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Alan Crockford's varied WW2 experiences

by Geoffrey Ellis

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
Geoffrey Ellis
People in story: 
Alan Crockford
Location of story: 
England, Belgium, Holland, Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 December 2005

My name is Alan Crockford. I was born at Hurstpierpoint in 1924. We moved to Patcham in 1934. I started work in early September ’39 when I was 15 in one of the largest garages in Brighton, which was turned into a military workshop repairing all vehicles for the army; lorries, armoured cars, coaches, everything.

We had a National Fire Service and an Ambulance Service because it was a very large garage and they were busy all the time. We had air raid sirens and we went out and watched dog-fights between the Messerschmitts and the Hurricanes and the Spitfires. When I became licenced to drive in 1941, apart from working in the workshop itself, all the lads that were there were delivering the vehicles after they were repaired to various units all over England; Mid-Sussex, Dover, right up to Northampton, Nottingham, Chillwell, main depots. Delivering, sometimes we had to stay overnight somewhere, the best way we could. We slept in bus shelters and hitchhiked back, and that’s what we had to do. We were working from six in the morning very often, until ten at night.

During that time, we were sent up to the Brighton railway goods yard where there was about half-a-dozen army vehicles to be unloaded and brought back to the workshop. Most of them had to be towed so we had a breakdown lorry with us. The siren went, and we heard a crump very close, which was a bomb and it landed next to the church next to the Astoria cinema in London Road. It shot up, and it was cannon-firing, so my friend and I just jumped under the railway wagon frightened out of our skins, and the shells were landing all round us. We were scared stiff, but it didn’t last only a few seconds and he was gone. So we carried on with our work. That was one incident.

When we were at Patcham, the bombing raids would come regularly every night. Sometimes it was a moonlit night and you would see the German aircraft actually flying across the sky, and we’ve watched London burning, you could see the flames, and also when they were doing Southampton, we watched the flames from there. And then very often we had a raid and bombs landed somewhere in Patcham.

Before I was called up into the Forces, I belonged to the Air Defence Cadet Corps, which became the Air Training Corps, I was in the Home Guard, I did Fire-Watching for the street, I did Fire-Watching for the garage where I was and also I went to night school. We never had a night off. It was on the go all the time.

I eventually joined up in the RAFVR the end of December ‘43. I was sent to Cardington for training. I went on to the Houghton Air Apprentice school at Houghton, which is near Dunstable, did our training there, and then we were sent to Blackpool. We got all our East equipment ready to fly out to East, we never did. Instead of that they transferred us into the army because most of the bombing had finished and they didn’t want any ground staff so they sent us in the army, and we paraded with sailors, army, airmen, uniforms all mixed together. They hadn’t got enough uniforms to supply us.

We were sent then to Richmond. We were given a week to try, ride, or look over armoured cars. By the way, we kept our trade as regards engines and that sort of thing. We then did a week at Catterick and we could choose whether we wanted tanks or armoured cars, so I chose tanks, and I was trained on the Churchill tank. During that course there was two of us chosen to go onto a new tank, American tank that was named the Chaffee, a medium tank.

Then after that we were sent to Germany. We went over to Germany about three weeks after the war had finished. So we were more or less the army of occupation. Tanks weren’t needed. We were all given lorries and we had to do transport work from Belgium up into Germany carrying food for all the people. And then I got onto the Regimental Bus, which I drove for quite a long time. That was all round Germany taking leave parties to Belgium and all round and wherever I went with a leave party, I had to stay with them. So it was quite an experience. One place we went to was the Hertz Mountains, which was quite terrific.

Then that finished, and we were turned into a training regiment. Well in this training regiment we were tanks obviously; tanks and armoured cars and half-tracks. I was picked out to run the school as I was made up to a full Corporal, and I ran this school for driving and maintenance of half tracks, armoured cars and tanks.

During the time in Germany when we were a Churchill Tank Unit, we were a Churchill Flame-throwing Tank Unit and used to have to go practice on ex-German airfields as regards flame-throwing and we saw the results of flame-throwing on the Belgian coast when we went into gun emplacements. The flame was operated by the co-driver in the hull, and he had that instead of a gun, and he could alter that flame. He could throw a jet of fluid, because we carried a tank of fluid at the back, a trailer which we could jettison quickly if we were in trouble (during the war that would have been). You could aim fluid at a slit in a pillbox of right through the hole and then ignite it, which would burn the inside of the pillbox.

The Churchill had various guns. They started off with a two-pounder gun and then gradually worked up to 75mm, then they had Howitzers, and then they were turned into the Funnies as they called them, which was bridge-laying tanks, and all sorts of funny equipment. I liked the Churchill for climbing. One of the assault courses I had to do as a driver on the tank in Catterick was to go over the moors and then I had to go down a ravine, and I had to use the gearbox, go down this ravine and at the bottom you had to change down very, very quickly so as to get up the other side. It was quite a steep slope. You’d get up this slope, and the next thing you had to do was to get up the slope and bearing in mind when you’re going up a hill in a tank with the visor open, the ground disappears as you come to the crest of the hill, you’re looking at the sky, and you have to judge where you are to balance the tank on the top, so you stop the tank so the tank’s balanced. And then carry on. That was one of the obstacles. That was one of the test pieces we had to do.

We were sent to a camp on manoeuvres, I was driving a half-track at the time, and I was tail-end Charlie of the convoy. We were going through the forest and over some moors, quite high up, and I suddenly saw a chap with an army vehicle waving his arms. The convoy had gone, they never even stopped but I did stop and I had to get my radio operator to radio up to the tanks to tell them that we’d found this chap in distress. Well, I drove across to him, but it was so muddy that my front wheels bogged down, and me with the front wheel drive and the tracks at the back, I couldn’t get out myself. So I couldn’t do much with it. The tank came back. He hooked us up and hooked us all out and we got away with it.

We were sent to a camp called Vogelsang, near Bonn and Cologne, and it was near the tributary to the Rhine. It was dried up because it was bombed so much it lost all the water. We were on the hill in the army barracks that was left. It was a shrine to Hitler. There was swimming pools and all the things that you could wish for, for PT, training, and things like that. The main thing was, there was another camp down the valley, the main camp down in the valley was the ladies’ camp. Pure German. And the men were there to breed pure Germans. That’s what it was. It was a stud farm to breed pure Germans. We were in the men’s barracks. There was a village there that was blown to pieces and all that was left was just guns and old burned-out tanks and goodness knows what.

But before I came home I went down with acute appendicitis in Wuppertal of Germany. I was there for a time and then was sent to another hospital after a day on an army ambulance over shelled roads and rough old roads and tracks. I thought I was going to die by the time I got there. It turned septic and I had a lot of problems, and we set up on the Baltic coast to convalesce, which was quite nice. It was a beautiful summer and we just did nothing else but exercise. From there on I was demobbed and came home.

I was demobbed in 1947. I went back to Moore’s Garage, that’s where I did my work before I was called up. I started there only for a short time, when I was offered a job with the Police as a motor engineer.

1662 words

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