Led Soldiers:
The Second World War Diaries of a Royal Hussar
By
Doug Mayman


‘Going down a road with open spaces and woods on either side, one is faced with the dilemma of either keeping one’s head out of the turret looking for enemy tanks, mines, guns or bazooka-men and risking the sniper, shells and machine gun fire or keeping well down in the turret out of the way and risk not seeing the bazooka-men. Personally, I go into action with my head out’ (Doug Mayman: March 31st 1945).


Led Soldiers reproduces the authentic diaries a member of the tank regiment, the 15th /19th King’s Royal Hussars. These diaries provide a day-by day contemporaneous account of the author’s conscription, induction and training, leading up to his experiences under fire as his regiment fought their way through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany. The fact that it follows swiftly on the heels of the very popular blog of the First World War solider, Harry Lamin, is, as you will see, a pure co-incidence. Apart from the distinct focus on the Second World War, this blog differs in two other major respects from the Harry Lamie one. Firstly, while the Lamie entries are drawn from correspondence from the front, the Led Soldiers blog will consist of day-by-day entries taken directly from the diaries and span a period of eighteen months. Its second distinctive feature is that while we are entirely happy for people to follow this blog on a daily basis, for those of you who are less patient, the diaries are also available in book form from "Authors On-line" (see link at the top right of the page). If you have an older relative who also served in the Second World War and endured similar experiences, it may well be that the book version will have greater appeal to them. The choice is, of course, yours.


An introduction to the diaries

The last entry Douglas Mayman made in his war diary was on Saturday 21st April 1945. How is it then that this two-volume diary has re-surfaced over sixty-two years later? Over most of this period it has lain, neglected and forgotten, in his loft. Some two years ago, when engaged in a rummaging exercise, he rediscovered them, dusted the volumes down and presented them to his surprised daughters. The family perused them and decided that they should be published in some form.

Doug Mayman was conscripted into the Army on September 3rd 1942. He decided to keep a diary on November 5th 1943 and his daily entries began on November 6th 1943 and continued until his return home from Germany on leave on April 21st 1945. These daily entries are preceded by a brief retrospective account of the first fourteen months of his army service. The diaries consist of two substantial, hardbound volumes and, notwithstanding their sixty-odd years of neglect, they remain in excellent condition. On opening them, the first thing that strikes one is the handwriting. Done in pen and ink, the style is uniformly elegant and clear. No doubt, such consistency would deserve to pass without comment had these diaries been written in the comfort of a study, but given the varied and, at times, primitive conditions under which some of the entries were made, this quality is quite remarkable. If, having to contend with onerous physical circumstances were not enough, some of the entries were made in the immediate aftermath of his friends and colleagues being killed or being badly burnt or suffering shattered limbs. The level of self-discipline and control involved in keeping this account can best be illustrated by reproducing an extract from the second diary; one that was written in the aftermath of a particularly traumatic episode. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: An extract from the diaries that introduces a particularly bloody episode (for an extended account of this incident see Chapter 37:19th October 1944).



The diaries were written with a fountain pen and, therefore, once he had put pen to paper the entries were irrevocable. And yet, in the whole of the two volumes there is only the odd word crossed out and not one passage rewritten. The only retrospective elements that appear in the document are a few salutary notes in the margin that were made during the course of the war and were always dated. The fact that he has resisted the temptation to tamper with the text is not only admirable in itself, it also testifies to the fact that at no point did it undergo retrospective editing. At no point has he attempted to rewrite history. Apart from the opening months, his experiences are related on a daily basis in a matter-of-fact manner, while wrestling with what, at times, must have been a spectrum of emotions that ranged from the trauma of dealing with bloody battles and bereavements to interludes of boredom where the war almost passed him by, interspersed by fleeting visits to the cinema to relieve the tension. Over these events hangs the all-consuming wish to be done with it and return to the normality of home life; to pick-up the threads of his previous existence and pursue the personal and career aspirations that were so abruptly suspended by the onset of war and his conscription. As the war in Europe drew to a close, the heightened anxiety that the author experienced is something he undoubtedly shared with the vast majority of frontline troops. The imminent defeat of Germany only served to heighten their feelings of trepidation. Would they survive intact to enjoy the fruits of peace? It doesn’t take too much imagination to empathise with the mental turmoil experienced by men who were already battle-weary, when they are informed that leave is due in a few weeks, but in the meantime they must go back into action.

The survival of the first diary was secured by the author’s decision to take it home on his final leave before his embarkation to support the earlier D-day landings. The survival of the second diary is little short of miraculous. Firstly, it spent most of the time the author was on active service in the alcoves of a number of different tanks that suffered various degrees of damage. The risk of it being destroyed, along with the tank and the crew, was never far away. On one occasion, when the crew were forced to bale out, the author returned to the smouldering tank to rescue his diary. Clearly, what he may have begun as almost an academic exercise had come to assume considerable symbolic value to him. Even if he didn’t survive, he wanted to leave behind some kind of imprint. The second threat to the diary’s existence came from his own-side. While some of his fellow troopers were aware that he was keeping a diary, he felt the need to conceal this fact from his officers. Understandably, they might have had reservations about the existence of a contemporaneous document that contained information on troop movements, tactics and references to troop morale combined with the possibility that it might fall into German hands. He too recognised this risk, but the compulsion to leave some account of the fact that he had passed this way outweighed the risks and the dangers.

As editor, first and foremost, my responsibility has been to remain as non-interventionist as possible. However, this characterisation of my role should not lead the reader to assume that I have adopted a purely passive stance. On the contrary, I took it upon myself to assume the responsibility of guardian of the text. On occasions, protecting the integrity of the text meant that I had to be quite assertive. My commitment to defending it was particularly tested by the author’s opposition to the inclusion of the first diary on the grounds that it was ‘too mundane; too boring’ to impose upon the reader. The first diary covers his induction into the Army, his training and his assignment to the 15th /19th The Kings Royal Hussars. It also covers his leisure time, periods of leave and the kind of activities and concerns that tend to fill the daily lives of all of us. In a word, it deals with the period prior to his firing a shot in anger. It provides insights into life in the round at this time. The second diary covers his landing in France and records on a day-by-day basis the horrors encountered on the drive through France, Belgium and Holland and then deep into Germany. I argued strongly for the inclusion of the first diary precisely because of the contrast in the content between it and the second diary. This link is not something peripheral to the work as a whole. The author’s earlier experiences flow into and inform his responses to and interpretations of his active service. Together, the diaries tell the story of an ordinary man, coming from a loving family and secure community who was thrust into a situation that most of us cannot imagine in our wildest nightmares. I argued that an appreciation of the ‘normality’ of his previous existence and how ill-prepared he was, as were so many others like him, for the task that lay ahead and the experiences to which he would be exposed would add to the reading experience. The contrast between the relative tranquillity of life in a market town in the Yorkshire Dales and the sights, sounds and grotesque experiences of war that the author endured is, in my view, the most illuminating lens through which to read the diaries. The reader will, of course, form his/her own judgment.

