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15 October 2014
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Ronald Levett
User ID: U232935

Alfriston, my life in a Sussex Village Ó R.A.Levett

Chapter One

This is the story of my life, starting with my earliest recollections in the early thirties. I was born in 1926, the year of the General Strike (nothing to do with me). My mother Emily was the oldest daughter of my grandparents, Fred and Polly Brownell. My father was the second son of the Levett family. I can’t remember any details about my paternal grandparents, but I have a family tree showing the record of the Levett family having lived in Alfriston since 1613, with the male line having lived in or near Alfriston ever since. Alfriston is a medium size village lying at the head of the Cuck-mere valley. I was born in a small cottage, which is now a restaurant called “Moonrak-ers”.
My father was working at the brickyard at Berwick Station. Bricks at this time were only made during the summer months because of the problem of drying the bricks during the winter this meant that most of the men were laid off for the winter. However, a number were kept on digging clay and piling it up to “weather”, ready for the next summer’s brickmaking. Luckily, my father was one of them.
While I was still very young, my father bought a piece of land opposite the end of The Furlongs on which to build. He then purchased a kit of parts to build a bunga-low. Anyone who has assembled an MFI cabinet can probably imagine what it was like erecting this kit. Fortunately my grandfather on my mother’s side was in the building trade, and he supplied a lot of the know-how.
My grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Brownell, lived at No.9 The Furlongs, which was only about one hundred yards from my parents’ bungalow. Our home was named Mile End. Gran and granddad had a large family, my mother being the oldest daughter, followed by four more sisters, named Connie, Dinah, Florence and Kate. There were also four sons. Albert, who was always known as Bert, Arthur, Bill and Pat. Pat was actually born ten days after me, so I was older than my uncle, which made me feel very superior. Since my Aunt Kate was only six years older than I, she was more like an older sister, and we spent a lot of time playing together.
My grandmother suffered from ill health, and since a lot of the older children had already left home, my parents and I moved into No.9, so that my mother could help her mother. My sister Elizabeth, who was always known as Betty, was born, and Kate found that she had a job as nursemaid. In the early thirties my. Mother wanted to run a guesthouse, so the family looked around and found a Georgian house called Brook Furlong, which had four double bedrooms on the first floor and two large attics in the roof space. On the ground floor, there were two large rooms at the front of the house, with a very large room which, when we moved in was the kitchen. There was a black “Range” cooker in the centre of the outside wall. There was another room at the rear of the house, which was the back way into the house, this had a large brick copper in one corner and was probably used as a washhouse. There were also two large cellars under the house, with stairs leading down from the “wash- house.”
Across the yard from the back door, was a barn large enough to hold a trap, as a small carriage was known. The house was surrounded by a garden of about one eighth of an acre, and after a lot of work by the whole family the front and the side of the house had four large lawns. At the back of the house, my grandfather grew a full range of vegetables, for both the family’s and guest’s meals
At the front of the house there was an old millstone forming the front step. Just in front of this was a very large holly tree. Later on I heard that the local builder had offered twenty pounds for the tree and he would cut it and carry it away. In those days this was quite a large sum, when average wages were around two pounds per week.
There was a great deal of work to be done on the house, since it had been un-occupied for many years. All the family helped with the restoration, sometimes after they had finished their normal job, in the evening. My uncle Bert, who was a bit of a comedian, decided to explore the cellar for the first time. When he emerged from the cobwebs he was carrying a large earthenware demijohn, which he proceeded to un-cork. He pretended to drink some, and then collapsed on the floor, groaning. It was a few minutes before it was realised that he was fooling about.
Whenever my mother thought of a new idea, all she had to do was just mention it and Freddie, as granddad was always known, was ready to start work immediately. When she said that she thought that French doors would be convenient in what was the old kitchen and was soon to become the new dining room, he picked up his hammer and chisel and said, ”Where would you like it, my gal?”
A lot of the ceilings had to be repaired. A pump for water, which was supplied by a well had to be installed. The whole of the inside and outside of the house had to be re-decorated. Mum decided to have three double guest rooms, and they all had their own colour schemes. I remember a blue and a green room but I have forgotten the third. (Kate now tells me it was pink)
There were no flush toilets in the village at that time. We had a small outhouse, with doors on either side, with two earth closets, probably designed for the master of the house and family and for the servants, respectively. A man called Mr.Bristow had the job of emptying the village’s earth closets twice a week, using a tank on wheels, pulled by a horse called “Captain”, who, when he was not working, spent his days in the field opposite Alfriston Motors garage. ”Billie Bristow” was reputed to grow the best vegetables in the village.
My grandfather had to give up work in the mid Thirties because of severe ar-thritis in his hip joints but he found part-time work at The George Inn, as a washer-up in their restaurant, both mid-day and evenings. He also carried on working in the gar-den and doing Mum’s alterations.
Around this time first main water and then electricity were installed in the vil-lage. Houses were wired and paid for by a sort of HP system, where people paid so much a quarter for the installation. Electricity cost 6d per unit for lighting, and 1d per unit for power. The use of standard lamps was understandably very popular. Up to this time my mother had done all the cooking for both guests and family on a pair of Pri-mus stoves and a “Beatrice” oven, but we now acquired an electric cooker.
The name I can’t remember but I know it was grey, had two solid rings and a grill plate, with an oven beneath.
Kate was by now a teen-ager (in those days, of course she was not known as one), and was acting as waitress, as well as looking after my sister Betty. She had no pay for this; I suppose it was a question of all the family pulling together
Since we now had electricity and water, it was soon decided to make a bath-room out of the small room directly opposite the top of the stairs. Kate was a bit put out by this because up until this time, it had been her bedroom. We now had a bath, a washbasin but still no inside toilet. Because we were now taking in paying guests, an “Elsan” chemical toilet was placed in the bathroom (But only for the use of guests). Freddie knocked out the old “Range” cooker and built a brick fireplace in place of it. He also removed the worn brick floor and laid quarry tiles, which were then highly polished.
In my early years the Cuckmere river had a habit of producing very heavy flooding soon after Christmas and at times these floodwaters have been known to freeze over. It was probably very dangerous but as boys we used to make slides on the ice. I believe that the high path beside the road opposite the new car park was built to allow pedestrians to reach the village when it was otherwise cut off by the high water. When at last, it was decided to carry out remedial work on the river; I made my first acquaintance with the Ruston Bucyrus RB10 excavator. I believe there were three of these machines in total, using them in their dragline mode. They extracted mud from the riverbed and piled it up to form floodbanks on both sides of the river. New bridges had to be built both at Longbridge to carry the road to Litlington, and behind the church at Alfriston. The new floodbanks were built from the lock gates near Milton Street, all the way to the bridge at Litlington. My father secured a job driving, a bull-dozer building up the floodbanks, for the duration of the scheme. My friends and I had a wonderful time playing around the equipment when it was not in use.
Alfriston was the largest village in the area so it was natural for people from outlying smaller villages and hamlets to do their shopping in Alfriston. At this time their were two grocers’ shops, two butchers, a chemists, which also boasted a lending library (2d per book per week,) a filling station, two sweet shops, one of which was also a greengrocers and three public houses. The larger of the grocers’ shops, owned by Len Wilde, was the nearest we had to a supermarket. It was also the Post Office, sold paraffin from a large tank at the rear of the shop (bring your own can,) sold hab-erdashery from the little shop across the alleyway (now known as Sally’s) and had a bakery built at the rear where Bob Norman baked fresh bread every morning. In West Street was a yard where a lorry was kept. This was also owned by Len Wilde and was used as a coal yard. A chap called “Mousey” Reed drove the lorry down to Berwick Station about twice a week and filled and weighed sacks of coal straight from the rail-way wagon in which the coal had been delivered. The shop was also the newsagent and every morning, deliveries of groceries, bread and newspapers were sent out to cus-tomers in Litlington, Berwick, Selmeston, Arlington and Frog Firle.
Once a year, during the early thirties a travelling Evangelist troupe arrived in Alfriston, and set up a large marquee in the field just up the road from Brook Furlong. We found that every time we attended, we were presented with a tub of homemade ice cream. Naturally, we went to most of their services. The field in which it was held was the property of Mr.Morphew, who was the owner of White Lodge, a local philanthro-pist.
Later on, when I was in my early teens, he supplied a large room in one of his barns, complete with a full size billiard table, for use as a youth club. Later on still, this barn became the local fire station for the duration of the war.
The Southdown Bus service provided our means of communication, with buses around every hour to Eastbourne, Lewes and Seaford. However, there was no bus to Berwick Station, because buses and trains were in competition. Our local carrier, a likeable chap called Fred Unstead, who had lost a leg in the Great War, collected goods, which were delivered to the station. He drove a large Austin lorry, with a can-vas top and a drop tailgate. Fred could swing himself up into the back of the lorry with remarkable agility. He provided an invaluable service to the community, delivering and collecting parcels to and from all the local towns. If someone wanted a new pair of boots, for instance, Fred would collect a number of pairs from a local shoe shop, take them to the customer, collect the money and return the cash and the remainder of the boots to the shop.
I joined the Wolf Cubs, as they were called before they became Cub Scouts. The Scout hut was a wooden building with a corrugated iron roof, situated behind the house in Weavers Lane called Seven Croft. The Scoutmaster’s name was Walter Parker. His wife was the Arkala, or leader, of the Cubs. The floor of the hut was so dusty that before we swept the floor, we had to sprinkle water.
One year, soon after I joined the Scouts, we went for a week’s camp in Plashett Park, which is near Barcombe Mills. To get there, all our camping gear, including a trek cart which could be taken to pieces, were loaded on Fred’s lorry and off we went. He dropped us on the road at the nearest point to our camping site, we re-assembled the trek-cart and off we went. It was the first time many of us had slept under canvas. For some, it was the first time away from home. I think the main problem for the scoutmaster was to stop people talking, and get to sleep. Among the things we had to do in camp, was to pass our cooking test, in order to get the badge to sew on our shirt-sleeve. We had to cook steak and chips, over an open wood fire. Keeping the fire going and avoiding burning the food was quite a challenge for a ten-year old. Passing the test was easy though. All you had to do was to eat the meal. There were the usual acci-dents, rain in the tent; equipment going missing and I chopped the tip off the index finger of my left hand. I was holding a piece of wood and attempting to cut it for fire-wood with a small axe in my right hand. I still have the scar.
My mother’s sister Florrie was married to a London bus driver called Arthur Terry and they lived in Clapham Junction in South London. They had a son called Stanley, who was 2 years younger than I. One day Florrie arrived on our doorstep with Stanley and announced that she had left Arthur. We were told that she had a “Fancy Man”. I didn’t know exactly what this was but it sounded quite exciting. We found out that he was the man next door, was a bus inspector, who had a wife and children. He ran a small car, which I believe was a Standard 8. We were very impressed. Pat and I were pleased to have Stan living with us because we now had someone extra to play with.
When we were out one day we found a young jackdaw that had probably fallen from its nest. We carried it home and from then on we reared the young bird until it could fly. It found life so congenial with us that it decided to stay. We had about a dozen pigeons living in the loft above the barn opposite the back door.
Jack, as the jackdaw was now known, took over the whole of the top section of the loft for himself. The pigeons let him get away with it! One day we were just finish-ing dinner. Freddie had just one piece of meat left on his plate, when there was a flut-ter of wings. Jack swooped down, across the table, took the meat and was gone out of the back door.
This saga came to end when Jack was feasting on the fruit in the garden of the house opposite. The owner came out of the house and Jack fell victim to a blast from a 12-bore shotgun. Aunt Florrie stormed across to the householder and let him have a torrent of abuse. We were very upset but, looking back, I don’t suppose the chap could be blamed.
My mother was expecting a large party of cyclists on a Saturday afternoon, when she discovered that the cream for tea had arrived at Berwick Station but had not been delivered. I then had the job of riding my bicycle down to the station and back with a quart of cream, which is no mean feat, because of the weight.
Once a year a travelling fair came to the village. It was probably later in the year because it got dark about 8 o’clock and it was still quite warm. They set up the rides and sideshows on the Tye. The major ride was a steam roundabout. I remember that every revolution as you came round past the engine you could feel the heat from the boiler and smell the smoke. The steam organ was on the other side of the round-about, playing mostly semi-classical music. Every time I hear Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy nowadays I can smell the smoke of the fair engine. The music was controlled by punched card. Nowadays we would call it fan-folded, like computer paper. Some of the equipment was pulled, when on the move, by a magnificent showman’s traction engine. This had large red wheels and a canopy supported by highly polished twisted brass rods. This had the name of the fair along the side. On the front of the machine was a large generator, run by a belt from the flywheel. This supplied current for the lights on the engine. It also supplied current for the remainder of the fairground and the other rides. There were also numerous sideshows such as roll-a-penny, darts and a rifle range that used very inaccurate air rifles. There was a sign on the boat-swings that said “No Standing up in the Swings.” Who stood up in the swings? Why Kate did of course. And who fell out of the swings? Why Kate did of course. If I remember cor-rectly, she put her teeth through her lip, and looked a sorry sight. I believe an ambu-lance was called and she was carried off to Princess Alice Hospital. However she was soon back to her normal self and the incident forgotten. I don’t think she has ever been in the boat-swings since.
Another great yearly event, or at least as far as we children were concerned, was Bonfire Night. It all started fairly quietly in the late summer, probably with Com-mittee meetings between local tradesmen and other interested parties. The first event was a Fancy Dress Ball held in the hall behind the Star Inn, roughly in the position that the new staff quarters now occupy. I think this was held just before the Celebrations.
My father and Freddie acquired cowboy costumes and they each borrowed a .45 revolver from Bert Carter (They would all probably get six months for possessing firearms these days.) The other costume I remember well was a man dressed as a But-terfly. His costume was stitched with thousands of sequins. When he lifted his arms he was quite spectacular.
The guy or guys were built in the barn at home, which is why we knew so much about it. They were completely stuffed with fireworks of all kinds. The torches for the processions were made in what was then Len Wilde’s coal yard. They consisted of a stout piece of wood, at the end of which a bundle of cotton was secured with steel wire. The torches were left to soak overnight in a barrel of paraffin, in order to com-pletely impregnate them and give a longer burning time
The bonfires were built in various places. The one I remember best was in the field above White Court. It was a huge affair some thirty feet high, and when the guy was placed on top it really did set it off. We village lads were given the job of provid-ing illumination for the bandsmen of the Silver Band, which led each procession. There were about 4 or 5 processions in all. They all started in the village square, fan-ning out to cover most areas of the village. Every year, one of the Lewes Bonfire So-cieties sent a contingent to help in the festivities. They were all dressed as Red Indians complete with their full feather headdresses. We all thought they looked magnificent. One of the processions went to Lullington and on the way over Longbridge they dropped a flaming tar barrel into the Cuckmere. The grand finale to the celebrations was usually a large set piece firework display with things like a crown and wording such as “God Save the King”, all picked out in fire.
On the A27 between Shermans Bridge and the turn-off to Milton Street, on the opposite side of the road is a large field. Between the wars, this was the home of East-bourne Flying Club. At the top end of the field there was a brickbuilt, white painted Control Tower and one, or possibly two wooden hangers. As far as I remember, their aircraft consisted of Avro 504s with the skid between the wheels, left over from WW1, and De Havilland DH8, the forerunner of the Tiger Moth. During the summer in the thirties an air display was held, open to the public. They would have a “Cops & Rob-bers” enactment, with the robbers getting away in an old car, until they were bombed with flour bags from one of the old biplanes and forced to give up.
I saw Clem Sohn the Birdman, who would jump from an aircraft at about 6000ft, open his silver wings and float down until he was forced to open his parachute-one of the old circular type, then land in the field. I heard that he was later killed in an accident. I also saw the tiny aircraft known as the “Flying Flea,” or “Poue de Ciel” (It was of French origin). At least one of these minute aeroplanes, whose wingspan could not have been more than ten feet, is still flying.
On another occasion a Cierva Autogiro put in an appearance. This machine looks like a helicopter but the rotor is not driven, all the motive power being supplied by a large front mounted radial engine. The aircraft had to fly forward fast enough for the rotor to rotate, then it took off. It could, however, descend and land with no for-ward run.
Just before the war, on air display day, two German low wing monoplanes with retractable undercarriages arrived. One had a large radial engine, the other an inverted V12 liquid cooled type. I actually looked into the front of the engine and counted the cylinders.
An air race was held and the two German aircraft were handicapped until the biplanes had reached the turning point at Firle Beacon and were on their way back. The monoplanes took off, pulled their wheels up and were round the course and back on the ground before the others.
My most outstanding memory however, of an air display day, was a sudden very hard shower of rain, when Kate, Stanley and I took shelter under the voluminous cape of the Selmeston policeman, PC Finley. Very welcome it was, too.
My mother took in two children, the daughters of a man whose wife had died. Their names were Jean and Barbara Terry. Their father worked at a large firm of auc-tioneers in Eastbourne. Whenever a bargain caught his eye he quickly snapped it up and brought it home. One evening he came in with a large hamper of fancy dress clothes. We had a great time with them, dressing up as policemen, pirates and soldiers. On another occasion he arrived with a huge box of Meccano parts that must have cost a great deal of money. We built all manner of equipment with it.
Every year the gorse bushes on the hill were burnt off. This method helped to prevent it from spreading. What was left was a lot of semi-burnt wood. The villagers used to collect this wood for use at home. This was known as “strunking,” On fine Sundays in summer the whole family used to hold a picnic in the chalk pit. Everything needed had to be carried up the hill. We used to collect the “strunks,” build a fire and boil a kettle for tea. Sandwiches and cake were handed out and all had a very enjoy-able time.
In 1937 I sat and passed the Scholarship Exam (now known as the Eleven-plus). I went for an interview with Mr. Bradshaw, the Headmaster and was accepted. Mum and I went to Brighton, to Horne Bros shop by the clock tower. School uniform required school cap in two shades of blue, blazer also blue with light blue piping, grey flannel shorts, school tie, grey socks with blue tops, a long two colour blue scarf. If I remember correctly, my sister wore the latter into her teens. I also required a PT vest, shorts and shoes and football boots. This collection must have been quite a struggle for my mother to afford.
To get to school, which was Lewes County School for Boys, I had to catch a double decker bus. This was one of a pair, which had been garaged overnight in a spe-cially built garage near the Blacksmith’s shop. Both buses left the village at eight in the morning, one to go to Lewes and on to Brighton, the other to Eastbourne. At Ber-wick, the Eastbourne bus went straight on, but the other stood still for ten minutes. I believe this was something to do with fitting in with the timetable at Lewes. It suited me fine because I could finish my homework in that break. In Lewes we had to walk from the bus stop in the High Street, down Station Street to the station, where we met the stream of pupils emerging that had arrived by rail. Then we all carried on down Mountfield Road (whose old name of Jug Lane, the headmaster preferred), to the school. I didn’t really enjoy school; being usually in the last third as far as marks were concerned. I hated all sports with the possible exception of swimming. A particular hate was cross-country running. This took place in the fields at the back of the school, which were criss-crossed with ditches, all of which were filled with black filthy water. I tried to avoid this sport as much as possible. Cricket-well I am colour blind so I couldn’t see the ball. I took Latin for the first year but then was judged as not very good at languages, so I took woodwork from this time.
Rumours of war started circulating soon after my first year at Lewes but they died down a little when Chamberlain came back from Munich waving a piece of pa-per. All the same plans for evacuation were made, gas masks were distributed, and Na-tional Identity Cards were issued. A year later, things came to a head, and war was de-clared on a Sunday morning.
The air raid siren sounded and Stanley came downstairs wearing his gasmask A number of evacuees had arrived from London, mostly from the East End. At home we had four. A brother and sister about my own age arrived named George and Lily, plus another brother and sister a few years younger called Billy and Ivy.
The first night my mother gave the younger pair a bath, which was something new for them (“Do we have to take all our clothes off?”) After they were put to bed my mother went up to check that they were all right and at first, couldn’t find them. She soon discovered them under the bed. They explained that at home, mum and dad slept in the bed and they slept under it. They were soon told that in Sussex we didn’t do that sort of thing.
We also found that their diet had also been different from ours. They seem to have eaten a lot of bread and jam and not much in the way of green vegetables. Conse-quently they all four of them were rather unhealthy. The slightest scratch which we would not have noticed caused them to fester immediately.
Air Raid Shelters were built at school, using large diameter pipes, about six feet in diameter. These were placed end to end to form a long tunnel about sixty feet long. Brick built ends were installed, together with wooden seats. The whole thing was covered with soil about a foot thick.
A school from London was evacuated to Lewes, Tooting Bec High School. Our school now attended on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tooting Bec were allocated Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I can’t remember what we did on our off days but I imagine we must have been given homework for these periods.
Mum was doing part time work at the local dairy, which belonged to a Mr. Humphrey. I also worked there when I had the time, washing bottles in a large open vat, with very hot water containing sterilising powder. This powder was very hard on the hands. After rinsing, the bottles were left to drain. The milk arrived in ten-gallon churns, collected from Berwick Station by Mr.Humphrey in his van. We then had the job of filling all the different size bottles. There were one-third pint, about thirty of them, for the school milk, then one pint and one quart bottles for the customers in the village. I delivered a lot of them on a bicycle, some of them to places that the van could not reach. A lot of the roads in the village were still dirt tracks at this time.
We soon had troops stationed in Alfriston and my mother, who by this time had lost all her normal trade as a small hotel, decided to open the dining room to them and serve eggs and chips. She did a roaring trade. When rationing started, my mother was given a catering establishment book of ration forms. She filled in the first page for 28lbs of lard, presented it at Mr.Wilde’s shop, who duly filled her order
The following week the remainder of the paperwork arrived. The amount was supposed to be based on the number of meals supplied. When this was worked out my mother’s allowance of lard should have been 14 ounces! By then of course, all the lard had been used. Mum was serving some 60-70 meals every evening.
It was about this time that I realised that I couldn’t read the blackboard from the back of the class. I complained to everyone who would listen, but no one believed me. The doctor sent me to an eye specialist who put drops in my eyes that enlarged the pupils so that he could examine me.
He said there was nothing wrong. However, eventually I was taken to a opti-cian. When he dropped the lens into the test frame I suddenly saw what everyone else had always seen-a clear sharp image. I have worn glasses ever since.
At this early stage of the war, we had Royal Engineers stationed in the village. They had a unique method of fishing in the river. They would take a block of guncot-ton, fit the primer and detonator, connect up to a length of wire and an electric firing mechanism. They had a boat in the river with a couple of men in it. The men on the bank would then throw the explosive into the river and just as it hit the water, they fired the charge. This stunned the fish in quite a large circle and they floated to the sur-face. The boat crew had to collect the fish before they regained consciousness.
A First Aid Party was formed as part of the Air Raid Precautions. Both Stanley and I joined as messenger boys and were issued with an armband and a steel helmet, blue with ARP in white letters on the front. We were quite proud of our “uniform”. The leader of the party was my great uncle, Mr.Walter Comfort and the remainder of the party consisted of Mrs.Walter Comfort, Miss. Buckland, who later became Mrs. Harry Marchant and was the telephonist, plus the chauffeur/gardener at Deans Place. We did our night duties in the loft over the garage over the garage at Deans Place, where the hotel staff quarters are now. We were never called out during my time with the ARP.
After the Dunkirk evacuation, the war took on a much more serious tone. Our Engineers left, to be replaced by a battery of 2pdr anti-tank guns of the Royal Canadian Artillery. This was a portee battery where the guns were carried in the back of 15cwt Chevrolet trucks. Their garage and mess hall was situated in what is now Alfriston Motors garage. We soon discovered the delights of Canadian bacon with maple syrup, Sweet Caporal cigarettes and many other Canadian goodies.
The threat of invasion seemed quite real at the time and we noticed a lot of precautions being taken. Rows of “Dragons Teeth” anti- tank obstacles were installed between the corner at Wingrove and the riverbank. If you look over the garden wall at Deans Place Hotel you can still see them. A number of temporary obstacles consisting of a cone of concrete, made with a hole in the centre, were placed across the road at Wingrove corner, with a steel pipe running down through the hole in the concrete and into a hole in the road. The remainder of these cones can be seen lining the perimeter of what is now the Recreation ground.
A pipe was laid down the side of the road at West Hill. This would be used to pump flaming petrol across the road to catch enemy troops as they came up the road. There were trenches dug at the top of the field above the Manse, with machine guns installed to cover the road all the way to Winton Street. A road was built to the right of the chalk pit above Winton Street to enable tanks and trucks to reach the top of the hill quickly, in case paratroops landed on the hill.
An Anti-aircraft post was built on the riverbank near Longbridge. The arma-ment consisted of a air-cooled Lewis gun of 1917 vintage. We lads helped fill the magazines for the gun’s .303 cartridges.
At about this time a battery of 8” howitzers were moved into Winton Street and were dug into sand bagged emplacements. I believe there were three guns. One was in the grounds of the house called the sanctuary, one halfway down Winton Street but I can’t remember where the third was. Their towing vehicles were Scammel Pioneers.
These were huge vehicles with all round independent suspension, which looked very impressive driving across the undulating ground near the chalk pit. When the guns were going to fire a practice shoot, the village were warned the day before so that people could open their windows. One day we heard that an E-boat, which is a German torpedo boat, had been spotted in the Channel, and the guns opened fire with-out warning. I don’t know how many windows were broken but I believe the local builder was kept busy in the following days replacing broken windows.
The Canadian Army established an artillery range at Alfriston. The firing points were on Windover hill to the east of the village, and the fall of shot on the other side of the village, to the west. As far as I know there was only one shell that fell short. This killed a pig in Harmer’s farm.
The Local Defence Volunteers were formed at this time .My father and Freddie went round to the police house, which was the signing on point but granddad was found to be not fit enough. He suffered from arthritis, and had to give up work before the war because of this condition. I was too young at the time to join the LDV. Mum joined the Auxiliary Fire service as a telephonist, while Kate stopped at home to look after my sister Betty.
Kate had been courting Ern Moore, from Alciston, for quite a long time and they decided to get married. My sister Betty and cousin Shirley acted as bridesmaids, and my mother was matron of honour. Shirley was Uncle Arthur’s daughter. I can only assume that they had evacuated themselves on us because their home was in Dover, which was being shelled regularly across the Channel. Ern was working, along with my father, as a charcoal burner in Abbotts Wood at Arlington. This was a reserved oc-cupation, probably because charcoal was used in explosives and for gas mask filters. Ern also joined to AFS as a part-time fireman. The Fire Station was located in what had been the Youth Club building at the bottom of White Lodge grounds. This is now a bungalow owned by Miss Turner.
For this wedding I had to have a grown-up suit. Jacket, waistcoat and my first long trousers, blue, if I remember correctly. A shirt with separate collar, needing both back and front studs and short socks with suspenders. Elastic top socks had not been invented.
Near the end of a beautiful summer, the Battle of Britain as it came to be known, started. Our evacuees were re-evacuated, this time to Wales. We, I suppose were expendable. We had never seen aeroplanes flying this high before, enough to cause vapour trails, so we failed to recognise them. When we saw the opposing trails and heard the rattle of cannon and machine guns, we realised that the battle had started. All sorts of rumours were rife. One was that when an enemy aircraft made a circle in the sky, this was a marker for the dive-bombers. Total rubbish of course, the trails blew away too quickly for this.
Numerous aircraft were shot down in the district, both friend and foe. A Spit-fire crashed at Lullington, about 100yds from Lullington Cottages. We all went to have a look. The pilot was badly injured and died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. Mabel Norman an Dr.Terry attended to him The aircraft was gradually being con-sumed by fire, when there was a popping noise and spurts of flame. We all took cover thinking that it was ammunition exploding, but found that it was Glycol from the ra-diator that was burning.
One night a Wellington bomber flew up the valley above Lullington and into to hill at the end of the valley. I believe it was foggy at the time. The rear gunner was the only one to survive the crash, but he died in hospital. Another night a Heinkel 111 was heard flying low over the village, then flew on to crash on the hill behind Seaford, near the cemetery. One member of the crew bailed out over Alfriston, his parachute failed to open, and he hit the hill above Cradle Valley. He is buried in Hailsham Cemetery. A Messerschmitt 109 crashed near the brickyard at Berwick Station and buried itself so deeply that it was impossible to recover the plane or the pilot. One morning a Dornier DO215 flew low over the village. (By this time our aircraft recognition was quite good). It was so low that I could see a crewmember through the perspex. It flew on up to the old aerodrome at Milton Street (not in use), and dropped one bomb, which threw a large quantity of mud across the A27, which had to be removed before traffic could proceed. There was a strong ammonia smell in the mud from the explosive.
One morning about seven o’clock while we were all still in bed except Freddie, who was in the outside toilet, a bomber dropped a stick of bombs across the village. The first bomb was near the Sanctuary, and woke us all up. After that the noise of ex-plosions got nearer and nearer until the house was rocking and there were sounds of things falling and glass breaking. Then they receded and eventually stopped. When we looked outside we found that the nearest bomb had hit the garden wall of Quince Cot-tage, which is about 50yds from our house. It had blown in all the windows on that side of the house, all the hanging tiles from the back corner and some of the roof tiles. The conservatory was destroyed at the side of the building. The toilet door had blown open, bending the hatch double and hitting Freddie in the face. Luckily this caused only minor bruising. The next bomb had landed in the road opposite the filling sta-tion(now the Car Park) belonging to Tom Harmer, blowing the glass tops from all the petrol pumps. At the other end of the filling station there was a large wooden hut being used as a billet by troops. One bomb landed on this and some were killed. The story at the time was that the bomber had been turned back from a London raid, had seen the cooking fires from the army mess rooms at the garage and had unloaded his bomb racks before flying back to his base.
At school, a squadron of the Air Training Corps had been formed. Of course, everyone wanted to be aircrew, so all were tested for fitness. I was given a coloured sheet and asked what I could see. Coloured dots of course. I should have seen a pat-tern, but was told that I was colour blind. That put an end to my ambition of becoming an aircrew member. However, I carried on training, since there are far more members of the RAF who are ground staff than there are aircrew. I learnt the Morse Code, which came in handy later.
We enjoyed a week’s camp at Ford Aerodrome in West Sussex. We were bil-leted in a hutted camp about a mile from the aerodrome, which meant we had to march a mile every morning. This gave us a good appetite for breakfast. I remember having devilled kidneys for the first time. The aircraft at Ford were a night fighter squadron of Douglas Havocs, a derivative of the Douglas Boston bomber. Painted a dull black, with 4 cannons in the nose, they looked very deadly.

