- Contributed by
- Stockport Libraries
- People in story:
- Stan Rowley
- Location of story:
- Ashton, Manchester; King's Clere; Armentieres, France; Ypres, Belgium; Dunkirk, France; Alderhay Children's Hospital; Roedean Girls' School; Shoreham-on-Sea, Angmering-on-Sea, Parkstone, Folkestone
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 July 2004
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Daniel Marshall a volunteer for Stockport Libraries on behalf of Stan Rowley and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
1st/9th Manchester Regiment
Chamberlain conscripted the army for the first time in history. On 19th June I went for a medical - six doctors examining you stripped naked, then you passed – A1. I went to Ashton Barracks for the Manchester Regiment 8am-5pm training and an hour for lunch. At the army medical I was 2lb under weight. At the 10.15am break I had a one and a half-inch piece of bread in a sandwich and had to sweep the two halves up and down a tray of bacon fat and eat it, plus cocoa. We did drill training and had three good meals a day. At the end of the week I’d lost 2lb in weight. We’d all lost weight, so they didn’t bother any more, they also brought some new scales, because they thought they were wrong. When war broke out, we went to the gym and at 11am he said “ Well you’re soldiers and you’ll get 6d a day “. This was because we were military men. We only got 3/3d a week as 3d was stopped for barrack damage.
The battalion was brought up to about 1000 people. We marched through the streets with the bands in Ashton with full kit on. The bands played “Colonel Bogey” and “Blaze Away”. The mills were closed, so the women could line the streets. The women broke ranks and were swinging round the lads. I had hugs from women I’d never seen. We couldn’t get on the train because of the women on the platform. The police were brought in to get order. We were two hours late leaving. We went to Rockall in Northumberland, not France, as people thought. We could go home for leave at Christmas if we could pay the fare. I was in the first militia that was called up.
“Burtons” measured us for a walking out dress, flannels, black beret, and khaki collar. Khaki looked really smart. We were allowed out on the Saturday – we had a pass. We were at Ashton-under-Lyne's fair amd the Military Police came round checking that we all had army boots on. Those with civvie shoes (there were about 30 of them) were marched back to barracks and on Monday morning they were put on a charge and the C.O. gave them 5 days confined to barracks Monday - Friday. They’d hidden their shoes behind a wall and put on their civvie shoes!
We went south to King’s Clere and it was very cold. Ice about five inches in diameter across the phone lines. Three lads were in a stable block; they made a fire in an oil drum with holes in and pinched the coal from the cookhouse. They took the fire into the stable, blocked the doors and lit it to keep warm. In the morning they were dead with the coal fumes. There was a lad there burning a fire by the water tap outside – which was his job.
We went from Newbury to Dover in train and sailed to Calais. We got the French train just with padded wooden benches. It took us half a day to do fifty miles and we arrived at Armentieres. We had special ammunition, which had double the range of the normal ammunition (4800 yds). The Germans evacuated their civilians to the Albert Canal and pushed them over the bridge, so we had to cease fire and withdraw.
On the way back we were bombed by three "stukkers" (single engine dive-bombers). It blew the ammunition up on my ammo pack, which consisted of ten anti-tank missiles. My shoulder was wounded and the mirror (we were all issued with) probably stopped it the piece of bomb going into my body. I didn’t know what day it was. I just carried on even though I was partially injured.
We moved on to Ypres and a sniper was firing from a wood, so I went to fire into the woods. I was sliding down in a ditch to fire when BANG! My mate said “Look at your leg”, it was pouring with blood. I was carried to the field ambulance. He said “You’re lucky, we’re moving out now” and I sat on the floor of the ambulance. The field ambulance (from Stepford Road Manchester)was full of the wounded (really bad wounded). It took us fifty miles to Dunkirk. It took all night (about twelve hours). We went straight to the beach by a wall (on the beach were the wounded). This Major (from Mancheser)kept giving us hot sweet tea. Not many bombers got through to shoot at us – the R.A.F. did a wonderful job. A bomber that did get through killed my mates that I went to school with and went to the pictures with. It was a pleasure steamer that they were on, I think it was the "Gracie Fields", there were a lot from Manchester on the ship that was bombed.
