- Contributed by
- DOUGLAS ROTHERY
- People in story:
- Douglas Rothery
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 March 2004
Chapter XI - A Proud Epitaph
Shelling had now become extremely intensive and have been warned to expect a counter attack. A tank to our front was a blazing inferno and was close to a stone built barn, two of my Section requested permission to go to the toilet and they ran to the stone barn, but no sooner had they disappeared inside, it was hit simultaneously by two shells and we couldn't see the barn for a cloud of dust. I was thinking well that's their lot, when out of the dust two figures emerged running like the clappers holding up their trousers, as you can imagine we roared with laughter especially when one them said, 'It was a sure cure for constipation'.
I am not exaggerating when I say that for every minute of the day and night the shelling and salvoes of rockets from the Moaning Minnies were terrifying, one continuous barrage, I have never known such a concentration before on such a comparatively small area. We could hear women and children screaming in terror in the houses to our rear many of which were ablaze, lighting up a moon-less sky. This barrage was still continuing in the morning with the same ferocity, no let up, it was most traumatic and horrifying witnessing this onslaught without any means of personal retaliation but just standing there awaiting the chance perhaps of a reciprocal respite when given the order to advance, these experiences cannot be expressed in words or films. Our exact map location at that very moment I hadn't the slightest idea mainly because Section leaders are not in possession of such, what I did know is that our presence was not at all entente cordial.
Regardless of this slaughter taking place around us, out comes Dad, God bless him, with our mess tins of precious sustenance, dumps it, then scurries back to where he has hidden our vehicle. No sooner had he done so, we sat down on the floor of the trench to partake of our meagre breakfast, leaving Gdsm: Bowse standing on guard and acting waiter. He was in the process of handing me my mess tin by reaching over two others when there was an almighty explosion. I was flung backwards by a terrific force and momentarily stunned. There was a few seconds silence ,then I called on the Mother of God for divine intervention and succour. I eventually could see out of one eye my hearing was naturally impaired, blood was pouring down my face, my arms felt stiff and numb, the front of my tunic was ripped away and both sleeves were in tatters. The poor unfortunate who was leaning over to me, Guardsman Bowse was killed, two others were injured no doubt his body protected us from more serious injuries. I was to learn some time later that a rocket shell had hit the perimeter of the trench so if it had happened a few seconds before we would have been all standing up. Someone put a bandage around my head and eyes and helped me and others into a vehicle which took us to the First aid post about a mile back. They cleaned me up a bit, re-bandaged my head and eyes, put both arms in slings then put me in an ambulance to be taken to the base hospital. No sooner had I laid down in the ambulance than I felt a joy of relief, everything seemed so peaceful, just the rumbling of shell fire in the distance as I gradually unwound from the tension and trauma of hell plus the fact I couldn't remember when I slept last, I was certainly going to make up for it as I went completely out.
Waking up as the cold air hit me, I was carried in on a stretcher into the Base hospital which was a very large marquee somewhere in France. After being put to bed a doctor along with a couple of others gave me a thorough examination and removed the slings from my arms. Apparently my chest arms and face were like a pepper pot caused, according to the doctor, by fragmented stones, these he said would eventually come to the surface and was nothing to worry about and were also in the muscles of my arms causing them to be stiff.
I remained in bed for about 3 weeks whilst they treated my ears and eyes and eventually allowed me to go to the washroom which was the first chance I had of seeing my face and it was a peculiar experience because I didn't recognise myself. Apart from it being peppered it was blown up like a balloon caused by the blast and my eyes were just slits, it was a bit of a shock. They seemed quite concerned about my eyes more so than my ears, which has left me with a steam train passing with its whistle blowing.
Whilst here I felt very proud when other patients on hearing that I was a Grenadier would come over to congratulate me on the achievements of the Guards Armoured Division. ( Div: sign:-- 'The Ever Open Eye'), a sign by looking at me, that must have seemed a contradiction.
This also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the trauma an infantry man uniquely experiences, yet at the end of his stint is not even given any more consideration to those who although not in earshot of enemy action are entitled to the same Campaign recognition which to me makes the medal significance less rewarding. (The powers that be I imagine would say 'You were only doing what was expected of you").. Shame.
After about six weeks I was informed that I along with others were to be flown back to Blighty, I was elated. One morning I along with about ten others, some on stretchers, found ourselves in the corner of a field where there was a lone Dakota, it wasn't long before we were up and away. Flying low over the channel to escape radar detection and on nearing the home coast we climbed, it was a wonderful feeling looking down on a peaceful countryside bathed in sunlight so much so I pointed this out to a fellow on a stretcher whom I expected to share my enthusiasm but he only gave me a scornful look. I then realised he was a Jerry.
We landed somewhere in West Bromwich because it was to a hospital there where I was to stay for a short while, thank goodness! It was very primitive. I was then transferred to a Birmingham hospital where I was eventually allowed out in regulation hospital blue and red tie thus giving me the opportunity to visit an Aunt. I was then transferred to Leamington Spa to the 'Home for the Incurables.' I hasten to add that service personnel were in a separate ward. Each evening a Victorian battle-axe of a matron would literally march through the ward with her entourage, who endeavoured to keep up with her, whilst the patients that were able, had to stand at the foot of their bed until she had passed through, you then had to go to bed. As there were no radio or headphones in the ward we naturally, being interested in the progress of the war sought permission to be allowed to hear the 9pm news in the Rest room, this was refused because it would upset the procedural practice carried on in the hospital for decades. It was decided that it was about time the rules were changed, so come 9pm we would sneak downstairs until one night we were reported. To cut a long story short I was appointed as spokesman and had to appear before the Head Administrator who threatened to report me to the army authorities, I likewise their draconian method of administration. We were granted permission to hear the 9pm news with a promise of headphones for each bed.