On another occasion, a party of us went down to Shoreham Aerodrome to take our first flight. The plane was a very old naval biplane, even older than a Swordfish.
After one or two pairs had had a short flight, the plane landed and dropped off its passengers. Unfortunately its tail wheel stuck in the mud and when the pilot revved his engine the tail wheel pulled right off. That was the end of our hopes, so we re-turned to Lewes rather “cheesed off”.
Because of the danger of invasion my grandmother evacuated herself and my” uncle” Pat to another married daughter who lived in Baldock, Hertfordshire. As far as I can remember, I never saw Pat again, even though gran returned to Alfriston after the war. Pat remained in Baldock, where he married and had children, until he died in the early sixties. My cousin Stanley remained with us throughout the war
In 1941, at the age of fifteen, I decided that I had had enough of school and would like to get out to work and earn some money. I had to get special permission to leave school before my sixteenth birthday, but in view of my academic record, they had no objections. I applied for a job with J.Sainsbury, an old fashioned grocer at the time. I was sent up to Stamford Street, the head office for an interview and later on, for a two weeks training course in Sainsbury’s methods and ideals.
I was sent to a Branch in Goring Road, West Worthing, living over the shop. It was too far to get home, even for weekends but luckily a vacancy soon occurred at Church Road, Hove and I was given a transfer. This was that much nearer and I was able travel home at weekends.
When the shutters were raised and the doors opened in the morning, they re-mained open regardless of the weather. In the winter, hands froze and everyone found that presenting a smiling face to customers, which was expected, was very difficult. The shop had a mosaic marble floor, laid by craftsmen who came from Italy before the war. Luckily, the floor behind the counter was made of wood, so that at least our feet didn’t get too cold. There were chairs provided in the shop, to comply with the law that female staff should be able to sit at times. However, I only ever saw customers sit-ting on them. I worked on the butter counter where all the packets of butter, margarine and lard had to be” knocked up”, on a slate block, transferred to the scales using a pair of butter” pats”, then onto greaseproof paper and wrapped.
Since the ration of fat totalled only half a pound these portions were minute. Their total cost was 6d(Two and a half new pence). Making up these tiny amounts was a very tedious job, particularly at five minutes to closing time when all the working surfaces had been scrubbed with boiling water for the night, an elderly lady, who had had all day to her shopping came in and wanted her 6d worth.
The cheese ration at this time was only 3ozs. Per week except for agricultural labourers, real eggs were one per week but American dried egg could be used to make up the ration. Bacon was 4ozs per week but vegetables, coffee, cocoa and bread were unrationed. Bread was not rationed until the war was over. There was a points system for such things as tinned meat (Spam), biscuits, golden syrup and other delicacies. This gave people a little choice in their diet, which was pretty sparse but it seems, quite healthy compared with today’s fare.
I was lucky in some ways. I “lived in”, over the shop. There was a housekeeper, a Miss Philips, a middle aged lady from Cornwall who was an excellent cook. Natu-rally, she made wonderful Cornish pasties, the real thing, not today’s minced meat va-riety. These were made from any odd pieces of meat, vegetables and her own special herbs and spices which were her secret. Any eggs, which were cracked, were not al-lowed to be sold, so they were sent up to the kitchen.
We probably had more than our share of them. Lunch was served to the staff in the large dining room, a very formal affair, presided over by the manager, who sat at the end of the table.
When the other branches in the Brighton area were short of staff through holi-days etc., I was sent to them as a relief worker. I went to St.James Street, London Road and Western Road branches. I quite enjoyed this because it made a change for me. I also did local deliveries using a trade bicycle, around the Hove area. Once a month, stocktaking took place. Everything had to be correct down the last ounce of butter. If the figures failed to tally, stocktaking took place on the following Saturday again. If this figure were still wrong, stocktaking would take place every Saturday, with higher and higher echelon of management taking part until the problem was solved. If a member of staff appeared to be more affluent than was appropriate to his job, ques-tions were asked. If a roundsboy acquired a new bicycle, he was questioned about his finances.
Brighton and Hove were full of service personnel. Grand Avenue, Hove was the Quarterdeck, complete with flagpole, of HMS King Alfred, a shore base that also con-sisted of Hove Swimming Baths. Lord Haw-Haw, on the German radio propaganda programme, claimed that HMS King Alfred had been torpedoed and sunk. There were a lot of Royal Australian Air Force men stationed somewhere in the Brighton area. They could be distinguished from members of The Royal Air Force because their uni-forms were a much darker blue.
In Hove there were Royal Canadian Armoured Corps troops equipped with Ram tanks. Eventually, these vehicles were replaced by Sherman tanks, their turrets were removed and seats fitted inside, to become the Ram Kangaroo, one of the early methods of carrying infantry into battle in comparative safety. They are now known as Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The latest model in use in the British Army is the Warrior.
The Luftwaffe started tip-and run raids on the South Coast. Eastbourne, Hast-ings and the Brighton area had more than their fair share. The warning was a note that sounded like a cuckoo call. These raids were usually in daylight and were so quick that more often than not, the bombs had exploded and the bomber gone before the warning had sounded. In the shop we used to dive under the marble counter that seemed a pretty safe place at the time, but after seeing bomb damage since, was probably giving us a false sense of security.
A belt of light anti-aircraft guns was established along the sea front. The noise of the guns was reassuring but after a Mosquito was shot down, maybe our confidence was misplaced. I started going home every weekend, leaving my bicycle at Berwick Station. It stayed there by the Public House wall the whole week and was never touched. I don’t think that could happen now. When I left school I could no longer at-tend ATC parades in Lewes so I had to leave. I found, however, that in Brighton there was a Company of the Army Cadet Force.
When I joined I was issued with a uniform, but for some reason, we had to buy our own boots. We had a drum and bugle band and we thought we were very smart marching through Brighton. Later on, when I was a little older, and since I was going home every weekend, I left the ACF and joined the Alfriston platoon of the Home Guard. I suppose that if the enemy had invaded during the week, the platoon would have had to manage without me.
Dancing was a very popular pastime during the war and there were dances held every week at The Dome in the Steine Gardens in Brighton. There were free dancing lessons for members of HM forces in uniform, so I used to go along in my Home Guard kit. I managed to learn the Waltz and the Quickstep but unfortunately, was called up before I could learn the Fox trot. I still cannot do it.
The Home Guard paraded on Sunday morning at platoon headquarters in what is now The Tudor Tea Rooms. The platoon commander was Tommy Perkins who, I believe, worked for an oil company. My father was the platoon sergeant. We used to go on route marches but we had one member who could not keep in step. Every quar-ter mile we heard the command. “Mr. Lidbetter, carry on marching. Remainder of the platoon, change step!” There was a rifle range in Dogs Head Pit at Alciston, used after the war by Hailsham Rifle Club. We found that we had some very good shots in the platoon. We were issued with a Thompson sub-machine gun. When Tommy Perkins tried it, he didn’t release the trigger quickly enough. The gun has a very fast rate of fire and by the time the magazine was empty, the muzzle was pointing sky-wards. We learned to camouflage our helmets and crawl through the undergrowth. We looked and felt very war-like, but I shudder to think how long we would have lasted if the invasion had happened. My cousin Stanley was still with us so we had three Home Guard mem-bers in the house.
In 1942 the Dieppe raid took place. All we saw at home was the intense air ac-tivity that took place. Medium bombers and fighters were flying around all day. Two days later, my mother was asked if she could billet Commando troops in the house. She took in six of them, and they made themselves comfortable in the large dining room. By this time the house looked like an arsenal. There were two Home Guard ri-fles, my father’s Thompson, a water-cooled American .30 machine gun, the com-mando’s rifles and pistols plus a Bren Gun. There was not one firearm’s certificate in the whole village.
There was a searchlight battery in the field in which Celia Norman’s house now stands. On nights when the enemy bombers were on their way to London, the beam from the searchlight lights up the whole of the sky above the village. We used to go up to Winton Street, which is about 100ft above sea level, with a good view towards London. When the Blitz was on we could see the lights over the city, with an orange glow from the fires filling the sky.
One weekend a number of the local Home Guard platoons were invited to a demonstration of German battle drill. We were taken by army lorry to a valley in the Downs above Jevington. We found positions on the hill overlooking the valley. Cana-dian troops were dressed in Wehrmacht uniforms and were equipped with German weapons. We were shown the classic “Fire and Movement” action. The machine gun section, using the MG34 or “Spandau,” with its characteristic ripping noise would lay a barrage on the objective, while the rifle section would move. When the rifle section was in a position to give covering fire, the MG section would move.
They were also using mortars firing smoke rounds. It was surprising to see how high the trajectory was, with the bombs dropping almost vertically.
Later I was to find that the British army used the same “Fire and Movement” system for both infantry and tank tactics. After the demonstration the “German” troops took part in foot and arms drill, Wehrmacht style, with all the commands given in German. The idea was that when the Home Guard had prisoners, they could march them into captivity using the correct orders. Some hopes!
Every Sunday, after the Home Guard parade, we all went off to the Market Cross Inn. There I learnt to enjoy the Star Brewery’s Brown Ale. This was a rather spicy dark beer. I remember seeing the brewery delivering to the Market using a steam lorry, the sort of thing that is only seen at steam rallies nowadays.
In the evenings in Brighton I spent quite a lot of time at the cinema. At the time there were for more cinemas in the town than there are nowadays. The building where Boots are now situated, near the Clock Tower had a large cinema downstairs and a very popular dance hall above it. Joe Loss and his orchestra was the resident band. There were two cinemas in West Street, the Academy on the left side facing the sea and the Odeon on the right.
There was a news cinema in North Street and a large new theatre on the oppo-site side of the road. There were many smaller cinemas, one in Western Road Brighton and one in Western Road, Hove. Most cinemas showed a main feature film, a second “B” feature, the latest newsreel that was mostly propaganda although we didn’t realise it at the time and usually a cartoon. Entrance to the cinema cost around a shilling, which may sound cheap, but wages were around one Pound a week. At the larger cinemas there was even a recital on the organ included. For live entertainment there were at least four theatres. There was the Hippodrome where I remember seeing Max Miller and hearing his near the knuckle jokes. I saw The London Festival Ballet give a performance of Sheherazade at the Theatre Royal and was completely overwhelmed by the music and the spectacle. There was also a little theatre in North Road where mostly second-rate acts appeared. At the age of seventeen I realised that I would stand a better chance of getting into a regiment of my choice if I volunteered, rather than waiting to be called up, where I could find myself in the RAF, the Royal Navy, or even sent to work as a “Bevin Boy”, working in a coal mine. My school chum; Basil Stepney was directed to mine work. For him this was probably a good thing, because he became manager of a whole group of National Coal Board mines. I went along to the Recruit-ing Office in Queens Road and put my name down for the Royal Armoured Corps. I had a medical later in the week, passed A1 and took the Oath of Allegiance. I was told that the earliest I could be called to the colours was when I was seventeen so I resigned myself to six months waiting. At the rear entrance to Sainsburys in Church Road there was a goods delivery pathway entered from Second Avenue. Sainsbury’s vans brought supplies from London, even in wartime. We had a four-wheel trolley with iron wheels to transport the goods from the road to the rear of the shop. I was pulling this truck, loaded with goods, up the slope, with my hands behind me, holding the tow bar, when my feet slid out from under me and I went down on my face. I broke a chip out of my front tooth. More about this tooth later. After what seemed an interminable wait, on 6th October I received my calling up papers together with a travel warrant, made out from Berwick Station to Wool, in Dorset. I said goodbye to friends and the family and set off for the war.

