BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

James McQuarrie and The King's Own Scottish Borderers

by Eric McQuarrie

Contributed by 
Eric McQuarrie
People in story: 
James McQuarrie
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1107596
Contributed on: 
12 July 2003

(As told to me by my father James McQuarrie)

He was a private in the 5th King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a territorial unit with a drill hall in Gatehouse, Scotland. He was a joiner to trade and died in 1998 leaving 8 of a family.

The Kings Own Scottish Borderers were evolved from Levens Regiment raised to defend Edinburgh from “Bonnie Dundee” in March 1689. The 4th and 5th Battalions were Territorial Army units that recruited in the South of Scotland area from Berwick on Tweed in the East to Stranraer in the West. These were part of the 52nd Lowland Division, 155th Infantry Brigade. The 4th (Border Battalion) had its H.Q. in Galashields and the 5th (Dumfries and Galloway) H.Q. was in Dumfries. The 5th had evolved from The Dumfries Volunteers and the Galloway Rifles, with detachments in Dumfriesshire, A and D companies; B Company was in Wigtownshire and C Company in Kirkcudbright. C Coy. HQ was at the Drill Hall in at Kirkcudbright. Detachments had drill halls at Castle Douglas, Dalbeattie and Gatehouse of Fleet.

His Story

Three days before war broke out I was working at Lairdmannoch Loch with Jim Glover. We were painting and repairing the small rowing boats used for the fishing on the loch. At dinner time we went down to the big House to eat our piece, while we were eating it came over the radio that all territorials were to report to their drill hall immediately. I said cheerio to Jim and set off for home on my bike to Twynholm near Kirkcudbright. I had joined the T.A. because they were going to the Isle of Man for their annual summer camp and it was too good a chance to miss a free holiday. After I joined up in 1937 we got a boat at Stranraer harbour to sail to the Isle of Man and as we were sailing down past the Mull of Galloway it started to blow up a little bit and had got quite rough when lunch was announced. There were not many takers and by then I had started to feel a little queasy but I thought that if I was going to be sick I would be better to have something in me to be sick with so I went and had some tomato soup. I felt great after it and have never forgotten it. Five of us had joined that year but I was the only one left by “39”.
I reported to the drill hall in Gatehouse that afternoon along with the rest of the lads and we were told that a bus would pick us up at Sunday at 11 am to take us to Dumfries. I played football for the Saints on the Saturday as usual and on the Sunday morning went to Gatehouse where the bus picked us up as promised and off we went. As the bus went by the Star Inn in Twynholm, Miss Carter, Mrs. Lamont and my Grandfather were standing outside wiping their eyes with their hankies; I wondered what was wrong with them.
We were billeted at Rosefield Mills in Dumfries for a week to get kitted out and the following week we were spread around the Forth Bridge. Two companies were in Winchburgh and the other two were in Kirkliston and H.Q. in South Queensferry. I was with C coy in Winchburgh and was billeted with Snub Hay in a Mr.and Mrs. Cherry’s house until Snub pee’ed the bed so after that he slept in the guardroom. Mr. Cherry took me down the shale mines where he worked and I was never as glad to get out of anywhere as out of there. I met Wullie Thornton who was just seventeen and had just signed for Glasgow Rangers football club. A highlight was watching the first air raid (16-10-39) on the Forth Bridge, one of the pilots was Pat Gifford from Castle Douglas who was later killed in action. We did different guard duties during the time we were there, the first was to Pitreavie Castle, near Dunfermline, the next was the RAF station at Inverkiething and then we erected barbed wire round Turnhouse Aerodrome, Edinburgh where the Spitfires were stationed. The last place was the ammo dump at Kincardine on Forth, that was in the beginning of December and we lived in tents. When we went for breakfast in the mornings the tables were set up outside in the open and were white with frost and on each table were a tin of Pilchards, that was our breakfast but I don’t think they were ever opened.
We moved back to Dumfries before Christmas and went on seven days leave. In the New Year we had a very heavy snowfall and I managed to stretch my leave to 14 days. I told them I couldn’t get from Borgue to Kirkcudbright because all the roads were blocked and got away with it as most of the Battalion had been clearing snow from the railway between Dalbeattie and Dumfries. The snowdrifts were so high that they had hung their jackets on top of the telegraph poles. The Battalion was now being reorganised, a new coy called S. Company was set up and all the tradesmen were brought into it from the pioneer platoon and in this coy was the mortar plt., carrier plt. (No carriers!), signals plt. etc. We also got two or three new intakes, one from the Edinburgh area, one from Glasgow and a lot from Yorkshire. I think the Yorkshiremen were wondering what had hit them, I don’t think they had heard bagpipes before but they soon settled in and soon made lots of friends. One of them was a plumber called Bill Hall, he was nearly 40 when he had volunteered so he wasn’t fussy which regiment he went to, he looked just like that cartoon character of the day “Old Bill” so he was called that during the whole war, him and I were good friends.
