- Contributed by
- People in story:
- R D Stubbs
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 March 2004
This is one of the stories collected on the 25th October 2003 at the CSV's Make a Difference Day held at BBC Manchester. The story was typed and entered on to the site by a CSV volunteer with kind permission of R D Stubbs.
SNAPSHOTS OF MY PAST
My name is Robert Dennis Stubbs.
I was born on the second day of October in 1923. This was on a Tuesday. Unfortunately, I do not know at what time. My mother was Amy Beatrice Stubbs (nee Coates ) and my father was John Pollard Stubbs. I was the youngest child. I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all lived on Barnborough Street, Kirkstall Road, LEEDS that was later to become Leeds 4.
My earliest memories are of a small garden with a small tree. The garden was walled off at the front and topped with iron railings. I fell off this wall, or maybe the tree, I can't remember which exactly, and bumped my head leaving a scar on my forehead.
My father had a motor bike and a sidecar but I cannot remember ever having an outing in it. After all seven of us would be a bit much to seat. One day it disappeared so I guess he must have sold it.
I do remember him taking me down to the new power station that was being built in Kirkstall Road, and he took a photograph of me on a rail bogie which was used to carry the materials.
My Father used to develop and print his own photos in those days, although his proper trade was a sewing machine mechanic. As such, he sometimes had to work weekends and I remember going with him once and I was left to play on a bull-nosed Morris Cowley car, which had a Dickey seat.
At the bottom of Barnborough Street was Kirkstall Road (or Argie Road as it was sometimes called) School. My brother, Sidney and I had to go to Brudenell Road School which was about 1.5 miles away. We had to walk through Burley Village, over Cardigan Road towards Hyde Park. There were no school buses in those days and it was a very long, tiring walk, especially for little legs. Why we had to go all this way and not go to the nearer school I do not know.
I do remember coming home alone one teatime. Oh boy! Was Sydney annoyed with me as he was responsible for me and he had been very upset thinking that I had got lost.
Taylors, the chemist warehouse, was at the top of Barnborough street and one night it was burned out. What a spectacular blaze that was!
Eventually we moved to a modern semi-detached house in Carrholme View. This was a luxury as we had a bathroom and no attic. From here I had to go by service bus to Bentley Lane School off Meanwood Road. Sidney did not accompany me here but since he was seven years older than I was, I guess he was old enough to go to the Leeds Technical School.
My Father, unfortunately, did a lot of drinking, plus he became rather friendly with another woman. This was the last straw for my mother, so with her sister's (Auntie Hilda) help, we moved out. Mother took a flat in Leopold Street and I attended a school nearby. After my mother died in 1968 aged 84, we found I had a half sister with three children living in Headingley.
The only thing of consequence that I remember happening in Leopold Street was when I must have been suffering with earache. My mother warmed some olive oil and poured it into my ear. Unfortunately, it was rather more than just warm and I jumped sky high yelling blue murder. She had warmed it on an open fire and hadn't tested it first.
We weren't in this flat very long when we moved to the other side of town to Beeston. From here I was able to walk to Beeston Hill School. My elder son, Ian, was later to follow in my footsteps for the first year of his schooling.
One day we were larking about, as boys do, in the playground. One boy crouching down, being pulled along by other boys, when they both stopped, but I kept going and fell onto my face, damaging my two front teeth.
My youngest sister, Amy, lived with us and as my mother had very little money I relied on Amy to supply me with pocket money. One old penny (1d). I wonder how today's youngsters would fare with the equivalent amount. One day my pocket money was not forth coming, which was a great misfortune at any time, but this week it coincided with Holbeck Feast. This was a very grand affair in those days, and it only came once a year. I can remember walking round very disconsolately as I didn't have any money and was looking longingly at the brandy snap stalls. The smell was mouth watering.
Sidney and I used to belong to the Baptist Chapel (as did my future wife, Joyce, whom I did not know at that time). Sid was a Scout whilst I was a Cub Scout. We went to Eccup camping one weekend. We were playing cricket. I remember when Sid bowled the ball and I missed hitting it, but it hit me on my right knee. I collapsed in great pain. Another time we came back to camp after a ramble to find the tents had all been trampled down by some cows.
In the street behind where we lived was a boy called Harry Bradshaw whom I was friendly with. We belonged to "a gang". One day we were on top of a hut in an allotment when the owner came by and yelled at us. We jumped down with alacrity, but as usual I was in the wars and received a gash on my cheek, the scar of which remains today. Harry ripped his right leg.
Winter arrived, and with it the snow. Near where we lived was a hill that was super for sliding or sledding down in the snow. Unfortunately, I didn't have a sledge but Harry said that he had two. So off we went to his house to find that his mother had already given one away to her friend's son. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - we went down to Tilbury Mount and asked for the sledge back. I later found out that the friend's mum had been furious. She later, ironically, became my mother-in-law.
