- Contributed by
- Terry Brew
- People in story:
- Richard Brew
- Location of story:
- England and Europe
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 January 2004
Continued from Part One
Monty and training
Monty was coming down to see me, and find out how I was liking the war, so it was Blanco, Blanco, Blanco and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, over and over and over, but on the night before a mock inspection I left all my kit out by accident, and by the morning it had gone all pale, and as though it hadn't been touched. The inspection was by Captain Johns, who had been out in India for a long time in all that sun, and had taken to tying his revolver to his leg, like a cowboy (too much sun, we all said), well when he got to me, he stopped, looked me up and down, and he enquired, 'Have you polished your kit?', I opened my mouth to answer, and Capt Johns bellowed to Sgt Everrett, 'TAKE THIS MAN'S NAME!'.
Well, come Friday I found myself in the company office, under the charge of failing to prepare my kit, I tried to explain what had happened, but I was cut short with 'No excuses!'. His exact words were, 'Don't be a bloody fool Brew', and then he turned into Susie, his pet King Charles Spaniel, and asked her 'What shall we do with him?', and that sodding dog barked three times, so I got three days jankers. It was just like we said, he had had far too much sun. The three days jankers I got was Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday was my birthday, and Mucky and some others had come down for a drink, so I made my mind up not to get into any more trouble, as I missed what would have been a good night.
The CO was mad keen on courses, and he sent Mucky on an anti-tank course, and me on a signallers' course - I ask you, first they wont let me join the sodding army because of my speech, then they want me to be a bloody signaller! I told Sgt Barnes that there was no way I would be able to complete the course and explained why, but he said there was nothing he could do, and that I should just go and try my hardest as no harm could come of it. After four days of the two week course the instructor wanted know which bloody idiot in particular had decide to send me on such a bloody waste of time, and struck me off the course.
Finding myself at a loose end, I was sent back to Lenham, and my journey took me through Paddington, and as luck would have it, there was five hours between my arrival there and my departure, so I went to visit my mum and she was in tears the whole time, and as a bonus halfway through May turned up and was thunderstruck to see me. All too soon I was on the train back to camp, but I arrived just after they had all left for an exercise, so I got to hang about doing nothing for five days. The CSM was there as well, and he must have heard about my departure from the course, as no more was ever said about it.
As you already know, we were Monty's best division, the 43rd Wessex, and he had a wonderful idea, the kind of idea that made us wonder as to our futures. His big idea was to turn night into day, not sure why, so our new day began with a church parade at 10 at night, and a route march at 2am, on one do we were out all night, and our grub came up at one in the morning, as we lined up to get our food, which was soup, I held out my mess tin and the soup was poured in, I kept my tin out and the cook, Jimmy Hear, slopped my pudding in on top. I just couldn't sort the mess out so I ate the lot in one go. I was never allowed to forget that either.
It was at that time that our second in command got permission for an armoured column, and they just looked like boxes on wheels, with armour plate 1-inch thick. We practised attacking them for about two weeks, but fortunately it all died a natural death.
We were given a regular route march to Laden sport ranges, which was about ten miles in all, there and back and I could manage easily despite having to sleep funny hours because of guard duty, and even when I was off guard duty I didn't even have a bloody bed to sleep in. On one occasion I got to the bottom of Folkestone Hill, and I just couldn't go any further. I had never backed out of a route march, or anything else, and I felt a strong sense of having let the side down, as well as myself.
Major Stewart came up and asked me what was wrong, and when I told him that I felt I couldn't take another step, he put me on special sick leave because he knew as well as I did that it was out of the ordinary. The next morning I was in the medical quarters at nine, and by ten I was in Canterbury hospital. I had been diagnosed as having septic scabies, but how I had got such a thing was a mystery. The orderlies had to scrub me with stiff brushes, and the bastards loved it, they took off all the scabs, and then painted me with blue unction. I was in there for five days before I was cured.