We stayed at Dumfries for three months then moved to a small village called Milburn Port near Sherbourne, Dorset. The English regiment there before us had left us their cooks to make our breakfast, it was the first and last time I‘d tasted porridge made with syrup. Where we were stationed there was a big house (Vern House?) and a hutted camp all around it and it was all lit by a carbide gas plant that must have used tons of carbide. A man called Stewart from Castle Douglas was put in charge of it because he used to work in the Gas works at Castle Douglas, he was named “stinky” forever after. One night Paddy Downs, a blacksmith from Dalbeattie went with me to look around the village but there wasn’t much to see except a pub. The beer was sixpence a pint but the scrumpy was only threepence a pint so we had two pints of scrumpy each. About one o’clock in the morning the whole hut was wakened up by someone complaining that he was soaked because somebody had opened the window and the rain had come in. In the morning when he went to put his boots on they were full of water. What had happened was that Paddy had got up during the night for a pee, went to what he thought was the door and peed but it wasn’t the door, it was the window under which the fellow was sleeping and had peed over him and filled his boots. One Sunday morning on going to church parade the Battalion was being led by the 2 IC, Major Johnston (from Amsfield Towers, Dfs.) when we came to an Y junction in the road. The left fork went to the church, the right fork went to Sherbourne; the major went to the right and the pipe band and the Battalion went to the left, leaving the major on his own!
About the beginning of May we moved to a place called Kingsclere, near Newbury where we billeted in racing stables. We didn’t know what was going on at the time but it was just after Dunkirk and the army was regrouping and everything was in turmoil. However we soon found out that we were going to France and were issued with five rounds of ammunition each and for some unknown reason the officers got seven rounds apiece. We arrived at Southampton one evening and boarded one of the I.o.M. ferries that had been requisitioned, most of us lay on the deck waiting for darkness and trying to get some sleep and on sailing after dark we joined up with another convoy off the Isle of Wight. We heard the rumour going round that Churchill was on a ship in our convoy going to France to see Petain, I’m sure he had better accommodation than we had.
We disembarked at St. Malo on the 13th June and started marching, we had no idea where we were going and we were never told anything. We marched along those long straight roads and it was a relief to see a corner coming up until we were round it only to find another great long straight. We stopped in a field that was surrounded by woods (Domfort Forest) and we were to bivouac there for the night. When we had settled in a chap from Castle Douglas, Joe Fletcher (a bookmaker in later life) and I were taken to a crossroads and given an anti-tank rifle and told anything coming down the road was to be fired on! After a while Joe asked if I had ever fired the thing because he hadn’t, I said I’d never seen it before and had no idea how it worked but not to worry because we had no ammunition for it. However we survived the night without needing it. We stayed there for two or three days before we got on a train not knowing where we were or where we had been only that the train was going to Paris. I remember the train stopping at a small village station where civilians were hanging around and us trying to scrounge cigarettes from them, those fags tasted awful. We got off the train not long after and set out marching in our company, each taking a different way to meet up again at a certain map reference on a specific day. We all made it except “A” coy who got lost after being misdirected by fifth columnists then being ambushed by the Germans. Some were killed and wounded with the rest being taken prisoner. None of the officers had been trained in map reading, only in finding unpolished brasses, which they were good at! We were now told that the Division was being evacuated and the Battalion had been given the honour of fighting a rearguard action (some honour). We made our way to Cherbourg and arrived there at the height of the evacuation to find the harbour littered with hundreds of burning lorries, trucks and ambulances, this was to stop the Germans using them. It was a standing joke after this that our Q.M. was moaning about the loss of good ground sheets. There was only one ship (SS. Manxman) left in the Harbour and this was to take us to Southampton. We were the last unit to leave France in 1940 (18-6-40) and learned later that the Div. commander had been ordered to stay and fight to the last man, this he refused to do as it would have been suicide. This had been an attempt to reinforce a French Line of defence between the Somme and the Aisne rivers with two divisions but it had fell before they could reach the line.