After a few months I was sent to Stoke-on-Trent convalescent army camp where after being issued with new clobber I was to meet up with many of my mates now patched up and eager to get back at the enemy. (If you believe that you will believe anything). I was very surprised to meet R.S.M Hufton who had certainly mellowed after his battle inoculation, I didn't know he had been wounded. He called me over and asked me what I was doing that afternoon. I nearly said 'I didn't know you cared'. Anyway he treated me to a football match between Stoke and Portsmouth and afterwards to a Cafe for a tea and a wad. 'There you are, they are human after all'.
After idling our time away here for a few weeks all Grenadiers were sent to Victoria barracks Windsor where I was to meet up with more patched up heroes straining on the leash, but before doing so there was much reminiscing over pints with old acquaintances, one of them being a Sergeant Twelftree who was a pall bearer at the funeral of HM King George V and was one of my buddies when we first went out to France so we had plenty to celebrate about. Unfortunately they were all to rejoin their units with the exception of Corporal Griffiths ex heavy and light heavy weight Brigade boxing champion who, like me was now downgraded to C2 and was to be my Corporal of the guard at the barracks one night. On reveille, Griffiths on dismounting the sentry, (who by the way was a recruit,) marched him into the guardroom and gave him the order to unload and in doing so the recruit inadvertently left a round up the breech and on pressing the trigger the bullet went into the ceiling scattering plaster all around the guardroom much to the amusement of Griff; who was curled up in muffled laughter behind him. The Picket officer a [Young Chicko] walked in immediately afterwards and I thought he had heard the report but apparently hadn't, which I imagined should have woken up all of Windsor, but he was just checking the Tattoo report as part of his duty by asking 'Everything all right Sergeant'. He didn't look anymore than 18yrs old and was at the same time walking around the guardroom tapping the plaster from side to side with his stick. When I explained what had happened he just said 'Oh, oh railly, oh, oh' and off he went. The recruit got off with a reprimand, I believe the shock it gave him was ample punishment.
Whilst here I received a Regimental Christmas and New Year card with the Divisional sign of the Guards Armour (the ever open eye) on the front cover, the card denoted the capture of Nijmegan among other battle honours and it was sent to me by L/Cpl Cox(Nobby) who was one of my Section before he got promoted. I was to learn later that he must have been killed whilst the card was in the post. 'God Bless'.
I was talking to a group of Americans who dressed in their army uniform were waiting at the main gate and had apparently arrived back from France the day before,and I asked them how much they enjoyed the luxurious accommodation of Victoria barracks, I am afraid their response wasn't at all complimentary. They said they were the Glen Miller band and were awaiting their leaders arrival. His disappearance to this day still remains a mystery.
Being downgraded, all that my duties comprised of here were Sergeant-In-Waiting and Sergeant of the barrack guard roles, so R.S.M. Snapper Robinson I should imagine decided that I might have some undiscovered talents which were not forthcoming here because he passed the Buck and me with it to 'Stobbs camp' near Hawick where I was to discover to my amazement, my mate of old standing Dennis Ward of No5 Section who told me that soon after my encounter he was shot receiving a bullet wound in the shoulder and was now pronounced fit enough to be shot at again and therefore was training with a contingent of Grenadiers for Far Eastern engagements.
I don't believe their gastronomic considerations were very high on their priority list because I was sent to H.Q Company to be in charge of their rations where each week I along with a driver in a 15cwt truck would have to proceed to Edinburgh to buy from the N.A.A.F.I. store, an amount determined by the manipulation of an allowance considered enough to sustain about fifty or so hungry warriors. One particular morning I was informed to report for Company Commanders Orders where I was expecting to be formally told that I had been recommended for promotion, unfortunately on meeting the Company Commander, he had just discovered at this late hour, that I was not A.1 and therefore was extremely sorry but it must be denied me. If the reason for not being upgraded was due to unsatisfactory ration distribution or whatever, I might have understood, but the lesson to be learnt is, when you go into battle, Its not only your life that is on the line but also your promotion so for goodness sake keep your head down. My ambition to join the Police when hostilities ceased was also shattered. Regardless of these adversities, I am proud to say my compensatory reward was having been in the company of wonderful comrades who also experienced the honour of being contributors to the historical glory of an equally glorious regiment
Whilst I was here peace was declared in May 1945 so my rationed superior recipients either seeking revenge or the alternatives to prunes and custard each Sunday lunch, decided to transfer my expertise to( Sefton Park) Slough where I was to remain until my demobilisation and in keeping with the usual Service administrative protocol, I was sent to the furthest point in the South of England, 'Penzance' Demobilisation Centre instead of the one close by namely Reading.
On arrival I was to be very disappointed with the few suits available and when I mentioned this they were very apologetic and came out with the old cliche, 'If sir would come back tomorrow when they were expecting a new consignment', Some hope! No homing instincts were to dominate my dress sense and I was to choose one I considered less conspicuous of the few remaining, a blue serge, which I am sure was made from a dyed army 'U' blanket in which I furtively crept away in, with the princely sum of 75 pounds for which I signed for. So after completing 8yrs with the colours because of the war, instead of the 4yrs in which I enlisted, I was to return home on the 2nd of March 1946 at the age of 26 years to the same establishment in which I left to join up.
That said, I reflect with sadness but with tremendous pride the heroic memories of those whose supreme sacrifice along with their past comrades, have contributed so generously and honourably to the proud epitaph of "THE BRITISH GRENADIERS".
2615652 EX L/SGT ROTHERY. D.. Arthur Baker survived the war after serving his time in the 3rd Batt:and we were never to meet up again until approx; 10yrs after joining the army together. He was married and lived in Guilford
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.