Travels of a Captain R.E (Searchlights)
GAVIN W.S. DUDLEY, O.B.E.,
Croix de Guerre (BELG) (avec Palme)
Chevalier de Leopold II (avec Palme)
I was working in the Royal Bank of Scotland, Burlington Gardens, and had been since 1934. In 1936 Germany under Hitler and the Nazis had been ruthlessly destroying all opposition and undertook harsh anti-semitic action against the Jews.
Britain had started its greatly delayed rearmament. We knew that war with Germany was becoming closer so I decided to join the T.A. in October. I became a corporal in the 31st S.L. (Searchlight) Regiment R.E. (T.A.) and was posted almost immediately to the Regiment's Head Quarters at Broadbridge Heath, Horsham, Sussex.
The 31st S.L. Regiment R.E. was part of the A.D.G.B. which, still in its infancy, was being formed to defend London in the S.E. from air attacks from Germany. (A.D.G.B. stands for Air Defence of Great Britain). We had, therefore, very little equipment, few weapons and no searchlights or generators, although each troop had one Lewis machine gun!
A Searchlight Regiment in those days consisted of Reg: HQ (1 Lt. Colonel, 2 Majors etc.) 4 S.L. Batteries (1 major, 2 Captains and countless Lieutenants). Each Battery controlled 4 troops each with 6 S.L. detachments.
Each troop (2 Lieuts, 1 Sgt. Major, 6 Sgts, 16 O.Rs — Other Ranks)
Therefore: 1 troop 96 men. 1 Battery 394 men. 1 Regiment 1536 men. 1 Brigade 4608 men.
During the winter of 1937 I think I remember that I was 'called up' for a day's training each month at the Reg. H.Q. at Horsham. Life as a territorial was indeed dull.
In March 1938 came the Austrian Anschluss when Germany forcibly incorporated Austria into the increasing German 3rd Reich.
There was then a partial mobilisation of A.D.G.B. So off we went to our T.A. H.Qs, myself with a s/h Morris 8 car to find that some searchlight equipment had arrived. We examined the new 90cm searchlights, the newish diesel generators and the primitive sound-locating equipment.
I was promoted a Sergeant now and we practised the S.L. drill manuals - how, on paper, one could engage a Hun aircraft at night travelling at 200 mph (direction London) - height 16,000ft with a S.L. beam of only 20,000ft beam length.
Most of the time, when we were not drilling at Reg. H.Q. we spent our time on the actual S.L. troop sites selected by H.Q. on rather ancient maps, digging trenches and earthen ramps for the equipment when it arrived - but no site equipment ever did come.
Within a week (end of March) the scare was over and there was no war! YET!! It was, however, a scare and we were promised new S.L. equipment very soon, as well as suitable huts, etc. on each site.
The spring and summer of 1938 passed by fairly easily though new equipment (or better equipment) started to dribble through and our monthly visits to Horsham and the surrounding area were not unduly tiresome. Certainly England was leaning fast and sometime in the winter of 1938/39 we tried to illuminate one of the first Hawker Hurricanes, but failed of course! - but it was good practice.
We all returned to our civilian jobs. But we were never at ease concerning Hitler’s Reich and its desire to swallow up Europe accompanied by the frightful anti-Jewish atrocities.
Now came one of the startling episodes leading up to W.W.II - the Munich Agreement of September 1938.
During the previous winter, Germany had had its eyes on Czechoslovakia (and in particular the German speaking areas, the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia).
The T.A. was called up again in August 1938 and in a matter of days, the A.D.G.B. (London’s A.A. defences) was ready (with a small ‘r’). The 31 S.L. Reg. R.E. was stationed on the same sites as in 1937 - to the s. and w. of Horsham - and we were presented with our new equipment - in gleaming khaki. I was still a Sergeant and using an ancient Ford V8, I toured some of the sites, helping to put the newly arrived S.L. equipment and each detachment (of 16 or so soldiers) in a fit state of efficiency should any German aircraft dare to fly over us at night!
In March 1939 Hitler reneged completely on the Munich agreement of 1938 and occupied most of Czechoslovakia.
We knew that a World War was not far away. The T.A. and A.D.G.B. began really serious training. New anti-aircraft equipment was arriving. Each A.A. regiment south of London had to undertake a fortnight’s special training at Tidworth during the summer - Tidworth Pennings (in our case 31st S.L. Reg. R.A.). Tidworth Pennings held terrible memories of O.T.C. camps for Public School boys when, in 1932, Bedford burnt down all Eton’s loos ‘thunder boxes’ - what a to do! Also, marching up and down Tidworth Hill behind the camp in full uniform had to be done once a week. The Regiment spent a two weeks course at Tidworth in June and I was commissioned a 2nd Lieut. at the end of the course.
By this time, I had an old V8 Ford Saloon, which was fun over the fields at Tidworth, & I handed it over to a very great friend as he came on the next Tidworth course. I went back to London with my new Triumph speed-twin ‘Tiger 100’ motorcycle, which would easily exceed 100 mph !!
Germany invaded Poland at the end of August, leading to General mobilization. I remember being called out of a cinema in Wimbledon on 31st August and went immediately to the Wimbledon Drill Hall and thence to join the 31st Reg. S.L. Bty R.E. (A.D.G.B.) at Horsham. My new Battery was the 325 S.L. Bty R.E. at Broadbridge Heath.
So I packed up all my belongings from my digs in S. Wimbledon into my s/h Packard 140 saloon (USA) and off I went to Broadbridge Heath, picked up our men and our new S.L. equipment, and were given instructions and orders from our Regimental C.O., a Lt. Col. of the Royal Engineers (A.D.G.B.), in a huge marquee. This was where we met our other Battery Commanders, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants and senior N.C.O's., including the R.S.M. (an ex-Grenadier guardsman!!).
The next day we dispersed to our war sites that had already been prepared for us - by units of the Pioneer Corps, I think. Quite a jamboree it was - and Britain had not yet declared war on Germany - two days to go! War was declared against Germany on 3rd September 1939.
Barney Bischoff, straight from a city firm of stockbrokers, was the 2nd Lieutenant with me - an excellent man.
I don’t remember any problems about finding our S.L. sites. I continued to use my Packard while Barney used a new Austin 8 saloon (one for each troop) and had it camouflaged in khaki paint a few days later.
The N.A.A.F.I. operated a sort of ‘meals on wheels’ using a fleet of lorries which delivered hot cooked meals every day to the 48 S.L. sites in the battery’s area…..and very good food it was too, since proper food rationing had not yet been organised.
I also remember that each S.L. troop was issued with a new 350c.c. motorcycle, suitably camouflaged. Ours was an A.J.S.
THE TWILIGHT WAR September 1939 - April 1940.