As editor, I have seen my second task as being to place myself in the position of the reader. For the most part the original diaries take the form of a day-by-day unbroken text. For ease of reading and with the author’s cooperation, I have broken his account down into chapters that are based on relatively self-contained episodes, although, of course, many of them tend to merge into one another. Some are quite short, while others run to a dozen or so pages. With one exception of Figure 26, all the figures included in the book were collected during the course of the author’s military service and were attached to the associated page in the diaries. Given the circumstances under which some of this material was gathered, it is hardly surprising that the author has lost track of the sources of some of these data.
Also when providing insider accounts it is very difficult for authors to avoid conveying their thoughts in the argot of the insider culture. Terms, initials and expressions are used that tend to make unwarranted assumptions with regard to the knowledge of the reader. I have tried to read the diaries with a view to identifying the occasions when the author employs ‘short-hand’ or makes inappropriate assumptions. Where I have felt it necessary, I offer brief clarification. For example, the first time an organisation or a piece of weaponry is mentioned in the text I have included the abbreviation in brackets immediately afterwards. Thereafter, only the abbreviation is used. If the reader later encounters an abbreviation and cannot remember what the letters stand for, a list of abbreviations is provided in the Appendix. Again, when an expression or term can be clarified by a single word or short phrase I have done so in brackets in the text. Where I have felt that a little more elaboration might assist the reader’s understanding, I have provided it in the form of footnotes that appear at the bottom of the page. The aim of this clarifying exercise has been to try to be as unobtrusive as possible.

To help provide the reader with some initial orientation, it may be useful to offer a thumbnail biography of the author. Douglas (Doug) Mayman was born in Skipton, Yorkshire on 29th October 1923. His father, Albert, originally of farming stock, was a canal transport agent, His mother, Kerry, died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five, when Doug was only three. For the next eleven years his father and his father’s sister, Jessie, brought him up. In 1937 his father remarried and had two children with his new wife, Rose: Dennis in 1939 and Sylvia in 1941.
Notwithstanding straitened economic circumstances, at the age of eleven, he won a scholarship to Ermysted’s Grammar school. He was a diligent student and also enjoyed rugby and tennis. However, financial exigencies led him to leave school in July 1939, at the age of fifteen, in order to seek employment. Two months later, on September 3rd 1939, war was declared. His first job was as a wages clerk for Rycroft and Hartley Ltd, a local textiles company. However, his stay there was short-lived as he very quickly secured marginally more lucrative employment in a Royal Ordnance Factory in nearby Steeton. The factory manufactured aircraft shells. His boss there was Stanley Mason, an accountant and a man who was destined to have a considerable influence on his post-war career.
It was during this period in his life that he acquired a rudimentary drum kit and taught himself to play and he, together with some friends, formed a band that went under the name ‘The New Rhythmists’. They played at social functions in the Yorkshire Dales and the resulting remuneration made a substantial contribution to his income. While his family were not particularly religious, church attendance was still felt to be appropriate and so he went to Methodist Sunday School, followed by Sunday evening Methodist chapel. He met his future wife, Dorothy, at a Methodist Youth Club meeting when they were both seventeen years of age.
Soon after starting his job at the Royal Ordnance Factory it became clear that there was a decision to be made. One option open to him was to register as being in a reserved occupation in the armaments industry. Alternatively, he could volunteer and go straight into the forces. He did apply to join the RAF on two occasions in January 1942, but was rejected on grounds of weak eyesight. Thereafter, he decided to let things take their course and to simply wait until he received the call to arms. When it came it constituted a radical break with his past. Prior to his conscription, apart from a trip to Liverpool with his father and a school trip to London with his junior school, he had hardly ventured much beyond the market town of Skipton.

Returning to the diaries themselves, at all times it should be borne in mind that this book is the work of someone in his late teens, early twenties. Some of the views expressed are aired under great emotional pressure; other opinions are those of a young adult still finding his way in the world. How many of us would wish to be held to account for things we said at this phase in our own lives, let alone for views expressed under conditions that are barely imaginable to most of us.
Finally, the reader can perhaps appreciate the strength of the temptation experienced by the author to begin this publication with a prologue in which he would rehearse the contents and, in the process, perhaps try to engage in retrospective rationalisations. I was of the view that if the author was given free rein to express his thoughts at this stage it might serve to colour the reader’s interpretation of the text proper. A compromise was reached. He would write a Postscript, free of any editorial oversight, in which he would be able to express his thoughts and feelings on experiences that occurred almost a lifetime ago.

Presentation and timing of the blog version

This blog will reproduce the book, the only difference being that it will be presented in instalments. On October 17th we will begin by offering the first four chapters of the book. These chapters cover the first fourteen months of Doug Mayman’s military service. They are a retrospective account of his experiences up to the point at which he decided to keep a daily diary. While lacking the spontaneity of the daily summaries, they do provide a useful backdrop to the subsequent entries and offer a flavour of what is to come. At this stage we will also include the acknowledgements, the dedication and the appendix that contains a list of the abbreviations employed in the text. Since the first daily entry in the book is November 6th 1943 we felt that it would be appropriate to begin the daily blog on November 6th of this year, some sixty-five years after the event.

We are confident that these diaries will offer readers a fascinating insight into what it was like to be engaged in tank warfare in the Second World War.

By way of a postscript The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles contains the following revelation and here I paraphrase. A shot from a German Tiger tank’s 88mm gun could penetrate the front armour of a British Cruiser tank at a range of 2,000 metres. Conversely, a Cruiser’s 57mm gun could not penetrate the front armour of a Tiger tank from a distance of one metre. The author comments: while we were aware of a discrepancy in the respective firepower of these two tanks, we certainly didn’t think that it was of this magnitude. Had we been privy to this information at the time, we would have given the Tigers an even wider berth (The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles. General editor Christopher F. Foss, Amber Books, London: 2007, p228).