On the third night we were to be taken to the mole (a temporary wooden structure that stretches out to sea from which you can board a boat). They were trying to get a hospital ship in. They took us on the mole (loads of wounded)and four of us were lying inside a wall of cotton bales for protection from the shelling. We looked round the corner of the cotton to see little dots of ships. The white one was the hospital ship (the "Newhaven")being escorted by about 10 destroyers. Jerrys were flying over causing pandemonium! We could see the ship coming in and then when it got to the mole it turned around and moved away. We thought it was going because of the shelling. There was an uproar of men shouting. Anyway he backed up (the boat used to be a ferry) and he moved back to the mole very quickly. He said “I’m stopping ten minutes, I don’t want a shell on this boat.” Boards were put down and people walked onto the boat. I crawled onto the boat, I couldn’t walk. I got on my backside and slid down about a dozen stairs onto the boat. At the bottom of the stairs two blokes were stacking you to clear the entrance to the boat.
So stretchers were put on board and two hundred wounded were taken back. Stretchers were put on the handles of other stretchers to take up less space. We arrived at Newhaven. We went on a train to Hendon, and we got sandwiches and a cup of tea from a battalion of Guards and W.V.S. at Hendon. Civilians arrived at the station with gifts of food and cigarettes – I could have opened a shop with cigarettes and I didn’t smoke. They delayed us by two hours because they could not get the civilians off the train.
I went to Southport Infirmary for a week and they sorted us all out according to our injuries and then I went to Alderhay Children’s Hospital. It took three hours from Southport to Liverpool on buses. I had a blanket underneath me - it was agony. At the hospital they assessed us and I had a hole in my bone. My sinews were cut so my foot would not move. I was like this for ten weeks and I had to go to physiotherapy twice a day. The Serjeant Major of the medics got twenty of us at the bottom of the stairs. When we got to the top of the stairs, the Serjeant Major shouted "Congratulations you men, you're going to have a baby!" Well you could imagine the uproar! We all got a number and went in to collect the baby - mine was number twelve. The baby was six weeks old, and we had to get the babies when the siren went. I often wondered what happened to her, she was as good as gold. I was in hospital blues and everything was free, people were really good there. I had so many cigarettes. We never had to parade and we could go out every evening. After three months in hospital I was discharged and went back to Ashton Barracks when I did nothing for another month.
2nd/9th Battalion Regiment
I was transferred to Whitley Bay, a holding battalion, with the machine gun regiment. From there I went to Pontypool to Brighton to Roedean the girls' school, it was beautiful there. There was a curfew at 9pm and if you were challenged and you didn’t stop you would be shot. Three men and a woman were shot. It was 10pm – well out of curfew hours - very strict.
Information from the army about V.D. frightened me to death. I was twenty-two before I even kissed a girl! If you caught V.D., you did not get any pay at all or any allowances to send home to your family. A couple of my mates caught it.
We manned a pillbox at Shoreham-on-Sea. It had barbed wire and mines around it. The markers for a safe path were very small. Three officers were inspecting the pillbox and they totally disregarded the orders to stop. One had a cane and was poking the foot soldier and saying “We’ll be alright”. He poked a marker and it blew up - four killed.
At Angmering-on-Sea, where the film stars lived, was one of the best bits. My mate could have taken out a lovely girl, she was gorgeous, all over him! She was mad on him, bought him a watch on a gold chain and a ring, but he wouldn't accept the ring because he was going out with a girl from Manchester. The people at Angmering ran a free canteen, we had loads of cakes and we were well looked after. We were digging out pillboxes for the machine guns and put piles of ammunition buried under six inches. We dug a total of twenty pits. You could see the sea from the hillside and shoot over the houses.