Chapter Two

The train journey to Dorset was the longest I had ever taken in my life. I had to change at Eastleigh on to the train that had come from London. It arrived at Wool in the early after-noon. I found a large number of other young men had detrained at the same station. There were a small fleet of lorries waiting for us together with a number of N.C.O’s who soon or-ganised us into parties and onto the vehicles. The journey to Bovington Camp only took about a quarter of an hour and we found ourselves at the 30th Primary Training Wing.
30th PTW was the only one in the army where all new entrants wore the black, ar-moured forces beret immediately they joined, which we all thought was a great privilege. We also wore the mailed fist cap badge of the Royal Armoured Corps. Our accommodation con-sisted of a wooden hut; reputedly left over from WW1.We slept 24 men to a hut, on double bunks, with the ablutions in an adjoining hut, which also served three more huts. There was only cold water for washing and shaving in the morning. Trying to shave with a “cut-throat” razor, which my grandfather had given me, with a crowd of other lads, at 6 o’clock in the morning, soon gave way to a safety razor, purchased in the NAAFI.
We were all such young soldiers that the Army Council had decided in its wisdom that we needed extra Calcium, so we were issued with a half pint of milk at our mid-morning break. We had to parade for breakfast at 0700 hrs with knife, fork, spoon and mug carried in the left hand in order to be able swing the right arm. Since it was now October, it was still quite dark at this time of the morning. Breakfast consisted of porridge plus bacon, sausage and sometimes an egg. Unfortunately the latter was usually fried too long and had a bottom sur-face like leather. Sometimes, there was scrambled egg made with re-constituted dried egg. A large mug of tea completed the meal.
The morning after our arrival we were paraded at the Quartermaster’s stores to draw our kit. This comprised two battledress uniforms and beret, cap badge, two shirts, which in those days were collar-less, vest, underpants, four pairs of woollen socks, two pairs of boots, one for working and the other for parades, which had to be polished to a high gloss, two sets of denim overalls, which were worn for most working parades and two complete sets of PT clothing.
We were issued with a complete set of webbing equipment. This consisted of a waist belt, three sets of straps, two ammunition pouches, (The first six weeks consisted of basic in-fantry training), a bayonet frog, a water bottle sling, one haversack, one large pack or valise and a pair of anklets, web (also known as gaiters). All of this equipment had to be blancoed at least twice a week and all the brasses polished.
We also drew a respirator (or gas mask to non military readers), a greatcoat, a pull-over, a housewife (sewing kit), a holdall (a canvas carrier for items such as knife, fork and spoon etc., a set of mess tins and a tin mug.
Every morning our beds had to be made up with three blankets folded, with the fourth blanket around the others. Below the blankets were laid out the best boots, mess tins, webbing equipment, which had to be freshly blancoed and brasses polished plus knife fork and spoon.
After breakfast we usually had about one hour foot or arms drill on the parade ground that lay between our huts and the main road through Bovington. After about two weeks train-ing our troop was deemed good enough to join the previous intakes and assembled with the remainder of the Squadron, presided over by the Squadron Sgt. Major. He was a very tall Irishman from one of the Irish cavalry regiments. He had a very commanding voice and al-ways wore a early type long bayonet in a highly polished scabbard. The metal bayonet hilt was polished until it shone like silver. It was a great honour for a hut to be given the responsibility of cleaning the SSM’s bayonet. The first time we were marching along as a whole squadron, the SSM ordered, ”You don’t know how to halt, so when I give the command “Halt”, you just stop marching.”
Once a week the occupants of each hut were detailed for “Fire Piquet”, which meant spending the whole evening in a small behind the cookhouse peeling potatoes. This was known as “Spud Bashing”. Drill on the square was known as “Square Bashing”. We had two peeling machines but they were so slow that we found it was quicker to peel by hand. Any time our kit layout was not up to scratch, or dust was found on a locker, we were given an ex-tra evening “Fire Piquet”.
Mid morning we were allowed fifteen minutes NAAFI break. To go with our morning milk, we could purchase from the variety of cakes available. We also had a chance to spent some of our three shillings per day income, on such things as Brasso, Duraglit, Blanco or boot polish.
After the break we went on to various other training periods, such as weapon training. This could be on the rifle No.4 or the Bren Gun, or to give it it’s proper name, The Light Ma-chine Gun. (LMG). These lesson usually started with the phrase “Right-wot we are goin on with nah is-“ We learned to name the parts of the weapon, how to strip and clean it and the action to take on stoppages on the Bren.
Later on in our training we were taken by truck to the Small Arms Ranges at Lulworth. After spending half a day on the 200 and 300yd ranges, firing rifle and Bren Gun, taking our turn at the Butts, marking the point of shot on the target with a paddle marked black on one side and white on the other. When the shot falls between the inner and outer rings on the tar-get the pole holding the paddle is raised and the revolved so that white and black are seen al-ternately. This why this score is called a Magpie.
I had learned to shoot in the Home Guard and managed to get quite good scores at Lulworth. When the range practice was over, we formed up into three ranks and marched out on to the road. There we split up into three columns and marched, one column on the right of the road with, behind them, column two on the left. Column three brought up the rear on the right of the road. This was an anti-aircraft practice so that all troops could get off the road at short notice. The march was about twenty miles back to Bovington, made even longer by ex-ercises being carried out on the moors near the camp on the way back. By this time it was completely dark. We were wearing “Battle Order”, which included a small pack on the back. I hitched up the pack to relieve the weight, forgetting that I was holding the rifle in front of me. I caught my already broken front tooth on the muzzle of the rifle and knocked a further chip out of it.
We were issued with denim overalls for training. These were washed every week and since the buttons were held on with split pins and only one set of buttons were issued we had to change all the buttons over every Sunday ready for the following week.
On one training session we were marched to the Gas Chamber. This was a small, brick built hut without windows. Before entering the hut a small quantity of Mustard Gas was placed on the back of our hands. This was allowed there long enough for it to start to sting. We were then allowed to apply Ointment Anti-Gas to the affected place. About twenty men were then assembled inside the hut with respirators on. A small white tablet was placed on to a small heater and a cloud of white smoke arose. After a few minutes to see how efficient the masks were, we were ordered to remove them. We were held there long enough to force us to take a few breaths. Coughing and with eyes streaming we were released. We then formed up in three ranks and marched up to the parade ground. By the time we had done half an hour vigorous marching all traces of the tear gas had gone and we all felt better. From my AB64 (Soldiers Pay and Record book, I see that the date was 2nd November 1943.
The working day ended at around four thirty in the afternoon, but there was always blancoing to be done, brasses to be polished and boots to be “bulled”. Sometimes we were not considered soldierly enough to do Guard Duties, but we were very good at “spud bashing”.
At the end of our eight weeks basic training, which was really learning Infantry skills we were given one-week leave, with a travel warrant and a week’s ration card. It seemed very peculiar to be home among civilians again, almost another world. I found I could talk to my grandfather easier than with anyone else because he had served in World War One as a Gun-ner in the R.H.A.
On our return from leave the intake was split up, future tank commanders to 58th Training Regt RAC. Their barracks are now the home of 1st Battalion Royal Tank Regt, situ-ated opposite the Tank Museum. The majority of us were posted to 52nd Training Regt. The main accommodation, known as the Sandhurst block, was only a short walk from our old hut, so we carried our kit across to the place that was to be our home for the next six months. The Sandhurst Block is the only building still there.
The first days in the regiment were spent carrying out aptitude tests. We were given various mechanical objects such as an electrical lamp holder, a door lock, etc., which had been taken to pieces and told to re- assemble them. A further test involved the Morse Code. The instructor played two pieces of Morse to us, after which we had to decide if they were the same or different. From the results of these tests it was decided that I should be trained as a Driver Operator. This means learning to drive wheeled vehicles [Driver IC]. This latter ex-pression means the driver of a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. The original army driver drove a horse drawn wagon. In my case I was never taught to drive any tracked vehicle.
My main training was as a Wireless Operator, but all crew members were trained in each other’s trade. Wireless training consisted of RT Procedure [radiotelephony or speech], the Morse Code and the tuning and operating of the Wireless Set No.19. This radio had been designed as a joint Anglo-American effort, using the then very modern octal valves. It was built in large quantities in Britain, America and Canada. They were fitted in all British and Canadian armoured and a large proportion of soft-skinned vehicles as well.
They were also supplied to the Free French The radios built in Canada had dual dial markings in English and Russian in order to supply radio sets to the Red Army.

The 19 set consisted of three units in one case. The “A” set was a short-wave trans-ceiver {Transmitter/receiver}, tuneable from two to eight megacycles in two bands. When the receiver is tuned it automatically tunes the transmitter. When the set is switched to “send”, the operator then tunes the Power Amplifier and the variometer for maximum aerial current. This is required because the length of the aerial can be varied, depending on operating conditions. When a vehicle is moving two four-foot sections were used, but for static use, sixteen feet could be fitted. The range of transmissions varied according to meteorological conditions but in mobile use would be around twenty miles.
The “B” set was a VHF transceiver operating at 235mc/s, and provided line of sight communication between tanks. The aerial in this instance was about two feet in length. The use of VHF at this time was unusual and was only made possible by the use of a new valve type CV65, recently developed in America. The remaining unit in the equipment was the in-tercom, or I.C. This provided communication between members of the crew.
In a tank, control boxes are fitted in the turret; one for the operator plus one combined one for the tank commander and gunner. A further box is fitted in the hull for the driver and co-driver.
There were three models of power units made for the 19 set. The MK1 and 3 were made in England, using rotary transformers, which were very noisy when the tank’s engine was switched off. The MK2 was made in Canada and was fitted with a vibrator system that only produced a low hum. When an operator was on duty at night, this was the much-preferred model.
If extra range was required, the 19 set could be fitted with a booster between the “A” aerial output and the aerial base. This increased the output by around fifty percent. The tanks in RHQ were normally fitted with this type of set in the hull gunners’ position, operated by a Royal Signals operator and known as a “Rear Link” set. This provided communication be-tween RHQ and Brigade HQ. The 19 set could also be used for Morse transmissions as well as Radio Telephony {speech}, so all operators were taught Morse up to ten or twelve words per minute.
All operators were required to learn “RT Procedure”, or the correct speech for use on the air. We were taught to be concise and accurate. We also had to learn the correct order for stations to answer because of the risk of jamming when two stations attempted to transmit si-multaneously. Once operators were up to a certain standard, they were introduced to the Wire-less No.38. This was a dry battery operated portable designed principally for infantry use. Cer-tain tanks, however, were fitted with these sets so that the tank commander could talk to the infantry. When carried by an operator the set is strapped on the chest. Headphones are worn plus a throat microphone known as a laryngaphone, leaving the operators hands free. With a long rod aerial sticking up in the air we felt a lot of idiots walking round Bovington talking to ourselves.
Following Wireless School our squad started the Driving Course at the D&M School. The first two weeks were spent in the workshops and classrooms. We were taught the theory and practice of the internal combustion engine, together with the transmission system, includ-ing the gearbox and differential gears. We discovered that knowing how a vehicle works was of great assistance in learning how to drive.

We spent about a month on driving instruction. We learnt to drive a variety of small trucks, all fifteen hundred weight, including Morris Commercial, Bedford and Guy. I soon got to know all the byroads in the Bovington area. The most memorable was a night drive back from Exeter. There was a fine misty rain. I was driving an old Morris, which had no wind-screen, just a small piece of glass in front of each front seat. There was just a piece of canvas as a roof. Since I wore glasses these were soon misted up. I therefore removed my glasses and drove without them. With the wartime-covered headlights, visibility was very poor. When we arrived in the Dorchester area the Air Raid sirens sounded. Near an American air base an American sentry, who threatened to shoot out our lights if we did not switch them off, stopped us. He was probably a new arrival in a war zone and was quite worried about enemy action. On another occasion, I was driving a 15cwt down a steep hill in Lyme Regis when I met an American officer who was being driven in a Jeep. We met on a narrow bridge at the bottom of the hill. There was just room for us to pass, but the officer rose to his feet ready to bail out. We missed.
Our intake then packed up our kit and moved by truck to Lulworh Camp, which is situated on the coast near to the holiday village of Lulworth Cove. This is the Gunnery Wing of the RAC. It has been in use since World War One for gunnery training Our first contact with firing from a tank was on the pellet range. This consists of a tank turret fitted with an air rifle inside the barrel of the main gun, which in this case was a 2 pounder. The target in front was a sand tray with models of tanks and trucks. We also practised loading the Browning 30 calibre machine gun, together with stripping and cleaning it. After a week in the classrooms we were ready for the real thing. We marched down to the ranges where we found three Sherman tanks waiting. We took it in turns to act as loader and gunner. Everyone fired three rounds of 75mm shot (Armour Piercing,) and three rounds of shell (High Explosive) these were fired at moving and stationary targets of vehicles on the hillside about a mile from the firing position. . The turret was traversed with a pistol grip held in the gunner’s right hand. There was a trigger on the pistol grip, which fired the 75mm.The elevation was controlled by a hand wheel for the gunner’s left hand. This was also fitted with a trigger which fired the ma-chine gun Loading the 75mm. was the worst job. After the gun fires, the ejection of the used case is automatic, the case falling inside the turret, which then fills with white smoke smelling heavily of ammonia. I found the best thing to do was to keep my head down until the smoke had cleared. The shell case is then too hot to touch and must remain on the floor of the turret until it has cooled. It can then be thrown out of the pistol port, a small hatch in the side of the turret beside the loader.
The officer in charge of our party then decided to carry out a troop shoot. The troop leader fired two rounds of HE to zero his aim. When he was satisfied he passed the informa-tion over the radio to enable the other tanks to line up their guns. The elevation was given in degrees from the horizontal, taken from an instrument called an inclinometer that was fitted to the side of the gun. The side-to-side traverse was given as a compass heading. The loaders put one round into the breech, held one round on their laps and kept one round beside the one the floor. When the command to fire was given over the air, all guns fired simultaneously with the next two rounds following as fast as the loader could put them into the breach. This meant that nine rounds of HE would land on the target in short succession.
The tank had an early system of stabiliser fitted to the 75mm, based on a gyroscope, but it was so inaccurate that I never heard of anyone attempting to use it in action. The gun-ner’s sight for both weapons was a telescope fitted inside a periscope. This had cross wires plus a number of cross-wires for different ranges. We then fired a practice with the co-ax, the co-axially mounted machine gun beside the main gun. At the bottom of the hill were pop-up targets representing enemy troops. The ammunition belts were loaded with one tracer round to five ball so we could see where the bullets were hitting. There was also an opportunity to try out the 50-calibre machine gun mounted on the cupola, or turret ring. This was designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, but we fired again at the infantry at the bottom of the hill. This was a very heavy weapon with a slower rate of fire but had a devastating effect on enemy troops.
Now we were finished with individual training our squad moved back to Bovington and we all went home on weeks leave. This was in Spring1944. When I arrived home, my mother wasn’t in so I went round to where Kate was living with Ern in a small cottage behind the Market Cross Inn. Kate cooked me a very good meal, a real fry up which I enjoyed very much. When my mother came in, however, she wasn’t very pleased. One thing always an-noyed me was the way that as soon as I went in the pub for a drink the usual remark was “Hello, on leave again? When are you going back?” The leave was soon over and it was back to Bovington.
We found that the next stage of training was an amalgamation of all we had learned so far. This was training in tanks as a crew, carried out in Shermans on Bovington moors.
Although it looks in war films as if there is enough room in a tank to hold a dance, the real thing is quite a different story. There is no spare room at all. The turret crew enter by the single hatch on the tank fitted with the 75mm. The operator has to enter first, climb down past the gun shield, duck underneath and then stand up. The recoil guard reaches almost to the grill fitted to the front of the 19 set. The aerial lead from the set runs round to the variometer that is mounted directly below the aerial base. To the left of the 75 breech is the co-ax machine gun. Above this is a 2” bomb thrower, used for firing smoke bombs to create a screen. To its right is the operator’s periscope and an extractor fan fitted in the roof. Against the wall of the turret is a drop down seat and above it is the pistol hatch. Around the turret runs the turret basket, which has gaps to allow access to ammunition racks, to the auxiliary charging engine that is situated to the right of the main engine and is used when the tank is stationary.