Patrick Murphy
Editor

Frontispiece

Frontispiece
Doug Mayman, aged 21, in Brussels 1944

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Friday 31st December

No one would have thought that Dorothy was violently ill as we walked to the station to catch the 11:14am to Bradford. But she was, or so her boss at work thought. After a moderate lunch at Collinson’s, we looked round unsuccessfully for a portable radio, then after tea at the Co-op Café, I bought Dorothy a maroon coloured dress and we returned to catch the second house at the Regal Cinema.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Thursday 30th December

Eric Wiggan, [1] on leave from the RAF, called after dinner and we had a very pleasant afternoon reminiscing. We recalled the old jive days of the ‘New Rhythmists' and what the various members of the group were doing now. Harold Mounteer is on radio-location work in the Army, Arthur Dransfield is a Flight Mechanic in the RAF, Bob Horner is ‘reserved’ as a student attending Bradford Tech, Bob Chapman is exempt because of his gammy arm, Donald Nicholson has just joined up and Eric is a cadet in the RAF. Of course, I am a wireless operator in the Army. Perhaps we shall jive together after the war. Duck for tea. Dorothy and I stayed in, so that mother and father could go to the pictures.


[1]. Eric Wiggan was a friend of the author’s at Ermysted’s Grammar School. He was also a star member of their dance band: ‘The New Rythmists’.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Wednesday 29th December

Today was one of those days when I did many interesting things, but none of them are worthy of note. Nevertheless, it was an exceedingly enjoyable day.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Tuesday 28th December

Dorothy is back at work. I was very fortunate to get hold of a radiogram attachment at Woods for six pounds, nineteen shillings and six pence. In the afternoon, I visited my fellow jive fanatic and guitarist, Bob Horner, at 34 Princess Drive and we had a record jive session, playing nothing but real solid stuff. Dorothy and I had seen all the pictures in Skipton so we solved the problem by going to Keighley.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Monday 27th December

Cinema matinee, followed by tea at Aunty Jessie’s with my family and my Aunty Madge, Uncle Cecil and cousin Brian. Then, it’s off to the pictures again. I always did like film shows, but we often go for want of anything better to do. My father, a voluntary fireman, was on duty at the fire station, so Dorothy and I kept the home fires burning.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Sunday 26th December

Oblivion. What lovely sweet oblivion. Then I hear the gate click and casually look at my watch. It’s 11.00am. Good grief! I promised to meet Dorothy at 10:45am. I leap out of bed as if I had been stung in a very tender spot by a huge wasp. The occasion calls for a blitzkrieg wash and shave and I am downstairs within twenty minutes. Grandma is just getting up when we visit her at Burnside Avenue. A huge dinner at home puts us out of action for the afternoon. When Dorothy’s father and sister, Marian, arrive we turn the front room into a gambling den and feverishly play Newmarket for the huge stakes of a penny a time.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Saturday 25th December

Christmas Day. Dennis and Sylvia came dashing into my bedroom to tell me what Santa had brought them. They are both thrilled about it all and Dennis describes all that he has got in minute detail, including an odd ginger biscuit that slipped in somewhere. I am forced to smile. We wouldn’t be without them for the world. Last night, or rather early this morning, Dorothy and I had the first slice out of the Christmas cake and Dennis is firmly convinced that it was Father Christmas who helped himself. So this is Christmas Day 1943: the anniversary of the birth of Christ, bringing peace on earth and goodwill to all men. How ironic that sounds now when man is fighting for his very existence. Following the news that several thousand men have been slaughtered by the Nazis and that many more thousands are giving their lives heroically for their country in Italy and Russia, in other words, being slaughtered, comes the grand, joyful, exhilarating news - according to the preacher - that Christ brought peace and goodwill to earth. I cannot see it, but perhaps some day we shall see that there is some higher motive behind it all. We sit feeding ourselves, thanking the Lord for giving us Christ and bringing friendship to mankind, whilst men are blowing one another to eternity. What madness war is. Yet, there comes into our minds the thought that we are fighting for something worthwhile: freedom of thought, decency and honesty. Let’s hope that we stick by these ideals when the battle has been won.
The question is on everyone’s lips: ‘Will this be our last war-time Christmas?’ God grant it. In spite of rationing, we have a terrific Christmas dinner of chicken, duck and pork. Boy, oh boy, was it good. So was the tea we had at Dorothy’s. Again, off we go to the inevitable pictures.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Friday 24th December

Feeling more civilized inside my blue suit, I called for Dorothy and we caught the 11:14am train to Leeds. It’s grand to have the good old ‘civvies’ on again, to walk down the street with one hand in a pocket, and turn your nose up at officers. They give a peculiar feeling of freedom and a devil-may-care attitude, after the drab solemnity of khaki uniforms. On the station, we met Eva and Betty (distant relatives) going down to Doncaster to spend Christmas with Betty’s husband, Bill, so we travelled with them. On calling at Lloyds, we were informed that the set had been sent for repair. I demanded a cash refund and it was agreed that it would be sent on. After the usual lunch at the Lonsdale, we spent most of the afternoon chasing gramophone records. I bought Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1: opus 23 by Arthur Sandford and Orchestra. I just had time to buy Dorothy a dress as a Christmas present, before we caught the return train. Finished off the day with supper chez moi. It is still difficult to realise that it’s Christmas.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Thursday 23rd December

I might as well make use of my uniform so I decided to wear it to hitchhike down to Steeton. This time I got into the ROF fairly easily and was led to Mr Mason’s office. He has been promoted and is to take up his position as Senior Accountant at an ROF near Liverpool. Most of the offices have been decorated and the factory has its usual lavish display. Until now, the festive spirit hadn’t been apparent, but only the Wages Department seems to be doing any work. Statistical records can wait a day of two, but hard-up workers can’t. After a canteen dinner, and a visit to the administration departments in which I was given a hearty welcome, I returned to Skipton on army transport, then once again, to the pictures.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Wednesday 22nd December