Our next move was to Manston aerodrome, where the air ace Sailor Malan was in command. The place was heaven compared to what we were used to, with real beds, real food, a club room, night passes, but the march there was sheer hell and all our feet was red raw. We were allotted an RAF Cook, and when we were on duty in the cookhouse we used to get free food off him, but it turned out that he was a homosexual, and that we only got so much food off him because he had taken a shine to me!
When I look back at all the travelling we done, it was no wonder they called us the Kent home guard, we did nothing but moan at the time about it all, but we were the crack defence troops, the first line if the Germans came, and although we didn't know it, or care, there is no doubt that we were the fittest we had ever been, or would be again.
Sickness, and more training
While I was at Linton I came down with sceptic dermatitis, with sores in every crack of my body, far worse than the scabies. I got put into hospital for twenty days and I became really worried that I would be put into a holding battalion. It was now December the twenty-third, and I asked to be discharged so as I could be with my mates for Christmas, I was so pleased to be going back. It was at this time that a young 2nd lieutenant joined the battalion, a man named Hutchinson, and I must say that I took a liking to him and that that friendship was to last the rest of our lives. He would, in the future, prove himself a man amongst men many times when the going got tough.
We were soon on the move again, down to the coast near Dymchurch, at St Mary's Bay. We were posted to a whacking great big house overlooking the sea, and we even got beds again! The hot water was rationed by our orderly, 'Indian Summer', as we used to call him owing to his dark complexion. His real name was Chuckie Harris, and he made sure we never got it too luxurious! We were chosen by Montgomery to do some tests, two miles in two minutes, and ten miles in two hours, in full kit. Before we left we got our pulse taken, then once we got back our pulse was taken, had to do an assault course, fire five rounds, and throw a grenade through a window. There was no question of cheating on the run, as at every corner was a CS., and if you failed the run you had to do it at a later date. I did it in 1 hour 58, Mucky did it in 1 hour 50, including stopping for a pee! He was one tough bloke.
Our stay at St Mary`s came to an end after that, and we moved back to Dymchurch. We received a new intake, and they became known as the Bodmin Boys, and we could not have wished for a better bunch of blokes. Our battalion was by now made up of young men, Dave Evan's, Dick Evan's, Ken Tremaine, Johnny Martin, Baby Riley, Jack Keevil, Debbage, Warr, Duke, Ward, in fact the average age was just 19, and I felt really old at 27! Johnny always said I was like a father figure, and I felt that was a really touching remark. A few days after we left St Mary's Bay, a terrible thing happened there, when Lt Wilson was demonstrating Hawkins Mines, and one exploded, killing him and, I think, 28 men. The battalion was shocked, as Lt Wilson was well liked by his men and fellow officers.
Summer of 1944 came around, and the invasion was in the air, We were all on edge. The Flying Fortresses were going backwards and forwards by day and the Lancaster's by night, one fortress came very low over our village and crashed, and unfortunately it killed four of our men and that gave us a little scare as it just went to show that when your time is up then you've got to go! I had been offered my tapes time and time again, but had always declined as I was already IC 2nd Mortar, and mucky was IC of number one, but when Major Stewart took me into his office and showed me a letter stating that anyone who refused his tapes would be transferred, I accepted promotion to Lance Corporal as the invasion was coming, and I didn't want to be separated from my mates. The pay was a bit better of course, so I had the extra made over to May, so she was happy too.
The great day arrived, 6 June 1944, D-Day. I was in charge of the coal orders from Ashford, and when I got back to the coast, the huge concrete slabs floating off the coast had gone, we never knew what they were, but found out later that they were part of the Mulberry Harbour. May had heard that the Somersets were down at the London docks, but all she found was our transport, and my mate Dick Whittington, who told her that we were in fact in East Sussex. We were marched down to New Romney, and all along the route the locals were cheering and waving, it was impressive, but I somehow found it all a bit sad, as I knew it was the last thing some blokes would ever see, and that some of us would never see our loved ones again.
