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15 October 2014
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Memories of Arthur Turner: Attached to 1st Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa

by Huddersfield Local Studies Library

Contributed by 
Huddersfield Local Studies Library
People in story: 
Arthur Turner
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 May 2004

This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Sarah Harding of Kirklees Libraries on behalf of Arthur Turner and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Memories of Arthur Turner

I was born in 1918, one of seven children into a working class family in Huddersfield. My brothers and sisters were Hilda, Doris, Harold, who went into the Pioneer Corps, Elsie, who died aged 12, Arthur (myself), Geoff, who went into the Navy, and the youngest Eric, who was exempt. I was the first to be called up at the age of 19 or 20, followed by Geoff and then Harold. I trained for six months with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and then went into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as a general fitter.
Liverpool bombing, machine gunners spraying the deck working with German submarines. Blown into the water and picked up by boats taking survivors to Scotland where we were put into a wood yard among shavings. We were not allowed to talk to the public about the torpedoing of the ships – no bad news was to get out. Spent a few days then on the port of Gourock having no papers etc – they were all lost at sea. We hung about until they sent us home on survivor’s leave, but were held up at Sheffield as all leave cancelled, Dunkirk episode, anyway I show leave pass which said survivors so the military said sorry soldier, you may carry on home, having suffered the high seas off the coast of Ireland. My parents were shocked to see me and gave me a big hug. Now in my army pay book were details of my army service. Now they don’t know what to do with me all record lost of my posting oversea so they sent me to Oswestry to Royal Artillery and they wanted to put me on the parade ground and I said no I have done all my army training, so I suggested how about me being a cook for the officers until I join my unit again as I was a jolly good cook, being in the Scout movement as a Rover Scout leader.

Anyhow after a few weeks I got a new posting to the Middle East joining the Light Aid Detachment attached to the First Royal Tank Regiment who were in the Desert Rats 8th Army under a different general. Now for a little trip from Alexandria by destroyer to the siege of Tobruk, putting me ashore in a small rowing boat, as the destroyer could not come into the harbour, as it was bombed by Stukas and Barda Bill. Barda Bill was a gun in a tunnel or cave in the mountain and fired salvos every hour at the crossroads at Tobruk. Anyhow I got ashore. A sergeant from L.A.D. was there with a torch, who took me to workshop which was an old Spanish farm where we repaired tanks, guns and vehicles. Only thing we were working under duress, we got Stuka bombed morning and night, bombs were diving screaming with all their might hell let loose. Luck we had concrete dug-out that had ten foot walls and solid roof which the Italians made before but was now captured by us. Had no drinking water and had to condense sea water through radiators with someone manning the fires 24 hours a day. We had no ack ack guns, just silly Lewis machine guns which had no power. After a few months we got a few Royal Artillery 25 pounders. The tanks we had only had two pounders and were no match for the German Rommel tanks. We made aeroplanes out of anything that looked like aeroplanes from above, to confuse the enemy, soon we on high glee because the New Zealanders had broken through the siege of Tobruk and made a corridor where support troops were able to get through with better tanks and guns. By the way I was a general fitter on tanks guns of all type. The Highland Division from Scotland were on the scene at Tobruk, the Royal Highland Artillery. The 11th Hussars were also in Tobruk, who had light tanks and armoured cars. The Royal Highland Artillery were involved with their modern artillery. Before the New Zealanders arrived still being bombed by the Germans and Barda Bill all hell was let loose. Tobruk itself was shell torn, we used to go into the wadis (deep cleft in the cliff) to get away from the bombing. We used to go out with the breakdown repairing tanks and guns which had been damaged by mines. We had no protection during the repairs having to replace sections of caterpillar tracks on the tanks having hit one of the minefields laid by the Germans around Tobruk. Many times we had to crawl around on all fours doing a bayonet search for mines before we dared move the tank or lorries until we found it safe and many times we had to dig slit trenches and get down while the mines were made safe by the Royal Engineers.

One time we had a German raid and bombing which lasted hours and were pegged down in the concrete dug out Italian shelter, which was full of bugs and all the walls were full of red squashed blood from the bugs, as the Italians were a dirty lot doing and living in squalor not venturing out for toilets, bugs etc.

Enough of Tobruk now we have broken out and on our way to the railhead, we were then herded into goods wagons as the transport was on its knees. Having travelled many hundreds of miles, must have been packed like sardines having hard tack biscuit and bullie (corn beef), no toilet just throwing overboard. Anyway we managed to get to Alexandria after many days travelling, where we were treated to a little time off and opportunity to wander round Alexandria, then it was back to the slog. This time we were on our way to Telkibere, where a huge new engineering repair centre had been built, bigger than David Browns with all new machines of all kinds for repairing, miles from anywhere right in the middle of open desert. The tank crews did get a break but we had to get down to it, repairing all tanks, guns, lorries, rifles etc. serving them for the next push. Had to start work at 3am in the morning as it was too hot to work after midday. We were here for twelve weeks.

On our way again this time to Cairo, but no holiday, training and briefings in the desert near pyramids and Sphinx. Better tanks and guns now Montgomery in control. One thing he put everyone in the picture telling all the regiment what was going to happen in the mountains with thousands of troops. Although a non-smoker and non-drinker he did not deny the troops and handed out cartons of fags to the officers who in turn gave them to sergeants to throw packs out to the troops. Also the troops always had a rum ration, as long as he got his stainless steel bucket of cook’s tea (there were no teapots, only buckets).

When the battle of El Alamein started the Light Aid Detachment had to be on hand for repairs to tanks and guns. The first thing we did when the guns opened up was to dig slit trenches three feet deep then roll in until any tanks, guns etc. needed repairs. The slit trench provided safety from shrapnel and bombs. Of course it was an inferno of gunfire both ways and how we got through it God only knows. After the battle we thought it would all be over, but no the Desert Rats and 8th Army was needed again. We were re-equipped, off we go to help the 1st Army as things were going wrong in Tunis. So the seasoned 7th Armoured Division had to travel many nights and days to fight our way into Tunisia. Good old Desert Rats not finished yet, we were moved out, no victory parade with the 1st Army. So we roll back as far as Tripoli and once again re-equip, but this time it was with the 5th Army American. Our tanks, guns, lorries were on a tank landing craft sailing for invasion of Italy.
Victory parade through Tripoli with Churchill stood up in the car, thousands of troops waving at him and good atmosphere. Hoping to go home. Got to Tunis but no victory parade. So roll back.

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