In theory the driver and co-driver should be able to climb into the turret via the turret basket but there is not enough time in an emergency. Near the pistol port is the operators con-trol box for the radio. The gunner is the next to enter. He can only sit and look through his periscope, which has a pad to protect his forehead. To his right is the radio control box with two leads, one for him and one for the tank commander, who is the last to enter. He is pro-vided with a seat, but spends most of his time standing up. There are a great deal of cables, leads, boxes of spares, fire extinguisher, headsets etc. in the turret, all creating a great deal of clutter, so the crew are forced to keep the place as tidy as possible. The tank carries a mix of ammunition, AP, HE and smoke, making a total of 70 rounds in all The whole of the inside is painted white, which does make it look clean. The cooling fan for the radial engine is situated at the back of the turret, so that when the engine is running a full gale blows down into all the hatches, so that the wearing of a tank suit is very necessary.
The two remaining crewmembers, driver and co-driver have their own hatches, but these are only accessible when the turret is facing forward, or is traversed left or right at ninety degrees. Both front seats can be raised or lowered. Both hatches have their own peri-scope. The tank, being American, is left hand drive with the gearbox and differential gear box between the front seats. A radio control box is fitted above the seats, in the centre with head-phones for driver and co-driver. There is a 75-ammunition rack beside the co-driver, who has to pass the rounds through to the loader whenever this is possible. Behind the co-drivers seat is an escape hatch in the floor. A tripod is fastened to this. In the event of the tank being evacuated, it was the co-driver’s responsibility to remove the front machine gun by pulling out the securing pin, throwing it out of the tank together with some ammunition boxes, then re-move the tripod and leave the vehicle. The crew should then be able to fight as infantry. I don’t believe this happened very often. A tank crew were not usually in a fit state to fight after being knocked out.
The tanks used for training were rather bare outside but in action carried everything but the kitchen sink strapped to any place on the hull that would not obstruct the traversing of the turret. There was usually a large blanket box welded to the back of the turret that held all the bedrolls, small packs and a lot of the food. 25pdr. Ammunition boxes were welded. on both front mudguards These were used to hold mugs, eating irons (knife, fork and spoon) plates, mess tins plus food for ready use such as tea, sugar and evaporated milk. On the engine cover was the tarpaulin, which formed a tent when the crew spent the night outside the tank. Very often there was a box of “Compo” rations on the back. On my tank, in action there was also another blanket box welded on the front glacis plate. This was used to hold all sorts of bits and pieces. I opened the lid of this box on one occasion somewhere in the Rhineland and a live goose, which someone had stored there, popped his head out.
I soon found that living with a crew on a tank was a little like camping. There was a place for everything, and everything had to be kept in its’ place. We spent days and nights on the moors to the North of Bovington, carrying out exercises in all skills that we had learned. We also learned the commands, which the commander used to control the crew. Commands to the driver were always preceded with the word “Driver”. For instance, to turn right the com-mand is “Driver, right.” Commands to the gunner were always preceded with the name of the weapon and the type of round to be fired. For example to engage a target to the right of the tank the order is,”75, Shot action (this also tells the loader load with armour piercing,) trav-erse right, hornet (tank) in front.” The command to fire the machine gun is “ Coax, same tar-get, go on. “ These commands must differentiate in this way so that the driver and gunner know to whom the order is addressed.
At night, the tarpaulin was laid out on the ground beside the tank; the bottom was pulled up and tied to the top of the hull to form a tent. We then laid our bedrolls side by side with the heads to the tank. Luckily the weather was good that spring, and we had very little rain. We carried our own rations and took in turn to do the cooking. Unfortunately we had no proper cooking utensils, so we had to use our mess tins to cook in. When we got back to bar-racks it was a very difficult job cleaning these mess tins for inspection. They were very black and never were really up to standard again. There were usually four tanks together on the moors, so that crews could get used to acting as a troop and troop leaders could exercise commanding them.
We also had to take our turn on guard duties in camp. The guard mounted in front of the Orderly Room was the one where turnout was most important. This was known as the Quarter Guard. On the guard mounting parade this guard always had one extra man. At the mounting ceremony the best turned-out man was designated “ Stick Man,” and was excused the guard. I managed to make myself smart enough on one occasion to be picked out. This meant that I could fall out until the following morning when I had to report to the Orderly Room, all bright and shiny, where I was given a patent leather satchel attached to an equally shiny belt which was worn bandoleer fashion, over one shoulder. My job during the day was to take messages round to the Squadron offices and also accompany the Orderly Officer on his visits to the mess hall during meals. It certainly beat doing guard duty on the Orderly Room.
There were other guard duties to be carried out and they were all paraded with the Quarter Guard. There was one guard mounted on the ammunition dump up on the moors. The Orderly Officer had to inspect all guards during the night, but as soon as he had left the Or-derly Room, the guard commander there would ring the guard commander at the ammunition dump to warn him that the Orderly Officer was on his way. There were three men on the guard detail at the Guard Room, plus the Guard Commander, usually a Corporal. One man was on duty as the sentry on the veranda at the front. The other two remained in the Guard Room all the time. The sentry was only allowed to move using drill movements. To exercise he could march from one end of the veranda to the other. He must always face front so that the about turns at the end of his beat were right about at the left hand end, and a left about at the right hand end. He had to present arms to all officers and call out the guard when ordered to by the Orderly Officer, or at any sign of trouble. The sentry spent two hours on duty, then four hours off. This was not too bad during the day because there was plenty going on around the Headquarters but at night it was very boring and difficult to remain awake.
The most intriguing guard I ever served on happened in May 1944. Twelve men plus a sergeant and two lance corporals were detailed for this guard, and the first thing we all did was sign the Official Secrets Act.
This is something I had never done before or since. Dress for the duration of the duty was denim overalls with belt, boots and gaiters. Everyone on the guard was issued with a Sten Gun with two magazines of ammunition. We then marched to Bovington Military Hospital, which was only a short distance away on the other side of the main road through the camp. Four sentries were posted around a hut on the edge of the hospital grounds. No one of the guard was allowed in the building and the only people allowed in were the Chief Medical Of-ficer, the Matron and the Sister, who all had to show a signed pass every time they wished to enter. There were three people in the hut. The prisoner, the Ward Sister and a medical orderly, all of who needed a signed pass before they could leave
In the event of an Air Raid, all of the occupants plus the whole of the guard would proceed to the Air Raid Shelter. When the ward orderly wished to take a walk for exercise, two armed sentries had to accompany him. I had this job once and during the walk both the other sentry and I tried to pump the orderly to find out who the prisoner was but to no avail. This Guard was disbanded on the Sixth of June 1944, the day of the D-Day landings. To this day I still don’t know whom we were guarding.
The Normandy landing had long been anticipated and on the morning of the invasion the skies over Dorset were full of aircraft. American bombers were stationed locally and about midmorning we saw the returning Fortresses, some of whom were firing Very lights to show that they were carrying wounded crewmembers.
About a week after D-Day the Free French Armoured Division moved down to Wey-mouth to embark for Normandy. They travelled down through Bovington and took nearly a whole day in transit. The insignia on their vehicles was a map of France.
On the 12th June, I was given seven days leave, which was very welcome after the hard work of the previous six months. When I got home I found that the V1, or flying bomb assault had started. A gun belt had been established on the coast, but the bombs, which had eluded them, were then fair game for the RAF fighters. This meant that many of the “Doodle Bugs” as they were soon nicknamed were shot down in the Kent and Sussex countryside. One dropped on a house in Arlington and the resident was killed. When I returned to camp after my leave I found that an enemy bomber had dropped a container of anti-personnel bombs on Bovington and there had been a number of casualties. These bombs were known as “butterfly” bombs because of the way the two small wings that opened after they had landed.
It was decided that tank crews who had bailed out when their tank is out of action should have some extra infantry training to give them a chance of surviving. We therefore were despatched to a hutted camp near to the Gunnery Wing at Lulworth. The first parade in the morning was at 0600hrs, when we were given a mug of tea. This first refreshment was known as “Gunfire.” Immediately afterwards we ran all the way to Lulworth Cove, a distance of about three miles. After a five-minute break we marched back to camp, which was uphill all the way, we were then dismissed for breakfast.
An assault course, said to be the toughest in Southern England, had been built near the camp. We wore denim overalls, and equipment known as “battle order,” which consisted of belt, shoulder straps, small pack, bayonet, water bottle and the steel helmet issued to tank crews, the type without a brim. We carried a rifle and while running the course, a fixed bayo-net. Obstacles consisted of a wide ditch to be crossed by a rope swing, a number of low tun-nels covered with hessian, a sloping plank about five inches wide leading to a walkway of the same width, which was ten feet off the ground. The only way down at the end was to jump. A sloping rope fastened to a tree at about twenty feet followed this. The theory of climbing this was to lie on the rope with one leg hanging down to act as a counterbalance. I usually man-aged to climb about six feet, and then was unable to prevent myself rotating to a position underneath the rope.
On one occasion, when I went through the tunnel, I came up against an obstruction, which, when I managed to free myself, found that the chap in front of me had left his bayonet in the roof of the tunnel. The next brilliant idea was to jump out of a truck when it was travel-ling at about twenty miles an hour. This was not done in the direction the truck was travelling, but in the opposite direction. When it came to my turn I found that the best way to do it was to lean forward as far as possible so that when you hit the ground, the forward speed pulled you upright again and down on to your back. The haversack took the blow and not one person was injured.
There were however, some injuries on the drop from the high walkway. On the second week of the course, we went on to a battle course using live ammunition. We started at the top of a sloping field, then came up against a series of barbed wire obstacles about two feet high. A Bren gun had been set up at the top of the field, on a fixed mounting, firing tracer rounds over the top of the barbed wire. That was enough incentive to keep our heads down. While we were crawling under the wire, an officer was throwing thunderflashes at us.0ne of the thunder-flashes exploded as he struck it. Everyone cheered because he had got some of his own back.
There were abandoned houses at the bottom of the field and we were to practice house clearing amongst them.
One of the attackers ran up the stairs, threw open a door and ran in, only to discover that the room had no floor. He fell straight through to the ground floor and broke his leg. A young officer ran out from another room, to be met by an irate soldier who took hold of the lanyard attached to the officer’s revolver, which had a loop around his neck, took hold of the tightening slide and pushed it right up to the top. The officer’s face went purple and he fell down the stairs. As far as I know, no action was taken against the soldier. It was counted as good training.
At the end of this training I suddenly noticed that my boots had worn right through. Tank crews have no studs in their boots because it would be impossible to climb on a tank wearing them. Consequently, spending two weeks running, jumping and doing suchlike stupid activities had worn out my boots. I was put on a charge, was admonished and had to pay for a new pair of boots.
At the end of this course we returned thankfully to Bovington, where a number of the troop were posted away to their units. I was given another week’s leave, probably because of my age. At home I found a strange looking object in place of the kitchen table. This was a steel box with netting sides, known as a Morrison shelter. I assume that this had been issued because of the number of flying bombs that were now being shot down in our area. I went to a dance at Selmeston village hall on the Saturday evening of my leave. On my way home by bi-cycle, accompanied by two friends we stopped on the corner at Alciston because of the sound of a “doodle bug”, only to find not one but three of them flying up the Cuckmere valley as though they were in formation. The long yellow flames of their exhausts were quite spectacu-lar. Two wives of Canadian soldiers who were stationed locally were living in one of my mother’s spare rooms and they came to a dance in Alfriston with the family. I took the oppor-tunity to practice my dancing. The leave came all to quickly to an end and it was back to Bovington.
A mate and I took a day pass and went by train to Swanage, a small seaside town south of Wareham. We had a meal in a local fish shop and had a studio photograph taken. On an-other occasion I had a pass but was on my own. I thought I would try hitch hiking. In the cen-tre of Bovington I flagged down an American army truck, the type known to the Yanks as a “deuce and a half”, in other words a two and a half ton truck.
Its only occupant was an American sergeant, and instead of telling me where he was going, he asked me where I wanted to go. When I said “Weymouth”, he just said, “that sounds good to me” and off we went. And I thought petrol was short!
. A number of ex RAF men had been posted in to the regiment. They were aircrew who had finished their tour of duty.(I believe this was thirty operations over Germany) The ones who were in my squad were ex radio operators who could read and send Morse at a phe-nomenal speed.
We were lucky to have as instructors a couple of ex Post Office operators, who were also brilliant at Morse. I was given extra wireless tuition while waiting to join a draft, so the race was on to see who could attain the fastest speed at reading Morse. I managed to reach twenty-eight words a minute but found that the difficulty was to write at this speed Our in-structors could also type and this is the way that Morse can be written at this speed. Trying to send at this speed is very difficult using an army Morse key and I only managed about eight-een words per minute.
Naturally, this being the army, our RAF men were eventually trained, not as wireless operators but as gunners. I suppose they could have been air gunners before coming to the army.
Once a month, on a Saturday morning, Commanding Officer’s Parade was held. This was a very grand affair. Troops were paraded outside their hut at 8 o’clock, in best battle dress, best boots (highly polished), belt and gaiters. Beret had to be brushed clean, with the bow at the back sewn down exactly one inch in length. Blancoing freshly done and all brasses and cap badge polished. We were inspected by the troop corporal, then by the sergeant. All discrepancies were put right, and then we marched to the Squadron lines. This is the area in front of the squadron office. A further inspection followed, carried out by the Squadron Ser-geant Major. When he was satisfies with our turnout we marched as a squadron to the Regi-mental Parade Ground. This area was hallowed ground. Anyone found walking across it would find themselves on a charge. When we arrived at the parade ground we were fallen out along the edge. The Regimental Sergeant Major then called out the right markers for each squadron. These usually were senior sergeants. The RSM would position them in their correct spots, then call out the command “Get on parade.” The whole regiment would then march out and fall in on their own marker. When the each squadron had been dressed by the right, (lined up from the right marker) the band marched on and we were ready for the Commanding Offi-cer. He carefully inspected the whole parade and woe betides any man caught with a button undone. During the inspection the band would play light music, but after the inspection the whole parade would march past the saluting base while the band played a march. After the parade the squadrons were marched back to their lines and dismissed. Usually that was the end of work for the day.
At the end of October I was given seven days leave, which I realised was my embarka-tion leave. I think the reason for my being held back until this time was because I had just reached the age of eighteen and a half. When I got off the train at Berwick I saw a Canadian soldier getting off. As he got closer I recognised him as a chap who was married to one of the girls in Alfriston. We could not find any transport so we started to walk to the village. It was quite a cold day and after walking about half a mile, the soldier whose name was Grant, took a bottle of whiskey from his pack and suggested we have a little nip to keep the cold out. This procedure was followed a number of times and by the time we arrived in Alfriston we were both rather the worse for wear. I think my mother was a little surprised at my condition but I soon slept it off.
On the 20th of November the Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Tank Regiment celebrate Cambrai Day. the anniversary of the first successful tank battle. The sergeants serve tea in bed to all the troops. The officers serve dinner at midday. This was very much like a Christmas Dinner, turkey with all the trimmings but a trifle instead of Christmas pudding.
I managed to eat two whole trifles, which, considering that they were made in an army dixie, which measures nearly a foot square was quite an accomplishment. I was so full up that I went up to the barrack room, laid on my bed and slept all the afternoon. In the evening a number of us walked down to Wool, where there was a very good pub, and drank all the eve-ning. At about ten thirty we walked back to camp, but to be honest, I can’t remember much about it.
A couple of days after this I saw my name up on orders for posting. It didn’t say where to eventually but the first move was all the way to Barnard Castle in County Durham. Kit had to be packed as small as possible. To carry all ones worldly goods in a kitbag, a valise and a haversack is quite an accomplishment but at last it was done. The following morning we trav-elled by truck down to Wool station and entrained. It was a long and tiring journey but late in the evening we arrived at Barnard Castle station and again were trucked up to the barracks. These were very similar to the huts at Bovington with their central heating stove and double bunks. I think that the worse thing that happened right away was the fact that we had to hand in our beautifully polished cap badges and belt brasses and were issued with a plastic cap badge and gun metal belt slides. After a couple of days in camp we were told we were moving the next day and we started packing again. We had just finished this job when we were told that kitbags were not allowed on this draft. This presented us with quite a problem. A quart will not go into a pint pot. There are, however quite a lot of ways of making more space. The toes of boots, for instance, will hold things like spare socks, handkerchiefs and any other soft objects. Mess tins can be filled with small items such as boot brushes, polish, etc. We also had to hand in certain parts of our kit, such as one pair of boots, one shirt, P.T. kit and some socks. It was then decided that we should carry one blanket, rolled and fastened round the valise, which is carried, on the back. Eventually we were all packed and ready to go.
Reveille was at 04.00hrs and when we took the first step outside the hut we found that it had snowed during the night and we had to fight our way through a foot of snow to the cookhouse. After breakfast we climbed into the trucks and made our way back to the station. We had to change trains at Darlington and I found that there is the original engine of the Stockton to Darlington line, called “Locomotion,” on a plinth on the platform. The train then proceeded south, bypassing London and arriving in Eastleigh in Hampshire late in the evening. Trucks took us to a camp near the town and we discovered we were to get a taste of camping. We were to sleep in bell tents in winter! We had a Pay Parade soon after we arrived and were given Belgian Francs. After a hot meal we went to bed. The weather had turned to rain and we were all a bit fed up, even more so when we were roused to be paid again. Apparently a fur-ther supply of money had just arrived. After an uncomfortable night, we woke in the morning to a hard frost and our boots were stuck to the frozen mud. After breakfast we again joined the trucks and set off. We soon reached Southampton and we drove through streets where we had one or two cheers from people on their way to work. It seemed a long way to the docks and I am sure we went through the same streets more than once, but eventually we arrived beside the troopship, which I believe was called the “Isle of Thanet.” It seemed an interminal job to get us all on board. I don’t know how many there were but they were all arms of the services, including RAF and even some RN personnel. When we were all packed on board we waited- and waited- and waited but late in the evening we set sail. I was going abroad for the first time.

Chapter Three

The journey took all night and the ship arrived off Ostend in the early hours. We heard on the grapevine that we had been held up because of reports of mines in the Channel. I was in the group, which seemed to be on the lowest deck of the ship. There was a grating in the floor through which the propeller shaft could be seen rotating. It was fortunate that we avoided the minefield otherwise I would not be typing this. It took a long time to disembark but eventually we formed up on the quayside and marched up through the town, a distance of about a mile, to a Belgian army barracks. The room to which we were assigned was a bare room without even any beds. W were sent down to the storeroom and were given a palliasse and told to fill it from a pile of straw which filled the end of the room. The ablutions were the most primitive I had ever seen. A hole in the floor with two raised blocks for the feet. My first introduction to a continental toilet. I spent a very uncomfortable night and was glad when reveille was sounded at six o’clock. After breakfast we assembled in the square between the buildings. The march to the railway station was a short one and the train stood waiting for us. This was a steam train and one of the oldest left in Belgium. The toilets were situated high up at the end of each car-riage. To reach them one had to climb out of the compartment door, walk along a sort of run-ning board and then climb about six steps to where the toilet was perched, high above the train. This manoeuvre was surprisingly safe because the train was travelling so slowly.
Late in the afternoon the train steamed at into the station at a small town called Vil-voorde, which is just north of Brussels. The first thing that struck me was white blanco’ed webbing equipment hanging from all the upper story windows of the barracks. And to think that we had handed in all of our best brasses and cap badges. The MP guards on the Main Gate were all wearing white blanco. On the first parade the next morning we began to see how to work things at this depot. This was a holding camp for reinforcements to all regiments in the BLA (British Liberation Army.) If anyone thought that being sent to a line regiment was not such a good idea, when their name was called out they casually strolled to their position in the ranks. This so enraged the Sergeant Major that he sent them straight to the Guardroom under close arrest. This is, of course, a lot safer place than the front line.
I didn’t see any point in postponing the inevitable and two days later found myself in a truck being driven along the tree lined roads across Belgium and into Holland. We arrived at another small town, called Weert, which was where 271 FDS., was stationed. FDS stands for Forward Delivery Squadron, which was part of 4th Armoured Brigade. Reinforcements of both personnel and tanks could be called for by any of the three Armoured Regiments in the Bri-gade. A Corporal escorted me and three other young soldiers to a small semi-detached house at the end of the road where the FDS was stationed. He knocked on the door and when a young woman opened it, he held up four fingers and pointed to us. He then marched away and left us standing there. After about five embarrassed minutes I thought that someone should make a move so I laid my head on my hand and closed my eyes. Then I opened my eyes and pointed to the upper rooms of the house. A light dawned in her eyes and she led us upstairs to our first civvy billet. This was when I first realised that I had a flair for languages. When her husband returned from work, by using a lot of sign language we managed to converse and I found that he was a musician in a dance band who played the violin. They had two small chil-dren and their family name was Mulder. Her maiden name had been Tulden, so after her mar-riage, by Dutch tradition she became Mulder van Tulden. By the end of our stay with them we were talking politics and I had learnt one or two Dutch swear words and to insult a German in Dutch.
The cookhouse and mess hall was a converted garage and when the meal was served, a small green tablet was added to the food. Rumour was that it was to reduce our libido, but I really believe it was a vitamin tablet. The food was up (or down! ) to the usual army standard. One morning a sergeant asked me if I was a driver and when I said yes he told me to ‘move that vehicle.’ Then I realised that he was talking about a Sherman. I decided ‘nothing ven-tured, nothing gained.’ I climbed in and started the engine, put the tank in gear and let out the clutch. That stalled the engine, so I restarted and tried again. This time I was more successful and off I went at a rate of knots. When I arrived at my destination, some two hundred yards along the road, I climbed out feeling quite pleased with myself until I discovered that I had run over the guy ropes of the battery-charging tent and had dragged the tent along the road. I wasn’t very popular with the R.Signals, but after helping them to re-erect the tent we parted as friends.
On another occasion a Honey light tank needed a road test, so three or four of us climbed in and off we went to visit a local lake that I believe was called Iron Man Lake. I did know the Dutch name but can’t spell it. On the way back we came round a corner rather too fast and skidded across the road where there was a Bren Carrier parked. We hit the back of the carrier and broke both tracks. It rolled off its’ tracks and freewheeled for about fifty yards. Then a head lifted itself from inside and a surprised infantryman, who had been sleeping in-side, looked out. I think our REME LAD (Light Aid Detachment) helped put the carrier to rights.
After about two weeks at our very pleasant billet, the posting order came through and I found my mates and I were posted to the Royal Scots Greys. We packed our kit again and off we went. We were taken by truck through Weert and along the road which ran beside the ca-nal, to a small village called Someren Heide (which means heath.) The village consisted of one road with a school, a church, a pub and a number of small houses strung along it. I was told that I was now in the RHQ signals troop and would billet with about six other men in the loft of the school. This was reached by means of a ladder and a door in the end of the gable. The floor was bare but along the side, in the eaves was a deep layer of straw. This was the ob-vious place to lay our bedrolls and we found it to be surprisingly warm, even though the tem-perature in early December had dropped to just above freezing point. The school buildings were used as officer’s billets, cookhouse and mess. RHQ had four Sherman tanks on its’ strength, one for the Commanding Officer, one for the Second in Command, one for the Regimental Signals Officer and one for the RHQ Troop Sergeant. They were parked alongside the school building together with various other vehicles such as a White scout car, a number of Humber scout cars and an even bigger number of Jeeps. I was assigned to the Troop Ser-geant’s tank as wireless operator. He was an Irishman named O’Connell, and seemed quite reasonable to get along with.
About a mile from the school was a cart lodge that had been requisitioned as cook-house and mess hall for other ranks. Some trestle tables and benches had been procured from somewhere and we ate our meals on them. Small farm tracks ran off at right angles to the main road through the village leading to the outlying farms. On a Sunday the men from these farms congregated in the only pub, which happened to be the only warm place that we could find, so it became rather congested. The local beer smelt terrible and tasted even worse but it was better than nothing (but only just.)