Arriving back in England we entrained for a place called Chartis in Cambridgeshire, where we stayed for about 6 weeks then went to a place called Cochley-Cley just outside Swaffam, Norfolk. Airfields surrounded this place; some real, some dummy, this was to mislead the Germans who visited us regularly on bombing missions. We lived in tents sunk two feet into the ground and sandbagged two feet above to give us some protection. Most of our time was spent taking bus rides to airfields, real and dummy ones so that the bombers wouldn’t know which was which; it was very boring.
The battalion moved away from Norfolk in November to Kirkintilloch, this was a move to keep us quiet, I don’t think they knew what to do with us. Next it was to Dunbar for a while where 6 men were killed by a mine on the beach that we were guarding and then onto Longnidray on the Firth of Forth. While here I got a telegram to say Sandra (first daughter) had been born so I got 48 hrs. leave to go and see her. I borrowed 10/- from the padre and set out, got a lift into Edinburgh, got a tram to the outskirts and started hitchhiking. There were few cars on the roads because of the petrol rationing and what lifts I got didn’t go far but managed to get to Dumfries before the last train to Kirkcudbright left. I spent the night at Borgue and the next morning set off back to my unit, this time by bus! (I still owe the Padre the 10/- (50p)).
In the summer of 1942 it was decided that along with the 4th Batt we would convert to a mountain role so our next move was to Banff and on the way we stopped for the night at Crieff hydro. At Banff the H.Q. was in the drill hall and the coy. was in a large house, which was called Duff House. The rest of the Battalion was in a distillery that was closed for the duration but the whisky was still in bond, I don’t think anyone tried to get into it. The last occupants of Duff house were German POW s and there was a huge barbed wire fence around it with only one gate in and out but it was quite comfortable. This was where we were to change into a mountain Div. to learn how to ski and to fight and survive in the arctic conditions in the mountains. There was a snow school at Benalder, a mountain warfare school at Glenfeshie, a battle school at Dunphail and a hardening camp at Aultmore. We were all looking forward to the change, the one thing that we didn’t enjoy was the PT. in the winter mornings, we had to run about ¾ of a mile down to the shore and dive in and then run back but it made us fit. We were there for 14 months and moved to Banchory just outside Aberdeen where we were billeted in an isolation hospital that was infested with rats. We then moved into Aberdeen proper and it was here that the mountain training really started, each coy was taken up to Braemar for a month at a time. Braemar village was about the size of Ringford with one big hotel and a shop that was the bakers, grocers and Post Office all in one. On good days we were taken up into the mountains for ski training with Norwegian instructors, it was really good fun, what with the good weather you good get a suntan. On bad days we were taken on a route march for about 6 or 7 miles and spend the night in snow houses and then march back next day, after a month in Braemar it was back to Aberdeen. There was a big exercise in the Cairngorms called “Goliath” and the whole Div. was involved. We were near Ben McDhuie and two sections had to find the easiest route to the top, the route I went up was chosen so I had to do it all again. We spent the night there and in the morning when we got up it was fine and clear and we see right down over central Scotland, what a view it was and although it was in mid June we were throwing snowballs at each other. While we were at Aberdeen another training project got under way, this was loading and unloading a mock-up of a glider that went on for weeks on end, we must have been the best-trained Division in the British Army. In July 44 the 52nd Lowland Mountaineer Div. became air transportable. They became part of the first Allied Airborne Army.
The day before Arnhem we were moved to a place called Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire from where Guy Gibson‘s 617 Sqd. had taken off to attack the dams in the dambusters raid. It was here that I met Harold Johnstone who used to be a bus driver with Campbell’s buses from Kirkcudbright. He was in the rear party of the 7th Batt. KOSB and was flying out the next day to join up with the rest of his Batt at Arnhem so it didn’t take much figuring out as to where we were going! The weather intervened and our move (52nd Div) to Arnhem was cancelled for which we were thankful. We were supposed to fly to Delleen airstrip 7 miles north of Arnhem, which should have been captured and held by the paratroops but it wasn’t.
Our next base was a place called Chalfont-St-Giles, just outside London and it was here that the flying bombs were coming over nearly every day, they were safe enough as long as you could hear them but when the engine cut out that was when to take cover. The sky was often black with bombers going to Germany almost every day.