Though we all expected the worst from Hitler and the Germans, nothing very much happened. Training of men and equipment continued, mostly dummy runs, using the newly issued A.A.S.L., operation of rules and discipline. No hostile air raids over us (Horsham area) before Christmas 1939 that I remember, but only the occasional burst of searchlight beams to the south nearer Eastbourne and Newhaven. Nevertheless there was one burst of light at the end of September 1939. A dark night it was and one such group of searchlight beams came closer and closer, the pyramid of beams being, I suppose, 20,000 feet…. All going north (towards London). When the pyramid approached us, up went our S.L. beams searching the sky but hearing nothing. We passed the ‘ghost’ target over to the S.L. battery to the north of us and it finally petered out over London. No aircraft of any sort, but it did show the troop commanders and Battery H.Q. that our young recruits were not asleep - merely nervous!
During this time I met my first girl friend, a delightful girl. In November she called in at our troop H.Q. and invited out Barney Bischoff to dinner with her parents. He had a great time and returned early a.m. saying how nice it was to be driven by a girl in an expensive fur coat!. My turn came soon after and I got to know the family fairly well. She was very fond of music, and danced superbly, and I would take her to dinner-dances at the Hog’s Back Hotel in my Packard! Later, in 1940, she visited my parents and my mother thought she was a lovely girl. We started to fall in love but she then, having joined the A.T.S. as an officer, and the German offensive against France, Belgium and Holland grew closer, we both agreed not to see each other for three months and then meet at Pruniers (fish restaurant) in London, which we did as the Battle of Britain was raging overhead. We decided that so uncertain was the future that we’d go our diverse ways - so it was.
The ‘twilight war’ continued into the spring of 1940 with A.D.G.B. becoming more expert in illuminating the occasional German light bomber with better equipment: The 31st SL Reg P.A was thought to be expert enough to operate the new V.I.E. locators with the much larger and more powerful searchlights and so in the spring of 1940 we received our V.I.E’s - a great advance on the old wooden sound locators. It was the beginnings of Radar, though in these early days it still was the sound of an a/c being connected electrically to the movement of a huge projector. Radar was being started along the channel Coast by perfecting the use of radio waves and their reflections from a metal object, e.g. a German aircraft, with C.H.L. Coast High Level) Identification of countless (50-100-200 a/c at one time) German bombers taking off from their bases in Belgium and Holland and the height and direction of their bombing runs (by day and by night)…… more of this later on in 1941 when our use of C.H.L (Radar) was invaluable during the Battle of Britain.
Around Christmas time and a cold Christmas too, I had to sell my Packard saloon. Petrol had been rationed for some time and now military petrol was coloured RED and woe betide if the Military Police, (M.P s), in increasing numbers, found one with red petrol in a civilian car. But I remember using a bottle of aspirin tablets to remove the red!! Canadian troops had started to arrive and they were not averse to handing over 4 gallons of red petrol in exchange for a bottle of whiskey - and then we had to buy two bottles of aspirin!
However, within two or three months this ruse was discovered and the red dye made stronger! (Petrol engines are not designed to run on petrol & aspirins!!)
For the searchlight and Heavy Artillery Units surrounding London this period of ‘Twilight War’ was used for training the S.L. detachments into moderately efficient units and using the latest radar locations of enemy aircraft - including exercises in aircraft recognition. Detachments had to be fairly smart and quick to make instant recognition between friend and foe. We had inter-troop competitions, both for aircraft recognition and, of course, searchlight drill - often we officers would turn up at a detachment by night - and also by day - and shout: “Take post, enemy a/c reported” etc, and then the detachment would rush out of their tents, man the sound-locating and projector equipment, start up the diesel engine (quite difficult on a cold night), passing current through to the sound-locator into the projector; all troops with tin hats, gas masks at the ready, the one and only machine gun manned, etc. - Then the Sergeant in charge “ready to expose bearing 175, elevation 74 degrees”, etc. The officer would award marks to each site and once a month the winning detachment would receive a prize (usually an extra ration of cigarettes from NAFFI).
During the spring of 1940, the 325 S.L. Battery R.E. was moved towards the coast and we took up, after recces, etc., 24 new S.L. sites around Newhaven and Eastbourne. Training continued of course. It was around this time that I was posted as Senior Instructor to the 27th A.A. Brigade School of ‘Radar and sound location of enemy aircraft’ in Brighton.
I had already been on a short 2-week course somewhere and had to arrange a series of 2-weekly courses for the three S.L. batteries in the 31st S.L. Reg. R.E….. how to use the new miracle of radar, how to ‘strobe’ a blip on a time-base in the early designs of the cathode-ray tube; how to recognise a friendly ‘blip’ and to trace it along the time-base amongst the mush of minor blips and to differentiate between friend and foe and to telephone to the projector (search-light) operator the elevation and bearing reading, etc. During this time we actually progressed to having electrical contacts directly between the sound-locator and the projector, so that they moved together - a great advance! I remember also a heavy rubber cable had to be laid between sound-locator and projector - and it was very heavy!!
Around Easter, 1940, as instructor at the a/m brigade school, I had my first flight in a R.A.F. Tiger Moth, acting as a target plane over 325 S.L. Battery S.L. sites to train our new sound-locators and the new radar drill. Great fun; circling over the South Downs watching the locators and the projectors of about 12 sites training their sights on me. This was very memorable!
The Germans invaded the Low Countries and W.W.II now really started. Orders for ‘General Preparedness’ came to us from 27th A.A. Brigade, through 31 SL Reg RE (Horsham) then through 325 SL Battery and on to us on our SL sites. We realised that all our training with our new SL equipment was about to be put to the test. So we had to prepare for anti-aircraft action by day as well as by night - we ‘stood to’ and then ‘stood down’ repeatedly - all rather tiring. I remember gazing across the channel - we were at Newhaven, Sussex. Almost immediately I was ordered to close the 27th A.A. Brigade School at Brighton.
I sold my little Standard 8 coupe - no petrol coupons for us now, even at 5½d a gallon. Each troop, however, had been issued with army transport: an Austin 8 saloon, Khaki-coloured, for the 2 officers, a 5cwt truck (usually a Ford of a Morris or a Hillman) for the troops generally.
The terrible war in France, Belgium and Holland, with the German Panzer Divisions racing through the top end of the supposedly impregnable Maginot Line, the Stukas with their howling sirens and their dive-bombing attacks on military targets as well as on defenceless towns and villages and citizens, the panic and chaos created everywhere, made us manning the guns, searchlights, field artillery, and the newly employed radar directional apparatus along the south-eastern coast of England very apprehensive and worried. We were constantly being warned of German spies dressed as nuns or bogus recruits dropping by parachute at night, and this meant that searchlight detachments were ‘on duty’ during the hours of darkness - every night - and during daytime hours we had, of course, to watch out for all sorts of antics that the Germans might be doing. Quite tiring!