During this time, my father and his lady friend set up house together across town. I used to go and visit him. If he was in, I was lucky because he then gave me the tram or bus fare home. If he'd gone out before I arrived, I would have to walk the five miles home again.
Our next move was to Hopewell Place, Queens Road, Leeds 6, and I returned to Brudenell Road School. Here I was provided with free dinners and cartons of malt, as I needed building up.
After an unspectacular school career, I left school at the tender age of 14 years - at that age we were considered grown up. The year was 1937 and I went to work at W & G Scotts Ltd in Kirkgate, Leeds. I was there about two years when a young girl joined the staff - she worked in the office and was called Joyce. About six months later we started dating and five years later (after the war) we were married.
When I was 17 years old, in 1940, I learnt to drive the Scotts' flat truck Model 'A' Ford. This vehicle had seen better days. I used to go to Bradford to collect a consignment of eggs and part of the route was up a steep hill, where I used to have to halt for a little while as the engine was boiling. It was fine on the return when I could coast back down the hill. I gave Joyce a lift home one evening after work and her foot went straight through the running board. She laddered her stockings but I managed to get her a new pair.
My very first gift to Joyce was a rolling pin. The two Howarth brothers who were founder members of Howarth Timbers used to visit our boss and one day Frank, the younger brother, gave me this rolling pin. Knowing that one day we would marry (or so I hoped) I decided to give it to Joyce. After over 50 years of marriage it was still in use in the kitchen. (I must record here that she has never used it in anger!)
In 1941, with Britain at war with Germany, aged 18 years, I had to join the army. I did try first to join the RAF but was unlucky. I was put into the Royal Leicestershire's and posted to the Young Soldiers Battalion, The Leicester Regiment. This was at Budbrooke Barracks, Warwick. I recollect my first lesson whilst at Budbrooke. We had been given two slices of bread with our first meal. I turned my head, then there was one.
After 16 weeks of training we were disbanded and I was sent to 'A' Troop, 69th Battery in the 6th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. This was a new regiment and camp at Moat Park, Maidstone, Kent. I went as a driver/wireless operator.
After many weeks of training we were posted to Southend-on-Sea where we had to prepare our equipment and make our vehicles waterproof, ready for one of the most momentous days in history - 6th June 1944 - D-Day.
Before this happened we were on one of our training days where live hand grenades were to be thrown. There were three of us in a slit trench with a sergeant instructor. One chap dropped his grenade after pulling out the pin. You've about five seconds before it explodes. Lucky for us, the sergeant was on the ball and grabbed the grenade and threw it out of the trench. BANG!
On another training day we had to jump into, and through, five large rolls of dannet wire. This is commonly known as barbed wire. No one wanted to do this, but deciding to get it over with, I was the first in and cut just above my left eye. "Blood everywhere" so off to the medical officer I had to go. When I came back they had abandoned "that game".
After all the preparations at Southend we went to another camp. We didn't know where we were and were not allowed out of the camp on pain of being shot. I had a telling off here as I was late on parade because I had to go for the officer's kit once when his batman did not have it ready. Captain Barnett gave me a real dressing down because "on the most important time of my life I was late for it".
We drove to Tilbury Docks to load up for D-Day. This was delayed because the dockers had gone on strike for danger money. Evidently it wasn't dangerous for us to go into battle. I can visualise now; the large trucks loaded with Jerry cans full of petrol, being lifted by crane into the hold of the Liberty ship, No. 13 and named Hannibal Hamlin. Eventually, when all was loaded, we moved into the middle of the River Thames. One of the American sailors was injured so he was taken off.
We had to go down the Thames and then turn right, so to speak, into the English Channel to go to Normandy. My vehicle was a Bedford wireless truck with a No. 19 set, and carried a lieutenant, Sergeant Halstead and myself. We had two Jerry cans of petrol strapped onto one side and two Jerry cans full of water on the other side. Our Battery Command Major was a keen race goer and so all our vehicles were named after a racehorse, hence my vehicle was called "Alpenstock".
The ship was filled with different 'units', so that if it were sunk, all of one unit would not be lost. A case of not putting all your eggs in one basket.
D-Day found us off the coast of Normandy marvelling at the number of ships - there were around 6,000. We were amazed as we watched the battleships, cruisers and rocket ships shelling inland. Eventually some of the soldiers on board were taken off. Another American sailor was injured in the process, and then unloading was stopped.
The Germans were bombing through the night, but luckily we were not hit. On D-Day + 2 the Royal Army Service Corp came aboard to unload the vehicles on to a Rhino. This was a flat barge and we had to scramble down the nets to embark. I drove off the Rhino through the water up JUNO beach at Courselles with the lieutenant shouting. I don't think anyone knew what he was shouting about and we put it down to nerves. I landed in soft sand and had to wait to be pulled off by a tank on "unsticking duty".