We did get to know one local family named Wulmsen who owned a farm about a mile from our billet. They invited a couple of us to their home and we spent some very pleasant evenings with them. They had a daughter named Liese who was around my age. The regiment tried to organise a dance to which I would have invited Liese, but in this deeply Catholic area the local priest was boss and he insisted on so many rules that the dance never materialised.
The army had been trying out extensions to the Shermans’ tracks, which were then known as “Spuds”. These were found to be a big advantage in muddy ground. These are now known as “Duckbills”. The regiment started fitting these to all vehicles in early December. At the same time the tracks were also changed from rubber to steel. These gave better grip in mud but were inclined to skid on hard roads.
The weather had been deteriorating during December and one morning we woke in our billet to find that it had snowed quite heavily during the night and snow had drifted in through a gap in the roof and formed a very thin wall of snow across the floor. It was about three feet long and a foot high but very thin. It looked quite pretty but soon disappeared. On Christmas Eve, I was on guard and temperatures had dropped so far that the tanks’ tracks were in danger of freezing to the ground. The Germans had started their Ardennes offensive on the 18th De-cember and the Greys were on standby so our tanks had to be ready to move. I spent the whole of my guard starting up a tank, moving it forward a few feet, then driving it back and switch-ing off. At least the guard duty went fairly quickly.
On Christmas Day we did not get our tea served in bed, as was the custom, but the army did manage turkey with most of the trimmings for dinner. The regiment organised a party for the local children, which, although I wasn’t involved, I believe was very popular. It probably did a lot of good with the local Pastor. After dinner a couple of mates and I went for a walk and about a mile from the village we found a dump of 5.5 howitzer propellant charges. These were white cotton bags filled with explosive. We opened one bag and laid a trail up to the mound of charges. Then we put a match to the trail and stood well back. It went up with a mighty “whoosh”, and we had a lovely warm up. The warmest we had been for weeks. It made our Christmas complete.
On January 1st the Luftwaffe carried out its’ raids on airfields throughout Holland and Belgium. Some of the FW190’s flew over the RHQ area, very low and fast. I was standing next to a Humber scout car and suggested to the corporal standing next to me that we use the Bren Gun on top of the scout car to fire at the enemy aircraft. He said “don’t be daft, we would have to clean it.” I heard after the war that these raids had destroyed hundreds of air-craft on the ground.
The squadrons were using firing ranges at Lommel but communications were poor so a Corporal, a driver and I set off in the White scout car to find a position where we could relay messages between the crews who using the range and the regimental HQ. We set off in the early morning and by mid afternoon had fount a suitable spot on the outskirts of a small vil-lage. There was a farmhouse on a smallholding owned by an elderly lady who was dressed all in black as befitted her widows’ status. The farm was situated on slightly higher ground that we hoped would give us a better range for radio reception. The widow had two daughters, one about thirty whose husband had been enlisted by the Germans as slave labour, and a girl of sixteen. Madam kept a very close eye on both of the females. We had been issued with fairly generous rations so we were quite welcome. We pooled our resources, because they were quite well off for vegetables. The old lady did all the cooking and we enjoyed some home cooking for a change. Our reason for being there however did not turn out at all well. We never managed to contact either the squadron on the ranges, or the RHQ, despite using a six-teen-foot aerial and even trying Morse Code, which has a longer range than speech. After a week trying we were summoned by despatch rider and returned to the regiment.
I believe that atmospheric conditions and the short hours of daylight were the cause of our problem. The temperature has risen by the time we got back to RHQ, but this had brought it’s own problems- mud. Tanks were forbidden to use the roads so when the squadrons wanted to travel to the training areas they travelled across country. A lot of time was spent in mainte-nance and tool checks. In the first week in February the Canadian army had started an offen-sive in the Reichswald (State Forest) area, between the rivers Mass and Rhine. If Operation Market Garden had captured the Arnhem Bridge this battle need never have been fought. The regiment was made operational and the move to the Tilburg area was planned.
The drive was made on the 18th February. RHQ moved into empty houses in Tilburg. Three days later an enemy jet aircraft dropped anti-personnel bombs in the suburb where “A” Echelon were stationed. Casualties were heavy, thirty men were killed or wounded and four vehicles were destroyed. I didn’t witness any of this. Two days later, late in the evening to give the cover of darkness, the tanks moved off. We drove all night via s’Hertogenbosch, Grave and Nijmegan to a town called Groesbeek, arriving at first light. The day was spent in maintenance, the long night drive having caused a lot of wear on tracks and bogies. At 1900 hrs that evening the regiment moved again.
This time to Cleve and at 1900hrs crossed the frontier into Germany. The ride through the Reichswald was along a narrow ride, which had been marked out with hurricane lamps. One of the tanks in front of ours had run over a lamp, which had spilt its oil and was burning furiously. It had an eerie effect, causing long flickering shadows in this dark wood. After we cleared the forest the column drove onto a railway line and followed the line for some miles. This was a most uncomfortable ride. Every sleeper caused the tank to pitch up and down and if I had been prone to seasickness I am sure I would have suffered from it during this ride. Eventually we cleared the line and came to a halt. The tank was nice and warm and cosy after the long ride and we settled down to wait for dawn. Just before first light came the order to stand to. This is standard practice. The most likely time for an attack is at first light.
When I climbed out of the tank I saw a sight I had never seen before or since. We were on a forward slope of a slight rise, and stretched out in front were hundreds of tanks, the whole of Forth Armoured Brigade. We were under command of 11th Armoured Division. The armoured brigade, less the 15/19th Hussars, which was normally part of 11th Armoured Divi-sion, had been detached and moved to Belgium to re-equip with the new Comet tanks. 11th Armoured were under command of 1st Canadian Army so very often in the following weeks fighting we found ourselves alongside Canadian infantry. The area we were now situated in was just south of Cleve, where Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife had been born. The town had been reduced to rubble by the RAF heavy bombers and at the same time Bomber Command had also destroyed the small town of Udem. During the morning the trucks from “A” Echelon had arrived and we spent a long time re-fuelling. “A” Echelon is the supply column that carries POL (petrol, oil and lubricant,) water, ammunition and food up to the front line. “B” echelon is further back and comprises REME workshops, R.Signals workshop, trucks carrying troops kitbags and valises, regimental tailor, battery charging shop, mobile kitchen and regimental police. Now that we were in action we had to cook our own meals but I now found that our RHQ troop, a lot of who were ex-8th Army men were quite capable of looking after them-selves in the field. Our food was known as ‘Compo’ rations. The side of each box was sten-cilled with the legend “14 men 1 day”. We were issued with one box every two days. Since there were five men to a crew this meant that we were over supplied. The “Compo” box held 14 main meals, of which I can remember four. These were M & V (Meat and Vegetable stew), Haricot Mutton (self explanatory), Corned Beef (very popular but not often available) and vegetable salad. To go with these there were tinned potatoes, macedoine of vegetables, and concentrated soup. Since we were usually in a hurry, this soup (Pea was the favourite) was sliced up and fried. A tin of bacon (streaky rolled in greaseproof paper), dried egg and a block of porridge, which just needed water, added, made breakfast. There was tinned magarine, jam and a large tin of biscuits and to complete the rations, tinned cheese. “Compo” tea was made up of tea, dried milk and sugar in a block. Sometimes the cooks managed to supply dry tea, loose sugar and tins of evaporated milk. This would make what was known as Sergeant Ma-jor’s Brew. Beside food there were also 28 sheets of “Army Form Blank” (Toilet Paper), a supply of boiled sweets and a tin of cigarettes. Cooking was done on what was known as a ‘Benghazi cooker.’ This was made from half of a ‘flimsy’ petrol can with holes knocked in the side. A shovel of earth was added, followed by an empty food tin of petrol. When this was ig-nited it would give a flame good enough to cook on for about half an hour. At this time 4th Armoured Brigade consisted of my own regiment, the Greys, 44th Battn. RTR, ¾ CLY (County of London Yeomanry, 2nd Battn KRRC (Kings Royal Rifle Corps and 4th RHA (Royal Horse Artillery) The total number of tanks would have been around 150 of whom about 45% would have been Firefly’s, the 17pdr carrying tank.
During the day the brigade moved into position ready for the battle due to start on the following day. RHQ troop ended up in a field with the RHA., whose guns were 25pdr’s mounted on Grant tank chassis. This made them highly mobile since they could travel as fast as the tanks they were supporting. The whole of the 11th Armd Div. artillery, medium guns up to 6” plus the Heavy Guns of 1st Canadian Army were available for this battle. The barrage when it began was reported heavier than the battle of Alamein. RHQ troop moved into a field alongside the battery of 4th RHA self-propelled guns. The battle was planned to commence at 1400hrs on 26th February with the barrage falling on six enemy positions, starting at H-hour minus 10 and carrying on until H-hour plus 5. Being in the same field as the guns, we experi-enced at first hand the concentration of fire. A tale went round that when the first German prisoners came in, they asked if they could see the belt-fed 25pdr guns we were using. The time for H-hour slipped and eventually turned out to be at 1800hrs. This meant that the battle was fought in darkness. ‘Monty’s Moonlight provided artificial light’ by searchlights shining on the clouds above. This became standard practice and we became used to working in this strange half-light. RHQ troop moved to the top of a small rise where we could see the battle going on at the bottom of the hill. A goose had been ‘liberated’ from a farm while on route and I hung it from the wire strung across the rear of the tank where we carried our cooking utensils and the ‘Benghazi’ cooker. I then plucked the goose during a mortar attack, but being under the overhang of the hull I was safe unless one dropped behind the tank. We had ob-tained a large; double handled cooking pot that just held the goose so we roasted it whole. We had some Canadian troops with us and we shared our goose with them. In theory they were supposed to get a hot meal but their cooks had been unable to reach them so they were very grateful. During another mortar attack I didn’t have time to climb in the tank so I shared a slit trench with one of the Canadians and then I was grateful. That night I was on wireless watch in our tank. Luckily the set was fitted with the Canadian Mk2 power unit so I had the nice quiet vibrator unit. The battle went on all night and we could see the tracer rounds of our own and the German guns curving up into the night sky. There were also fires in the distance from burning buildings and vehicles.
The following morning we could see a Sherman in the field nearby, so we went across to have a look. It was blackened and rusty, after only one day. We climbed on top and opened the driver’s hatch. There was a blackened skeleton minus a head sitting at the controls with its’ hands still on the control columns. It must have been so sudden that he never felt a thing. We looked in the turret and found more bones on the floor. At that age every young soldier believes he is invincible and we thought this couldn’t happen to us.
That night “C” Sqdn carried out a further attack together with the KSLI (Kings Somer-set Light Infantry) against heavy opposition. The attack started at 0050 hrs and all objectives were taken by 0400hrs. 4 SP guns and 3 Mk1V Panzers had been knocked out and 70 prison-ers taken. Later that day we heard that the Canadians had taken Udem. The infantry had been carried in Kangaroos (Ram tanks with turrets removed so that they could carry eight infantry-men in comparative safety) for the first time. The regiment moved forward and formed a line south of Udem, with “A” sqdn on the right, ”B” on the left, RHQ in the centre and “C” in re-serve.
The following day was quiet and was used to maintain tanks but during the following night there was some shellfire and one or two AP shots came through the leaguer. During the night one of the scout car drivers, who was sleeping in his vehicle, felt a bump at the rear and when he had a look in the morning, found an AP round stuck in the engine louvers. It must have been right at the end of its trajectory.
The attack had been planned for the afternoon, the objective being the high ground south of the Balberger Wald. RHQ moved into a position between some farm buildings but we had only been there a short while and the first man climbed out of the tank when a sniper opened up with a Spandau machine gun, from the copse to our right. No one could get out un-til help arrived in the shape of a Churchill Crocodile flamethrower. This clanked up the road until it was within about two hundred yards of the copse. The flame gunner drenched the trees with fire and the whole copse burst into flames. No one could have lived through it.
There was a wide-open valley between the regiment and the objective with an anti-tank ditch 15ft deep and 20ft wide, with trenches and multiple barbed wire system. It was raining with low mist and ground conditions were very bad. We had to drive along a arm road to our starting position which was beside a group of buildings with a pigsty near the road. Just as we arrived at the farm a Sherman standing in front of us was hit by a mortar round on it’s front glacis plate. Unfortunately the crew had stowed a can of petrol on the front, which ex-ploded. The petrol ran up the glacis and down into both front hatches, setting driver and co-driver alight. The gun was aligned over the driver’s hatch so he could not get out that way. For some reason the co-driver decided to leave by the escape hatch, released it and came out that way. The tank was rather deep in the mud and the co-driver stuck, so we had to pull him out through the mud. We put him out with our fire extinguisher and then helped the driver out through the co-driver’s hatch. He was also extinguished and helped onto the back of our tank. A German Medical Orderly then arrived helping a wounded German infantryman. The orderly was very tall, wearing a German army greatcoat. He had a long thin face with a very lugubri-ous expression. They were also helped onto on the back of our tank.
Sgt O’Connell then handed me the fire extinguisher and said ”Put that fire out,” mean-ing the burning tank that had a circle of fire all round the turret ring. I was just about to start when a further salvo of mortar rounds started to fall so I dived into the nearest slit trench. I then realised that was only a slightly better position. Right beside my slit trench was parked the brigade scissors bridge, which was mounted on a Valentine tank chassis. The track of this vehicle was right along the side of the slit trench and was slowly crushing the side of the trench. As I was right beside the pigsty, I hopped over the low wall and through the low door into the building. When the mortaring ceased I came out to find that the fire had gone without any help from me. “A” sqdn were having a very tough battle about half a mile further down the road, judging from the radio calls I could hear. Darkness had fallen and we heard that many tanks had become bogged down in the very muddy ground. Some of them were sunk up to their bellies.
An order came through the radio for our tank to go back to a certain crossroads to meet the brigade ARV’s (Armoured Recovery Vehicles) and escort them back to RHQ. We had to find our way along a narrow track with a deep water-filled ditch on either side. The only illu-mination was “Monty’s Moonlight” and our driver was very worried about falling into the ditches.
Sgt. O’Connell told me to light a cigarette, hold it behind my back and walk along the middle of the track so that the driver could follow my guidance. I found this a bit worrying because I couldn’t see how close the tank was on my heels. However we arrived at the end of the track and could turn on to the road. The cross roads were about a quarter of a mile away and we settled down to wait for the ARV’s.
We heard an aircraft overhead, and the noise altered as he started to dive. We man-aged to get all the hatches closed when a bomb fell in the field next to us. A huge amount of mud was thrown up into the air, a lot of which fell all over our tank. We had quite a job open-ing the hatches because of the weight of the mud. In spite of our efforts the ARV’s never did show up but they must have found another route to our bogged down tanks. We had a job to find our way back to the RHQ site and spent the remainder of the night at the edge of a wood. When we made our way down the road from the wood in the morning we found ourselves in front of the forward troops of another regiment. They put us back on the right road. The for-ward squadron, “B” sqdn, with the KSLI infantry carried on the backs of their tanks, had man-aged to get six tanks over the scissors bridge, had lost one tank to AP, which had brewed up. The infantry had, however managed to protect their tanks from enemy infantry who were us-ing “Panzerfaust” the German version of the “Bazooka.” The high ground at the Balberger Wald and the village of Neuenbauershof had been cleared of the enemy. There was some shelling during the following night but by the next day we heard that the Canadians were now level with us and our flanks were secure. The next two days were quiet and were spent our time on cleaning and maintenance. I had my 19th birthday on the 6th of March (the second day) we had rather a lot of mud to remove. We then discovered that we had been squeezed out of the operation. The battle had lasted only five days but to me they had seemed a lot longer. It was some of the fiercest fighting of the war, forcing a gap in the Siegfried line against German Paratroops and SS men defending their homeland for the first time. The brigade was ordered back to Belgium to rest and re-fit. 44th RTR were to train on DD Shermans (the swimming tanks which had been used for the D-Day landings in Normandy.) We travelled on tracks back as far as Nijmegen where we were to meet the tank transporters supplied by RASC. RHQ travelled at the head of the column, followed by Recce Troop (Reconnaissance Troop) then by “A”,”B” and “C” Squadrons. We left our positions at 2200hrs., drove through the night using only the red tail light on the vehicle in front for guidance, arriving in Nijmegen at 0130hrs. The transporters were lined up along the side of the road with a gap between them to enable our tanks to turn in and drive straight on. When RHQ had loaded and we had climbed out we found that the rear-link operator, Sigmn Tilly, was still fast asleep in the co-driver’s position. Our driver banged on the side of the tank with a hammer and shouted, “Come on Tilly, wakie wakie.“ The hatch opened, Tilly climbed out and stepped off. It was of course, pitch dark and he could not see how far off the ground he was. Luckily he wasn’t really awake and hit the ground rather relaxed, so no damage was done.
The column moved off at 0700hrs. and our transporters carried us to Eysden in Bel-gium, arriving at four in the afternoon.
During the march Capt.Warrender, who was standing up in the turret hit his head on the branch of a tree under which he moving. He had to be evacuated to hospital.
While we were in the battle area our crew had “acquired” a number of bicycles, and while we were at one of the innumerable halts during the move, managed to barter them with the Belgian civilians who ran along beside us. Most of the crews rode on the engine covers of the tank. Unfortunately the exhaust pipe on the Diamond T tank transporter is brought out at roof level, so we all got a good dose of diesel exhaust and some of us were sick. The first thing we did on arrival at our new area was to make a brew up. The transporters were parked just up the road from our position and we noticed that one of the drivers was about to pour fuel onto an already light cooker. All the tank crews dived to the ground, expecting an explo-sion but nothing happened. Then the penny dropped. The Jerrycan he was tipping up con-tained diesel fuel, nothing like the high-octane fuel that our tanks used, and needed heating before it would burn.
Day passes to Brussels were allowed and I had one day in the city. We used our own unit transport and I had a very pleasant day back in civilisation. The day was marred however by an accident on the way in. The driver in the truck in front of ours had muddy boots, which slipped on the clutch pedal. The truck lurched forward and the two men nearest the tailgate fell out. Both were injured, one more seriously, who died of a fractured skull before reaching hospital.
After too short a break from the war the regiment’s tanks were again loaded onto transporters on the 16th March, carried to Venlo and over the river Maas, to a village called Massbrek. We arrived at 1730hrs, were offloaded and remained at the side of the road.
While we were stationary I saw the Westminster Dragoons drive past in their flail tanks (Shermans fitted with a revolving drum carried on brackets in front, with a large number of chains hanging down from the drum. When the engine revolves this, the chains hit the ground and explode any mines hidden there.) Later a column of very large transporters drove past, each one carrying a Landing Craft Assault. The brigade, less the 44th RTR, who had re-mained in Belgium to conceal their DD tanks, now moved up to the area of Udem. Our RHQ troop moved just after midnight on the 17th March and arrived at a devastated Udem in the early hours of the morning.
We immediately set about making ourselves as comfortable as possible and found a not quite demolished house that had still got a few rooms that could make habitable. The kitchen was almost intact and still had a kitchen range, which, with the aid of wood from the damaged houses, provided us with a hot meal. This cooker had a boiling area on it’s top sur-face with a set of rings which could be removed to suit the size of saucepan which was in use. The flue was a cast iron pipe bolted to the rear of the top plate, which turned through 45 de-grees and entered the wall behind where it was cemented in place. This cooker worked fine until one of the lads decided that the fire needed some encouragement and poured on a “bully” tin of petrol. The cooker was still very hot and when he applied a match the resultant petrol vapour exploded. All the rings from the top of the cooker blew off and the flue shot across the kitchen leaving the soot of ages over all of us. It took us a long time to clear up but no one had been injured and I think we all learnt a lesson about the power of petrol vapour. We decided to make some pancakes but we had no eggs and our flour was not self-raising. One lad had a tin of Andrews Liver Salts so we added some to our batter. It worked surprisingly well and the pancakes rose in quite a spectacular fashion, to be enjoyed by all.
On the 22nd March the regiment paraded in a large farmyard and were addressed by the Brigadier, Michael Carver, who later became Chief of the General Staff. He climbed onto a farm cart and told us to break ranks and form a circle around him. He told us about the forth-coming operation to force a crossing of the Rhine and ended with the admonishment. ”You are about to cross the Rhine, and I know what you are thinking of - Rape, Loot and Pillage. I draw the line at rape. !!”
On the night of the 23rd March the barrage started the softening up of the positions on the far bank. Near to the Rhine, batteries of light guns such as 20mm and 40mm Bofors guns were firing on a flat trajectory straight across the river. These were followed by the medium guns (25pdrs) further back from the water and further back still the 6in. and 8in. guns of the Corps and Army artillery batteries. This made a colossal noise and continued well into the night. The “swimming” tanks of 44RTR crossed the river in the early hours of the 24th. By the early light of dawn the air armada flew over our heads carrying the paratroops of the 6th Air-borne, followed by the air landing brigades in their gliders, towed by four engine bombers. As one flew over to our left at about four thousand feet, the tail of the glider suddenly fell off. The front half of the machine began to swing down on its towrope when the glider pilot re-leased the tow. The glider broke up as we watched and all we saw looked like confetti falling from the sky. I never saw any signs of the crew or the cargo. Over to our right front about two miles away, a 4- engine bomber had been hit and was trailing smoke. I saw six parachutes leave the stricken aircraft the it turned onto one wing and fell like a stone. We had a front seat view because lies on rising ground a few miles from the river. The bombers and glider tugs returned at such a low altitude that they had to climb to clear the higher ground that we occu-pied. As one huge aircraft flew over my head it was so low that I could see every detail of the bomb bay, whose doors were still open.
We packed all our kit, cooking equipment, bedrolls etc. on the tank and were told that could expect to cross the Rhine late that evening. In the event we did not start moving until just after midnight. We moved down from Udem to the river, driving through the gaps that had been bulldozed through the floodbanks. At this point on the river there were three of these about half a mile apart. There was one squadron in front of RHQ in the line-up waiting to cross by means of rafts pulled across the river using RAF winches that had previously been used to haul up and down the barrage balloons over London. We waited nearly all day for or-ders to cross when news came that a pontoon bridge had been completed further down the river. The whole column about turned, drove back through the floodbanks along parallel to the river, to the point where the bridge had been constructed. This now meant that RHQ were now in the lead, so my tank was the third to cross. It was a lovely sunny day, so warm that many squaddies had removed their shirts and were sunbathing on the bank of the Rhine. Beside the bridge was a large sign stating that we were now crossing the Rhine by courtesy of the? Engi-neer Company, United States Army. The bridge was a Class 40 Bailey type, sufficient to carry a Sherman, but only one tank at a time on each pontoon boat
There was a newsreel cameraman on the side of the bridge filming us as we crossed but I think our picture must have ended on the cutting room floor because I have never seen it. As we drove over each boat I could see the water rising up the side, leaving about six inches of freeboard, and I was quite relieved to reach the eastern bank of the river, which at this point is some quarter of a mile wide.
As we drove along the bank there was a large bomb or shell crater that was spanned by a Bailey bridge that carried the proud sign. “You are now crossing a shell crater by cour-tesy of? Field Squadron, Royal Engineers”.
We moved into a leaguer area on the edge of a wood just before dark and after quick meal laid our tarpaulin sheet down beside the tank with the bedrolls in a line on it, pulled the end of the sheet up over us and prepared to sleep with our heads exposed. If any action oc-curred during the night we could always slide under the tank. As soon as it got dark the Luft-waffe attempted to bomb the bridge, but were prevented from doing so by the streams of anti-aircraft fire directed at them. From our viewpoint it was like Bonfire Night, with the streams of tracer filling the night sky, which was mild and cloudless.
The following morning we drove into the area where the airborne assault had taken place. In one large open space surrounded by trees the gliders had landed. There were a num-ber of them at the far end of the field and some of them had been burnt out. The reason for this soon became apparent. At the end of the field where we were, was a German Flakvierling, a 4-barrelled 20mm anti-aircraft gun mounted on a half-track. This had obviously been shoot-ing up the gliders as they landed. Lying across the top of the gun was a Horsa glider, broken in half, with a Jeep and a 6pdr Anti-tank gun protruding from the wreckage. The pilot had sacri-ficed his own chances to put the Flakvierling out of action. Lying beside it were the bodies of two members of the Glider Pilot’s Regiment, both of whom had been wounded. Their wounds had been dressed but afterwards they had both been shot in the head. I think this would have counted as a war crime.
Lying on his back beside the track running across the field was the body of a young German soldier who could not have been much older that sixteen. He had been shot in the back and the exit wound had ripped his ribs out through his chest. The thing that I found most noticeable was the surprised expression on his face. In the trees beside the field there were parachutes hanging, with a blanket covered body under each chute. In a barn close by were a row of about half a dozen paratroops cover up with just their boots showing. I think that this was the day when I realised that I was becoming immune to the sight of death.
Later that afternoon the squadrons moved up to relieve the 44th RTR and started to clear the area north of the woods. Some opposition was met and an AP round in the tracks put one tank out of action. The regiment leagured with RHQ after the action and a squadron lead-ers conference was held late that evening.
The following morning, the 27th, the regiment crossed the river Issel at Ringenberg and started to clear the woods in that area. At midday RHQ had moved into the woods behind the squadrons. We had cooked our midday meal and I was standing beside the left hand drive sprocket holding my meal in my hand when I heard the rushing noise of an approaching shell. The High Explosive shell hit the tree right above me in the treetops. I felt a blow on my back, but I didn’t stop to investigate and hurriedly scrambled into the co-driver’s seat, still carrying my meal. When I pulled my battledress blouse down, I got Stan our driver to have a look but it was just a bruise, probably caused by a branch of the tree.
After about ten minutes the shelling stopped and we climbed our. On the mudguard where I had been standing when the shell had exploded was a spare bogie wheel with a rubber tire. Embedded in the tire was a large piece of shrapnel. We found out later that the guns, which had laid the barrage, were British. A case of friendly fire. A Lieutenant Pensfers was sitting in the Weasel, when he was wounded and as soon as the shelling ceased he was evacu-ated.
The area we were now in was the rich farming country of the Rhineland and we found farmhouses bursting with food. There were hams hanging from the rafters, bottled fruit of all kinds, a kind of skinless sausage packed in lard coiled into Kilner jars and chicken, ducks and geese for the taking.
There were potato “clamps”, which were mounds of potatoes covered with earth. One of the squadrons had “liberated” an egg-packing factory and nearly every tank had a case of eggs strapped on their engine covers. Added to our “Compo” rations we lived very well. I suppose the thought that every meal might be our last encouraged us to eat everything in sight.
The nights were getting shorter, which meant that “stand to”, at first light, was getting earlier every morning. We had to have everything packed on board with all crew present and with engines running. As soon as it was full daylight the “stand down” command came over the air and we could switch off, dismount, get all the gear off which was necessary and start cooking breakfast. It could happen that an order to move came before we had time to finish cooking, in which case everything had to be dumped and the frypan etc. reloaded on the tank.
On the night following the friendly shelling, “C” Sqdn. supported a night attack on the town of Bocholt, with infantry of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The area was heavily mined and one tank was lost to a mine. The river in the town was reached in the early hours of the 28th March. In the morning, “B” Sqdn, with the 2nd Battn. Kings Royal Rifle Corps started clearing woods near the town. They met heavy machine gun fire from either side of the road, but using 75mm HE, cut this down and the infantry were able to get into the woods and clear them. In the early morning of 29th “C” Sqdn were still in Bocholt when a German came out of a house and fired a Panzerfaust, which luckily missed. He was dealt with
The regiment moved very early on 30th March, reaching the outskirts of Bocholt at 0545. We were held up until mines had been cleared. When the engineers had finished they marked the cleared area with white taps and put up a notice “Roads and verges cleared eight feet” We then moved on to the next town, which was called Rhede. The town was clear of the enemy but there was a demolition beyond it which was too wide for the scissors bridge so the Reece troop were sent to find a way round. A route was found to the west of the town and we were soon on the move again to a town called Grosse Burlo where our leading tanks met the 8th Hussars who had come in by another road.
On the following day our leading column met the tanks of 7th Armd. Div., coming the other way. The regiment moved into a leaguer area and carried out cleaning and maintenance. We had a chance to clean ourselves up and cook some more substantial meals. The weather had been particularly bad and the message came over the radio to ”Splice the mainbrace,” which as every sailor knows, means issue rum to all ranks. In a mug of tea in was very much appreciated. We remained at these positions until April 2nd, when the clocks were put forward one hour.
The next move started early in the morning of the 2nd. Driving through Vreden and Ot-tenstein to Ochtrup. “B” Sqdn reached the area first and were met with small arms fire. “A” Company of the 2nd KRRC went forward and the firing ceased. One of Recce Troop Honey tanks was recceing local tracks when it was blown up on a mine. The driver was one of the chaps I shared a billet with in Weert. A further Honey became bogged in a ditch. Luckily there were no serious injuries in either of these incidents. The ambulances the regiment was equipped with, were American White Half-tracks, semi armoured vehicles that could cross most of the ground the tanks could cover. This meant that wounded crews could be removed to the Regimental Aid Post as soon as possible. The following day the regiment was taken over by a new Commanding Officer, Lt.Col. Stewart MC. and it moved, less “C” Sqdn, to NeuenKirchen.
RHQ moved into the courtyard of a large farmhouse that still had civilians in occupa-tion. They claimed that they had had nothing to do with the Nazi party and had just been farmers throughout the war. One of the lads found freshly turned earth in one of the barns, so we dug it up and found a quantity of very smart uniforms with all the Nazi insignia, with ceremonial dagger and belt. The ‘civilians’ were handed over to the authorities. On the same day we saw a very unusual aircraft fly over with scimitar shaped wings, and an engine sound-ing like an express train. I now know that this was one of the first jet aircraft a Messerschmitt 263.
On the 5th April the brigade came under command of the 52nd Lowland Division. This division had been trained in mountain warfare and had no experience of working with tanks. I heard a lot of complaints over the radio about infantry who hid behind the tanks instead of go-ing forward and protecting the tanks from Panzerfaust carrying enemy infantry. It had been expected that a bridge would be ready over the Dortmund-Ems Canal by 0600hrs in the morn-ing but there had been a hold-up. “A” sqdn moved down to the canal bank to give fire support to the Glasgow Highlanders as they crossed the bridge. In the event the regiment crossed at 0600hrs on the 6th April. “B” Sqdn had the job of taking Hopsten, with 156Bde. The village was strongly held by SS troops with SP guns and a tank. Crocodile flame-throwers helped a great deal but the battle lasted all day. ”B” Sqdn lost one tank to mines and two men in a Honey were wounded. RHQ Troop spent the night at a shattered farmhouse on the edge of Rheine airfield.
April 7th was a quiet day taken up by cleaning and maintenance. I had managed to get some flour from the cooks when the ration truck delivered, and made some ‘Bully’ fritters by making some batter, dipping slices of corned beef in it and frying them. On the following morning “A” Sqdn with a company of the 6 Cameronians plus 8 Crocodiles attacked a village called Recke. This was really a sledgehammer to crack a nut- the village was unoccupied.
On the next day “C” Sqdn took a village called Voltage without opposition, mainly to secure access to two bridges over a stream to the northeast. The next day “A” Sqdn contacted the infantry at 1400hrs and attacked a village called Alfhausen. All seemed quiet until they entered the town when they were heavily sniped. They responded by using 75mm HE to set the whole village on fire.
Just after midnight on 10\11 April a column was formed consisting of “C” Sqdn, a company of infantry riding in Kangaroos and two troops of Archer 17pdr SP guns (Royal Ar-tillery). Driving along very poor tracks and covering some 20 miles they seized and held the village of Holdorf by 0230 hrs.
On the 12th April the Brigade was ordered to accompany 52nd Lowland Division on a seventy-mile night march to a town called Rethem. Every tank had to follow the very dim convoy light mounted on the vehicle in front. One tank missed a turn and drove down into a ditch. Naturally about four more tanks followed the one in front. Luckily no one got stuck and the whole regiment arrived in the new area by 0800hrs on the morning of the 13th April when we passed the remainder of the day on maintenance and rest. I had travelled in the co-driver’s seat and by the time we arrived the gear and differential gear boxes were hot enough to keep the tank warm for an hour or so. It was a wonder that our by rather elderly Shermans managed such a long run on their tracks. I don’t think that any modern tank could do it.
The following day the regiment closed up to the town of Rethem and crossed the river Aller at around seven in the evening. A group made up of the regiment plus Royal Welch Fu-siliers in Kangaroos had the job of clearing the woods east of the town that was difficult be-cause there was only one track through the wood. The area was alive with Panzerfaust and Spandau parties. By the time it got dark, ”C” Sqdn was leading and it was found that the safest method of advancing was for the tank behind the leader to fire HE past the tank in front. This soon set the wood on fire and the opposition soon disappeared.
By the dawn of the 15th, we had reached open heath-land with a wide area of grass and gorse. We had just started preparing a meal and I had cracked fourteen eggs into the huge fry-pan that we had “liberated” from a farmhouse, when we heard the moaning noise of a salvo of Nebelwurfer rounds on their way. Although Nebelwurfer means smoke- thrower in German, this name was only given to the weapon to fool the Armistice Commission in the thirties. It is actually a six-barrelled mortar that fires rather large rounds of HE, each of which is fitted with a different whistle. The noise is enough to frighten anyone. Its only redeeming feature is the fact that the rounds fall in roughly a straight line, so having watched the first two rounds fall I could get on with my cooking. Since it takes about ten minutes to reload the weapon we knew we then had a respite.
During the afternoon a report came through on the radio that one of the leading tanks had found a German field telephone still connected to a line, and when the tank commander had turned the crank handle attached to the phone and listened to the handset, a voice had an-swered in German. While we had been in Holland, a German-speaking Dutch Sergeant of the Free Netherlands Army had been seconded to the regiment as an interpreter. The sergeant was sent up the front line and when the telephone was operated again he spoke to the German offi-cer on the other end of the line and persuaded him to surrender the village he was defending, without a fight.
When RHQ was moving along a narrow country road later on that day there were in-fantry in the ditch beside the road taking cover from mortar shells that were falling at inter-vals. Since we were halted at the time we offered the infantrymen a place in our tank until the mortaring had ceased. The answer came back “ I wouldn’t want to get in that tin-can for all the tea in China.”
The following day, April 15th,”A” Sqdn with 2 companies of infantry carried in Kanga-roos put in attack on the village of Kirchboitzen. The village was strongly held by SS troops and Marines. The infantry seemed to have disappeared so 1st troop of “A” Sqdn went in alone. The first tank in was the troop commander’s who had six Panzerfaust fired at him, all of which missed. The attack was successfully completed and by 0900 hrs the town was cleared.
The Honey tanks of Reece troop went on ahead to check the area outside the town when they came across a piece of open ground and, on the far side, a battery of 105mm guns. There was no time to form any plan, so the commander of the Recce troop pointed his um-brella at the German guns and shouted “Charge”, over the radio. Off went Recce troop like the charge of the Light Brigade, blazing away with everything they had got. The defenders were so surprised at the light tanks coming towards them at about thirty miles an hour that they came out with their hands up.
“A” and “B” sqns were having trouble at the village of Vethem, so “A” sqdn leader decided to pull everyone back and flatten the village. Using concentrated 17pdr and 75mm HE and AP gunfire the village was taken by 2300hrs. A sniper killed one young officer.
In the early hours of 16th April, a number of enemy infantry with horse transport, which the Germans used a great deal, tried to enter the village of Idsingen, retreating to what they thought was safety. Unfortunately our tanks held the village. After a short engagement about 20 dead German marines, several horses, and 3 105mm guns lay in the road. At 0800hrs a bridge was found to be blown and a Churchill bridge-layer was called forward and the bridge was laid under MG fire. The regiment crossed the bridge without mishap. Sniping was still persistent so the undergrowth was set on fire with tracer fire. This removed the opposi-tion. The advance continued toward Bendingbostel where an 88mm flak gun opened up from a wood. Two companies of infantry attacked the woods and the gun fired three rounds. All of “C” Sqdn opened up with HE and the gun was knocked out. The village was taken by 1930hrs.
The following day the regiment, with “C”sqdn leading swanned across country north of Verden. RHQ halted along a road with private houses along the right hand side, and an open area of marshy land, criss-crossed by ditches on the left. When the time came to move on, our tank refused to start. When we took the engine covers off, we found that the engine had seized up. A house on our right had been set on fire by a burst of tracer through the win-dow. As it started to get dark the fire had by now taken hold and we were silhouetted against the flames. The rest of the regiment had gone on and we were left alone. The fields to our left were known to be full of German marines, so we took in turns to carry out sentry duty, sitting in the turret cupola, holding the tank commander’s Sten Gun. Every noise and every light in the distance made me very alert, but nothing untoward happened.
The following morning our fitters arrived in their White half-track. We removed all our personal kit and bedrolls from our tank and loaded them into the half-track. The fitters then proceeded to weld the hatches of our tank, which was then left looking rather forlorn be-side the road. As we drove away I couldn’t help feeling a sense of homelessness. At mid-afternoon we caught up with RHQ and spent that night sleeping in the back of the half-track. I felt very exposed having no top on the vehicle, especially when one or two mortar rounds fell in the vicinity. The following morning I was transferred to the second-in-command tank as front gunner.
On 18th April “A” sqdn moved into Verden and contacted the infantry and moved on to Davelsen, which had been reported clear. This was inaccurate and First Troop had to assist the Ox & Bucks in clearing it. This took about twenty minutes. “A” Sqdn then moved on to a vil-lage called Langwedel where they were met with heavy shellfire. A party of some 30 Germans cut the road between 1st Troop and the remainder of the squadron, but were driven off by con-centrated shellfire.
A roadblock had been set up in the centre of the village consisting of a concrete block on both sides and sections of railway line dropped into slots in the blocks. We found that the beat way of clearing these obstacles was to fire a round of 17pdr AP into each of the concrete blocks, then use HE to move the remainder. Finally the brigade bulldozer Sherman cleared the rubble away to the side of the road. The village was cleared by 1700hrs.
On 19th April “C” Sqdn attacked towards Etelsen. Snipers and an SP gun held them up but 1st and 4th Troop engaged them. 2nd and 3rd Troop took the village and 130 prisoners. While still outside the village one tank was hit by 11 rounds of 88mm fire, which blew it’s tracks off. The crew dismounted just before it caught fire.
The squadron were still in the village the next day and were heavily shelled. They had one man killed and three wounded. On 20th April, “A” and “B” sqdns moved forward until the leading tank crossed the road and railway junction where it was hit and set on fire. This area was covered by a heavy concentration of 88mm guns. Two were knocked out by 3rd Troop. One young officer saw a gun flash and opened fire in that direction. He was hit 5 times by 88mm. The remainder of the squadron laid down a heavy smoke screen and eventually pushed on up the road. On the next day, two troops of “C” sqdn moved on to Baden against once again heavy shelling and sniping. They took the village along with 150 prisoners.
The following day the regiment was resting and spent the day on maintenance and cleaning up tanks. With five men living in such a confined space the inside was inclined to get full of all sorts of dirt and rubbish, so the chance to clean it out is very welcome. The cooks brought up the rations, including fresh bread. So far, the field bakeries had kept up with the advance and we had accumulated quite a store of unused biscuits. One of the crews had “lib-erated” a pub with a good store of wine. This was good quality wine from the Rhine and Mosel but unfortunately our untrained palates did not appreciate it.
On April 23rd “B” Sqdn sent 2 Troops to support infantry attacking Aachim, the attack being preceded by aerial bombing. We still had Typhoons on call and a RAF liaison officer travelled in his own tank, which was a Sherman with the gun removed, but fitted with a dummy gun so that the enemy could not distinguish his vehicle from the Greys tanks. On the approach road to the town the Germans had buried an aerial bomb deep in the road, connected to a wire running to a concealed bunker. When a Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower was over the bomb he detonated the bomb. When my tank drove up the road later in the day we had to cross on a section of Bailey bridge over the crater. The trailer from the flame-thrower had been shifted into a gap in the hedge. The Churchill itself, all 40-odd tons, had been lifted bod-ily over the hedge beside the road and was lying upside down in the field. Mercifully the crew could not have felt a thing.
We were now on the outskirts of Bremen, the first large town we had entered. Tanks are not very good for fighting in built-up areas and we had bypassed most of the other towns in Germany. At midday on the 24th, RHQ set up a headquarters in a school. As usual the Troop signal-men, of which I was a member, ran extension cables from the C.O’s tank into the build-ing so that the Forward and Rear-link wireless sets could be operated from inside. We also rigged up lighting using 12v lamps and wireless batteries.