Moreover, this part of the WWII ending up with the Dunkirk evacuation (miracle upon miracle), which has all been well recorded. Enough said.
I do remember certain happenings - actual dates are subject to memory - but they all occurred around the Dunkirk evacuation which was between May 28th (when King Leopold of Belgium surrendered) and June 4th-7th.
My troop certainly caught a He III bomber a/c in our searchlight beams. It twisted and turned and finally to our surprise it turned round and made off across the channel to France without apparently dropping any bombs (on Newhaven docks for example - quite close to us). Also, on a few occasions when I was visiting SL sites, we did have shooting practice, firing at some lone ME 109’s with our single Lewis machine gun - not one was hit!! Our SL detachment obviously forgot to ‘aim off’ ahead of the Hun a/c along its course - 200 mph requires quite a few degrees of ‘aim-off’.
Another memory (must have been after the Dunkirk evacuation) was that we received orders to prepare all gun and SL sites for a possible German invasion of the British Isles. All SL sites (but not gun sites or CHL sites,) were given 2 London taxis for SL sites. So we had 12 black taxis for distribution after being painted in a rather terrible khaki colour-wash. Each site sergeant then had to patrol his area and report back to Troop H.Q. ON any suspicious happenings, either on the South Downs or overlooking the Channel Cliffs (depending of course where the site was). We had to link up with a Canadian Infantry Brigade and, of course, the Home Guard and the coastal watchers. Of course, there were periods of boredom waiting for we knew not what.
So we organised taxi races between the sites, and to see up to 12 Khaki-coloured London taxis racing and cornering over the South Downs - well, it was fun. The taxis were taken away in July 1940.
The one unforgettable memory was that of the huge pall of black smoke that hung over the beaches of Dunkirk from May onwards. The smoke clouds were easily seen from Newhaven, Eastbourne and East. As we watched and heard the BBC news on our little battery-operated radios we shivered. How we hated the Germans. I don’t remember being apprehensive of the future, for we all heard the stirring words of strength from Churchill.
From the fall of Dunkirk in early June 1940, we knew now that England was in great danger. A rough programme of events went with this. May 10th - Chamberlain resigned. Winston Churchill in as Prime Minister with a coalition government. May 10th Germany invaded Holland (which surrendered on May 15th ). Belgium was invaded also (which surrendered on May 28th). France, our political ally, also invaded. On June 10th Italy joined the war on Germany’s side. France, now overwhelmed, signed an armistice with Germany on June 22nd, dividing France into two regions, N. France and West Coast under Germany; and S. France under Marshall Petain to be known as Vichy France.
So, except for the Empire, all of whom - except Eire (!!) - had declared war on Germany, we were now alone.
We had been able by God’s grace to save 337,000 men of the B.E.F., including about 60,000 French from Dunkirk, but all our equipment, guns, transport, light and heavy tanks etc. had to be left behind on French soil. I do remember the huge smoke-clouds that hung over the Calais, Gravelines and the Dunkirk area. I learnt later that these smoke-clouds were a blessing in disguise. The evacuation of Dunkirk was carried out in perfect June weather when the German aircraft over the beaches were unable to bomb accurately because of the smoke from the oil refinery fires at Dunkirk. I remember seeing quite a few ‘Dunkirk’ boats entering Newhaven harbour, disembarking 100s of tired soldiers, then off again towards the distant smoke -clouds of Dunkirk.
For my part, the next few months were a whirling mass of activities …..(1) against the German aircraft now coming over the Channel in increasing numbers by day, but only occasionally as yet by night, …..(2) To be always on guard against spies, fifth columnists, and other traitors, …..(3) being always under a constant flow of warnings - ‘Walls have ears’, ‘Beware of forged identity cards’ and ration cards etc. ….. and (4) constantly ‘Taking Post’, with all S.L. detachments to report to Troops H.Q. and thence to 325 AA. Bty RA (now RA and not RE.) all sightings of German a/c and other suspicious activities along the southern coastline of England.
I do remember seeing quite a few ’Dunkirk’ boats entering Newhaven harbour, disembarking hundreds if tired soldiers, then off again towards the distant smoke clouds of the north coast of France.
The number of German ‘hit and run’ raids increased during this time - June/July 1940. These raids were mostly on RAF fighter command aerodromes - Kenley, Biggin Hill, West Malling, Tangmere and others. But it was on July10th that Goering, having stocked up his bombers and fighters in Northen France began in earnest to bomb England into submission - The Battle of Britain: the world’s first decisive air battle. We now know that Hitler's ‘Mein Kampf’, (his ‘Bible’), declared that decadent England would be conquered and subjugated to become a 2nd class nation of 23 million people (the remainder to become slaves of the 3rd Reich, or die in labour camps, etc.)
During the Battle of Britain, 1940, all Searchlight Regiments, Batteries, troops and S.L. sites were heavily involved. All site, not only my own S.L. sites being so close to Newhaven, had to track all German daylight raids in our area by using our eyes in addition to our new ‘radar’ sound locators but, of course, our main duty was to illuminate German bombers at night, to aid the aiming of A.A. heavy artillery around London and to help RAF night fighters (of which we had very few) shoot them down.
So it was an exciting time for all of us. Once a bomb dropped only a 100 yards or so away from one of my SL sites - but no one was even wounded. Another time, at Redhill Camp, where the Battery had a training course, we all, 150 of us, had to dive into trenches during a bombing raid and I have a photograph to confirm this!
During the months of August, 1940, through to late November, the sky over S.E. England was full of aircraft ‘trails’, twisting and turning over our heads. A friend of mine, a spitfire pilot at West Malling, Kent, showed me his operation diary - from early mornings (only sometimes, in good weather) to late evenings, he flew with his squadron of 12 spits up to 4-5 sorties every day for nearly 4 days each week - 12 spitfires against 50 or 100 or even 130 JU88s, or HEIII bombers. The skies were filled with dog fights, noise, trails with German bombers on fire or shot up, falling in one's or two's, over Kent and Sussex and, sadly a few spitfires also. It was quite terrifying and it made us LOATHE the Germans. Once two aircraft, one in flames, dived into the ground near troop HQ and exploded - one was German and the other a RAF Hurricane badly damaged. I remember only one parachute was seen.
During this time I was posted to Biggin Hill Fighter Command and Searchlight units (RA)….. the latter providing useful information corroborating all the radar ‘material’ from CHL’s ‘early warning’ on the coast, as well as from the observer Corp; and then, watching the overall picture in the Ops. Room, and analysing height, speed, direction and density of incoming Hun raiders, would inform 27th AA Brigade etc. by telephone (until some lines were cut by bombs).