We carried on to Newhaven, where our American landing craft was waiting for us, we finally embarked on the 18th, at midnight, 12 days after the invasion troops, but that was because we had been trained for a specific purpose, the breakout from the beachhead. During the night a storm had blown up, and god it was rough. Our supper had been sausages, lovely great big ones, but we were paying the price for them now - me and three others were manning a Bren gun up on a raised platform, and as the boat wallowed we felt every sway and dip, and was I ever sick! Once off duty I went to the toilets, and I was sitting on one toilet, and throwing up into another and sitting next to me, in the same predicament, was my mate, one Lt Hutchinson (Hutch).
Eventually the crossing was over, and we disembarked, cold, tired, wet, and ill but after a little while ashore we all felt a little better. We had just survived the worst storm in the English Channel in living memory. We bivouacked in place called Rhys and it was here that we had our first casualty, though it was nothing to do with the Germans. Charlie Ball was to woken for sentry duty at about half four in the morning, but it was found that he had died peacefully in his sleep. It was a shock to all of us as we were still unaccustomed to death.
Major Stewart had told us to get bathed in the River Don, so about 90 men, stripped naked and leapt in, generally larking about ,and so far enjoying the war, it was nice to get clean of the smells of the crossing. It was at this point that a small punt came around the corner of the river and straight through the middle of us, with two women and a man in it, I would imagine that it is a sight that none of them ever forgot.
Major Lipscombe took over the battalion, owing to 'Chopper' Curtis going home sick, and this was the beginning of our war. We advanced down through 'Death Valley' onto Cheux. As we walked along the dusty French roads we came to a farm, and in the road the farmer had set up a table, full of bottles of Calvados, the local Norman cider, and as we passed every one of us got a bottle. It was a wonderful gesture, as it took our minds off the battle that we knew lay just ahead, perhaps only minutes away. As we entered the valley the shells started to land among us, then the rocket mortars started up, the Germans had a good line of fire and we started to take casualties. Dicky Evan's and Bob Seymour was killed, and Jack Keevil was wounded.
These deaths meant more to us than the deaths we had so far seen, as they were the first of our close pals to die, men we had trained and lived with, laughed and joked with over that cider, just an hour ago, and the platoon went into a kind of shock. Hutch came over to us and said some kind words, which were a comfort to us, which was good of him, as it was all new to him as well. Slowly our life began to move on, and we were now getting our own share of Moaning Minnies, and just in front of our waterlogged slit trench was a dead Jerry, so me and Mucky did a stupid thing, we went and had a look, to try and adjust ourselves to the death that was all around us now. How we never got picked off by a sniper I will never know. Pure luck.
Major Stewart detailed me and Sam Hurley to recce a lane near our front, to see if there were any Germans in it, so we crawled the hundred yards to the edge of the lane and stuck our heads through the hedge. Blimey! It was absolutely full of German troops, so we turned and ran back to our trenches. It seemed obvious that there were plenty of Germans ahead of us, and they wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. The fighting was getting a little more intense now, and one of our boys, Wally Hammond, went bomb happy, it was a pitiful sight as I had known him since day one, as he was in my call up group.
Lt Hutchinson had to take out a fighting patrol, to try and get a German prisoner, and he picked his trusty team again, Kenny Tremaine, Dave Evan's, Debbage, Mucky, Collings, Sid Mann, Ted Wells, Warr, and me. We left our positions and moved cautiously to the bottom of a rise, just over the river Odon, it was a cornfield really, that rose gently into the darkness. It was marked on the map as hill 112, little did we know that it was to become famous, and that it would be awarded to the regiment as a battle honour.
The big push inland had begun, and it was not a bit like we had thought. The noise was terrific, tanks firing, guns firing, snipers firing, Moaning Minnies coming over, I realised then that I am not a brave man, just very scared. Our mates were going down like nine pins, and all you could do was to stick their rifle in the ground, with their tin hat on top to mark their position, so that the medics could find them in the long corn. The prisoners were coming down in droves, and Kenny made four of them dance by firing a short burst at their feet, but Hutch told him 'Not to', but I think I saw a glint in his eye.