We went to Lancing near Worthing digging the holes, we had Christmas there and then to Parkstone in Dorset. At Parkstone my mate and I used to go to the pictures when we were off duty on a Saturday afternoon. We used to walk to Bournemouth and we'd just got past the West Station and I said to my mate "I don't like the sound of that plane". The plane started screeching and so we got down in the gutter. The plane started firing at the R.A.F. blokes in the park that was facing the pier - 11 killed. We didn't go into Bournemouth that night, we just walked back. Two weeks later, we got to Lansdown Road where Bobby's store is and I said to my mate "Here we are again and can you hear it?" The German plane dropped two bombs that landed near the Odeon cinema and all the windows and emergency doors were blown in, there were no films for a few days, luckily no-one was hurt.
We had been given new anti-tank guns and to keep them secret they were put in the Hants and Dorset Bus garages. The buses had to go to Poole Park. Two weeks later the German planes came over and dropped incendiary bombs on the buses and burnt out 45 double-deckers. I was on guard next morning and the queues for the buses were enormous. I knew that there weren't any buses and when I told them they just didn't believe me. When they'd been waiting a while they did and I told them to walk to work, they'd be there for lunchtime!
While I was guarding our new guns stored at the bus garages, my mate says "See that Corporal there, she keeps looking at you! Why don't you ask her out?" I was a bit shy, I'd never aaked a girl out before, so I said to her "Would you like to go to the pictures with me tomorrow night? I've never been out with a Corporal from the A.T.S." (I was a common Private!) She said "I don't know!" I said "I'll be here tomorrow at 6 o'clock ". Anyway she turned up, it was sone daft horror film, was it "Zombie?" She was home on special leave because her mother was ill. I got engaged to her after three months and I married her in November 1942. Our daughter Jean was born in January 1944.
When I was stationed at Llannidloes in 1943 our 2 pound anti-tank guns were changed to 6 pounders. We left Llannidloes to go to Glaasgow to sail to the Middle East - or so rumour had it. But we weren't needed and we only got as far as Carlisle. Then we made our way down with two or three stops en route to Leigh-on-Sea and were billeted in the only flats there. I went on a two month mechanics course in Folkestone and while we were there we were shelled from the Calais area. We got one shell about 100yds from where we were billeted. It got two houses and everone got killed in them. over the road from us there was a barrracks and they had a railway gun and it was kept in a little siding. They used to bring it out, put it on the bend of the track and shoot one or two shells towards Calais, then they'd get return fire! The gun used to move about 100yds up the track when they fired it! When they were doing counter work on it, the double siren went and it meant that they were shelling, Folkestone was a target. The double siren meant you had to return to barracks, everywhere was clsoed down and often you lost your money at the pictures, you had to get to the shelters. From Folkestone I went to Eastbourne and then just outside Haywards Heath.
One night there was a terrible roar over the camp - it wasn't a plane. We were told to get up, it was 3 o'clock in the morning. They put us on guard around this field, one of us every 10 yds, and we were given special instructions to let no-one into the field. It was dark we couldn't see what it was, it looked like a plane but we found out it was the first flying bomb. A lot of men came up in civvies clothes, they were measuring and putting stickers on bits. We couldn't let the journalists near and one bloke kicked the camera out of his hand. They took bits away on trucks all covered up. I was camp staffing - kitting out the troops with two 24 hour packs of food to take over to France.
Two weeks later we were on our way to Southampton and we went over in late June. They put us on a boat, it was about forty years old, a rusty old job going about two knots per hour, it took us twelve hours to get across. They wouldn't let us into the Mulberry Harbour because of the rust, so the Yanks brought up the tank landing craft and there were two scrambling nets on each side of the boat. The Captain of the tank landing craft was sat on an easy chair with a footstool with a cigar bigger than Churchill's. He shouted to us with the loud hailer "You Limeys do as you're told, or you're dead! When you get onto the scrambling net have your eyes level where there is a white line." (There was a swell of about 100 feet) "When I say jump you step backwards into my boat! If you are too slow in jumping, stay where you ae becasue you'll end up in the water and drown with 100 pound pack on your back! We marched along the mole about a quarter of a mile to the beach and then trucks transported us to our dispersal point.
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