About the end of October we went down to Dover and crossed the channel to Ostend where we went to a transit camp that was run by the Canadians. The first thing we got with our meals was pure white bread, something we hadn’t seen since before the war started. Then on the 1st November we moved to a place called Breskens in Holland from where we were to take the Isles of Walcheren which lay beside the Scheldt up which ships had to pass to get to Antwerp docks. Our task was to occupy Flushing, the main town on the island. It was typical that a Mountaineer Air Transportable Div. was to assault a place that lay below sea level. There was about 3 miles between Breskens and Flushing and we went in on landing craft with Canadian Artillery backing us up from Breskens. The 5th Batt. had two attempts at landing, the first was called back by the naval commander because of the heavy German shelling. We could see that a lot of the Island was under water because the RAF had blown up the sea dykes to hinder the Germans. We moved forward into the town with very little opposition until we reached the centre where we met a huge pillbox barring our way, we took cover in a large department store like Woolworth’s, the stuff in it was rubbish but there were heaps of Guilder lying around. Somebody thought that they were worthless and that we wouldn’t get them changed so we left them lying there. We found out later that they were worth something and we could have got them changed no bother. (When Gen. Horrocks visited the Gordon Highlanders in Jan 45 he told them about a German field cashier who was captured and robbed at Walcheren by a Jock from the 52nd Div. The German had waved a piece of paper which he thought was his receipt for the money he had surrendered, on which was written, “This bastard had 11000 guilders .He hasn’t got them now!”). The next day was spent mopping up and then it was on to Middel-burg to get the Germans out of there, it was no bother because they were only too glad to surrender. Our next task was to hold the line between Bergen-op-Zoom and Hertogenbosch. I remember being in a small village nearby called Vought where there had been a concentration camp. The quicklime pits which the prisoners had been lined up beside and shot were still there.
In the middle of December we moved along the river Mass to Gorzett and Geilenkirchen area at a place called Niederheide near Masstricht. It was nicknamed “Dorset Wood” because the Dorset Regiment who had been there before us, they had made the trenches and dugouts so it was just a case of moving in and taking over, no digging. We were here for a 3-day spell then we went out of line for a break and back in after the New Year. The Germans were about a mile in front of us and we were being continually plastered with mortar and artillery shells, they would hit the branches of the trees above us, explode and shower us with shrapnel that caused quite a few casualties, mostly head wounds. I remember one chap from Leeds called Tommy Smith getting hit on the head and when I saw him I thought that he wouldn’t be back for quite awhile. He was back in Dorset Wood ten days later in Jan 45, this was because they had started treating the wounded by using Penicillin and they were back in action in no time. Another casualty was Jocky Scott from Preston Pans, we were coming back from an O.P. through a minefield laid by the Germans that had a fenced off path through it. Jocky had seen a German rifle lying just inside the fence and wanted it, the last thing to do was to touch anything like that because they were usually booby-trapped, and sure enough it was the last thing Jocky did, he was killed instantly. Another time in this same minefield was when we had to put down more mines to extend it; the NCO was (a nice chap but brainless) a Sgt. Craigie from Newcastle. These were anti personnel mines with antennae sticking up out of the ground and exploded about stomach height when triggered. The Sgt. was taking notes as to where we were putting these mines, we had to submit a plan for future reference, he had lost his pencil and started to wander round hunting for it, he didn’t half get a rollicking from us for he could have killed us all. On the 7th Jan 45, 17 men of the 4th.Batt. KOSB and 30 R.E. sappers were killed while laying an anti-tank mine field along with another 4 KOSBs killed the same night in another incident in the same minefield. 2400 mines exploded in two explosions.
The day before Christmas “44” we came out of the line to Gannzett for our Christmas dinner, we were billeted with the locals who were mostly miners and kept 4 or 5 rabbits in a hutch as pets and we could see these running around in their hutches. The locals insisted that we had dinner with them on Boxing Day, which was nice of them, as food was scarce. We were sitting eating with them when noticed that all the hutches were empty, we were eating the pet rabbits!. Back in the line after Christmas we had to go and rescue a patrol of 4/5th Royal Scots and the Pioneer Platoon of the 4th KOSB who had gone to rescue them got stuck themselves. The method used in those days was to pierce the ground in front of you with the short bayonet to locate the mines, there were no mine detectors then. We started with 8 men in line abreast with the two outside ones unrolling a roll of white tape as we went into the minefield. This tape was to mark a safe route out again; can you imagine trying to follow a white strip that was covered in snow? We all made it back all right though and went on to Geilenkirchen for the next stage called “Operation Blackcock”