We had nearly made it to the top, when we were ordered to dig in, and Mucky and me did just that - mighty quick, or die. The shells continued to rain down, and how we survived I’ll never know, for after the battle we had 192 killed, wounded or missing. It was a terrible price to pay, so many of my mates just gone, we all felt numb but in time we got used to it, there was no reason why it was one bloke and not another, when it was time to go, well, so be it.
Four days in all we were on Hill 112, with no hot food or drink, as the runners couldn't get up to us because of the snipers in the corn. Sgt Jack Whiting took over the platoon when a shell landed near Sgt Bickham's trench. The blast snapped his rifle but left him unharmed, but he was taken back with shock and we never saw him again. We came down from that hill as battle hardened troops, it was something they could never have put us through at battle school.
We retired to a rest area, but we had only been there a couple of hours when the shells started to land among us, one of which got a lucky hit on the company Bren carrier, which went skywards with a mighty bang, sending ammo all over the place, injuring Len Hawkins, when he failed to get himself out of the way in time. After the bombardment we found Dusty Miller lying down, and we all thought he was having a kip, but he had also copped a bullet, and like so many others disappeared into a casualty clearing station, and we never saw him again.
Our guns were fantastic, they never seemed to stop. I have met in later years some of the Cornwalls, who were also up on 112, and it is one of the main things they remember, the constant express-train-like noise of the guns slinging the shells over our heads. After the rest area had been shelled, we were pulled right out of the line to recover and check our stores, and we were even visited by a mobile bath unit, and it was the first decent bath we had had since the river, and it was a real boost for our moral. By a stroke of good fortune I knew the officer in charge of the unit, as we were members of the same swimming club before the war, so all my boys got new underwear, not the cleaned stuff. The trouble with the cleaned stuff was that they were cleaned with steam, and though it killed all the nasties, like lice and mites, it didn't kill the eggs, so that after you put them on again, the eggs would hatch. After our short but pleasant rest, we were once again on the move, back into the line.
Briquessard, Mont Pincon
Briquessard loomed up ahead of us, but I can't really dwell on this battle, as it was all chaos, for me any way. Lt Spenser was killed by a sniper, which greatly upset his platoon (No 11), but we had our bright moments too. Dave Evans, Kenny Tremaine and I made a recce to find out more about our position and as we approached farm I spotted a big 'Hogs Head' barrel, so me being of the naturally inquisitive type decided to check that there wasn't any German generals hiding in it - and I could hardly believe my luck when it turned out to be full of cider!
We all filled our water bottles, and made our way back to the platoon, who were busy digging themselves in and upon hearing our good news, took it in turns to sneak down and get a good fill of cider. If the Germans had attacked that afternoon, they wouldn't have met much resistance. We achieved our objective in Briquessard, the bridge to the south of the village, without much fuss, and we were relived by our 43rd recce.
We were on our way again, and this time the objective was Mont Pincon, a very high, steep hill. We were held up at the bottom by heavy small arms fire, and we took shelter in a long hedgerow, and we were all lined up looking at this big farmhouse, and the crack and hiss of bullets passing through the hedge told us that this was not a good place to be, then I heard the hiss of a bullet very close by.
Bit of luck - a 'crease', not a hit
I didn't know where it had come from, but it passed so close it cut the straps of my equipment, and as my pack went backwards, I went forwards, I shouted for Mucky and he came like a shot thinking I had been hit. He cut away my battle dress and I was so relieved when he told me I had only a 'crease'. It was a very lucky thing, I have often thought that if that bullet had have been one inch over then I would have been upstairs with the boss, but thankfully it was not my turn. Major Thomas and Jack Whiting were killed in this battle, and it upset us as they were both popular, particularly Jack.
We left our start line in the hedge, and fought our way to up the top, it was a very hard battle as the Germans had a complete view of the battlefield, and could move about easily, covered as he was by thick hedgerow and high banks of earth. It was only when one tank fought its way through the various minefields that we reached the summit, and it was dark and cold by then, and we were still in our shirtsleeves that were so comfortable in the hot dry afternoon.