The Battle of Britain reached its peak in mid September, 1940. The Germans were ready with Panzer Divisions, Infantry Divisions, hundreds of landing craft, transport etc., awaiting the outcome of the Battle of Britain. In late September, after the serious setback of September 15th, 1940, the Hun knew that defeat of the RAF defences was not possible. The RAF secured final victory through the use of a chain of radar stations (CHLs) that gave early warning of German attacks and by a superb centralised fighter direction organisation that could concentrate the few British squadrons on the point of maximum German effort.
So by the beginning of October we all knew that the German invasion fleet had been cancelled. The daylight bombing raids dwindled. But by November 1940 night raids on London and industrial targets in England increased……and that’s when the Searchlight troops had to work doubly hard.
From now on to May 1941 my life and the lives of all the men and women in ADGB (Air Defence of Great Britain) were a kaleidoscope of fortune, risk and hard work - but there were good times too — 48 hour leave to London, or 72 hour leave to my home …. times when I met two superb girl friends!
One girl friend I had met in the Autumn of 1940 when she came to Troop HQ and asked me out to lunch, including a chance to shoot down some pheasants at her father’s home. A week later on a wet and misty day I tried my best with a 12 bore double-barrel shotgun but missed everything! She then came up and said: ”I’ll hold your hand for the next drive”. Again I only winged a pheasant, and I remember her father saying “He’ll never make an officer, he can’t hit anything.” I was never invited again.
However, by this time my sister had got a job in the Foreign Office and there met this same girl. The two shared a flat and on my 24 hour or 48 hour leave, I would take them out ‘dining or dancing at the Mirabelle, the Mayfair and Arthur's (in Piccadilly) - great fun in between the multiple air-raids of the Blitz.
Another sweet girl, I can’t quite remember how I met her — through my mother, I think - was a WREN officer and stayed at my home at least twice. She was a ‘naughty nice girl’ and would spend part of the night in my room, and I still remember how my father, at say 1 a.m., would slowly open his door and listen. Of course she and I froze, then old Pa would go back to his room (only two doors away from my room) - and we’d carry on with our delightful ‘poodle-faking’. Soon in late 1941 she moved to WREN training in Canada and there married a very nice Canadian.
So the war went on into the Spring of 1941. It was all hard work. The daylight raids had ceased and the whole of the German air force was engaged in night bombing and, of course, all Searchlight Batteries S, SE and E of London were busy nearly every night: I think that we caught 4, if not 5, German a/c in our beams and on one night in particular we lit up one of the German parachute 1000lb bombs floating down, near Horsham, I think. Luckily I heard that it did very little damage but blew out a large chunk of chalky field. I suppose the German pilot funked it and deposited his bomb far short of St. Paul’s in London.
In May 1941 the Blitz ceased (more or less). Why, we did not know until in early June, 1941 ….. Hitler had invaded Russia through Poland with everything he could muster, and, of course, the Germans had to give up the idea of conquering England. The Blitz had ceased, so we could relax a little and concentrate on new ideas and plans to reorganise the air defences in this S.E. area of England.
The war against Germany and Italy continued without any sort of let-up. ADGB was always busy. The Germans, with most of their military and air force, were in Western Russia up against Leningrad, Moscow, and the oilfields around Odessa. History was being made daily, even hourly.
ADGB in England used our time as follows: the Germans now started to bomb London, especially the docks with FW190’s — fighter bombers, dangerous and very fast — by night with the occasional raid by day. The searchlights batteries were continually in action all through the long winter of 1941/42, now radar equipment flowed in and training continued with some engagements of great excitement.
On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and declared war on Britain and the United States. Next day, Germany declared war on the US.
I had collected the whole of troop HQ to listen on my small radio to Churchill’s speech — he said: “ Now we know that the Allies will eventually WIN the war and defeat the evils of the Third Reich “ and went on about the new world coming to rescue the old world, etc: I felt encouraged and elated, and I am sure my troop did too.
In early 1942, I was promoted to the rank of Captain R.E. and sometime in the spring of 42, we were involved in a new system of ‘Air Defence of London’ at night. There were seven sectors positioned around London, each with an airborne Beaufighter, circling at around 20,000ft awaiting any German night bomber which could be caught in the searchlight beams. It was quite effective in catching the enemy bombers during the outrun and during the winter or 1942/43, the 31st SL Regiment RA was able to lay claim to two ‘certainties’ and one ‘doubtful’.
As far as the Air Defence of London was concerned, the war against German air-raids continued without much interruption. The raids on London dwindled, though certainly continued on military and civilian targets in England and Wales. The ring of 3.7-inch Heavy AA guns around London, the increasing number of searchlight sites in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Bucks and Berks and in Essex and Suffolk, with their attendant radar installations, became obvious.
We were kept fairly busy though we used to pray for fog, mist, heavy cloud when we could rest — and train for the as yet distant invasion of France and Germany. And of course, the war had developed into a World War — Africa and the Near East; Italy from 1943 onwards. Japan and the Far East and now, thank God, the U.S.A.; the war at sea; and the massive build-up of American troops, armour, aircraft and supplies. To the above must be added the constant news of the German battles in Russia and the terrible retreat from Stalingrad in the Ukraine in the winters of 1942 and 1943.
Lastly, many of us who were concerned with radar were worried about some of the reports coming out of occupied Europe about new weapons of mass destruction being made in Germany.
Altogether life was hectic and hard work with little rest.
In early 1943 I was posted as Captain R.E. (Training) to 27th AA Brigade near Biggin Hill, north of Sevenoaks. I toured around the various SL Batteries in Kent, Surrey and Sussex either on my BSA army motorcycle or on my 10 cwt Austin truck. Often I had to report to Ops Room, Biggin Hill, as duty army officer, tracking German raids on civilian cities and towns, called the 'Baedeker' raids (on Exeter, Salisbury, etc. and in the Midlands).
I remember that on one occasion we learnt that the radar installation at (I think) Northolt, had 'bent' the German direction control radio beam for a large group of German HEIII, bombers so that, instead of dropping their load of shit on Coventry, the electric/radio beam had been 'bent' so that these bombers flew towards the west, crossed the Irish Sea and dropped their bombs on Dublin — to the anger of the Irish Government, but to our great pleasure. I believe that this happened more than once! Was Liverpool saved on that particular occasion.?
Another interesting time while I was at Biggin Hill was when I was ordered to go to a Bomber airfield of the RAF in Norfolk, to take part in a night-bombing exercise. This airfield was a night-bombing training centre for the RAF using 2-engined Wellingtons and 4-engined Lancasters. So off I went, arrived at the airfield for dinner in the officer’s mess and entered an aged Wellington with three other officers, to take part in a three-hour exercise, trying to dodge out of the range of searchlights on the ground.