We then drove on to Ranville where the 6th Airborne had taken 'Pegasus Bridge' and supported them with our twenty-five pounder guns.
As a point of interest, for meals, all vehicles carried boxes of canned foods for about ten men. The tinned meals were really tasty. In fact they were much better than any bought in "Civvy Street"! Whilst we were still on board I used to tie my tins together with a long length of string and immersed them in a steam heated cauldron to heat up for our crew on "Alpenstock". On land, every vehicle had a disused petrol can cut in half - one half held sand and the other half was used for water. We put some petrol in the sand tin and then put a match to it. The half filled with water was set over the lighted sand and so we could 'brew up', or heat our tins of food.
On our first position an American flying "Thunderbolt" crash landed on our position and the pilot was quite pleased that he had landed safely and not into enemy hands.
I should have explained, 'A' troop had FOUR x twenty-five pounder guns, four limbers (these carry the ammunition), four quads (six men to a quad), one 15-cwt Bedford truck which housed the gun position wireless named G.A. (or George Ack). A similar wireless truck T.L.A. or Troop Leader 'A' Troop and R.A. which was a Bren gun carrier for the 'A' observation post - this was the most forward of the troop.
"G.A.'s" job was to go in front to fix the gun position in a field or whatever, and I would radio 'T.L.A.' and the officer on duty would fetch the quads pulling the twenty-five pounders. On the field "G.A." would take over again and the extra signallers, taking it in turns to man the wireless set - two hours on, two hours off.
The regiment consisted of A & B troop making the 69th Battery, C & D, No. 70 Battery and E & F, No. 71 Battery, twenty four guns in all.
From here on we kept moving about the bridge-head so my memories are of fields and digging in and taking cover if we or others were being shelled. The most frightening were German Nebelwierfers Rocket Mortars that had a siren type noise which had an eerie sound. We called them "Moaning Minnies". (If you didn't hear them this meant that you must be dead.)
When entering a field we were to proceed around the hedge. The reason being that if we went across, enemy aircraft would be able to follow our tracks and strafe or bomb our vehicles and guns.
On June 11th 1944 my diary shows that we had moved to Fontaine-Henry and we were supporting the Canadian Division.
The next entry is the 28th August, and we left Falaise and went eastward. Up to then we had been busy with all the artillery barrages for Villers-Bocage and Operations Epsom, Hill 112, Carpiquet Airport, Goodwood, Charnwood, Bluecoat, Totalise and Tractable which led to the 'Falaise Pocket' being closed and our forward forces chasing the Germans.
We left Falaise on the 28th August and crossed the River Seine at Les Andelys on the 29th. The following day the Jock Column set off to Gournay(-en-Bray) and went on through Poix(-de-Picardie) on the 31st. Here we came across a lot of dead horses that had died pulling the heavy German transport.
September 1st saw us crossing the River Somme at Amiens. Here, “Alpenstock” received shrapnel holes in the radiator. Matthews was killed and Slee, Southgate, Elford and Peach were wounded. Things quietened down on the 2nd and at Auxi-le-Chateau I met up with a friend from home, Alan Thomas, who was a tank crewman. We had been supporting his regiment for nine days or so.
By the 3rd September, we started moving again and on the 5th we entered into Belgium. The towns we went through were St Pol(-sur-Ternoise), Vendeville, Templemars, Ascq, Firquin, Seclin, Vermelles, Noyelles, Hebin, Aubignog and Doullens. The local inhabitants lined the roads and handed out glasses of Calvados, a type of apple brandy. They threw fruit to anyone who could catch it - there was a general carnival atmosphere. Some were shouting, "Hurrah, we've been liberated", and because of this a rumour sprung up that the Germans had capitulated. We wanted to believe this so no one else would be killed or maimed. We had to be very careful where we went because of mines and booby-traps, plus the German rear guard.
6th September - we were mopping up near Coutres.
7th September - we were mopping up near Berchem.
8th September - a short move was made to Berchem, six miles south of Gent.
9th September - still in Berchem.
10th September - we moved to a fort in Antwerp and it was here that we parked undercover in a vast aircraft hangar connected to an aircraft factory.
11th September - we were in a park near Antwerp and had free beer and cigars. Autograph hunters were becoming quite a nuisance. The Germans were shelling Antwerp so quite a few of the civilians were killed - they were using phosphorous shells. Two soldiers were sitting in a cafe with two of the local girls and one had her head sliced off by a sheet of glass that was blown out of the window. I have mentioned this because of the traumatic effect it had on the soldiers sitting with her.
We moved to Westerloo on the 12th and the following day was a quiet one, thank goodness. On the 14th we were on the move again across the canal to Gheel. Here we had some rough nights - the sergeant major's jeep (named Poppy Poopah) was burnt out by shells and A & l quads were also damaged. A call for help was made for an old man who needed hospital treatment, so Sergeant Major Weeks and myself took him. It was rather eerie travelling along the country lanes in the dark.