We knew that was no chance of a hot drink or food reaching us in our exposed positions, so I decided to go over and ask the tank commander nearest us if he could let us have some water for a brew, and he kindly let us have some of the water in the jerry-cans strapped to the side of the tank, but as we drank it became obvious that the cans had also been used for fuel, and we were nearly all sick. So now we were still cold, thirsty and now sick. Me and my bright ideas.
While we were resting after this battle, a patrol was called for, and Bob Brooks asked if he could go along and the company commander, Major Watts, said that it would be all right, and Cyril Bryant lent him some grenades to take along. The patrol passed off uneventfully, and when they returned Bob started to take the grenades out of his pouches, but as he did so one exploded. No one really knows what happened, but he was killed outright and it was another example of how death could come out of the blue to an ordinary bloke at any time. We didn't sleep easy that night.
When we came down from Mont Pincon, General Horrocks congratulated us on a job well done, and I got made up to a full corporal, and I made the extra money over to May, as I had no use for the stuff, although just after my birthday I got 'left out of battle' and given three days leave in Brussels where I had a good drink, a good bath, and generally unwound. The joke however was that when I got back to St Noireau the regiment was in a rest area, so I didn't miss anything at all. It just about summed things up that I got leave when there was sod all happening anyway.
Action near Vernon
Action was in the air again, and we all knew it, a fleet of amphibious DUKWs (Ducks) arrived to take us up to and over the River Seine, and on our journey we were given a fantastic welcome by the French people, who lined up all along the route of most of the towns we passed through. Eventually we pulled up for a rest in a big field, and we were grateful for a rest from the noise and vibration, and the chance to stretch our legs. Being inquisitive young men we soon found some large mounds covered with tarpaulins, and just in case they were German strong points, we lifted the tarpaulins to look underneath, and found to our dismay that we had stumbled upon a food dump, and even worse, it was officers' food - tinned fruit, cream and all the best stuff. In our defence I would like to say that each man only took what he could carry, and I found that kit bags were best for this, and that two were even better.
Eventually we arrived at Vernon, and Major Watts fell off the duck, and had to be transferred back to the Regimental aid post, and Hutch took over (he took over the operation, despite, in his own words 'Having been taking it easy up the back, and as a junior officer, I never dreamed that I would be thrust into command. To be woken up and told that you are about to lead men into a battle, not having listened very hard to the briefing, is never easy!' He did, however, rise to the occasion superbly).
We were given storm boats to cross in, and to be honest I thought they were a bit dodgy, but we got nine of us in it and set off for the far bank behind Hutch. We soon managed to get ourselves stuck and sinking on a mud bank, and as we worked our way off it a bullet hit the side of the boat, a bare two inches from the side off my face, but it wasn't the Germans, Pte Maclean had accidentally discharged his rifle, and nearly sent me upstairs. He was lucky that I never threw him out there and then.
We landed, ten platoon leading, number one section first. We had been under small arms fire, but had taken no casualties, and got successfully over our first water obstacle. We had two guides with us, men of the Resistance, and they led us into the approaches of the town, and I thought that I could hear the sound of men approaching, so I told every one to keep still and quiet - it was very dark as it was almost midnight, and then a shout of 'Hand Hoch'. Bloody Germans!
I dived into a doorway with Gitsham, and God was really with me this time as the door wasn't locked. We had walked, or been led, directly into a German strong point. Bill Goss was hit in the chest by several bullets and died instantly, and all was confusion, and the rest of the platoon didn't know what was happening, or what had happened, and went to ground accordingly. It was small consolation that the Germans were unsure what had happened to us, and expertly rolled grenades into the doorway, until they were sure we had bought it, which, if the door hadn't have opened, we would have, and silence descended. We spent the night in silence, taking turns guarding against the Germans and watching for our own boys, lest they tried to shoot us as Germans. We were trapped and we knew that come daybreak we would not be able to move, and that if we tried in the darkness then we were as liable to be shot by either side, as we had no idea of anyone's positions.