On the 21st Jan 45 we went to liberate a small place called Waldfeucht that was just inside the German border and about the size of Kirkcudbright. It was in the dark at 3 am when we started the attack and it was freezing hard and bitterly cold. Once again we had to clear the way in for the tanks and carriers, etc., (the rest of the Batt. came in on Kangaroos,) we did find some mines that we lifted and put to one side. When we reached the town the Germans gone but it was thought that they would return as soon as it was daylight. This was borne out by the civilians down in the cellars that kept asking what time it was and sure enough they returned at dawn. Two Tiger tanks took up position in front of us and one arrived behind us so we sent for our Sherman tanks to come forward and engage them and to drive them off but they refused because the Tigers were far superior to our tanks. It was left to the 6-lb. antitank guns to do what they could. We could see the tanks quite clearly now with the infantry coming in behind them. The antitank guns opened up on the tanks with rapid fire and for about an hour the battle raged; the gunners put the tanks out of action but at the cost of two crews, they put up a great show. The third Tiger got stuck under an arch over the road and was then knocked out. It was at ten o’clock at night when the battle for the village was finished. The O.C. of the Shermans came up next the day to have a look at the Tigers and his comments were “Oh yes, sitting targets”. These Tiger tanks had knocked out four British tanks. After leaving Waldfeucht 5th KOSB went through Aphoven where the German guns, which had, gave them a hard time in Dorset Wood had been situated and saw how their own guns had dealt them some of their own medicine
In mid February we were on the move again this time to Hunsberg then across the river Maas to Gennep and Afferden, the Germans had withdrawn to a place called Goch. After we had cleared Gennep we started to advance through Broederbosch wood, near Afferden, this was a huge forest, which was miles wide and miles long with dirt roads running all through it. The 4th Batt. was on our left and the Royal Scots were left in reserve. We started out about 3 in the afternoon, progress was slow because our artillery wasn’t quick enough in lifting the barrage and this caused casualties, Jock Johnstone from Kirkcudbright was one and another was Major AD McDonald, the 2 i/c who was a nice bloke who cared for his men. In one incident a dugout received a direct hit and killed 6 stretcher-bearers, these were bandsmen who recovered the injured when in action. Two came from Wigtown and two from Whithorn area and two from Dumfries.
At six o’clock it was getting dark so we started to dig for the night, we dug down about a foot or so then we hit water and the deeper we dug the more water came into the hole. We then filled the trench with branches so we could stand on them to try to keep ourselves dry. A major came along and made us dig deeper so we had to spend the night up to our behinds in water. In the morning we moved about 200 yards to our right and made dugouts, as everybody else was doing the same it looked as if we were going to be there for a while. We were there for a fortnight but got out for a day to have a bath but went straight back in. The reason for the hold-up was a fortified castle (Kassel Blijenbeek) in between Goch and us and it was holding up the advance of the 4th Batt. It was heavily fortified and the resistance was very stiff. The shelling from the Castle started the first day we were there and continued for about ten days. It went on for hours on end every day and quite a few were taken away bomb-happy. We were here to contain the Germans and to stop them breaking out. I remember being in a foxhole for about 48 hrs in very hard frosty weather and was under constant mortar fire the whole time. They exploded as soon as they hit the frozen ground so we just had to keep our heads down when we heard them coming. On good days they sent the rocket firing Typhoons in to try and sort the Germans out, we used to watch them in action and see the rockets leaving the planes and the explosions seemed quite near. One time Bobby Barnfather and I was sent out to dig a slit trench for a forward observation post. We were halfway through when a sniper opened up on us so we moved back a bit, got under cover and watched to see if we could spot him but we couldn’t. He must have had good cover, we never did get the trench finished. We never saw the Castle either because we by-passed it and moved on to Goch.
We came out of the wood on the 2nd March and soon got our next task, which was to clear the Xanten and Wesel area prior to making the Rhine crossing. We were in the Rhine Valley now, this was good farming country and we were living in a farmhouse with cows and hens and there were sides of bacon hanging from the rafters. We put the hens upstairs in the bedrooms, just in case we were shelled or mortared, it was safer to go upstairs to gather eggs than hunt around outside for them. We had eggs and bacon for breakfast every morning when we were there. It was here that met G. Campbell (turnip) from Kirkcudbright who was in the R.A..