We moved two days later in the early morning to Mol where we had a quiet day. We had to move back to Gheel the next day and then back again to Mol. Large numbers of Dakotas were flying over with airborne troops who would land at Grave and Nijmegen. On the 18th September we moved once more to the east of Mol - the German shelling gave us some rough nights and we fully expected that some of us would be saying goodbye to this world. I remember one house near the cross-roads being shelled but why I remember this particular incident, I cannot now recall. The following day we stayed in the same position and were quite relieved to have a quiet day.
We entered Holland on the 20th September and on to Eindhoven Airfield on the 21st. We found another civilian who was ill, in a hut on the airfield so we called the medics to help him out.
The locals told us that the Phillips factory was nearby and had been missed by the American bombers. The RAF was called to complete the job.
The bomb damage on Eindhoven Airfield must have been a sight though as my diary reads, "Colossal sight, colossal damage".
On the 22nd September, the Autograph hunters were out again!
On the 23rd I was sent on reconnaissance. There were still more and more Dakotas carrying airborne troops passing overhead and hundreds of bombers. The following day I was sent out on another 'recce' from 07:00 to 15:00. The weather was terrible then and for the next two days, while we moved on to St. Oedenrode.
On October 1st, I went back to the Observation post (O.P.) for 24 hours. We did a bit of firing and the enemy fired back but nothing landed near.
2nd October 1944 and my 21st birthday celebration morning provided me with a run to the O.P. in a monastery near St. Oedenrode. The post was shelled and hit but then the Germans started ranging so we evacuated the O.P.
I can still picture being at the bottom of the stairs listening to the shells landing.
We remained here for three days then pulled to the north west of Nijmegen, near the bridge.
For the next three days the Germans shelled and bombed the bridge. We pulled to relative safety over the Waals on a Pontoon bridge to Homoet west of Elst. The weather was rather unpleasant to say the least. It was raining and cold. Nowhere to get dry or warm. Whilst here I had a letter from home informing me of the death of my mother's sister Ruby.
Our command post was in a barn which was attached to a farmhouse. The theory was that in the winter, the warmth from the animals would help keep the house warm. So I guess we were warmer at this time than when we moved on. One high note I do remember were the luscious black grapes I was given by a Dutchman. This was a luxury we could not afford back home in those days.
On the 17th October I went with 'F' troop (not my own 'A' troop) to another position to fire shells with propaganda leaflets inside. We heard that only 4 Germans surrendered after reading them. [Probably thought we had somewhere less cold and wet to stay]. The weather continued to be foul.
I received a parcel from Mr. Bird and his staff at the cigarette and sweet shop three doors from where I (and Joyce) worked. There were 200 cigarettes in it. I had started smoking, so was pleased to receive them. One had to have something to steady the nerves.
Once again, a few of us piled into a 3-ton Bedford truck to go to Nijmegen for a bath. This gave only a temporary respite from the cold, wet and mud which we wallowed in all day long.
On the 21st I shared a football sweep with Southall in 'B' Troop. Today it rained at nightfall.
A quiet rain free day on the 22nd and preparations to move again. No not home, but onto Welle. It was very cold now though still dry. We however managed to get a good command post and sleeping quarters.
The following day I had trouble with my truck, the "Alpenstock", so I had to overhaul the engine. The suppressers on the plugs needed changing.
On the 24th October I must have been on the radio shift since my diary is marked 03:30. I had 48 hours rest in Nijmegen but only managed to get one good night's sleep without shells being fired in our direction. I also bought some perfume for Joyce.
October 27th and back to the Observation Post. It rained again and was very cold.
October 29th and back to be shelled and bombed in Nijmegen. Not a relaxing bath! The 30th being quieter with only shelling at night.
October 31st was the day our 3-ton truck was forced off the road by some American truck. I bumped my right knee and we had to recover one chap buried by all our kit. We were returning from another bath in Nijmegen. We did manage to make it back to our gun position though.
November came bringing its rain and cold. Everyone longed for a nice coal fire, especially the gunners who had no cover.
At least I was in the wireless truck.
We moved to near Driest on the 7th November and it was here Captain Milner was killed at the O.P.
On the 9th we travelled, at night, to the south east of Ein near Nederweert. We reached our objective after a very cold wet drive.
By November 15th we launched a big barrage and attacked. I reconnoitred a new position over the canal. It was a bit hair raising as we were being shelled, so the following day went off to reconnoitre a new position.
The following day I had six letters from Joyce and 200 Sunripe cigarettes. The latter were a gift from the Lord Mayor of Leeds.
Once again I went out on a "recce" with the "jeep and boy".
Weather? Yes, it was cold and wet but now also windy.
On the 18th we moved to our next position. I went out at nine in the evening in the Bren gun carrier R.A. to use as an O.P. I managed to grab some sleep in what was left of a shelled house.