All too soon the sun rose and I risked a peek out of the window, and I could see the German post, and surprise, surprise, seven Jerry's carrying ammo down to it, so I gave them a good long burst with my Sten, not stopping until the mag ran out. The result was that the carrying party was dead and the men in the post had taken cover, and by firing my gun my mates knew we were still there alive and kicking, and they shouted out to me. It turned out that they were foxed up in a square about 75 yards away, and without showing myself I shouted that I was coming back, and if they could try their hardest not to shoot us, we would be grateful. We escaped by putting the bayonets on our rifles and digging holes in the soft plaster walls of the house, and after we had gone through three houses like this we went downstairs into the basement, and found the rest of the boys in there. Was I ever so glad to see anyone - and we found that Mucky had posted us as missing, as he was sure we were dead. He was really glad to see me, and I him.
We had a nice brew up and I showed them how we had dug through the walls, and we soon all got on the job. I looked over and saw that Maclean had made no effort to get up and help, so I shouted at him to do so, but he held up his arms and said, 'I can't, Corp'. He had been shot through the muscles of both arms and they were a real mess. I said something kind to him, and turned to get on with escaping, when we heard friendly voices, and it was the Worcesters come to relieve us, as in the hour or so since I had shot up the Germans, they had withdrawn. As we stood there talking over the battle so far, a sniper shot one of the Worcesters and I dragged him to safety, but his foot was still sticking out of the doorway where I got him to, and that bastard shot him through the foot. I had never really hated the Germans until that point, but there was something so nasty about that act that I decided never to give them the benefit of the doubt after that.
We regrouped later that day, and were told of our next job. We had to go through the 'Foret de Vernon', which was on the road to a place called Gasny. We advanced towards the area, and came upon a small chateau, which after a light battle we occupied, but no sooner were we in and having a look round, when we were counter attacked. We did seem to get our fair share of trouble. We beat them off after a short but furious battle, and the Germans withdrew, peace descended, and the bastards came back for a third try, but this time we saw them off for good. We lost three dead from 11 Platoon.
We pushed on up to Gasny, where the local people took a liking to us, and we got billeted on a women called Josephine. One day all hell broke loose, and Ken came in laughing his head off about something, and turned out that the local resistance had rounded up all the girls who had been German soldiers' girlfriends, and shaved their heads bald. Then they had marched them through the town with the local band playing in front, and the people turned out to boo and jeer them. In all we spent about two weeks there, and it was very pleasant. We passed our time getting our gear back up to scratch, and training the new boys, and all the corporals got made up to sergeants, so I had that extra money made over to May again, because as I said before, I had no use for it, and who knew if it was my turn tomorrow?
Fighting during German retreat
Orders came through, and our short-lived peace was over. We mounted up to travel we knew not where, and had a most pleasant ride through the country, and all the towns we passed through had the usual crowds cheering and waving, pleased to see allies after so many years of occupation. We arrived at a place called Linhout, and we got our briefing for the forthcoming battle, then on to Dissent, where we made company HQ in a farmhouse. Then we went on and on, and we realised the Germans were in full flight, the Dutch people were fantastic - it gave us real sense of what we were fighting for, and they made us feel like heroes and we were certain that the war would soon be over.
We kept on until we arrived at Nijmegan, then we went a little further to Elst, after crossing the Nijmegan bridge. The dead Germans was everywhere, no one would touch the bodies for fear of booby traps, but most had their boots carefully removed by the Dutch, as they were such good quality, and the poor Dutch were deprived of everything by the Germans. We, 10 and 11 Platoon, dug in around a house at Elst, and in front of us was a dyke, and on the other side was another house, which 12 Platoon had.
Well all was fine at that time, because the Germans left us pretty much alone whilst they concentrated on the airborne boys up the road in Arnhem, and when they finished with those poor sods they came for us, and the next four days was constant shelling, and as a result we lost a lot of men killed, including Major Stewart, who had sent us on them bloody courses a lifetime ago, and all this in what was supposed to be a safe area! All those that got killed are buried in Arnhem cemetery with the airborne boys.