My tank was in a road at a right angle to the main road, and sitting in the front gun-ner’s seat I had a good view when a battery of 88s started shelling one of the squadrons, which was just across the other side of the field opposite. Luckily these were anti-aircraft guns, and although they were the same guns which caused us so much trouble in the field, were not sup-plied with any armour piercing ammunition. After a dozen or so rounds had been fired they turner their attention on the school. When they started falling uncomfortably close the C.O decided to move RHQ back to a quieter area. Signals troop then had the job of stripping out the equipment from the school under fire. I found myself lifting a 125AHC battery, which must have weighed around 65lbs, straight up onto the back of a Sherman, a lift of about seven feet. It is amazing what an incentive high explosive can be. I climbed back into my own tank at high speed and pulled the hatch shut. The shells were bursting in the air, and there was a danger of shrapnel from above. Later on, when we had moved back about half a mile I climbed out of the hatch, I found that shrapnel had damaged the hatch handle. That night we drank a large amount of our German wine.
The next move was into a quiet suburb of Bremen. We were lined up in a residential area and I was standing next to my tank when a little old lady, dressed in black, came up to me and said in quite good English, ”I believe you are collecting these,” and handed me a Box Brownie camera. She explained that Dr. Goebells had warned them that the “Black Yankees” were coming to their city. She was very relieved that young white Englishmen had come. I was so astonished that I accepted her gift. Later that day we moved further into the city. Driv-ing was very difficult because of all the bomb damage. It was a job to see where the actual road was in places because of the rubble strewn across it. The tramlines were hanging down across the road and or tanks skidded on their steel tracks in and out of the cables.
We stopped in a rather upper class district, and were just settling in when a civilian came up out of the basement where he had been hiding, and fired a Panzerfaust into the Sher-man which was nearest, ran back into the basement and disappeared. The tank caught fire and was destroyed. Our infantry at this time were still members of 52nd Lowland Division. There were further complaints about their unsuitability for working with tanks. There was quite a lot of looting in this street. I found a radio, some Dutch silver coins and a small automatic pistol. Someone found a box full of fireworks, which caused a panic when some idiot put a match to them. When they started exploding, with rockets zipping along the street crews jumped into their tanks and turrets started revolving towards the source of the noise. It eventually calmed down, and I heard a radio call from the leading squadron that had penetrated the harbour area. The regiment had acquired a collection of vehicles on it’s way across Germany, including a very nice Fire Tender which would make a recreational vehicle when hostilities ceased. The squadron down at the harbour wanted to know if it would be OK to take a German Navy destroyer “on strength”.
On April 28th, after two days rest in Bremen, the regiment moved off at 1700hrs, cov-ering 25 miles without a breakdown. It remained in position for the remainder of the night. The following morning we moved off at 0900hrs to Puttensen, a distance of 70 miles, still with no breakdowns. We now joined up with 6th Airborne Division. “C” Squadron managed to get over the Elbe River with the paratroopers. The biggest problem seemed to be the shortage of maps. We had outrun the supply.
We now had the job of carrying the paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division on the backs of our tanks for the advance to the Baltic Sea. “C” Sqdn were already over the Elbe, but the bridge had been allocated to 11th Armd Div, so the C.O. and eight tanks of Recce Troop, plus the C.O’s scout car went down to the river at 0645hrs and managed to infiltrate them-selves in with 11th Armd. After crossing the river they went on to Adendorf, where they pulled off the road onto the local racecourse to have breakfast. Although they signalled the following 11th Armd. to carry on, they followed our tanks. Eventually they managed to sort things out. This small advance party spent the night at Boizenburg, while the rest of the regiment had moved up to Scharnbeck but were still not allowed access to the bridge. On the night of the 1st May the 6th Airborne were given an allotment for the American bridge at 0700hrs the follow-ing morning.. To get the message to the regiment, the C.O. sent Capt.Hanbury back in the Weasel with instructions. Because the bridges were one-way traffic only, he had to swim the river in the Weasel. After delivering his message he went back across the river and caught up with his Recce Troop at 1100hrs who were by this time advancing at full speed northwards.
On the 2nd May, the 1st Bn. Parachute Regt, 3 Para Brigade were mounted on our tanks at 0530hrs. “C”Sqdn with Recce Troop and the C.O in his Dingo out in front moved up the centre line. It was hoped that the town of Wittenburg would be taken by the end of the day. It was reached at 1030hrs with no opposition. The lead tanks pushed on to Lutzow, where “C”Sqdn took up positions each side of the road. Sgt.Stewart of 2nd Troop spotted transport trucks moving away, which he engaged with HE and set three or four on fire. They now moved on to Gadesbusch, where the tanks overran enemy troops who were so surprised that they surrendered without a shot. From now onwards for the rest of the day the enemy column on the other side of the road was unending. There were single cylinder farm tractors pulling flat trailers loaded with furniture, bedding, household goods of all kinds plus the elderly and children. Troops still carrying rifles and wearing steel helmets marched in order. I even saw a MK111 Panzer in the column. The C.O of 3rd Para Bde rode on the pillion seat of a Greys Despatch rider, with Recce Troop and the Greys C.O. headed for Wismar, on the coast.
About midday, as RHQ was moving through one town, the tank in front was fired on from an open space on the right hand side of the road. It was only small arms fire, but obvi-ously would have to be dealt with. Half a dozen paras jumped off their tank and disappeared round the corner. About five minutes later there was a long burst of automatic fire and soon after, the paras returned, waved the tanks on and jumped back on board. I heard a report on the radio a little later that Sgt. Randalls’s tank was held up at a level crossing by a train load of troops (German) and new SP. guns. He was told to let the train go otherwise it would hold up our advance. The train was heading towards 11th Armd Div. centre-line anyway and would soon be “in the bag” 11th Armd, who were heading for Lübeck, were informed about the train.
As soon as the train was clear the C.O noticed another train about to leave the station loaded with ME109 fighters. He parked his scout car across the line ready for a quick get-away but the train stopped and the crew surrendered. The C.O. entered the town of Wismar together with Recce Troop. The last tank was a little late arriving and found that the town bar-riers had been lowered. He persuaded the man manning the barrier to lift it. I heard later that he threatened them with a 1000 bomber raid if they refused but I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this tale.
Orders came through that we were not to enter the town until the infantry arrived. This order came a little late because Recce Troop was already through the town and in the North-east outskirts. Soon after, 4th Troop of “C” Sqdn, with two battalions of infantry arrived to back them up. This was fortunate because the town was full of still fully armed German sol-diers. A number of aircraft were flying around and an aerodrome was found North of the town, although it was not marked on the map. The C.O with two sections of Recce Troop and 4th Troop “C” Sqdn set off to find it. Some firing took place and the C.O had a hand grenade thrown at him, but caused no damage. The Colonel shot the offender. A lorry load of Luft-waffe personnel attempted to leave the aerodrome but the C.O put a burst of machine-gun fire through the window and the lorry stopped. The airmen dismounted, fell in in three ranks and were marched off by an officer under arrest. At about nine o’clock that evening, two White scout cars and two motorcycle combinations, manned by Russian troops drove into the town. A great deal of handshaking and Vodka consumption took place. The Russians then departed the way they had come. The following day the 3rd April, the remainder of the regiment, includ-ing RHQ, arrived at a village called Schulenbrook, which is about 5 miles South of Wismar. All of a sudden, for us the war had ended.

Chapter Four

The first surprise we had, now that hostilities had ended, was the fact that we had out-run the field bakeries and our fresh white bread which our cooks had kept us supplied with for the last six weeks, had now run out. We were back on the biscuits that we had stored away since the Rhine crossing. We were on vehicle messing for a week or two until the regiment had sorted out billets in houses and barns. “C” Squadron had moved to a village called Me-telsdorf. RHQ was still in a farm near Schulenbrook. The officer’s mess and quarters were in the farmhouse. The O.R’s were billeted in the farm buildings. During the advance across Ger-many somebody had picked up a very nice 220v alternator set, fitted with a twin cylinder DKW, horizontally opposed petrol engine and a 2KW generator. Signal troop had the job of connecting it up to the Officers Mess, filling the tank with petrol every day and starting it up ion the evening. All went well until the first time we attempted to stop the engine. We found that the alternator was leaking current into the ground and could not be approached without getting a shock. On the fist occasion we ran it until the petrol ran out. When the Orderly Offi-cer found that it was his job to turn off the alternator at the end of the day, he found that if he put his handkerchief on the end of his stick and push it into the air cleaner it would stop the engine. The regiment was told that it was responsible for law and order in the area and keep-ing refugees off the roads. On May 6th, parties were driven into Wismar, where 6th Airborne Division had set up a bathhouse. Since this was the first opportunity we had had to bathe since crossing the Rhine, this was very welcome. We handed in all our old underclothes and were issued with fresh new ones.
On the same day a Royal Tiger (Königstiger) ARV had been discovered locally and the C.O. went to inspect it with a view to adding it to the regimental strength. It was found to be in good condition except for clutch adjustment and arrangements were made for the LAD to bring it back to RHQ. By this time nearly every tank had it’s own private car and there was plenty of petrol o spare. We went on foraging expedition around the local countryside and soon had to learn the German word for egg, which was one of the items our rations did not include. The word is “ei” with the plural “eier”, which an Englishman finds I little difficult to pronounce. It was discovered that parties of Russians had started entering Wismar in the eve-ning, kidnapping German girls and disappearing back to their own lines. After this a tank was placed in the town every evening and the practice ceased forthwith.
On May 8th, which was VE Day, we had no parades and the Padre held a church ser-vice. The regiment fired a “Feu de Joie,” getting rid of our spare ammunition. Turrets were turned to the east when firing. I often wonder if we hit any Russians. One young officer who should remain anonymous fired a Very Light pistol into a haystack, which burned for three days. It was decided to hold a Victory Parade through Wismar in conjunction with 6th Air-borne, on the 11th May.