Today I was up before reveille. The man’s mad. No, he’s not because he’s going on leave today - ten whole days of it. Yes, actually going on leave and Christmas leave at that. I shall believe it when I get on the train. The fellows who are not going on leave dreamily tumble out for roll-call, while we dash hurriedly hither and thither, packing kit and getting ready to go home. To add to the confusion we have to leave the rest of our kit packed, ready to be moved to Whitby, as we have to report back there. The truck goes to Brandon Station at 7:30am. It is now 7:15am and I am completely disorganised. I tie up my kit bag, only to find that I have left my boots out, so in they go and I tie it up again, only this time, more securely. I turn the air blue when I notice I have left my denim overalls out and the knot has to be untied again. Eventually I get my kit miraculously packed, sling my respirator (gas mask) over one shoulder and put my pack on my back. It contains toys for Dennis and Sylvia and I rush out to catch the wagon.
The train is late at Brandon and we arrive in Peterborough at 10:20am. This is the last day that HM Forces are allowed to travel on Christmas leave and, consequently, the trains are absolutely packed with service men and women. Somehow, we boarded the 11:10am to Leeds. I spent my waiting time in Leeds at Lloyds, enquiring about my radio. I found out that it would be ready for collection this coming Friday.
It was grand to see good old Skipton again; feel the bracing home air as you step off the station, see dirty, but dear old, Dewhirst’s Mill saying: ‘Welcome Home’ and walking up familiar streets and seeing familiar faces. Then, the few quivering, exhilarating moments as you nervously turn the front door-knob and step inside, the only place in the world that you never get tired of coming back to: to behold all there you love and hold dear to you. This is what you are fighting for. You wonder if they have changed and if they think you have. These are joyous sensations that only those who have spent long periods away from home can fully appreciate. Everything was as I expected it would be and after a terrific tea, Dorothy and I adjourned to the pictures and then rushed back to an excellent supper.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Tuesday 21st December

It’s Sahugun Day, declared in honour of the famous Battle of Sahugun won by the Regiment in Spain in 1808. [1] Normally, I don’t hold with tradition, but I am all for it when it gives me a day off. Sports were held at Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) in the morning, but the main event of the day was dinner in the NAAFI. We had roast turkey, goose, roast potatoes, stuffing etc., and beer at the Army’s expense. Cheers for the cavalrymen who won the Battle of Sahugun. Why didn’t they win a few more battles, so that we could celebrate them by having a day off and a feed more often? I took advantage of the afternoon off to ‘blanco’ my kit, ready for going home tomorrow. What a jubilant thought. Or perhaps it is me who is jubilant. If I had been ordered to blanco, I would have detested the job and said many rude things about it, but it’s different when you are doing it to go on leave. There was a Squadron jerger. [2] I didn’t go because they usually turn into organised drinking parties.




[1]. The Battle of Sahugun took place on 21st December 1808. It was fought between the 15th Hussars and two French regiments and was part of the Peninsular War.
[2]. A ‘jerger’ is a tribal gathering, but in the above context it came to mean a party.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Monday 20th December

More maintenance, so I washed all the wireless headset ear-cushions and mouthpieces. Three smart members of 5th Troop presented themselves on guard: Boogie, Tropper Hide and myself. The officers were having a party out of camp, so we had a quiet night.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Sunday 19th December

Maintenance. The fact that there was no drive reading on the radio set was due to a faulty setting on the 4A valve. It was a normal lazy Sunday.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Saturday 18th December

Reveille was at 7.00am. Breakfast. Checked the regimental wireless-network at 7:45am. Moved off at 8:15am through imaginary minefields, which the sappers had been clearing for us overnight. After one or two minor skirmishes in which we exchanged blanks with the ‘enemy’, we entered the battle area to fire our machine guns. Just as we did so, my wireless went ‘dis’ [1] and the troop officer had to transfer to another tank. There was no power meter drive reading and the set would not transmit on A, but reception was okay. As we were on the move and needed IC and B [2], I hadn’t a chance to do running repairs. It was getting dark and beginning to rain when we finished firing on the battle course and it was 6:30pm when we arrived back in camp. By then it was pouring down and pitch black and everyone was cheesed off to hell. These schemes are made very realistic, which is all very well and necessary training, but sometimes they are carried a bit too far and when we complain about it, we are told that we will have it to do in action. The point is that, as yet, we are not in action, and if we were, we wouldn’t mind doing it. I have never particularly liked Shaker’s Wood, but it was grand to get back to it tonight.




[1]. The term ‘dis’ was an abbrevation for dysfunctional. In other words: ‘out of action’.
[2]. A, B and IC were channel frequencies. A-channel was for communication with the Regiment, B was for inter-troop communication and IC was for internal communication in the tank.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Friday 17th December

After a night’s sleep in camp, we set out after dinner on another scheme: ‘Exercise Anthony’. This time we went straight to harbour, north of Swaffham, and got settled down in record time. Our own troop officer, Mr Goldsmith, had gone on a religious weekend of some description, although I cannot imagine why, unless it was to get out of the scheme, and a new Second Lieutenant, Mr Van Greisen, took charge of the Troop for this scheme. Briggs was driving and my old pal, Jock, was gunner, so we made a snug three-piece bed. Mr Van Griesen slept with the officers and, in his absence I was put in charge of the tank. As we lay there in bed at 7:30pm, with the wind, whistling round the tank, it was hard to believe that it was only a week to go until Christmas Eve. I went to sleep with the very pleasant thought that next week at this time, I would not be sleeping outside a dirty old tank, but would probably be lounging on the settee at home in front of a roaring fire, thinking of all the poor suckers who were not so blessed.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Thursday 16th December

It was still dark when we rose at 6:30am and stowed away the kit, in preparation for the day’s ‘battle’. Breakfast of boiled ham and fried potatoes, dished up in a nearby farm-shed and washed down with hot tea was very welcome, even in dirty mess tins. At 8.00am, we checked the regimental net [1] and moved off in the murky light at 8:15am. The KRR’s put in an infantry attack on the village of Little Cressingham, while we gave them fire support. Finally, the umpires decided that we had won the day and the order came over the air to collect our ‘army’ and return to camp. This we did willingly.


[1]. The term ‘net’ was an abbreviation for radio network. The different units of the Regiment operated on different frequencies.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Wednesday 15th December

Left camp at 12.00-noon on Exercise Goose. After a successful attack, we harboured [1] in a wood at 7.00pm. In the dark, we carried out last parade maintenance, filled up with petrol, made our beds by the side of the tanks and erected the bivouac over them. We groped our way over to the cook’s lorry and brought the hot meal back to eat by the turret lights. It is not exactly warm, sleeping out on a cold December evening. So Jock, Taffy, Boogie and I made a communal bed by overlapping the blankets and it proved to be quite warm. But so it should with twelve blankets and a greatcoat on top of us.