The Germans attacked 12 Platoon over the other side and overran them, and they captured one of their boys; 12 regrouped and counter attacked and won the house back, but the Germans continued to lob grenades over at us, and they blew our doors and windows out, and we came under some shell fire, and one shell got a direct hit on the roof where Kenny was, with Warr and Duke. I heard a scream and went running towards them, and when I got there I found that Kenny had been hit by a large piece of shrapnel in the foot, which had taken about half of his foot away, I gathered him up and carried on my shoulder to the basement, and then on to the aid post.
(I never saw Kenny until after the war, when he invited us all down to see him - but he got admitted to hospital just before we got there, as his foot had gone sceptic, so we went to see him in hospital. May sat next to the bed, and as she sat down the chair collapsed. Well, I have never seen anyone laugh so much in all my life, and as I looked around at him and all his family, smiling and happy, it was difficult to remember that this young boy had made the Germans dance by firing at their feet on hill 112! I was glad that they never got him.)
Major Hutchinson had to organise a fighting patrol to find out where the Germans had put themselves, and he was about to detail someone, as no one would volunteer, and as I looked about at all these tired young blokes I thought, sod it let them sleep, and I volunteered. A new lieutenant came with us, Lieutenant Peter Potter, and he didn't know a great deal about fighting. We slipped out of our positions and crept forward, and we reached the edge of some woods. I called a halt. and decided to go forward. I told Lt Potter that if he heard the Germans firing that we would get down, and to open up with the rest of the patrol (ten men). He reckoned that that was too dangerous, bloody cheek, but he couldn't come up with a better plan, so we stuck with mine.
As we got closer we heard English voices, and it turned out to be 12 Platoon doing the same as us, and the foreign voice was their Canadian sergeant, talking French to somebody. But it goes to show, our Lieutenant was all ready to open fire first, and ask the questions later, so he was lucky that he had some experienced blokes with him. As we all pulled back to our lines, we came across a new minefield that had been laid in our absence, that's how close the two sides were to each other. We reported in and got told that the American 82nd Airborne were taking over, and that we would pull out that night.
We withdrew to the River Maas, each man holding the coat of the man in front, as the night was that dark, in front of me was Baby Riley, and in front of him Parsons, and beyond that I couldn't tell. I was the last in a long line, so I was a bit worried when Parsons turned to me and said 'Sergeant, I haven't got hold of the man in front anymore'. Well that was it, we were alone, but by great good fortune we stumbled back into them all, and made our way to the river, and found that we had transport in the form of ducks waiting for us, and we were the last to get over, as we had been the last out of Elst, and the 30 of us (10 Platoon) jumped on to our duck and set off.
It was a wide river, and half way over we started to round and round in circles, I looked at the driver, and he just shrugged, and shouted, 'That's it, the steering's gone', and with that we started to drift off to towards the Scheldt Estuary, which of course was heavily mined, but we were spotted from the far bank and they came to get us. If it wasn't the bloody Germans trying to get us, It was the bloody service corps! We got out on the far bank, and went to the marshalling area for a hot meal, and when we were given cold soup I started to look for someone to complain to, but there was no one there, and there was nothing they could have done anyway. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Towards the Siegfried line
From there we went to Groesbeek and Mook, and all we saw on the way was smashed-up gliders, left over from the Market Garden landings. We stayed in Mook for four or five days, and then we went back to Nijmegan, where we prepared for another attack, but we stayed there for another two days, and then advanced up to the Reichswald Forest, getting ready for the assault on the Seigfried line, and we were a bit worried about it, for we had heard a lot of tales about it and how well it was defended.
The whole area was flooded because the Germans had opened up the dykes, but it didn't stop us advancing onto Kleve, which the 15th Scottish division had cleared, but as we moved into the town we came under heavy fire, as the Germans had let the Scottish through, and now hit us hard, and we lost a lot of men. We eventually got to our objectives, but the town had been absolutely flattened. We went from there onto Bedburg, and we had to attack several buildings, one of which was a lunatic asylum, and the patients were wandering about the grounds, they kept on saluting us, and doing drill, it was funny at the time, but we all felt sorry for them afterwards.