It was on Xanten now to get ready for the crossing of the Rhine where on the 23rd March we lay on the banks all night waiting for the word to start. First of all the gliders came over being towed by bombers and Dakotas filled with paratroops, they were to establish a bridge-head and then we were to pass through them to take a town called Hammelhin. The Dakotas started to come back, some of them were on fire with the crews jumping out but a lot of them seemed OK, we learned that a lot of the gliders had landed on an anti-aircraft battery. We then crossed over in Buffaloes (amphibious armoured carriers) which held about a dozen of us. We met the airborne troops about 2 miles in on the far bank and remember one of them, an Enniskillen Fusilier saying, “ thank god you’re here”. We reached the town that night before it got dark and the first thing we did was to round up the local civilians and get them into one building, it saved a lot of manpower to guard them. The German army had a habit of counter attacking either just before dark or just before daybreak in the morning. We had an Italian POW. here who was a great singer and who entertained us every day with his singing. I don’t know how he got there but it was thought that he was a deserter from the Italian army because he was living with the civilians.
We left Hammelheim after about a week and headed for a place called Rhinene on the way to the Dortmund-Elms canal. It was near Rhinene that we were held up by the enemy who were under a huge square hay stack in a bunker that they had build under it. The only way to move them was to use flame-throwers and burn them out. A lot of them came out on fire but they were still armed and firing at us so we had no choice but to fire back, there must have been about 50 of them and their bodies were strewn about all over the place. We pressed on through Rhinene after it had been taken to make a crossing of the canal, there was stiff opposition here as it was an important waterway for the Germans and they didn’t want to give it up easily. It was about now that we joined the 4th Armoured Brigade. We were living in some farm buildings here and one night I was speaking to a carrier driver called Ronnie and he was saying that he was going home next day for 7 days leave. His last leave had been cancelled because he had got VD but had now been cured and had been given the all clear and was now getting his missed leave. When I got up next morning and went outside the tent there was a body lying outside the first-aid shelter wrapped in a blanket, I went over and looked at the label and it was Ronnie. After he had left me he had run over a landmine with his Bren gun carrier and was killed instantly.
We were now heading for the Weser and on the road to Diepholz we were again held up by troops in a large farmhouse, it was decided to give them two or three rounds of HE after which they decided to surrender. There wasn’t one of them over sixteen years old. They had been forced into the Hitler Youth but they were all fanatics. After that it was on to Verden, here we went into action behind flail tanks. These were tanks with great big revolving drums with heavy chains attached, these exploded the mines which saved us the bother of digging them up and the tracks left were easier to follow.
German resistance was getting very weak now and by the time we got to Aachen it was practically non-existence except for some small pockets and so it was on to Bremen, the last major city to be taken by the British forces. It had been bombed relentlessly by the RAF and it was flattened, the number of people around amid all these ruins was quite surprising although they had used their cellars for air-raid shelters.
There was very little organised resistance and it was here that the 4th Batt captured a U-boat intact. Another book claims it was captured by a unit called 30AU, which went in front of the troops trying to capture the Germans secrets before they were destroyed. I remember going down to the harbour to see it. When we went to the main hospital one day for a bath it was full of the Jews who had been released from concentration camps, what a pitiful sight they were with arms and legs no thicker than brush shafts. After two days we had cleared the city and were billeted in the outskirts in houses some of them had no roofs and some had no walls so we picked the best of what there was. We pressed on out into the countryside clearing the small towns and villages surrounding Bremen and it was while doing this we heard that the Armistice had been signed and was to take effect from midnight on the 8th of May, my birthday. We then moved to another town outside Bremen where the population had to surrender any weapons and we had to destroy them. There were some nice shotguns and sporting rifles that would cost a fortune to buy today but we had a lot of firing practice with them before they were destroyed
Next place was a town called Lauenburg on the river Elbe and every night the Russians on the other side of the river would fire on us with their machine guns, I don’t think they had been told that the war was over. It was here that the non-frantenising order was announced it meant that we couldn’t speak to any of the Germans or help them in any way. This order must have come from some civil servant in London because the officers and men ignored it. When we were told that we were pulling back and that the Russians were coming to take over because it was in their zone the Germans were in tears because they were scared of them and of what the Russians would do. It turned out they had every reason to be scared