The following day the carrier was moved back a short distance to aid reception on the wireless. I was detailed for night duty.
20th Nov. and what a night. We were wet through from yet more rain and we had been out on reconnaissance. The road was awful. We had to dig in the Command Post and the guns did not arrive. We had to shelter in a bank trench.
Finally, the guns did arrive at 01:00. Everyone was feeling the effects of the bad weather; tempers flared up along with the wind. Sleep was fitful in the back of the truck and I awoke to see that it was still raining.
Ron Bowes, lance bombardier R.A. signals, and I started work once again digging a sleeping slit trench. We finished by 3pm but our troop leader for "A" Troop T.L.A. had still not arrived.
This present position was by a canal bank on which our vehicles and guns were sited. On the landward side there was a drop of about 20 feet to the fields. The guns and we, therefore, stood out against the reflection of the canal.
The dug out we made was dug into the canal bank. The next few days in this "hole" were eventful. First of all a miracle was achieved the following day. We managed to erect a stove in the dugout. After much debate we lit the stove but then had to evacuate due to the smoke fumes given off.
The following day I found a pool of water under my bedroll. The situation was critical. At last on the 26th we had a clear day and American "Marauders" flew over going to bomb enemy targets. Unfortunately one fell down in flames.
That evening we tried putting straw over water in the dugout. We had another clear day, but with the clear night to follow out came the German bombers. One hit and damaged my 15cwt. wireless truck G.A. and smashed our emergency bottle of rum. More seriously, Gunner Goodwin was buried in his slit trench and had to be dug out before being sent to hospital.
The 27th Nov. was another clear day and night so we had night fighters overhead against the Luftwaffe.
Decent weather for the next few days, then on the 1st December we moved to Maasbree near Venlo. Here we managed to get under cover. I had a parcel from Joyce but did not have time to remember what was in it. We were building forces for a major offensive. On the 3rd. the attack was launched and we took over 400 prisoners.
The Germans fought back and shells were flying back and forth all day.
On the 5th we moved to Grathem.
We had a pre-Christmas treat on the 13th December with a concert being given by 50 Division Concert Party.
Another day about this time an officer and I went to bring Goodwin back from hospital by jeep. At either end of the road were signs saying, "DON'T STOP-----KEEP GOING-----KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN-----KEEP YOUR FOOT DOWN UNDER ENEMY FIRE". So we did. (I would have preferred to drive, but the officer would not let me). However, we had to take Goodwin straight back again. As soon as we entered the dugout he started to shake violently. (I doubt he joined the mining industry back in civvy street).
On the 20th Dec. we made an early move into Belgium. It was very foggy and we did not wish to run into any Germans.
The next day Ron Bowles was given the unusual clearance to go into Brussels. After this we moved to Brabiant ready for the Ardennes Battle. We settled in the freezing cold.
Here I struck up an acquaintance with a young Belgian, Simon Bonaventure of Chappelles St. Lambert and his sister Simone. I think they were twins. He took me to visit his Grandparents and another sister who had just given birth. They insisted I went upstairs to see the baby. In those days I was not particularly interested in babies and found it somewhat embarrassing. Simon had meanwhile persuaded his mother to put a mattress on the kitchen table for me. The rest of the troop was in the barn. Predictably, the officer in charge did not like the idea of me sleeping in the same room as he and the sergeants, so in the middle of the night he woke me to send me on a recce. I bet he took my place.
On Christmas Day 1944, we had no breakfast or lunch because of moving and reconnaissance. I think we had an evening meal on top of the army biscuits we would have had to keep us going. We needed something, as we had to dig rather deep down under at least a foot of snow before fitting a two-man tent over the trench. It was freezing for the four-hour stint on the wireless that night.
The officers (Sergeant Halstead, Sergeant Major Weeks and Mr. Crewes) gave me some spirits to try to warm me up. This made me rather tipsy and they then teased me by asking me to explain the Differential of a vehicle. They were in good spirits laughing at my antics trying to explain.
Unfortunately for my colleague they could not wake me for my next turn on the wireless, so he had to work a double shift.
That same night one of the cooks died of hypothermia.
The following day we had our Christmas Dinner served up in poor conditions.
Freezing, snowy conditions continued unabated. On the 30th Dec. I had to clean the 15cwt truck with oil and petrol to give it a shine. In the snow this now stood out like a soar thumb, how stupid.
1st January 1945 and hereon the diary was not kept up unfortunately. It was around this time that I was ordered to drive alone, in the Troop Leader's wireless truck, in precarious road conditions, from our hilltop to another hilltop. I was looking for the 6th Airborne's Division Observation Post. I informed the 6th Airborne's commander of my orders, which were to try to contact our O.P.'s Bren carrier. I called but received no response. The shells started coming with intensity and the 6th Airborne blamed my truck and me. I was told to leave sharpish, which I did, sliding all the way back to my Command Post.