The regiment passed the next two days cleaning and camouflaging all the tanks, which were to take part in the parade. The Commander of 6th Airborne Division, Major General Eels, took the salute. I did not see the salute because I was further up the road on the junction where I took two photos with the camera which I had been presented with in Bremen, one of the tanks and one of the infantry. Although I did not get the photos developed until I came home on leave later on in the year, they came out very well. We had a pretty easy time for the weeks following the end of hostilities. Central messing re-started and all our squirreled away rations had to be handed in. About a dozen of us went on a tour of the airfield that the C.O. had had a little trouble with. There were some very advanced aircraft both in the hangers and on the tarmac. We climbed all over them. There was a large red button labelled “Achtung”, so naturally someone pressed it. There was a loud “Bang!” and off flew the cockpit canopy. After that there was a race to see who could blow off the most covers.
Someone had found a German Army rubber assault boat that provided a lot of fun. We had a bathing party organised to go down to the beach for swimming, in the Baltic Sea. Five chaps got into the boat and started paddling out to sea. The Baltic is a tideless sea and shelves very gently. A gust of wind caught the dinghy and it started heading for Sweden. Those in the dinghy started paddling furiously, but were not making much headway. One of the lads de-cided not to take any chances, stood up and dived overboard. Unfortunately, the water was so shallow at this point that he stuck his head in the sand, even though by this time they were al-most a quarter mile out to sea The regiment had been given the job of searching our area for arms and ammunition. Our party found an isolated farmhouse in which we found a lot of sub-machine guns complete with full magazines. On the outside wall of the house someone had painted in large white letters “Achtung Typhus.” As soon as we had collected the weapons we made a hurried retreat. Although we had all had extra inoculations against the diseases, which were rife in Germany at that time there was no point in taking chances. We also used our rub-ber boat to go fishing. We used to throw a hand-grenade into a local pond, wait for the explo-sion, then rush over the bank carrying the boat, onto the water and collect the fish while they were still stunned. A day or two later we saw a party of displaced persons, of whom there thousands roaming the countryside, fishing our pond with a net. When they left it was com-pletely empty of fish. The squadrons were in villages separated from RHQ and needed com-munications installing. This was RHQ signals job. We ran single wire telephone cables from RHQ out to each squadron’s HQ. The system we used had an earth return, with a spike in the ground to carry the return path. This system was very vulnerable because being only tempo-rary a lot of the line was simply laid on the ground. Signals troop spent a lot of time repairing breaks in cables that had been broken by vehicles etc. Because the squadrons were up to five miles from RHQ, we did quite a lot of walking. The biggest problem with this job was when the man who was splicing the bare cables together, was holding the cables in his hand, with his feet providing a good earth return. Suddenly, an impatient officer decided he had waited long enough and furiously cranked the telephone handle. This could give the repairman a nasty shock and some rude words down the telephone line. The telephones we were using were ex-German army because they were much better quality than the British Tele-L we were issued with. A large stock of these German phones, together with a number of field telephone exchanges had been discovered by one of the parties when they were searching countryside for weapons. From then on we always used the German ones.
To keep in touch with Brigade HQ, who by this time was somewhere in Schleswig-Holstein, a Bedford QL Wireless truck arrived, fitted with a high powered wireless set and a 24ft Rod aerial supported by stay wires. The Royal Signals operators tried for hours without success to make contact. We rigged up a long wire aerial to one of the rear link sets, WS19 High Power in the front seat of a Sherman. After carefully tuning the aerial for maximum out-put we called brigade, using R/T (Speech). After quite a short while, back came the reply and contact made. The Signals men were rather put out.
Although the war was over, we were still having casualties. One of the cook sergeants borrowed a motorcycle from the Despatch Rider’s Section and went off for a joy ride. Unfor-tunately he lost control and ran into a tree at the side of the road. He died on the way to the Field Dressing Station. On another occasion some of some signal troop men from “C” Sqdn. attempted to disconnect the generator similar to the one at RHQ. The electricity supply com-pany chose this moment to switch on the supply. The supply had not been isolated from the substation an the full mains voltage was applied to the generator and the men who were touch-ing it. Two of them were killed.
On 18th of May, 6th Airborne Division left for home, their place being taken by 5th In-fantry Div. Each of our squadrons had acquired a number of horses and mounted patrols were formed. A riding school for junior officers was constituted under Capt.Hanbury. Lt.Makesy ended up in a local pond at his first attempt. The following week the Brigade Commander paid a visit to the Regiment and a Church Parade was held at Beidendorf church. I was on my usual job of repairing phone lines so I missed the parade. The following day, the 28th May an advance party departed for Rotenburg, which was to be our home for the next four to six months. The area, which we were policing at this time, was, by international agreement, to become part of the Russian Zone of Germany, the River Elbe forming the new frontier be-tween the Zones.
Early the next morning all of our Sherman tanks departed for Hamburg, where they were handed over to 471 F.D.S. As far as I know the tanks were taken by ship out into the At-lantic Ocean and dumped overboard. So once again we were homeless. About a week later, the regiment moved by truck to Rotenburg.
We discovered that our new billets consisted of an ex-Luftwaffe aerodrome situated about a mile from the town, with first class barracks, which had been built in the woods next to the aerodrome. The whole place had been camouflaged by stringing nets across the tops of the trees so that it would have been impossible to identify it from the air. Our first job was to remove all these nets, which took quite a time. On the edge if the aerodrome were a line of hangers, also camouflaged by paint. These became garages for such vehicles that we still pos-sessed. Our barracks were very comfortable after living like gypsies for the last six months and were very welcome.
Of course, we were now soldiering again. Webbing had to be blancoed and boots and brasses polished. Guard duties consisted of a main gate guard, a patrol around the perimeter of the camp and two night guards on the nearby displaced persons camps, one male and one fe-male. The latter was a much sought after duty, but I am not sure who was guarding the guards. The displaced persons were of all nationalities and were mostly the slave workers who the Germans had forced into their war industries, so we had a lot of sympathy for them.

During the latter days of the conflict we liberated one British P.O.W. from a farm. He had been living very comfortably with the farmer’s wife and didn’t really want to be liberated. On our way across Germany we also freed two Scots Guardsmen who had been in captivity since Dunkirk. They were as smartly dressed as if they had just come off the square at Cater-ham.
The Guards Armoured Division was reverting to their normal role as an infantry divi-sion. They held a “Farewell to Armour” parade on the airfield, which was part of our camp. Quite a lot of our men were allowed to watch this parade. I, unfortunately was on duty at the Main Gate. Field Marshall Montgomery took the salute at the parade. According to my mates who saw the parade, they had never seen so much “bull” in all their time in the army. Appar-ently the Guards tanks had the entire wheel bolts painted white with the nuts painted red. The first six inched of the gun barrel had been burnished until it gleamed like silver. Every tank dipped its gun barrel in salute as it passed the saluting base. I suppose the tanks then suffered the same fate as ours-dumped in the Atlantic. After the parade had passed the saluting base they drove away over the horizon. After a short pause, the band struck up and the Guards now marched back as infantry, with fixed bayonets. I have always regretted the fact that I never saw this parade.
The regiment ran a truck to Hamburg every day and anyone who was free was allowed a day pass. The truck left after mid-day, taking about an hour to reach Hamburg. At this rime the Non-fraternisation Ban was in effect. We had to remain in pairs while out of camp and had to carry side-arms. In the case of most tank crew members this consisted of our .38 Revolvers that we had carried throughout the time in action. Some of our crew members were issued with Sten Guns and had to carry them. Infantrymen, of course were stuck with carrying their rifles. My first sight of Hamburg was a great shock. The city had been bombed almost to oblivion. Whole streets were lines of ruins. The roads had been cleared but most buildings had suffered at least some damage. Canals were littered with half-submerged barges. Factories had no roofs and lines of rusting machine tools stood open to the elements. Only the two lakes, the Binnen and Ausser Alster looked normal, apart from the Atlantic Hotel that still stands beside the lake today. This became the headquarters for the C.C.G, the Control Commission Ger-many, which took over the administration of the country now that the war was over. There was another large hotel, which was only slightly damaged. This was soon repaired and put into service as a very comfortable NAAAFI. Here we could get a very good meal at a reasonable price. The average German was not so lucky. Every meal needed food coupons extracted from their ration books. This had always been the case in Germany, as opposed to the situation at home where food in a restaurant had always been ration-free. At the end of ou day off duty we had to meet our trucks at the Altona Bahnhof, which is not far from the NAAFI, and is a rail-way station for local trains. Most of the young male inhabitants of Germany were at that time in POW camps, so there were a great many attractive women without partners. Unfortunately we were forbidden any contact. If you believe that you will believe anything. On the day that the ban was removed, the men just walked across the road to the girl they had known for weeks. There were girls who had served on the anti-aircraft guns of the Luftwaffe who were now dressed in pretty summer dresses, lying on the grass talking to their ex-enemies. The new currency in Germany was the cigarette. They sold for four Reichsmarks each. Since there were 40 Marks to the Pound at this time it meant that each cigarette cost two shillings.
Life settled onto a very pleasant routine. Reveille was at seven, follower by breakfast. Work parade was held at nine, after which we marched to the vehicle hangers. Very little ac-tual work was done except the major operation of finding somewhere to sleep for a couple of hours. Lunch was at 12.00hrs after which we got cleaned up and changed into best uniform, with brasses and boots polished. The tucks left for Hamburg at around one thirty. It was now high summer with long hot days and very little rain. After spending a very pleasant day in Hamburg, the trucks left Altona Bahnhof at around midnight. When we arrived back in camp at about two o’clock, there was cocoa and cheese sandwiches’ waiting in the guardroom. And so to bed. One night things went wrong. I think we must have had a driver who was new to the route because after driving for two hours, the street looked familiar and we found that we were back again at the Bahnhof. I seem to remember getting to bed that night in the early hours. And our cocoa was cold.
I woke in the early hours one night with a dreadful stomach pain. I have never known such pain before or since. It felt as if a giant hand was twisting my intestines. When I got out of bed I found that the rest of the beds in the barrack room were already empty. I went along to the toilet block only to find that all the cubicles were already occupied. There was nothing for it but to make for the woods, which were also rather full up. I believe that all of the other ranks were ill that night with severe food poisoning. The Sick Parade next morning stretched about a hundred yards from the sick bay. Everybody was excused work all that day. The out-break was traced to some re-heated meat, something that would never be allowed today.
On June 18th the regiment celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo when an ensign of the regiment captured the French standard. The eagle emblem on this has been the Greys cap badge ever since. The day is very similar to Christmas Day in that tea in bed is served to other ranks, followed by lunch served by the officers in the mess hall. This was a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings. That night one of the Staff Sergeants in the Quartermas-ter’s department started playing the bagpipes at about six in the evening, then carried on play-ing and marching up and down the stores, pausing only for an extra drink of beer, until the early hours of the following morning.
Later that summer I was given fourteen days home leave, the first I had had since go-ing overseas. The journey home was long and arduous. The first stage was by regimental transport as far as Osnabrück, where the party, if I remember correctly numbered about twenty, caught a train. This took a very circuitous route all the way up to northern Holland in order to cross the Rhine, all the Rhine bridges in Germany having been destroyed. We had a short stop in Brussels where the WVS served tea and sandwiches. We arrived in Calais in the early hours and were bussed to a Transit Camp. This was a very well organised place with tip-top meals, a cinema, which showed films continuously, and a shop where we could purchase cigarettes at NAAFI prices and comfortable lounges where we could wait for the Channel Ferry. The ferry crossing was only a one and a half hour trip and at Dover there was a train waiting to carry us on to London. This train was also rather luxurious for a post-war train, with a Buffet and very comfortable seats compared to the German rolling stock with their wooden seats. A trip by tube across London from Liverpool Street to Victoria and I was soon on the train to Berwick via Brighton.

I found myself at a bit of a loss at home. No one had experienced the things that I had or seen the dreadful sights. I was very bomb-happy and the family could not understand why I dived under the table at the slightest sussed sound. Granddad was the only one who really un-derstood. Everything seemed very quiet after the excitement of battle. Rationing in England was tougher than it had been during the war, even bread and potatoes were rationed. I spite of this, my mother, who had always been good cook, still managed to provide very tasty meals. All too soon the time was up and it was time to return to Germany.
The idyllic time at Rotenburg had to come an end and the regiment moved to the town of Husum, in Schleswig-Holstein. This is a port on the West coast of the peninsula and the barracks we moved into had been a Kriegsmarine (German Navy) installation. The weather was by now beginning to turn colder and we were very glad of the double-glazing and central heating. The whole barracks complex was heated from a boiler room that had been built ex-actly like the boiler room of a warship so that the German Navy could train their stokers. I spent most of my time in barracks and never saw the town at all. The telephone exchange had been installed in cellars of the barrack block, which the signal troop occupied and was a dou-ble exchange, also serving the offices of the local labour exchange. There was a civilian op-erator on the German exchange and to break the monotony I sometimes answered calls on the civilian board. This worked fine provided the caller just asked for a number but any other phrase was used I had to hand over to the German operator. I did, however manage to pick up some German words. The Naval switchboard had a secrecy device fitted so that if the operator attempted to listen in to a conversation, a clicking noise was heard on the line. There was a telephone dial fitted in order for the operator to dial outside lined for a caller. We found that if we dialled Venlo Repeaters, (A main telephone exchange in Holland,) and asked for London Trunks, we could call anywhere in England. This was very useful and we were very popular making calls for friends to their families in England. I never did find out who paid for these calls.
Our next move was to a small mining town in the Ruhr called Lintfort. I was told that this town held the biggest coalmine in Germany, but I can’t vouch for this. Our barracks were not the usual type of barrack building at all. Enclosing a residential estate with a barbed wire fence had transformed it. The field next to the estate had been made into a tank park for we now had tanks again. We had become a flame-thrower regiment and were equipped with Churchill Crocodiles. These vehicles had been “moth-balled,” by covering all the parts which were likely to rust with a thick layer of grease. Before they could be used we had to take it in turn to spend some time in the turret cleaning off the grease. Because we had to use petrol to clean off the grease after removing the bulk of it with a scraper, we were limited in the time we could remain in a confined space. People were climbing out of the tank after their session inside looking and acting as if they were drunk.
RHQ Troop were supplied with three new M24 Chaffee light tanks. These were fitted with twin V8 Cadillac engines and automatic gearboxes. When we wanted to leave camp we needed a works ticket signed by an officer to take a wheeled vehicle out, but tracked vehicles needed no works ticket so we used to take out a Chaffee. These were so fast that I have known one overtake a three-ton truck on a straight road

We tried on an aerodrome to see how fast the tank would go in reverse. Because of the automatic gear box the tank had as many gears in reverse as it had forward and we managed to reach forty-five miles an hour. It would not have been safe to do this on a road, but on an open field, steering backwards was no problem,
The regiment had been transferred to 22nd Armd. Brigade, so we lost our cherished Black Rat shoulder flash and had to sew in two little pieces of green felt to form a diabolo. Our vehicles, of course, had to have the same sign painted on. I don’t know what happened to the remainder of 4th Armd Bde. As far as I know, they remained in Schleswig Holstein.
Our billet had been a private house. We slept in the upstairs rooms, while one of the downstairs rooms was converted into a telephone exchange. The road past our billet ran through the camp, past the main gate, which had a lifting barrier and on down into the town. The road then crossed the main road through the town, which still had trams running along it. Further along, two houses had been requisitioned for use as the Officers and Sergeants Messes. We ran telephone lines to both of these buildings, the telephone lines having to be passed over the tramlines. Lines were also run to all squadron offices plus the Orderly Room and senior officer’s offices.
A very hard winter had by now set in and although we were in a coal-mining area we had no fuel issue at all. In the cellar of our house we found a little coal but it was mostly dust. We found a way of making briquettes from the dust by pressing the dust into caked by adding a little water. These had to be placed very carefully onto the stove. If the cake broke it put the fire out. Food was also rather short but we found that if we went round to the cookhouse in the evening we could scrounge a supper from the cooks. (There is normally no food served after the tea meal)
By this time the demobilisation programme was under way, based on age and length of service. Mine was a very high group and I didn’t ever contemplate the length of time I still had to serve. A party of old sweats were on their way past the Orderly Room carrying their kit on the way to demob, when the RSM saw them and told them to “smarten themselves up.” They gave him a bit of lip, thinking that they were already civilians. He put them all under close ar-rest and locked them up in the Guardroom. They were released the following day. This gave a warning to all future parties.
The telephone exchange was the German Army model, which we had previously used at Wismar. The indication of an incoming call was a small flap that dropped when the line was rung. Beneath it was the socket for the operators jack. Late one night the Signals Ser-geant, Don Porter, came into the exchange having been drinking in the Sgts. Mess all the eve-ning. He had decided that the front panel of the exchange looked a little drab. He had brought a tin of green paint with him and proceeded to paint the front of the exchange with it. This caused no problem until the morning when the paint had dried. When the first call came in it failed to drop the flap. Although we could hear the relays operating in the exchange there was no way of telling who was ringing. All the operator could do was to check every line by plug-ging in the jack to each one and ask if anyone was calling. Obviously, this was done in the or-der of seniority, starting with the C.O. By the time the operator had tried all the extensions, some of the callers were getting very irate. It took us all the morning to clean all the paint off.

We had a further piece of excitement early one morning when there was a loud bang, smoke and then flames shot out of the switchboard. Where the telephone line to the Officer’s Mess crossed the main road in the town, the line had sagged and rubbed on the tramline until the insulation had worn away. This line carried a high voltage and when it fed this to the ex-change, caused the damage. Both the Officers and Sgts. Mess phones were also burnt right out. All the instruments ended up a charred mass. Luckily we had a spare exchange and tele-phones and the damage was soon put right.
There was much more serious damage caused when one of the Crocodiles was travel-ling down the high street. The tank skidded on the cobbles and hit one of the supports to the overhead cables supplying the trams. The metal bent right over until the cables touched the ground. There was a huge flash and a hole was burnt in the road. Fortunately the power then failed, before anyone could be electrocuted. It was quite a few days before the trams were running again.
In February 1946 I was sent on a Wireless Instructors course at the RAC Schools in Bovington. The course lasted about eight weeks. It started with classroom work, primarily on how to teach a subject. We all had to prepare a lesson on any subject and then present it to the class. I gave a lecture on brickmaking, having spent a lot of time at the Berwick Brick-works where my father worked. The whole course turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. On leaving Germany I had been issued with a leave and duty warrant. This was a multi-page document with a separate page to be used at each sage of the operation. There was one page marked “ To be handed in at the Port of Embarkation.” The next was a travel warrant for the journey to Bovington, the third for travel home on leave after the course-and so on. There were so many pages that the railway staff were completely bemused by them and I could travel almost anywhere with this document. I went home every weekend using it. Wok fin-ished at around three on Friday afternoon and we all trooped down to Wool railway station. I travelled to Eastleigh where I changed trains for the Brighton line. It was only a short trip from there to Berwick. On the travel warrant it stated that my home station was Berwick, but it didn’t say whether it was the Sussex village or Berwick-on-Tweed. I could therefor travel all over England on this one warrant. One of the other NCO’s on the course was suddenly told that his discharge papers had come through and he could leave immediately. He had the same type of warrant as mine and asked me if I would like it. It came in quite useful as a spare. I was standing on Eastleigh, station talking to a sergeant who I had met on the train from Dor-set. He said, ”Look out, there’s an inspector, I’m going to nip into the Gents.” The inspector, of course, followed him in and he had to pay for a ticket. I stood my ground and offered the ticket the other NCO had given me. After a little while puzzling he clipped the top ticket of the warrant and handed it back. After he had gone I had a look at it and found he had clipped the one marked “To be handed in at the Port etc.” I just tore that page off and carried on using the warrant for the rest of the course.
In the classroom we increased our knowledge of the RT procedure, including the cor-rect order of answering of outstations. This had to be strictly adhered to otherwise when two stations attempt to answer at once, all is heard is a heterodyne whistle and neither station can be heard.

We also learned simple faultfinding on the radio. This usually meant such things as taking out one of the fuses, removing motor brushes from the rotary converter and putting a piece of paper behind the insert in the microphone to stop it working. Another trick was to remove one of the valves in the set to reproduce the effect of a faulty valve. We were not al-lowed to cause any permanent damage to the set.
There were about ten Austin Utilities, a small pick-up truck, each of which was fitted with a 19 Set. There was an ATS driver with each vehicle, some of whom were quite pretty. Going on exercises around the Dorset countryside in the by now spring weather was a wonder-ful way of passing the time. We each had a chance to organise one of these “schemes” as they were known at the time. We found that if we selected high ground, free of trees, we could achieve ranges of about ten to fifteen miles using speech transmission. We could not under-stand how one of our instructors managed to cover thirty miles with transmissions until we found that he had parker the Austin on the sea front at Weymouth and had run out a long wire aerial to get the extra range. He also had a long extension cable for his headset so that he could pass most of the day sunbathing on the beach.
All too soon the course was over and I had to return to Germany. When I arrived in Osnabrück I discovered that the regiment had moved to Münster. They had taken over a Ger-man Army barracks on the outskirts of the town. The buildings all had a built- in telephone system so all the Regimental Signal Troop had to do was man the telephone exchange. Now I had passed my course I was promoted to Acting Unpaid Lance-Corporal, the first rung on the promotion ladder. As more and more people were demobbed, more young soldiers were being inducted into the regiment. These were the first National Service men to be called up.
The first time I took a walk through the town of Münster I saw the damage that just one night of bombing had caused to the city. There were hardly any buildings standing above one story. Although the streets had been cleared of rubble and the trams were running, most of the town was a sight of utter desolation. I did see one familiar sight and that was F.W.Woolworths shop, which was still only one story high and had very little to sell. I now visit the city on a fairly regular basis and there is an exhibition of Münster through the ages, which shows the town before and after the raid.
One of the many attractions of Münster is the large lake running alongside the West side of the town. This is known as the Aasee. One day out walking with a mate we walked onto the bridge, which spans the Aasee and saw two girls standing on the bridge. We found that their names were Ruth and Inge Greiser. Ruth spoke excellent English and I made a date to meet her later. I was soon visiting Ruth’s family at their home. Father was a real Prussian German of the old school. He was head of the family and what he said was carried out. Mutti was another archetypal German, the Hausfrau-Kinder, Küche ünd Kirche (Children, Kitchen an Church) Ruth’s younger sister Inge (Ingeborg) who was fifteen, plus her sister Barbara who, with her two young children, were also living in the house. The family had walked all the way from Posen, in Poland, just keeping ahead of the advancing Russians. Barbara, who was usually known as Bärbel, had a husband in the army but he was missing in Russia. He has never returned.

