- Contributed by
- Leonard J Smith
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 April 2004
WW2 - what was the impact and implications going to be on a young teenager like me? I was just 15 years old and starting a new phase in my life work!, I am the youngest male member of a family of 16, 12 boys and 4 girls, when War was declared in 1939 I had no idea how much it would change my life. The first twelve months was reasonable quite, it was mainly spent preparing for what was to come later, like issuing gas mask, conscription, civil defence (A.R.P.) black out precautions, corrugated steel Anderson Air Raid Shelters were delivered to all homes, I remember quite well helping my dad dig the hole out in the back garden to put the Anderson shelter in. The Air Raid Warden would come round every night to check that you had no lights showing. You were in trouble if you did.
My youngest sister was still at school, and my three older sisters were all doing essential jobs, as for my self I was working at the CO-OP cycle factory in Kings Road, Tyseley assembling cycles for the M.O.D. The Government was to bring in very strict regulations about where you could and could not work. Conscripts who did not want to serve in the forces were sent down the coalmines, they became known as Bevan Boys.
The first Air Raids on Birmingham took place in November 1940 and became a regular occurence with some being much worse than others. Because of them I was soon to become accustomed to DEATH and a lot of Destruction, every morning when you went to work you would see houses destroyed and rescue squads, police and firemen digging at the rubble some times with their bare hands trying to rescue people
this was something I was to experience my self on more than one occassion over the next couple of years, you have to remember we did not have Bulldozers, mechanical Diggers Ect. like we have today it was all Pick and Shovel work.
At this time of my life we were living at No 20, Morden Road, Stechford, You could be up all night with the air raids but still go to work in the morning , we never used our Anderson shelter once because it was always full of water, my mom, sisters and 85year old grandmother used to sit in the hallway. whilst my dad and my self would go outside to watch for any possible fire bombs that might be dropped, we could also see where the bombs were dropping. One fateful night in Sept.1941 a bomb dropped in the garden of the house right opposite ours, but very fortunately dad and my self had gone into the house for a cup of tea when the bomb fell, it landed right up against the Anderson Shelter sadly the family inside didn’t stand a chance, the blast from this bomb blew most of the front of our house in , every window went, doors blown off and all the ceilings came down on top of us, and furniture badly damaged by shrapnell, my dad and I heard it coming so we threw ourselves on top of my mom ,girls and gran incredibly none of us were injured.
My dad told me to take my gran and sisters to the underground air raid shelters in the grounds of Albert Road School, to get there I had to go along Francis Road, Just as we turned into Francis Road, their to our amazement was an unexploded bomb sticking up out of the pavement with its fins showing not 18 ins from a gas street lamp, but we got to the shelter O.K. Mom and dad stopped behind to collect important documents and to turn off the gas and water.
Next morning we were taken to the Y,W.C.A, on the corner of Bordesley Green East
and Richmond Road and we stayed there for a week, sleeping on the floor, but we were very well looked after by the I think the W.V,S.we then got a temporary house in Manor Road right by the railway station and sidings, each time the sirens went I had to take my mom and sisters to the underground shelters which was under the shops on Station Road, Stechford we had to go down steps that went from Astons The Butchers and then under all the other shops. My mom and sisters were to frightened to stay in the house, One of the shops had been turned into a A.R.P, so I enrolled as a messenger.
By this time I was working for Payne’s Boot and Shoe Repairers at their shop in Albert Road, learning the trade, and I used to watch every day this gorgeous young girl go past on her way to and from school,(I was only 16)and good looking?
She and her family also went down the same shelter, one morning after spending the night down the shelter, I went down to check it was clear and found she had left her gas mask, fortunately her name and address was on it so on the night when I thought she would be in I took it to her house and chatted her up, her name was Irene, we became good friends and started to see each other. One night a lady tried to get down the shelter by using the escape hatch by mistake and fell about 12 feet to the floor of the shelter, she suffered a broken leg plus other cuts and bruises, I had recently taken and passed a first aid course so I was quite capable of giving her first aid until the ambulance and rescue team arrived and took her to hospital.