[1]. While the term harbour or harbouring has nautical origins, the land-based use of the term is perhaps best understood as a temporary collective haven.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Tuesday 14th December

Maintenance. Now it has finally been decided that eight men per troop can go on Christmas leave. In our troop, everything worked out all right, but in some cases, they had to toss for it. The suspense, of waiting for the coin to come down, must have been awful with Christmas leave in the balance. Still, I am one of the lucky eight, so why should I worry?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Monday 13th December

We participated in a Squadron scheme acting as ants [1] to other Squadrons. Fire was represented by blanks. The King’s Royal Rifles (KRR) Regiment is attached to us for the week and, today, they acted as the opposing infantry. As ants, we were static most of the time, so it was quite a cushy scheme.


[1]. The term ‘ants’ was army lingo for participants who played a minimal role in an exercise.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Sunday 12th December

Woe is us. Christmas leave is temporarily cancelled as a move to Morpeth on Dec 27th is rumoured. The Regiment turned out en masse to watch the football match between our eleven and Division. Local spectators must have thought that we were a very enthusiastic crowd. Little did they realise that attendance was compulsory. The game was livened up a little by the fact that several people were knocked unconscious: all in the fun of the game.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Saturday 11th December

Jock Baillie relieved me in the cookhouse, so I spent a very enjoyable day in King’s Lynn with Boogie Watson and Ken Slack. Bought ‘Blue Lou’ by the American all-star band. Saw the film ‘The life and death of Colonel Blimp’.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Friday 10th December

Still more cookhouse fatigues. I was given half an hour’s notice to play with the Divisional Dance Band at Divisional HQ. The combination was piano, two altos and drums and we received twelve shillings and six pence for our jiving.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Thursday 9th December

Still more cookhouse fatigues. They are broken only by the Duke of Gloucester’s inspection. For a photograph of this particular inspection, see Figure 6.


Monday, 8 December 2008

Wednesday 8th December

More cookhouse fatigues.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Tuesday 7th December

It’s the usual cookhouse routine. Wrote a letter to Dorothy about my post-war plans and hopes. My intentions are to get a Government Educational Grant to Leeds University or Technical College for approximately a year, to take the intermediate exam of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants. [1] Then I want to do a year or more of practical work, if possible with two afternoons off a week to swot for my final exams by correspondence course. If I can’t obtain a grant, I shall take up part-time employment and take both Inter and Final exams by correspondence course through the School of Accountancy, Glasgow. I wonder if I shall feel like swotting when I get out of the Army? The great temptation will be to be lazy and settle down in an easy job, but I don’t think I shall have much difficulty in getting into swotting again because costing is immensely interesting to me. Let’s hope I get a chance to show my interest.


[1]. The Institute of Cost and Works Accounts later became the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Monday 6th December

Up before reveille to light mess-room fire. Bread. Bread. Bread. Bed.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Sunday 5th December

I suppose it had to come, sooner or later. I am on cookhouse fatigues for a whole week, which between you and me is a bit of a bind. All the cooking utensils have to be washed up and the mess rooms cleaned out after every meal. Then, in your spare time, you cut bread by hand. Using a knife too, of course. It’s much easier with one. Bread: rows of it, all to be cut up. When I finish at night, my hand automatically goes backwards and forwards in a sawing motion. If the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) sees me, I shall perhaps get my discharge ticket.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Saturday 4th December

Went with the band to Swaffham to play at a dance. Saw ‘Close Quarters’: a very good film about an actual British submarine crew.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Friday 3rd December

More threshing. Since I joined the Army I have been gardener, tailor, road-maker, cook, window cleaner, builder, driver, wireless-operator, potato-peeler, floor-scrubber, coal-heaver, washer, painter, handyman and a host of other things, but now they are teaching me hay stacking. The Army at least makes you see the other side of things; what other people’s work is like. The farmer paid for our dinners at the nearby sugar beet factory; a branch of the British Sugar Corporation Ltd. There, the beet is washed as it is unloaded, by using a high-pressure water jet, controlled from a gantry. It’s then pulped and by several successive chemical operations, the sugar is extracted: about one ton to every three of beet. Wrote a couple of letters and went to bed.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Thursday 2nd December

Nine of us were sent threshing on a farm near Wissington. When I saw the threshing machine with all its gears, moving escalators and lots of string, looking for all the world like a Heath Robinson invention, I was convinced that all you had to do was switch on and watch it work, pressing Button A for dinner time. But I was to be sadly disillusioned. We became slaves to the hungry monster. It could eat wheat as fast as we could provide it, disgorging the straw at the top of the escalator on to the ever-growing haystack. I never knew until now how tricky a business it was making a haystack. We certainly had to work fast, but it was a glorious day and we enjoyed it.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Wednesday 1st December

Rain suspended work at the farm and after dinner we hitchhiked back to camp. Someone must think I am the intellectual type because tonight I was guest on the Squadron’s Brains Trust. Perhaps they wanted the ‘man in the street’s’ opinion.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Tuesday 30th November

As we passed the aerodrome, on the way out to the farm in the morning, my old longing to be in aircrew returned. Since the prospect of service became inevitable, I always had a yearning for aircrew and in January 1942, I volunteered for it, both at Leeds and Bradford, but although otherwise perfectly fit, I was let down by my eyesight. There are many reasons why aircrew is preferable, mainly because you do at least prove that you can do something worthwhile. It takes years in the Army to become a sergeant, but in the RAF all three strips come at once after a year. Everything in the Army seems unfair compared with the RAF, especially the pay.
The ground round here in Norfolk is very flat and specially suited to aerodromes. Some time ago, I was elected entertainment representative for 5th Troop and tonight I attended my first entertainment meeting. A discussion on ‘Jazz versus the Classics’ was my suggestion, but the absence of a radiogram made this impossible.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Monday 29th November

Breakfast 7:30am. Back in bed fifteen minutes later. It would be worth an inoculation every fortnight to get two days in bed. Or would it? On feeling my arm, perhaps not. This time, I managed to get up for dinner and write a letter. As I took it to the post, the camp reminded me of the famous scene from ‘Gone with the Wind’, a chaos of complete desolation, dead empty, the leafless trees gnawing at the sky and the stormy gale sweeping across as though it had taken some Epsoms and just found a penny. Finished off the evening by reading J.B Priestley’s Adam in Moonshine.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Sunday 28th November

Breakfast 7:30am. Back in bed fifteen minutes later. It would be worth an inoculation every fortnight to get two days in bed. Or would it? On feeling my arm, perhaps not. This time, I managed to get up for dinner and write a letter. As I took it to the post, the camp reminded me of the famous scene from ‘Gone with the Wind’, a chaos of complete desolation, dead empty, the leafless trees gnawing at the sky and the stormy gale sweeping across as though it had taken some Epsoms and just found a penny. Finished off the evening by reading J.B Priestley’s Adam in Moonshine.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Saturday 27th November

