It was written shortly before he died in Then did a bit of LDV preliminaries on the grammar school football pitch. Armour, one broomstick, marching etc. This sort of feverish activity did not last long but gas masks continued. I qualified for 3 — an ordinary common one, then later a Civilian Service one and then a Services one.
As outbreak of war approached there was hectic preparation at Council Offices, packing and labelling of records and vacation of space to accommodate Civil Defence. I had to take charge of Financial Records, Files, etc. I was due to marry on 6th September but War, declared on 3rd September, meant cancelled honeymoon but a special concession of 1 day off for wedding.
The sand was reclaimed ashes from council tips, the bags were fairly open hessian and it absolutely teemed down.
Hoist soggy bag, thick juice flowed up arms, down armpits and everywhere else. My joy was complete as I saw, pipe in mouth, smirking, a Councillor who seemed highly amused.
Wedding Day, carrying gas mask, turned out lovely, although I had been handling a ton of coal delivered that morning to our new home. Decorators had to do a rush job, which they did and celebrated by spreading dried peas etc.
Life settled happily and by I had transferred my voluntary activity to the Auxiliary Fire Service.
Fatigue seemed worse a full 24 hours after call out. It had been choked out. Before turning out, of course, I had to see wife and daughter safe down the cellar. Stand-by time at the station was spent either playing the piano honky-tonk quality snooker or snacks. When this showed signs of terminating my wife took up paid work first in the Food Office and then as a clerk in the Electricity Office, with the Council. Stuffy barrack room, top bed on a 3-tier bunk.
We recruits were received into the Main Hall of the Castle, big open fireplaces both ends fired with full size Pit props. Spam sandwich and mug of Cocoa. We never saw that Hall again.
Made a trio with a man of similar age and an 18 year old from Hull and when I sought to find the nearest Methodist Church they volunteered to walk 2 miles or so with me.
We helped each other to settle. My various items of kit, jabs and aptitude tests followed over the first two weeks, then followed square bashing, rifle drill, bayonet drill, trench digging and crawling with rifle. Further tests of temperament and attitude made them put me to Cipher Training, my ability to concentrate being the key.
It was now nearly March and mornings were not so dark and cold. We had to take square drill on our own, watched of course by Regular Instructors. One chap with a weak voice let us get out of earshot and with Arms at the Trail arms length and horizontal left us heading straight for the corrugated cover at one end of the Square, and you can imagine the clatter as the muzzles hit the metal.
At firing practise I did very well and got 8 holes out of 5 shots on my target, and the grouping was good enough to pass me. The man on my left had aimed at my target and had to wait a week to retake his test. We were each given an Ordnance map and a Compass, sent out in an enclosed lorry driven out into the countryside, dropped individually at wide intervals and then find our way to a rendezvous at say 3 p.
Failure to get there meant find your own way back. I failed to rendezvous but eventually got to Reeth where I found there would be a bus to Richmond at 8 p. Arrived in Richmond late but found another bus to camp but unfortunately the lad behind me had had too much drink, the bus shook a bit, he exploded and I got the benefit. Got to bed at last, got ready for Church Parade at the Methodist Church, my responsibility to report to the Signals Corporal outside the Church.
I was marched into the Orderly Room and when questioned claimed that I had been there. It turned out alright in the end. Spring was glorious and the streets and lanes in Tenterden a mass of flowers — primroses, fruit blossom, wild flowers — bliss.
After Signal Office night duty, a wash, shave, breakfast and then out into the fields. Feeling a Philistine treading on primroses, found a nice sunny spot laid down and slept. Too good to last and were uprooted and in a convoy moved into a marshalling area, which turned out to be London, West Ham Greyhound Stadium.
The convoy journey there was fantastic with people lining the route cheering us and offering sweets, drinks, just anything and everything they had. It struck me that we were probably already better fed than them. As we neared London we became impressed by the number of captive balloons.
The stadium accommodation was rank upon rank of 3-tier bunks, some of which protected by corrugated iron roofing. On our first night in West Ham we were deafened by the box-barrage and the peppering of shrapnel on the iron roof.
In our hold there were of us, some 80 to in shallow hung hammocks, and the rest of us bedrolls edge to edge on the lower hatch covers. There were one or two blue lights to help us grope our way. Sea-sickness or nature made visits necessary and you can imagine the crawlings, groans, cursings etc.
One satisfaction, as we moved down the Thames Estuary, was a V1 passing fairly low over us, moving in the same direction as us. A flash, an explosion, smell of cordite, a shell tearing the air apart and a poor seabird disappearing in a cloud of feathers. Next morning, on deck, we saw we were part of a huge convoy of ships of all kinds and sizes guarded by a cruiser, 2 destroyers and smaller but faster naval craft. Later in the voyage we could see what looked like a near wreck tethered to a line of fence posts.
As we neared land the sea got rougher and stayed so for 6 days during which time we had to ride at anchor; all the others doing the same. Add to this, spotter aircraft — small biplanes and Lysanders, exploding depth charges and German magnetic mines, life was never dull. Sea explosions brought up stunned fish, which were cleverly caught in empty dry-ration tins converted to colanders.
Lucky anglers managed to get the ships galley to cook them. Our food in this period was ships biscuits, ration chocolate, self-heating soup, the latter quite welcome. The heating was achieved by a tube built-in, activated by removing the tip, having first pierced two air holes. Hot soup poured into enamel mug and enjoyed.
Soup tin was holed at the bottom to ensure its sinking when pitched overboard. Less enjoyable were the following facts: Our Reconnaissance Unit, housed amidships with transport on deck and transport below, was mined, set on fire and was a total loss of men and equipment. There were other losses too. Spotter aircraft used bulldozed landing strips, which were very dusty and so disclosed their locations.
Dust was kept down by spraying with heavy fuel oil, which also impregnated the air and fell at night filling our ships holds and our lungs. As the sun rose, so did the temperature and the fumes. The area was fairly firm sand dunes, and we on foot had followed to help with the de-proofing. It was dusk and soon dark as we worked but I had time to notice in lulls between battle noises a bird singing beautifully of course a Nightingale and in the low dune grasses there were glow worms.
Now we were functional.
It will be perfectly legal, at that point. And so I kept talking, recounting how I had chased some Communists out of our backyard by shooting at them with my Potato Pistol.
We had landed at Courseulles, moved a short way inland unhindered and located around Caen. We could see Caen being bombed by our aircraft, the Halifaxes and Lancasters flying low in line astern, through the flac, dropping their bombs and turning for home.
Our battalions were engaged in the battle for Mt. Pincon, the dominating high land.
It proved very difficult for them but we were back a little way at H. The blast from the guns shook everyone physically but it was a re-assuring noise.
German aircraft came looking for the guns and sprayed the area and our signal office caught one or two rounds. Headway was soon made and we moved to Argentan. This was another heavy onslaught and we had a lovely fireworks display as arms dumps were set on fire. Tracer bullets are exciting in the dark. Every 5th bullet is a tracer. We had an evening field concert in this area with George Formby in person. We all had our rifles and once or twice an enemy aircraft flew over.
Everyone had a go without effect but I felt afterwards we were a bigger risk to ourselves. Amid thistles, cowpats etc. They attacked enemy convoys with their under-wing rockets, knocked out the first and last mobiles which stopped the rest to become sitting targets. Once saw a German midget submarine little damaged but totally out of its element. We even came across a piece of horse-drawn artillery on its side with the animals dead.
It was a hot late summer, and our khaki shirts got hard and shiny with sweat and our battle dresses were smelly, but we had to manage.
Our water, drinking and washing was from our water-cart and used carefully. To heat water for shaving etc. Up to 10 or so used it in turn — it was thick at the end. Our mess tin mug etc. One late evening we took some heated water behind the camouflage netting and stripped off for a much needed wash down.
Three young girls arrived on bikes and we made haste to cover our modesty. The girls were quiet but reluctant to leave, we were filthy, so we hurriedly but thoroughly washed. We ourselves saw later what their interest was.
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