During that summer the regiment went on the ranges at Fällingbostel. We were under canvas, which wasn’t bad because the weather was fine and warm. The tents were not far from Belsen Concentration camp. All of the original hutted camp had been burned but the inmates who were still there now used the SS accommodation. There was a cinema in the camp, which we could use in the evenings. The ranges were about six miles from the tented camp. I can’t remember how our tanks were moved from Münster to Fällingbostel but it was probably on transporters. This was the first opportunity for the flame-thrower crews to try out their new toys and they needed a target. It was decided that our Chaffee tank should take on this job. Luckily we were about half a mile away but it was still a rather chilling sight to see the long tongues of flame heading in our direction. The noise it makes, a sort of howl, is also very frightening. They also decided to use their 75mm guns on us but only firing smoke rounds. We still thought that we should batten down the hatches in case we were hit. We never were. Captain Callender, who I had always believed was a bit of a madman, decided to drive his Churchill across the far side of the range so that the rest of his squadron could prac-tice firing their co-ax machine guns. When he came back to our position we found that their aim had been very good indeed. His mudguards were riddled, two of his periscopes had been shot away and he had lost his wireless aerial. We found we had a big advantage having a Chaffee tank. We could drive back to the area of the tented camp at about 35mph. We could refuel the tank, wash and shave and get cleaned up ready for tea before the Churchills with their maximum speed of 17mph, downhill with a wind behind them, arrived back in camp.
When the regiment had finished with this training it returned to Münster and Ruth and I car-ried on where we had left off.
The whole family went out for a meal at a local restaurant. Food coupons had to be given up for most items on the menu, but fries potato cakes were available ratio free. I had begun to pick up a little German, realising that unless I did I would not have a clue what my future mother-in-law was saying about me. We had, of course, by that time become un-officially engaged.
The Signals Officer had acquired an American “walkie-talkie,” rather like a big tele-phone handset, using the then new layer-built batteries. Unfortunately these were unobtain-able, so we rigged up a mains power unit for the radio. The problem was that whenever he wanted to call us on the radio he had to find a mains outlet to supply current for it.
One night I had been on guard. On the guard dismounting parade in the morning, the Orderly Officer put me on a charge for having dirty fingernails (after having been on guard all night.) I couldn’t help noticing that he had a tidemark round his neck where he had not washed properly. Since he was a Captain, and was probably doing Orderly Officer duty be-cause of some misdeed or other, there was nothing I could do about it (One law for the rich etc.)
In the town of Münster there were a large number of notice boards with the names, and sometimes photographs of missing people. The large movements of population during and af-ter the war, with members of the conquered races throughout Europe working as forced labour in Germany and the German people from East Germany on the run to escape the Russians, were causing chaos. Trains were running now but obtaining tickets for them was not easy. All of the British POW’s had been repatriated but very few German POW’s had returned home
Later that year the regiment moved to Lüneburg, a town almost untouched by any fighting. There were two large barracks situated at the Northern edge of the town with hangers for both our tanks and those of 44th Battn. RTR, who occupied the barracks nearer the town. Members of the Polish Army guarded the tank parks at night and we soon found that it was rather unsafe to venture near to the tank park after dark. Further up the hill from the barracks was a disused airfield, probably an ex-Luftwaffe field. An hotel in the town had been taken over and converted into an excellent NAAFI canteen. They made steak and kidney puddings in a cup which were just like mother used to make (but smaller.) Together with a very good range of cakes, some tasty meals could be obtained there. There was a cinema which was used by the Army Kinomatograph Corps to show fairly modern British and American films, and a live theatre which was re-named The Horrocks Theatre after the 30 Corps Commander who became well known after the war for his television appearances explaining some of the battles of the war. The barracks were up quite a steep hill from the town and walking back to bar-racks after a night out was quite a slog.
Soon after our arrival in Lüneburg I was promoted to full Corporal and sewed on my second stripe. The barrack block allocated to Signal Troop was the first block inside the main gate and was ideal for our use. The Signal Office and telephone exchange were on the first floor, with small barrack rooms on the second and third floors that were small rooms for four men only. The Troop Sergeant and I had a room each on our own. In the basement were a large number of cellars, which were used for stores, and two of the largest were used as IM (Instrument Mechanic) workshops. I had begun to form my lifelong interest in wireless com-munications and spent quite a lit of my spare time in the workshops. In the next block to ours there was also a large basement and the camp electrician, a German ex-soldier who was a very pleasant chap, used this and he and I became friends, because his hobby was also radio work.
Ruth made a lot if visits to Lüneburg but there was always a problem with train tickets. To travel by D-Zug, or express train, a special permit was required. I got round this by typing out a permit (in German, with the help of my electrician friend) on the office typewriter. This was then rubber stamped with the office stamp and signed by me. We found that the German officials would always respond to a rubber stamp of any kind because of the years of Nazi of-ficialdom. I found a very pleasant Stube (German Pub) in the old town run by a Frau Sasse and her daughter Elfriede, who was in her late thirties. They always made Ruth and me very wel-come and managed to find Ruth a room whenever she visited.
I managed to get a leave pass and, with the help of the office typewriter and rubber stamp, travelled to Münster to spend a weekend with the family. I was issued with rations for three days, which were very welcome because food was still very short in Germany. Some of the rations caused a few problems. On the first morning Ruth served me breakfast consisting of raw bacon on a slice of black bread. I had to borrow a frypan and point out, while I fried the bacon, that there is no equivalent to English bacon in Germany. They have Spek, or smoked ham, and Schinken, which is more like normal English ham.
In two of the spare rooms in our barrack block, Sgt Don Porter and I had formed a wireless school. The regiment were receiving intakes of young soldiers to replace those being demobbed. These needed training up to the standard required by the Greys.
When the regiment moved from Münster to Lüneburg we handed in our Chur-chill Crocodiles, for them to be replaced by Comet tanks. This model had been issued to 11th Armd Division for the latter days of the war and had proven to be a very good tank. They were a larger version of the Cromwell with a turret large enough to take a slightly cut down version of the 17pdr gun that had been so effective in the Sherman Firefly. There had always been a problem with the Radio Set 19 in that whenever the tank commander wanted to talk on the radio, he had to bend down into the turret and switch over to “A.” Then of course, he had to alter the switch again to talk to the crew. Don Porter and I tried connecting a wire across the switch in the control box, shorting out the microphone contact so that to talk on “A,” the commander pressed the mic. switch but talk to the crew he just talked without using the switch. This worker surpris-ingly well on the Signals Officer’s tank and we soon found that we had the job of con-verting the CO’s, 2IC’s and all the Squadron commander’s tanks.
We had a new young officer join the regiment, who was given the job of Sig-nals Officer. He was even younger than I, was very keen, but was open to suggestions. We had a clerk in the Signals Office who had an aversion to soap and water an during the summer months was rather unpleasant to be near. When the other members of the troop suggested that they should give him a clean up I closed my eyes to what was go-ing on when they took him down to the ablutions and scrubbed him. When he com-plained to the Signals Officer, the Lieutenant took me to one side and said that he had seen nothing either and he quite agreed with the action. The regiment went on exer-cises on Lüneburg Heath to try out our new tanks. Our new Signals Officer thought it would be a good idea to have a loud-hailer fitted to our tank, so we found a mains/battery public address amplifier and installed it in our tank, together with a large horn type loudspeaker attached to the side of the turret. This was very effective in call-ing officers to the C.O’s conferences while out in the field. Luckily the weather was kind to us and it was not unpleasant sleeping and messing rough again.
After our first course had been running for a month it was decided to run an exercise to test out our trainees. We were allocated a number of jeeps together with two of the Humber Scout Cars. The route planned was North to Lübeck, south-east to Hamburg, then return via the Autobahn for about six miles and finally along the minor road to base. The exercise went well with all stations keeping contact. As my scout car was crossing the bridge over the Elbe at Hamburg our front wheel hit an obstruction, which shredded one tyre and damaged the suspension. When the Signals Officer ar-rived on the scene he told me that I was needed back in camp the following morning.
By this time it was after midnight and we had been travelling over fourteen hours. I joined him in his Jeep, sitting in the front seat and reading the map. When we reached the turn-off from the Autobahn we changed places and the officer sat in the front. The next thing I remember was waking up in the German Lazarette, or local hospital, in Lüneburg.
I had head wounds and in the beds opposite me were the other two members of my Jeep crew, the driver and radio operator, with similar wounds. I vaguely remember having my wound dressed in the operating theatre while in the next bed the officer was also being attended to. He was moaning and seemed to be very badly injured. He died on the way to the Military Hospital. If we had not changed places, I would not be writ-ing this.
As far as we know, the driver must have fallen asleep and the Jeep hit a tree. The im-pact threw us all through the metal roof, which had been fitted, to all the regiment’s Jeeps by our LAD. Food provided in the Lazarette was rather sparse but luckily our uniforms had been stored in a cupboard at the end of the ward, so the fittest patient got dressed and went up to the NAAFI, which was about half a mile away. He purchased a lot of cakes and buns and brought them back. We then had a midnight feast.
We had a lot of spare radio sets and power supply units in the IM’s workshop and I talked the Signals mechanics into letting me cannibalise some of them for spares. Electrolytic capacitors were in very short supply, even in England and they fetched a high price on the Black Market. My friend the electrician had a ready market for them. He introduced me to a man and his wife who lived in the town who could supply al-most anything if the price was right. A small portable immersion heater cost 60 ciga-rettes, which were the only valid currency in Germany at that time. I provided a lot of these, making a profit of ten cigarettes on each one. If anyone wanted a civilian suit the cost was 600 cigarettes. I would collect the material samples from my “ Schwarz- Handler,” which is the German name for a black marketeer, get my customer to choose the colour, and then arrange for him to visit the tailor to be measured. When the suit was ready he would collect it, pay me and I would pay my “Schwarz-Handler.” There was a shop in the town called a Tausch-Zentral. People would hand in unwanted goods an be given a voucher to it’s real value. They could then use the voucher to purchase goods to that value. Money could not be used at all in this shop. All my dealings pro-duced for me a great many Deutsch- Marks.
My mother had been sending me parcels all the time I had been overseas an d I now asked her to send me tins of Lyons Coffee beans. These cost three shillings a tin in England. For some reason coffee had never been rationed at home throughout the war. A one-pound tin of coffee fetched the equivalent of fifteen pounds in Reichsmarks (600 DM.) Suddenly, overnight, without any warning the Military Gov-ernment decided to reform the currency. Only German nationals could change their money for the new Deutsch-Marks. The army and British civilians were henceforth to be paid in BAFVS or British Armed Forces Special Vouchers. The Germans were only allowed to change a small number of the old money for the new and it must have come to quite a blow to people like my “Schwarz-Handler.” The German government had received generous aid from America under Marshall Aid and people’s food rations had improved.
My friend Heinz the electrician had taught me quite a lot about the practical side of radio servicing but I thought it was about time that I started to learn the theory. The army was offering correspondence courses complete with a one-to-one tutor for the magnificent sum of one pound. I took the course on Radio Telegraphy Grade 2 to start with. I had to buy the course manual, which was the Admiralty Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy, Volumes 1 & 2. Volume 1 cost 6 Shillings, Volume 2 cost 4. These were not paperbacks, but hardback books, very substantial tomes. I sent off my lessons regularly and finished the Grade 2 course in about a year. I then signed up for the Grade 1 but was demobilised before I finished it.
I came home to England on a week’s leave and went up to Oxford Street. There was a radio shop, which specialised in build-it-yourself radio. I bought all the parts that I needed and took them back to Germany. It was rather advanced, a seven-valve super-het using all army valves, with a mains power unit. It worked surprisingly well. I also converted a Motorola car radio to work on the mains, which the lads used in their bar-rack room. During the war the German radio industry had produced a “People’s Ra-dio,” or Volksenfänger. This was the type of radio known as TRF, or Tuned Radio Frequency. This is the opposite of a superhet, which is very sharply tuned and can dis-tinguish between local and distant stations. In this way Dr.Goebbels, The German Mis-ter of (mis) information made sure that the Germans could not listen to the BBC. Ever since that time I have always mistrusted any government, which calls anything “Peo-ple’s.” The Volkswagen (People’s Car) was supposed to be a cheap form of transport for civilians but actually turned out to be a light field car for the German Army. The People’s Army in China seems to be more interested in killing locals than any foreign enemies. The People’s Police in East Germany spent all their time preventing East Germans from getting to the West.
Now that the regiment had settled down to peacetime soldiering the Regimen-tal Pipe Band came over from Edinburgh. They wore their dark blue uniforms, com-plete with kilts and a side cap. A Church Parade was held in the local St. John’s Church in the town, and then the regiment marched back to barracks behind the band. I must say I found it a very stirring sight, but I was a bit put out when I heard a local lady onlooker exclaim, “Das ist kein Musik” meaning ”That’s not music.” The band members were mostly members of the Despatch Rider’s platoon when not employed as bandsmen. A lot of the Despatch Riders also joined the local Army Gliding Club. I suppose both occupations had something in common, both being possibly dangerous.
The regiment now decided to form a mounted troop. A dozen white horses had been obtained locally and uniforms were sent out from Scotland. The troop wore blue riding breeches with a yellow stripe, a red tunic and a bearskin with a white cockade. They carried long lances, which had their points polished until they shone. I saw them carry out a demonstration cavalry charge in a field near to the barracks and with the thunder of the horse’s hoofs and the glitter of their equipment they must have pre-sented to enemy of old with a terrifying sight on the battlefields of Europe in the sev-enteenth and eighteenth centuries. All the “horsy types” in the regiment were found “cushy” jobs such as batman or storemen’s so that they could spend as much time on the horses as possible. Since most of the rest of the regiment were tankmen, we took rather a dim view of the ”Cavalrymen.” The rule in BAOR at this time was that servicemen were not allowed to marry German nationals. In the summer of 1947 the ban was lifted but applications had to be made to the Commanding Officer by filling out a long form. After quite a long wait my application was granted and Ruth and I made arrangements to get married. Her relatives could not get permission to travel, so Don Porter agreed to give the bride away. I found that we had to go through a civil ceremony at the Standesampt, or Registry Office in Lüneburg, and then go on to the church for the religious service.
We used the Johanneskirche, or St.John’s, which was the garrison church. It was a rather quiet wedding. Ruth could not obtain a white wedding dress, so she mar-ried in a blue costume. A girlfriend of a mate of mine, who was also expecting to get married soon after us, acted as bridesmaid. We all went off to the NAAFI afterwards for the wedding breakfast. I had managed to find a room to rent with an elderly widow situated near to the barracks. The problem was that we were not allowed to sleep out of barracks so I found myself as a newlywed having to report back to barracks at 2359hrs every night and sleep in the barrack room. The army at that time frowned on marriage to German girls and made everything as difficult as possible. Since Ruth was now a British citizen by marriage, she was allowed Army rations. I was also allowed my rations, so they were delivered once a week by unit transport to the house where we were quartered. The woman had no refrigerator and since it was now high summer we had quite a job keeping meat and other perishables fresh. We found that we had to eat things up rather quickly at the beginning of the week and eat out at the NAAFI to-wards the end.
I was given two weeks leave and travel warrants for Ruth and myself. The compartments on the train for married families were much more comfortable than the normal troop trains and we enjoyed a very nice journey to England. My family made Ruth welcome and she enjoyed shopping in Eastbourne, finding things like Nivea cream, which had been unobtainable in Germany since the beginning of the war, even though it was originally a German product.
There was a scheme in the Army whereby anyone who had served more than three years overseas could opt for a home posting. I think now, that if I had not got married, I would have signed on as a regular soldier, but in the circumstances, I would elect to take the “Python” option, as the scheme was known. I was given a posting to the RAC depot in Barnard Castle, to the barracks where I had joined the draft before going overseas. I had signed on for an extra year and had nearly a year to serve. Ruth came home to Alfriston and lived with my family until I could organise somewhere for us to live.
Before leaving for the UK I went to see the Orderly Room Corporal, who was a friend of mine, and persuaded him to let me have a handful o rail warrants to take to England with me. These were not required in Germany and the office had a lot to spare. I found them very useful later on.
The winter of 1947 was one of the most bitter that most people could remem-ber. There was an acute shortage of fuel. Even the army was having the same problem. The old joke white-washing the coal tip actually was true. It is impossible to take coal from the pile without making a black mark on the tip. Our beds in the barrack room consisted of a wooden frame with cross boarding to support the mattress. Anyone who wanted to go out in the evening stood quite a chance, on coming in late, of finding that his bed boards had been burnt in the round iron stove which was the sole means of heating the room.
There was another disused camp about six miles from the main camp and the practice of squatting was prevalent at the time. It was decided to place a 24hr guard on the camp to keep out the squatters. It was a fairly easy job so it didn’t worry me when I was selected as Guard Commander. I had twelve men detailed for the guard, providing four sentries at night. In the morning six men were relieved and returned to barracks. The remaining six made up two sentries for the rest of the day. Fortunately, the cook-house were not informed about the fact that we only needed six men’s rations for the daytime, so we had double rations during the day.
I had a phone call from the Barnard Castle police during the evening to say that a car had been stolen in the town and could we keep a lookout for it. In the morning one of my sentries came in and told me that there was a car standing just down the road from our front gate. I sent a spare man to check the car’s number plate only to find that it was the missing car. It had been standing there all night!
Every day I checked with the Orderly Room to find out what new posting were available in the UK. One day the Orderly Room Corporal, a new friend of mine (I al-ways found it useful to have a mate in the Orderly Room,) showed me a message about a job going at the Army Apprentice School in Harrogate. They were asking for a Cor-poral in the RAC to take on the job of NCO I.C Sanitary Orderlies. This sounded like a very easy job, so I told my friend that I would take it. Once again I packed my kit and collected my travel warrant and off I went.
This was a dream posting. Uniacke Barracks was the usual army camp, consist-ing of centrally heated spider blocks, with one block for the staff and the others for the lads of the Apprentices School. There was also one block, which was used as a store for bedding. One of the young apprentices decided that he didn’t like an army career after all and we had a succession of fires in the camp. Serving in the Fire Piquet was a genuine duty until one night when he managed to burn down the entire spider where the bedding was stored. He was caught and placed in the Guard Room but managed to escape. Because he was such and innocent looking lad, no one had expected so much trouble from him. The police caught him in his hometown and he was sent to Borstal. We also had a spate of thefts from the barrack rooms, I lost a pair of boots and there were thefts of clothing, radios etc. When the culprit was caught he turned out to be one of my cleaning squad.
I managed to find a room to rent, with use of kitchen, at the home of a friendly middle-aged lady in Harrogate. Ruth travelled up to Yorkshire, and we settled in to married life. I could now live out of barracks, draw living out allowance and travel up to work every morning by bus. I could eat lunch in the mess hall and every morning at eleven I would meet the Messing Officer, Who was a Grenadier Guards W.O.2, for a cup of sergeant- majors tea. We inspected the cookhouse, the dining room and the grease trap, where the entire kitchen waste accumulated. Meals under the influence of this Warrant Officer were very good indeed.
I reported every morning to the Quartermaster’s Stores, where I drew stores such as soap, Vim and cleaning clothes for my squad. The QM’s clerk was a middle-aged Yorkshireman who called everyone “luv”, regardless of gender and he was quite a character. If ever I took a broom into him for exchange he would stick it in the top of the stove to burn the remaining bristles off. He always said it was easier to get things exchanged if they were completely worn out.
Harrogate was a very pleasant town to be stationed in. It was late spring and all the trees were coming into full leaf. In the centre of he town was a covered market selling fruit and vegetables, clothing and household goods. There were a number of cinemas in the town, which Ruth and I frequented on our evenings out. She put a joint of lamb in the oven on one occasion and off we went shopping. By the time we re-turned the lamb was well done indeed. We opened a tin of baked beans to go with the other vegetables and it tasted delicious.
On Part 2 Orders I spotted an Army Council Instruction that said that personnel who were within one year of finishing their service and could find a civilian firm to take them on, could take one month’s paid leave to learn a trade. I had a look round Harrogate and soon found a radio shop called Hartley’s who were willing to take me on for this time. They had a radio workshop, a sales department and they carried out Public Address work locally. I learnt quite a lot in their workshops and helped out with the loudspeaker equipment at the Harrogate Golf Tournament, all of which was very enjoyable. All I had to do with the Army was to call at the barracks once a week to col-lect my pay. At the end of the month I saw another ACI, which allowed people who had found a civilian firm, could apply for another month, which I promptly did. Mr. Hartley said that I was useful enough for him to pay me a small wage, which was very welcome. At the end of two months I think I had learnt enough to claim to be a radio mechanic when I was demobbed. I got my mate in the Orderly Room to put my civil-ian trade down on my release papers as ”Radio Mechanic.” Anything on paper carries more weight than word of mouth. I went back to the Army for two more weeks, just long enough to hand over to my successor.
Thus I finished my service, for the time being, with the British Army.

I have now been retired for fourteen years and still live in Alfriston, the Sussex village where I was born.To find the details of where the Scots Greys were during the advance across Germany, I obtained the days I needed from the regimental war diaries from the Tank Museum at Bovington. It is difficult to see much from inside a tank and as a lowly trooper, I never saw a map, so the only time I really knew were we were was when we were in a large town such as Bremen. I must admit that I have quite a good memory

Stories contributed by Ronald Levett

'Alfriston, My Life in a Country Village' by RA Levett

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