We stayed in bed until 4.00pm today, but it took an inoculation to do it. It was grand to stay in bed and watch those who had not been inoculated stumble out into the cold black morning for roll call. Boogie brought me a cup of tea for breakfast. It was awfully decent of him. How the Army makes you appreciate sleep. Were it not for a gnawing hunger, I don’t suppose I would have got up for tea either and I was back in bed again by 9:30pm.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Friday 26th November

Great jubilation. We are informed that eighty percent of the Regiment will have Christmas leave. Not such a bad Regiment after all. There were many wisecracks, as we lined up to have our annual inoculation. Mossford suggested that the MO was a crack darts player and threw the syringe from the other side of the room. Someone else cheerfully proposed the theory that the needle was sharp to begin with, but by the time it got to our turn, it would be so blunt that it would bend before going into our arm. However, the actual prick is not bad, it’s what follows that caused the bother. Your left arm literally gives you hell, you have a splitting headache and feel violently sick, but apart from that you feel perfectly well.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Thursday 25th November

Three troop gunners fired the 75-mm gun. We returned to Shakers Wood about 6.00pm. Actually, I was very sorry to leave, as they were the best billets I have been in since I joined the Regiment. We are billeted in a huge country house with a maze of rooms and a labyrinth of corridors. True, we had to sleep on the floor, but even that is heaven if you are in ‘civvy’ billets near a town.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Wednesday 24th November

Preparation of AFV guns for firing. Tried the Besa and five rounds of the six-pounder (the main gun) on the battle run. AFV ranges have either got to have a huge mountain behind them or the sea. At Appleby we fired into a mountainside. Here, we fired into the sea and one could see the ricochets making tremendous splashes. We also practiced on targets that were moving at twenty mph. A Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) fellow is always in attendance ‘just in case’. Cheerful thought.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tuesday 23rd November

Twas a clear and frosty morning when I set out on the nearby battle run as wireless operator in one of the 4th Troop tanks. The targets were tanks of our own Regiment and we fired live machine gun ammo at them. It sounds like rain outside the tank and like thunder inside it. The Squadron paraded at 7.00pm with bedding, arms and personal equipment, before setting off by lorry for Lichwell Ranges, near Brancaster on the Wash. On arriving there, we dumped our kit and dashed of to the WVS canteen for a very welcome cup of char. When we returned to billets, we found that Sergeant Major ‘Curly’ Hague had put everyone who had gone to the canteen without permission on guard the following night. Thus, we did an extra guard for not asking if we could have a cup of tea. They’ll be giving us ‘chitties’ for the WC next.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Monday 22nd November

Exercise sugar beet again. The only good thing about it is being paid the five shillings and six pence at the end of the day. The Troop received a new Centaur Tank. It was christened ‘Adonis’. We now have four Centaurs – Ariel, Adonis II, Achilles and Albatross. [1] Saw quite enough of them when on guard all night.


[1]. All the names given to tanks began with the letter that was assigned to the Squadron.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Sunday 21st November

Today I turned navvy and helped on road construction until dinnertime. In the afternoon, the Army Sunday afternoon rule applied: in bed or out of barracks. There is no place to go out of barracks, so almost everyone took the other alternative. Even if there had been somewhere else to go, they would still have preferred to stay in. Actually, it isn’t often that we get the chance to apply this rule and, on these unique occasions the camp is like a morgue. Deathly silence reigns and bodies lie on the two-tier beds down either side of the room. Some get up for tea: some don’t. But we all get up for NAAFI supper. Then back to bed again.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Saturday 20th November

Ah! Eight hours of freedom. We jumped aboard the passion truck to Kings Lynn and tell the driver to ‘gillo’. [1] We are actually going to see civilisation for eight solid hours. After a week cooped up in a wood away from everything, they suddenly let us loose on humanity. I wonder what the result will be? Some will get drunk; others just merry, some will chase women and some will catch them. Some, like myself, will just enjoy a quiet evening at the pictures and a meal at the YMCA. Yesterday, the Sergeant Major said that I ought to buy a violin, so I took the tip and got a haircut. Taffy Thomas and I finished up at the Majestic seeing ‘Kings Row’, an excellent film about a sadistic doctor.




[1]. The term ‘gillo’ was slang for get a move on.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Friday 19th November

Even more pulling of sugar beet. There still seems to be miles and miles of it. Saw an Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) show in the NAAFI. Not bad as far as ENSA shows go, but some of them don’t go far enough away.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Thursday 18th November

Once again, another uneventful day on the same farm, pulling sugar beet. In fact, the highlight of the day was receiving five shillings and six pence for my labours.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Wednesday 17th November

More sugar beet pulling on the same farm near Wisbech. The sugar beet is loosened by the plough and picked up two at a time. The two beets are bashed together in order to remove the dirt and then, it is laid out in rows. Next day, the tops are chopped off with a sickle and the beet put between the rows to be collected and sent to the nearest sugar extraction factory. Sugar beet was grown in this district before the war, but the output has increased considerably since the Government put a subsidy on it to keep up stocks of sugar in the country. Received a letter from my old school friend, Tommy Holden. He is now a leading radio mechanic on HMS Forth. See Figure 5 for a photograph of his ship he included in his letter.













Sunday, 16 November 2008

Tuesday 16th November

It was back to earth with a bump. No more turning off the alarm clock and going back to sleep at 10:00am. Now, at 6:15am sharp, that terribly familiar voice bawling: ‘Come on out of it’. I think that after leave, they should break us back into army life gradually. The sergeant could come round at about 9.00am the first morning and say: ‘Come on Douggie, your breakfast is going cold’. The next day reveille would be at 8.00am and so on, until you were back in the full army routine, but somehow I don’t think it would work. As it was, this was our first day back off leave and we had to go out at 7:45am and work on a farm all day. They certainly mean to let us know that we are back. Sugar beet. Sugar beet. Rows and rows of it and only two little hands that were clean off leave, to pull them with. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. Somehow, evening came and we fell asleep with cherished memories of our leave.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Monday 15th November