It was great fun. I was seated in the co-pilot's seat. To escape from some searchlights around Norwich we had to climb over a bank of cloud. So the pilot-under-training had to open his engine throttles, increase the pitch of the propellers and CLIMB - fast. Now, the Wellington had two Bristol radial engines. The exhaust from a radial engine is collected in a steel ring or cowl around 12 cylinders. The starboard engine was, I suppose, 2-3ft outside my glass window and, when under full power, the exhaust manifold glows red, then bright red, then white-red!! I remember nudging the trainee pilot and pointed to the white-hot engine outside! A smile and he wagged his finger at me… “It’s OK”.
Well, we commenced our return to the airfield. All of us had to stand in the centre of the Wellington near to the navigator and his maps. We heard the engines throttle down, and then almost immediately, instead of landing, the trainee pilot revved his engine and circled the aerodrome again. This happened three times and even the navigator was a bit worried.
Finally, on the fourth attempt, we landed! In the officers mess, having bacon, eggs, sausages etc. at about 4am., the trainee pilot came to greet us and said something like, “Sorry chaps, I hope you were not worried - not as much as I was, for tonight was the first time I had flown a twin-engined bomber at night!” Oh dear, Oh dear! I was glad to get back to Biggin Hill (and they had just had a minor bombing raid by three J.U.88s thirty minutes before!)
In late 1943 I was posted as a Captain R.A. (Training) to the 1st Searchlight Regiment, RA stationed in Dover. The Regiment’s 108 searchlights were placed all around the East Kent area from West Malling, Marston, Canterbury through Dover to Folkestone, Rye, Dungeness etc. Battery HQ was placed on the outskirts of Dover and 2nd SL Battery RA was a key battery being in charge of the defences of Dover Harbour. This was the time when the Germans operates two very large bore, long distance, heavy guns at Cap Grice, just south of Calais. Dover was within range (22-23 miles).
Dover was, of course, busy mainly with MTBs, 2 or 3 frigates etc. and countless other small naval boats …….and by this time, 1944, the American build-up was proceeding apace. Dover was protected by 6-8 barrage balloons, and by at least four high-powered CHL (Coast High Level) Radars and many guns. Dover Castle, high above the harbour, was the centre of the air and sea defences of that area; by day and by night it was also the focal point for the German guns 22 miles away.
The cliffs under the castle were honeycombed with rooms, Ops centres with around 2,000 men and women tracking aircraft, surface ships and submarines etc. While in a little shelter on the top of the castle tower was the radar and visual communication centre, a cold and draughty room at all times and in winter, freezing. To control the Searchlights 1st SL Reg .RA had to provide one officer ……and of course, I had to take my turn up there! Our ‘tour’ was of 3 months duration.
During early 1944 I cannot remember any really exciting contact with Hun aircraft at night. We were bombed at least six times and the Calais guns hit shipping only a few times, most of the shells falling short in the sea or over our heads on to the outskirts behind Dover Castle.
The long-awaited Invasion of France was becoming more and more obvious. Tanks, guns, armour, transport, stories of all sorts and, of course, many, many soldiers all were being collected under cover of trees, camouflaged canvas, tents etc. The undercurrent excitement was tremendous. Yet, as so often has been reported, very few Hun aircraft ever penetrated out over our S.E. coastline.
(Now, sixty years on, we all know that this build-up was part of a huge hoax against the Germans and formed one of many deception camps — all part of Patton’s fake Army)
I suppose that 1st SL Reg. with 108 SL sites around Kent and Sussex were able to help in misleading the Germans across the Channel, for we were allowed to let slip an ‘unguarded’ word here and there, that Gen. Patton (old ‘Blood and Guts’) with the U.S. 9th army, was assembling in East Anglia - which news we now know led the Germans to think that the oncoming invasion would cross from Kent and Sussex and from East Anglia into Northern France!
(The excellent film ‘The Longest Day’ portrays vividly the German doubts on this matter).
D. DAY JUNE 6TH, 1944
I was still a Captain RE attached to the 1st Searchlight Reg. RA and posted to Dover with the 2nd SL Battery RA.
As you can imagine Dover had become extremely busy with much armour, tanks, landing craft and soldiers gathering in the harbour and on the South Downs around Folkestone. And as June 1944 approached, if I had been a German officer watching out from Cap. Gris-nez or Boulogne, I would have sworn that the invasion was going to be launched from the Kent and Sussex coast! The misleading wireless messages to and from ‘Old Blood and Guts Patton’ in E. Anglia must have made the Hun think hard.
Anyway, as we now all know, all the above was beautifully carried out camouflage. We know that some of the tanks and aircraft and, it is said, some gliders, dotted about the environs of Folkestone were indeed dummies made of wood, or else damaged training aircraft - in fact anything to confuse the Hun! But I myself don’t remember seeing (or hearing) even one Heinkel or Fokker Wolfe fighter/bomber straying over the Channel in the direction of Dover!
By the 9th June, 1944, most of the armour and troops and naval boats, landing craft tanks (LCTs) had GONE! Quite uncanny.
I remember asking where were the German shells from Cap Gris-nez??? Where were our patrolling Hurricanes and Spitfires? Within a few days, we learnt the full extent of the Allied landings in Normandy!
I remember being overwhelmed with excitement especially after the BBC radio announcements by Churchill and others - the tide had been turned. The war, this terrible war against the loathsome Germans would be over by the end of the year, 1944, with the enormous power of the Americans on our side. Berlin, Germany, we’re coming…. and, like so many others, I wanted to be there too.
Little did we know or even guess at what lay in store for England, Britain, America, Canada and for the British Empire, the largest empire since the Romans.
We knew nothing of the V1 (the first of 4000 only a week away): the V2 (the unstoppable ballistic missile again the first of 1100 only 2 months away). Did we know of the deaths of over 2 million Jews in camps etc., of the terrible hellish experiments being carried out against Russian and Eastern European POW's. Of course we knew that Germany was retreating from Russia, leaving thousands upon thousands frozen to death outside Stalingrad, Moscow, the Ukraine etc.----and added to this was the news of the naval battles in the Pacific where the Americans were slowly pushing back the hated, cruel Japs at terrible human cost.
June, 1944. I discovered from my Colonel, Col. Ord, that the 1st SL Regiment RA was to remain in and around Dover for the foreseeable future. I therefore, decided to leave 27th AA Brigade and go to a R.H.U. (officers) and volunteer to join any AA or SL Regiment.