Our next port of call was a place near Wuppental, called Neunrade and as usual we arrived at night and had to wait until the morning for something to eat. After breakfast we went out to the swill bins to throw away what was left on our plates and was nearly knocked over in the rush of kids who were diving into the bins and grabbing what they could and gulping it down, they were starving. We told them to go and get cups or plates and we would give them whatever was left, and before we left there we had them sitting at our tables with us sharing our meals. One day they told us that food was coming into the shop across the road, excitement was high and sure enough a lorry with high sides arrived loaded with cabbages and they were pleased to see it. One thing we noticed in this place that there were no males aged between 12 and 65. They didn’t know if their menfolk were dead or alive but they believed the worse, that they had all been killed on the Eastern front.
We soon moved again, this time to the Mohne and Eider dams, these were the dams that had been breached with the bouncing bombs and a right good job they had made of it. You could see the mark the floods had made right down the valley, it must have killed a lot of people. This area was used as a rest camp for wounded troops and was a nice and quiet place to be in We were here to protect the local people from the gangs of displaced persons holed up in the woods from which they would come out off at night to raid local farms and houses in search of food and anything else that they wanted, they were armed with rifles and revolvers and we had to be careful in our handling of them
On Minden day we were at Minden where the KOSBs had won their first battle honour and this is celebrated by the wearing a rose on Minden Day. While
we were here someone cleaned out the ammo. store and made a bonfire of the rubbish but had failed to gather up the loose rounds of 303 ammo he just threw them on the fire, it was like the war starting up again.
Demob was being started now and it was in two classes, in A class you were allowed eight weeks pay and ration money and you find your own job. In class B you could be released right away but were directed to work on a farm for at least 6 months and only got three weeks pay and ration money. I got a weeks home leave and I travelled from Minden to Calais on an old German train that had wooden slatted seats and it was a long journey what with the temporary wooden bridges over the rivers and tracks which had been destroyed and hurriedly rebuilt a few times but leave didn’t start until you got to Dover. If your home was on an island you could get an extra day leave so the boys from the Isle of Whithorn all put in for this extra day and got it.
When we got to Calais we had to change our money into LSD and the limit was £50 but very few had that amount in credit even though we never drew any pay while in Europe. I went through and got £40 changed and they stamped my pay book, at the other end was a Scots Guardsman and he wanted me to go back through and get £50 worth of Guilders changed for him. I said I’d already been through but he said to try again and if it didn’t work it wouldn’t matter, so he gave the Guilders and I went through again and got away with it but I couldn’t find him when I came out. I hunted high and low for him and eventually found him and gave him the £50, he gave me £10 but I should have walked away with the lot. When we left our unit we were warned about taking guns into the UK as a few of us had held onto Lugers as souvenirs, so if we were caught we would be returned to our units and lose our leave. When the boat was coming into Dover harbour there were a lot of splashes as souvenirs were thrown overboard. One fellow walked down the gangplank pushing a brand new pram with a wireless set in it but the Customs men just ignored him and seemed to concentrate on the officers. When I got home to Borgue I spread all my money on the kitchen table, it was £48 and your mother had never seen so much money in all her life
When I got back to my unit I found some of the lads had been demobbed and others had been posted to other units and since I was a bit fed up I decided to go for class B release which I did on the Monday morning. Things started to move then and the first thing was a very strict medical which I thought was ironic as I never needed a medical to get into the TA but needed one to get out. On Thursday I was on my way back to Calais on that awful train again heading to Edinburgh for Demob. I arrived in Kirkcudbright Station on the Friday at 5 o’clock at night and was met by two committee members of St. Cuthberts Wanderers to ask if I could play for them on the Saturday. I knew then that things were back to normal.
He later rejoined the TA when it was the 4/5th Batt. and was at the 1948 King George’s review of the TA where they paraded through the streets of London and slept in the deep air raid shelters in Hyde Park and had a whale of a time.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Your story edited and categorised

Posted on: 21 January 2004 by Helen

Dear Eric McQuarrie

Many thanks for your excellent contribution to the site.

It has been edited, retitled and divided into three parts, and you can read the new version here:

<./>A2223604</.>
<./>A2223631</.>
<./>A2223785</.>

It will also feature off the front page on Monday, 26 January 2004.

Congratulations and best wishes,

Helen, WW2 Team

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

British Army Category
Dunkirk Evacuation 1940 Category
France Category
Germany Category
Netherlands Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy