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TROOPER

FROM BARNARD CASTLE TO BERLIN























Memories of
Trooper Ronald Henderson
of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars
(Queen Marys Own)

Compiled by
Arthur Beardsley















Copyright2009 by Arthur Beardsley

The moral right of the author is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs
and Patents Act 1988

CONTENTS


Foreword

Prologue

Chapter One Boyhood
Chapter Two Early War Years
Chapter Three Basic Training
Chapter Four Streatlam Camp
Chapter Five Stainton Camp
Chapter Six The Regiment

Chapter Seven Pregnant Prawns

Chapter Eight Donald Ducks
Chapter Nine Overlord
Chapter Ten Sword Beach
Chapter Eleven The Orne Bridgehead
Chapter Twelve The Battle for Caen
Chapter Thirteen The Bocage
Chapter Fourteen The Race to Brussels
Chapter Fifteen Market Garden
Chapter Sixteen The Island
Chapter Seventeen Into Germany
Chapter Eighteen The Reichswald
Chapter Nineteen Inferno
Chapter Twenty Blighty
Chapter Twenty-One Victory in Europe
Chapter Twenty-Two Berlin
Chapter Twenty-Three Demob


Afterword

Acknowledgements

FOREWORD


This book is written as a tribute to Ronnie Henderson, an ordinary soldier. There are
relatively few books written of accounts of war experiences by other ranks compared with
the writings of commissioned officers. This may be because their focus is narrower than
that of their officers and recording events is not one of their priorities. This account of the
memories of Ronnie Henderson is not based on diaries kept at the time but on memories
recalled over fifty years after the event. The fact that these memories were as clear as the
day they happened is illustrative of the deep impact the events had on impressionable
youth. These writings are not primarily about how actions or battles were fought but about
how the ordinary soldier lived and coped with the extraordinary demands made on them
by a war that has now been consigned to history. It is my belief that this account of the life
of an ordinary soldier is worthy of study by the generation of today and is just as valid as
the more detailed accounts of fighting a war. As Ronnie himself comments, It was a
different war for the officers.

I first met Ronnie Henderson in September 2003 when he was seventy-nine years of age.
We met on the terrace of the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle while my wife and I were
waiting for the doors to be opened. He was living a last of the summer wine existence,
wandering through the park around the museum with two friends of similar ages and their
dogs, making a nuisance of themselves by passing comments on the lady tennis players
abilities and putting them off their strokes. Because she is unable to resist talking to
anyone who has dogs, my wife, Sarina, got into conversation with the group. We learned
that Ronnie was familiar with the area where we lived in the south of England as he had
met a girl when he was stationed there during the war prior to the D-Day invasion. He had
subsequently married her and lived for a time at Petworth in Sussex. We learned then that
he had been a tank driver and had gone ashore with the invasion force on D-Day. The
outcome of the meeting was that a group photograph was taken of the three men and
Sarina. Ronnie asked me to send him a copy of the photograph and an email address was
obtained from Ronnie. He was a frequent user of a computer and I was able to send him
the photograph by email. That was the regular correspondence between Sarina and Ronnie
began.

As time went by the correspondence developed to such an extent that Sarina was receiving
at least one email a day from Ronnie often more. Ronnies war experiences were a
frequent topic of his emails and it quickly became apparent that these had made an
indelible impression on him. Often there would be an anniversary of a colleague who had
been lost or a particular action that had been fought to write about. These frequent
references aroused my interest in his experiences and I tried to find out more. We visited
Ronnie in his home in Barnard Castle on one of our visits to the North where we met his
wife Edna. It was then that Ronnie mentioned that he had made some recordings of his
war experiences for the Imperial War Museum but he was dismissive of their value and I
didnt get to hear them.

Ronnie was a stalwart of the Regimental Association of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars
(QMO) and had participated in the 50th Anniversary of D-Day celebrations in France in
1994. He was desperate to go again for the 60th Anniversary but he was now eighty years
old and suffering from prostate cancer. He was trying to be accepted for an operation for
his condition but there was a waiting list and no firm date when it would be performed.
Sarina tried to persuade him to have the operation privately as this would guarantee him
having sufficient time to recuperate so that he could undertake what was bound to be an
onerous trip. Ronnie stuck to his principles and refused to go outside the NHS. Eventually
he obtained a date for his operation, the 8th of May. It was going to be touch and go if he
would be fit to make the trip. Each day we were getting reports from him on his condition
and eventually he committed to the trip.

The coach journey for the veterans was to take over ten hours to reach Portsmouth for the
ferry to France, and we received regular updates on their progress from Ronnie via his
mobile phone. He asked if we could meet him at Portsmouth to see him off. He must have
been the bane of the organiser as it was not easy for coach passengers to leave their
vehicle, and in any case the coach only arrived minutes before loading was to take place.
We did make the meeting and Ronnie was happy to show off his lady friend, Sarina, to the
assembled veterans.

It was a demanding tour for old men having to stand for hours in hot weather waiting for
the dignitaries to arrive to participate in the ceremonies, and it took its toll on Ronnie.

Although we visited him on a couple of occasions after his return he was not well and
sadly he died in the following October. I had been interested in what he had told us of his
war experiences and of what he had written in his emails. On a subsequent visit to see his
widow, Edna, I asked her to let me hear the recordings that had been in Ronnies
possession. These proved difficult to locate but Ronnies son, Alan, obtained a full set
from the Imperial War Museum and these form the basis of this narrative.

The recordings were made in a question and answer format and the skilful nature of the
questions prompted extensive responses such that over twelve hours of recording were
obtained. In compiling this book I have used the responses to form a continuous narrative
placing the events in chronological order as far as can be ascertained. I have also drawn on
personal and family sources to fill in the details of the earlier years. The narrative is
derived entirely from Ronnies musings and I have not sought to embellish the accounts or
relate events that Ronnie might have been involved in but did not include in the
recordings. To put the narrative into context I have, where appropriate, given a general
background to the progress of the war and the events that Ronnie and his regiment
participated in. I have corrected obvious errors, generally of timing of events, where these
can be verified by other published accounts. Of particular help has been the History of the
13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Marys Own) 1922-1947 written by Maj-Gen C.H. Miller
published in 1949 (Chisman, Bradshaw Ltd) when the events described were very recent
history. There are numerous other sources for the background of the events but the book
Eagles and Bulldogs in Normandy 1944 by Michael Reynolds (Spellmount) was
particularly useful for the details of the Normandy campaign.

Ronnie Henderson was an ordinary soldier but a far from ordinary man. He was a man of
very humble beginnings and in a different age would have had better opportunities to
realise his potential. As it was he stayed a working man all his life, a strong socialist, but
he knew how to enjoy the better things in life and as he matured was able to take full
advantage of his opportunities.

The initial landing force on D-Day numbered some 160,000 men including the airborne
troops and over the course of that first month a million Allied soldiers were landed. The
time is quickly approaching when the number of survivors who participated in these

momentous events of June 1944 will be very few and their voices will be lost to the
archives. While millions of words have been written on the subject of D-Day there is
always room for another slant on the story.



PROLOGUE

The motion was not so violent now that they had left the landing craft. The last two days
had been a nightmare of tossing about in a vessel that offered no comforts, nowhere to lie
down and no way of knowing when the ordeal would end. Although it was early June the
weather was cool and overcast with strong winds putting a chop on the Channel that had
made the landing craft skitter about in a very unpredictable way. The decks were slippery
with vomit and the stench made one retch. He was hungry but there was nothing palatable
available that his stomach could keep down. The exit from the landing craft had been
delayed while the commander of the fleet sought calmer water closer into the shore
although there was still nearly three miles of open water to cross when the order was given
to disembark.

With the floatation gear raised the crew had assumed their positions for the journey to the
shore. He had climbed into the drivers seat on the left hand side of the tank and waited for
the order to drive off. He was alone in the tank; the rest of the crew were outside,
positioned on the platform at the rear of the turret and the tank commander was at the tiller
for the propellers. With the engine started the noise of the bombardment passing overhead
was diminished and with his headphones on it was relatively quiet. He couldnt see
anything in front of him, the canvas screen blotted out his view completely. He had been
given the order to advance and followed the instructions of the tank commander to steer
the tank down the ramp into the sea. The tank had floated, and immediately the order had
come to lower the propellers and engage the drive before the landing craft overran the
floating tank. After that it had been a case of keeping his foot hard down on the
accelerator for the long run into the shore.

It was lonely being on your own in the tank and his mind wandered, imagining a number
of scenarios as to what was going to happen. He had never been in action before and
didnt know how he was going to react. Although he was eleven feet below the waterline
it was quite dry in the tank and his main discomfort was from wearing the Davis escape
apparatus that he would need if the tank foundered. His was the most precarious position
if that happened. The rest of the crew would be able to get into the inflatable dinghy that

was carried on the tank but he would have to struggle out of a flooding tank to reach it.

After about an hour of keeping his foot on the accelerator the voice in his headphones told
him they were approaching the shore and shortly afterwards he felt the tracks starting to
engage the seabed. The rest of the crew came into the tank and took up their stations.
Keeping the power on he kept the tank moving forward until he received the order to drop
the flotation gear. They had arrived in France.

CHAPTER ONE

BOYHOOD

In January 1924, my mother Kate Henderson, was sent to stay with her sister in Hebburn,
South Tyne. She was in the last month of her pregnancy, unmarried and had been thrown
out of the family home in Barnard Castle by her Scottish Presbyterian father who could
not forgive her transgression. She was never allowed in the family home again while her
father was alive. In those days illegitimacy, although not that uncommon, was not
accepted socially, particularly among the working classes with strong religious
upbringings. On the 26th of January I was born and after a few days I was taken to my
grandfathers house to be brought up under the care of my grandmother, Mary Henderson,
at 1 Baliol Street. My mother returned to Barnard Castle but lived away from her family.
At that time Barnard Castle was a mill town and my grandfather, Thomas Henderson,
worked in the last surviving wool mill in the town. He was a heckler, which involved
combing out the raw wool into strands. In the shed where he worked there were bits of
wool everywhere and no one wore masks or any form of protection. Occasionally I would
accompany my grandmother when she took him his mid day snack, which was kept in a
tin, together with a tin jug for his tea. The shed was a terrible place to work, the
atmosphere full of floating wool particles which you couldnt help breathing in. His take
home pay was 1.7s.9d. (1.39) a week. He kept back 7s9d (39 pence) for his expenses
and gave the 1 to my grandmother for the housekeeping. Apart from my grandparents the
family at that time consisted of my uncle, the youngest son of my grandparents, and
myself as a baby. Eight children had been born to my grandmother. Two girls had died in
infancy. There were three boys. One had been killed in France in 1917 when serving with
the Durhams. The second had married and left home. He was a railwayman all his life
until he retired at 65. The third son, the uncle I lived with, was a dental mechanic and
never married. There were three other daughters, one of whom had died aged 21 of a hole
in her heart, my mother and her married sister. I was very much the baby, the next
generation.

The house was small, semi detached, stone built in a street of terraced houses. The front

door led straight in from the street and there was a small yard at the back. There was no
bathroom and only a cold water supply. In the living room there was a range with an open
fire with an oven heated from the fire on one side and a hot water tank on the other, with a
tap to drain off the hot water. A kettle was kept on the hob to provide hot water but you
always washed in cold water unless the kettle wasnt required for cooking. There was a
small front room, one bedroom and a box room. It was very cosy. Life was very basic but
as I didnt know any difference I didnt feel I was deprived. Breakfast was usually two
slices of bread with dripping. For dinner there was often a variety of soups; which were
very filling. There was always a roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding on Sundays. My
grandfather, as a Scottish Presbyterian, wouldnt allow any washing up on a Sunday so all
the dishes for Sunday lunch were put into the shed at the back of the house for dealing
with on Monday when, of course, they were very greasy and difficult to get clean. There
were no detergents in those days.

My grandfather was a strict disciplinarian. When my mother had lived at home he had
insisted that she be in each night by 9.30 pm. However he doted on me as a small child.
He had made a barrow and each Saturday night he would place me in it and trundle me
down to the public house at the bottom of the hill in Barnard Castle to pay his sick club
money. In those days before the National Health Service most working class people would
contribute a small weekly sum to a sick club that they could draw on if they were ill. If
there hadnt been much illness during the year these sick clubs would pay out a bonus at
the end of the year. I have happy memories of these days.

To amuse myself I would play out in the street with my friends. We would play at marbles
in the gutters of the road and at Easter the spinning tops would be brought out into the
street. There was a season for all the games that children played. There are a lot of woods
around Barnard Castle and we would roam what seemed for miles away from home. Five
minutes after the church clock sounded the eight oclock chimes in the evening a curfew
bell was rung that could be heard all over the town and you knew you had to start out for
home. When the weather wasnt good we did a lot of reading, painting and jigsaw puzzles.
The whole family would join in. My uncle was a drummer in a dance band and he also
liked to make things. He took a weekly magazine called The Leader which always had a
pattern supplement of things that could be constructed. He made clocks by softening
plywood in a tank of water close to the fire so that it could be bent into shape. He made a

coil-to-coil radio that only worked when he handled it. He was my hero, everything I
always wanted to be.

My mother lived locally although she was never allowed to cross the threshold of the
house in Baliol Street. She was supposed to give my grandmother a shilling a week for my
keep but it didnt always happen. I knew my mother and often visited her. This wasnt
always the case with children in my situation and I had a friend who didnt know he was
illegitimate until he went into the army. At the age of five I started at the local Church of
England school. My mother enrolled me at that school which was about a half mile from
where I lived. At the first break I thought that was the end of the school day so I walked
home little realising that school was more than that. I liked school and was always happy
there. I went to Sunday School every Sunday morning. This meant putting on the best
clothes but they were taken off as soon as I returned. I had one pair of boots. I thought
shoes were only for rich people. I never had an overcoat until I joined the Home Guard
and got one as part of the uniform. I would visit my mother after school before returning
to my grandmother.

In 1930, when I was six, the mill where my grandfather worked was closed and he was
laid off. He died ten days later on the 30th July of illness associated with his job in the mill.
My grandmother, Mary, then had to exist on a pension of ten shillings (50 pence) a week
supplemented by a war pension for the son who had died in France of 9s7d (48 pence) per
week, so in total she received very close to what she had managed with when her husband
was alive. My mother married when she was twenty-five years old and some years later I
went to live with her and my stepfather.

I joined the Church Boys Brigade and got my first taste of organised activity. I was in the
Boys Brigade for a number of years. We did gymnastics, which taught us discipline. We
learnt semaphore and were involved in all the scouting type activities. We never went to
camp with the Boys Brigade but I did go camping once with the school when I was about
thirteen. This was to the seaside at Whitburn, near South Shields and was for
disadvantaged children who didnt get a holiday. We slept in double tier bunks and had
pea soup for supper and generally had better meals there than we got at home but we were
still homesick. We received our lessons from our teacher, Mr. Winter, by Marsley Rock on

the seafront. It was the only holiday I ever had. My uncle, who worked on the railway,
lived in Felling, near Gateshead, and with his wife was a keen cyclist. They rode over to
see me while I was at the camp, which made me more homesick and I wanted to go back
with them. When I couldnt I cried. Through attending Sunday School each year you
received a rail ticket to Redcar and all the Sunday schools in the area would gather at
Redcar on the same day for a jamboree. A train went direct from Barnard Castle and more
or less the whole town went to Redcar. I remember on one occasion I had saved up eight
pence to spend. You would meet up at a caf at 4 pm to be given a cup of tea and two
spicy buns with currants in them. I remember calling them charity buns. I didnt like the
idea of charity but you had to accept it.

Although discipline at home was strict I was never smacked, the threat was always
enough. There was corporal punishment at school however, and you would get the cane
for very little such as talking too much or if you blotted your compositions. We used pens
with nibs and the ink you had to mix yourself using powder and water and it was very
prone to blot. I attended the same school throughout although the junior and senior schools
were in different buildings. I enjoyed school and generally did well. There were A and
B streams and I was in the A stream throughout the school. I finished up in Form 7A as
top boy although there were two girls above me. I left school at the end of the first term
after my fourteenth birthday, which was the Easter of 1938. Because I had done well the
headmaster tried to get me a position as a boy entrant in the Royal Air Force. There were
no leaving examinations in those days. However when it came to filling in the application
forms my father had to be entered as father unknown and the application never got
anywhere. That was the first time I was aware of the stigma of illegitimacy and the effect
it had on your prospects. When my mother had registered me at school she had put me
down as her married name of Lincoln although my birth certificate was in the name of
Henderson. All through my school life I was known as Ronnie Lincoln and it wasnt until
I signed on in the Army that I became known as Henderson. I was never bullied at school
because of my background. I wasnt the only illegitimate child, there were quite a few
others. In my class at school there was a boy called Dennis Weems who, when he joined
the army, became Dennis Franklin. He joined the Durhams, was wounded in action and his
friends carried him a mile and quarter back to base but there he was found to be dead.
Quite a few in my class were killed in the war. The teachers at the school were hard men
who commanded respect, some more than others. Mr. Wilkinson, the headmaster of the
junior school, was over eighty when he died but whenever you met him in the street he

was always addressed as Sir. I think I received a good basic education and was taught a
lot of common sense.

When I went to live with my mother my stepfather was unemployed and money was tight
and I had to do what I could to help with the finances. At thirteen I managed to get a paper
round. These were not easy to come by as they were passed on to younger brothers or
friends. All my earnings went to my mother. Another source of income was catching
rabbits. These you could sell for 1s 3d a pair with a further halfpenny for each skin. At the
right time of year I collected mushrooms that would fetch three halfpence per pound. You
could set off at 4 am and pick about six pounds and get 9d for your trouble.

I left school on the Wednesday before Easter 1938. All leavers were given a reference to
take to any local shops that were looking for labour. I called at a shop called Westfords, a
fish shop, on the Wednesday evening. The lady shopkeeper thought I looked too small to
be any use but the man said I looked strong enough and they would give me a try. I had to
be there by eight oclock the following morning, which was the Thursday before Good
Friday. Most people ate fish on Friday and particularly on Good Friday. That was the
busiest day of the year as far as selling fish was concerned and I was kept at it all day until
I was taken home, asleep, in the van at 12.30 am the next morning. It was a sixteen and a
half hour day for my first day at work. I thought this was going to be a regular occurrence
but although the hours were long this was an exception. The couple that ran the shop were
a young couple who had only started the business the week before I joined them. I got 3s
9d (19 pence) for my first week, which was only two days, and for a full week 7s 6d (38
pence). I gave my mother 6s 6d (32 pence) and kept one shilling (5 pence) for myself. In
those days you could go to the cinema for 6d and a pint of beer was 6d (two and a half
pence), although I was too young to drink then. Prices didnt change at all through my
schooldays and I knew the price of everything. A loaf of bread was fourpence hapenny, a
small loaf twopence hapenny, eggs were one penny each and a quarter pound of sweets or
a bar of chocolate was tuppence.

The working week was Monday to Saturday starting at 8 oclock except on Monday when
there was a 6 oclock start to go and fetch the fish from North Shields. This was
something to look forward to as I hardly ever had the chance to travel away from Barnard

Castle. The fish were collected from the quayside and later, when the war started, I could
watch the minesweepers and other naval vessels coming in. It was very exciting for a
young lad. I worked at the fish shop for two years and left on the same wage that I started
with, although in the second year I went to live at the shop and received my food and
lodgings. However it meant starting at 6 oclock in the morning by taking tea up to the
couple in their bed.

At the age of sixteen I left the fish shop and got a job as assistant to a surveyor. It was now
1940 and army camps were being built in the area at Streatlam and Stainton. The surveyor
was a Mr.Richards from Scotland and he was involved in the building of the camps. I
worked as his assistant, carrying his equipment, little realising that I would myself be
stationed there a couple of years later. I also joined the Home Guard or Local Defence
Volunteers as it was known then. My unit was the 14th LDV attached to the Durham Light
Infantry. There were a number of companies in Barnard Castle and there would be about
forty men in each company. I was given an overcoat (the first I ever had), battledress that
didnt fit very well, boots, hat, helmet, leather belt and gaiters and a Canadian Ross 303
rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition, all at sixteen years old!

CHAPTER TWO

EARLY WAR YEARS



Before the start of the Second World War, Parliament had passed the Military Training Act
on the 27th of April 1939 introducing conscription for men aged 20 and 21 who were then
required to undertake six months military training. On the outbreak of war in September
that year Britain could only raise 875,000 men, and the National Service (Armed Forces)
Act was passed under which all men between 18 and 41 were made liable for conscription.
Registration for those between the ages of 20 and 23 began in October. By the end of
1939, 1,128,000 men had been conscripted into the British Army. By May 1940,
registration had extended to men aged 27. Prior to the evacuation from Europe of the
British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Dunkirk in June 1940, it became obvious to the
Government that Britain was at real risk of an invasion by Germany. On the 14th of May
1940 the Government asked for volunteers to join a new organisation, the Local Defence
Volunteers. This organisation was created with the intention of providing a force to delay
an enemy invasion force for as long as possible, to give the regular army a chance to form
a defence line with which the enemy could be held and ultimately expelled. With the
serious loss of men and equipment in Europe prior to the evacuation of the BEF, there was
little in the way of equipment that could be spared for the LDV, but the call caught the
spirit of the nation and by the end of June there were over a million volunteers. On the 23rd
of August 1940, Winston Churchill changed the name of the LDV to the Home Guard.

* * * *

The commander of my Home Guard company was Captain Symerson. He was the owner
of a steelworks in Darlington. He had no military dress sense and looked a mess in
battledress. He was a nice chap, too nice to be an officer. There was another captain who
ran a milk round in civilian life, Mr. Wren, and he was the one we had most to do with. In
charge overall was Mr. Masters. He was a major. A couple of schoolmasters were also
officers in the Home Guard. A farmer called Harry Lamb was an officer and two of the
men who worked for him were NCOs. One of these NCOs was Sergeant Smith who was
in charge of my platoon. He was quite a good shot.


Most of the Home Guard comprised older members; there were just a few youngsters. One
of the younger ones was Corporal Riversdale, but he left to join the Army and was later
killed in action. My friend Reuben was only 15 years old and had given a false age to be
able to join. When we were given our uniforms, the battledress was ill fitting and didnt
match the shade of khaki of the trousers. There were a lot of soldiers from the regular
army in the town, billeted in the various disused mill buildings while the barracks were
being built at Streatlam and Stainton. Reuben and I went round the various billets trying to
cadge replacement uniforms that would match and fit properly. Eventually we were
successful and were very pleased with our smart appearance. The regular army had
concerts to entertain them on a Sunday evening and with our uniforms, which we thought
were at least as smart as theirs, we were able to gain admittance. Wee Georgie Wood was
one of the artists that we were able to see. We were very proud to be part of the army.

The unit used to meet in a scout hut that was turned into a training hut for the Home
Guard. We had training from regular army sergeants from the Durham Light Infantry who
took us in drill and weapon training. We learned to fire the Spigot mortar. We also went to
shoot on the army ranges at Whitburn, right on the sea front, in a competition for all the
Home Guard units. There was training in aircraft recognition and the hut had pictures of
aircraft silhouettes all round the walls. There was no training on radio or equipment such
as that, as the funds available to the Home Guard didnt run to it.

The rifle we were issued with was the Canadian Ross, which in my opinion was superior
to the Lee Enfield. It had an aperture backsight, and the front sight was protected by an
outer ring. If you got the ring in the middle of the aperture sight you couldnt miss, or at
least I couldnt. I think I must have been a natural shot.

In Barnard Castle there was a shooting range at Deepdale, which had been there since the
First World War, and this range was suitable for distances up to 600 yards. I did shoot at
500 yards but mostly it was at 200 yards. One Sunday morning the platoon of forty men
went to the range to have a pool shoot. We each paid in six pence and the winner would
take the pool of one pound. I hadnt got six pence so I had to borrow this from my friend
Reuben. It was a dull and misty morning but we carried on with the shoot, and the

outcome was that I tied with Sergeant Smith with the most points. There was a choice as
to whether to split the prize money or go for a shoot off. My friend Reuben, who had
staked me, said I should take the money, so I received ten shillings that I then had to split
50/50 with Reuben. This early success with the rifle stood me in good stead when I joined
the Army and I was able to get into the Regimental rifle team.

Two of the sixteen year olds had the task each morning of going out to a cabin situated on
the moors with a good view of the surrounding area. They would go out an hour before
dawn, until an hour afterwards, to keep a lookout for German paratroops. There was no
telephone or radio, but they had bikes if there was an alert, and could ride off and warn
someone. Fortunately there were never any alarms.

The unit met every Thursday night, but there was always someone on duty all through the
night. This duty came round every ten days or so. The early morning watch of the skies
would come round every three or four days. All of this was in addition to the normal day
job. Occasionally we would do manoeuvres with the regular army acting as either
attackers or defenders. We never knew what was happening. One weekend was spent in
Durham with the Durham Light Infantry and we had church parade. We marched at the
DLI speed, which is 140 paces to the minute. The younger ones loved that, the older ones
found it difficult to keep up. One night we were all called out to surround a wood where it
was thought there was a possibility that a parachutist had landed. We werent allowed to
enter the wood, which would have been useless in the dark, but maintained our position all
night until 8 oclock in the morning when we were stood down, another false alarm. I
hoped we would get the rest of the day off, but there was no such luck and I had to go off
to work. There were route marches, which I didnt particularly enjoy. One in particular
started at Middleton-in-Teesdale and lasted from early morning until late at night. It was
terrible. I was absolutely shattered.

Later on my friend Reuben and I became despatch riders. My boss, the surveyor, had a
small mo-ped bike that I used and Reuben had a two-stroke Post Office type bike. We
used them more than was necessary by taking them home in the evening and riding about
on them. We never had to carry any despatches but it was useful in learning to ride a
motorbike, which was what we were interested in.


I thought we would have acquitted ourselves well as an effective fighting force. Although
we were young, a boy of sixteen is just as capable of killing as a seasoned soldier. This
was the case in Normandy when we came up against the Hitler Youth, who were fanatics.

After a year, when I was seventeen, I was lucky enough to get into the Fire Service as a
junior fireman. This meant I had to leave the Home Guard because of the shift work that I
had to do in the Fire Service. There were six twelve hour shifts a week from 12 midday to
12 midnight. Then the part time firemen would work a shift, and then the next week would
be from midnight to midday, a total of 72 hours a week for wages of 3.10s (3.50) The
uniform consisted of plain black trousers with a double-breasted black jacket, a navy blue
overcoat, like the army overcoat, and a flat peaked cap. Black shoes were worn rather than
boots, although when attending fires, wellington boots with wet legs were worn. There
was also an ordinary steel helmet. On my first night on duty, the leading fireman told me
to man the telephone overnight but to wake the crew up if anything happened. Nothing
did and in the morning when I was asked if I got much sleep, I replied that I had been
awake all night not realising that I could have slept by the phone. I marked that down to
experience.

The work rota called for the crew to work two weeks at Barnard Castle, and then one
week at Darlington to relieve the crews there. The Darlington station covered the
steelworks and chemical plants in the area, together with the airfield at Thirsk. The
workload was very demanding. I received a lot of training on ladder drills, knots and ropes
and tyre changing, where you were expected to be able to change a wheel in a minute and
a quarter. There was a lot of brasswork to polish. I was trained to drive an Austin tender
with a Coventry Climax pump towed behind. It had a bell on the front and could achieve
50 mph. It was all very exciting for a seventeen-year-old boy. There was a drill for
operating the pump when you drew up at a fire, and I can still remember the sequence of
that drill now. There werent many fires in Barnard Castle but Darlington was busy. At
Darlington the crew slept over the station where there were brass poles through a hole in
the floor leading to the fire-tenders. When there was a call-out you jumped into your
trousers, Wellingtons and wet legs, which were all in one, and slid down the pole. The rest
of the uniform was on the engine and you dressed as you went along. I was involved in a
lot of incidents, including one where a Halifax bomber, attempting to land at Thirsk, had

come down on some houses and it needed foam to put out the fires. The last fire I attended
was at Walworth Castle in Darlington, where the Durhams were stationed. I was driving a
converted furniture van that was equipped with a canvas tank for holding 500 gallons of
water and a small hose and pump. The principle was that a gallon of water by the first on
the scene was worth a lot more later on. The major of the unit was trapped in one of the
upper rooms, and we had to get the ladders in position to rescue him. The troops around us
were muttering Let the old bastard burn but of course we couldnt do that.

Although I enjoyed being in the Fire Brigade, after a year in the Fire Service, I was now
eighteen. It was 1942, and although conscription into the armed forces did not apply until I
was twenty, it seemed the right thing to join the forces. Later in that year I went to
Leadenhall Street in Darlington and volunteered for the Navy. Eight days later I received
my papers from the Army to report to the Border Regiment in Carlisle, bringing to end my
service in the Fire Brigade.

CHAPTER THREE

BASIC TRAINING

My mother arrived in a state of distress at Barnard Castle Fire Station where I was on
duty. She had received my papers for me to report to the Border Regiment at Carlisle in
eight days time. She tried to persuade my boss in the Fire Brigade to prevent me going
but he said he couldnt hold me if that was what I wanted. I said I wanted to go and that
was it. A week later, on the 2nd of October, my stepfather took me to the station to get the
train for Carlisle. He was an ex-army man and he gave me his razor as a going away
present. At Carlisle I walked up to the Castle and saw the sentry on the gate. He directed
me through the portcullis to report in. Although I loved the army and it had no fears for
me I felt very homesick. Most of the recruits were in civilian clothes like myself but some
of the recruits, who were in the Home Guard, came in uniform. However, if they had been
NCOs in the Home Guard they went back to being privates and had to remove their
stripes. The camp wasnt actually in the Castle. We were billeted outside the castle walls
in a compound called Bitts Park. There were five accommodation huts, wash huts, the
office, a gymnasium and a guardroom. The organisation of the camp was based on huts
and all the huts were in competition with each other. We all strived to be the best hut but
there was always someone who could let you down. We had a lad who wouldnt wash; he
was from Consett, a fellow countryman from Durham. I was ashamed of him. We had to
sort him out so he wouldnt lose us points in the hut competition. We never actually won
the competition but we certainly tried. Some of the lads had difficulties with the army
shirts being too coarse and the boots being too heavy but I had been brought up on rough
shirts and boots. I knew all the drills from my Home Guard service but I was still
homesick, it was the first time I had been away from home in my life. I didnt find the
regime hard. There was a Sergeant Payne, a little bandy legged man, who took us under
his wing.

The accommodation was a wooden hut for forty men. There were ten double-tiered bunks
along each side with a room at the end for Sergeant Payne. The bunks had a wire base and
the mattress was a palliasse that we had to fill with straw in the gymnasium. Being autumn
we were issued with four blankets. There were no sheets or pillowcases. We were issued
with some kit such as knives and forks, mess tin and an enamel mug, but no clothing at
that stage. The hut was heated by a coal-fired cast iron stove with a metal chimney pipe
going up through the ceiling. It stood gleaming on its white painted concrete surround and

although it was cold nobody dare light a fire. It was never lit all the time I was there. The
billets were kept clean by sweeping out each morning and all the flat surfaces and the
windowsills dusted and the glass cleaned. The beds were made up each morning to a
standard layout, the blankets folded into a biscuit, the mess tin and knives and forks laid
out and the boots under the foot of the bed. Sgt. Payne inspected us daily and points were
lost for a sloppy turnout.

It was the third day before we were issued with our uniforms. Until then we had paraded
in a variety of civilian clothes. Each received two battledress suits. You would be looked
at and the issuer would say that you wanted, for example, a number 5 or a number 7. I
knew what size I wanted because I had been through that in the Home Guard. When the
issuer said I was a 5 I knew I wanted a 4. In the end I got a size 4 suit and a suit with a
pair of size 7 trousers because I knew the extra length of size 7 trousers was better for
getting a good turnover on the gaiters. I knew it all by then. I got two pairs of boots, one of
which was never worn except for ceremonial purposes. Most of the evening was spent in
polishing them. We also had one pair of gaiters and a belt made from webbing with brass
buckles that had to be polished without getting any Brasso onto the webbing. You had to
use pieces of cigarette packet to protect the webbing while you polished. The officers
inspecting you made you take off your belt so they could look behind the buckles to see
that they were bright. You got two shirts, one vest and two pairs of drawers, cellular. The
vest was only for wearing for Physical Training and I never had another one in all the time
I was in the army. There was also a hairbrush and wide khaki braces, the same type that
had been issued in the Boer War. A pair of plimsolls for PT that was never replaced when
worn out, towels and a housewife, which was a needlework mending kit, and three pairs
of good hardwearing socks. There was a large pack and a small pack. The small pack
would take a towel and two mess tins and washing equipment. If you went anywhere for
an overnight stay you would take your small pack. The packs needed to be cleaned with
dark green blanco, the same as the webbing. The blanco had to be purchased out of your
pay. As part of the uniform you were issued with a hat, a small to and fro cap known as a
chip bag. This carried the regimental cap badge, which was a large General Service Corp
badge, not the badge of the Border Regiment, and was just for the period of training. We
each received a Lee Enfield rifle, virtually the same as I had in the Home Guard. Each
rifle allocated to you had a serial number and God help you if you lost it or it was
inspected and found to be dirty. The rifle was inspected by removing the bolt, and putting
your wetted thumbnail into the breech and looking down the barrel. The light reflecting

off your wet thumbnail would show up any dirt in the barrel. When we were fully
equipped we packed up our civilian clothes and the army sent these home, cutting off our
links with civilian life. We thought in those first six weeks that it was hard making the
transition from civilian life but looking back the people that were looking after us knew
what we were going through and softened the blow. It was later when we found out what
discipline really was.

Pay was 10s 6d (52 pence) per week but I had to make an allowance of seven shillings (35
pence) to my mother, which left three shillings and six pence (17 pence) a week to live on.
Out of that you had to buy your cleaning materials, soap, blanco, boot polish etc. and
anything you wanted to buy from the NAAFI. A cup of tea and a bun cost a penny each
and was more a social occasion than a need for food. The army didnt neglect you if you
had no money. In the evening in the mess hall there would be a bucket of unsweetened
cocoa available together with any bread left over from teatime. It wasnt good but you
didnt starve.

The first few days we hardly ever had our clothes on, we were being medically examined
for anything that could be wrong with us. Our teeth, hearing and eyesight were all tested.
We had injections for TB and other diseases. The TB injection in particular knocked us all
out and we were allowed two days in bed to get over it. We were in such dire straits that
we couldnt face going for meals. Nowadays these injections cause virtually no discomfort
at all.

In the group were a couple of chaps who would survive the war and who I met up with
later in life. There was a man from Stockton and another called George Bruit from Alnick.
I was by then a long distance lorry driver and found myself in Alnick one night. I made
enquiries and was told George lived in Blacks Buildings at the top of the street, found him
and spent the evening with him in a pub. I met the other chap on a building site when I
was making deliveries, I recognised him but he didnt know me. I strung him along for a
while saying that I had second sight. I told him his name began with S, that his regiment
and the town were he was born began with S, and that he had a tattoo in the form of a
cross. I knew this because we had had them done together. He agreed saying his name
was Stoddard, he had been in the Signals and he came from Stockton. He was mystified

until I told him we had done basic training together. I never saw him again.

All training was done in denim overalls that were sent to the laundry every week. You
never got the same pair back again. Battledress was kept for parades. Later on we wore the
denims in action until we got our tank suits. On a typical day the Sergeant would rouse us
from bed at 6 am. We slept in our shirts, not like the ones of today buttoned all down the
front but with buttons only at the neck. These would be whipped off and changed for PT
kit, and at 6. 30 am we would go for a long run for about an hour. On return we would
wash in cold water - it was always cold water - dress and go for breakfast. Everything was
done at the double. Breakfast consisted of unsweetened porridge, bacon and fried potatoes
with an egg once a week on Sundays, bread and margarine and a pint pot of tea. There
were three substantial meals a day although not always well cooked. Lunch was meat and
potatoes and vegetables. There was often welsh rarebit for tea; the Army served a lot of
welsh rarebit! We were served by ATS girls, the first ones I had come across. Some of the
lads who were used to better food than I was couldnt cope with it but I had always been
used to rough food. We didnt parade for meals, we made our own way to the cookhouse
but then it was hurry back to change for the next session. After breakfast it was square
bashing for an hour and a half, then a NAAFI break, then change into PT kit for the gym.
Everything was done by numbers. This was where my Home Guard training came in very
useful, as I knew all the marching drills and the arms drill and could shoot.

The afternoon could consist of firing our 303 rifles on the 30-yard range after which the
rifle would need to be cleaned out with boiling water. Then there were route marches of
about seven miles, carrying the small pack filled with equipment. Every hour there would
be a rest period of five minutes. I was used to wearing boots so I didnt find them too
onerous. There was bayonet training using dummies, all to a set drill, in, out and on
guard. There was gas drill using gas capes and respirators just as I had practised in the
Home Guard. The difference here was that we had to experience the gas by entering a
small hut below ground that was filled with gas and staying there for some minutes, the
intention being to give you faith in your respirator. We had drill for throwing live
grenades. This could be nerve wracking if someone dropped the grenade after the pin had
been pulled out and this was quite easy to do if you were nervous. The sergeant
demonstrated the use of the Boys anti tank rifle that could inflict considerable pain on the
user if it wasnt held correctly. Fortunately I never had to try it. The sergeant instructors

had all seen action at Dunkirk and since then had formed the nucleus of the army that had
grown rapidly. They recounted their experiences to us which made us all the more eager to
get into action.

Friday evenings were spent in cleaning out the hut and getting your kit ready for parade on
the Saturday by ironing your battledress. Normally wetting the creases with soap and
water to hold the crease and placing them under the mattress and sleeping on them would
press your trousers but for a parade they would have to be ironed. We had a church parade
in Carlisle Cathedral one Sunday that I found interesting. There was almost no contact
with the officers who were in charge of us. All our dealings were with the NCOs. On
parade the officers would come along and inspect us and point at us if something amiss
caught their eye. The NCOs would then step in and take your name for discipline later.

Guard duty was shared by the whole of the intake and it only came round once in the sixweek training period. Guard duty was for a twenty-four hour period and entailed sleeping
in the guardroom in the periods when not actually standing guard. On the occasion I did
guard duty the corporal in charge prepared to go to bed and took off his trousers. He was
wearing long johns under his trousers and looked so like a little gnome that the whole hut
burst out laughing. He was very offended and threatened us all with a charge but he
couldnt carry it out, there were too many of us. It was a lesson though on not upsetting
our NCOs.

We had very little spare cash to spend in going out in an evening and in any case I wasnt
used to drinking. I had my first half pint of beer in Carlisle and I wasnt very impressed.
Close to the Castle there was a wooden hut where you could get a cup of tea and a cake
for the price of a prayer. It was run by Red Shield, a volunteer organisation. We often
called there on our way back to the barracks. There was no gambling on the camp, it was
strictly forbidden. When I read the memoirs of the second in command of the regiment I
subsequently joined, on his experiences in Normandy, the thing that struck me most was
about him losing ten or twenty pounds playing cards at night with the Colonel. It was a
different kind of war for the officers!

Towards the end of our training we went through a series of aptitude tests to determine

which branch of the services we were suitable for. There was mental arithmetic, dexterity
tests and physical tests where you had to run up and down a small obstacle course to see if
you were suitable for the Royal Artillery. There were Morse code tests. These were a
series of codes and you had to identify which of the groups were the same. I must have
been quite good at this because I was told I would go into Royal Corps of Signals. When I
left the room my friend Ernie asked what I had been put down for and when told he said
he would try and get in with me. In fact he did get into the Signals but I was placed in the
Royal Armoured Corps. I would have liked to have stayed with Ernie but that was the way
of the Army.

After six weeks of training we were judged fit for passing out and we paraded in front of
the Colonel in the castle square. There was a lot of preparation for the parade and I
thought we were as smart as we could possibly be. The parade was conducted with a band
from the Border Regiment, the first time I had marched behind a band. There was no
family there to see the parade; it was purely an army affair. There were no prizes, we were
just glad to have got through it. After the parade we were told where we would be posted
to next and I learned that I was to go to a cavalry regiment.

CHAPTER FOUR

STREATLAM CAMP


After the passing out parade in Carlisle Castle square we were assembled on the parade
ground to hear our fate. An officer appeared with a clipboard and read out our destinations
in alphabetical order. I learned that I was to join the Royal Armoured Corp at Barnard
Castle, which of course was my hometown. I was sent with three others from Carlisle, and
on changing trains at Darlington, joined quite a lot of other recruits from other training
camps on the final leg to Barnard Castle station. It was now mid November and it was
dark when we arrived at Barnard Castle. I had written to my mother to let her know where
I was being posted, and when we were being formed into three lines by the corporal who
had met us at the station, I saw my mother standing at the back. I fell out to go to talk to
her and the corporal immediately told me to get back into line. Less than politely he asked
what I thought I was doing, and I pointed out my mother. He was kind enough to let me
fall out properly to go and talk to her. I didnt see my mother again for three weeks,
because once in the camp we were not allowed out until we had reached the standard
required of a cavalryman.

From the station we were taken to Streatlam Camp that was run by the Royal Tank
Regiment. The difference in discipline was immediately apparent. Streatlam Camp was a
new camp. In fact I had been involved when it was being built, in my work with the
surveyor. The huts in which we were billeted were built of brick. Otherwise the
arrangement was similar to Carlisle, with forty men to a hut in double-tiered bunks. The
floor here was made of concrete with a sort of dark brown liquid lino poured over it.
Instead of sweeping out, as with the wooden floors in Carlisle, these floors had to be
highly polished and were kept to a high standard by using a bumper. A bumper was a
heavy box with a broom handle, the base being covered by a felt blanket. After applying
polish to the floor the bumper was pushed up and down to produce a high gloss. You were
very careful not to mark the surface of the floor when you moved around the hut, which
you did by skating on pieces of felt.

The camp was the home of the 61st Training Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps.
Each regiment had its own distinguishing dress so they could be identified. The 61st wore

the black beret and the badge of the Regiment. The badge is a mailed fist surrounded by
four arrows under a crown. On the shoulders was worn the long red and yellow flash of
the armoured corps. To distinguish the various corps the Infantry flashes were red and the
Artillery dark blue and red.

The first process in changing from an infantryman to a tankman was to change the colour
of our webbing from dark green to yellow. The nickname for the 61st RAC was the
Canaries. This entailed the demanding job of getting the webbing scrubbed clean of the
green blanco. This applied to all the kit using webbing, belts, gaiters, large and small
packs etc. The yellow blanco was supplied free every Saturday morning, unlike the green
blanco that we had to purchase ourselves. All we had to provide was the brush.
Eventually, after a lot of effort, all the kit was blancoed yellow. The old sweats told us that
the easiest way to handle the packs was to pack them out with cardboard, or better still,
plywood. The blancoing would then be easier, and when finished the packs could be hung
on the wall and never needed lifting down. Once done, it was out of the way, and we
wouldnt need to worry about them again. We had white lanyards, which again had to be
blancoed, but these were changed every week. We discarded the cap worn at Carlisle, and
were now issued with a black beret. This was seen as quite an honour; only the Tank
Corps wore black berets. When the berets were originally issued they were big and floppy.
All the veterans berets were small and neat. They told us the trick was to soak the berets
in hot water and leave overnight. By then the berets would have shrunk and you had to
stretch them to get them on your heads. Sometimes they would have shrunk too much and
you would be in trouble for ruining your equipment. The leather band of the beret had to
be worn level on the head one inch above the eyebrow, with the cap badge above the left
eye. Thats how it was worn on parade. Otherwise, if you could get away with it, you wore
them on the back of your head in an arrogant fashion. When you were on the town in your
black berets, everyone knew you were in the tank corp, we were very proud of them.

In the first five weeks training we had to do marching drill to the Guards standards. We
were instructed in this by Guards officers. The Sergeant Major was a Welsh Guardsman
and a very strict man. There was also a Sergeant Major from the Irish Guards. All the drill
instructors had a pacing stick and wore the flat cap of the Guards. It was a big change
from Carlisle but I coped with it very well. By now with my Home Guard experiences,
and basic training out of the way, army drill didnt worry me at all. One thing that helped

the marching was the band of the 17th/21st Lancers that was based on the camp. The
regiment was away, but the band had been kept back and played at all the parades, which
made marching a lot easier. The pace of the marching was easier and the lift of the arms
less. At the training camp at Carlisle, the arms were swung to the horizontal position with
each step, whereas now we reverted to swinging the arms up to waist high. Saturday
morning was a big day for parades. This meant parading in best uniforms that had to be
kept to a high standard. Previously the battledress blouse was open at the neck but now the
neck was stitched up to form a better collar. With my No.7 trousers neatly turned over my
gaiters, my boots highly polished, and my uniform pressed, I was pleased with my turnout.

We were each issued with a pistol, which was either a Smith and Weston or Webley. I was
given a Smith and Weston six shot revolver that we practised with on the range. We also
had rifle shooting, and had to pass a test that involved putting five rounds in a four-inch
group at 200 yards. I achieved this and this achievement was then marked in Part I of the
army paybook. Part I was used to record all details of your army service, such as the
record of your inoculations, skill levels achieved etc., while Part II recorded the details of
your pay.

Other aspects of training were to do with map reading, driving and learning about the
mechanics of an engine. In one of the work huts, there was a marvellous aid to learning
about the workings of an engine. It was a cut away version of a working model of a tank
engine. You could look at the inside of the engine and see the pistons moving up and
down. It was painted blue, red and yellow to show the flow of water, petrol and oil
respectively. You could see exactly how it worked. I had been able to drive before I joined
the army, but I had no previous knowledge of the working of an engine. Map reading
came easy to me, it was just common sense. Fixing coordinates was just a case of
following the vertical and horizontal points to the intersection, then finding the physical
landmarks such as church steeples or hills. We followed up the theory by doing a point to
point on the moors. Some of the group managed to get lost.

Everything had to be maintained to a very high standard. Each day the kit had to be laid on
the bed in absolutely immaculate condition. Minor infringements would result in being
placed on a charge, and then appearing before the Commanding Officer. You would likely

get jankers, which would be a period of being confined to camp with extra duties,
fatigues and more inspections. Once you were on jankers, it was hard to get off, as you
had less time to attend to your kit, and more opportunities for faults to be found, resulting
in further charges. It was a vicious circle and an ever-present fear. I managed to avoid
jankers at Streatlam, but I did have to be a witness before the C.O. for someone elses
misfortune.

After three weeks we were deemed competent enough to be let out of camp. It was a bus
ride into Barnard Castle, and few took the opportunity to go there. Across the road from
the camp gates there was a small tank park, and adjacent to the park a cinema had been
built. It was called the Halliwell after the battle of that name. Admission was six pence,
open every night, so if you couldnt go into town you could still go to the cinema. On
camp there was the NAAFI and the Red Shield Club, a Scottish organisation like the
YMCA. With little money available opportunities for relaxing were limited. Also based in
the Barnard Castle area was the 54th Regiment, another tank regiment. They wore a yellow
distinguishing lanyard. They had good dances at their camp on a Saturday night, and we
were welcome to go there. Further along the road at Barford there was the 59th Regiment
that was equipped with armoured cars. They wore a red lanyard. As tank men we looked
down on them. Along the Darlington Road there were two infantry camps, one of which
was the SAS, but we never saw anything of them, they kept a low profile. Barnard Castle
must have been bursting with troops, but there was surprising little trouble in the town. We
were all young troops and hadnt developed the rivalries at that stage.

As at Carlisle, there was never enough time between activities. Physical Training was at
7.30 am at Streatlam. After PT there would be five minutes to change into the dress for the
order of the next activity, and be back on parade. This could be denims or best battledress,
second battledress, field order etc. If you were late you were on a charge. It was all a mad
scramble and was done to keep you on your toes. The facilities didnt allow for the full
complement to do the training all at the same time. Only on the parades were we
altogether. At the parade you would be called off into small units to attend classes run by
corporals. There would be eight in a class for wireless, similarly for D and M (driving and
maintenance) and gunnery. Hands on training on the wireless sets, engines and armaments
didnt take place at Streatlam, but occasionally we would be marched over to Stainton
Camp to be introduced to the hardware. We learned about the history of the armoured

corps, although the period of tank warfare only stretched back to Cambrai in the First
World War. We were very proud to have been selected for the RAC and couldnt wait to
actually get involved.

I did one period of guard duty in the five weeks I was at Streatlam. At lunchtime you were
dismissed from further duties, and had the afternoon to prepare your kit for being on
guard. There was no excuse if your turnout was less than perfect. The turnout for the
parade for guard duty was with greatcoats on, winter or summer, with the gas cape tightly
rolled up and fastened by two straps to the back of the belt. The belt was of polished
leather with brass buckles highly polished, back and front. Buttons were also highly
polished, as were your boots and gaiter straps. The cap badge was polished and you had to
be clean and well shaved. The smartest man on the turnout would be designated the stick
man and would be excused participating in that guard. He fell out from the parade and
returned to the billet. That was a big incentive to be the stick man. To make sure you made
the grade at the parade, various bits of uniform were borrowed if yours wasnt up to
scratch. I had a very good overcoat with RAC buttons that I had bought in Barnard Castle
and which I had had tailored at the back for a better appearance. These buttons were easier
to clean because they were plain. I lent my overcoat out quite a lot. The guard was
mounted at 6 pm and the guard commander inspected the guard in the guardroom. Then
the guard would be assembled on parade and further inspected by the orderly officer, who
selected the stick man. There was no actual stick; it was purely a ceremonial honour.
Members of the guard would be allocated their area for guarding. After the guard had been
mounted you returned to your hut to change into normal dress. Throughout the night you
would be required to do two hours guard with four hours rest, the periods being
determined by the spin of a coin. Another duty that came round by rotation was fire
picket. This confined you to camp for that evening and you were on standby to cover any
incidents. Because of the number of men on the camp these duties were not that frequent.

After I had been at Streatlam a few weeks I got into conversation with the corporal in
charge of the wireless school. I mentioned that I came from Barnard Castle and he asked
me if I had applied for a sleeping out pass. I replied that I wasnt married and wouldnt
qualify, but he asserted that you could always try. To be successful, applications for a
sleeping out pass had to be written in a certain way and he wrote out the application for
me. I had to appear before the Chief Instructor. He was a major and dressed all in black;

black beret, black denims, black belt, boots and gaiters. He was a very strict disciplinarian.
I was marched into his office at nine oclock one morning, dressed in my best battledress.
The major asked me who was this woman I had got in the town. I replied that it wasnt any
woman, it was my mother and that I lived in Barnard Castle. I told him that my stepfather
was on active service in Norway, and that as my mother was on her own with five
children, I might be of some assistance to her. Without any more comment he stamped the
pass and that was it. The pass required me to report in by 7.30 am. The first parade was for
PT and was at 7.25 am, which I missed by five minutes. I had the happy experience of
riding in on my bicycle straight to the cookhouse for my breakfast, where I was able to
watch my group going off for PT. I wasnt allocated to a hut, so I parked my bicycle in the
ablutions or the boiler house until it was time to return home. I didnt have to do any guard
or fire picket duties as these were selected from the occupants of each hut. I considered
myself very lucky. I did miss the comradeship of the lads in the evening, but it was nice to
be at home. I only did the one guard duty before I got my living out pass, and I avoided all
the spud bashing and the coal fatigues that were a regular feature of life on camp.

I made quite a lot of friends in the 61st. With Barnard Castle being my hometown, a lot of
my friends would meet up on a Sunday afternoon at my grandmothers house. She would
provide tea and cakes. The more there were the happier she was, she loved to have the
house full. She was a lady of about seventy-six years old at that time. Barnard Castle was
very welcoming to the troops, and a number of families provided similar hospitality. When
the troops first came to the area there were not any camps, and they were billeted in old
buildings and halls. Some, especially the married ones, were billeted with civilians. My
grandmother had taken in a family of a man from the South Wales Border Regiment. This
man, Tom Clark, lived with his wife and small child with my grandmother. When he
moved on the wife stayed in Barnard Castle, eventually finding her own house. My
grandmother had a succession of soldiers staying with her, her availability being passed on
by word of mouth.

Christmas was approaching and I was due to get my first taste of Christmas in the army.
Now that I was living at home I thought I would miss out on the festivities. I had a word
with the cook and he told me to come and have dinner with the others, which I did. On
Christmas Day the officers wait on the men. There is free beer and cigarettes on the table,
and as much food as you could eat, traditional food like turkey and Christmas pudding. I

dont think I have ever eaten as much as Christmas 1942. I could hardly walk home
afterwards.

The five weeks of training came to an end, and we were given ten days leave before
transferring to Stainton Camp. When you go on leave from the army you are given a rail
pass to anywhere in the country. One of my mates was a chap from London, and he
suggested that I go down with him to see the sights. I had never been to London, or
anywhere else for that matter, and thought it was a good idea. I had a cousin in the London
area, a lady older than myself, who lived in Hammersmith. I wrote to my cousin Dot who
was delighted to hear from me, and replied that she would be happy for me to stay with
her. She met me at the station and took me home with her, showing me the bomb damage
on the way. It was like a new world to me. The following morning my friend picked me up
and took me all over London. The Underground fascinated me. I paid four shillings (20
pence) for a meal and I thought that was terrible, I wasnt used to London prices. We went
to theatres; I had a marvellous time. When the leave was over I reported to Stainton Camp
with my companion. He was also selected to be a wireless operator, but after we
eventually left Stainton I never saw him again as he was posted to a different regiment.

CHAPTER FIVE

STAINTON CAMP


When I returned from leave to the new camp at Stainton I found myself in a different
group of men occupying a hut similar to the one at Streatlam. I was placed, with seven
others, into the wireless school. It was like a college with a lot of the work being done in
classrooms. After the war was over the huts were pulled down, but a number of buildings
on the camp still exist as part of an industrial estate. I often walk my dog there, wandering
across the old parade ground and the memories always flood back.

The only officer I really saw anything of was the Chief Instructor, who would often pop
into the rooms we were in to talk to the corporal in charge and to check up on the training.
The corporal in charge of us at the wireless school would sit us round a table with
headphones on. He would have an ordinary novel in front of him and would read from this
by sending morse code to us using a morse key. We would receive the pulses through our
headphones and would write the words down that he could check afterwards. At the end of
four weeks we had to be capable of reading eight words a minute. We were tested on this
by the sergeant major in charge of the wireless school, and if anyone failed to achieve the
standard he was sent back to Week 1 to start all over again in a new class. If you then
failed again you were posted out to the infantry. None of our group failed that first test.
We went on to do a further four weeks by which time we had to be competent at fifteen
words a minute. On the final test the sergeant major was reading and he got faster and
faster. Eventually when the test was over he admitted that he was sending as fast as he
could at almost thirty words a minute. We had all passed with flying colours. In the end it
was instinctive, you didnt follow the dots and the dashes, you picked it up just by the
sound of the letters. To round off the training we were shown alternative signalling
methods no longer in regular use. There was semaphore using flags and there was also
sending morse by flags and by the use of lights. All of these were very slow when
compared to receiving by sound.

We trained with the 19 Set radio. Within the set there was the equivalent of three radios,
A, B and C sets. The A Set had a range of about twenty miles. The B Set was capable of
talking to another tank if you could see it. If it went round the corner of a building you lost
the signal. The C Set was for communication within the tank. Later on when training with

the tanks driving through Barnard Castle someone would say Lets listen to the BBC but
if you had the A Set on while listening, you broadcast the conversations taking place
inside the tank. Because of this there were a number of letters written to the CO about the
bad language being picked up by the people in the town listening to the BBC. It was a
very efficient radio although there were problems in reception if you were in a wood and it
had been raining. The overhead wires for the trams in Barnard Castle would also ruin
reception.

Radio communication was by network. There were two nets to tune into operated by a
switch that had a red dot and blue dot. While listening in, if the appropriate code word was
heard to switch from one net to the other, you would switch to the other net so as to
confuse the enemy, or anyone who may be trying to listen in to the conversation. It was
not possible to talk to the tank unless the sender was netted into the network. If infantry
wanted to communicate with the tank they had to make themselves heard by knocking on
the tank. We were never fitted with the external telephone that enabled infantry to talk to
the tank commander.

Other soldiers walking round the camp would be sporting flashes on their arms, indicating
different skills that they had qualified for, such as wireless operator, driver/mechanic or for
gunnery. These flashes qualified you for extra money. There was 9d per day extra for
wireless and for driving, 3d per day for gunnery, totalling an extra 1s 9d per day if you got
all of them. That was a big increase on the 10s 6d per week basic pay and was much
sought after.

Driving was another skill we had to learn. Everyone had to learn to drive a soft vehicle; a
lorry or a car. I had two weeks on this activity. I was already a driver and the chap that was
with me had also learned to drive prior to joining the army. We went out in a fifteenhundredweight (cwt) truck together with the corporal instructor. When we had both had a
go in the driving seat the corporal said we were both better drivers than he was. He lived
in Gateshead. Every day for the two weeks of the course we would drive to his house,
leave him and the truck there, and walk around Gateshead until it was time to rendezvous
back at his house and return to camp. Although the freedom from camp was nice we felt
rather done down because we liked driving.


After we had been passed for driving we went onto driving and radio. One would do the
driving and the other would be in the back operating the 19 Set. Then there would be a
reversal of the roles. It was like a big game, very exciting. When we had improved our
skills on this we graduated to driving the small half-tracks, such as the bren gun carrier, to
give us the feel for sliding on the tracks. Soon afterwards we had what we were longing
for; a crack at the tank.

The tank was the Covenantor and had a crew of five. There was a tank commander, a
regular driver, regular wireless operator, and a learner driver and learner wireless operator.
I first drove the tank in the tank park and learned all about the skid turns. Steering was
effected by slowing or stopping the track on one side or the other. There were two levers
in front of you. Each lever would operate the brake for one side of the tank. Pulling the
lever back would initially engage an eight-inch brake drum. Further pressure would
engage a twelve-inch drum and pulled right back a fifteen-inch drum. At the same time
you had to change down through the gears or you would stall the engine, which a lot of
learners would do. There were four gears. For a skid turn you had to rev up, change down
to bottom gear and pull the stick right back. Even a medium turn would require a drop to a
lower gear. Eventually, after our competence had been established, we were allowed out
onto the road.

This was something we had been really looking forward to. From the camp the drive was
into Barnard Castle, through the town and down the steep hill called The Bank. At the
bottom of the bank the road crossed the river Tees on an old stone bridge. The road
surface of the bridge had been concreted over to save the wear from the tanks. Over the
bridge the road continued up Battlehill to Cotherstone Moors. It was wonderful. We would
leave in the morning and be driving until lunchtime when we would have a break to eat
our rations. Each day we picked up haversack rations, which consisted of four slices of
bread, two slices with cheese and two with corned beef. In the afternoon the trainee driver
changed over with the radio operator. The radio was at the back of the tank. It was just like
being in a round box, you couldnt see anything. I much preferred the driving as you could
see all round. If you suffered from claustrophobia you could never have coped in a tank, it
would have driven you mad.


The Covenantor was a medium heavy Cruiser tank with a 300 hp Meadows 12 cylinder
petrol engine. It had two banks of six cylinders with a common crankshaft. It was mounted
with a 2-pounder (pdr) gun. The training regiment also used the Valentine Infantry Tank
with a Liberty engine and a 2-pdr gun. In training you could be assigned to any tank
depending on the instruction you were to receive. I did most of my training in the
Covenantor. It was a right hand drive vehicle and there were two hatches for the drivers
with another hatch at the back for the other three crewmen; the commander, the wireless
operator and the gunner. They sat in the turret that could rotate through 360 degrees. The
drivers stayed in a fixed position at the front of the hull. The turret was rotated by
hydraulic power as with all British tanks. The main disadvantage, compared with the
American electric powered turrets, was that when the turret was swung round onto the
target it would creep on a little bit after being stopped and had to be cranked back
manually. The electric ones stopped dead. As part of the training you had to be able to take
on any role in the tank and I had three days to learn about gunnery.

We thought we were being trained for desert warfare and at the Ryper range the targets
were laid out on sand. They were small tank cut-outs on a pulley system that could be
pulled backwards or forwards across the sand. There was a tank turret that had been laid
on rollers. It was equipped with an ordinary 2-pdr gun, but on top of the gun had been
fixed an air rifle. The targets were lined up on the air rifle, which was then fired to see if
the targets were knocked over. It was like the shooting gallery at a fairground, the kids
would have loved it. Time on the range was very limited, there was always a queue
waiting for a turn. I never fired the 2-pdr gun on the tank range although I went through all
the drill for loading the gun with shells. The shells were located in segments under the
floor of the tank. The lid of the segment was lifted and the shells extracted and pushed into
the breech of the gun. If you didnt watch out for your fingers you could lose them when
closing the breech. There was a canvas bag attached to the breech and when the shot had
been fired the shell casing would fall into the sack. When the local segment was empty it
was necessary to turn the turret to get at the other segments. If the gunner was on a target,
this would mean the tank had to be turned keeping the turret on target while the segment
was exposed. This wasnt the case in the Sherman tank, as the shells were not kept under
the floor but in boxes like cupboards around the tank.

In action the tank commander would be sitting with his head out of the turret observing, or
if the action was intense, using his periscope. Vision was very much restricted through the
periscope. The gunner would have his eye to his periscope, while the wireless operator
had to load the gun as the gunner was turning onto the target. Each night after action if the
guns had been fired, the barrel had to be cleaned out using a ramrod and the tank refilled
with shells and fuel. During the night, while the rest of the crew slept outside the tank, the
wireless operator had to be on wireless watch to take any messages coming through. The
driver, who was also trained as a wireless operator, would relieve him. The driver also had
a periscope, a little slit looking forward with little vision to either side. Whenever possible,
the driver would pump up his seat so that his head was out of the tank, the same as the
commander. It was dangerous in action but necessary in narrow roads and other difficult
driving conditions.

Every tank was different, even the ones of the same make. The driving principles,
however, were the same with levers for braking each track, a clutch and an accelerator
with pedals, as you would find in a heavy lorry. Once trained in driving and gunnery it
wasnt difficult to adapt to any tank.

Basic maintenance was organised on a task basis, where each day there would be a
different maintenance task. Occasionally you would be stopped by an officer and asked
what the maintenance task was for that day. If you didnt know you would make one up
hoping the officer didnt know either. They never did and I was never caught out. On the
Driving and Maintenance Wing you were tested mid way through the course and at the
end. Questions would be asked such as if black smoke was seen coming from the exhaust,
what would this signify? The answer to which was that too much fuel was being burnt.
Similarly if blue smoke was being emitted, too much oil was being consumed. If the
engine started to splutter, what would this mean and where would you look first? All the
test results were written down to be sent onwards to your next posting so that your
capabilities could be assessed for your specific role in the regiment.

All training was done in denims and by the end of the week they would be very dirty.
There was a COs inspection every Saturday morning and occasionally we had to parade in
denims. As clean denims were not issued until Monday morning this meant that Friday

night had to be spent in washing the denims ready for parade the following morning. This
was the Armys way of keeping you on your toes.

There were tank silhouettes displayed round the walls of the classrooms, both of the Allied
armour and also the German panzers, for recognition training. We didnt learn a lot about
the capabilities of the German tanks although there was a lot of folklore. We knew about
the invincibility of the German Tiger tank and that the 88 mm gun was supposed to be the
finest tank gun in the world. We were not worried that the Germans had superior tank
power. We were young and thought there was nobody as good as us. We were full of life,
British and proud of it.

After twelve weeks at Stainton we were given ten days leave. At the end of that we were
passed out and went back to Streatlam camp to await instructions as to where we were to
be posted. My sleeping out pass for the Streatlam camp was taken away on my return and
I had to return to the billets. Each day some batches were sent off to their regiments and
finally it was my turn. There was a little railway station near the Streatlam camp called
Broomielaw. It was a small halt that had been opened to serve Streatlam Castle and the
Queen Mother when she was in residence there. On the day of my posting a group of four
of us marched down to the halt to catch the train to Darlington. From there we went to
Skipton to join the 13th/18th Royal Hussars Regiment stationed in the area.

CHAPTER SIX

THE REGIMENT

The 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Marys Own) was a famous cavalry regiment with a
distinguished history. The Regiment had been formed in 1922 with the amalgamation of
the 13th Hussars and the 18th Royal Hussars (Queen Marys Own) but the history of the
regiments before amalgamation went back to the early eighteenth century. The 13th
Hussars Regiment was raised in 1715 as Mundens Dragoons, the name being changed to
the 13th Hussars in 1861. The regiment fought in the Peninsular War from 1808 to 1814,
the Battle of Waterloo 1815, The Crimea War 1854 to 1855, the Boer War 1899 to 1902
and the First World War 1914 to 1918. The 18th Royal Hussars (Queen Marys Own) was
raised in 1759 as the 19th Light Dragoons. In 1763 the name was changed to the 18th Light
Dragoons and in 1910 became the 18th (Queen Marys Own) Hussars. They also fought in
the Peninsular War from 1808 to 1814, the Battle of Waterloo, the Boer War and the First
World War. In the Boer War the 18th were involved in the defence of Ladysmith, while the
13th were part of the relief force of Ladysmith. In the Peninsular War, the 18th were lucky
to survive as a regiment when they earned the anger of the Duke of Wellington with their
action at Vittoria. Looting had been widespread after the battle when the French baggage
train had been over-run, with officers just as involved as other ranks. The 18th were
unlucky that Wellington came across them himself, when they were needed for the general
pursuit of the French army. After much recrimination most of the looted items were
recovered and put to the benefit of the regiment. The 13th were perhaps best known for
their part in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava on the 25th of October 1854
when over half those involved were lost in the charge on the Russian positions. Sergeant J
Malone won the Victoria Cross in that engagement. This day is still celebrated by the
Regiment. During the First World War the 13th served in Flanders until 1916 and thereafter
in the Middle East. The 18th served in France and Flanders throughout participating in
most of the major battles of that war.

In 1929, after the amalgamation of the 13th and 18th, the Regiment left England to spent
two years in Egypt followed by seven years in India. In late 1938 the Regiment returned to
England to begin an intensive ten month training and re-equipment programme, prior to
being embarked for France in September 1939 as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

The Regiment spent most of the phoney war billeted near Arras in the Artois region of
France. When the German army entered Holland and Belgium on the 10th of May 1940 the
war hotted up and the Regiment moved to the front line to the east of Brussels and were
continuously engaged with the enemy, fighting in the same area as their predecessors at
the Battle of Waterloo. On the 15th of May the Dutch surrendered and when the situation to
the south of the BEF became seriously threatened a general retreat was ordered. From
then the Regiment fought a rearguard action until, on the 28th of May, the Belgians
capitulated leaving the only option of a withdrawal through Dunkirk. The whole of the
survivors of the Regiment were embarked on a cross-channel steamer on the evening of
the 30th of May and returned to England. Of the five hundred officers and men, together
with replacements, who had embarked for France in September 1939, four hundred and
thirty six subsequently found their way back to the Regiment to form a vital core for the
rebuilding of the British Army.

* * * *

The Regiment was organised into squadrons. Apart from the Regimental HQ troop, which
consisted of four tanks, there were four squadrons, A, B, C and HQ. The regiment was
commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel and each squadron by a Major. The fighting
squadrons, which were known as Sabre squadrons, each comprised five troops and an
admin troop. There were four tanks to each troop and five men to each tank. The HQ
Squadron was made up of different vehicles, AA tanks, reconnaissance tanks, scout cars
and transport vehicles. Initially the reccy troops were equipped with armoured scout cars
but latterly were equipped with the Stuart tank. The reccy troops would liaise with the
infantry. There was a high casualty rate in the reccy troops, the Stuart tanks were only
thinly armoured with a small gun, a 37 mm. They were lightly built for speed. They would
probe ahead of the tanks and were very vulnerable. Shortly after D-Day two of the reccy
tanks lined up with the heavies for an attack. They were both wiped out and the crews are
buried in a line in Hermanville Cemetery. In the Regimental HQ troop, the Colonels tank
was called Balaclava. The gun was removed from this tank to leave space in the turret for
a map table and for sleeping room. This was not possible in the normal tank. The gun was
replaced by a wooden barrel, attached to front of the turret, so that it wouldnt be obvious
that the tank was unarmed. Eventually the wooden barrel warped and developed a droop.

The regiment had its own recovery vehicles, which were ordinary tanks without a turret.
The regimental fitters manned these. Sgt. Spencer headed this unit. Like myself he was a
Barnard Castle man. In civilian life he had run a blacksmiths shop in Startup.


Loyalty to a regiment is a characteristic of the British Army; each regiment is a family
zealously guarding its traditions. I didnt realise it at the time but I had joined a family and
over fifty years later I was still part of that family. A Corporal George met my group of
four at the railway station at Skipton. He drove us to Regimental Headquarters where we
were assigned to temporary squadrons and received new cap badges. The cap badge was
the smallest in the British Army; it was not much more than a dot. We were also issued
with collar dogs, which were like an H, the symbol of the 18th Hussars. We had to
remove the RAC flash, as we were no longer in the Royal Armoured Corp, and put on our
Divisional sign, the 78th Armoured Division flash. This was an inverted cotton triangle
depicting a bulls head with the end of the horns dripping with blood. These we had to sew
on our tunics that night in the billet. We were billeted in the town in an empty shop,
Paterinnis, probably belonging to an Italian who had been interned for the duration of the
war. The shop is still there today. One day we were there when a sergeant came into the
billet after reveille had been called but only two of the group were up and dressed. The
rest of us were still in bed. The sergeant was looking for two men to do fatigues, spud
bashing, and because these two were the only ones dressed he selected them. They
protested that they were the only two that had responded to reveille but to no avail. That
was the price of being different! We were not allocated to a squadron until the Regiment
moved down to Wickham Market in Suffolk about three weeks after we arrived.

I was very lucky to get into such a first class cavalry regiment. Most of the lads at the
training camp had gone into yeomanry regiments that were only wartime regiments
whereas my regiment was a regular formation. We were well received at Skipton. When I
first went into the mess it was like being in a different country. The regiment had served in
India for some years and a lot of Hindustani words had been incorporated into everyday
speech. This was from the old sweats, who had been with the regiment in France and the
retreat to Dunkirk. Over the weeks ahead most of the old sweats were moved out to the
training regiments leaving us innocent young soldiers to form the bulk of the regiment.


It wasnt long before we realised what belonging to such an illustrious regiment entailed.
The discipline was so high; it seemed obscene and unnecessary for wartime conditions. It
wasnt bullying, it was just spit and polish. At one point it was so bad I applied for
transfers to the Palestine Police and for gliders but they came to nothing. We were under
the charge of Corporal Bestwick who had to apply the discipline, he had no choice.
Corporal Bestwick was a lovely man with two young daughters. Sadly he was killed
shortly after D-Day. If you were late on parade you were put on a charge, which usually
meant seven days on jankers. This would entail reporting to the guardroom at reveille in
full battledress. The Provost Sergeant was a hated man. Most provost sergeants are but this
one was hated by all. He was a Sergeant Delooly from Stoke on Trent. It was rumoured he
had worked for the council as a dustbin man and couldnt write his own name. If he asked
you for your name, and it was a long name, he couldnt spell it so he just gave a caution. A
friend of mine, Alex Drury, was once stopped and had his name taken. When asked for his
service number he just read a number off the back of a truck that was behind the sergeant.
The sergeant was so thick headed he didnt realise he was having the mickey taken.

The Regimental Sergeant Major was RSM Hind, called Dusty. He was strict but fair. The
first time I came across him was at Skipton market place. He was wearing a trench coat,
an officer type hat and carrying a swagger stick. In all innocence I saluted him and in front
of all and sundry at the market he gave me an awful dressing down at the top of his voice,
and he was only standing a foot away from me. He said the next time I saw him I would
know he wasnt a bloody officer! That was my first meeting with Mr. Hind. On New Years
Day 1945 in Holland, I was billeted in an old mill with his driver. RSM Hind brought us
both a pint mug of tea and said Right, lads, you can now say that the RSM brought you a
pot of tea in bed!

It was considered a terrible offence to besmirch the honour of the regiment. To be able to
go into town you always had to be very smart, highly polished and respectable. When you
went out of camp on a Saturday afternoon to go into town on the passion wagon, you
had to report to the regimental office. RSM Hind would come out to inspect you. If you
were wearing shoes he would make you lift your heels to see if they were worn down. If
they were, he made you go back to change into boots. This effectively ruined the trip out,
as the passion wagon wouldnt wait for you while you changed. Civilian shoes were hard

to come by due to the rationing and the points system. The only way to obtain them was
through your family. Even getting shoes repaired was difficult.

There were continuous inspections. By this time we had learnt a bit about life in the army,
we were becoming old sweats ourselves. The hut we were billeted in had two doors. The
bunks we slept in were now single beds and there were twenty to a room. For a few days
two or three of us managed to avoid PT by dashing out of the second door and hiding
round the corner, just before the corporal came in to get us on parade. After the others had
gone we crept back into bed for a further half hour. After a few days of this we were
caught out but managed to avoid being put on a charge. The spit and polish was
extremely severe. When I first went to the regiment, it was marking time waiting to get up
to strength with the new intakes that were coming in almost daily from the training
regiments. The spit and polish was to keep us occupied until the regiment was ready to
start the combat training for our future role in the war. In my hut there was Harry, one of
the old soldiers who hadnt yet been posted out. To get some extra money he would clean
your kit for 2/6d. I never used him but there were those with more money than sense who
did. There was still a strong link to the old cavalry days. The officers still had their horses.
The words of command were derived from the days of horses. You were ordered to
mount your tank, to move off, you advanced. As ordinary troopers, we were called
donkey wallopers.

One day I was picked for guard duty. I had been working all day and had not had a chance
to get myself ready for the parade. The lads helped me get dressed and all I was concerned
about was getting through the parade without incident. There were about sixty men on the
guard at the mounting and they would be allocated to areas within the camp, such as the
tank park. All the attendees are given a number but when my number was called to join
the orderlies at the back it didnt register and I didnt move. The orderly officer then said
that if I didnt move he would pick someone else to be stick. Someone gave me a nudge
and I took a pace forward, turned left and marched off to join the orderlies. When the
orderlies were dismissed you went off duty with them. It was the first time I had been
made stickman and in the most surprising circumstances. If you were awarded two sticks
you received a silver flash to attach to your sleeve. This was known as a TMO. This I did
manage to achieve eventually.

In April 1943 the Regiment moved to Wickham Market in Suffolk, where it was made up
to strength and then received news of the role it was destined to perform on D-Day. It was
time to ease off on the bull and concentrate on training for the task ahead.

CHAPTER SEVEN

PREGNANT PRAWNS

For the British the war had now been going on for three and a half years. After the fall of
France and the evacuation of the British forces from mainland Europe, Britain struggled to
keep open the Atlantic link with the USA, build up the bomber offensive and to keep the
war going in North Africa. The invasion of Russia by the Germans in June 1941 gave
some succour to the British, and in December of that year the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbour, followed shortly after by Hitler declaring war on the USA, brought the
Americans into a global war. By 1942 British and Allied forces were engaged in fighting
in the Middle East. American forces were fighting their own bitter engagements in the Far
East while the British in the Far East had been forced back to the frontiers of India. In
October 1942, the Eighth Army under the command of General Montgomery defeated the
Axis forces at El Alamein in what turned out to be the watershed of the German
aspirations in conquering the whole of Europe. In November 1942 the British and
American forces successfully launched an invasion of North Africa under General
Eisenhower, code named TORCH, which led ultimately on the 12th of May 1943, to the
surrender of the Axis armies in Africa. In Russia the German offensive was halted with the
fall of Stalingrad to the Russian Army on the 31st of January 1943.

After Pearl Harbour, at ARCADIA, the first Anglo-American war conference on the 31st
of December 1941, President Roosevelt confirmed the principle of Germany first in the
global strategy for winning the war. British and American planners set about considering
how to return to Continental Europe with the Americans favouring an invasion of
Northern Europe but Churchill for the British expressing grave reservations that it was far
too premature and risky. Churchill favoured the approach through the Mediterranean, the
soft underbelly of Europe, on the principle of one step at a time. This conflict of views
was to some extent resolved at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. This was to be
the first war conference between the Allied Heads of Government and was intended to be
between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. In the event Stalin declined the invitation as he
indicated he could not leave Russia at that time. Despite the absence of Stalin, or probably
because of, the conference was a success and set the basis and direction for the rest of the
war. The invasion of Sicily was confirmed, code named HUSKY, with further operations
to follow in Italy, but the primary objective was determined as the invasion of Northern
France in 1944 under the code name OVERLORD. At the TRIDENT Conference in

Washington in May, the date for the invasion was provisionally fixed for 1st of May 1944.

The Dieppe raid of August 1942 and the invasions of TORCH and HUSKY provided
disturbing examples of the risks involved in sea borne and airborne operations. It was
recognised that specialised armoured vehicles were required at the outset of an invasion to
support the invading troops and to overcome the beach defences. Although any invasion
would be preceded by a bombardment to keep the defenders immobilised during the
critical period of the first landings, it was recognised some defences would remain intact
and be capable of being brought to bear as soon as the bombardment was lifted and the
first troops came ashore. Some means were required that could take over from the
bombardment to neutralise this enemy fire. Tanks, landing by landing craft, would be
particularly vulnerable as they disembarked and a new technique was needed. Major
General P Hobart of the 79th Armoured Division devised a number of modifications to
tanks to enable them to perform specialised tasks. These included flail tanks to clear mine
fields, bridging devices, armoured bulldozers, fascine carrying tanks to cover soft ground,
mortar firing tanks and probably the most daringly successful of these specialised
vehicles, the Duplex Drive (DD) tanks based on the Sherman. The DD tanks were normal
tanks that had a collapsible screen attached to the body of the tank, which, when extended,
enabled the tank to float in water. Propellers, powered by the tanks engine, were fitted to
the rear of the tank to drive it through the water. The tanks had a low profile in the water
and would cause considerable surprise when they emerged ready for combat. It was
intended that the swimming tanks would precede the infantry ashore to provide artillery
cover on the beaches.

By April 1943 the planning for OVERLORD had advanced to the stage of determining the
battle plan and individual units identified for special roles. Within this battle plan the
13th/18th Royal Hussars was one of the Regiments selected to operate the DD tanks in
close infantry support at the initial landings The concept of the DD tanks was top secret
and it was necessary that all ranks of the Regiment maintain this secret if the vital factor of
surprise was to be achieved. Everyone had to sign the Official Secrets Act and the men
were lectured frequently. Needless to say it was in the mens own interests to maintain this
secrecy and no serious breaches were ever discovered.

The act of landing on the beaches would be over very quickly but required intensive and
arduous training over a long period and in differing conditions. Of equal importance was
the role of the tanks after the initial landing, and training for this was required in parallel,
to achieve the close cooperation with the infantry. The projected invasion date was now a
little over a year away and everything had become much more urgent.

* * * *

When I first arrived the Regiment was equipped with the Covenantor tank, the one I was
familiar with at Stainton. The Covenantor was the first British tank to be called by a name
rather than a type number. Thereafter all British tanks began with names starting with the
letter C. The Valentine tank was an exception to this but this tank predated the
Covenantor and was originally designated the Infantry Tank Mark III. The name Valentine
resulted from the fact that the tank was originally submitted for approval to the War Office
on St. Valentines Day, the 14th of February 1938. The Covenantor carried a 2-pdr gun,
which was considered inadequate at that stage of the war, and the limitations of the
suspension precluded the fitting of heavier armour. It suffered from poor ventilation and
was difficult to service, taking an average four hours a day after being in action. It is
probable that the Covenantor never fired a shot in anger although over 1,700 were built. A
substantial number were used by the training regiments.

It was originally intended that the swimming tanks (DDs) were to be based on the
Valentine, which could be fitted with a 75 mm gun, but a better option was the Sherman if
these could be guaranteed in sufficient numbers. An initial batch of Valentines was
received in April 1943 and the Regiment started to become familiar with their workings.
These were ordinary land tanks, however, and did not take the concept of swimming any
further. Shortly afterwards the first Sherman tanks arrived and these were well received.
These were a pleasant change from the previous tanks of the Regiment. The tank was
bigger and mounted a 75 mm gun. It had a maximum speed of 28 mph. It carried more
armour and, best of all, it was mechanically reliable, unlike the German tanks. It was easy
to maintain. The tracks had to be greased every night but this wasnt a long task with two
drivers involved. There was never enough room, of course, but it did take a crew of five.
The two drivers sat at the front of the tank away from everyone else. Three of the crew sat

in the turret, which was like a round box. The wireless operator sat at the back facing the
rear and in front of him was a ledge. This was immediately below the turret entrance and
you stood on the seat of the W/Op when you climbed into the turret and again when you
stepped out. His wireless set was in front of him on the ledge and, in action, all round his
set were tins of food and cigarettes. It was a sort of public place; all the bits and pieces
seemed to collect there. On the outside of the tank behind where the wireless operator sat
were the two radio aerials, the small one for the B set for communicating between the
tanks, and the tall one, six feet long and made of copper tubing, to transmit up to twenty
miles. Opposite the wireless operator sat the gunner on a small stool. He had a little
periscope and an aiming sight with crossed wires, which had the effect of looking through
the gun. In the middle of the turret was the breechblock, a huge thing, and on the other
side of the breechblock sat the tank commander. It was very cramped for space. You
couldnt lie down and you could hardly stand up. The Sherman was an American tank and
was left hand drive so the principal driver sat on the left hand side. The second driver sat
on the right and operated the BESA machine gun. The drivers alternated with each other
but there was always a first and a second driver. The first driver would operate the tank in
action or if you were driving at night. The second driver would be allowed to drive
coming out of action or when it wasnt so important. Most of the time you were just
driving blind, obeying the instructions of the crew commander.

For the driver there were five switches to start the engine, a switch for each of the five
banks of six cylinders. Each bank had to be switched on separately; it was like having five
engines. The engine was a thirty-cylinder petrol engine and did about a mile and quarter to
the gallon giving an effective range of about fifty miles. It wasnt that noisy in the tank as
the engine was right at the back. What you could hear was the noise of the engine through
the headphones although the wires were screened to reduce this. Whenever you changed
gear you got the whoo-whoo of the engine, it couldnt be avoided. Everything around you
was metal and reverberated. You could hear the orders from the commander clearly, they
were always very loud.

The ammunition for the machine gun was kept at the side of the turret, against the drivers
hatch where there was a ledge that ran to both sides. The machine gun couldnt be
depressed very far down to hit anything close to you although the main armament, the 75
mm gun, could be depressed to hit something about ten yards in front. Not that you would

want to do anything like that, but you needed to depress the barrel to clean it out after
firing. There was a long cleaning rod which two men handled to clean out the gun every
day when it was in use. The shells for the gun were kept in boxes placed around the turret.
The used shell cases were thrown out of the tank when in action, but in England these
would be returned for recycling. The used cases fell into a bag about the size of a coal
sack, made of tarpaulin, which fitted onto the breech. It was important not to have shell
cases all over the floor.

The main fault of the Sherman was that if it was hit it almost certainly set on fire. There
was always the smell of petrol in the tank. You wouldnt dare smoke in a Sherman. The
Germans called the Sherman tank the Tommy cooker. We carried jerricans of petrol or
diesel; the petrol ones having a red metal disc on the handle while the diesel ones had a
black disc. You had to be very careful when filling up at night that you used the right one.
There was also a square tin that held four gallons of petrol. This could be opened up with a
knife, as the metal was very thin. When empty these would be cut in half, the edge
knocked over because they were very sharp, and then used as a washing bowl. With two
holes both side and a wire for a handle these could be hooked on the back of the tank on
the hook that was used for towing. It was very common to see a tank with one of these
swinging on the back. These cans came in very useful for calls of nature when in action,
and you were being shelled, to save you getting out of the tank. I once saw a young
replacement killed by shrapnel as he was trying to get back into the tank when shelling
started, when he should have lain flat on the ground as the regulars would do. There were
always more casualties among the inexperienced replacements than the regular men.

The troop leader would normally be a lieutenant and the other tank commanders NCOs,
either a sergeant or a corporal. If the commander was killed or disabled, the wireless
operator, as the second man down, would take over his duties until a new commander
could be brought in. Occasionally a trooper would be made up to corporal. This happened
when Sergeant Happy Hammond was severely wounded and his wireless operator was,
there and then, made up to full corporal.

Each squadron of tanks had a marker; A Squadron had a triangle with the point upwards,
B a square and C a circle, while HQ had a diamond on the side of the tank. Each tank

carried a number. The troop leaders were not identified but you knew which was which
from the number. We flew pennants, a carry over from the old horse cavalry days when the
lances carried pennants. These were not the Regimental pennants, but were coloured red
and yellow.

The camp at Wickham Market was situated in parkland, in the grounds of Rendlesham
Hall. We were accommodated in tents and in wooden billets. I was now allocated to my
troop and I was placed in the third tank of the Regimental HQ troop as driver of a
Sherman tank. All the tanks had large white numbers with black edging painted on them
and mine was number 14. Later, in action in Europe, a tank that had been knocked out,
repaired and used as a replacement, didnt have a number. By the end of the war, there was
hardly a tank left that had a number on it, they were all replacements. The RHQ troop
wasnt like the other troops. The troop commander was the Colonel himself. His tank was
number 10, the one with the dummy gun. He was Lt. Col Moulton-Barrett, the last of the
Barretts of Wimpole Street. The second in command, Major Harrap was in tank number
11. The technical officer, Major Delius, was in number 15. Lt. MacMichael, who
commanded my tank, was also the education officer.

Lt. Col. Moulton-Barrett was a remote figure to most of the troopers but he did a
magnificent job in preparing the Regiment for the task ahead. His health was not good
leading up to D-Day and he had to hand over the command in April 1944 to Major Harrup
who was made up to Lieutenant Colonel. Major Harrap was well liked at Wickham
Market. His wife was involved with organising the civilian ladies into knitting circles
making comforts for the troops. She also helped with the welfare of the families of the
soldiers. Unfortunately, Lt. Col. Harrap was caught in an ambush while in a jeep shortly
after D-Day and was killed on the 16th June.

Training continued apace at Wickham Market, which was conveniently situated near to
Fritton Lake. All the soft vehicles had to be waterproofed. Most of these were old dating
back to Dunkirk. This meant taking the air supply pipe to the carburettor up through the
cab so that when vehicles left the landing craft they could be driven with the bonnet
submerged. All the spark plugs had to be covered by a substance like plasticene and all the
air louvres raised to prevent water access. Everything had to be waterproofed and then

independently checked and painted over. Then we went to Fritton Lake and drove the
vehicles through the lake. A driver could go through water chest high in bottom gear and
still keep going, although your brakes didnt work when you came out the other end. We
still didnt know where we were destined for but it was obvious now that we were going to
be involved in an invasion from the sea.

Training was also about learning about the tanks, the radios and the guns. The gunners
were all despatched to South Wales, to Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire, to shoot on the
firing range at Linney Head. Tank ranges were in short supply in England. The wireless
operators stayed in Suffolk. One of the wireless experts, a sergeant, and I rigged up a very
high aerial on a tank using connecting poles and tried to get through to the Regiment in
South Wales. There was a lot of mush but we did manage to achieve contact using Morse,
a great achievement of over three hundred miles, for a set designed for a twenty mile
range.

In May 1943, the Regiment got its first delivery of the Sherman tanks. These were
delivered by rail. We went with an officer to collect them on flat trucks to drive them back
to the parkland. It was about two miles to the station at Wickham Market. We had to drive
the tanks off the rail flats onto the trucks. One officer, a tech officer, insisted on driving
one of the trucks against the wishes of the driver, Trooper Galk. The trooper had no say in
the matter and the officer took over, but in the narrow streets of Wickham Market he only
succeeded in hitting a lorry and taking the side of the lorry off. He shouldnt have been
driving and he tried to lay the blame on the trooper, but we werent having it and he
himself faced the music. The delivery of the tanks came in dribs and drabs until we were
up to strength.

Our role as close support for the infantry meant training alongside the troops we would be
invading with. These were the 185th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, the Norfolks, the
Suffolks and the Rifle Brigade. On one occasion we were training with the Norfolks. I was
with Lt. MacMichael and there was another officer, Lt. Hardy in charge of a reccy tank.
We were in a forest with open ground of moorland between. The Norfolks were on the
other side of the open ground and as we came out of the trees they fired on us. It was to let
us know what the effect of small arms fire on a tank was like. It was the first time I had

been under fire. Lt. MacMichael assured us there was nothing to worry about, the infantry
were more scared of us than we them. The weather was very hot and that night we slept
out in the open, all of the crew under a large tarpaulin. It was wet marshy ground, and
although we had applied mosquito ointment we were all badly bitten, one man so badly
his mouth and eyes were all swollen by the morning. We got on very well with the
infantry. They were not envious of our role; they said we were welcome to the tanks, that
they were like coffins. We replied that if the weather was bad at least we were warm and
dry. To each his own

The camp was very open and needed a lot of guarding. There were guard duties every
third night, many guarding the tank road and also a flying picket touring the camp. There
were probably seventy men involved altogether. The troops were not well received in
Wickham Market but then no one else was unless they had lived there for thirty years. We
didnt use the village, preferring Ipswich, which was about fifteen miles away. I had my
first contact with the Americans there. We didnt get on with them; they were strange
looking things and the girls swarmed all round them. They had a lot more money than we
had and that was probably the root of the dislike. We didnt use the pubs much as we
werent heavy drinkers. We went to the pictures a lot. There was a big house there where
we could enjoy cups of tea. It was like a home from home. The people who ran it were
very young and very nice. They were all volunteers. In the evenings it closed a 9.30 pm
when there was a prayer and a final cup of tea. One evening, returning from Ipswich rather
late, my friend and I missed the transport and had to hitch a lift back to camp. We were
picked up by a small car from the Regiment. The driver asked the chap in front where he
was from and I recognised the accent. I said I was from Barnard Castle and asked him
where he was from. It turned out he was from Startforth, near Barnard Castle. He was Sgt.
Spencer and had been with the Regiment in India. Previously, he and his brother had run a
blacksmith shop at Startforth on the other side of the river from Barnard Castle.

A few years after the war was over, I was a long distance driver, and finding myself in the
area, I returned to the grounds of Rendlesham Hall and saw where the huts had stood. The
concrete standings were still there. I went through where the door would have been and as
I walked down I was almost in tears when I looked at the bed spaces and realised how
many had not come back. Until I counted where the empty beds had been I hadnt really
appreciated how many had been lost.


While at Wickham Market we now formed part of the 27th Armoured Brigade, although
still under the supervision of the 79th Armoured Division. The 27th consisted of the
13th/18th, the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards and the East Riding Yeomanry, all under Brigadier
Prior-Palmer. We now had a new badge, designed by the Brigadiers wife, which should
have given us a clue as to our future role. The badge was a royal blue shield with a gold
and silver sea horse on it. We didnt know then about the floating tanks but the sea horse
should have given us a clue. Rather derogatively we nicknamed it the pregnant prawn,
but we were proud to wear it.

Brigadier Prior Palmer was a frequent visitor to the Regiment at Wickham Market. He was
very smart, often in shirt sleeves with his sleeves rolled up and immaculately creased. He
was a big man with very long legs and when he strode out almost everyone had to run to
keep up with him. The troops found it quite amusing to see this.

In November 1943, at Fritton Lake, we had our first introduction to the DD tank, in this
case a Valentine. The tank was still experimental and only had one propeller. It couldnt
raise enough speed to head in a straight line and floundered about all over the place. It
wasnt much of a success and didnt give us any confidence in the concept. We also had to
undergo training in the use of the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus. As the driver of the
tank I was the one most likely to have to use this equipment and it wasnt a pleasant
prospect. A mock-up of a tank was placed at the bottom of a deep chamber. The crew sat
in their places and the hatches were closed. Water was poured in at a tremendous rate until
the chamber was full. The crew then made their escape using the DSEA. It was far worse
than the gas chamber experienced during initial training. In December, A and B Squadrons
and RHQ were posted to Gosport for training in the sea, while C and HQ Squadrons went
to Hoddom Castle at Ecclefechan for training in wading ashore. Only A and B Squadrons
were to be required for the DD role.

CHAPTER EIGHT

DONALD DUCKS


The Sherman D.D. Tank was an ordinary Sherman to which flotation gear and propellers
were attached. The official designation was Duplex Drive but they were affectionately
known as Donald Ducks, not the least from their propensity to waddle when in the water.
It might seem incredible that a tank could float but given a big enough enclosed volume
anything can, and the volume enclosing the tank was enormous. The flotation gear
consisted of a thick waterproofed canvas screen and a number of rubber pillars about the
size of an ordinary motor tyre inner tube. The screen was attached to the hull of the tank
above the tracks and extended upwards for about twelve feet. The tank commander,
standing on a platform could just see over the rim. The screen was raised by inflating the
rubber pillars from bottles of compressed air, and the screen went up like a concertina. It
was then held in position by elbow-jointed struts, which had to be fixed by the crew. The
front was shaped like the bow of a boat. When the screen was raised and held into position
the tank could float. The top of the turret would be about level with the surface of the
water and the screen would have about three feet of freeboard, little enough in a choppy
sea.

The tank was driven through the water by two propellers attached to the back of the hull,
rather like outboard motors, but with the drive being taken from a bevel box off the tank
tracks. On the road the propellers would be hinged up and had to be lowered on entering
the water. They couldnt be started before the tank was clear of the landing craft. The
tanks engine and moving tracks were required to provide this forward motion. The
propellers could be turned to provide steerage on the outboard principle but the tank could
also be steered by varying the speed of the tracks, the tracks acting like paddles. The tank
commander steered the tank with a tiller that moved the propellers but the driver could
also steer, using a hydraulic steering lever, although he couldnt see where he was going.
The driver had to remain in his seat to drive the tank while the rest of the crew stood on
top of the tank and could abandon ship if necessary. Each tank carried an inflatable dingy.
All the crew wore life jackets and the driver had a Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus
(DSEA) and wore gym shoes to make it easier to get out.

Reaching shore the tanks would ground and with their moving tracks would move forward

in the normal way until, in about five feet of water, the driver would be ordered to release
the air in the struts. The screen would fall and the crew would re-enter the tank and
assume their positions. The turret had to be turned to face the rear before the screen could
be raised or the gun would foul the skirt, so this had to be turned round again before the
tank could go into action. It was a fine decision as to when to lower the skirt and it was all
too easy to swamp the engine and disable the tank.

* * * *

The Shermans we had at Wickham Market were not adapted as DDs. To get experience of
the DDs, A and B Squadrons and the Regimental HQ Troop went to Gosport on the Solent
in December 1943. It had been decided then that the whole regiment would not operate as
DD tanks but that C Squadron and HQ Squadron would land from landing craft directly
onto the beach. While we went to Gosport they set off for Ecclefechan. Training at
Gosport was hard work and continued over the Christmas period. We were stationed with
the Navy and the tanks were all located in a small bay, which had been cordoned off with
high scaffolding covered in canvas. The project was still top secret and no one was
allowed in without a pass. It was well guarded by the military police. Practice went on at
all hours to make full use of the tides. The tanks were embarked on Landing Craft (Tank),
(LCTs), at Stokes Bay, taken across the Solent and launched to land at Osborne Bay on the
Isle of Wight. Each landing craft would take five tanks, two in pairs side by side and one
at the front. Loading of the tanks was practised in the dark with no lights allowed. We
used the lights from the end of glowing cigarettes to do the guiding into position on the
LCT. The tidal conditions would be right for this twice in each twenty-four hour period
and full use was made of this. Luckily, for the time of the year, the weather was
particularly kind although it was obvious that tide conditions and smoothness of the water
were vital aspects for the success of the operation. We did manage a break on Christmas
Day and had a marvellous time with the Navy looking after us very well. On the 1st
January 1944 the squadrons left Gosport to join the rest of the Regiment at Ecclefechan,
while I went on leave. As it turned out this was embarkation leave, my last leave before
we went to France.

I reported to Ecclefechan on return from leave and shortly afterwards the Regiment set off

for Fort George near Inverness. Fort George was a permanent depot of the Seaforth
Highlanders with brick built barracks. The fort had been built after the clan risings in 1745
as part of the Duke of Cumberlands plan for subduing the Highlands. It was very crowded
but the well heated buildings were a godsend at that time of year and being so far north.
Here we had Valentine DD tanks for training with in the Moray Firth while C and HQ
Squadrons were waterproofing their Shermans and other vehicles. The infantry brigades
and all the specialised units that would be involved in the invasion were all located in the
area as was the naval force that was to transport the Regiment across the Channel. This
facilitated a number of joint exercises, which only served to illustrate what we were letting
ourselves in for. There were accidents and a number of tanks were lost. On one occasion a
tank from A Squadron slipped off the landing craft and overturned. The crew were picked
up except for the driver, Cpl Underhay. The officer stripped off and attempted a rescue but
he was unsuccessful and Cpl Underhay was drowned. It was very cold and the officer
nearly froze to death himself. Fortunately that was the only fatality suffered during the
training.

While we were at Fort George we received a visit from General Montgomery, the victor at
El Alamein. He had just been called back from leading the Eight Army in Italy to take
over the 21st Army Group and subsequently to become the leader of all the land forces in
Europe under General Eisenhower. We had been standing in lines for about an hour before
he arrived. He pulled up in his vehicle and stood in the back of it. As was his practice he
called all the men to gather round him while he gave us his pep talk. He told us how we
were going to win the war and he gave us a lot of confidence, although we were never
short of that. The next time I saw him was in Holland at Grave Bridge. I was standing
leaning on the front of my tank with my hat perched on the back of my head, fag on the
corner of my mouth, a typical tankie. We were in a side road waiting to go out onto the
main road where there was a queue of traffic trying to get over the bridge. He was in this
line as he came by in his car. When I saw who it was I quickly straightened myself up but
it was too late by then, he had passed by. He didnt take any notice.

Fort George was virtually the last time the Regiment was together as a regiment until after
the war ended. A tank regiment doesnt go into action as a regiment like an infantry
regiment would do. Each squadron would operate independently in support of a section of
the infantry. Even the individual troops of a squadron would go with different platoons

and companies of the infantry. You would never know what was happening to the rest of
the Regiment. When we left Fort George, in the middle of April, we took the tanks to
North Wales on covered transporters, as they were still top secret. We stayed there for five
days while the ATS girls dismantled the skirts. Then the tanks were left there and we went
by road to Petworth in Sussex. We were billeted in Nissan huts in the grounds of Petworth
House, a stately home. While we were there we received a visit from King George VI and
Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the two teenage princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. I
was very concerned about my appearance. The area where we were was very sandy and
our boots were heavily dubbined because of the water we were working in. The dubbin on
the boots picked up the sand and we looked quite scruffy, not what you would expect from
a cavalryman. I was reassured that they wanted to see us as we were. Shortly afterwards I
was moved to Gosport. The Colonel of the Regiment, Brigadier Lumley, took the salute as
we pulled out. Standing beside him was a young trooper, a chap called Powell from
Wallesey. He wasnt quite nineteen years of age and wasnt allowed to go with us. He was
broken hearted after all the training he had been through. It appeared that at that time no
soldier under the age of nineteen was allowed to go into action but when you visit the
graves in the military cemeteries in Normandy you can see dozens of graves of eighteen
year olds and even some seventeen year olds. Everyone wanted to be in on the big
occasion, it was so exciting. It was a huge game; I wouldnt have missed it for the world.

The drive to Gosport was along roads packed with equipment for the invasion. Tanks were
parked in columns at the side of the road. There were vehicles everywhere and the roads
were jammed with artillery pieces. It was chaos and bustle all along the South Coast. The
area around Portsmouth and Southampton was a vast military camp. There were troops
from all nations, Canadians, French, Poles and Americans. We reached our little park, on
the beach at this particular time, near the Hard at Gosport. On the sea there were ships as
far as the eye could see. The logistics of getting the right men and equipment on the right
ships at the right time must have been a nightmare. We had not yet received the tanks that
we were to go ashore with and these were delivered in dribs and drabs over the next few
days. It was going to be a close thing to get everything ready. We worked hard on the
tanks, satisfying all the waterproofing requirements, loading the ammunition and generally
equipping ourselves for battle. Although essential, waterproofing the vehicles restricted
their range severely through overheating the engines and would have to be removed once
the requirement was over and as conditions permitted. We still had no idea where we were
going, only that we were definitely going somewhere in France. Then we waited.


We were billeted in an empty house in Gosport and were reasonably comfortable. There
was no bull, only the equipment to be checked and checked again. We wrote home but
were not allowed to tell anyone what we were doing. All mail was censored by the
officers, which I didnt like. I didnt want them to know about my personal matters. We
could receive mail as normal as this was addressed to a British Forces Post Office (BFPO),
which sorted the mail and forwarded to where we were stationed. At that time ours was
BFPO29. We had no personal radios but I had an old gramophone that I had acquired from
a girl friend in Leeds and carried back to Fort George. I took this over to France with me
tied on the back of the tank until it became a casualty and was destroyed. We all clubbed
together to buy a record, In the Mood on one side and The Woodchoppers Ball on the
other, by Roy Fox and His Orchestra. We played it over and over again. We read
everything we could get hold of and we did anything to keep busy. There were no pay
parades so we didnt have any money but in any case there was nowhere to spend it except
for the NAAFI. We used our compo rations to get cigarettes.

Strangely enough, considering the circumstances, two of the A Squadron boys applied for
permission to get married before the invasion. These were not shotgun marriages, but
normal desires in wartime to leave something behind. The Regiment had them checked
out by sending the local police to the fiances houses to verify the facts and confirm it
was all perfectly correct. They each got three days leave to go to Skipton to get married.
One of the men, Gill Masters, returned early expecting to meet his friend at the station.
When he wasnt there he thought his friend had done a runner so made his own way back
to the Regiment, not realising that he had come back too early to meet up and that his
friend would be along shortly. He had also been billeted in an empty house in Gosport and
he returned there to find that all his mates had left. In a panic he went to the local Police
Station to enquire the whereabouts of the Regiment but was told that everyone had left but
they didnt know where. He walked down to the Hard where he came across Sgt. Major
Scholar-Gough, an old cavalry instructor, who said, So you are back Masters, get in there
over that little wooden bridge and you wont get out any more. We were now sealed in on
the Hard, under guard, ready for the invasion.

CHAPTER NINE

OVERLORD

Montgomery stated, The object of OVERLORD is to secure a lodgement on the
continent from which further offensive operations can be developed. The simplicity of
the statement belied the complex organisation that was required to achieve this objective.
Planning for OVERLORD had been in progress since early 1942 under the code name
COSSAC, but it was only after Montgomery arrived in January 1944 that the meat was
attached to the bones of the plan. The COSSAC plan envisaged an initial assault force of
three divisions, ultimately landing 24 Allied divisions on a thirty mile strip of coast
running west from the mouth of the river Orne, six miles north of Caen, to the river Vire, a
battlefield of 33,000 square miles. It was projected that the invasion would be met by at
least 17 German formations. Both Eisenhower and Montgomery had reservations about
the plan but with the invasion date set for the 1st May, less than four months away their
choices were limited. It was agreed, however, that the choice by COSSAC of the landing
area was broadly correct. Montgomery expanded this plan westwards to a five divisional
front, with an airborne division to protect the western flank, ultimately to provide for the
landing of 39 Allied divisions. It was estimated that it would take over a month before all
these divisions could be engaged. At the same time the invasion date was deferred for one
month to accommodate the extra resources required. Despite the Germans operating on
two major fronts, Russia and Italy, there were 59 divisions in France and the Low
Countries, 41 of these north of the Loire. The critical weakness of the Germans was the
lack of air intelligence, which meant that their forces had to be spread over a wide area to
cover any eventuality. Hitler knew that an invasion was imminent but was relying on
overcoming this threat such that the Allies would be reluctant or unable to continue in
Northern Europe. This would then release divisions for the Russian front and he would be
able to deploy his V weapons against England.

The plan went through a number of refinements to culminate in five landing areas over a
fifty-mile front with two airborne divisions, one on the western flank and one on the
eastern flank. Extending the invasion area westwards brought the possibility of the capture
of Cherbourg at an early date. The five invasion beaches had gaps between them, dictated
by the terrain, and these needed to be linked to make a continuous bridgehead. The five
invasion beaches, starting from the west, were UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and
SWORD. The American forces would tackle the two western beaches and the British and

Canadian forces the other three. The reason for the choice of American forces for the
western beaches was that the American army was mainly supplied and located in the
South West of England and the logistics of moving them to the east and crossing with the
British forces for the invasion were considered too complex. Montgomerys plan was for
three divisions of airborne troops to be landed during the night prior to D-Day to seal off
the flanks of the bridgehead. The British 6th Airborne Division were to capture and hold
the bridges over the Caen Canal and the River Orne and also to neutralise the batteries,
which overlooked the invasion beaches, to the east of the Orne near the coast. The
American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were to land in the Cotentin Peninsular to
facilitate the exit from the beach at UTAH and provide bridgeheads for the cutting off of
the peninsular and isolating Cherbourg. The landings from the sea were to take place at
half tide on the flood, a compromise between the distance to cover over the beach and the
visibility of the beach obstacles. Depending on the actual date of the invasion this would
be around 6.30 am and half an hour after sunrise on the western beaches. As the front
stretched over fifty miles this meant that the landings in the west would precede the
landings at the eastern extremity by up to an hour as the tide flowed westwards up the
Channel. Each landing would be assaulted by the equivalent of an infantry division
supported by DD tanks and specialised armour. In addition British commandos and
American rangers were given specialised tasks outside the immediate beach areas. The
Allied Air forces had the task of carpet-bombing the beaches and hinterland and the
bridges over the Seine were to be destroyed to keep the German Panzer divisions isolated
from the invasion area. The invasion itself would be supported by naval bombardment.

German panzer formations known to be in the area were the 21st Panzer Division, thought
to be at Falaise, and 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend) at Lisieux. Other Panzer
formations were either further east across the Seine or to the south near Le Mans. It was
obvious therefore that the beaches most at risk from German armoured interference with
the landings would be the eastern beaches, both at the time of landing and later as the
German reinforcements were introduced.

The initial sea invasion force consisted of about 133,000 men and 16,000 vehicles. To get
them to the beaches in the right order and at the right time was the subject of another
operational plan, Operation NEPTUNE, the naval side of the equation. The task of

NEPTUNE was to transport the invasion army from the ports of embarkation to the high
water mark on the Normandy beaches, to support them on the way in and to supply them
thereafter. To achieve this 6,939 vessels were used comprising 1,213 warships, 4,126
landing craft, 864 merchant ships and 736 ancillary vessels. The Royal Navy provided 4
battleships, 2 monitors, 20 cruisers and numerous destroyers. The warships were there to
provide a screen for the invasion fleet and to provide the bombardment of the shore. The
bombardment was to start one hour before the first landings were due to take place.

The plan for the invasion of SWORD beach involved the British 3rd Infantry Division
supported by the 27th Armoured Brigade. The 3rd Division consisted of the 8th, 9th and 185th
Brigades each containing three regiments and divisional troops. The 27th Armoured
Brigade consisted of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the 1st
East Riding Yeomanry. The 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, who had been with the Brigade in
training, had left and joined the 8th Armoured Brigade as part of Montgomerys plan of
mixing experienced with untried units. The Dragoons would be leading the assault on
GOLD beach. The actual assault on SWORD was to be by the 1st South Lancashire
Regiment and the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment of the 8th Brigade followed by the 1st
Special Service Brigade, the commandos. Preceding these would be the DD Shermans of
the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, who were scheduled to reach land seven and a half minutes
before the landing craft of the infantry and of the specialised armour of the 22nd Dragoons
(flail tanks), 5th Assault Regiment RE (AVRE) and 5th Independent RM Armoured Support
Battery (Centaur Tanks).

To get this force to the beaches required 29 landing ships and 263 landing craft of various
types. With this force being on the extreme left of the invasion armada, it was vulnerable
to attacks from fast torpedo boats operating out of Le Havre and large calibre artillery
located there. As the timing of the assault was one hour later than at UTAH, the attack
would be made in full daylight and consequently it was arranged that aircraft would lay a
smoke screen to provide some cover for the approach and landings. In fact, under this
smoke screen, three torpedo boats from Le Havre managed to make a daring attack on the
convoy, fired a number of torpedoes, which passed close to the two battleships and were
successful in hitting the Norwegian destroyer Svenner and sank her. They managed to

escape back to Le Havre unharmed.



* * * *

We drove to the Hard at Gosport to embark ready for the journey to France. We still had
no idea whereabouts in France we were headed. We were at the front of the queue, which
in some respects was a blessing because we avoided a lot of the confusion that must have
reigned as the day went on. Each Landing Craft (Tank) took a troop of five tanks. The
LCT pulled into the Hard, the ramp was lowered and I reversed my tank onto the LCT.
There were two tanks side by side, then two more and one in the centre just before the
ramp. The ramp was raised, the LCT backed off into the water and another LCT came in
to load another troop. We loaded in daylight and while we were loading we had an
appreciative audience leaning on the iron railing running along the quay above us. These
appeared to civilians watching us load the tanks, which seemed rather strange in view of
the secrecy of everything. Civilians walked the streets of Gosport and the quay was almost
on the street so I suppose it was impossible to keep them away.

The whole of the Regiment was loaded by the 3rd June and the LCTs moved out into the
Solent. The weather quickly deteriorated and on the morning of the 4th June, when we
should have been making our way across the Channel, news was received that the invasion
was postponed. We thought it might have been cancelled. It was a terrible anticlimax. It
was heartbreaking, we had built ourselves up so. The landing craft were very
uncomfortable in good conditions. In poor weather they were awful. They were flat
bottomed and skewed all over the place as the wind and waves got up. They were very
overcrowded with hardly any room to move or lie down. We spent what seemed long
hours on the craft. All kinds of thoughts went through your mind; with nothing to do the
mind just wandered, although the main thought was, would you still be alive the following
day? We were quite pessimistic about our chances of surviving. I thought of my mother
and how she would feel. I was sure she would be proud of me if she knew what I was
doing. She would also be anxious. My Uncle Fred had been killed on active service and I
was now the only one in the family who was in the Army.

The following day the weather didnt seem to get any better but suddenly some of the

landing craft started to pass us and then we ourselves were on the move. The invasion was
on again. We pulled out into the Channel and while it had been uncomfortable in the
Solent it worse in the Channel. The waves sent the craft upwards and it would come down
with a terrible crack. There was the danger that the tanks would move, and in fact, on one
craft a tank slid to the side and prevented the disembarkation of the ones behind. We were
on an American landing craft with a galley in the stern under the bridge. The cooks on the
landing craft were to feed us but all they produced was mutton stew in buckets. The
conditions were such that everybody was being sick. We were issued with black paper
bags to be sick in but they didnt last long. The sides of the craft were too high to be sick
over and the deck soon became slippery with vomit. Mutton stew is not very palatable at
the best of times but when you are under the weather it was terrible. We had been on the
landing craft now for over a day with the prospect of at least another day to endure.
Despite being sick we were also hungry. We had been issued with some emergency packs
of chocolate and debated among ourselves whether to open them. In the end we did and
found them to be inch thick slabs of chocolate. It was impossible to bite into them; you
had to use a knife to break pieces off. We also opened the compo packs and I ate some of
the porridge, which was in blocks like Oxo cubes. They were supposed to be mixed with
water but I ate them as they were. I also ate some meat cubes like Oxo but they were so
concentrated it made me sick. We managed to get some sandwiches from the cooks and
we made a lot of tea. We had been told that after we landed we wouldnt have time to cook
and there would be nothing to eat except a twenty-four hour pack that we had been issued
with. We dare not open these under pain of being court martialled but in the event they
were not used.

We were dressed in our tank suits, a kind of denim one piece overall. It was fitted with
pockets to take maps, pencils and the like. We wore our side arm, a Smith and Weston
revolver in a holster, the belt and ammunition being worn outside the overalls. We had on
boots and gaiters and, although we had our black berets with us, we had to wear a steel
helmet, one with straight sides, not like the one the Tommies wore.

We didnt get a chance to talk to the American crew. There werent many of them. The
officer in charge spent most of his time on the bridge and our officers joined him for some
of the time. The Colonel was not with us on the landing craft but met up with his tank on
the beaches. I was still in the Colonels troop but he wasnt the troop officer. That was Lt.

Edwards. I met his wife at the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day landings but didnt have
chance to speak with him. During my service period you didnt speak to officers unless
they spoke to you first. My crew commander was Lt. MacMichael, the wireless operator
was Cpl. Fowler and the gunner was a stocky, happy-go-lucky welsh lad called Roberts.
We all got on well together.

We couldnt see much from the landing craft. In any case most of the armada was behind
us. When we neared France we could hear the bombardment from the naval ships and
learned afterwards that it was from two battleships, HMS Warspite and HMS Ramiles, the
monitor HMS Roberts, five cruisers and thirteen destroyers. They were shooting over our
heads onto the beaches and beyond. Just as it was getting light the LCT stopped and
dropped anchor. It was about 6.15 am when the ramp was lowered. I got into the drivers
seat and drove off into the water. We were afloat and about 5,000 yards from the beach.
Because of the conditions we had been taken further in than planned but it was still a
difficult journey with waves much higher than we had previously experienced. We were
on the way.

CHAPTER TEN

SWORD BEACH

SWORD beach was eight miles long stretching from the Orne estuary westwards to
St.Aubin-sur-Mer. The beach was divided into four sectors, Oboe, Peter, Queen and
Roger, following the alphabetical sequence of the sectors of the beaches all the way
from UTAH beach. Although the length of the beach was extensive it was impractical to
use the Oboe and Peter sectors because of rocks, while the Roger sector led directly to
the fortified area of the Casino at Rive Bella and the built-up area of Ouistreham, behind
which were the strongpoints of SOLE and DAIMLER. Defence of the beaches was by
resistance nests. A nest was manned by between twelve and thirty men equipped with up
to four machine guns. A nest had overhead cover and accommodation dugouts,
interconnected by tunnels and surrounded by barbed wire and mines. A group of resistance
nests was called a strongpoint and manned by at least a platoon of infantry. A strongpoint
would contain at least an artillery piece or anti-tank gun. Artillery batteries sited to the
rear supported them. The assault was confined to the Queen sector, a stretch of just over
a mile, with Queen White in the west and Queen Red to the east. Immediately to the
front of Queen was the beach strongpoint, code named COD, at La Breche, while to the
south and further inland were the strongpoints MORRIS and HILLMAN. On the right,
west of the landing points, at Lion-sur-Mer was a further strongpoint, TROUT. With the
concentration of the landing at the Queen sector towards the eastern end of SWORD, the
gap between the closest Canadian troops landing on JUNO at the Nan Red sector at St.
Aubin-sur-Mer was four miles

The beach was defended by the 716th Infantry Division, part of the Seventh German Army
under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The division had been in the area since 1942, had no
combat experience and contained many foreign conscripts. It was thought to be an inferior
formation. It was responsible for the sector from Arromanches to the River Orne, which
included the landings of GOLD, JUNO and SWORD. The headquarters of the 736th
Grenadier Regiment defending SWORD was at the strongpoint HILLMAN, a massive
underground fortification. Adjacent to Hillman was the underground headquarters of the
1716th Artillery Regiment.

Further inland, the 21st Panzer Division, with 170 tanks and self propelled guns, had been

moved as late as April from Rennes in Brittany to the south of Caen and was split on
either side of the River Orne. Further east was 12th SS Panzer with 160 tanks. To get to the
invasion area both these formations would have to cross the River Orne. The 6th Airborne
Division were tasked with capturing the bridges over the River Orne and the adjacent
Caen Canal lying to the north of Caen which they successfully did by a combination of
parachute drops and glider landings during the night of 5th/6th June. As airborne troops
they were not equipped against an attack by armour and would need reinforcing by ground
troops at the earliest opportunity if that route was to remain barred to the panzer
formations to the east.

The beaches were laid with obstacles in three belts. Furthest out were the C units, wire
meshes, 2 m across and 3 m high, mounted on steel girders and topped with Teller mines.
The next belt consisted of lines of wooden stakes and ramps with mines attached,
embedded in the sand and facing out to sea. Finally there was a belt of hedgehogs, three
steel rails welded together to make a triangular structure 1.5 m high. The obstacles would
be underwater at high tide and stretched to the whole depth of the beach, a distance of
between 300 and 400 metres. Towards the land the beach graduated into sand dunes
followed by the coast road. There was no sea wall of any significance. Behind the coast
road, where there wasnt any urban development, the ground was marshy. The
compromise of landing at half tide would leave most of the obstacles exposed and the
landing craft would be relatively free to make their approaches to the beach. In the event,
the bad weather that had caused the invasion to be delayed by twenty-four hours had
created a tidal surge. The water levels were much higher than expected and consequently
the beach area much narrower.

The invasion plan envisaged that the assault would be led by 1st East Lancashire Regiment
preceded by A Squadron of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars on Queen White and the 2nd East
Yorkshire Regiment with B Squadron of the 13th/18th on Queen Red. To ensure landing at
the right spot, the beaches had been well marked by two midget submarines, which had
lain on the seabed a whole day longer than planned due to the postponement of the
invasion. The South Lancs were tasked with capturing the villages of Hermanville-surMer and Lion-sur-Mer while the East Yorks were to capture the strongpoints COD, SOLE
and DAILMER and to assist the commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade under

Brigadier Lord Lovat, in the relief of the airborne troops at the bridges over the Orne.
With the first wave was the specialised armour of the 5th Assault Regiment, the Royal
Engineers who were to land directly on the beach from the landing craft. With the 13th/18th
providing cover at the waters edge, the Royal Engineers were to clear routes off the beach
and deal with the beach obstacles. With the beaches secured the tanks of C Squadron of
the 13th/18th were due to land directly onto the beach as was the 1st Battalion, the Suffolk
Regiment. The Suffolks were then to combine with units already established in the
beachhead to take MORRIS and HILLMAN prior to the advance on Caen.

COD, situated directly on the beach at the junction between Queen White and Queen Red
at La Breche, was 300 m wide and almost 100 m in depth. It consisted of twenty resistance
nests holding one 75 mm, two 50 mm and one 37 mm guns, mortars and machine guns. It
was to take more than three hours before this post could be overcome and was responsible
for most of the casualties suffered by the later incomers to the beach.

Out at sea with the waves running high in a Force 5 wind, the commander of the 27th
Armoured Brigade, Brigadier Prior-Palmer and the naval commander Captain Bush RN
agreed that conditions were too severe for the DD tanks and that they should be taken
further inshore to be launched at 5,000 yards.

* * * *

When the order Floater was given it came as a relief to get off the landing craft after the
nightmare journey we had had. It was nerve-racking on the way in. It was relatively quiet
in the tank after the noise of the bombardment, which was passing over the landing craft
on its way onto the shore. I couldnt see anything and all I could hear was the noise of the
engine. I was eleven feet under water and all I could do was keep my foot hard down on
the accelerator. I had my Davis apparatus and Mae West on, which werent comfortable,
but it was quite dry in the tank, no water came in. It seemed a lifetime on the way and also
we were making slower progress than we should have done. Up on top the waves were
troublesome but I didnt know much about what was happening there. It took over an hour
but eventually I felt the tracks hit the beach and I thought Well thats it, Im at the beach.


The order came to drop the skirt and then the beach came into view. It was completely
empty except for our tanks. We started firing straight away. The machine gun next to me
was firing to keep the Germans heads down and I could hear the main gun firing at any
flashes it spotted. With the skirt down you didnt know whether to go on or not. There was
the tide coming in behind you and mines in front of you. One tank, commanded by L/Cpl
Pat Hennessey was stopped at the waters edge when he saw Sgt. Ratters tank pass him
and decided to follow. By then his driver, Harry Bourne, was shouting that his feet were
getting wet. It was then too late, the engine had been flooded so they all had to bail out.
During training we had been told to get on and off the beach as quickly as possible. It was
a dangerous place to be. The beach was very open and although the tide was almost in, it
was still about 200 yards from the waters edge to the road. There were a lot of obstacles
that were like iron triangles. If you drove over one of those the tank could have been
bellied, which would lift the track off the ground and then you would be helpless. Then
there were the mines. I could see some of the other tanks that had hit mines and been
knocked out. The crews were bailing out and getting down into the sand. The mines were
a big fear. With one track blown off the tank was helpless. You couldnt stop under fire to
put new tracks back on although they could be recovered later. Depending where it struck,
a mine could kill a driver because we sat well down in the tank and the armour wasnt
very thick under the tank. Mines did take off the legs of a couple of our lads. Barbed wire
didnt hold any fear for us; we could just plough over it. Neither did small arms fire; it was
just like rain on the tank. We had been trained for that back in England when the Norfolks
had fired on us. Before we had left England we had old links of track welded on the tank
in front of the drivers as extra protection. I could see tanks that had been hit by artillery
fire and were on fire. Smoke was drifting over the beach from them. Visibility on the
beach wasnt good but I dont think smoke had been deliberately laid, as this would have
covered up the obstacles we had to avoid.

There was a lot of shouting going on between the crew. I think Mr. MacMichael was as
excited as we were. We were all young soldiers together and he was not much older than
we were. There was no panic. My heart was pumping like mad. I was concentrating on
avoiding the obstacles and, in a way I was glad they were there, they kept my mind
occupied. I was told to get off the beach as quickly as I could and that is what we did. The
commandos coming in behind us were using the tanks for shelter, following in our tracks.

That way they were able to avoid stepping on any mines.



We headed into the village of Hermanville and came straight upon the houses. Although
the village had been prepared for defence I saw an old lady in a black dress carrying a
basket. She just ignored us completely. She was the only civilian I saw. There were
German infantry around the houses, which the infantry had to deal with while we had the
job of knocking down some of the houses with our gun where artillery was embedded.
Most of the opposition at this stage was from infantry and light artillery. I heard that there
were snipers in the church steeple. One of the tanks took out the steeple to remove the
danger. The steeple has never been replaced and there is just the church tower there today.
If there had been German tanks there we would have had a pasting. We hadnt many tanks
left to do the job. C Squadron, which had landed directly on the beach, had fared fairly
well and had about ten left out of twenty. They were on our right. A Squadron was on the
left and didnt have many. We were with B Squadron. All that afternoon we were weeding
out the artillery and we were still in the outskirts of Hermanville that night. The tanks
were called on to tackle the strongpoint HILLMAN, which was being assaulted by the 1st
Suffolks. We had to have a couple of goes at that. We had to pull out once and return in
bigger strength. We got well into HILLMAN on the first attempt and I do not know why
they were pulled out again. HILLMAN was finally neutralised by the Suffolks although it
took until the following day before it fully surrendered. We withdrew to join the rest of the
Regiment harboured south of Hermanville. There was a lot of criticism of the infantry
afterwards that they had taken too long to subdue HILLMAN, which jeopardised the push
to Caen, but I think it was unfair. HILLMAN was the most formidable obstacle in the area,
and its strength had been underestimated by the planners. The area covered by HILLMAN
was 600 yards wide by 400 yards deep and contained more than twelve concrete
blockhouses linked by underground tunnels and trenches. All the blockhouses were linked
by telephone with the cables well buried. The blockhouses were topped by steel cupolas
holding heavy machine guns and were impervious to shellfire. The area, surrounded by
barbed wire and minefields, had a commanding view of the invasion beaches and also to
the flanks guarding the approaches to Caen. Even when the Suffolks had taken it, the main
blockhouse still held the German Commander, Colonel Krug and his men, who did not
surrender until the following morning.



By evening all the strong points in the beachhead had been taken but the area was still
being troubled by incoming artillery and nowhere was safe. Although by evening the
German artillery had lost its forward spotters they were still firing on fixed points. Caen
was still a distant prospect and there was as yet no fixed line to the bridgehead. During the
evening C Squadron were turned out to counter an expected attack by 21st Panzers but
nothing developed and the Regiment concentrated for the night in an orchard on the
southern side of Hermanville. Unloading on the beach had continued throughout the day
and the vital transport echelons of the Regiment under Major Cordy-Simpson had landed
and came up to service the Regiment.

When you harboured up for the night you formed your tanks into a sheltered position and
parked up. We had a camouflage net, which was draped over the tank unless you could get
under a tree. Fortunately there was no enemy air activity over the battlefield but you still
had to go through the motions of hiding away. If you expected to stay any length of time
you would need to dig a pit to put the nose of the tank in. It was hard work digging into
the hillside to protect the tank. The Sherman was a tall tank and took some hiding. Slit
trenches were dug and, very importantly, a latrine trench. Even on that first night the tanks
had to be maintained; they had never done so much work without attention. The greasing
that had to be done every day was carried out. There were two of us to do the job and it
didnt take long. Then the tank would be fuelled up and reammunitioned by the A1
Echelon. We didnt cook any food that night because of the danger of fires giving our
position away and we survived on our rations. Sentries were put out and I was given the
first stint with another trooper. There was still a lot of shellfire going both ways all
through the night. You could hear the fifteen-inch shells from the battleships going over,
they sounded just like steamrollers. I wondered what would happen if one met another
shell coming the other way and would I be under the fallout. On reflecting on the days
events I became a bit distressed and told the other sentry I was feeling bad. He suggested I
go and see Sergeant Carr who was dug in close to where we were, which I did. I asked the
sergeant if he had anything to drink and he gave me his water bottle. It was full of
calvados, very strong. I had a long drink and nearly chocked. It almost burnt my throat
out. Afterwards I finished my two-hour stint and then went to my slit trench where I slept.
The calvados did the trick and I was in such a heavy sleep they had a job to wake me for

my next turn on guard. It wasnt only the calvados. We had had very little sleep on the
crossing over from England, it had been a hard day starting at about 5.30 am and the days
events were catching up on me. I woke up and did my second stint and the next day we
went back into action.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE ORNE BRIDGEHEAD



D-Day had been a day of mixed fortunes. The divisions had managed to land the planned
forces at all of the designated beaches but none had achieved their principal objectives on
landing. The adverse weather and poor navigation had scattered the American airborne
forces on the right flank over a wide area and it took some time before the units could
concentrate and provide an effective cover for the sea-borne invasion forces. On the other
hand the widespread nature of the landings had caused immense confusion to the Germans
and they had difficulty in determining a basis for defence. On the American beaches the
landings at UTAH had been almost unopposed and casualties were light. This was
partially the result of the landing missing the designated area and drifting further south
than intended. They were in control of a substantial bridgehead and were close to linking
up with the airborne forces. It was a different story at OMAHA where only extremely
determined efforts by the invaders managed to overcome what, at one stage, looked like a
complete disaster. Casualties were extremely high in the early formations and this
remained the landing with the overall highest casualty rate. Although no great penetration
had been made, by overcoming the beach defences, there was little in-depth defensive
structure to impede further progress. On the British and Canadian beaches, GOLD beach
was a success story where the 50th Infantry Division and supporting armour had
established a bridgehead six miles wide and six miles deep. They had not reached their
objective of Bayeux but would take that the following day. They had captured
Arromanches where one of the Mulberry Harbours was to be sited and had formed a
junction with the Canadian forces on JUNO on their left. The Canadians on JUNO had the
hardest task of the eastern beaches and the highest number of casualties. They established
a bridgehead six miles wide and joined up with the forces on GOLD. They were unable to
close the gap with SWORD beach on their left but made considerable progress towards
Caen, more so than the formations on SWORD, whose primary task it was to take.

All the brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division had got ashore at SWORD, with fewer
casualties than expected, but their objectives were not secured. Caen, the prime objective
of the first day, was still some three miles distant, and the bridgehead was still very
insecure. The gap between SWORD and JUNO was significant and vulnerable. Lion-surMer was still a pocket of resistance within the SWORD beachhead, while the Canadians
on JUNO had only managed to reach the outskirts of Luc-sur-Mer, a gap still of two miles.

During the evening of D-Day elements of the 21st Panzer Division had managed to
penetrate as far as Lion-sur-Mer but had turned back when surprised by the fly-over of the
6th Airborne glider force on its way to reinforce the Ranville pocket held after the earlier
airborne attack. The landing by the 6th Airborne had been a success and the left flank of
the invasion area was reasonably secure. It was expected, however, that the German
panzer formations to the east would attempt to reinforce Caen through that sector.

Writing to General Dempsey two days after D-Day, Montgomery commented, Generally
it can be said that the DD tanks proved their value, and casualties were high where they
could not be used.

The narrowness of the landing area on SWORD and the lack of exits from the beach into
the hinterland had caused considerable congestion. There was only one metalled road and
a track that led into Hermanville and both crossed marshy ground, impassable to vehicles.
The strongpoint COD proved more of an obstacle than expected and was responsible for a
lot of the early casualties. Two thirds of the 27th Armoured Brigades strength was deeply
involved in achieving the earlier objectives close to the beach. The timetable of the build
up was disrupted and the infantry, due to make their move towards Caen, lacked the
necessary armoured support. Even when sufficient armour was available, there appeared
to be insufficient urgency in carrying out Montgomerys objective of a swift assault on
Caen. The Divisional Commander, Major General Rennie and the Brigade Commander,
Brigadier Smith of the 185th Brigade, both infantrymen with little experience of using
armour, made no attempt to concentrate their armour in a decisive push on Caen as the
German commanders would likely have done and, when the prospects of the counter
attack by 21st Panzer threatened, they adopted a defensive posture.

The Germans, on the other hand, were slow to bring their panzer formations to bear
against the invasion forces. Problems in their command structure delayed the passing of
orders to the 21st Panzer Division commander, Lt.General Feuchtinger, who then had to
rescind his order taken on his own initiative to attack the airborne salient east of the Orne,
and switch his forces to the west of Caen in support of the 716th Infantry Division. It was 4
pm in the afternoon of D-Day before his division made its counter attack. By chance it

was made on the weakest part of the bridgehead, the gap between the British 3rd Division
and the 3rd Canadian Division. British armour had, however, established itself on the
Priers ridge and was in a position to attack the formation in the flank. The Germans lost
25% of their strength in their attack. Although a battalion of panzers reached Lion-surMer, the over flight of 250 tugs and gliders the 6th Airborne Brigade led to fears that the
panzers would be cut off and they retreated to an area close to the north west of Caen.
That turned out to be the closest that the Germans came to sweeping the invaders into the
sea but conversely it also closed off the opportunity for the British to take Caen in the near
future.

Actions on D-Day+1 started slowly. A counter attack from the German Panzer units was
expected in the same area as the incursion on D-Day and the 9th Infantry Brigade advanced
towards Cambes on the right of the bridgehead front to counter this. The 185th Infantry
Brigade were pressed to secure the left flank at Lebisey and continue their advance on
Caen, while the 8th Infantry Brigade were charged with clearing Lion-sur-Mer of all
opposition and closing the gap with the Canadians. The remnants of the 13th/18th Hussars
A Squadron joined with the 8th Brigade at Lion-sur-Mer but the rest of the Regiment were
not required. In the late afternoon they moved to a position overlooking Bnouville at the
Orne bridgehead in support of the 6th Airborne who were under attack from the elements
of 21st Panzer that had not crossed the Orne the previous day.

The German armour was having difficulties of its own in concentrating to mount the
counter-attack. The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) and Panzer Lehar
Division were ordered into the battle zone. The 12th SS, travelling from Liseux, arrived
piecemeal, due in part to the predations of the Allied air force and a lack of fuel, while
Lehar, travelling up from Le Mans, would take longer still. It was late afternoon before the
12th SS were in line with 21st Panzer. The counter attack was delivered and went on into
the night. It was at great cost to both attackers and the invaders, particularly to the 3rd
Canadian Division who had to face the fanaticism of the Hitlerjugend. The invaders
managed to hold the Germans who eventually had to withdraw, some of the Hilterjugend
in tears of frustration at their failure.


Montgomery came ashore on the 8th of June and established his headquarters at Creully,
half way between Bayeux and Caen. Bayeux had fallen to the 50th Division the previous
day. The invaders were now visibly weary having been continuously in contact with the
enemy. Montgomery decided to avoid the prospect of huge casualty lists in battering at
Caen and directed the main effort towards Villiers Bocage and Evrecy, bypassing Caen to
the west. The impetus of the invasion in the east had stalled and the Germans were
establishing their defences to contain the bridgehead. Panzer Lehar came into line late on
the 9th of June after a nightmare journey from Chartres, being harassed by the Allied air
force all the way, and with the 21st Panzer and the 12th SS, now formed the principal
defence of Caen.

Bad weather had delayed the planned invasion build-up and SWORD beach was still
plagued by shellfire, but the 51st Highland Division and the 8th Armoured Division were
ashore. Montgomery now proposed to use these formations in flank attacks round Caen.
The Germans, under Field Marshall Rommel, were having difficulty in concentrating their
forces and no major offensives by them were planned over the next few days.

* * * *

After the stand to at Bnouville, awaiting the enemy counter-attack that failed to
materialise to any significant extent, the 13th/18th Hussars went into harbour at St.-AubinDArquenay. We remained there for three days. We dug our slit trenches and sheltered
under the tanks. There, the Light Aid Detachment came up and assisted in the dismantling
of the DD propellers and screens. The follow-up organisation each night was very
efficient. The tanks needed to be replenished and we reported in over the radio each day as
to what our needs were. The drivers of the transports would arrive and know what each
tank required. We carried two types of ammunition in the tank. There were high explosive
(HE) shells for use against infantry positions and armour piercing (AP) shells for use
against other tanks. There was a variety of AP shells, among which was a SABU
specialised armour piercing shell, painted black with a black nose and a yellow ring
around the base. It was supposed to be better than the ordinary AP shell but I was never at

the other end of it and wouldnt know. Among the machine gun ammunition there was the
tracer where every seventh shell was tracer so you could see where your shots were going
at night. We carried seventy 75 mm shells of all types in the Sherman and there were small
lights inside the tank to enable you to see what shells you were loading. Seventy shells
might not seem a lot but it was rare to run out of ammunition. You only shot at what you
could see.

There were also two water carts driven by Trooper Carmichael and Corporal Dutton
respectively from whom we obtained our fresh water supplies. For our food requirements
each tank was supplied with a wooden box of food that contained fourteen rations. There
wasnt room to stow it in the tank and it was carried on the back of the tank above the
engine. Each pack had a letter on it to identify the contents, which could be tins of corned
beef or machonochie stew, rice puddings, treacle pudding etc. For about a week after we
first landed we were getting the same pack every time. We just took it for granted that you
got corned beef and hard biscuits every time. Then, by chance someone received a pack
that was different and we realised there was an assortment available. We duly complained
and from then on we enjoyed a variety of packs. Inside the packs were ninety-eight
cigarettes, that is, seven cigarettes for fourteen men for one day. We were never short of
cigarettes and didnt need our NAAFI ration. For refreshment in the tank we had tea or
cocoa. The tea was compo tea, leaf tea, dried milk and sugar all mixed together in a
compressed cube. We couldnt make a good cup of tea at first because we tried to make it
like mother made it at home, put it into a cup and pour boiling water over it. It didnt work
like that. Quite by accident we found the best way was to boil the water in a container,
sprinkle the compo tea on the top and stew it. Each pack had two bars of chocolate and
five sweets per day. It was supposed to give you a correct balance of calories and
vitamins. Sometimes we used the chocolate for making drinks but we never used the
sweets. They were always kept for the children in the villages.

I was still with Regimental HQ troop and our job was to protect the Colonels tank, which
was unarmed. During the day we would be attached to one of the sabre squadrons as extra
support. When we harboured you formed your tanks into a defensive position and parked
up. We did our maintenance on the tanks, greasing the tracks and checking the links. It
wasnt the tracks themselves that broke, it was the pins joining the tracks together that
would wear. You might have to replace a link. The tank would be manoeuvred so that the

link would be hanging over the front spindle. The front sprocket would be eased off to
release the tension, just as you would do with a bicycle wheel. The pin would be knocked
out and, by using the tank engine, let the sprocket bring the two links together and then
knock the pin in. There was a constant need to tighten up the tracks; if you didnt, they
became very noisy and suffered a lot of wear. The track had a rubber insert to keep the
noise of the tank down. The infantry didnt like us making a noise or even making dust as
this gave their position away. We didnt carry spares; the support vehicles, which came up
to service us every night, would supply these. Anything more serious would be handled by
the Light Aid Detachment or returned to the Brigade workshops operated by the Royal
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). At that stage we didnt have any
replacement tanks available and we had to make use of what could be repaired. This was
the job of 246 Forward Delivery Squadron who followed up the three regiments of the
Brigade.

Shortly after we had landed we had a parade where we were issued with French money for
spending in the NAAFI or in the village bars. The money was called BAFs and we got 200
francs to the pound. There were also coins made out of bakelite for the smaller
denominations. On one occasion, when we were harboured up in a field, I wandered into
the nearest village. There wasnt a soul about. There was a dead dog and a dead sheep
lying in the road. I went into one of the houses. As soon as I walked in I had a strange
feeling that something was wrong and the hairs went up on the back of my neck. I went
and got a friend and went back in. There was a half finished meal on the table with dirty
cups and plates. We went up the stairs and found an old man lying dead in the bed. It
wasnt the smell of death that alerted us, because there was the smell of death everywhere,
it was just a premonition that something was wrong.

My impression of France at that time, after a few days of driving through the country
lanes, was the dirtiness of the roads and villages. The villages were old, with ramshackle
old stone buildings. It was completely different to England. It was rare to speak to the
French people; we were usually parked out of the way. During the fighting I had seen the
German infantry at a distance. When they surrendered they were left in the care of the
infantry and eventually found their way back to the beaches where they were evacuated in
the landing craft that were bringing in supplies. I think most of them were glad to be out of
it, although they had only been fighting for a few hours. They were mostly young garrison

type troops, not anything to be frightened of. The prisoners would be used to carry the
wounded onto the landing craft and return with them At that stage even a sprained ankle
would mean repatriation to England as there were as yet no facilities in the bridgehead.

We didnt lose our sense of adventure, even when the casualty lists came in. On D-Day the
Regiment lost twelve killed, twelve wounded and seventy-eight missing, although not all
these were lost. Three tanks had been sunk in the run in but the crews were most likely to
have been rescued by the landing craft. The officers of the Regiment on D-Day earned one
Distinguished Service Order and four Military Crosses, while twelve Military Medals
went to the NCOs commanding the tanks. General Montgomery presented these to the
recipients at a later date. The crews didnt get anything. All things considered the losses
on D-Day were not as bad as on some of the subsequent days.

We stayed in the area until early in July, supporting the commandos and airborne troops,
who had now been reinforced by the 51st Highland Division. This section of the front on
the east side of the Orne was experiencing considerable pressure from the Germans and
actions were frequent and costly. A friend of mine, Sergeant Tommy Buck from B
Squadron, had lost his tank on D-Day, been given another that he then lost on D+7 and
then another on D+8. When a crew baled out they had to return to the Regimental HQ to
await being allocated another tank. Major Corder-Simpson, who was in charge of the
replacement tanks, raised a laugh when he said to him, What, again? as if it was
Tommys fault he had lost his tanks. Shelling was continuous and took its steady toll. The
naval warships were still supporting us with their large calibre guns and were very
effective in disrupting the German armour formations. On the 10th of June an action
involving RHQ, B Squadron and the Reconnaissance Troop, resulted in the loss of two
Stuart tanks and four Shermans with Lieutenant Hardy and eight other ranks being killed.
On the 16th of June the Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Harrap was caught in an ambush
while in his jeep and was killed. The second in command, Major the Earl of Faversham
took over command of the Regiment. He was aristocratic and eccentric. He was always
wanting baths. On a rest he would shout for a bath, which wasnt very easy to achieve.
Someone found an old tin bath and he would have us all boiling up water and taking it to
the bath for him. He was there for everyone to see. We had no opportunity for a bath
ourselves although we did manage to keep clean with plenty of water and fuel for heating.

Occasionally, as time went on, there were opportunities to use mobile bath units.

Three weeks after D-Day we were harboured near Hillman when a despatch rider came
along and told me I had to report to the Colonel. I set off along the slope on which
Hillman was sited and I saw a Messerschmit fighter fly over the hill from the direction of
Caen. Without thinking I pulled out my revolver and fired a full clip, six shots, at him. I
could see the pilot looking down at me and laughing. If he had fired his guns he would
have cut me in half. I carried on to the Colonel to discover that my mother had written to
him to ask if I was all right as I had not written home. He ordered me to go back, write a
letter to her and bring it back to him so he could send it to my mother. It was just like
being at school. There was nothing I could write about. I couldnt say I was in action, I
couldnt say where I was, that was not permitted for security reasons. All I could say was
that I was well and hoped that she was too, and that was it.

The Regiment had its own forward observation force that could call down artillery support
or even air support, although this wasnt very effective at this stage in the campaign. It
was not possible for individual tanks to radio in for support as the network only permitted
us to talk to Regimental HQ. There was one particular occasion when the forward
observation proved highly successful. On the 23rd of June when the Regiment was
supporting the 51st Highland Division a counter attack developed. The forward
observation force, consisting of Captain Wardlaw and Trooper Urqhart, was in contact
when they spotted a mixed force of tanks, SP guns and other vehicles totalling forty-three
vehicles. All three squadrons of the Regiment were able to engage the enemy and
destroyed a quarter of the force before it retired to the south.

It was an exhausting time. You never got enough sleep. Fortunately, as a twenty year old I
could sleep anywhere in minutes but it was still very tiring. For the first two weeks after
landing I had a terrible headache, it never left me, day or night. I think it was a
combination of wearing a steel helmet all the time, the heat and the constant noise of the
shelling. Eventually we came across a Red Cross tent run by the Canadians and I got
permission to go and ask for some aspirins. They checked me out, looked at my eyes and
gave me the OK. I got my bottle of aspirins and I had no more trouble after that.

On the 5th of July, after a month in action, the Regiment was relieved by the 148th
Regiment, Royal Armoured Corp, and moved to Luc-sur-Mer for rest and re-equipment.
The journey there was a complete contrast to our earlier experiences on the beachhead.
The road system had been organised and was now policed by the Military Police. Hessian
screens had been erected to shield the movement of troops from the enemy and every
available space was packed with vehicles and stores. At Luc-sur-Mer shelter was available
for the troops instead of the slit trench under the tank so a degree of comfort was possible.
We looked forward to a period of recuperation.

CHAPTER TWELVE

THE BATTLE FOR CAEN



We had been in Normandy now for a month and the break at Luc-sur-Mer was our first
real rest although it turned out to be only two days. Luc-sur-Mer was a small seaside resort
close to the junction of SWORD and JUNO beaches and it was pleasant to be able to
wander around and relax. Shortly after we arrived I found a bar open on the seafront and
with my mates we were drinking crme de menthe, something we had never drunk before.
Not realising the strength of the liqueur we got absolutely blotto and could hardly manage
it back to where the tank was harboured. Looking out of the window we watched a French
couple on the beach making love, a world of difference to what it was like the month
previous. There was still a lot of activity on Queen beach with the constant loading and
unloading by the amphibious vehicles going from ship to shore. The Mulberry Harbours,
which had been towed over to France shortly after D-Day to provide deep water port
facilities, had only been in operation for a couple of days when they were badly damaged
by a storm, which started on the 19th of June and lasted for four days. The harbour at
OMAHA was destroyed and the remnants were used to patch up the damage to the
harbour at Arromanches on GOLD beach. Late in June the Americans had achieved their
objective of capturing Cherbourg, but it would be three months before the port was
operating to full capacity, and the lack of harbour facilities meant that the beach landings
were necessary for some time to come.

After our rest was cut short, the whole of the Regiment was involved in a push to take
Caen. Montgomery had tried to outflank Caen, both to the east using the 51st Highland
Division and to the west in Operation EPSOM using the newly arrived VIII Corps. Neither
pushes achieved their objectives and the ring of German armour around Caen remained
intact. The new operation, codenamed CHARNWOOD, was to involve the British 3rd
Division, the 59th Staffordshire Infantry Division and the 3rd Canadian Division.
Additional artillery support was to be provided by the Royal Artillery, the Guards
Armoured and the 51st Highland Division with naval gunfire from the battleship HMS
Rodney, the monitor Roberts and two cruisers, the Belfast and Emerald. The attack was to
be preceded by an aerial assault by RAF Bomber Command, who were to drop 6,000
bombs on the city of Caen, 1,000 of which were delayed action bombs designed to
explode six hours later when the attack by the ground forces began. To prevent casualties

to the British front line troops the RAF had been ordered to drop their bombs no closer
than four miles to the ground forces front line. This meant that the German defenders
would be in front of the bombing attack, but the bombing would have the effect of
preventing reinforcements passing through the city to the fighting.

The 13th/18th Hussars were supporting the 176th Infantry Brigade of the 59th Staffordshires,
which was to attack in the centre with the villages of La Bijude, Epron and St.-Contest as
its objectives. The Canadians would be on the right and the 3rd Division of the left. Facing
them were the 1st SS Panzer with 21st Panzer on their right. The start lines for the Hussars
were between Cazelle and the Chateau de la Londe.

* * * *

There was not much sleep to be had on the night of the 7th/8th of July. I watched the
bomber raid fly over about ten oclock in the evening. It was still light and you could
easily see the pounding that Caen was getting. As it got dark we prepared ourselves for the
attack the next day and about 2 am started to move to our start positions. The artillery
barrage started shortly after 4 am and then we set off. The fighting continued all day with
La Bijuide and Epron being taken before we were withdrawn to harbour for the night at
Cazelle. A further day of fighting took place on the 9th of July before the Regiment was
withdrawn into reserve to Cazelle late in the evening. Caen, north of the River Orne, was
occupied on the 10th of July by the infantry. The destruction wrought by the bombing
made the city virtually impassable to vehicles, and the infantry had to pass through
unsupported in the face of snipers, booby traps and mines. The Germans had effected an
efficient withdrawal to south of the river and created a formidable defensive line. With the
bridges over the river Orne either destroyed or heavily defended the objectives of creating
bridgeheads south of the river Orne were not achieved.

We stayed at Cazelle for six days, the longest period in any one place since we landed. A
new commanding officer took over the Regiment, Lt. Col. Dunkerly, while the Earl of
Faversham reverted back to second in command. Although it was summer there was a lot
of bad weather to put up with. It was said later by the French to have been the worst

summer on record. One day we had a terrific thunderstorm. We had heard that the
Canadians, who were on our right, were putting on a film show in a nearby village.
Although it was raining heavily we decided to pay a visit. We put on our waterproof
capes; although they were useless at keeping you dry. The rain would fall off the capes
onto your legs. Your shoulders would be dry at the expense of the rest of you. When we
got to the village bar we were soaked. The Canadians were very generous and one gave
me a pair of black overalls to wear, which I was able to keep afterwards. I dared not use
them in action because the Germans wore black and I didnt want to be confused with
them in the fighting, but I used them when possible to keep my other overalls clean. We
got to see the film, a George Formby film, called No Limit where George played the part
of a TT rider on the Isle of Man. A lot of the Canadians were French Canadians who felt at
home in France. They were terrific chaps; we got on very well with them.

It was during the rest periods that you got to thinking about the war. When you have been
bombed and shelled for any length of time it has a terrible effect on your nerves, no matter
who you are. In these circumstances it is your mother and family that you think about. It
certainly wasnt religion. Belief in God didnt help me. The Padre would come along with
an ammunition box on which he would put a white tablecloth, a couple of candles and a
cross. He would get his bible out and say how marvellous we were, that we were Gods
creatures and were going to free the world. Two miles down the road the Germans were
doing the same. They had God with us marked on their belts. I think they were more
religious than we were. We were both on the side of the Lord and then went and knocked
the hell out of each other. For a long time after the war I didnt want to know about
religion. We had premonitions about the future. I remember one particular REME sergeant
who was convinced he was going to be killed. Everyone tried to reassure him. He wasnt
one of the fighting troops but he was called out one night to go and recover a tank that had
been disabled. He told his crew that this was it. They went out and were all killed when
the tank got hit. There was a corporal with us whose wife had had her fortune told. She
was told that her husband would be wounded but would survive the war. One night, with
the frequent shelling we were getting, he got a small piece of shrapnel in his back, it was
nothing much. He was so relieved, he was sure after that he was going to be all right. I
always thought I would survive although I had my share of near misses.

After almost a week of being in one place we were on the move again. Montgomery was

mounting a major operation to get round Caen, to capture the Bourgubus ridge to the east
of Caen and then head south for Falaise. The operation was code named GOODWOOD
and would use massed armour to achieve the breakthrough.

* * * *

Montgomery had written on the 14th of July, that the Second Army had reached its peak of
strength and from then on would become progressively weaker as losses mounted and
replacements were restricted. At that time the bridgehead was bursting with tanks and the
allies had a numerical advantage in tanks over the Germans facing them of four to one.
The plan was to use three armoured divisions in a thrust south from the bridgehead east of
the river Orne presently held by the 6th Airborne and the 51st Highland Division. The
armoured divisions, the 7th, 11th and the Guards, part of VIII Corps, were responsible for
the main thrust. These units had landed some time after D-Day and some had not yet
engaged with the enemy. The task of I Corps was to secure the left flank. I Corps
comprised the units that had landed on D-Day, the 27th Armoured Brigade, comprising the
13th/18th Hussars, the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the East Riding Yeomanry with the 3rd
Infantry Division, comprising the 8th Brigade, the 185th Brigade and the 9th Brigade
respectively. Against them would be the 21st Panzer Division and on the right, against the
main thrust, would be the 1st SS Panzer. As at Charnwood the attack would be preceded by
an air bombardment, this time by three waves of bombers followed by an artillery
bombardment from naval units and land based artillery. Unlike Charnwood the first
bombing wave would start only two hours before H-Hour at 7.30 am on the 18th of July,
the start time for the armoured jump off, and continue for one hour afterwards.

There were several weakness in the plan. There were 8,000 tanks and armoured vehicles
involved in the assault and the vast majority of these were west of the river Orne. There
were just six crossings over the Orne and the Caen canal, while the area in front of the 51st
Highland Division had been recently mined. Only narrow corridors were available through
the minefield to enable the progress of the tanks. To avoid alerting the Germans only the
11th Armoured Division was in place over the Orne in time for the initial assault, the

remainder would follow as the area in front cleared. The land-based artillery would also
have to cross the Orne but only after the area had been cleared by the armoured divisions.
This would limit the effectiveness of the artillery barrage as the assault developed. In fact,
for this operation the German intelligence was at its most effective in identifying the threat
and had laid plans accordingly. They also had the benefit of being able to see the whole of
the eastern Orne bridgehead from Bourgubus ridge.

Starting at 5.30 am, in three waves, the bombers of the RAF and USAAF unleashed their
bombs on the lines of defence of Panzer Group West. It was the most awesome air attacks
ever launched against ground troops. It was unquestionably a devastating assault and did
great damage to the German defences. However, the Germans showed great resilience in
the face of such destruction and were able to mount a determined defence. The lead
armour of the 11th Armoured Division, the 29th Armoured Brigade, which had set off
promptly at 7.30 am made good progress at first but were then held up at the village of
Cagny and, although by-passed by the 11th Division, it was late afternoon before this
village was taken by the following Guards Division supported by infantry troops. The 11th
Division reached the foot of the Bourgubus ridge but the delays in the follow up divisions
clearing the bridgehead left the spearhead brigades in serious trouble and they were
repulsed, having suffered heavy losses in tanks. By the end of the day the attack was still
short of the Bourgubus ridge and it would need two more days of heavy fighting before
the 7th Armoured Division gained part of the ridge. Heavy rain and the saturation of the
ground then made further actions impossible bringing to an end the GOODWOOD
operation, having achieved far less than was promised at the outset. The losses of armour
were heavy, over 500 tanks, a third of the available tanks on the continent.

On the right flank the Canadian 2nd and 3rd Divisions had achieved the encirclement of
Caen and the whole of the city was now in Allied hands. On the left flank the 27th
Armoured Brigade with the 3rd Division had extended the bridgehead eastwards to the
outskirts of Troarn and northwards to Emiville. The 13th/18th Hussars had crossed the
Orne on the night of the 16th/17th of July and harboured behind Escoville and the Butte de
la Hogue. On the 18th of July the 13th/18th Hussars captured the villages of Touffrville and
Sannerville and occupied the Butte de la Hogue. After the infantry had secured the

villages, the Regiment returned to the high ground near Escoville for refuelling and
replenishing the tanks. The heavy rain and the constant shelling made sleeping on the
ground impossible and what little rest there was, had to be taken inside the tanks. After
three days of acute discomfort the bulk of the Regiment was moved to a safer area north
east of Escoville. By now it was known that the great tank offensive had stalled but
conditions remained very hazardous. On the 25th the Regiment was bombed and also
suffered a severe stonk from heavy artillery. On the 26th the Regiment was relieved by the
33rd Armoured Brigade and went into harbour at Coulombs.

* * * *

That night we learned that the 27th Armoured Division was being disbanded and that the
Regiment was to join the 8th Armoured Brigade, replacing the 24th Lancers who were also
being disbanded. The other regiments in this brigade were the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards and
the Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Rangers) Yeomanry. The 8th Armoured Brigade had been
on our right on GOLD beach on D-Day and both the 8th Brigade and the 27th Brigade had
suffered heavy losses in the constant action since D-Day. We had to take off the velvet
pregnant prawn flash which we so loved, and of which we were so proud, and put on the
circular cotton shoulder flash of the 8th Armoured Division, the foxs mask, our new
identity.

On the 27th of July we left the Orne bridgehead for the first and last time since D-Day, and
moved to La Senaudire, just south of Bayeux, to rest and refuel.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THE BOCAGE

Whereas the area around Caen was what was called good tank country, open stretches of
cornfields and gentle slopes, the area south and west of Bayeux was a country of narrow
roads, high hedges and steep, ravine-like valleys. This was the feared Bocage country. The
Americans had been fighting in this terrain since D-Day and although they had not
experienced the weight of armour that the British and Canadian forces had had to bear,
they had found great difficulty in dealing with the terrain against a German opposition that
could make full use of its defensive capabilities. In the first month of occupation the
Cotentin peninsular had been crossed to the north of La Haye-de-Puits and Cherbourg had
been taken on the 29th of June. All German forces to the north of this line had surrendered
by the end of the month. To the south of OHAMA beach the front line stretched from
between La Haye-de-Puits and Lessay in the west to follow north of the line of the Priers
to St.-L road to the junction with the British forces east of Caumont. At its most
southerly point at Caumont, the front line was no more than 17 miles from the sea. In
seeking an answer to the problem of tank mobility in the narrow sunken lanes bordered by
high hedges on root filled embankments, the Americans developed an attachment to the
Sherman tanks called Rhino. This was a piercing horn of steel, fitted to the front of the
hull, which enabled a tank to break through the embankment into the surrounding fields to
effect a flanking movement. This was used to good effect in the initial stages of Operation
COBRA, but was not taken up by the British facing similar conditions.

By mid July at about the same time as the planning for GOODWOOD was taking place
the Americans were developing the COBRA operation. This was a plan for an attack along
a narrow front of 7,000 yards across the St.-L/Priers road using three infantry divisions
to be followed by an exploitation force of two armoured divisions and a motorised
infantry division. The primary objective was the breakthrough of the German defensive
ring to release the armoured divisions into the open country to the west towards Coutances
and Avranches. Unlike the situation facing the GOODWOOD operation, where the
German defences were five lines in depth, there was a single line of defence bordering the
St.-L/Priers road. As at Goodwood the attack was to be preceded by carpet-bombing to
the front of the assembly area. Before the operation could start the ground up to the St.L/Priers road and the town of St.-L itself had to be taken. This was achieved by the
19th of July after much savage fighting. The same bad weather that had affected

GOODWOOD forced the delay of the start of COBRA until the 24th of July when the
bombing force set off. Poor visibility led to the bomber force being recalled but not before
seven hundred tons of bombs had been dropped on the target area, alerting the German
defenders. The intention of the planners was that the bombing runs would be carried out in
an east/west direction along the course of the road to assist the accuracy of the bombing
but this was not done and the north/south course adopted by the air force led to a number
of bombing errors with bombs dropped short of the target area with devastating effect on
the waiting infantry attackers. On the following day when the waves of fighter-bombers
saturated the area followed by 3,400 tons of bombs from the heavy bombers the error was
repeated and the infantry division suffered further severe casualties and was barely in a
state to start the attack. After an indifferent start it was soon realised that the German
defences were not continuous and could be by-passed. On the left flank, on the 27th of
July, the 2nd Armoured Division broke through at the important cross roads at St. Gilles
and the breakout had commenced. By the 30th of July the spearhead division, the 4th
Armoured Division, had taken Avranches and the way was clear through into Brittany.
Panzer reinforcements were rushed from the Caen area but the movement was too
piecemeal to seriously prevent the American movement.

In the British sector, adjoining the Americans, the British XXX Corps, containing the 8th
Armoured Division, commenced operation BLUECOAT, a push south on the 30th of July,
in support of the American advance. In some of the worst bocage country around VillersBocage, the 13th/18th Hussars, supporting the 50th (Northumbrian) Division took the high
ground south of St.-Germain-dEctot and Orbois on the 31st of July and then supported the
69th Infantry Brigade in the capture of Amaye-sur-Suelles on the 2nd of August. The
feature known as Mont Pinon, a steep sided hill 1,200 feet high, which dominated the
area around from the river Vire to the Odon, then barred the way to the south.

It was now that Hitler ordered his generals to make a counterattack against the American
advance between Mortain and Avranches with the intention of cutting off all the US forces
in Brittany and to the south. The German counterattack started on the night of the 6th/7th of
August almost at the same time that the 13th/18th Hussars were making their attack on
Mont Pinon. Despite the weakened state of the German Panzer units they managed to

drive several miles to the south west of Mortain in the direction of Avranches before
American reinforcements managed to hold them. The following morning the USAF and
the RAF had free rein over the battlefield in clear weather with rocket firing Mustangs and
Typhoons. By the 11th of August the thrust had failed and the Germans turned to face the
threat from the south where the American forces had started an encirclement. The Mortain
offensive had been at huge cost to the Germans along the whole of their front as units had
been sent west, firstly to counter the COBRA attack and latterly as part of the thrust
towards Avranches.

* * * *

For a tank man the fighting in the bocage was a frightening time. Everybody was shaking
in his boots. You didnt know what was round the corner. It was a terrible time for us. The
Germans knew every bush in the area. They had been there for the last four years. They
knew where to hide and where to get dug in. We had to try to break out and had to show
ourselves. The Germans had small 50 mm ack-ack guns towed on two small wheels and
which could easily put a tank out. They were easy to hide whereas we were tall tanks and
easy to spot. In the sunken lanes you had to creep forward and when you poked the front
of the tank out into the open they were there waiting for you. It was like walking in the
dark in a minefield, frightened to take a step. We lost so many tanks so easily; you never
knew where the shot had come from. The tension affected everyone, its no wonder we
drank the calvados. The sergeants encouraged us to drink saying it would calm us down,
which it did. We were confined to these narrow roads with high embankments. If you ran
your tank into the hedge thinking you would burst through, the tank would stall, the bank
was so solid. Every little gap was a hazard. The German tanks had a far bigger range than
we had and even if you saw one he could hit you long before you would be in range. If
you did manage to creep up on one you stood a chance; our turret could move onto the
target quicker that the German tanks. You would be lucky to beat a German tank on your
own. The tanks tried to cover each other. In a group of tanks, when one was hit, the others
fired back. It was the only way to beat them.

You needed a clear-headed leader, someone who would set a calm example. One day I was
sitting in the passenger seat on the right hand side of the tank. My commander, Mr.

MacMichael, was sitting in the drivers seat. Suddenly there was a line of shells coming
towards us. Mr. MacMichael said that we had better get out of the tank before we caught
one. Our tin hats were full of apples but he didnt throw his apples out, he took them out
one at a time, so I had to do the same. He put his hat on, adjusted the strap and climbed
out of the tank. I felt like just diving out but I followed him, walked round the tank and got
into a ditch. There was no panic. He probably felt as panicky as I did but he wouldnt
show it in front of me and I wouldnt in front of him. The next shell went just over the top
of the ditch and landed about a yard away. The noise of the explosion affected my ears,
which I still experience to this day.

We also had to look out for mines and booby traps. In one instance we parked up at a
chateau for the night. It was raining heavily and it would have been nice to get in out of
the rain, but no one, not even the officers, ventured through the front door for fear of the
booby traps. I dug a trench at the side of the chateau and put an old outhouse door over it
with two big stones to hold it in place. I got inside and kept clean and dry. Another driver,
who was a friend of mine, was in the adjacent orchard and the rain half filled his trench
with water. Eventually he came and shared my trench.

We were always tired. The constant pressure didnt stop us from sleeping, we could sleep
anywhere. It wasnt that we couldnt sleep; it was the lack of the chance to sleep. For a
start time of 6 am you were stood up at 1 am to start moving off. Then it would be delayed
until 3 am. You stood down for a couple of hours and then the move off would be at 5 am.
The lack of sleep was dreadful. Even when we got our first rest you didnt get the chance
to sleep, there was so much to do. In fact, after my first rest I was glad to get back into
action again. Our first rest with the 8th Armoured Division was at Aunay-sur-Odon. One of
our tanks had taken the steeple off the church there when snipers were using it. Up to then
we had been bathing in farm troughs in the fields or at any pumps. We had kept our
clothes and ourselves clean. Montgomery was a stickler for that. We had to shave every
day. We never suffered from lice; there were always plenty of facilities for washing.
Unlike the infantry who were out in all weathers, we had the tank for shelter. There was
always plenty of water collected from the streams or troughs that was good enough for
washing. We couldnt drink any of this water, only the treated water which came up with
the Regimental water carts. We used a cut-off petrol can for boiling the water for washing.
A can was filled with a mixture of petrol and soil and set alight to. Another can was filled

with water and brought to the boil on the fire. Slivers of soap would be cut from blocks of
soap and added to the water with our clothes. The problem was getting anything dry. One
fine August day, on a rest day, we were in a cornfield. Everyone took advantage of a fine
day to catch up on the washing and all the stooks of corn were covered in underclothes
laid out to dry.

At Aunay-sur- Odon we pulled off the road, went down a lane and halfway down was a
farm and in the farmyard was a mobile bath unit. The bath unit was based on an ordinary
three-ton truck. It opened out at the back and there was a boiler where hoses went in and
hot water came out through a tubular framework to where the showerheads were. We went
through a troop at a time. We parked our tanks at the side of the road, stripped off and
went through the unit. There were people at the farm, some young girls, but nobody took
any notice. We were given a bar of soap like our mothers used to scrub the floor for
washing ourselves. We were not in there very long. When you came out the other end you
left your soap and were given a brand new shirt, socks and cellular drawers. We dressed in
these, put our old clothes on top, returned to the tank and drove off. Then the next troop
went through. At the end of the lane there was a little concert party in a little 15-cwt truck.
It had a piano just behind the cab, and there were three of four people in the group, one
playing the concertina and one a singer. It was a pleasant interlude.

We got parked up but before we could settle down we had a smell to attend to. There was
obviously a body somewhere in the vicinity. The squadron leader, Major Cordy-Simpson
insisted that we find this body and deal with it. I didnt like the major; he and I didnt get
on at all. We looked for the body but what we found was a knee sticking up through the
ground in a front garden. We knocked it flat with our shovels, covered it over with soil and
reported back to the major that we had buried it. That night, four of us were told we were
to attend a burial party at 6.30 am in the morning. We had a stiff drink to help us cope with
the situation and reported to Sgt. Grimley with our shovels. The worst part was that we
had to take the two bodies, wrapped in old blankets, in a 15-cwt truck, and climb in behind
them. They were both tank men. We buried them in a place that we thought was to be
turned into a military cemetery, although there is no cemetery there now. Before we had
left England I chanced upon a three tonner that was loaded with white crosses with the
Regimental badge on them. A sergeant joiner of the Pioneers had made the crosses. No
one else saw these and I dont know if other regiments had them. They were much better

than the usual rifle stuck in the ground with the tin hat on top to mark the burial of
someone. They could always be knocked over or the rifle taken and no one would know
that a body was buried there. There were so many graves lost. When Tommy Pink was
killed at Authevernes on the 29th of August he was buried in a field under a tree and a
white cross was positioned to mark the grave. A boy of about fifteen watched the burial.
Over time the white cross was knocked over by the cows in the field and lost. Two years
later when the Graves Commission came looking for graves the boy remembered the
burial and told the Graves Commission there was someone buried there. The remains were
found and taken away to be buried in one of the war cemeteries

The following day, some of the other drivers and I had to go to the Forward Delivery
Squadron to collect some recovered tanks. Our job was to refuel the tanks that had been
repaired, re-ammunition them and get them ready for return to the squadrons. When I got
there I saw a tank that I recognised as being one of someone I knew. I jumped onto the
tank and opened the turret hatch. A big black cloud of bluebottles came out and nearly
knocked me off the tank. I looked in and could see the body of the wireless operator,
someone I knew, with maggots crawling all over his head. I jumped off the tank and for
the first and last time in Normandy I was sick at the side of a tank. All of this in a four day
rest!

It wasnt our job to deal with the remains. The Medical Officer did this with a crane that
was used to lift the engine out of the tank. A strap was placed round the body and it was
then lifted out. That is if the remains were whole enough, sometimes there was nothing
left. On one occasion, a sergeant crew commander was in his tank on his own when
parked up for the night. He was parked adjacent to a high wall for protection, but a shell
came over, bounced off the wall and into his turret where it exploded. There was no way
into the tank until the following day. The metal was all twisted by the heat and there was
no trace of the sergeant. A brew-up was something to be feared. The Germans called the
Sherman tank the Tommy cooker because it caught fire so easily. The horror of being
trapped in a burning tank was always at the back of our minds. A Sherman was reasonably
equipped with escape hatches, both for the driver and the turret crew, but the Stuart tank
could trap you in if the turret was locked into a certain position. There was always a
reaction, numbness, when you heard that someone had been killed. It became easier as
time went on and eventually you just accepted it. However it was rare for anyone to break

under the strain. There was only one instance that I knew of. On the day after Mont Pinon
was taken, L/Cpl. Bell told me that the driver of the scout car that he commanded had
reported sick because he was in a terrible state and couldnt do his job. The M.O. sent him
down the line and he never returned to duty. That illustrated the difference in attitudes
between the First and Second World Wars. In the First War he would probably have been
court martialled. We had a rum ration every night to help with our nerves. It was supposed
to be because of the inclement weather but I suspect it was for more than that. One of the
lads, a friend of mine called Scott, was a keen cyclist and didnt smoke or drink, so every
night I got his ration as well. At first I took two mugs over to collect the ration and he
passed his ration over to me. Eventually it was realised what was happening and thereafter
I had both tots in my mug. As well as the rum we had access to calvados so we were well
supplied with strong spirit but I never saw any drunkenness.

The villages inland didnt appear to have been heavily prepared for defence, unlike the
coastal villages. Near the coast there were pill-boxes and these were very difficult to get
at. A Churchill tank with a flamethrower would be called up to tackle these. I have seen
Germans bailing out of a pill-box on fire, a dreadful sight. Some of the villages liberated
did not always give the impression they were happy to see us. This was not too surprising,
considering the devastation we were causing, particularly with the bombing raids, where
the civilians took the brunt of it. The Germans had been there for four years, and in
Normandy in particular, food supplies were plentiful for the civilian population and life
would have been fairly normal. I am sure the Germans were very much like we were; they
would want to make friends. Life is a lot easier if it is friendly. A lot of the French girls
had German boy friends; four years is a long time in a youngsters life, waiting for a
change, which might not happen. We were doing our best to kill their boyfriends so an
ambivalent attitude towards us was understandable.

To the south of Aunay-sur-Odon was Mont Pinon.We could understand how important
the feature was. It was a marvellous vantage point covering all the country round it. The
Germans occupying the top could see everything that was happening. You cant move a
tank without creating dust and smoke from the engines and this brought on the shelling.
The tracks of the tank had rubber inserts to keep down the noise but the dust and smoke
couldnt be avoided. The infantry didnt like us giving their positions away as this would
result in a stonk and they hadnt the protection that we had in the tank. Sometime earlier a

friend of mine was in a troop of four tanks parked on a road. He went across the road to a
farm for some milk. The farmer charged him for the milk although that farmer had only
been liberated the day before. On his way back the four tanks got shelled. He waited for a
break in the shelling but as soon as he got back to his tank the shelling restarted. He tried
to get under the front of the tank but his driver, Dutch Hollands, was sheltering there so he
ran round the side of the tank. A shell dropped between the tanks and spread under the
tank where he would have been, killing the driver and wounding Sgt. Hammond, the tank
commander. The Squadron Leader then told my friend, who was a wireless operator, that
he was made up to crew commander of the tank and promoted to corporal. In February
1945 this corporal had his name pulled out of a hat to go home on leave and handed his
tank over to another corporal while he was away. On his way back from leave, at the Hook
of Holland, he met some of his unit in the Regiment on the way to England and asked how
the war was progressing and had any tanks been lost. He was told that the tank he had left
had been destroyed and all the crew killed. On two occasions he had escaped death by
chance.

The action before Mont Pinon was the same as we had been doing, going from village to
village. A village or a hill might be taken and then you would find it couldnt be held
against a counter attack and you would have to withdraw. Then you would go back the
next day and do it again. We fought with all kinds of infantry. Two or three times we
fought with the US Infantry. With them we took one village three times before the
Germans were finally dislodged. The Germans wouldnt give an inch. We had far more
respect for the Germans than the American troops; it was all a question of discipline. We
would never call our officers by the first names and neither would the Germans, but for
the Americans it was the normal thing. I dont think you can fight a war like that. We
fought up to Mont Pinon and around the base for two days. It was constant to-ing and
fro-ing. The Germans with their panzerfausts would occupy the little woods and we had to
shell each copse before we could go forward. We had to put smoke down to cover our
movements and then couldnt see to drive. To see what you were doing you preferred to
have your head outside the hatch but that made you vulnerable to snipers. Sgt. Major Jock
Parks was lost to a sniper at Mont Pinon and one of the troopers who got married just
before D-Day was hit in the head. Although he recovered, it affected him for the rest of his
life. As a driver I preferred to keep my head out but was ordered to keep down, as the
consequences of a driver being hit could be the death of the whole crew. We were highly
disciplined and did as we were directed irrespective of the conditions we might be going

into.

Mont Pinon was really just a large hill, 1,200 feet high, the higher slopes well wooded
and steep on the south and southwestern sides. The top was a plateau covered with gorse
and heather. We were approaching from the west and on the 5th and 6th of August a
determined attack was made on the feature. It was late in the second day of almost
continual shelling and heavy casualties among the 5th Wiltshire Regiment, including the
death of the colonel of that regiment, that a troop of A Squadron of the Hussars managed
to cross the stream, between Chante-Pie and la Varinire, at the foot of the hill. While the
infantry were pinned down by the shellfire, the squadron found a steep track opposite le
Hamel Bisson, which led up to the summit. One of the tanks fell off the track and
somersaulted into a quarry; another, driven by Reggie Bins, burnt its clutch out on the
steepness of the hill but eventually two tanks reached the summit unsupported and were
still there in the dark before the 4th Somerset Light Infantry Regiment caught up.
Eventually there were seven tanks on the summit, which was shared with the Germans for
the night. In the morning of the 7th of August there was a thick fog and B Squadron of the
Hussars, who I was attached to at the time, made it to the summit from the west and we all
survived a counter attack, which was not very effective due to the conditions. Then the
summit was cleared of Germans and the hill was firmly in our hands. When the weather
cleared you could see that it was just like an island in the sea. You could see for miles
around, everything that moved. Later we learned that we had earned a battle honour to go
with the one we had got for D-Day, but at the time it didnt seem as if we were doing
anything out of the ordinary.

* * * *

The following day the Regiment was involved in the battle for Le Plessis-Grimoult, a
village to the south of Mont Pinon, and hard fighting took place until late on the 12th of
August before the Regiment was withdrawn to harbour south west of Villers-Bocage for a
rest.

The capture of Mont Pinon was a turning point for the British in the breakout from the

bridgehead. The Americans, after repulsing the Mortain counterattack, were pressing on
towards Argentan and Falaise, while the Canadians were attacking southwest from
Pontigny, fifteen miles south of Caen. The Germans were in retreat and the race was on to
close the trap on them at Falaise.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE RACE TO BRUSSELS



Montgomerys plan for the breakout from the bridgehead had been for a long envelopment
of the German army on the River Seine with the American army sweeping up to Paris via
Le Mans and Chartres and the British 21st Army Group driving straight for the Seine from
Caen. When the situation developed at Mortain with the German thrust being slow to
disengage from their failed offensive, Lt. Gen Bradley, commanding the US First Army,
persuaded Eisenhower to adopt a shorter envelopment between Pattons Third US Army
swinging north to Argentan, away from his original course of Le Mans to Orleans, to meet
the Canadians advancing south towards Falaise. The result would be to trap and destroy
the German 7th Army and leave little to oppose the Allies until the German border.
Montgomery agreed to the change of plan on the 8th of August. Operation TOTALIZE was
launched by the Canadians to reach Falaise but German resistance was fierce, the
Canadian exploitation divisions were inexperienced, and the offensive slowed to a crawl.
By the 12th of August Falaise still lay some miles away and TOTALIZE had run out of
steam. A fresh offensive was planned called TRACTABLE which didnt get started until
the 14th of August. Both these attacks had been started in darkness and preceded by air
bombardments. There was always a danger of confusion in night time operations and these
both suffered the inevitable mix-ups. Both TOTALIZE and TRACTABLE used the
technique of searchlights shining on the underside of clouds as a means of illuminating the
battlefield, with some success. This was known by the troops as Montys Moonlight.
Progress remained slow, however. By now the Americans were standing in front of
Argentan but were held there to prevent the two allied armies meeting head on with
disastrous consequences. The Germans had not yet decided on a retreat but had reinforced
the shoulders of the pocket. The Canadians finally took Falaise on the 16th of August
leaving a gap of fifteen miles between them and the Americans. By now the Germans had
started withdrawing. The jaws of the trap were then switched eastwards to Chambois, but
it was not until the 19th of August that the Canadian and US forces met and the gap was
sealed.

The Germans suffered appalling losses in the withdrawal. Apart from the panzer units the
army depended heavily on horse drawn transport, which limited the speed of movement,
and in good weather the Allied air forces were unopposed in their sorties against the

ground troops. The Germans resorted to all measure of tricks to try to reach the safety of
open ground, including marking their vehicles with red cross signs to avoid attack. The
Allied artillery poured constant fire on the roads leading to safety and the carnage was
unprecedented. Of the 80,000 Germans trapped in the pocket, at least 10,000 were killed
and 50,000 taken prisoner. The ones that managed to escape did so mostly on foot and
took few vehicles, armour or artillery. It is estimated that fewer than 120 armoured
vehicles crossed the Seine out of a strength of almost 10,000. Among the number of
German troops that escaped were the most skilled and dedicated of the German officers
who would live to fight another day, a matter that caused some contention among the
Allies. Of the fifty German divisions in action in June, fewer than ten were still capable of
fighting. It was a defeat comparable with that of the British at Dunkirk and the Germans
earlier at Stalingrad. It was a decisive victory for the Allies and successfully brought to a
close the Normandy campaign.

The progress of XXX Corps prior to the Falaise success had not pleased Dempsey,
General Officer Commanding the British Second Army, and he had Montgomery replace
Lt. Gen Bucknall, the commander of XXX Corps, with Lt. Gen Horrocks on the 4th of
August.

* * * *

General Horrocks visited the Regiment on the 14th of August. He congratulated us on our
achievements, gave us a pep talk, and told us we would soon be breaking out of the
bridgehead and racing across France. It seemed unbelievable to us that we could do that
after what we had been through in the previous two and a half months. When the Falaise
pocket was closed we spent some days with the tanks in line, shelling the area around
Falaise. Two of the crew each spent half an hour on loading the gun or a turn at sitting and
pulling the trigger. Then another two would take over. We sweated with our shirts off, it
was hard work lifting up the shells for loading, not a job I liked, as you were very prone to
getting your fingers trapped. It wasnt constant; the gun barrels wouldnt stand it, they got
so hot. The Typhoon aircraft were coming in strafing anything that moved. Our thoughts
were that it was nice to get our own back at last. Then we had to advance through the area
and saw the results of what we had done. It was a scene of absolute carnage, the dead were

lying all over the place and there were a lot of dead horses. There were broken and burned
out vehicles blocking the road and bodies lying everywhere. You couldnt avoid driving
over the bodies with the tank; they were all over the road. You couldnt go off into the
fields or you would have been bogged down. I didnt like driving over the dead because
the flesh got into the tracks and then you couldnt avoid the smell of rotting flesh. We had
to clean the tracks every night. We stopped for lunch in the area and opened a tin of
corned beef to eat. The lad I was with put the tin of corned beef on the mudguard of the
tank to halve it, but it fell to the ground, onto a body at the side of the tank. He picked it
up but I said I wasnt going to eat it after that and fetched a fresh tin. It didnt worry him
though, and he ate it, which illustrated the state we were getting to, living like animals. I
wanted a souvenir for my brother, a belt from one of the bodies. The body was all bloated
and the maggots were crawling all over him, he could have been dead for a week. With the
body being bloated it was difficult to get the belt off and my friend had to stand on the
stomach of the corpse to get the belt undone before I could get it off. I took this belt home
to my brother, who wore it for a number of years after that. Looting from bodies was
frowned upon and apart from the belt I didnt do any. In any case the infantry would have
been there before us and you could see where wallets had been opened and discarded.
Watches were always sought after and as one was no good to a dead man you cant blame
anyone for taking them. As we were leaving the area we approached a village and two
small children, a girl of about six and a boy of about four, were walking out of the village
into the area we had just come from. There was nothing we could do to stop them.

Matters started to move very quickly now. We had just knocked the hell out of the German
army and there were not a lot of them left between ourselves and the Seine. Paris fell to
the Free French on the 23rd of August and was occupied by the French Armoured Division
under General LeClerc two days later. On that day the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, part of our
armoured brigade, together with the 43rd Infantry Division, forced a crossing of the Seine
at Vernon. The bridge at Vernon had been destroyed and the crossing had to be an
amphibious one made under a smoke screen and artillery barrage. On the eastern bank
there was a range of rock outcrops and the Germans were dug in there. Losses were
considerable, both in the fighting force and the Royal Engineers who constructed a
floating bridge across the Seine. The river is about 250 yards wide at that point. Today
there is a monument commemorating the five hundred and fifty lives lost in making the
crossing. A bridgehead was formed and we crossed the bridge two days later on the 28th.

XXX Corps moved ahead with two armoured brigades leading, ourselves on the right and
the 11th Armoured Brigade on the left. We were taking turns at leading the advance with
the other two regiments in the Brigade, the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards and the Sherwood
Rangers Yeomanry.

We were doing some fast driving and the infantry accompanying us were travelling by
vehicle. There was not much time for the Germans to be booby trapping and laying mines.
The Germans were leaving the villages as we were entering, although at each village we
were experiencing losses. Tommy Pink was killed by a self-propelled gun at Authevernes
on the 29th of August. On that day a replacement gunner had joined the Regiment and the
troop officer took the opportunity to give one of the other gunners a rest. The names of
five gunners were put into a hat and George Killors name was pulled out so he got the
rest. The young gunner, a lad of nineteen from Hull, called Banks, took Georges place in
Tommy Pinks tank. The tank was hit and he and Tommy Pink were killed. The wireless
operator, Ernie Dunn was wounded but escaped from the tank, as did Napier and the other
crewmember. A friend in the Regiment, Ron Hall, was killed later on the same day at
Boisegeloup, twenty-two miles from the Seine. You would see the flash of the shot being
fired, there is a hit, and another of the troop would fire back to take out the gun. We left a
trail of our friends as we continued on the advance.

We came across the French resistance fighters, the Maquis. They would approach us in
their black Citroen cars, usually with a couple hanging on the side of the car. They were
like pirates with bandoliers and rifles slung across their shoulders. They would be after
benzene and we would give them a couple of cans and off they would go. They were like
lunatics, often fighting amongst themselves as much against the Germans. They did
however, know who the villains were in the population and a lot of blood letting took
place. They were also good in giving us information on what the Germans were doing up
ahead. When we went through Amiens we came across a group holding a couple of girl
collaborators. The girls were having their heads shaved as a reprisal. Our Second-inCommand, the Earl of Faversham, stopped the column, went across to them and managed
to persuade them to cease what they were doing but I would imagine they were at it again
after we had passed through. We harboured for the night just outside Amiens. As I
warmed some water and had my shirt off to have a wash, a young girl, about fourteen or

fifteen, came from the farm near the entrance to the field we were in. I asked her if she
would wash my back for me, which she did and then she invited me into the farm to meet
her mother and father. I went with my friend and we were both given a glass of cognac by
her father and made very welcome. While we were there, the mother brought out a coat,
which was bloodstained and holed by machine gun bullets. She said it belonged to her son,
who had been in the Maquis, and who had been killed two days earlier. She asked why we
hadnt come two days sooner and then her son would still be alive. I had to reply that if we
had been earlier he could have been killed two days before that. You couldnt win in that
sort of situation. It was very sad.

After Amiens we were called to go to Doullens after reports that a number of the enemy
there were withdrawing towards Arras, but when we got there, there was no sign of any
Germans. We moved on to Arras and parked up near Vimy ridge. We were shelled some
time in the early evening; the Germans were obviously lining us up for some heavy
shelling, so it was decided to move to a safer harbour. We moved about dusk and were
fortunate to be placed near a bar. We visited the bar where the owner was playing a
concertina. His wife and eldest son, a boy of about fourteen, danced for us and we had a
pleasant social evening. It wasnt often we were able to mix with the French people as we
were usually harboured away from the civilian population.

Passing through the area between Arras and Lille we were in coal mining country and the
enemy were occupying the tops of the pit heaps. The guns were raised to their maximum
elevation to deal with them. Generally, however, the fighting was not difficult at this stage
and we passed through Lille to a fine reception from the local population. It was nice to
see the people waving their little flags and giving us presents, a far cry from our
experiences in the bocage. On the 6th of September the Regiment crossed into Belgium at
Baisieux. The Guards Armoured Division had liberated Brussels on the 3rd of September
without too much of a fight and the Regiment passed through four days later. Driving
through Brussels was really something. It was like a sea of faces looking up at you with a
line of British vehicles threading through this crowd. We were told, For Gods sake, dont
stop for anything or you will never get away. They were waving and cheering, climbing
on the tanks and kissing everybody. They gave us apples and bottles until these were all
round our feet. It was hard to drive the tank; there was so much stuff on the floor. It was a
terrific welcome. We would liked to have stayed the night there, we could have had

anything we wanted, but we had to pull out to Louvain (Leuven) and stayed the night in
the grounds of a convent.

We crossed the Albert Canal at Beringen on the 8th of September, having found the bridge
over the canal intact, and the Regiment went into harbour a few miles past the canal at
Beverlo. In the early hours of the morning on the following day the Germans put in an
attack on the position where we were harboured. It was a fanatical attack by young Hitler
Youth, some as young as fifteen. Initially they were very successful brewing up fifteen of
our soft vehicles but the action was soon over. One of the fitters, Darky Harris, a hard
case, caught one of the youngsters and put him over his knee and walloped him until he
cried. The youngsters could still be lethal, however. One of our chaps was killed by mortar
fire and five others were captured and taken prisoner. The one who was killed was one of
the four of us who had left Barnard Castle together to join the Regiment. One of the lads
taken prisoner was from Darlington. I learned afterwards that his friend, also taken
prisoner, had injured his leg when run down by a motorcycle and sidecar and was
struggling to walk. The lad from Darlington found a small cart and he pushed his friend
for miles on this cart until they were split up and taken to different camps.

The Regiment was next ordered to take Leopoldsburg, about three miles from where we
were harboured. This was taken without casualties although not without incident, and then
we were pulled out of line for a rest.

It was a good rest; we were there for a week, no burial parties, and no visits to the Forward
Delivery Squadron, just R & R. We were disturbed one night when we had to take on the
role of infantry for a night operation in an area where some German infantry had been
reported. We surrounded the area, shoulder to shoulder with our rifles at the ready and
stayed all night, dying to have a shot, but nobody came out. It must have been a false
alarm. We were quite upset at that, having lost a nights sleep. We serviced our tanks,
which had been new when we set out three months earlier. They had stood up to the
travelling very well. They were very reliable. The main thing was to keep the tracks in
good shape, like looking after your shoes. In fact, the tank tracks were called shoes. These
had rubber inserts that wore down and had to be replaced, although it wasnt a long job.
We were harboured next to a bar where there were two young girls, sisters, called Hart.

All the chaps thought the world of these girls. The sun was shining, we felt good, and we
had a nice week.

We received our mail frequently. The post corporal was a chap we nicknamed Pinocchio,
an oldish chap who did a marvellous job. He always arrived at night and how he found us
each time was a mystery. I used him a lot as I was writing to five different girls at the time.
It put me in a difficult situation when it had to come to an end. We were issued with preprinted postcards to make writing home easier. These would have phrases that you ticked
as appropriate. For example:

I am dead
I am not dead
I am wounded
I am in good health
I am not in good health

These you could complete and give to the corporal with your other mail for sending. We
didnt need to use a stamp, that was all taken care of by the post office.

The rest had to end eventually and on the 17th of September, Operation MARKET
GARDEN was launched in which we would be participating. The race was on to secure
the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

MARKET GARDEN

The Allied advance was beginning to run out of supplies. Cherbourg, the only major port
available to the Allies, was now a long way from the front line and the roads and bridges
had been devastated by the Allied bombing raids in softening up the area for the invasion.
The Allies were advancing on a broad front, 21st Army Group under Montgomery was
striking north and east, the US 12th Army Group under Lt. Gen. Bradley due east while the
6th Army Group under Lt. Gen. Devers was advancing north and east from Southern
France. After the invasion of Northern France and the invasion landing craft became
available, a second front was opened by the invasion of Southern France, code named
Operation DRAGOON, on the 15th of August. Resistance was comparatively light and the
advance was rapid such that contact was established with the southern flank of the US 12th
Army Group at Dijon on the 11th of September. There was not enough transport available
to supply the three army groups advancing on a broad front and Montgomery raised the
idea of priority being given to a single thrust by the 21st Army Group through the Low
Countries into Germany and the important objectives of the German industrial heartland
of the Ruhr valley. Eisenhower was unwilling to abandon his strategy of the broad front
approach, particularly as this proposal would halt the progress being made by the US
forces, which had made the most impressive advances. He was under pressure from
Washington to mount a major airborne operation before the end of the war in Europe and
had available the First Allied Airborne Army, which had been formed on the 15th of
August, comprising the US XVIII Airborne Corps, the British I Airborne Corps and the 1st
Polish Independent Parachute Brigade. With the supply situation worsening an airborne
operation was seen as means to unlock the impasse and Operation MARKET GARDEN
was born.

Operation MARKET GARDEN comprised two elements, the airborne attack called
Operation MARKET and the linking ground attack, Operation GARDEN. The objective
was to cross the three major water obstacles in the Netherlands, the rivers Maas, the Waal
and the Lower Rhine to clear the way for a drive into Germany. The airborne operation
called for three drops, at Eindoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem. The US 101st Airborne
Division at Eindhoven was to capture the road bridges at Eindhoven (River Dommel), Son

(Wilhelmina Canal), Sint-Oedenrode (River Dommel) and Veghel (River Aa and ZuidWillemsvaart Canal). The US 82nd Airborne Division was to capture the bridges at Grave
(River Maas), the Maas-Waal Canal bridge and at Nijmegen (River Waal). The British 1st
Airborne Division was to capture the road bridge at Arnhem (Lower Rhine) and the
railway bridge to the west. The GARDEN part of the operation involved XXX Corps
spearheading the British Second Army advance along the route held by the airborne troops
to cross the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, a distance of 64 miles from the start point. There was
a further bridge twenty miles beyond Arnhem at Apeldoorn but this was not part of the
MARKET operation and would have been attacked by ground troops once the bridge at
Arnhem had been crossed. Arnhem was the main target of the operation as it offered a
way into the Ruhr by-passing the Westwall (Seigfried Line) fortifications.

It was a complex operation depending in large part on relatively light opposition. Because
of the distance from the UK airfields and the reduced hours of daylight it was only
possible to consider one airdrop per day. To land the full complement of troops and their
supplies would take four days to complete and then there would be further troop landings
into airfields. The land route was a double track road across flat countryside broken by
numerous streams and ditches, confining the drive to a two-tank front.

Sunday, the 17th of September was a bright and sunny day and, shortly after mid-day, the
landing of the paratroopers and gliders took the Germans completely by surprise. The
landings went well and by the end of the first day some 20,000 troops together with their
vehicles and artillery were safely landed. At 2 pm, under an artillery barrage, the leading
units of XXX Corps, the Guards Armoured Division, set out and initially made good
progress through the German defences. They only managed to reach Valkenswaard on the
first day, however, some six miles short of their objective of Eindhoven. Meanwhile the
101st Airborne Division were unable to take their most important objective, the swing
bridge at Son, before the Germans were able to blow it up, and the division was unable to
progress into Eindhoven as planned. With no possibility of progress through Eindhoven
the Guards Armoured Division spent the night in Valkenswaard. On the following day the
Guards passed through Eindhoven to reach Son and link up with the 101st Airborne
Division. The 101st Divisions main target then became the bridge at Best but again the
Germans were strong enough to hold off the attackers until that bridge was also destroyed.


The weather, which had started off clear, now took a hand in delaying the build up. Fog in
England prevented the second day invasion force from taking off until the afternoon and
the Luftwaffe were waiting for them, disrupting the landings and preventing supplies
reaching the ground troops. During the night of the second day the Royal Engineers
managed to build a Bailey bridge across the Wilhelmina canal at Son and early on the
Tuesday the Guards Armoured Division were able to advance to Veghel and link up with
units of the 101st Division, who were holding the bridge there. Advancing from there, the
leading tanks met with the 82nd Airborne Division, which had successfully taken the
bridge over the River Maas at Grave, and the way was open to Nijmegen. The Germans
were putting up a stiff resistance at Nijmegen, having been reinforced by the 10th SS
Panzer Division, and it was decided that a river crossing in boats would be made to take
the defenders in the rear. This had to be delayed until the following day to enable the
assault boats required for the crossing to reach the river. The third day reinforcements for
the airborne divisions were again disrupted by bad weather in England and only a very
limited drop was achieved to the 101st sector.

Between Grave and Nijmegen the crossings over the Maas-Waal Canal were reduced to
one, the bridge at Heumen, and this was at constant risk from the German counter attack
threatening to cut off the lead regiments of XXX Corps. On Wednesday the assault boats
arrived and the crossing of the River Waal was attempted while the tanks of the Guards
Armoured Division attacked the southern end of the bridge. The river crossing was very
hazardous and the 82nd Airborne Division took heavy casualties but they were ultimately
successful and the bridge was taken. The first Sherman tanks crossed the river in the
evening but were then halted to wait for the infantry of the 43rd Wessex Division to catch
up. The corridor was under constant attack and progression of the follow-up troops was
often disrupted. The Germans managed to cut the road on a number of occasions between
Uden and Grave and near Veghel but it was restored in each event with the support of
British armour. The XXX Corps advance was now within artillery range of the
beleaguered British 1st Airborne Division at the Arnhem landing and could give some
support. The infantry of the 43rd Wessex Division crossed the bridge at Nijmegen on the
22nd of September and the advance to the Lower Rhine could continue.


The first landings to the north west of Arnhem by the British 1st Airborne Division, shortly
after noon on Sunday the 17th of September, encountered little resistance, due partly to the
surprise element of the drop, but also to the softening up by Allied bombing. The British
reached the road bridge over the Lower Rhine by 7.30 pm that evening, having seen the
railway bridge being blown up in their faces, but not before panzer units had crossed to
reinforce the bridge at Nijmegen. A battalion of the Parachute Brigade managed to occupy
the northern access to the bridge and surrounding houses but could not cross because of
counterattacks by SS groups defending the bridge. Opposition to the landings was much
stronger than had been anticipated due to the presence of the 2nd Panzer Corps, a situation
not allowed for by the planners. The landings on the second day, although delayed by the
weather, eventually managed to link up with the earlier force but the battalion at the bridge
was isolated. On Tuesday, the third day, attempts were made by the Paras to reach the
bridge but they suffered severe losses and were forced to retreat towards Oosterbeek and
Wolfheze. An attempted landing by the Polish 1st Independent Brigade was attacked by
German fighter aircraft and largely destroyed. All the time the German opposition was
getting stronger while the British were not receiving the supplies that were being dropped
for them. On Wednesday the battalion at the north end of the bridge lost their capability to
hold back the German forces and the Germans were then able to cross the bridge freely.
The rest of the forces, realising that reaching the bridge was impossible, retreated into a
defensive pocket at Oosterbeek with its base on the north bank of the Lower Rhine. On
Thursday the battalion at the bridge surrendered and the Germans could concentrate all
their forces on the perimeter of the pocket at Oosterbeek. Later in the day a much delayed
further parachute drop was made by the 1st Polish Independent Brigade but to the south
side of the river, although it did have the advantage of splitting the German forces in order
to deal with them and offered some relief to the Oosterbeek pocket. On Friday the Poles
made an attempt to cross the river to join the forces at Oosterbeek but without success.

On Saturday the 23rd of September the first tanks of XXX Corps reached the Polish
positions and were able to support the Poles with much needed artillery. A further attempt
was made by the Poles to cross the river but with little success. On Sunday the perimeter
of the Oosterbeek pocket still held with its base on the river despite numerous attempts by
the Germans to cut the link with the river. The infantry of XXX Corps now reached the

south bank of the river and an attempt was made to cross early on Monday morning but
without success. It was finally decided to end the operation and withdraw the whole of the
1st Airborne Division across the river, and the evacuation commenced under an artillery
barrage from XXX Corps. The evacuation brought 2,200 men to safety before it was
stopped by a heavy German bombardment, leaving 300 men who couldnt be brought
across and who had to surrender.

The 13th/18th Hussars set out from Hechtel in Belgium on the 20th of September in support
of the 130th Brigade Group of the 43rd Infantry Division. Progress was quick through the
recently liberated Eindhoven and the Regiment spent the night at Zeeland about twentytwo miles north east of the city. Early on the following day they passed over the bridge at
Nijmegen with orders to secure both sides of the River Waal with the 130th Infantry
Brigade. B Squadron advanced towards Elst in support of the 4th Wiltshire Regiment
meeting stiff opposition on the way. On Saturday the 23rd of September the Regiment
pressed on northwards, heading to the west of Arnhem and harboured for the night at
Homoet. B Squadron advanced to the banks of the Lower Rhine at Heteren while C
Squadron diverted to Driel. As darkness fell on the 24th of September the infantry brigade
had the task of ferrying supplies across the river to the encircled troops at Oosterbeek
while the Regiment provided artillery cover but on the following day it was decided that
the bridgehead would be evacuated. On the night of the 25th /26th of September the
Regiment supported the withdrawal of the 1st Parachute Brigade across the Lower Rhine
by an artillery barrage to keep the German forces occupied while the boats were ferrying
across the river. After further attempts to bring back the remaining troops north of the
river during the evening of the 26th of September the operation was closed. The following
morning the Regiment was relieved of the support role to the 130th Brigade and moved
back to recuperate at Oosterhout.

* * * *

When we set off from Hechtel the roads towards Eindhoven were packed with traffic. It
was all one way. If anything broke down it was pushed off the road; there was no going

back. If there had been any German planes around it would have been like it was at the
Falaise Gap. We used to say if you saw a silver plane it was American, if it was
camouflaged it was British, if you couldnt see one it was German. There were queues of
traffic waiting their turn in a priority system. We were a high priority with the 43rd Infantry
Division that was needed at Nijmegen to accompany the Guards Armoured Division in the
drive to Arnhem, but we still had to take our turn at waiting. That night we harboured in
the Philips works and slept under the tanks in the car park. The following day we went
over the bridge at Grave which the US airborne forces had taken using gliders. We
harboured for the night in one of the fields where the gliders had landed. It was a terribly
wet night and we were parked alongside the canal embankment using the gliders for
sleeping under. I was on guard, as usual, standing on the top of the embankment when the
post truck driven by Pinocchio arrived. He wanted to know where the Regimental HQ was
located, and as it was in one of the gliders I offered to show him. I clung to the side of his
truck and we drove off to find RHQ. Returning to my post I was walking between the
gliders and in the dark lost my sense of direction. The field was full of gliders and I didnt
know where I was. I stumbled around and then fell over. When I put my hand out to find
out what I had tripped over I discovered it was a dead American, a paratrooper. I just
froze. It was dark, wet, and I was on my own. The hairs went up on my head and I could
have fainted, I was so scared. There was no reason to be frightened; there was nothing to
hurt me. I was just a bag of nerves. I shouted and received a reply; it was my relief for the
guard duty. We walked towards each other and the moment had past. It was one of my
most frightening experiences of the war.

The next morning we were issued with our new tank suits. We called them our zoot suits.
The suit was light fawn on the outside and had a Khaki lining. There was a double zip
right up the front. It was supposed to be fireproof, waterproof and heatproof. They were
very warm; you could sleep in those through the winter, just like in a sleeping bag. They
were marvellous and needed to be in the winter that we were about to endure

The following day we headed up to the bridge at Nijmegen. It is like the Tyne Bridge at
Newcastle, the same kind of structure and, like Newcastle, it had a railway bridge running
along side it. The railway bridge had been brought down the night before by an attack on
the bridges by German frogmen and the road bridge was also under constant attack from
the Luftwaffe. It was bombed and a hole made in the bridge as I was crossing. I was in a

line of vehicles, a jeep followed by two tanks and then my tank. The bomb landed close to
the jeep and turned it over. When I got up to the jeep, which was only seconds afterwards,
the driver was lying dead and the other occupants were all the colour of a banana; they had
turned yellow with the blast. A provost sergeant on a motorcycle had just ridden past me. I
looked away and when I looked back he was returning the other way. I cant imagine how
he managed to turn back so quickly. When we came to the end of the bridge we had to
turn left along the side of the river and all along the side were dead Germans troops caught
up in the fighting for the bridge. We passed American paratroopers heading back and they
asked us where we had been, why had we taken so long. We told them we had been here
since D-Day, not since last Tuesday.

After Nijmegen there was a village called Elst where we met some stiff resistance. We
were in the village at the same time as the Germans; they went out the other end as we
came in, that was how close we were to them. It was the same at Oosterhout. We took a lot
of casualties between the two bridges. There was a lot of house-to-house fighting. In these
circumstances, in a tank, if you thought a house was occupied by the enemy you knocked
the house down. You didnt do it just for the sake of it. At the time the Dutch were
absolutely starving. They understood what we had to do even if it meant destroying their
homes. The Dutch people were fantastic. They were in a different league to the French or
the Belgians; they had a different sense of patriotism. Unfortunately we did a lot of
damage there. The fields were very wet there, crossed by dykes and wetlands. Close to the
rivers, varying between 100 and 1,000 yards from the banks ran bunds, an embanked
road standing about twenty feet above the surrounding land and which kept out the floods
from the land behind. We couldnt get off these roads with our tanks and we were up
against German infantry with Panzerfausts and the small 50 mm self-propelled anti tank
guns. We were very exposed. It was very dangerous. They could easily knock the tracks
off the tank and put you out of action and then you would block the road. We finally got
up to the river at Arnhem but it was too late, the bridge was unapproachable and was
eventually destroyed. We were broken hearted. I believe a lot of mistakes were made at
Arnhem. The radios didnt work and supplies were dropped in the wrong place. I think the
drop at Arnhem was too early. I dont blame Montgomery, he would never throw lives
away unnecessarily, but he didnt have the full support of the High Command.
.
The attempt to roll into Germany had failed and the Allies ended up with a corridor that

went nowhere. We were going to be in the vicinity of Nijmegen for some time to come.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

THE ISLAND

After the closure of the MARKET GARDEN operation, the Allies occupied a precarious
position in the area known as The Island, the low-lying land between the Waal and the
Lower Rhine. The lines of communication were long and vulnerable and the Germans
made every effort to dislodge the invaders. Bombing raids were frequent as the Luftwaffe
attempted to destroy the bridge at Nijmegen and the area was also overlooked from the
high ground around Arnhem and subject to constant shellfire. With the supply shortages
there was no capability of mounting further offensive actions and the forces went onto the
defensive. The supply situation evident before the start of Market Garden was just as
acute, although Dieppe was opened on the 8th of September and the port of Antwerp had
now been liberated by the Canadian 1st Army after the German Fifteenth Army had
withdrawn to cover the threat to Arnhem. It was late November, however, before the area
around Antwerp was sufficiently cleared of the enemy and the port was able to receive
ships. The pause along the whole front during October helped the supply situation to ease,
and in early November the US forces were able to launch a major offensive in an attempt
to breach the Westwall (Siegfried Line) around Aachen.

The defensive line of the British 21st Army was now considerably extended and the US
82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions remained in the line under Montgomerys command.
Montgomerys forces were now looking to the east and the defensive line ran along the
eastern side of the corridor forced by the Market Garden operation. Further to the south
the US First Army was butting against the Westwall at Aachen and a new formation, the
US Ninth Army was being introduced between these two formations.

The Island has been described as a veritable Garden of Eden with many orchards of apple,
pear and plum trees surrounding small farms and villages and in early September the trees
were sagging with a bumper crop. By the end of September it was a ravaged area after the
fighting to reach the Lower Rhine, although the troops still had plenty of opportunity to
exercise their culinary skills with the local produce. The 8th Armoured Brigade took
responsibility for guarding the wooded area to the east of Nijmegen and rotated the three

regiments forming the Brigade with two up in the line and one resting to the west of the
town. The Germans were very active with their counter attacks and casualties continued to
be sustained at a disturbing rate as a war of attrition set in. Early in October the supply
lines were cut for a period of five days and to relieve the situation an attack was made on a
German army supply dump at Oss. There they were able to stock up with rations including
German cigarettes that everyone agreed were terrible. It was obvious to all now that after
the euphoria of the dash to Brussels, the war was certainly going to drag on into the next
year and the prospect of a bitter winter campaign loomed large. With the situation
becoming static and defence the main priority, there was also time for relaxation with
Regimental anniversaries being celebrated with dinners and balls, and leave parties
became available to spend a few days in Brussels.

The 13th/18th Hussars, as did the other armoured regiments, moved around The Island to
various locations and supported a variety of infantry regiments, included units of the 82nd
and 101st US Paratroop Divisions. Regimental HQ was located variously at Weurt, in the
suburbs of Nijmegen, Dekkerswald to the south west of Nijmegen as well at Oosterhout.
Leave camps were available for off-duty troops at Louvain and Antwerp. On the 7th of
October, the commanding officer of the Regiment, Lt. Col Dunkerly, was repatriated to
England to receive treatment for injuries he had sustained and the Earl of Faversham took
command again.

* * * *

For a time I was billeted in a cellar in Winssen, to the west of Nijmegen. It had a concrete
floor and I managed to get hold of some straw and a piece of tarpaulin to make a bed. We
never had sheets, just three blankets with the greatcoat for a pillow. We were quite safe
and warm there. We never went hungry; there were always some tins of food to be found
somewhere. The German tea that was liberated from Oss was just like China tea, not to
our taste at all. Opposite the YMCA in Nijmegen there was a theatre and a theatre group
visited there to lay on a concert. The concert party from ENSA included a well-known
personality and the cast performed there that night. We suffered some shelling but no one
took any notice and the concert party just carried on. Nijmegen suffered a lot from shelling
and was badly damaged. Occasionally we were invited into the homes of the Dutch

people. They were very friendly and welcoming to us, which was surprising considering
the damage we had inflicted. In Nijmegen we stayed above a butchers shop. In the shop
worked a little fat Dutch girl who happened to be the Chief of Polices daughter. I suspect
she only worked there so she could get extra supplies of food. She used to come and chat
to us when we were on guard duty. During the Normandy Reunion in 1994 we called at
the shop and the lady that then ran it put up a notice in the window that read We will
never forget. Thank you. I managed to have a liaison with a Dutch lass, Hetty Van de
Haal. It was all very innocent, nothing out of place happened, you didnt in the 13th/18th
Hussars. You would go out with a girl for a month before you would kiss her. They were
happy days. How times have changed.

During this period on The Island I was suffering with an infection in my face. I put up
with it for a while but then had to report sick with it. I saw the Medical Officer and he
gave me some blue stuff to put on the scabs but every time I shaved the scabs broke and
the infection spread. Then I was given some white ointment to apply and a white cloth
mask to wear with eyepieces and holes for the mouth and nose. The constant driving
through the dust put up by the tank in front aggravated the condition. In one of the periods
when the Regiment was out of the line it was the anniversary of the Charge of the Light
Brigade, the 26th October, and the Regimental dinner and dance was held in Nijmegen. I
was in such an appalling state with my face that I couldnt attend and had to remain in the
billet. It was a terrible disappointment, there were a lot of young Dutch girls there and
everyone had a good time. After that the MO put me in hospital for ten days. It was
actually a casualty receiving station and didnt have beds, just stretchers for lying on.
There were no nurses, only medical orderlies. We were fed and looked after and that was
about it. While I was there a post mortem was carried out on a death that had occurred and
when I woke the next morning, the body on whom the post mortem had been carried out
was lying on a stretcher with the rest of us. The hospital was in a sort of village hall with a
stage at one end and it was on the stage where we were accommodated. Even there we
were subject to shelling and the building was hit one night. Over a period of five days my
blisters were cut off from my face and it was sprayed with this new fangled treatment
called penicillin powder. I had put up with the condition for a long time but within a few
days it had all cleared up.

I returned to the Regiment but I had lost my place with the Regimental HQ Squadron and

had to join a crew in another squadron, but I wasnt concerned, I had a lot of friends in the
Regiment. On the 9th of November the Regiment was ordered to Brunssum on the
Dutch/German border, a distance of about seventy-five miles, a long march as these drives
were called. We were ordered to cover up all our divisional signs and we left it until the
evening before we set off under cover of darkness. It was a terribly long night, driving
down in the dark. We couldnt use any lights. All you had to steer by was the little tail
light of the tank in front. The roads were very congested and there was driving rain and
snow. It was bitterly cold driving with the hatch open. There was only the tank
commander and myself awake for the whole journey, the rest of the crew dozed where
they were in their positions. When we had a halt I dozed off only to be wakened after
about five minutes with the order Driver Advance. I got very tired. We pulled into
harbour in the early hours of the morning and I just removed my boots, wrapped a blanket
round my feet, another round my body and fell asleep where I was. The commander said I
wasnt to be disturbed and I was not woken until about ten in the morning with a pint mug
of tea. That afternoon we went into action across the border into Germany.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

INTO GERMANY

The supply situation eased during the October pause in operations and Eisenhower was
determined to keep the pressure on the Germans, believing that unremitting pressure
against the enemy would ultimately shorten the war. His strategy was that the Allied
forces would advance to the River Rhine, all along its length, before any major crossing
was attempted. This would provide a defensive position against German counter attacks
and, if Hitler continued in his determination to defend every inch of German soil, would
effectively destroy the German forces before the Rhine was reached. In the north he had
the British 21st Army Group and the US First Army with the objectives of the industrial
heartlands of the Ruhr valley. Further south the US Third Army under Patton was on the
French/German border at Metz probing the Westwall (Siegfried Line), while further south
still was the US Seventh Army driving up from the South of France through the Vosges
Mountains to Strasbourg in Alsace. The concentration in the north left an extended front
between the US First Army and the US Third Army, the weakness of which Hitler was
soon to exploit. Eisenhower now introduced fresh forces into the assault on Germany. The
US Ninth Army, which had been in mopping up operations in the west of France, was
switched to the eastern front to take its place in the line between the 21st Army Group of
Montgomery and the US First Army. The First Army had taken the first major German
town of Aachen on the 21st of October and the Ninth Army was to join them in the assault
on the Westwall. The British XXX Corps were transferred to the command of the Ninth
US Army and the 43rd Infantry Division (part of XXX Corps) took over the sector of the
line north west of Geilenkirchen hard up against the Westwall.

The Westwall, as the Germans called it, or Siegfried Line by the British, was built in the
late 1930s as a counter to the Maginot Line in France. It stretched from Kleve on the
border with Holland along the border of the old German Empire to the border with
Switzerland. It wasnt as formidable as the propaganda made it out to be, comprising
mainly out of date concrete bunkers lacking the armoured cupolas for protecting the guns,
tank traps known as dragons teeth, and water filled ditches. During the war years the
lines had been stripped to reinforce the defences of the Atlantic Wall but after the
Normandy invasion top priority was given to re-activating the line and additional anti-tank
ditches were constructed together with small concrete bunkers for single soldiers in
forward positions.


The objective of the US Ninth Army, designated Operation CLIPPER, was to clear the
area west of the River Roer. This involved the capture of Geilenkirchen, immediately
adjacent to the Westwall. The attack commenced on the 16th November with the 84th US
Division directed against Geilenkirchen while the Regiment as part of the British XXX
Corps tackled the high ground to the north of that town and to the south of Heinsburg. The
attack was to be heavily supported by artillery and RAF rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft.
The use of aircraft in support was a bit of a mixed blessing. Earlier in Normandy we had
been attacked a couple of times by Allied planes, probably American. We had bright
yellow scarves made of silk, which we attached to the tanks. We already had white stars
with a ring round on the top of the turret but still the Americans came at us. We thought
they were bomb happy and would fire at anything. We wore the scarves round our necks
during the day but at night would put them all round the tank. It made an ideal target for
the German gunners but it was a necessary precaution because of the air strikes. The RAF
Typhoons were devastating in what they could do to a tank with their rockets. Generally
the high level bombing helped the enemy more than it did us. The bombed-out villages
and towns were ideal defensive positions for the Germans and the ruined towns blocked
the way for the tanks.

After arriving at Brunssum, the Regiment, as part of XXX Corp, now came under the
command of the US Ninth Army. On entering Germany the 13th/18th Hussars role was to
support the 129th Infantry Brigade of the 43rd Infantry Division and, in particular, A
Squadron with the 5th Wiltshire Regiment at Stahe, B Squadron with the 4th Wiltshire
Regiment at Gilrath and C Squadron with the 4th Somerset Light Infantry at Teveren. This
placing formed an arc to the west of Geilenkirchen and the Siegfried Line with the enemy
close at hand to the north. There were still German civilians working the fields and these
had to be removed before hostilities could commence.

* * * *

The first few days after arriving involved the Regiment in patrolling the area and
identifying salient features. The weather was appalling and we had to learn how to make

ourselves comfortable in the cellars of the German houses where we found ample supplies
of preserves. The Germans were very close by. Everywhere there were mines and we had
to be very careful how we moved around. At night we used to string tin cans across the
street to warn us if anything moved. If there was an alarm everything would open up on it.
On one occasion like that I ran for shelter into a cellar after the RSM and his driver. The
RSM swore he had been hit and bent over with his trousers down so that his driver could
inspect his bottom. In fact he had caught his trousers on a sharp piece of metal but thought
it was a piece of shrapnel. I burst out laughing at the sight of the RSM in this situation; I
couldnt help it but I escaped any retribution. I think the RSM was too preoccupied with
his own predicament.

The 43rd Infantry Division with the support of the 8th Armoured Brigade commenced its
attack on the 18th of November and although progress was slow with a number of tanks
bogged down in the soggy ground the first day went well with all objectives achieved with
few casualties. Thereafter things didnt go so well; the going for our tanks was very poor
with many becoming bogged down. Over the next few days shelling and mortaring was
intense and we had to endure a number of counter attacks, which we successfully drove
back, all the time taking considerable numbers of prisoners. On the 3rd of December we
were relieved and moved back to Ulestraten. As we moved back through Brunssum we
rode down the middle of the road with the American infantry moving up on either side.
They were fresh troops with little battle experience and they asked us for souvenirs. I was
never so proud in all my life to be British. We parked up and our mail was waiting for us.
Our officers went off looking for accommodation while I had a shave in cold water from a
petrol can. A Dutch chap came along on a bicycle. He was a coal miner and spoke quite
good English. He said to me that if I liked I could stay at his house. The Dutch liked the
English and of course we had cigarettes, which could be used as currency, and we also had
chocolate for the children. I told him that my officer was out looking for accommodation
and I would mention it to him when he came back. He said he would return. I finished my
wash and then the mail was distributed. In the mail I learned that my Grandmother had
died on the 13th of November and had been buried on the 16th, which was her birthday. She
was already buried by the time I got the letter. It was a great shock; she had been like a
mother to me. The officer returned and I mentioned to him the offer from the coal miner
and he said it was OK for me to stay there so long as he knew where I was. The miner
came back, a Mr. Latter, and I collected my small pack and went with him to his house. I

was given a bedroom with a bed, the only one in the house. Mr. Latters wife was called
Helen and they had two small boys called, in English, John and Charles. I stayed with
them for a fortnight. I was only in the house for sleeping, the rest of the time we were
doing maintenance on the tanks and routine things. We still had parades to do. Meals were
taken at the cookhouse organised by the Regiment.

While staying with John Latter I applied for and was granted 48 hours leave in Brussels. It
was my first leave since Normandy. I drew out 3,000 francs, worth about 15, to take with
me. Together with other leave-takers I went to Brussels in the back of a three-ton lorry
and, being December, it was a very cold journey. To start with we went to the 21 Club, run
by Billy Butlin, and from there toured the bars. I darent say how we spent our time in
Brussels but we received numerous invitations from young ladies to view their etchings in
their bedrooms for 100 francs a time. Money didnt mean anything to us, it was a case of
live today, tomorrow we die. I dont think I went to bed to sleep the whole time I was
there, it would have been a waste of our precious leave. By the third morning we were all
broke and couldnt raise enough between us to buy a bottle of cognac to keep us warm on
the way back. All we managed was a bottle of cheap wine. Three thousand francs gone in
48 hours. When we first entered Brussels after liberation it was all cheering and we could
have had anything we wanted but by now the novelty was over, the danger had passed and
we werent needed anymore. They wanted to get back to their own living and they tried to
get as much money out of us as they could. We felt we were being put upon. It was not a
good atmosphere. In that short time it had become very commercialised. Anyway a leave
is a leave. Then it was back to the routine. After two weeks we were called back on guard
in the line again and I never had the chance to get back to billet with John Latter.

* * * *

On the 16th of December Hitler unleashed a major counter attack against a weak sector of
the Allied line between the US First Army and the US Third Army in the Ardennes. This
was a quiet sector of the Allied front line used for training new units and as a rest area for
units withdrawn from the harder fighting areas and as such contained a mixture of
abilities. Hitler had carefully husbanded his last reserves of tanks and infantry and had
assembled thirty newly rebuilt divisions in an attempt to drive a wedge between the Allied

forces in a drive towards Antwerp. The objective was to cut off the British 21st Army
Group and the US First Army from the rest of the Allies and their supply routes. Hitler
believed that he could split the Allies and make the American and British sue for peace.
Success in the west would enable the Germans time to bring a new generation of weapons
into action and permit the concentration of forces against the Soviets in the east. Aided by
bad weather and a failure of Allied intelligence the Germans achieved complete surprise
and the US troops fell back in confusion. Two regiments of the 106th Infantry Division
surrendered after being cut off and surrounded, the largest surrender of American troops in
the war. There were few reserves available to bring up to counter the attack but an
airborne division was sent in to hold the important communications centre of Bastogne
and scattered units fought desperate rearguard actions to buy time. At the same time as the
attack started, snowstorms engulfed part of the Ardennes area and, although the bad
weather prevented the Allied air forces from playing a role in the defence, it also
hampered the German advance, causing delays they could ill afford if they were to reach
the River Meuse and the open country north towards Antwerp. By the 18th of December,
Eisenhower had realised that the fighting was a major offensive and ordered
reinforcements into the area. On the 19th of December, Pattons Third Army was turned
northwards to counter attack from its position in south-central France and on the 20th of
December, Montgomery was given temporary command of the US First and Ninth Armies
situated to the north of the Ardennes. The British XXX Corps was brought down from
Holland to defend the Meuse crossings while the 13th/18th Hussars were tasked with the
defence of Maastricht against a possible parachute landing. After a few days the Regiment
was moved back to Schinnen to hold that area against any developments.

* * * *

The guard sessions we did were in the open air, just like the infantry. The session was only
for an hour, outside in a slit trench or sheltering behind a hedge in heavy snow. There were
two of us together on guard, each for an hour, but the relief was staggered so that there
was continuity. This went on all the time throughout the day and night; it was the most
boring thing you could imagine. Occasionally we got stonked pretty badly. It wasnt so
bad out in the country but if you were in town, as at Geilenkirchen, or at a farmhouse you
could get shelled. You had to take the rough with the smooth. Each guard period was at a

different location. The cold was terrible. I dont think anyone could have stood it longer
than a week. On the 20th of December, it was my companions birthday and we shared a
slit trench for it. That winter was the coldest I have ever known. Come Christmas the
tanks were sliding all over the road. When a tank started to slide broadside on a slope
there was nothing you could do to control them. The roads were narrow and it was easy to
slide into a ditch and when someone tried to pass by they would slide into the opposite
ditch and the road would be blocked for three to four hours until recovery could be
effected. By now the petrol engines in the tanks had been replaced by twelve-cylinder
diesel engines and the water content of the diesel fuel would freeze in the cold. To counter
this we would have to start up the engines every hour through the night. We had to wear
gloves all the time. They were leather gauntlets, which were not very effective at keeping
you warm but were necessary to prevent your skin touching the metal when you climbed
out of your tank. Anyone that put their bare hands on the tank would lose the skin from
their fingers when they stuck to the metal through the cold. We eventually got some gloves
from England called comforts. They had a leather front and a khaki fabric back, like the
inside of a greatcoat. They were good but you also needed a large size of gauntlet so that
the comforts would fit inside. It was cold inside a tank. There was no heating and the
engine, which could provide warmth, was at the rear. It was bitterly cold but we were
young and could sleep anywhere. All we did was to take off our boots, you couldnt sleep
with your boots on; your feet got too cold. With your boots off you wrapped your feet in a
blanket, put another blanket round you and slept like that in your tank. At least we were
out of the wind and the snow. We were dry, unlike the infantry, who had a terrible time of
it. After a week of it we were withdrawn back into billets.

When we came out of the line we went to another village and I found myself a billet in a
cowshed. I was in an empty stall where the cows were, sleeping on the straw. It was quite
warm in there with the cows. I was woken in the morning by the sound on milk squirting
into a bucket as a young girl milked the cow next to me. I gave her some tinned stuff and
asked if she would prepare a meal for me. She agreed and said her mother would do it. I
gave her tinned potatoes, tinned meat and veg and also a tin of raspberries. When I got my
meal at lunchtime it was all on one plate with the raspberries mixed in with the potatoes.
Later when I mentioned this to other Dutch people they assured me that this wasnt normal
and that it was probably because they were peasant farmers. I only stayed in the cowshed
for a couple of days and then I moved into a school. Our feelings about the war were

different now. We had lost so many men, good friends. I was normally easy going, usually
very relaxed but that first morning in the school we were eating our porridge at breakfast.
Another trooper close to me was having a wash using a dish placed upon a shelf. As he
washed, some of the soapy water splashed into my porridge. In normal times it would
have been laughed off but I just jumped up and let go at him. We had to be dragged apart.
Afterwards one of the lads asked what the hell I was thinking about and I replied that I just
didnt know what happened. It was totally out of character for me but this was the state we
were in.

Christmas week was our week in the line. With snow everywhere we put white
camouflage on our tanks. We managed to get hold of some Wellington boots and we had
our zoot suits, which were a godsend. We were well protected, unlike the infantry who
were always wet and unable to dry out with their leather boots. There were occasional
pushes from the enemy towards us. There was shelling and the odd sortie, which livened
the days up for us, but the main action was further to the south. There the attack by the
Germans had caused the bulge in the front line and had resulted in enormous casualties to
the Americans whereas we didnt get pushed back at all and held the same positions
throughout. British casualties at this time were relatively low.

We were stood down for New Years Day, 1945 and returned to Schinnen where we had
our delayed Christmas Dinner. As is the tradition the officers served us with tinned turkey
and some cigarettes in blue packets that were called Martins, which I had never seen
before. We were served beer, a very dark beer, not like we were used to in England, but all
that mattered was that it was beer. I was billeted in an old mill, sleeping upstairs in a loft.
Outside was a platform where the bags of grain were hoisted into the mill by a winch. In
the morning of New Years Day I was shaving with a mirror fixed to the wall when a
German plane came and circled round and round the mill. It was the last time I ever saw a
German plane. I could see the pilot as plain as could be. Each time he circled the mill I
grabbed my rifle and dashed onto the platform and had a shot at him. Down on the ground
I could see Darkie Harris with a Bren gun fixed to a post and he was shooting also. We
had had a few drinks the night before and our aim was rather erratic and we didnt hit him.
However, all the local Dutch people were on their way to Church for New Years Day and
were dressed in their best black clothes. When Darkie Harris opened up over their heads
with the Bren they all dropped flat onto the snow until he had finished firing, then they got

back up, brushed themselves down, and went on their way to church.

* * * *

The weather conditions had started improving on the 23rd of December enabling the Allied
air forces to be brought to bear on the German attack through the Ardennes. With the
attacks on their supply points in the rear the German advance was stalled short of the
River Meuse. Hitler refused to let the mainly untouched panzer units withdraw and the
Allies were left with a dangerous salient in the Allied line.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

THE REICHSWALD

Eisenhower had perceived the Battle of the Bulge, as the Ardennes campaign became
known, as an opportunity to destroy the German forces in the open as against them sitting
in defensive positions. Pattons US Third Army had attacked northwards from his position
in central France and had relieved Bastogne. Eisenhower wanted Montgomery to go on
the offensive on the 1st January to meet up with Patton and cut off the German army in a
situation similar to the Falaise Gap in Normandy. However, as at Falaise, Montgomery
was slow in going on the offensive and his attack did not start until the 3rd of January, by
which time a substantial number of German troops had managed to escape the pocket,
albeit without their heavy equipment. The gap between the two Allied armies was about
twenty-five miles and progress was slow on both fronts. On the 7th of January, Hitler
agreed to withdraw his troops and the German forces made a successful fighting
withdrawal although losing the majority of their armour in the process. The two Allied
armies joined up on the 15th of January and the salient was pinched out.

The Germans had launched a second, smaller offensive on New Years Day into Alsace at
the time that the Allied lines were stretched with Pattons move to the north. Although the
German penetration was nothing like as dramatic as in the Ardennes, containing the attack
was a costly affair and it took until the end of January before the front line was restored. In
the meantime, on the Russian front, the Soviets launched a large scale offensive into
Poland and East Prussia and German forces had to be withdrawn from the west in an
attempt to counter this.

Hitler had squandered all his reserves of armour and the Luftwaffe was a broken force. By
the beginning of February Eisenhower was back on track with his plan of a broad
offensive along the length of the Rhine. The British 21st Army Group and US Ninth Army
would attack in the north with the US First Army to the south of them. The US Third
Army would drive eastwards across Germany and the Seventh US army would turn south
into Bavaria.

The 13th/18th Hussars spent the first two weeks of January standing to in the area to the

north of Maastricht. The Regiment had transferred to XII Corps when XXX Corps moved
south to help counter the Ardennes offensive. The next operation was to clear the German
forces to the west of the River Roer and the Regiment was placed under the command of
the 7th Armoured Division for this task. The advance commenced on the 19th of January
through Sittard and Susteren. Conditions were appalling in wintry weather that constantly
bogged down the advance. All squadrons of the Regiment suffered significant losses in
tanks from enemy 88s, SPs, tanks and panzerfausts, but inflicted corresponding losses to
the opposing forces including a number of Tiger tanks. Confused fighting continued round
the villages of Waldefeucht and Koningsbosch until the 26th of January when the battle
drew to a close. The Regiment stayed a few days in Koningsbosch before moving back to
the Nijmegen area.

* * * *

It was my twenty-first birthday on the 26th of January and I spent it on jankers. I had been
taken short and went into an old barn to urinate. Someone outside the troop had seen me
and reported me to my troop leader. My sergeant told me to report to my officer who
informed me I had been charged with urinating in the quartermasters stores. I protested
that I didnt know it was the quartermasters store as it was just an old barn with a hole in
the roof but to no avail. I received three days jankers as punishment, which meant I had
jobs to do after we had finished for the day. I asked if the punishment could be put back
for a day as the day was my twenty-first birthday but the request was denied. At the end of
the day I was given the job of washing out the schoolroom and when a sergeant came out
of the vestry as I was scrubbing the floor I grumbled to him about having to do this task on
my twenty-first birthday. He sympathised and told me to see him after I had finished.
When I did, he presented me a bottle of Black & White whisky, which I took back to my
billet. There the other lads helped me drink it that night, so it was something to remember
my birthday by.

The fighting was wearying. None of us expected to live through the experience but there
were no desertions from the Regiment and I would be surprised if there were any from the
infantry. Lack of sleep was the big problem. You could do one duty on and then a period
off, then you might get four off. There was never a set pattern for sleeping. It was so cold

you never slept properly. I never got enough sleep and I was tired and cold all the time.
Most of the time our food was cold when we ate it even though it might have been served
hot. Often there would be no cover and we would stand eating out of our mess tins with
the rain coming down. If we had taken it back to our billets to eat it would have been cold
so you ate it on the spot. Porridge in the morning was warm when you got it but cold
before you ate it. It was nourishing, however. The officers were sympathetic and often
shared our discomfort but once out of the line they would be in the officers mess enjoying
relative comfort. They didnt mind sharing our ill-gotten gains of the occasional chicken
looted from a farm, however, turning a blind eye as to where it came from.

Our officers tried to find us accommodation out of the rain and cold. At one small semidetached house that the officer approached for billeting the housewife said she had two
small boys and no spare bedrooms. The officer told her the men didnt want beds; they
would sleep on the floor, and told her that seven could be accommodated in the front
room. That was where we were put up, the tanks being left out in the street. The husband,
a large man, was an official on the railway. He wanted to do something for us so he sent
his sons in to collect our wet army boots for cleaning. They cleaned the first batch and the
sons came back to take some more for cleaning. In the chaos of kit strewn all over the
floor, the little boy of about ten saw a pistol in its holster lying on the floor. He picked it
up and took the gun out of its holster, pulled the trigger and it went off, the bullet hitting
the fireplace surround. He dropped the gun and ran off. It was lucky no one was killed.
The gun should not have been loaded so we couldnt blame the little lad. The father came
in and saw what had been done but he said he was never going to hide the mark of the
bullet; it was his souvenir of the war. Across the road from the house was the cookhouse
where we could collect our food in our mess tins and stand there in our greatcoats and eat
in the rain. Seeing this the wife of the house insisted on cooking for us. We gave her our
tins of meat and veg and she made our dinner for us. She made a marvellous job of it,
nothing like the food that we cooked from the same tins. While sharing the village with
the Americans we did a swap of the tinned food, the Americans seemed to like our meat
and veg. We ate the American tinned stuff but after a few days the American food palled
and we were glad to get back to our usual diet.

As we moved back to Nijmegen we got a draft of replacement for our losses in men.
Among these replacements was one coloured lad, a nice lad, and friendly with everyone.

There was no racial discrimination in the Regiment. He lasted about three weeks and I
never saw him after that. He must have been wounded or killed. After a few days we
moved up to the start line for the advance into Germany. We had been in Germany before,
at Geilenkirchen, but this was the real push. There was some incoming shelling that night
and a London lad called Wills got a piece of shrapnel in his back. Down he went and when
they got him on a stretcher he laughed and said, You can kiss my backside, I am going
home. I never saw him again but I believe he survived the war. Also on that evening a
couple of girls came up to where we were bivouacked for a chat and, with my friend Taffy,
I walked them back to where they were living in the village hall. They took us to where
they were sleeping in the hall. As you went through the main door, on the right was their
little patch. They were sleeping on the floor. Other families were in different places in the
hall. The floor was all strewn with straw. Their grandfather was there; an old man and he
had no boots on. The girls insisted we ate with them. The food was terrible. I said to my
friend that I was sure that what we were eating was mouse. I asked the girl what it was and
I thought she said kippen. I asked her if it was mouse and she took me outside into the
yard and showed me the heads and tails that had been cut off. I felt like being sick. We
went back to the tank where we had plenty of tinned food. I collected a bottle of wine, a
couple of tins of food that I stuffed into my battledress and slung a pair of old boots,
which would fit the old man, round my neck. Taffy did the same and we returned to the
hall. The mother was a fat lady and when we explained what it was for she put her arms
around me and just about broke my back hugging and kissing me. The old man tried on
his boots and everybody ended up in tears.

* * * *

Around 5 oclock in the morning of the 8th of February the biggest barrage of the war
started. A build up had been going on all over the winter, stockpiling the shells preparing
for this barrage. Every gun available took part and it went on for five hours; the noise was
terrific. Then the squadrons moved off into the Reichswald forest. The Regiment was
supporting the 3rd Canadian Division in the clearance of the west bank of the Rhine. The
initial task was the capture of Zyfflich and Wyler on the German border, which was
achieved on the first day but the Germans broke the main dams to the north and the area
quickly became flooded, restricting movement. Thereafter it became a tremendous slog
against the fanatical defenders of the German homeland. The attack was renewed on the

10th of February with an advance through Wyler, Kranenburg to Ntterden but the
congestion on the roads and stiff resistance ahead forced a halt there until the 12th of
February. Patrols were sent through the Reichswald forest in the direction of Goch but
heavy resistance forced a withdrawal to Materborn where a new offensive was planned.
This was launched on the 15th of February from Bedburg where the Regiment had
concentrated. Despite very heavy shelling and the loss of a number of tanks the objectives
were achieved and held against counter-attacks. Although the Regiment was suffering the
loss of a significant number of tanks, the losses of the infantry were much higher, and
often the objectives were held by small numbers of infantry who needed the continuous
presence of the tanks as support.

* * * *

The fighting in the Reichswald was far worse than anything we had encountered before in
the campaign. It made Normandy and memories of the bocage seem like nothing. The
excitement of the early days had gone and we were dealing with different people now.
Before we were liberating, now we were the oppressors. The terrain was more or less flat,
thick with trees. The trees were too big to push over with a tank and in the wet conditions
you had to stay on the forest tracks. You could only venture off the tracks if there had been
a hard frost. Everywhere was mined; they had been sown like a crop. They took an awful
toll, especially of the infantry. It was terrible; all you could think of was losing your legs
to a mine. We were driven on our nerves all the time worrying about mines. An antipersonnel mine wouldnt affect a tank but there were all kinds of traps. When we came out
of the Reichswald into villages you darent go into the buildings for fear of booby traps.
Even a dead body would be booby trapped, doubly so such that if you disabled the bomb,
you could still be caught by a second one as you lifted the body. The shelling also was the
most intense we had ever experienced. We were in the German homeland and they fought
like maniacs, determined to keep us out. Even small numbers of the enemy could have a
disproportionate effect on our progress; they were very brave fighters. I had my narrow
escapes. There was an occasion when I was standing talking to a colleague. A tank shell
went right between us and hit an empty vehicle behind us. It was the narrowest squeak. On
another occasion we were short of food and I managed to obtain some rations from a 15cwt truck standing on the bank side. Within a minute of my being there the truck took a

direct hit from a shell. There was shelling all the time. It is nerve-wracking to be under
shellfire; it would affect the bravest of the brave. The constant barrage and waiting for the
next one just wears you out. It is something you never get used to.

In the Reichswald the infantry were dropping all around us, I could see them from my
driving position. We had tremendous admiration for them. It was unbelievable what they
went through. The Germans were all over the place with snipers, hidden SPs and 88 mm
guns. It was a killing ground. When we came out of the forest we started to take prisoners
and they seemed relieved to be out of it. The infantry looked after them and sent them to
the rear. Although most of the towns and villages had been reduced to rubble it was good
occasionally to be able to get out of the wet weather and shelter. We went into Kleves
fighting all the way and eventually reached Goch where we had a rest period. It was
rumoured that the Regimental Band was being brought up even though we were still in the
front line.

The whole Regiment came out of the line on the 19th of February but by now the battle for
Goch was over, the town being in British hands. On the 23rd of February the attack
southwards from Goch was mounted and the wood to the south of Goch was cleared. The
Regiment stayed there until the 4th of March suffering a number of counter attacks but
holding the line. We were relieved by the 34th Tank Brigade and went back to Goch to
prepare for the Rhine crossing, heading ultimately for Wesel and the crossing of the Rhine,
but on the 4th of March my involvement in the campaign came to a sudden halt.

* * * *

The Regiment continued in action until the 10th of March and then it became apparent that
the enemy had retreated to the east bank of the Rhine.






CHAPTER NINETEEN

INFERNO

After clearing the enemy from the area to the south of Goch the Regiment stayed there for
a few days and although out of the line we still experienced a number of alerts and were
subject to a fair amount of shelling. There were opportunities for looking around the place
but we were warned to be on the lookout for booby traps and to be very wary about
picking up desirable items. Early one afternoon on the 4th of March as I was wandering
around we started to experience some long range shelling from big guns, adding to the
rubble all around us. I entered a cellar for some shelter and found all kinds of preserves
stored there, which were very tempting, but that I darent sample. You wouldnt even pull
the chain of a toilet in case you got more than you bargained for. I dont know what
happened but one minute it was quite calm in there and then the whole cellar erupted into
flames and quickly became filled with smoke and fumes. I was on my own and I was
trapped.

I had a terrible job escaping from the place and when eventually I did manage to get out
onto the street I found I was on fire all down the front of my shirt and my face and hands
were burning. I looked around for help and luckily a driver of a 15-cwt truck saw me,
picked me up and rushed me off to a first aid post situated at the side of the Goch/Kleve
road. It was run by the Sherwood Foresters and the medics there were playing cards as I
went in. My appearance didnt stop them continuing with their game but one of them
applied some ointment to my burns, bandaged my face and hands, attached a ticket to my
shirtfront and told the driver to take me further down the line. The driver protested that he
had nothing to do with me and had only given me a lift but they persuaded him to deliver
me to a Casualty Receiving Station. This was the 3rd CRS and there my ticket detailing
what the First Aid station had done was examined with the decision being taken that I
should be moved on to the field hospital in Nijmegen. The driver of the 15 cwt truck
hemmed and hawed about this further diversion from his duties but he took me to the field
hospital and left me there. By now it was about 4 oclock in the afternoon.

I was received at the field hospital by English nurses who gave me some pineapple chunks
and white bread to eat and after about half an hour I was put in an ambulance with some
other patients to be taken further back. We were taken to Hertogenbosch in the Canadian

sector and accommodated in a large village hall that had beds down either side of the room
with some cubicles at the end of the room. I joined a queue to be attended to. There were
two German boys in front of me, much more badly injured than I was, but the nurse made
them wait until the British and Canadian wounded had been attended to. My ticket was
inspected and I was told to get into a bed. I had only the dirty clothes I was wearing, no
pyjamas or anything to change into and I couldnt do anything for myself as both my
hands were bandaged. We were each given a packet of twenty Gold Flake but I had to get
someone to help me light up. The two German boys were not given anything and in the
morning when we had a further issue of cigarettes again the German boys were left out.
One of the Germans had lost a hand and the other was wounded in the chest and only had
a greatcoat to wrap round him. They were very young, probably no more than seventeen.
We couldnt see them left out and so we gave them some of our fags.

During that day we were taken from the hospital and put on a train to Bruges to go to the
110th British General Hospital. While we were on the train a big fat nurse visited
everybody every two hours to give us all a penicillin injection. You could hear her coming
on her rounds as everyone would scream and shout but really we were very happy,
although I was in quite a lot of pain. On arriving at the hospital I was put in a room with
some other burns cases. I sat on the end of a bed in my dirty clothes waiting to be attended
to. Opposite me was a lad from the Grenadier Guards, one of two there from the Guards.
He had his hands tied up to the lamps, presumably as part of his treatment. He said to me,
Keep hold of your beret, Geordie, so I took his advice and put my beret in the locker
next to the bed. A young nurse, a girl from Consett in County Durham, took me along the
passage into a room where she took all my clothes off, washed all the parts of me she
could get at, dressed me in pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers and put me to bed. My
clothes were taken away as were my pistol and belt. Eventually I had all my bandages
removed and then the blistered skin cut off and the raw flesh squirted with yellow
penicillin powder. Even now, many years later, my skin is still affected when it is very
cold, turning dark red. I was to stay in the hospital for a month.

The hospital was a very disciplined place but I had a happy time there. At first I was
worried about my circumstances. When I became a casualty my first reaction was to try to
get to a casualty receiving station and get some treatment. I didnt see my officer or
anyone in the crew. I hadnt told anyone where I was going or what had happened to me.

My worry was that I would be posted as missing, believed killed, and that my mother
would be getting a telegram. Even worse, I could have been posted as a deserter. Someone
must have known what had happened because neither of these came about although I had
no communication from the Regiment. After a spell in the small ward I was moved into a
general ward with all the other wounded. There were beds down each side of the ward and
also two rows of beds, head to head, down the centre of the room. We could take baths, the
bathroom having two baths with washbasins all round the walls. At one end there was a
space between the top of the wall and the ceiling, the wall separating the bathroom from
an adjacent bathroom for the female nurses. You could hear the Belgian lasses having their
baths and I remember one occasion when I took a bucket of cold water, threw it over the
partition onto the girls taking their bath and hearing them squeal as the cold water hit
them. As I have said I had a happy time there.

I was corresponding with a couple of girls at that time but I couldnt write letters with my
bandaged hands. The Padre of the hospital wrote to them on my behalf telling them that I
was suffering from burns and was unable to write. One of the girls sent me some fruit and,
realising that eventually I would be getting some home leave and would have to finish
with one of them, I wrote and packed in the one who didnt send any fruit. Then the
following day I received some sweets from the second one so I decided it was safer to
pack them both in. The Padre was very good.

I was offered a big green hat, which I refused as I had retained my own beret with the
13th/18th Hussars cap badge, very fortunately as it turned out. We were given hospital
blues, royal blue jackets, trousers and shirts together with a red tie. Everybody seemed to
get the same size, large; even the red ties were big. It was all right if one was a big man
but I wasnt. The shirts were enormous; it was impossible to look smart in them. I also got
my pistol and belt returned to me. When we were fit enough we were allowed to walk out
in our blues. A trip into Bruges was quite an eye opener. We had very little money and
the Belgians were after everything we had, an ice cream would set you back about ten
shillings. The Belgians seemed to have plenty of everything whereas the Dutch people had
nothing and were starving. It was really surprising.

After a month at the British General Hospital I was sent to convalesce at Knokke, a

seaside resort near to Zeebrugge. The convalescees were accommodated in small seaside
hotels and we all had tasks to do which would benefit our conditions. These were meant as
strengthening exercises and I had the task of carrying pieces of tree trunks to strengthen
my arms. This we would do in the mornings and then we would be free to go round the
town. After two weeks convalescing, and having spent more than twenty-one days in
hospital, I was entitled to seven days casualty leave in England and at the end of the
second week in April I departed for Calais to take a hospital ship to Dover.

CHAPTER TWENTY

BLIGHTY

Although Germany was heading for total defeat with the Russians closing on Berlin from
the east and the Allies massing on the west bank of the Rhine preparing for the final
assault on the German heartlands, the fighting remained intense and many casualties
continued to be suffered. The US 9th Armoured Division made a crossing of the Rhine at
Remagen on the 7th of March when the German Army was overrun and failed to destroy
the bridge there and two weeks later the US Third Army made a surprise crossing using
assault boats south of Mainz at Oppenheim. In the north, where the river was twice as
wide as at the earlier crossings, the British 21st Army Group mounted Operation Plunder
on the 23rd of March to cross the river at Rees and Wesel using the largest airborne
operation of the war. The US Seventh Army crossed the Rhine between Mannheim and
Worms three days later on the 26th of March. With the Allies in force over the last major
obstacle into central Germany the armies fanned out to destroy the last pockets of
resistance. The 13th/18th Hussars started the crossing of the Rhine on the 25th of March and
all squadrons were safely over by the nightfall on the 26th in their drive with the British
21st Army Group on the German ports of Bremen, Hamburg and Lbeck.

* * * *

While these momentous events were taking place I was completing my convalescence and
preparing for my first leave in England since landing in France on D-Day. After arriving
in Calais I was put on a hospital ship and set off to cross the Channel. The crossing was
short but instead of landing at Dover the ship carried on eastwards past the Seven Sisters
cliffs to Newhaven. There we entrained for London. All the casualties, like myself, were
now dressed in khaki uniforms but without any form of identifying badges. I still had my
regimental beret, which I was very careful to protect. We were met at London by all
manner of kind people willing to do anything for us. We were offered pots of tea, asked if
we wanted to send telegrams to anyone and anything else you could think of. When I had
been stationed at Petworth, in Surrey, prior to the invasion, I had met a girl I had kept in
contact with. I wanted to call her to tell her I was back in England but I had to contact her
through the local fire brigade, which would get a message to her. When I picked up the

phone to ask for the number the telephone operator told me it would be half a crown to
make the call. I told her I would have to ring back as I had no money on me. She asked me
what had I got and I told her that I was sorry but I only had French francs. She said that it
would be all right, that she would fix it, and she got me through to the Fire Brigade in
Petworth. I left a message with the Fire Brigade for my girlfriend that I was home in
England and would come and see her the following day.

I spent the first night of my leave in London, at my cousin Dots place in Hammersmith. I
had stayed with her previously in 1942 in one of my first leaves in the Army. Dot wasnt
there this time as she was in hospital having a baby. Her husband George looked after me
and during the evening we both went to the hospital to visit Dot and see the new baby. The
following day I went down to Petworth to pick up my girlfriend Audrey Dean, who was
only seventeen, to take her with me to my home in the North of England. We spent the day
travelling and took the opportunity to drop off at York to have a look round. In retrospect
we shouldnt have done that because I should have known my mother and the whole of
my family would be there to meet me. When we finally arrived at Barnard Castle my
mother and stepfather and all my brothers and sisters were at the station. They knew we
were coming and had met every train until we arrived. It was marvellous to be home.
Everyone was pleased to see me despite my lack of thought for the feelings of my family.
I spent the whole of my leave at home in Barnard Castle. It was wonderful to be out of the
war, if only temporarily. I found it difficult to sleep in the house. I had to have all the
windows open, I felt so choked up and the bed was so soft that I was uncomfortable.

The leave flew by so quickly and I had to face up to a return to the war. After the time was
up I went with Audrey to the station to catch my train but the protracted goodbyes meant
that we had missed the train. There was a fire engine at the station, manned by some
friends of mine from when I had been a fireman, and when they discovered what my
problem was they told me to jump on the back of the fire engine and they would take me
to Darlington to make the connection. They raced off and it was such a rough ride that the
journey made Audrey sick. We got to Darlington in time to catch the train to London and
when we finally reached Liverpool Street station where I was due to get the train to
Harwich to catch my boat, I discovered that my crossing, sailing number 303, had been
delayed for twenty four hours. If I hadnt been in such a rush at Darlington I would have
seen the movement notice advising of the delay at the station there. I was now stuck in

London with my girlfriend for an extra day. I had money in my pocket and time to spare
but where were we going to spend the night? We wanted to stay together and we decided
to find a little hotel and pose as man and wife. We bought a ring and went to a little hotel.
We were both terribly embarrassed, filled with shame, and nearly called it off at the door.
The landlady looked us up and down and said it was all right, we could have a room.
When we went to bed we slept together but we didnt take our clothes off. All we wanted
was to be together. Breakfast in the morning was an ordeal, feeling that everyone was
looking at us but then we had the rest of the day to spend together. We both went back to
Liverpool Street station in the evening for me to catch the night train to Harwich and then
Audrey had to get to Victoria Station to get back to Petworth that night.

On the night crossing to the Hook of Holland I felt terrible. I was going back into the line
and it felt like the end of the world had come. I had no idea how long the war was going to
last and the feeling of doom was the worst I had experienced. The contrast between home
comforts and the reality of the front line could not have been stronger. It was a very slow,
cold journey on the train in Holland. Most of the windows were boarded up and we
couldnt see where we were going but it was a troop train and everything was very
organised. Eventually I arrived at the 2nd ARU (Army Receiving Unit) somewhere in
Germany. It was a large camp with tents laid out in a field. I reported to the reception
desk, left my army paybook at the desk and was allocated a tent. Within two hours there
was a tannoy message telling me to report back to the desk. I picked up my paybook and
was off again on a truck to go to the FDS (Forward Delivery Station) that supplied the
Regiment. This was situated in a tram yard in Bremen. In fact we slept in the trams parked
in the yard. There were a lot of young boys there straight from training in England. The
replacements were very young, only about 18 or 19, and were very keen. They were lucky
they didnt get to see any action although they didnt think so. I was an old sweat, I knew
everything. There were brand new tanks in the yard, Shermans that had not yet been
driven. They were fitted with the new hydromatic gearbox with no gear stick but a
preselector lever. They were not a success. When you are driving a tank and going down a
steep hill with 30 tons around you, you need to know what gear you are in. I got in one of
the new tanks. I didnt know how to drive it but I wasnt going to ask one of the new lads.
Adopting the old principle of when in doubt rev up I switched on, revved up and off it
went.

From the FDS I could have been directed to any of the three Regiments making up the
brigade but, on the advice of the guardsman when I was hospitalised, I had retained my
13th/18th Hussars cap and badges. Because of this I was able to return to my old regiment.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

VICTORY IN EUROPE

Shortly after I was injured and out of the war temporarily, the Regiment moved back to
Goch for refitting. The Regimental Band was brought out from England to head a
regimental parade through the streets of Goch later in the month. On the same night as the
band arrived, the 12th of March, Regimental Headquarters suffered an attack from a
Messerschmitt Me 262 bomber, one of the new jet aircraft being introduced by the
Luftwaffe. A cluster of bombs was dropped and caught a number of the troops as they
were returning from tea, killing seven and wounding twenty-eight. Together with some
heavy shelling that evening and further casualties, including another trooper killed, that
day was one of the worst for casualties experienced by the Regiment. It must have been
particularly unnerving for the Band members who were non-combatants. The full
regimental parade and march past through the streets of Goch took place on the 21st of
March just before the commencement of Operation Plunder, the crossing of the Rhine by
the British 21st Army Group. After crossing the Rhine, the Regiment was continuously
involved for the next month in the drive towards Bremen, which was entered on the 23rd of
April.

* * * *

The Regiment was based at Delmenhorst, to the south west of Bremen when I arrived
back by truck from the FDS. It was about nine p.m. when I reported for duty and was
greeted by, Im bloody glad you are back, from my officer, Lieutenant Jones. The
Regiment had lost a lot of men since I had left, many of them friends of mine. There
wasnt a lot of activity at the time as by the 27th of April all resistance in Bremen came to
an end and although there were plans to drive further north to Bremerhaven these came to
nothing when all the German forces facing the British 21st Army Group surrendered on the
4th of May. On the 7th of May, as the Regiment prepared to organise the surrender of the
local German forces, it was learnt that Germany had accepted unconditional surrender and
a day later V.E. Day (Victory in Europe) was declared.

It was a marvellous feeling to have come through the war alive if not wholly unscathed.

There was a lot of drinking and hilarity but the main feeling was one of relief. We had
stood around doing nothing for two days. The weather was bad with thunderstorms and
heavy rain. We were parked in a farmyard in a rural area when the news of the ceasefire
came and although we had been expecting it, it seemed unreal. The happiness that it was
over was countered by the sadness for our mates who werent there to see it. A truck from
the Regiment came into the farmyard and handed over the tailboard loads of drink that
must have come up from Rheims or somewhere. There were all kinds of drinks available
and all that night and into the next day we were let loose to do anything we wished.

On the 19th of May the Regiment moved to Hanover in the American sector. Our job there
was to enforce military law, as there was a complete breakdown of civilian control. We
were there to guard all the important installations such as petrol stations, public buildings,
military establishments etc. and to provide patrols to enforce the curfew in the evenings.
The Regimental Colonel was in fact the civil authority. My first guard duty was at a big
technical institute where a wind tunnel was situated. We were to take over the guard duties
from the American forces. As we arrived in our 15-cwt truck, six of us jumped down in
very smart order with our rifles to do some Buckingham Palace type guarding of this
college. We were dressed in our best uniforms, highly polished boots and black berets and
did our marching, twenty paces up and down in front of the college. The Americans we
had taken over from were sitting on a wall chewing their chewing gum and smoking their
little cigars. They had stubble on their faces and were in overalls. They just waved to us
and said, See you, fellas, and off they went. We didnt keep it up but we were told that
the Germans, being a military race, respected smartly turned out soldiers and viewed the
Americans casual approach to discipline with disdain.

There was a lot of work to do. One of the first priorities was at Celle just to the north of
Hanover. Mr. Coates, the Regimental Education Officer had met me when I first returned
to the Regiment after being in hospital. He organised cultural activities and at Hanover he
was looking for volunteers to go to one of the concentration camps to help the people
there, to take blankets and offer other aid. Mr. Coates said he had been there and it was
going to be shocking. In the event it was far more shocking than we could have imagined.
We were not prepared for it in any way. The camp was about a mile away from a small
village called Bergen-Belsen and you could smell the camp as you got near it. The first
view of the camp was the wire fence and the big entrance gates. We were curious as to

what was inside. A dead human body smells far worse than an animals and you can smell
a human body a mile away. It was the same smell we had all the time in Normandy, the
sweet smell of death. Inside the camp there were fleets of ambulances, lorries and
bulldozers. The bulldozers had dug pits and German prisoners were carrying bodies over
their shoulders or dragging them into the pits. They didnt look like bodies, just skeletons
with a thin covering of flesh. Fortunately for our sensibilities they didnt look like human
beings. The naked bodies were thrown into the pits and covered in lime. The smell was
appalling. We tied wet handkerchiefs over our mouths and put respirators on. Initially I
was helping the inmates who were still alive from the huts into the ambulances. These
people were like skeletons but we were told not to give them any food or anything as it
would do them harm or could even kill them. We had to carry them out to get them into
the ambulances and taken to hospital. It was the eyes of the people that got to you most,
they knew we were there to help and the gratitude showed when they looked at you. After
the huts were cleared of inmates then all the bedding had to be brought out and burned and
then the huts had to be taken down and burned.

We were on this task for three weeks, each evening returning to our billets in Hanover. We
didnt have any protective clothing apart from our overalls and respirators and each night
we would wash or have baths in cold water, as there was no gas supply in the city at that
time. Belsen wasnt an extermination camp but an outbreak of typhoid had hit the camp
about a month before the Americans had liberated it. A lot of the inmates had died in the
outbreak and the camp crematorium couldnt cope with the extra number of deaths. The
Americans had freed the camp but we had the job of destroying it. We couldnt burn the
place down until all the inmates had been taken away because of the danger from smoke
inhalation and it took longer than the three weeks we were there to complete the job. The
5th Dragoon Guards took over from us to complete the job.

The villagers of Bergen-Belsen denied knowing anything about the camp but the smell
was so strong that they must have been aware. Mr Coates and some of the other officers
organised the Mayor and all the people from the village to come to the camp and see what
had happened so close to where they were living. They were brought in while we were
working and you could see them in a long line weeping and crying that they hadnt
known. The crematorium was there for the high number of deaths brought about by
emaciation or overwork and the villagers must have seen the crematorium going all the

time. The commandants of both the men and womens camps had been taken into custody
before we arrived there but I believe that some of the guards of the camp were among the
prisoners clearing away the bodies. We were appalled at what humans could do to other
human beings. The horror and the anger of it all have remained with me to this day and I
abhor the thought of a federal state of Europe with the Germans in a leading role. It
changed our attitude towards the Germans. The German prisoners we had captured in
action were soldiers like us and we treated them as we hoped that they would have treated
us. The civilians protested that they werent Nazis but if we believed them there wouldnt
have been a Nazi in Germany. I recollect being in a cinema queue in Hanover and we
smoked cigarettes. After you had finished your cigarette you threw your cigarettes ends on
the ground and the German men would try to collect them. Just as they reached for them
we would grind them under our feet. It wasnt nice and I am not proud of it but it was our
attitude at the time. Today where the camp at Belsen was situated is like a moor. It is a
sombre place and no birds fly there, which I understand is because of the huge quantities
of lime that were laid in the pits there.

When we were pulled out of Belsen we had the task of painting our tanks. There were a
number of large prisoner of war camps around Hanover and from these we were allotted
thirty prisoners for each troop of tanks. They arrived in the back of a three-ton lorry and
we got six for each tank in the troop. They had the task of painting the body of the tank
battleship grey while the wheels had to be painted white. The straps that held the jerrycans
were painted white and the end of the gun barrel polished. The six prisoners were good
lads and worked hard. At the time we were billeted in a house in a tree lined square with a
small lane leading up to a bar. By now cigarettes were the currency of the day and for ten
cigarettes you could buy ten beers. At lunchtime we would take the prisoners to the bar
with us, throw a couple of packets of cigarettes on the table and fill the table with beer.
The Regimental cook was a big man from Lancashire. He asked if our prisoners knew
how to cook and I told him that I thought so. He gave them a stove lit with kerosene, the
sort that had to be pumped up, a bucket and some tins of M & V. They had only brought
with them some slices of hard black bread and some sausage. They emptied the tins into
the bucket to heat up the food. They thought it was marvellous.

Each day we ate our dinner in a hall with a piano on a stage at the end of the room. An old
blind man was a beautiful piano player and each day he would be led to the piano where

he would play for us all those beautiful German waltzes. After we had finished our meal
the cooks would provide the old man his dinner. He came every day to play for us at
mealtime, a lovely old man.

Hanover wasnt all rubble. Herrenhausen, a suburb of Hanover, was practically untouched.
The street where we were billeted hadnt had a bomb on it, although the regimental office
was situated in a bombed building. I was at No. 4 Palmstrasse, a large house with a
number of floors. I was on the ground floor with two other troopers, both Irishmen, one
southern and one northern with me sleeping in between. There was a piano on one side of
the room and a large dresser on the other. The bathroom was across the hall but there was
no hot water. We did have electricity and I managed to acquire a radio. The lads on the
floor above heard me playing the radio and asked if they could rig up a speaker for their
room. I agreed but over time my radio got quieter and quieter until I could hardly hear it,
even at full volume. I went upstairs and found every room had got a speaker running from
my radio. I put a stop to it by pulling out the cable and then the sound from my radio at
full volume almost deafened me.

We had a variety of guard duties, spending about a week on one particular installation then
moving to another for a change of scenery. When on guard duty we made sure we were
spick and span. It wasnt too difficult to make the change from being in action to going
back to the bull again. We knew now how to make the most of it with the least effort. The
main concern was with the boots, gaiters and overcoat buttons. The guard duties were not
very onerous. Stealing by the Germans was not a big problem but there were a lot of
displaced persons, mainly from the Baltic States, roaming the streets. Everyone was
starving and they were a particular problem. They were keen on stealing bicycles, as that
was virtually the only means of getting around for civilians.

With the army requisitioning all the good housing, the civilians had to live together in the
cellars or in boarded up damaged buildings. There was a ban on fraternising with the
Germans, which remained in force until August. It was a serious offence to flout the ban
but we took our chances when we could. The children, in particular, benefited from our
sweet ration. We never ate any ourselves, always saving the chocolates and the sweets for
the kids. It wasnt their war. It used to be said that the tanks carried more confectionary

than ammunition. I acquired a German girlfriend, Deisella Beckman, who lived at No. 30
Holtenoffstrasse. She was a very pretty girl but it was all very innocent. I would give her a
cigarette and she would say that she couldnt smoke it in the street; it was too public, that
she would smoke it afterwards. Of course I knew that the cigarette would be taken home
for her father or be used as currency on the black market. At the time all the Germans
were employed in cleaning bricks from the rubble to help with the rebuilding and they
could earn thirty marks a week. Acquiring a couple of cigarettes from their boyfriends in
an evening was worth quite a lot to them. The girls were more or less like little prostitutes.

Not long after we arrived in Hanover a terrible thing happened. We had to dispose of our
tanks; they werent needed anymore. It was quite a wrench. We took the tanks onto a slip
road of the autobahn and just left them there. It was a very sad parting. We were to be
issued with armoured cars, vehicles more suitable for the city patrols. I thought armoured
cars were anathema to tank men and didnt want to be the driver of one. Instead I managed
to be allocated a three-ton truck fitted out as a personnel carrier with black plastic covered
seats in the back. With this I got the job of duty truck driver carrying people around,
delivering people to hospital and taking leave parties down to Brussels. It meant I didnt
have to do the guard duties at night or the armoured car patrols. One notable passenger of
mine, although not in the truck but in a jeep, was General Sir Brian Horrocks. He was
giving a talk in Hanover and I had the task of collecting him from his HQ, waiting while
he delivered his speech and returning him. He was a wonderful man, a real gentleman.

The Regiment organised a number of recreational activities. Quite early on we had a
swimming gala in the baths in Herrenhausen Park. The fraternisation ban was on and we
couldnt take any of the German girls with us. In August the Regiment held a sports day
and the ban was virtually non-existent by then. Captain Coates, the education officer,
opened up the Herrenhausen Theatre. We were set the task of scouring the public houses
in the outlying villages for costumes for the operas that had been deposited in various
places for safekeeping. We collected them from the attics and hung them from the bars of
the three tonner to deliver them back to the theatre. In good weather the cast of the opera
practised in the open air in Herrenhausen Park while the theatre was being refurbished. If
the weather wasnt so good they would rehearse in the Mess hall. We would sit around
watching. I was very keen on classical music and it was marvellous to listen to them.
There was a young girl in the cast, just a couple of years older than I was and I used to

have conversations with her. Her name was Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, a lovely girl. She
became very famous in later years. With the theatre opened we received visiting concert
parties. One of the plays performed was Sweeny Todd the Barber with Tom Slaughter
playing the part of Sweeny Todd. In my job as duty driver I picked him up and delivered
him to the theatre as I also did on another occasion for a very nice red haired girl called
Kay Kendal.

There was a big Red Shield Club in Hanover and there we could obtain bulk supplies of
ice cream. At the brewery near where we were billeted I obtained a small barrel of beer.
We took our large thermos flasks to the Red Shield Club and filled them with ice cream to
have a bit of a party in Herrenhausen Park. All the local children came to get a helping of
ice cream. Next door to the billet lived a girl of about sixteen whose legs were in irons.
Although not allowed to fraternize with the Germans and the squadron office was on the
opposite side of the street we took this girl down the stairs in her wheelchair, put her in the
three tonner and drove her to the park to the party. She wasnt a nice girl but being
crippled you could understand it. Im sure her mother appreciated the action. They were
happy days, it was summertime and the weather was good.

The war against Japan was still raging and there was no thought of any demobilisation
taking place before that was over. On the 15th of August we heard that the Japanese had
surrendered and VJ Day was celebrated on the 17th of August. Finally the world was at
peace. Demobilisation, when it started, was to be a protracted affair and it was to be
almost two years before my turn would come round. Life continued to be pleasant. We had
good entertainment. Geraldo and his Orchestra gave a concert at the Theatre, as did Louis
Levy and his Big Band. There were lots of tip-top shows put on for us. There was also
plenty of hard work. Eventually the Control Commission, civil servants for the civil
administration of the city, came out from England and started to take over our duties. The
guard duties were taken over by the Control Commissions own German security force
and things eased up for us so that we could return to our own duties. Soon our time was up
in Hanover and on the 18th of October the Regiment moved to the Brunswick area in the
Harz Mountains. The Regiment was split up with A and B Squadrons moving to
Vienenburg, C Squadron to Bad Harzburg and RHQ to Wltingerode.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

BERLIN

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and reiterated at the Potsdam Conference in
July/August 1945, the three great Powers, the United States of America, the Soviet Union
and Great Britain determined the way that Germany would be administered once the war
was over. Germany and Austria, as defined by the pre war boundaries, were to be
partitioned into Allied Occupation Zones, while the annexed territories would revert back
to their previous status. The capitals, Berlin and Vienna, would also have occupation
zones shared by the three participants of the conference with the additional participation of
France. France was also granted the occupation of two small enclaves of Germany but at
the expense of the USA and Great Britain occupation zones. In both Germany and Austria
the capital cities were situated well within the Soviet occupation zone. The Western Allies
were guaranteed an air corridor into their sectors of Berlin and the Soviets also informally
allowed road and rail access between West Berlin and West Germany, as the Western
Allies sectors became known. The Soviet occupied zone of Germany corresponded
roughly with the area of their conquests and the western boundary ran southwards from
Lbeck on the Baltic Sea to Hof on the border of Czechoslovakia. The British occupied
the northern part of Germany, the US central and southern Germany with the French
enclaves to the west of the US zone. By road from the British zone to Berlin was a
distance of approximately 125 miles (200 km).

The Soviet Union had been an uneasy ally of Britain and America and as the war ended
the Soviets became increasingly intractable in their dealing with the West. The borders
between the Soviet zone and the West became points of potential conflict as the Soviet
Union sought the repatriation of Soviet citizens who had escaped to the west and the
prevention of further migration westward from the Soviet Occupied Zone. In Berlin,
although movement between the various occupation zones was possible, for westerners in
the Soviet sector there was always the danger of incidents that could easily lead to arrest
and diplomatic incidents. With the move of the 13th/18th Hussars to the Harz Mountains the
task of patrolling the border with the Soviet Zone to prevent refugees entering the British
Zone fell to the troopers.

* * * *


The area we were sent to was very attractive with mountains and pine forests and lovely
little towns like Goslar that were untouched by the war. I was stationed in Vienenburg and
our billets were in an agricultural college. The accommodation consisted of a series of
small rooms with just enough room for two beds. The rooms were accessed through the
adjacent rooms and it was a quaint place. In recent times it has been used as a girls
college and on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day tour I revisited the place. It was just the
same as when I was there. The town was a small place and we got to know the locals.
Dances were held and Balaclava Day was celebrated there. I got home leave from
Vienenburg, my first real leave. Christmas was celebrated in the usual way with the
officers serving the men with their Christmas dinner. Time passed with few memorable
moments to relieve the routine, a big contrast to the previous winter.

We had to take part in border patrols through the winter, tramping about through the snow
on the border between the Russian sector and ours. Each night girls would come and plead
with us to let them through so they could escape the rapes and maltreatment that was
endemic in the Russian zone. It was more than your life was worth to let them through, a
court martial offence. We just turned them back. They would go off and try somewhere
else and maybe some got through. We saw the Russian soldiers but had no contact with
them. They looked in a terrible state with rags wrapped round their feet. They looked more
like prisoners of war than soldiers.

In April 1946 we moved to Immendorf, a small place to the east of Salzgitter and about
seventeen miles north of Vienenburg. There we were accommodated in the Hermann
Gring works office block. It was a large office block and we were situated on the top
floor. It was over 900 steps to reach our floor and there were no lifts in operation. It was a
long walk from Vienenburg but a girlfriend of mine and her friend walked or hitch-hiked
to where we were staying to see us. Because of the distance they had to stay the night but
were not allowed in the office block, so they stayed in a barn that a friend and I found for
them. We threw two blankets down from the top floor of the block to the girls below and
went with them to the barn where we all spent the night. The following morning it was not
possible to smuggle the blankets back in so we let the girls have them together with some
chocolates and they set off to walk back. The girls would find the blankets useful as they

made coats, which they called mantles, out of them. We didnt see the girls again after
that.

In May I was granted compassionate leave to marry my girlfriend in England. I had met
Audrey, who lived in Petworth, West Sussex, in 1944 when I was posted to the south of
England prior to the invasion and had subsequently taken her to meet my family during
my convalescence leave in April 1945. I was married on the 11th of May 1946 at the Parish
Church of St. Mary, Petworth and after a very brief honeymoon had to return to Germany
to continue with my army service.

In June I was sent with a detachment of the Regiment to Spandau prison in Berlin for
guard duties, relieving the Life Guards Squadron. Spandau Prison was due to be
requisitioned by the Allies to house Nazis war criminals after the Nuremberg Trials. To get
to Berlin our detachment had to drive in convoy through the Soviet Occupation Zone, a
journey of about 150 miles. The convoy consisted of a number of armoured cars, my truck
carrying some passengers and a service vehicle, a half-track, in case anyone broke down. I
was at the rear with the half-track and my vehicle kept breaking down, requiring the
attention of the fitter. It was probably due to contaminated fuel as the engine would go for
so long and then stop. We fell further and further behind the convoy and the situation
started to become serious. It was very dangerous to be in the Soviet sector after nightfall.
We limped on and eventually made the barracks at Spandau just as the rest of the
detachment were preparing a mounted patrol to retrace their steps and find us, and fight
our way back if necessary. Relations with the Russians were very fraught at that time.

We were accommodated in the barracks attached to the prison but as I was the transport
driver I, and a companion, were situated in a block next to the guardroom at the entrance
immediately opposite the squadron office where we would be available to be called out at
any time. The detachment provided guards for both the prison and the Commander in
Chiefs residence, which was situated on the side of the Wannsee Lake. This was a big
property and had the benefit of a yacht moored on the lake. There were also night patrols
in the British sector using the armoured cars. I wasnt involved in any of the guard duties
because of my transport responsibilities and never got to see any of the prisoners. My job
was to take the guard detachments from the barracks to the C-in-Cs residence and any

other collection and delivery services. Life was very comfortable. We had Germans
working for us and an old lady of about seventy cleaned our billet. With only two of us in
the block we had the run of the place and in the hot weather it wasnt unusual for us to be
caught stark naked on our way to the showers by the old lady. She was very nice; she
would darn our socks for us and provide other little services. We also had the use of a
German ex-serviceman. He had been a sergeant on the Russian front where he had been
wounded. He showed me his leg, which had been riddled with machine gun bullets. It was
a wonder how he managed to get home. He had no time for the Russians and said we
should have been fighting on the same side against them, as we were so much alike. I
bought a radio set, a Telefunken with push button controls, impossible to obtain in
England. I wanted a box to carry it in and the sergeant made one for me, nicely painted
and with carrying straps attached. He also painted my kit bag with my name and service
number shown in German characters and with the regimental badge in blue and gold.
After I returned to civvy street I donated the kit bag and some other artefacts to the
Regimental Museum in Barnsley.

I had a wonderful time in Berlin. I was there for about four and a half months. We lived
like millionaires using our cigarettes as currency. We still drew on our BFCs (British
Forces Currency) that we used for small change but the value of virtually everything was
in cigarettes. Although I was now married I got friendly with a German girl who lived just
round the corner from the barracks. We had a little path behind the barracks and the
boundary fence had a loose railing that we could get through to save us going past the
guardroom. Together with a friend, this girl showed us the sights of Berlin. The British
sector comprised the boroughs of Charlottenburg, Tiergarten, Wilmersdorf and Spandau.
The Charlottenburg borough bordered on the Brandenburg Gate, which was the junction
of the British, American and Russian zones. It was an important crossing point between
the sectors. The trams were running and as soldiers we didnt have to pay the fare. Large
parts of Berlin were still rubble, a year after the end of the war. Most of the houses were
just walls. It was a very hot summer and the smell of death from bodies trapped in the
ruins was still there. The Reichstag was in the Russian sector but only a couple of streets
from the Brandenburg Gate. The Reich Chancellery was down a narrow street and on the
right was a flattened area with the remains of a bungalow where Dr. Joseph Goebbels had
lived, before he and his wife committed suicide after killing their six young children. We
prodded around the rubble there and I managed to find a brooch. It was a nice brooch and
it looked as if it was made from gold with an amber jewel in it. I brought it home when I

came out of the Army and gave it to my mother. It is still in the familys keeping. We went
into the Reichstag past the pillars on the building that were pitted with shrapnel. There
were Russian soldiers working in the grounds clearing rubble and when they saw us they
stood to attention and gave us a salute, which we returned. They must have thought we
were officers with our collardogs, brass epaulettes and white lanyard. We entered the
building, found Hitlers toilet, which we used, visited his bedroom and then went to the
back of the Reichstag to look for the place where his burnt body had been discovered.
Bonfires leave their traces on the ground for a long time but there was no sign of it. At the
top of Kaiserdamm was a Churchill Club where we could get a meal but we were not
allowed to take our girls in. They had to stand outside while we had our meal, waiting
until we came out with some cakes and confectionary for them. Inside there was usually a
little orchestra, which would take requests. The meals were ridiculously cheap as was
whisky or champagne. Not far from the Commander-in-Chiefs residence on the lakeside
was a kind of marina where you could hire rowing boats. I loved rowing and would take
my girlfriend on the lake to a small island where there was a little grotto. There were no
swimming baths near the barracks and the lake was the next best thing. Because there
were only about 130 of us in the detachment from the regiment it wasnt practical to
participate in inter-divisional sports and in any case there were an awful lot of guard duties
for the C-in-C. There was a lot of bull but we could put up with that.

My sport in Berlin was competition shooting and I was a member of the Regimental
shooting team. I had a lot of practice with a chap called Barker on the military range in the
Weber Barracks at Spandau. I used one of the new Mark IV rifles with a rubber butt and a
sling to the side. I practised with this and I could pick out the bull at thirty yards without
difficulty. It was hot weather and all I was wearing was a shirt, and without protection, the
recoil from a rifle could be painful. I saw the MO about my shoulder and he gave me some
cream and cotton wadding to fasten to my shoulder when I was shooting. In Berlin there
was a rifle range at Ruhleben, which was unusual in that the targets were in pairs with
trees in between, unlike our ranges where the targets were ranged in a line. As a member
of the Regimental shooting team I participated in an open competition at Ruhleben but I
wasnt allowed to use the Mark IV rifle so I shot with a Canadian Ross, which I had
always liked, even though it was a First World War rifle. I managed three bulls at 500
yards in the individual shoot before an interloper walked out from the trees into my line of
fire. I had to stop firing and my major, who was standing behind me, waved his arms to
clear the way. The interruption disturbed my concentration and my next two shots were

two inners and I ended up with a score of 18 points. My opponent in the shoot was a
member of the Control Commission for Germany and was a Bisley man. He had all the
gear, telescope, leathers, sling and shooting hat. He scored 19 points putting me into
second place. The Regimental team was also second in the competition, losing to the
Grenadiers, which wasnt bad for a cavalry regiment. There were a number of interregimental competitions using a variety of arms. I was never any good with a pistol, not
bad with a Thompson machine gun, but with a rifle I was very good.

I was often called upon to go on fatigues to collect rations for the detachment. My truck
wasnt a suitable vehicle so I had to go with the fatigue party to Berlin every two of three
days. The supplies were picked up from a big hangar and inside would be arrayed the
stalls for vegetables, potatoes and dry goods. You would work your way down one side,
along the top and back down the other side collecting the supplies according to the number
of men you were catering for. It was just like a big market. As I reached the top left hand
corner the corporal in charge of the cigarette counter said that he knew me. I looked at him
and replied that I knew him also. It was Tommy Dobson from Barnard Castle. Every time
I went in there afterwards there was a two hundred pack of cigarettes, and anything else
that was going, shoved in the supplies for me. As already recounted, cigarettes were
currency all over Germany and that was a huge benefit to me. I arranged to meet up with
Tommy and his girl friend and with my girl we went to the cinema together. I discovered
eventually that Tommy married his German girlfriend, and brought her back to live in
Barnard Castle despite the many obstacles put in the way of such relationships by the
Army.

Sadly the time came when it was my turn to go on leave. I went to see Major Norris, my
commanding officer, to see if I could put it off. With a bit more experience and suitable
excuses I probably could have worked it but the major said no I had to go. The Army were
very concerned when you got involved with the local girls and whisked you off if there
was any danger of it becoming serious. I had no choice but to take my leave.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

DEMOB

As I left Charlottenburg station for the long, three-day journey to Barnard Castle I knew I
would not be returning to Berlin. It had been a happy time. While the detachment was in
Berlin the Regiment had relocated to Wolfenbttel, a short distance from Immendorf, and
it was to there that I returned in November 1946. The winter of 1946/47 was very hard and
it was fortunate that we were in modern barracks. Wolfenbttel had been built as a cavalry
barracks for the German SS Panzers in 1936. It had central heating, double-glazing and
undercover accommodation for vehicles, and was generally very comfortable. The
13th/18th Hussars were the first British troops to occupy the barracks and coincidently the
last before it was handed back to the Germans a few years ago. Life continued to be very
pleasant but I was married now and had to restrict my amorous liaisons. I continued with
my shooting, as did my compatriot Barker. It was probably because of this that I was
selected for one of the most unpleasant tasks I had to perform in the post war period.

I returned to the barracks one night in a fairly happy state after having had a few beers but
on looking at the notice board I discovered I was scheduled to form part of a firing squad
the next morning. It was lucky that I spotted the notice, as the notice board wasnt
something you read every time you passed it. I went and saw the Sergeant Major who
confirmed that it was so and that he should have told me earlier. I had to be ready quite
early in the morning to get the truck that would take us to the local Police Station. At the
scheduled time, six of us, dressed in our best battledress, together with an officer, were
picked up by the truck and taken to the Police Station. There we were all issued with a clip
of ammunition of five rounds, all live ammunition, there were no blanks, which we loaded
into our Mark IV rifles. We were told the condemned men were Poles who had been
convicted of rape. We were put in a line and the first man was brought out. He was a small
man and he was tied to the post standing in the yard. We were only a few yards away. A
piece of paper was clipped to his chest, on his heart, as an aiming point. He was
blindfolded but by then he was getting agitated. The Lieutenant ordered us to fire and we
fired. I wasnt going to miss from that distance. The man slumped, the body was cut loose
from the post and another two men carried him away on a stretcher. He didnt die well. As
he was being taken out the second man was brought in. He was a big fellow. He looked
down on his friend, went to the post and held his head up to be blindfolded. He died well.
They took him away on the stretcher and we were dismissed and taken into the police

station. There we were given a bottle of whisky between the six of us but not everyone
was feeling up to taking any. We were taken back to the barracks, got changed into our
working clothes and went for breakfast. It didnt affect me at all. It was just another job,
an experience. A few years later in 1950 I was playing in a band in a concert at Durham
Gaol. After the concert we were given a tour of the prison and shown the condemned
cells. The death sentence was still in force at that time. The Padre of the prison took us
into one of the cells so I can say as well as carrying out the death sentence I have also
been in a condemned cell.

In 1942 when I had originally tried to sign up with the Royal Navy I had actually been
conscripted into the Army. I had not signed up for a set number of years and consequently
I was waiting for my turn to be demobbed. This depended on the group you were placed
in. The criteria were how old you were and how long had you served and then a formula
was applied to work out your priority. Some of the older sergeants were grouped around
the mid twenties and had started leaving the Regiment shortly after the end of the war. The
magic formula worked out that I was in Group 47 that was scheduled to be demobbed in
1947. I had to start thinking about what I would do after I left the Army. I had been just a
youngster when I joined and had no particular skills apart from what I had learned during
the spell with the Fire Service. I decided that I would like to be a long distance driver or a
bus driver. Most of the tank men went into this kind of occupation. At the Regiment there
was a big AC Matador armoured radio vehicle. It was a big vehicle and ideal for learning
how to drive a heavy goods vehicle. The Army were very helpful and I was allowed to
practise on this truck in my spare time, driving it around the camp to get used to it. It was
a big help towards passing my civilian HGV driving test when I left the Army.

I finally got a date for leaving, April 1947, almost two years since the war ended. I had to
go in a group for a final interview with the Colonel. I dont think I had spoken to the
Colonel before in all the time I had been in the Regiment. He thanked us for what we had
done. After the chat he asked two of us to stay behind as the rest were dismissed. My
friend and I were told that if we were to sign on as regulars we could walk out of his office
with three stripes on our arm. It was very tempting. I could have gone home on leave a
sergeant, joined the Regiment when it went to Malaya and finished up a Sergeant Major
with a good pension. I told the Colonel that I had recently been married and that the
answer had to be no. I had enjoyed my time in the Army. I had done two years since the

end of the war but they had been happy years.



A group of us were being demobbed at the same time. We travelled home together, a very
happy gang. I should have requested that I was demobbed at Aldershot, which wasnt very
far from where my wife was living but I didnt and it was good to be with your mates for
those last few days. We arrived at York station where a truck met us and took us to the
demob centre. I remember the daffodils were in full bloom after a very hard winter. We
were fitted out with civilian clothes. There was a choice between sports jacket and flannels
or suits, a trilby hat, which I had never worn in my life before, and shirts and the rest. I
chose a suit. The style was the same for all, double breasted with wide trouser bottoms.
My choice was a navy blue pin striped suit. We could buy our army greatcoats for thirty
shillings. Mine was a very good coat, which had served me well so I took it and had it
dyed navy blue. For a long time after I was uncomfortable in civilian clothes, I never felt
right in them. My army jacket and trousers I retained and had them dyed navy blue and
used them for work. From the demob centre I travelled down to Petworth to join my wife
and begin civilian life.

It was difficult to settle into civilian life. Most civilians had not been in the army and the
war was now two years ago. I was a North Country lad living in the South. I was out of
place. I had lost all my army mates. I managed to get a nice job at a garage locally run by
an ex RAF bomber pilot, a man named Nicholson. He had won the DSO but unfortunately
he died after a year from wounds he had received while on service. After that I returned to
the North.

How we did the things we did during the war is something I still wonder about. I must
have been very hard and unfeeling. It was all to do with the training we received and the
circumstances we found ourselves in. Of my experiences I think the events in the
Reichswald were the worst. The bocage of Normandy was a nightmare of hedges and
ambushes but the weather was warm, although wet. The Reichswald and the Ardennes
were bitterly cold and it was the cold that got to you. It takes away all the enthusiasm you
have for doing anything. My officer, Mr MacMichael, was a grand chap, only in his early
twenties but a college chap with a good head on his shoulders. He always set a calm
example; you dont need someone who is hot headed to be a leader. The man I admired

most in all of my service was Sergeant Tommy Buck, a Yorkshireman. He was only three
years older than I was and yet he had been at Dunkirk. He was gentle, no shouting or
carrying on but as hard as nails. He received the Military Medal for his exploits on D-Day
and went through tanks at an alarming rate. When I left the Army I joined the Regimental
Association. The first few years after leaving you are so bound up with your family and
making a career for yourself that it is difficult to get involved but as the years pass it
becomes important to chase all those old friends up through the Association and meet at
the annual dinners. Our visits to the Regiment as veterans are looked forward to while
ever we are able to participate. In joining the Regiment you joined a family and like any
family you always remain part of it.












AFTERWORD

The return to civilian life wasnt easy for Ronald Henderson. He had married during his
service in the Army but had not lived with his wife until demobilisation. He had entered
the Army at eighteen without having any clear idea as to what sort of career he wanted to
pursue so that when he came out of the army everything about civilian life was new to
him. The last two years in the Army had been very pleasant for him. He had few cares,
plenty of money, or its equivalent, and lots of friends. For a man who had made friends
easily, life in the South was a lonely existence, which married life didnt wholly
compensate for. At that time he wasnt an easy man to get on with. There were the aftereffects from his war experiences. At night he was troubled by recurrent visions of faces,
dreadful, unrecognisable faces. At that time there wasnt the psychological support that is
such a feature of modern life. Everyone had to deal with their problems in their own way.
After about a year working in a garage, the person running the business died, and Ronnie
decided he had to return to his roots in the Northeast. He obtained a job as a long distance
driver and often found himself working seven days a week away from home. The marriage
managed to produce four children but with his constant absences there was a lot of marital
stress and eventually he succumbed to a nervous breakdown. Afterwards there were a
number of attempts to keep the marriage together but inevitably it ended in divorce.

Life in the Northeast wasnt all trauma. He joined a brass band where he played the
euphonium. The performances of the band gave him opportunities to meet a great variety
of people and he happily hob-nobbed with the local gentry when the band played in the
stately homes in the area. He kept up his interest in the band all his life and eventually ran
and conducted the youth section.

After a number of years living the life of a bachelor, in 1971 he remarried and resettled in
Barnard Castle. Edna, his wife, was a well-educated woman and stimulated his interest in
reading and writing. He also became more involved in the Regimental Association and in
tracing his old colleagues. He enjoyed the annual get-togethers at Barnsley and was a keen
participant in the pilgrimages to France organised by the Association. As the years went
by he felt enormously drawn to the family that was the Regiment. It was a matter of

chance that he was selected to serve in such a regiment as the 13th/18th Royal Hussars but
he took full benefit from that chance and there was no prouder member. Apart from the
campaign medals, he didnt win any medals but as he always said, I didnt do any
fighting, I was only the driver.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This account of the experiences of Ronald Henderson was made possible by the use of
recordings made by the Imperial War Museum, London, as part of its policy of archiving
the personal accounts of a wide variety of individuals involved in the Second World War.
My thanks are given to the Imperial War Museum for approval for the use of these
archives, in the way I have, to reconstruct a narrative of the life of a single individual.

While the experiences of Ronald Henderson are central to the book, the scene setting and
the historical notes have drawn on much wider sources. Apart from the general knowledge
that is part of the memory of those who lived at the time of the events described, and I
count myself as one of that number, there are a variety of sources that have been of
particular help in developing the overall picture. The publication by Chisman, Bradshaw,
Ltd of the History of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Marys Own) 1922-1947 by
Maj-General C.H. Miller published in 1949, was a vital source of confirmation of the
events recalled by Ronald Henderson and also provided details of the campaigns of the
Regiment that were outside the knowledge of the ordinary soldier. D-Day and the
Normandy Campaign has been the subject of numerous books and articles but the ones
most influential in developing my appreciation of the unfolding of the events and the
logistics involved were:

Eagles and Bulldogs in Normandy1944 by Michael Reynolds (Spellmount)
Decision in Normandy by Carlo DEste (Penguin Books)
Overlord, D-Day and the Battle for Normandy 1944 Max Hastings (Pan Books)
Montys Marauders by Patrick Delaforce (Tom Donovan Publishing Ltd.)
Other sources were:

By Tank into Normandy by Stuart Hills (Cassell)
Troop Leader, A Tank Commanders Story by Bill Bellamy (Sutton Publishing)
D-Day 1944, Voices from Normandy by Robin Neillands and Roderick de Normann

(Cassell)
The Fighting Wessex Wyverns by Patrick Delaforce (Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd.)
Charging Against Napoleon by Eric Hunt (Leo Cooper)
History of the Home Guard (www.home-guard.org.uk)
History of National Service (www.britisharmedforces.org)
The 60th Anniversary commemorative booklets, (COI Communications.)
The D-Day Landings Northern France 6 June 1944
The Drive on Caen
The Final Battle for Normandy
A Short History of the 8th Armoured Brigade (www.warlinks.com)
Victory in the West, Sword Beach excerpts (warchronicle.com)
Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine (Wikipedia)
Operation Market Garden, 17-27 September 1944 (www.historyofwar.org)
Remember September 1944 (www.rememberseptember44.com)
Battle of the Bulge (Wikipedia)
Siegfried Line (Wikipedia)
Ninth United States Army (Wikipedia)
The Final Offensive Against Germany (www.worldwariihistory.info)
A Brief History of the U.S. Army in World War II (www.history.army.mil)
Hobarts Funnies (www.geocities.com)
Equipment Used By the Tank Regiments by Ian A Paterson (www.btinternet.com)
The Covenanter Tank in Detail by Peter Brown (www.missing-lynx.com)
Tehran Conference (Wikipedia)
The Casablanca Conference (www.nisk.k12.ny.us)
The Royal Navy and Operation Neptune (www.royal-navy.mod.uk)

Sherman Tank

Trooper Ronald Henderson was conscripted into the British Army in 1942 at the age of
eighteen. He subsequently joined the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Marys Own),
became a tank driver, and was involved in the D-Day landings in France in 1944. He
fought through the whole of the Northern European campaign and was part of the
occupying forces until his demobilisation in 1947. This book recounts his memories from
early childhood until leaving the army for civilian life.