Later, we found that the Captain of the O.P. I had originally been sent to try to contact had been killed previously and their wireless operator, a Harry Theakston from Bradford, taken prisoner.
On another occasion, one man on guard duty fell foul of his own Sten gun. The Sten gun spring was weak so if the butt was bounced on the floor it fired. The poor fellow slipped, his gun went off and he couldn't sit down for a while.
By the 5th January we managed to stop the Germans at Ciney and Celles and managed to surround most of them.
By the 29th Hitler's Ardennes offensive had petered out and the 6th Field Regiment moved up near Roermond and the Gennep area.
From Gennep we had the task of barrages to support the 30 British Corp on 'Operation Veritable'. The barrage lasted five and a half hours with 1034 guns involved. We were trying to take the Reichwald Forest, Goch and Kleve. This battle was fierce and we had 15,634 casualties of our own.
Preparations were now being made to cross the Rhine. This included a smoke screen 70 miles along the Rhine to disguise the build up of troops and assault vehicles such as 'Buffaloes'. These were armoured personnel carriers in the British sector. The Americans brought along their navy's small landing craft for the assault.
Our regiment was standing by near Xanten. Here I went into the railway station and picked up some tickets for souvenirs.
On the 23/24th March the 21st Army Group in the areas Wesel, Xanten and Rees crossed the Rhine. 51st Division lead the assault in the morning of the 24th. 6th Airborne and the 17th U.S. Airborne jumped ahead of the ground troops that had crossed during the night.
Our regiment had to await the building of a Pontoon Bridge near Wesel, before crossing.
We saw some of the 6th Airborne hanging by their parachutes in the trees. They had been shot.
On the route a cameraman took a photograph of me, with rifle at the ready, standing near my 15 cwt. truck. I never saw the resulting picture.
Farther along we passed an 88mm gun on the right hand side of the road. We sent a tank back to deal with it. As luck would have it, for us, the crew were in hiding as we passed by but then they started firing it again. We continued to follow the 6th Airborne and the tanks also gave firepower if required.
From Weasel we went through Altenberge. I have a photograph taken here with some young German schoolboys around me with my truck. We then went onto Münster, Osnabrück and via Minden to Wismar on the Baltic Coast. On the 2nd May 1945 the 6th Airborne and the Russians met.
As Hitler had overrun Russia and many other smaller nations in between, they had been fighting from the East while we were coming from the West.
My pay book shows that from the 2nd May I was given 9 days leave. The regimental pay office must have been somewhat organised for this to be allocated. A 3-ton truck carried a number of us to Calais. On our way we were to pass an American army camp. The Bombardier in charge decided we should pop in for a meal to break up the long journey. We had an excellent chicken supper cooked on stainless steel cooking equipment, the likes of which we had not seen.
Following a refreshing leave, during which the Germans had given in, it was a relief to know we would not be going back to fight for a while. We were sent to some shell damaged barracks at Hamburg and then to guard the road and rail bridges at Harburg. Our orders were to only let people through who had a pass. One day a well-known German boxer, Max Schemling, passed through while I was on duty. The guard commander was furious he had not been delayed so that he could obtain his autograph. In fact it was rather a surprise to see Max since rumour had killed him off in Crete earlier in the war.
From Harburg we went to a village outside Brussels. The advance parties were going to fly to America to make ready for the invasion of Japan. The Atom bombs however brought a speedier end to the war and we did not have to make the journey.
On one recce we set up the Command Post in an empty house down a country lane. About a quarter of a mile away was a farm and when the command post was ready the other signaller and I, ambled up the road to the farm passing a dead cow. We arrived at the farm and then heard Sgt. Major Weekes shouting. We looked around and saw four Germans with their hands raised. We had not taken our rifles but that did not matter as it happens since they surrendered and we started to amble back with them to the Command Post. When we reached where the dead cow lay, Sgt. Major Weekes told us to look out for mines and to let the prisoners come first. Now we realised what had killed the cow, we had wondered. As we walked back, we could now also see the mines!
On another occasion after we had crossed into Germany over the Rhine, a V1 flying bomb or doodlebug flew just over us at treetop level. This was probably bound for Antwerp. Later three of us were crouching down by the roadside as "Moaning Minnies" were flying about. There was a massive explosion about a mile away. A piece of shrapnel landed between us.
On a further occasion a few of us had climbed up into the loft of a house and I had the petrol fire-can and the water up to make a brew. In the confined place and with men trying to sleep adding to the crowding, it nearly took over when I lit it. I had to beat it out which led to a trip to the first aid post to have my burnt hand treated.
The 6th Airborne was sent out to Egypt. We in the 6th Field Regiment were soon to follow as part of the 3rd Division. Our kit bags were marked, "Medloc 'A' Southbound", and we were put onto a train from Ghent to Toulon. At Toulon we boarded a ship for Port Said.