One night during a raid they tried to target the railway sidings, but instead they hit Parkinson’s Stove factory the other side of the station bridge doing a lot of damage, I looked across from the wardens post to see a man crouching against the side of the bridge, but he didn’t seem to move at all so I went over to see if he was O.K. but he was obviously dead, yet their was not a mark on him he had been killed by the blast from one of the bombs that hit the roof of Parkinson’s, I think it was one of the last air raids I remember. By this time our house in Morden Road was now repaired so we moved back there, Irene who was now my girlfriend had left school and was working for the National Savings Committee.
We were now into 1942, and when I became 18 in, Oct. of that year I volunteered for the army with 8 brothers already serving in the army I don’t think I could do anything else, but I didn’t have to report for training till February 1943. In December of 1942 my last Christmas at home before going away, the family that lived next door somehow managed to get hold of two pigs from where I do not know and they put them in their Anderson Shelter, knowing my dad used to be a slaughter man at the Birmingham Slaughter House that was then , they said if he would kill them he could keep one for us, so I helped him to do the job, but have you ever tried to stop a pig from squealing, its impossible, the trouble was there was a Police Sergeant Hodges living just a couple of doors away, if he had heard them we would have ended up in prison after all, meat was very strictly rationed. However we got away with it O.K. and a lot of people enjoyed some Pork for their christmas dinner, so I think we can be forgiven.
Having volunteered for the army you had the privilege to choose which branch you would like to serve in were as those that were conscripted had to go where ever they where sent, I elected to join the Royal Army Service Corps .On the 28 February 1943
I reported to Norton Barracks Worcester the headquarters of the Worstershire Regiment to do my 12 weeks basic training with the General Service Corps, all the instructors and training staff were regular soldiers of the Worstershire Regiment and what a tough lot they turned out to be , loudmouthed, offensive and very abusive,
especially the drill sergeants, The training was very tough indeed just as you would expect, there was a very good assault course which I really enjoyed tackling at least twice a week, we had P/T every morning sometimes before breakfast, one of the P/T
instructors was a sergeant Roly Jenkins who I believe played cricket for Worcester County. Very often we had to do a cross country run just before tea, and of course the dreaded route marches. You started off doing 5miles sometimes running a mile and walking a mile, the longest one we did I think was about 25 miles, 12 miles there and 12 back. As I said at the beginning it was really tough but I enjoyed every minute of it, it made a man of me and a proud one at that. I finished my basic training 14/4/43
and sent home on 14 days leave.
On return from leave because my transfer had not come through I was posted to the Worstershire Regiment at Norton Barracks to continue my training which was basically an extension of what I had been doing, except that I now had to do guard duty on the main gates, each time I was picked for guard duty I won the very honoured title of StickMan, this was awarded to the best turned out soldier on guard parade by the orderly officer of the day, and it meant you did not have to do the two on four off duty and you just wore your belt and bayonet.
On the 4/9/43 my transfer to the R.A.S.C came through and although I tried to get it cancelled so that I could stay in the Worcesters my request was refused, I had really enjoyed my time at Norton Barracks.
I was given a 48 hour pass home and sadly while on this short leave Irene my girlfriend and I had a falling out and parted company. On return from this weekend pass I was posted to the R.A.S.C. driving school at Hadrian’s Camp Carlisle it was here that I was taught to drive a wide range of vehicles but mainly lorries, after six weeks intensive training I passed my driving test with flying colours on the 9/8/43.
There is an item that I forgot to mention earlier on, and that is my brother Les who was next to me age wise, was also in the R.A.S.C but he was a regular serving soldier
and was serving in France at the time of the fall of Dunkirk in 1940,but he was one of the less fortunate ones that was taken prisoner by the Germans he was just 19 years old . I had three other brothers who were also regular serving soldiers, Arthur, Warwickshire Yeomanry (Royal Armoured Corps), Fred,R.E.M.E., these two had finished their full time service when war broke out in 1939 so they were unable to leave and ended up doing another six years on active service in various areas, Sid was also a regular serving soldier, he had been with the R.A.S.C, Tank Corp and finely with
the Parachute Regiment serving with the 8th Airborne Division. My other four serving brothers were George, Royal Artillery, Jack, Royal Artillery, Joe, Army Fire Service
and stepbrother Albert,R.A.S.C.we all saw active service in various regions, brother Jack won a bravery citation at Monte Casino, but he also got injured.