Sgt Major Davies was killed by a shell, which landed outside a house he was in. A piece of shrapnel came through the wall and hit him straight in the side of the chest and got his heart. It was bad because he was leaning on a wall, and had he have had his arms by his side he would only have been wounded. It was a shocking sight, it was appalling what we went through as young men. Pure chance could still get us, no matter how good we thought we were.
We advanced and then that was us, those that were left, through the Reichswald and onto Xanten. It was a hard fight and Mucky got himself wounded, and he got the MM for directing fire onto enemy positions with Ernie Grimes. From there we moved back to the Till-Gennep area for a rest, and we stayed there for about two weeks, and it wasn't a bad little rest.
We were now on the banks of the Rhine itself, and for the crossing they gave us Buffaloes, bloody enormous tanks with the turrets taken out. They were huge, how the hell they were going to float I had no idea, it was about the scariest thing I had ever done in the war, going over that bloody river in a solid lump of iron that looked like it wanted to sink. When we got to the other side we had to jump out of them, and as they were about 6ft off the ground, it was a wonder that we didn't all break our legs.
Taking heavy losses
We broke out of the bridgehead on 29 March, and we fought a running battle with stubborn and fanatical rearguards, slinging mortar and spandau fire at us. We fought our way through Sinderen and advanced to Varsseveld, where we ran into strong opposition, so we waited until nightfall. Then we took the place, without getting into too much trouble. We woke up in the morning after about an hour's sleep, and got put straight onto transport, which took us to Ruurlo. On the way we had a small fight over a Red Cross building, and then we advanced to Lochem.
My section was given a house right on the edge of the town, almost the first house. We had to attack over a cornfield, and as we crossed the barbed wire fence I got caught, and I reckon it saved my life because by the time I got myself free the others were all dead. Killed by sniper fire, I had been in full view but did not get shot. I ran back and got a tank to fire at the trees where I thought the Germans were, then out they came, 30 odd Germans. I went among them, looking for the sniper badges, I don't know what I would have done had I found any.
I then went over to the house we had to capture originally. The tank crew were already there having a cup of tea, and suddenly there was a ping as a bullet came through the window killing the tank driver. It could have been me or Johnny Martin, who was nearby, but it was his turn. The tank crew were very upset as they had been together since Normandy. We put the body on the tank, and went back to company headquarters, and stayed there for a couple of hours and had a hot meal and a drink.
It was 1 April, and four years to the day since my wife brought my call-up papers to me in bed in London. Then I was secure in a nice house, young son and a caring wife. Now they had been bombed out and lost everything, and I was a long way from home, in a ruined farmhouse with the five bodies of my friends being taken away for burial, it was a brutal reality.
Last days of war
By the next day the town had been taken and we were on the way to Haarlo, where we rested for a few days, then on to Hengelo for four days. While we were there we found the headquarters of the local SS headman. We smashed every single thing in that house, not one thing of any use or value remained. I remember having a lot of fun in there. We also found an egg packing plant and we put out the word for everyone to come and help themselves. We had them, boiled, scrambled, even raw, and every which way. We all had wind for a few days, which gave us all a laugh. We then moved on to Oldenzaal as reserves. I don't remember much at this time as I was stilled dazed by the events at Lochem.
We moved on through the countryside, but we no longer had contact with the Germans, and when ever we did catch them it seemed that someone else got the job of dealing with them, so apart from some shelling, and the odd bit of sniping, life had become fairly quiet, and we eventually got to Bremen. The battle for Bremen wasn't particularly hard for us, and we took no casualties. From there we were supposed to take Bremerhaven, but Monty said stand down, and that was the end of the war, it all felt a bit strange.
When we heard for sure that it was over, Tommy Handley said to me 'Come on Dick, lets have a service', but I said 'No mate, you take one if you want, but I'm going for a walk.' And I took myself off to be alone. There were only four boys left who had started out anyway, and I wanted to remember the mates I had lost in my own time. We were posted back to Celle and life was good, it was very relaxing, and all we had to do was guard duty, keeping the Germans safe from the Poles, but that's another story.
Richard Henry William Brew
2 August 1915 - 13 August 1997
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