On the 10th June, 1944, I saw the first V.1 (flying bomb) flying on its way to London. I remember watching it disappearing to the west of us, and very apprehensive at the guttural sound of its engine. This one was followed by other V.1’s not all towards London - a few cut out and landed close by and I think I remember seeing one of the early attacks on a V.1 by a Spitfire (or Hurricane).
It must have been early July, 1944, that I first received news of a new posting - to a Staffordshire AA Regiment, due to go to Normandy. I accepted straight away. I then travelled to Andover and found my new unit, the 5th South Staffordshire SL Reg. RA hidden under an avenue of trees alongside the Andover-Salisbury main road.
They were a good bunch and Major Hurst was my Company Commander and a Capt. Dickson welcomed me in (and Capt. Dickson eventually followed me - or I followed him)- together more or less right up to Brussels, Louvaine, the Rhine, Antwerp, and then to Dunkirk at Christmas, 1944, to the end of the war in May, 1945 — lovely new equipment, searchlights, new multiple cannon, the latest sound-locating equipment, new trucks, etc. awaited me.
We were to be attached to the American Army! Our orders were to be at Southampton before the 22nd July, 1944. Having joined the 5th South Staffs: AA Reg: RA at Andover, we finally arrived at Southampton (with the loss of one SL and one lorry - from an accident) and were shown to an enormous warehouse by the Docks. Our first meal, taken with thousands of US troops was that of sausages, spinach, and marmalade — all in one ‘beaker’ - with bread and cheese separately. Almost immediately we were loaded onboard a US liberty ship, direction Normandy Invasion beaches. One thing I remember to this day, was the delicious American coffee once on board — mug after mug as we neared the Utah Beachhead.
22/23rd July, we landed at UTAH beachhead at the base of the Cherbourg peninsula. The Regiment unloaded from the Liberty ship, one of about 15 in that particular convoy, and straight away started to place our 100 searchlights, generators, stores, transport etc. in the fields of France around St. Mère Eglise, now flattened by bombing, and facing up towards the Port of Cherbourg - still in German hands.
All that I remember of late July and early August, was that after Cherbourg had been freed from the Germans (with about 28,000 POW’s taken) the port was being opened-up ready to receive the thousands of tons of stores, petrol, rations, guns, ammunition & transport needed. The latter was a sight never to be forgotten. Hundreds of wooden crates were lining up in the fields outside Cherbourg and at the far end of each line, out of these cases, would come jeeps, small Brengun carriers, small trucks, etc: , with drivers from the various units (particularly in the 9th Army) now moving hard and fast towards the Falaise Gap --- and Paris. And, may I say, if an officer had 2 or 3 bottles of ‘Jonnie Walker’ from the NAAFI, he could exchange them for one jeep. This I know happened to one 5th South Staffs officer — I remember him in his new US army jeep !!!
In early August 1944, Gen. Patton, who had been in hiding from the Germans since June (not in East Anglia where the Germans had been led to believe he was) but in Somerset, was flown over to the Cherbourg Peninsula to take charge of the 9th Army, USA and his orders from Gen. Eisenhower were to go to Paris as quickly as possible and to enable Capt. De Gaule (as he then was) and the newly reformed Free French Army (under Gen. Le Clerque) to receive Paris undamaged from the Huns.
This Gen. Patton was able to do and Paris surrendered on the 26th August, 1944, and de Gaule became a Col. and then a General. I, a Captain RE, was only 2 days behind De Gaule, on my Norton 500cc army motorcycle!!
I was met, of course, by beautiful French girls with flowers, as of course my 5th S. Staffordshire Battery (No.2, I think) - and we had to take over Le Bouget Aerodrome, E. of Paris. But all good things have to come to an end and, within one week, I had to go back all the way to Cherbourg to meet up with the rest of the Regiment - a motorcycle was far faster than the movement of 100 searchlights, generators, VIE equipment and 250-300 lorries and trucks.
THE RED BALL EXPRESS
To get back to the Arromanche area, I had to travel against the enormous flow of transport, munitions, petrol, spare parts etc. coming out of Cherbourg.
This was the then famous ‘RED BALL EXPRESS’. Hundreds and hundreds of trucks of all sizes, plus jeeps, staff cars, tanks, all travelling eastwards towards the Falaise Gap and Paris - and almost the same number returning empty. All the trucks had flashing red lights (one on each truck) - and I had to get out of their way!! Particularly when loaded ones met the empties going back to Cherbourg!
Only one main road out of Cherbourg, through Carentan, St Mère Eglise, St. Lo, Alencon—and each and every town had been bombed FLAT with of course hundreds of shell holes, bomb craters and mounds of brick and stone.
My Norton motorcycle gave me no trouble except a weak front tyre and inner tube. The wire-beading rim of my front tyre was weak, very weak, and the inner tube at irregular intervals would escape from the front wheel and blow itself up like a balloon. So one had to stop and let the air out (before it burst!), then put the tube back again in the tyre, then blow it up again with the Norton’s tyre pump - oh, dear, a few miles later, just as a Red Ball Convoy was approaching, the inner tube came out again from the tyre - and the same process as above.
I was hot and dusty and very thirsty and this damned tube must have been put back at least a dozen times - I was also tired . So I threw away the Norton into a field and luckily, within thirty minutes, along came an Austin army utility truck bearing the 21st Army Group markings, and dropped me off at the officers’ mess - 5th Staffs! Was I glad to get back in one piece!!
Having got back as far as St. Lo, the Regt. reformed and our orders were to join 21st Army Group (UK) and aim for BRUSSELS and the RHINE. Having passed through Paris a second time, most of the regiment was deflected north to the coats between Le Harve & Dieppe. This formed a second interlude; where my battery was ordered to veer away towards the coast East of Le Havre and to find and examine any Flying Bomb (V 1) delivery sites. There were many. All the Flying Bomb rail tracks were directed onto Portsmouth ! I myself examined at least four small chateaux, all fairly well camouflaged and all directed to Portsmouth. None had at that time been used, thank God.
So on to Brussels with 21st Army Group of the British Army.
It was in late September, 1944, when the Regiment lumbered into Belgium in the track of 21st Army Group’s advance in pursuit of the retreating Hun. The direction was roughly north-east from Paris and the boundary between ourselves and the US 2nd Army under its well known commander, General Patton, must have been a rough line such as Paris, Campaigne, Soissons, St Quentin, Mons (I remember linking up the city of Mons in my mind with Mons, the first awful battle of WWI (against the same enemy).
I know that the Regiment passed through Brussels in daytime (of this passage a little more in due course), during early October,1944. The US 2nd Army Group were south of the declared border making for Rheims, Luxembourg and Saarbrucken and, of course, the RHINE miles ahead, at full speed before the Hun could blow up all the bridges.