Leave is over and I have to report back to Brandon in Sussex by 11:59pm. It only seems a day or two since I came home, but I had ‘had it’ and there only remains time to bid my au revoirs and rush for the train. We say tempus fugit, but in reality it is not time that flies at all. It’s our judgement of it that varies according to our environment and immediate circumstances. Time is an abstract, eternal thing and as such is unalterable. Indeed it has been theorised that time is non-existent, except in the human scientific measurement of it. But, however illogical it may seem, time has certainly flown this leave. Dorothy was at work, so after the informal farewells to the family and Norman and Eileen, I made my way to the station. I found it quite hard to leave Dennis and Sylvia. They are both at a very interesting age now, four and two respectively. I miss their silly little sayings and mischievous ways. Leaving home is not a pleasant job at any time, and although you get hardened to it after each leave, it still seems difficult.
I broke my return journey at Leeds to collect my radio-set, but it still wasn’t ready so I arranged for it to be forwarded to me. John Sutcliffe joined me on the 1:10pm train to Peterborough. We travelled down together and had tea in a café in Peterborough, before going on to Brandon where lorries transported us back to camp. The feelings as we entered the barrack room are almost indescribable. They shrieked out at us: ‘You’ve had it. You’ve had it’ We cheered ourselves up with the happy thought that in another three months, we would be going on leave again.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Sunday 14th November

Sunday morning in bed again. Perhaps this will be the last time for several months. But why think about that? There is another day of freedom yet. Get out and enjoy it. Such were my early morning thoughts. I eventually did get out and went to see Bob Horner. [1] We played through most of his swing records and he gave me ‘Runnin Wild’ and ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ by Joe Loss. Summing up: the last full day of leave was lazily enjoyable.




[1]. Bob Horner was an old school friend of the author and they had both been members of a dance band called ‘The New Rythmists’.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Saturday 13th November

It’s Dorothy’s twenty-first birthday. Mother, father, Dennis and Sylvia gave her a pound, as did Aunty Jessie and Uncle John. We had tea at Hammonds Café at Keighley then saw ‘Mission to Moscow’ at the Ritz. My stepmother’s brother, Norman, and his fiancée, Eileen, arrived and I met them on returning from supper at Dorothy’s.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Friday 12th November

It was a normal leave day. Finished up by playing Newmarket for four solid hours for the financial advantage of four pence.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Thursday 11th November

I went on the morning train to Leeds with Dorothy to see if my radio was ready. We travelled with Kenneth and Hannah who, I suspect, were going to choose the ring. Lloyds said the radio set would be ready on Monday, so I arranged to call for it then. Bought Dorothy a string of pearls as a twenty-first birthday present. Returning on the 3.00pm train, Dorothy cooked an excellent meal and I ate the Mewies’ bacon ration for about a month to come.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Wednesday 10th November

We had tea at Aunty Jessie’s with Kenneth and Hannah who announced their intention of getting married on Dec 11th. ‘Forever and a day’ was the film at the Plaza and the day’s entertainment was followed by supper chez moi.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Tuesday 9th November

Caught the 9.00am bus to Steeton to pay my usual visit to the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) where I was employed before I joined the Army. Mr Stanley Mason, the executive officer, tried to get me in through the side-gate, but to no avail. I had to go round to the main gate to sign the visitors’ book. This usually happens on my visits, yet once inside, as an ex-employee, I am given the freedom of the factory. I always enjoy my visits to the ROF as there are some grand folks in the office and the year that I worked there was a very happy one. I sampled Miss Watson’s canteen dinner and found it quite good. Returning for tea, I went to the second house of the Regal and then back to my precious bed again.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Monday 8th November

Dorothy and I caught the 9:43am train to Leeds and arrived at 11.00am. Most of the morning was spent looking in shop windows and thinking about what we could buy if we had the coupons and the money. The Lonsdale Café served us a good dinner - roast duckling and apple-sauce. I paid twelve guineas cash at Lloyds Retailers Ltd of 10 Albion Place for a Pye portable radio that would be ready for collection on Friday. We kept the seats warm in the Tatler Cinema until teatime and, after another meal at the Lonsdale, we took up our two booked seats at the Empire to enjoy the jive of Oscar Rabin and his Band. The twenty-two mile return journey to Skipton took us two hours. Who said that this was the age of speed?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Sunday 7th November

What a simple pleasure to stay in bed until 10:30am after four months of reveille at 6.00am. A comfy bed is one of the best things about leave. One never appreciates these simple things until one has to do without them. And the Sunday dinner: what a change from army cooking. Oh the simple pleasures in life. After dinner and tea at our house we had supper in the witty company of the Mewies Family. [1] Marian is bearing up well after the news that John (Culshaw), her boyfriend, has been reported missing. I wonder how she stands it. She has great faith that he is still alive. ‘Reported missing: believed dead in action’ is a rather gruesome phrase, but we all still have hope of him being a prisoner-of-war or free in unoccupied territory. We are helpless in the matter and can only wait for further news. May God be kind to us.




[1] At the time the Mewies family consisted of Dorothy and Marian and their Father. His son Jack was in the Army and he was sent to Singapore just before it fell to the Japanese in February 1942. He was captured and spent three years as a prisoner-of-war.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Saturday 6th November

I arrived home unexpectedly at 7:15am on leave. After nearly breaking the bedroom window throwing little pebbles at it, father eventually let me in. Dorothy’s face was a picture of blank amazement when she opened the door to my familiar knock that morning, as I was not expected until Monday. When she recovered, I cycled over to Carleton with her and returned to my first really good breakfast in four months. Harry Parry’s ‘Boogie Soul’ and ‘Saint Louis Blues’ were my choice at Woods, a music shop. Then followed the first day on leave routine: ‘What! You here again’: that sort of business. The second house at the Regal and supper chez moi finish off an enjoyable day.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Part 1: The lull before the storm

I have decided to write a diary for many varied reasons, but mainly because I think that an account of army life will be both interesting and useful, even more so in the event of service overseas. January 1st is the orthodox time to start a diary, but I have never been a great believer in orthodoxy. And so, in my 20th year on this earth and my second in the army, I consign my activities to paper. But first of all, a brief sketch of my army career to date.

