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15 October 2014
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Memories of War- Part One

by Barnsley Archives and Local Studies

Contributed by 
Barnsley Archives and Local Studies
People in story: 
James Gordon Blanshard
Location of story: 
Dunkirk/England/Middle East
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
19 April 2005

"This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Barnsley Archives and Local Studies Department on behalf of James Gordon Blanshard and has been added to the site with his/her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."
I joined the army on 15 January 1940 at Beverley, Victoria Barracks, East Yorkshire Regiment, Duke of Yorks Own. In the first week I went into hospital with pleurisy and missed part of my training. I moved up with the next batch. We went to Lechenfield (RAF) guarding bombs; this was before the RAF regiment was formed. Then we moved to Stow on the Wolds before being sent to Dunkirk. We went to re-enforce the 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions but we never met up with them.

We landed at Rouen and moved onto Lille. We then got the order ’every man for himself’. Three of us got out of a house that was shelled. We were walking through a mangle field when someone yelled at us; it was some British Artillery. They gave us a good meal and told us to make sure we had a full water bottle apiece before moving on. Six of us set off from there. The artillery was going to try to get through with the guns separately.

We came to a farm to a farm, which had a weird feeling about it, I think it felt too quiet. Two of the lads wanted to go in it for a rest the other four said no, we never saw those two again. We skirted the farm and made our way towards Dunkirk. We kept having to hide from the Germans who were advancing. We met up with pockets of British soldiers. One lot told us to get dug in with them. We were near a bridge and they said if the Germans came to push ‘this button’. The next morning they’d left us and we left the button to push itself!

On the beaches a bloke was in tears. He’d carried his anti-tank rifle all the way back to the beach and then they’d told him to throw it away; his name was Rayner. We were on the beaches for several days. It was a civvy boat that we came home on, there were about 50-60 of us; a woman was part of the crew. Rayner got me on the boat. I couldn’t swim and he was tall and kept me afloat going to the boat and then he helped to throw me in to the boat when we got to the side. If men couldn’t make it to the boats they had to go to the back of the queue, lots of them were in tears. When we were both on the boat Rayner said ‘All I need now is a cig’. I replied that if I’d got my pack I could have given him one. He told me to get them because my pack was on my back; I didn’t even know I was still carrying it! The cigarettes were Players in a sealed tin 50 of them. The trouble was no one had any matches or a lighter, but the woman on the crew asked the bloke down in the engine room and he brought a light up, so there were 50 happy men, I didn’t have one because I didn’t really smoke.

We landed at Ramsgate in daylight. We were marched straight on to a train and brought to Leeds, Quarry Hill Flats. The following morning we went to Knutsford for one maybe two nights then on to Cannock Chase, Rugely and then the following morning we went to Yeovil.

We joined the 4th Battalion, East Yorks at Yeovil, and then went on to Maiden Newton, followed by Sturminster Newton where we were under canvas. They made us into a Mobile Reserve and formed a motorbike platoon from my company. They commandeered all the civilian motorbikes. When they asked who could ride motorbikes everyone put their hands up. Most of them who got on the motorbikes didn’t know how to stop them and some threw themselves off just to get off the bikes!

We helped build defences along the coast at Chesil Beach, Weymouth Bay and Lullworth near Durdle Door. I went up the hill to the Platoon HQ with Mr King working nights manning the telephone. I was sent to Blandford Forum to the Royal Corp of Signals to learn how to record German Messages. I used to work at nights recording messages broadcast in German first at Frome then to a big house in Sherbourne that was divisional HQ. I then rejoined my section at Kimmyridge guarding pillboxes. I managed to telephone home from there on a private telephone we found in a cupboard. I got through to Button’s Garage. At first when I asked for Cudworth I was put through to Gloucester because I said it was near Barnsley, and then I said it was in Yorkshire. You could hear the operator calling through Birmingham, Sheffield, Barnsley and then Cudworth. I asked the operator if anyone had a telephone in Cudworth and they put me through to Buttons Garage. When I spoke to the bloke at the garage I asked him if anyone had a telephone at the top end of Cudworth and he said ‘Ay Joe Holmes, the butchers’. He promised to phone him to ask him to let my Mother know that I was OK as I hadn’t been home since I’d got back from Dunkirk. I found out later that Joe Holmes had sent one of his daughters up to tell Mother.

We were moved to a place between Weymouth and Dorchester called Upwey, Corfe Hill House, it held the entire Battalion. I can remember doing a cross-country run there. It was to get us fit. Then they moved us to Cleveden near Bristol for some training on Dartmoor and Exmoor. We were there from Christmas until roundabout April. Then they took us to Liverpool to board a ship for the Middle East.

We went aboard the Empress of Russia. We sailed out through the North Atlantic and landed at Freetown, then went round the Cape of Goodhope to Durban. The White Lady was singing Jerusalem; There’ll Always be an England and Land of Hope and Glory. We went on to Port Toofick via Aden near Suez, we disembarked there and got on a bus to Jeneva. Then we went on to America but weren’t there long before moving to Sidi Bagoosh near Mersematru. This was in 1941.

We were guarding an airstrip manning Bofor Guns. We never fired the gun. The Station Commander didn’t want to use up the ammunition or let the Germans know we were there. Even though the Germans kept doing reccies! We went back to America, then to Port Said and boarded a cruiser, HMS Neptune, to go to Cyprus. We landed at Farmagusta and moved straight on to Leftkonica. We were patrolling right up to the mountains point, it had a castle. I left there to go to the HQ at Trudos. I was back to recording messages from the enemy. We were there when Jerry attacked Russia and I remember the weather was red hot.

We left Trudos and went to Haifa in Palestine on HMS Jackal. When we disembarked we were bussed to Jalama on the road to Nazareth. We were camped at the side of a kabut. It was the people at the kabut who fed us for 3 days. They were refugees from Germany and Czechoslovakia, blonde haired blue eyed Jews who had arrived in 1938.

We were sent back to Haifa and on to America in Egypt. They were going to mechanise our brigade. We moved to El Darba for training in armoured cars and tanks. We had Christmas 1941 at Sidi Bagoosh.

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