So the Autumn of 1944 passed into history. All that I can vaguely remember is the mass of vehicles on the move towards Brussels, the destruction of roads, villages, towns, etc. by the Germans, and of course, by the allies pursuing the German armour; the constant threat of German counter-offences and, of course the welcome by the French patrols and the normal country people.
Just imagine, please, 5th South Staffs. S/L detachments, a full REME, Signals, Supply (fuel etc.) NAAFI, and other sections - a rough total of 2700 men, 700 vehicles, lorries etc. - all in a long, ever-hesitating string of moving objects on poor roads between the area of Paris (France) and Brussels (Belgium), our eventual destination—and all becoming thoroughly MIXED UP with thousands of tanks, half-tracks, armoured cars, carriers, trucks, tankers etc. etc of the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and the Empire Forces; all pressing on into Belgium, and passing broken down, burnt-out vehicles and cars, and, of course, streams of Huns, pow's, wounded soldiers and thousands of displaced civilians.
Well, well - roughly 150 miles - Paris to Brussels and we took about a month to do it!! The Regt. lost only one Searchlight with its attendant 10 ton lorry en route!!!
Whilst 21st Army Group was wending its way towards Brussels in Belgium, unknown to us, the great airborne operation of ARNHEM, Holland, was fought and lost - Sept.17th to 26th. Under Lt. Gen. Browning some 30,000 British, American and Polish troops were dropped by more than 1,000 aircraft in the region of Arnhem with a view to facilitating the final allied drive into the heart of Germany. After fierce fighting, the allied survivors had to be withdrawn.
(See the film ‘A Bridge too Far’ - excellent).
All that I remember is that while passing through Brussels many of us, including myself, noticed how unfriendly they were towards the British. In general the citizens of Brussels appeared largely unaffected by the war - Brussels was largely untouched by bombing - the shops were open, particularly the sweet and chocolate shops, with never an offer of cakes or coffee to us, let alone garlands of flowers, etc. (so unlike Paris and the French).
I began to ask why on earth were we fighting the Germans - to save the Belgians ? (After all, Leopold I had surrendered to the Germans in May 1940, thus allowing their Panzers to flow across into France, direction DUNKIRK (!!) without telling us or the French).
Our final destination was Louvain (now Lenven) 40 kms east of Brussels. And it was during the beginning of October 1944 that all officers in our brigade were called to meet General Horrocks, our Corps Commander, to speak to us about the next steps - entry into Germany and over the RHINE. He was outstanding. We were fighting a brutal enemy. We were entering Holland and the Rhine land. We had done so well in freeing France of the Hun; now we were out to get Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy. I remember some of his words: “You are going on relentlessly into Germany. It’s going to be tough. The Germans have invented only one thing - that is how to wage WAR. They have tried twice before, France in the 1870’s, France again in 1914, and now again, France 1940 - but now France is free again—and so, gentlemen, on into Germany. God bless you all”. Very stirring stuff!!
We, in the 5th S. Staffs S/L Reg .RA, soon learnt of an idea called ‘moonlighting’. Choosing a night with low cloud, the searchlights with 40,000 ft. range and very powerful, would be switched on either straight into the faces of the German defenders and then switched off, leaving the Germans dazzled, or to aim for a patch of low cloud, switch on, and then illuminating a large area of ground or German defences.
None of this happened, luckily, to us. The pace of the war heated up considerably and it became essential to open up the Port of Antwerp in the Scheldt Estuary for the supply of fuel, ammunition, armour and men for 21st Army Group.
So the Regiment was posted again to go north to Antwerp (Anvers), 40 miles or so north of Brussels. Off we went and found sufficient billets for our Regiment and for one other down by the docks.
We are now in early November, and the Germans had started to use their vicious V.2 Rockets, not only over England but also over the build -up of Allied forces in Belgium. While waiting for further orders, I was in my office (2nd Nov. I seem to remember), when suddenly a V.2 Rocket landed and exploded about two streets away. I happened to be facing it and in came the glass and cut my face badly. Luckily the Reg. M.O. was close by and patched me up with only my eyes, nose and mouth showing!!
Our next posting was out of Antwerp into Holland to work along the northern shore of the Scheldt Estuary, (60-80 miles), watching out for German fighter bombers (of which I don’t remember one! since the Russians now were into Poland and German a/c were all required there).
In the meantime, I do remember being greeted by the Dutch (many of them), who seeing my face in bandages, commented on this fact and asked whether I had killed any of the Boche and, of course, I had to say that I had never, as yet, seen even an alive Hun, (tho’ I had seen quite a few dead and quite a few POWs on their way to the cages).
Within a few days, mid-November the Port of Antwerp was cleared of mines and open to allied shipping. The weather was wet and cold!! Very cold.
Now came a complete turn-around in my war!
During the great advance of the allies, after the relief of Paris and therefore of France, - in the north and north-eastern parts at any rate - we found that the Germans had left pockets of resistance in a few places: (Quite normal in previous wars for a defeated enemy to have such ‘pockets’ left behind to act as ‘thorns’ to disturb the ‘smooth’ advance.
The Germans were no different. They left behind 8,000-9,000 men in Calais, 5,000 in Boulogne, but as many as 10,000-12,000 in Dunkirk - a much more important port, being an oil-refinery of some size: oil and gas. Also, as some of us came to believe later on, Field Marshall Rumstedt was planning the last of the defensive- attacks by the Germans in WW2 against the western allies. We suspect that he knew that one of the tasks of 21st Army Group was to start the training and arming of a new French Army Corps in this area of N/NE France - a vital duty for it gave the French new hope and vigour.
Anyway, more of this anon. The Scheldt Estuary and Antwerp was now open to allied shipping in the much needed supplies of fuel, ammunition, food, reinforcements of men and material, now that we were on the threshold of GERMANY. In the event, we still had to fight our way to BERLIN.
So my war suddenly altered course, thank the Lord. My Regiment was ordered to supply two Searchlight/Bofor detachments to leave the Antwerp area and go to the Dunkirk area and to join a Czechoslovakian Armoured Brigade and 2 companies of a British Field Artillery battery.
Our duties were to surround the city Dunkirk and to prevent any of the 10,000 or so Germans from breaking out from the city to join up with General Rumstedt’s last effort to effect a corridor between 21st Army Group and the American 2nd Army both aiming eastwards towards Germany — and of course, BERLIN.
Capt. Dickson and myself received our orders from the Colonel of the Czech Armoured Brigade to go immediately to Dunkirk and to take over sufficient temporary accommodation in WORMHOUT, 40kms south of Dunkirk while details were being worked upon by our Divisional Commander and our 2nd Army Group about civilian accommodation, etc.