On completion of my training at the R.A.S.C training school I was posted to 524 coy..
at least I think that was the number but I cannot be 100% sure R.A.S.C stationed at Codford in Wiltshire. We move about the country for a while till just after Christmas 1944 when we took over special Amphibious Vehicles and I think the company became 199GT. coy., we moved to the west coast of Wales and started to train and test out three different types of vehicles.
The first of which was the Terrapin, a tank like vehicle but with an open top and instead of tracks it had 8 rubber tyre wheels and got its power from two Ford V8 engines. It was slow and very cumbersome both on the road and in the water with leaver steering, which made it very difficult to handle, if one engine broke down
while in the water you just went round in circles with no way of getting back to shore
other than by towing.
The second vehicle was the Buffalo, again with a body like a tank but it did have tracks on it with very deep cleats it had a powerful 7Cylinder Wasp Radial engine,
Because of the deep cleats on the tracks it did a lot of damage when driven on the roadway, on rough ground it was brilliant and it could climb very, very steep inclines.
In the water however it was dreadful, it was very slow, it didn’t ride the waves it just drove through them, if the sea was even just a bit rough it took on a lot of water you could not see where you were going most of the time you just had to rely on your co- driver. When driving off a landing craft they where known to drive straight down in the water, more than one soldier lost his life training on this vehicle in just that way, they were to say the very least, dangerous in the water.
The third vehicle, was the American built G.M.C. D.U.K.W the best way I can describe It would be to say it looked like a Pontoon with 3 rubber tyre road wheels each side its wt. 7-5tons unloaded, its lenth, 31ft.engine 270cubic ins., 6cylinder petrol, land speed 55miles per hour, on water 6 miles per hour, payload of 2-5tons or 25soldiers and their equipment it had 10 forward gears and two reverse. It had its own compressor by which you could inflate or deflate any tyre on the vehicle with out stopping, and check its pressure just by moving a small leaver on the dash board,
It also had its own bilge pump for pumping out any water that you took on board, which proved to be, very important. On the road you drove it just the same as you would any road vehicle and when you wanted to drive off the beach into the water, once water borne you just disengaged the road wheels and engaged its own propeller and reversed the operation coming out of the water. It rode the waves very well indeed and because of its very efficient bilge pumps you were able to get rid of any surplus water that you had taken on board .The real advantage of these vehicles was of course that you could pick up your load from a ship well out to sea and deliver it straight to a supply dump several miles inland with out having to stop, To me they were a fantastic pieces of engineering.
It was now very apparent to us that an invasion was not too far away and we had been officially Attached to the third Canadian Infantry Division . In May 1944 we moved to our port of departure which was Southampton to get there, I remember
driving through the streets of London, during the night with a very heavy Police and Military escort. The roads were blocked off and all traffic movement stopped till we had passed. We parked up in the streets that were all sealed off around the dock areas of Southampton for over three weeks, sleeping on our vehicles. We did actually load up onto the ships and started out to sea once I think it was ten days before the actual
invasion date, but we got called back after a couple of hours out to sea and unloaded again.
The night of June the third 1944 the activity was unbelievable, but for me personally it didn’t turn out the way that I expected it to, instead of being loaded onto a landing craft as before, I was loaded onto the top deck of a large supply ship and off we went .
About a mile or so from the French coast I was unceremoniously slung over the side of the supply ship and into the sea and had to drive that distance onto the beach to rendezvous with the rest of my platoon and to discharge the load of stretchers that I was carrying. This beach was to be known as JUNO beach, and the name of the place where I landed was Benneries Sur Mer.
I must point out at this time that all hell had broken out, the noise from all types of gunfire, shells and bombs exploding everywhere. What I was about to witness in the next few hours, and months no training or teaching in the world could prepare you for. Death and destruction was all around me, there were unbelievable scenes and ones that I will never EVER forget, but for all that I had a job to do and had to get on with it if I wanted to survive. We made our H.Q. in a small Chateau about a mile from the beach, and by midday the Canadian infantry had got about 3-4 miles inland and were able to set up a supply dump this meant that we could start our work of getting supplies ashore from the supply ships as quickly as possible,
We worked from dusk till dawn every day, seven days a week. Do you know what, I was sat in my D.U.C.K.at four thirty in the morning, waiting to go down to the beach to start work when our Provo., corporal climbed up the side of my vehicle and said” caught you Smithy” , Smoking on a W.D. vehicle, and put me on a charge, I went before the C.O., next morning and got stopped two weeks pay, and this was in the first week of the invasion, how’s that for discipline. It didn’t end there two weeks later the very same Corporal Cleckner, did me for being improperly dressed, i.e., not wearing my hat, that cost me another two weeks pay, so in five weeks I lost four weeks pay but what the hell there was nowhere to spend it anyway.