At Port Said we were put onto a goods train and transferred to a camp near the Great Bitter Lakes. We were kitted out once more with vehicles and guns. I was in charge of a GMC Armoured wireless truck, which we felt, could have had better use in the journey from Normandy to Wismar.
I had never learnt to swim before but I soon learned how in the lakes. I later passed a test at a lido on the Suez Canal (25/4/46).
My duties were to drive and operate the wireless in the armoured car at the crossroads. The following night I was on guard duty and the next night I was on fire picket duty. I requested permission from the Sergeant Major to run a telephone line out to the crossroads. This would allow the guard commander to use the telephone while I got some sleep. Permission was granted and after we had made contact with the phone I tuned in to the Forces Programme. I left it on for the guard to listen to and I went to sleep.
One could hear the music across the desert at night. Sgt. Major Turnbull heard it some distance away and shouted at the Guard Commander saying that he would wake "that man " up if he did not turn it down. Of course his shouting woke me up!
At weekends we watched the 6th Airborne play football against unknown, to me, opposition.
Sometimes we would be taken by truck into Ismalia. We would have a meal in a cafe that never varied -- egg and chips.
Some of us had a bit of leave in Cairo. Our first stop was Cairo's railway station where we were informed that Cairo was out of bounds. Some leave. We were taken to our hotel where we had to remain indoors. Out of the window we saw a tram set on fire by the rioters. Eventually we were allowed out to go for a meal -- egg and chips. Nothing much happened for the rest of our stay, however long that was.
The regiment was then sent to the outskirts of Haifa and our duties were in an Observation Post there, in contact with a searchlight unit and a roving armoured car on the coast road below. We were to search for illegal, Jewish immigrants. We never saw any, but some did land at Tel-Aviv apparently.
We did manage a day trip in a 3-ton truck to visit the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem to see the Wailing Wall for example. Here we followed the Stations of the Cross and then onto Bethlehem. We managed to visit The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christ's birthplace. I remember the door had been made smaller so one had to lower ones head to enter. This was an artefact of previous conflicts in the region, when the Turks would ride their horses through the larger doors and decapitate the congregation. I bought Joyce some jewellery, later stolen during a house burglary in the 1990s!
I do remember setting off from Egypt via Port Said, across the Mediterranean Sea, via Malta to Toulon. Here we boarded the Medloc train to Calais. Ferry home to Dover and by train back to Leeds. My pay book seems to have the wrong date (1.3.46) since I was at home for about a week and was married by special licence to Joyce on the 25th May 1946.
My mother-in-law to be Alice W. Sigsworth did all the arranging while Joyce worked. We spent our honeymoon in Scarborough (as did my mother-in-law some years before), but the weather was rather damp. We spent our time out of the B&B in cinemas, theatres, cafés and restaurants.
We have just had our 52nd year so the special licence fee of £2.10.00 has been good value. The normal fee then was 7s 6d.
We spent some time living with my mother while Joyce continued to work. We spent one weekend at my brother's home down in Pershore, Worcestershire. (He was still in the R.A.F.).
Time flew and I found myself back on the Medloc train on my way to Egypt. I had to wait in an awful transit camp before being collected to return to my unit. Moasca, Tel El Kabia and Fayid were camps that we occupied in Egypt.
In Egypt I took a Driver/Mechanics course at 3rd Division No. 13 Infantry workshops. My pass date was 15th August 1946.
I hoped this would stand me in good stead when I returned to civilian life. I also passed another driving test prior to being demobbed to enable me to get a licence when I arrived home.
I was demobbed with the 45th Group and arrived home a few days before a very cold Christmas 1946.
Joyce had managed to get a house to rent before I was demobbed so I went to her parent's house to await her return from work. 'Our house' was not very modern. A single cold water tap in the cellar kitchen. We were fortunate that my father-in-law had been able to get a new gas cooker. We did have our own w.c. outside under the steps. (My mother had to share with neighbours in a toilet block at the end of the street, until the 1960's). We bought a zinc bath and a gas boiler. Bath nights were hard work but cosy as we could set the bath up in front of the ready prepared coal fire. My in-laws gave us the money to buy a bedroom suite for our wedding present. Joyce chose this while I was away, but it is still in use today; time we had a new mattress.
We remained in the house for 19 years. It was demolished as part of the Leeds motorway links between Holbeck and the Football ground. (My lad reckons it was near where one of the huge lamp standards now stands in front of what is now the Evangelical Church).
I obtained my first pensionable job by becoming a bus conductor for Leeds Corporation. I moved on to driving after two years.
Our two sons were born while I worked on the buses, and I well remember Ian coming into the world. We had been to the local cinema but then Joyce found it difficult to walk home. I phoned for an ambulance that whisked us off to St. Mary's Hospital in Armley. It was a foggy night and after leaving Joyce, as was more usual in those days, I set off to catch the night service bus into the city centre. The driver never saw me so I walked all the way. I was supposed to be working the next morning but I cannot remember the outcome. At any rate Ian arrived around 6:15 that following morning.