Capt. Dickson was in charge of the area S/SW & West of Dunkirk and myself was i/c of the area S/SE & East of Dunkirk up to the Belgium border. I found a suitable house in La Panne, just over the Belgium border on the coast (North Sea coast), looking down the almost straight beach to Dunkirk, past the rubble of concrete gun emplacements. I began to realise the power of my searchlights (and their range of 35,000-40,000 ft.)
EARLY DECEMBER 1944
Each S/L troop had one captain, one 2nd Lieutenant, 6 S/Ls, 6 electronic sound locators, 6 diesels, 2 guns and 6 multiple ‘pompoms’ (taken from B26 bombers) and about 160 other ranks including 8 sergeants — about 180 men in all. My first job was to find sites for my six searchlights and accommodation for the detachment of soldiers for each. Each site had to have a good view of Dunkirk from any higher ground outside the flooded area (the Germans had opened all the flood gates around the city and port).
However, good use was made of the mass of destroyed gun emplacements that lined the beaches for miles along the coast on either side of the city and port of Dunkirk!
Results - very successful. Two near to BERQUES, two around SOCX and two at LA PANNE (my HQ on the Belgium/French border).
DECEMBER 1944 TO FEBRUARY 1945
I remember the icy cold winter, which iced over all the flooded areas around the city of Dunkirk. Visiting a couple of S.L. sites, we spotted a couple of ‘inflatable’ dinghies with about 30 Germans being pushed over the iced-up main canal (Dunkirk to Berques). We illuminated them (late evening 5 to 7pm.) and shot them up. They soon scuttled back to the nearest houses, leaving behind some bodies and two ‘flat’ boats. Two other sites reported more or less the same.
The Ardennes offensive was on, the town of BASTOGNE was being brilliantly defended by the US 2nd Army Group without air cover due to weeks of freezing fog covering N.E. France (very COLD). I remember too the welcome I had when I explained to Monsieur and Madame, the owners of the main chateau in Socx that I wished to place an S.L. detachment near the chateau and the church (both excellent vantage points, 40' above sea level) to control Dunkirk.
Monsieur was overjoyed and pointed out the spire of the church, the tip of which had been shot away by the Germans in 1940 to act as a bearing for both German guns (1940) and our own aircraft (1945). He also pointed out where he had hidden the engine and gearbox of his large Citroen car that then remained safe and sound in the middle of a large haystack. (The family had one son - the youngest - and three daughters - a delightful family and remain friends of my own family to this day).
So the war progressed. I took two 48 hour leaves in Paris. For the first leave (1945) I went to the British Officer’s Club and asked for some girl to guide me around Paris. “Certainement! Voulez vous une blonde ou une Brunette?” I replied a blonde SVP;- --“Vonez ici SVP à neuf heure du matin”. Lo and behold, a delightful 18 year old awaited me. She was quite simply splendid. Her family had an enormous chateau in Normandy and another house in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris - very rich. How they escaped from the Germans, I don’t know, but years later I heard that Monsieur had even managed to hide a 1937 S.S. II (forerunner of the Jaguar) tucked away in his ‘cellar’ together with hundreds of bottles of exquisite French wine!
So the WWII progressed. The Czechs, once a fortnight or so, would raid the Eastern suburbs of Dunkirk, searching for prisoners. It was quite exciting! At night I would place my HQ Searchlight on the beach (French/Belgium borders) and illuminate that part of the city within range of the beam. Meanwhile, a Czech attachment would crawl or move under the beam of bright light into the city & seize a number of prisoners from the German defences, who were blinded by the beam of the searchlight. After a few minutes the HQ S.L would be towed behind an old Hun gun emplacement and “dowsed”.
Within minutes the Hun would shell the original site and hit nothing. I would have moved my HQ light to another bit of the ruins along the coast and ‘switch’ on. The Hun must have thought there must have been quite a Battery of SL’s facing them - I think that was why I was given the Croix de Guerre (Belge) after the was in 1946!!
U.K. leave in 1945 - 2weeks - glorious. The war ended while I was on leave and I had to rush back to La Panne (during one of the worst channel crossings I have ever experienced!) to find that the 5th South Staffs. SL Regiment had been posted to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation 1946/47 near to HILDEHEIM - 3" of snow - with ski-ing in the Black Forest at BAD SALDETFURTH.
There we found a concentration camp nearby - a cruel and nasty one where thousands and thousands had died - but the citizens of Bad Saldetfurth professed to know nothing!! So we got a lot of blown-up photographs of the camp, pasted them up along the whole length of the main street, blocked off the side roads, mounted a searchlight and a Bofors gun at each end, and made the Germans walk up and down for three days and nights - the Germans soon learned their lesson, even though a few would say that the pictures of the concentration camp were false!
I remember ordering the Mayor to produce, within two days, a car for every officer and one smaller one for each Sergeant in charge of a SL Detachment, together with 36-40 radios and 6 pianos (one for each Detachment /Group).
I also remember that one German refused to hand over his very nice DKW - “Because it had no wheels”. I was angry and I remember saying, “We are the victors now. We are, however, humane, unlike Hitler and what he would have done had he conquered England.” I reminded him of Mein Kampf, in which Hitler had threatened to halve the population of England by using the concentration camp or enforced slavery in the German mines and factories (for V.2 rockets etc). I gave him 24 hours to find the wheels and to have his car ready and moving by 12midday the next day, or else….!! The car was ready, complete with tyres and petrol in the tank. A fellow officer found Goering’s Mercedes-Benz - what a car!!
Two months later we were told by Gen. Montgomery (21st Army Group) to hand back all pianos, cars etc. to their German owners. The age of ‘Fraternisation’ had started.
In February 1946 I was demobbed.
While in Germany, ABCA (Army Bureau of Current Affairs) had given us pamphlets about ‘Future Opportunities for Employment’. I was immediately attracted to H.M. Colonial Service and I applied for entry into NIGERIA as a cadet administration officer.
I also ordered my first post-war car - an M.G. TC - lovely in shining black cellulose. But in April, I got peritonitis and had to have an immediate operation, arranged for me within hours by my sister, Pamela. The operation was successful and I was left with two tubes sticking out of my tummy - very painful. However, I remember my mother telephoning whilst I was in the hospital and telling me that a NEW TC Midget 2-seater sports car (black) had been delivered to Stradishall, my home.
In July, I was instructed to go to the Colonial Office in London for an interview. In spite of looking very pale and weak, I was selected for Nigeria and was told to be ready to depart by October.
In October, 1946, I left for Nigeria: and It was only then that I received news that I had been awarded the Croix de Guerre (Belge) and Chevalier de Leopold II, both ‘avec palme’ - to this day I know not what for!!
So ended World War II.