Because the Germans had us bogged down we worked the beaches with our DUKWs, for about five weeks till the fall of Caen which I think was about the middle of July.
We then change the DUKWs for three ton lorries namely Ford Wat six’s, they turned out to be really good reliable workhorses. As we moved forward we took the more northern route through France, Belgium, and Holland, and finally into Germany, however before reaching there, there were a few very hard battles to be fought and won, it was our job to make sure that the lads up front were kept well supplied and I think we did just that. In so doing I was in a way involved in all those heavy battles,
like , Falaise,Brugges,Nymagen,Antwerp, Brussels and Arnhem. Having reached Arnhem I had no idea that my brother Sid was one of those that had dropped with the 8th Airborne Division unfortunately he got shot before he hit the ground and lay in a ditch for two days before being rescued. When we reached the River Rhine at a place I think was called Velo, we changed back to DUKWs for the crossing, I remember very well indeed that when I entered the water the current was so strong that I thought I was not going to make it , but I did of course, but nowhere near the place I was supposed to get out of the water ,I was some mile or so farther down river than I should have been. The units that crossed in Buffaloes did so much easier than I did. the terrain was just perfect for them to show there capabilities.
Once across the Rhine every thing was so much easier we just knew that it was the beginning of the end, although we did have a little skirmish at Munchen Glad Bach
It wasn’t very much, and we made our last head quarters in Hamburg, I was on my way back to Calais in a small convoy when the news came through that Germany had surrendered. I celebrated V.E day in Calais before driving back to Hamburg, which took us a couple of days longer than it should have done but nobody questioned it.
I was then sent on detachment to a company of the Royal Engineers that were building an airstrip just outside Kiel. It was our job to ferry German prisoners of war
from their prison camp to the airstrip to work, they really didn’t like that, they would sometimes refuse to get out of the lorries but a couple of shots fired into the air soon changed their minds. The very tiny village that we camped in was on the edge of a very large wood and I went shooting deer in there mainly on my own, I never shot more than two, so I gave one to the man in the village that dressed them for us and he shared it with the villagers. When my C.O. found out we had to send some of the meat back to our H.Q. in Hamburg, that way he let me have some more ammo.
In May 1945 the company was recalled back to England. On arrival back in England we had orders that the company was to be sent out to Egypt as I had only about twelve months to do before my demob number came up, I was told that I would have to go to a holding camp for that duration, I didn’t want to spend that time with a lot of strangers. I appealed to my CO to let me go to Egypt with them after all we had seen a lot of action together, after some deliberation he agreed, we were given 14 days
Disembarkation Leave. Whilst on this leave brother Joe who was now demobbed had
arranged a night out at the Birmingham Hippodrome to see a show and we arranged to meet out side, Imagine my surprise when I arrived there to find, Irene my ex girlfriend with my sister in law Hilda and Joe of course waiting for me, it turned out that Irene had stayed good friends with Hilda, who was Sids wife. Irene had been visiting Sid in Hospital at Burntwood while he was recovering from his injuries received when he dropped at Arnhem, I think it was the best show that I ever went to why?because, thanks to Joe it brought Irene and I back together again, I think I saw her every day of that leave , question? I wonder if I would have still volunteered to go to Egypt if I had met her earlier. After the 14 days disembarkation we were sent home on 14 days embarkation leave and while on this leave Irene and I decided to get engaged and that we would get married when I got demobbed. On return from leave we set sail for Egypt in June 1946 and went to Cambria Camp, Abbasia Garrison, Cairo. I was sent from there home for demob on 19/5/47 to a depot at York. And there endeth my Military story.
The Birmingham Sunday Mercury, a local newspaper, published an article with the heading “Band Of Brothers” on Sunday Nov.11th. 2001. relating to my eight brothers and I who all served in the army on active service at the same time between 1939&1945. What I think is really incredible is the fact that we all returned home,
Only brothers Sid and Jack sustained war injuries from which they recovered quite well, I think this was a great achievement for just one family. Sadly there is only my brother Joe and my self still surviving.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.