landing craft and proceeded to cross the channel landing the following morning the 6th June. The infantry was in front of us because they had left a little earlier the previous evening. We were suppose to capture Villiers Bocage but we were held up and did not get that far being pinned down. On the 13th July I was wounded in the arm, I saw the Medics and asked them to patch me up, as I did not wish to loose touch with my Regiment. However I was informed that I was going home, and was sent back to the beach where I was X-rayed and then returned to England in one of the Landing craft we had come over in.
On return to Blighty I was sent to a hospital in Chester, were I got a message to my wife who came up to visit me.
My fighting was over!.
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