After eleven years bus driving I changed job and worked at Skelton Grange Power Station. Six years on and I moved to Eggborough Power Station.
We were initially allocated a house in Beal. After a year I went for a mortgage and bought the bungalow in which I now live in Hambleton.
In order to help pay the mortgage and meet the demands of two growing boys (now taller than me), I also had another job. After re-taking my PSV test, I went bus driving for a small firm who had the contract for taking children to the local school.
The children one-day asked if I would take over as part-time caretaker. We wonder if Mrs. Hall, the head, had put them up to it. Joyce and I, assisted by our boys, carried out this duty until we were forced to give it up by deteriorating health.
Mrs. Hall retired. A supply head, Mr. Grant, arrived for a short time before the new head Mrs. Holland could take over.
Mr. Grant was a lovely pianist who used to entertain us and the other two teachers, Mrs. Dibb and Mrs. Gill, while we continued our work, after school.
Mrs. Holland was a nature lover and we learnt a bit ourselves from her lessons with the children.
One year I was Father Christmas for the school party. The children recognised me so the following year when I was asked again, we decided to fool them. Roy had permission from the Headmistress at Selby Grammar School to have the afternoon off and was loaned a box of their theatrical make-up.
I took him to school in my car at the allotted time, then walked in to see the teachers. They looked at me with shock, expecting me to be all dressed in red and white! They were relieved and enjoyed the joke when Roy walked in all set-up ready, so made up even his mother said that she would not recognise him.
Many of the kids were all quite perplexed too and let out an almighty cheer when Roy read out my name to collect a present from Santa!
The following July, double varicose vein operations on Joyce turned septic. It was so bad the doctor even gave up her free weekend to look in on her at the start. A nurse redressed her legs every day for three weeks.
With all of this going on it was time to pack up the caretaking job. Shortly after a new school was built and a full-time person employed which would not have been in my interest so it was timely.
That year, 1979, I was also diagnosed with angina and the station doctor said I would be dead in a couple of weeks if was to return. So I had early retirement at fifty-six.
Previous to this I had had a double hernia after trying to turn some of the big valves at work which were stuck. I was unable to drive for three months.
In 1987 it was found that I had an aortic aneurysm, which was finally operated on in 1992. This life saving operation took three hours with the surgeon apparently perspiring profusely. A Teflon pipe inside of me, drugs to keep me going following the angina. Just a couple of the miracles of modern day medicine which keeps me on my feet.
Meanwhile, Joyce had been diagnosed as diabetic. When it was decided to try to start a branch of the British Diabetic Association in Selby, we decided to join. I was voted as Chairman for the first year. I followed as Vice-chairperson and Secretary and Treasurer. The latter simultaneously for some years. Joyce was Secretary for one year and tea maker for other meetings.
At around the same time the Hambleton Luncheon Club was formed and I became Secretary. George Flack was treasurer. Our wives and a number of other ladies took on the role of preparing the meals, serving, washing up etc.
We did this for three or four years until we had to start looking after my mother-in-law. Joyce was able to carry on helping with the serving until we dare not leave Mum alone.
After six years our own doctor insisted we had to let professionals look after her, for Joyce's health. Joyce had become virtually housebound while I did the shopping etc.
The only time she went out was to the hairdressers and to the local church. (Aside- the vicar of which was, until recently when he retired, the same Rev. Greenhough who was our vicar, at Birkin, when we lived in Beal. The same has also appeared recently on "Countdown").
Through 2000 Joyce's health suffered, being diagnosed with Lupus then some weeks later having a stroke. The stroke left her with limited movement down her left side. April 9th 2002, after a couple of weeks in Leeds Infirmary fighting infection, her heart could not take any more. The death certificate mentions the heart and diabetes but no mention of the Lupus that so disfigured her. A couple of days before she died she was literally dripping from the pores as the drugs and her body fought to rid her of "retained water". In the end, for her it was a release though I am still grieving, and probably shall for some time.
My late mother-in-law, with the unusual birth date of 01/01/01 died sadly six months before her 100th birthday.
Our own boys have each had their own children, so we have seven grandchildren of our own.
We recently found that the nursing home where grandma stayed also had an old soldier therein. He kept shouting, "Help me! Help me!" We were told that apparently he was one of the first to arrive in Belsen during its liberation. We wonder if he was reliving this memory in his late years.
He was later moved to another institution however, we often think of him wherever he is now and the horrors he must have seen.
I have revisited some of the fields where we fought in the war. Visited the memorials etc. Curious to think of all those men and their potential seed all lost in the cause of freedom.
November approaches once again. I can say with some truth that I will remember. Here is a tale of how a luckier soul survived, and hope it gives a taste of what it was really like then.
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