November 5th 1943

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Chapter 1 - From Name to Number

As an eighteen year-old rookie, full of ambitious ideas about promotion, I made my debut in the army at Victoria Barracks, Beverley, (Yorkshire) on September 3rd 1942, the third anniversary of the war. Consequently, it was an easy date to remember, although it was one that I couldn’t have forgotten anyway. It would take too long to recall in detail that first eventful day in the army, a day on which everyone who has experienced it will never forget. From the comparative shelter of home life to being bang up against life in the raw; in other words, from Canal Wharf, Skipton to No.8 Primary Training Centre, Beverley. Small, apparently insignificant things about that first day are salient in one’s memory. The first army meal without even a newspaper for a table cloth, from a collar and tie to the coarse texture of army shirts, the first march in step, the visit to the dentist, the unfriendly barrack-room, the intermingling with people from all walks of life, the usual issue of kit and the intricacies of web equipment, [1] but above all, the violent turmoil of thoughts about home, parents, new friends, new circumstances, forthcoming inoculations, reveille at 6.00am, the prospect of being in the Army for any length of time and once again, home. In one day - from a name to a number.
The first six weeks in A13 Platoon No.8 Primary Training Centre were, to say the least, hectic. They took the form of elementary infantry training and several intelligence tests, the results of which would determine to what job and to what corps we would be posted. Foot-drill, PT, route marches, field craft, distance judging, Bren [2] gun mechanism, rifle drill, security lectures and gas training were but part of the extensive curriculum. Altogether, we had five inoculations and vaccinations.



[1] Web equipment refers to the various belts, straps, holsters and haversacks carried by soldiers.
[2] A Bren gun is a submachine gun operated by gas pressure.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Chapter 2 - The Royal Armoured Corps



After six weeks, on October 4th, I was posted to the 53rd Training Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps (RAC), which was then situated at Catterick Camp, near Richmond in Yorkshire. There, I was to be trained as a driver-operator and my training was to consist of five weeks general training, an eight-week wireless course, two weeks of gunnery, one week of mechanics, three weeks driving instruction and one week wireless revision; an aggregate of twenty weeks.
For the first five weeks we were engaged in RAC training that consisted of such components as pistol drill, tank compass, map reading etc. One day, while out map reading, I saw my first dead body. The squad was out in two fifteen-hundredweight lorries and I was in the rear one. We were proceeding at a moderate speed on a narrow lane up a slight gradient when two sergeant despatch riders came round the corner at about thirty miles an hour. They both saw us. The first fellow wobbled into the ditch, but the second one was not quite so fortunate and fell inwards. The first lorry ran over his head with a sickening crunch. Our lorry pulled up within ten yards of the poor fellow. I jumped out of the lorry to see if there was anything I could do, but before I knew it, a stream of vivid, red, steaming blood was pouring over my boots. The poor chap’s head was crushed like an eggshell and grey matter was splattered on the road. One of his eyes was squashed out, a few inches from his head and covered in chippings. The wheel of his motorcycle was still spinning. At first, I felt violently sick, but I soon got over it. I learned later that the sergeant was forty-eight years of age and had a daughter of sixteen.
I remember clearly the first forty-eight hours leave I had from Catterick. It was the first time I had been home since I went into uniform. Dorothy was waiting for me at the station and I distinctly remember wondering if she was as excited as me. The return journey will take some forgetting. On arriving at the station to catch the 5:30pm Sunday train to Leeds, I found it had been taken out of service only the week before. The result was a big flapping effort. The only solution was to ask my uncle John to take me to Leeds on his motorcycle. I often wondered what monsoons were like, but I got an idea that night. When I eventually arrived in the barrack room, I was drenched to the skin. But such is the price of leave.
After five weeks general training, I had my first nine days leave. I remember very little about this leave, except that I had a deuce of a good time and was more than sorry to come back. Then came the eight-week wireless course, which was fairly extensive, covering as it did elementary electricity theory, theory of wireless waves, Morse code up to fifteen words per minute, flag signalling, radio telephone (R/T) procedure and, of course, operating. Wireless schemes [1] in utility vans continued in spite of several inches of snow and once, we were actually stuck in a snowdrift. Whatever the route of the scheme, we always seemed to find our way to the National Army Air Force Institute (NAAFI) at Scotch Corner. Our instructor was a former schoolteacher with an MA degree. He was an exceedingly nice fellow. On completing the course, we were given a simple test, which I passed with a fairly high percentage.
In the fortnight gunnery course, we delved into the intricacies of the Besa, six-pounder gun, Bren, Browning, Tommy gun [2] and Mills Grenade. The miniature range [3] was a great attraction and the RYPA [4] range another. The week’s mechanics course was very elementary, but interesting. It was followed by a putting the theory into practice course with three weeks of driving and maintenance. It was then that I first learnt to drive and after three days ‘on the concrete’, I was passed fit for the road. I was lucky and never hit anything, although I did once run over a newly cemented road. Apart from that, my three weeks driving instruction went without incident and at the end of it I passed out as a more or less competent driver.The week’s wireless revision passed fairly quickly, experimenting with the ‘38 Infantry wireless set’ and this completed my training in the 53rd Training Regiment. Several people in this Regiment are worthy of mention. I had several intimate friends. The first was Jim Cane, a former clerk of 4 Montreal Street, Dansom Lane in Hull. As he was also a driver-operator, we went through our training together and became firm friends. In fact, when he got married at the completion of our training, he asked me to be his best man, but circumstances made it impossible for me to accept. He was a competent pianist and had a basic knowledge of ‘boogie-woogie’, but couldn’t ‘busk’ at all. I often accompanied him on drums on the stage of NAAFI. Next comes Graham Stewart, aged twenty-three. He came into the Army from Oxford University, where he was studying English and English Literature. A tall, handsome fellow of excellent physique, he enjoyed his pipe and was by nature slow and deliberate. His tastes in music were fairly extensive, but he favoured Bach and Beethoven. He introduced me to a lot of good literature and I used to be ‘two up’ on most of his books. His companion was Charlie Woolgar, a Londoner, about thirty-two years of age and an out-and-out Communist. One night, Graham and I went to a symphony concert at the Gaiety Theatre at the camp centre and by one of those remote coincidences that make the world seem such a small place, I bumped into Angus Dunn, an old Ermystedonian. [5] I saw Gus many times after that as we had the ‘old school tie’, our hometown and many things in common. Then, we met Jack Kirk, another ‘old boy’. He was in the 60th Training Regiment, adjacent to ours. We had many good times together, usually meeting at the camp centre. Lance-Corporal Nye was, and as far as I know, still is, a very interesting character. He was older than the rest of us, approximately six feet tall and very handsome, behind a well-trimmed, black moustache. His father was a Lieutenant Colonel and he himself had served for four years as a CID sergeant in the Palestine Police. He had a fluent command of French and Arabic and his English was perfect. By nature, quiet and reserved, he was the perfect English gentleman with a unique store of knowledge and experience.
For three months of my time at the 53rd Training Regiment, I went to Officer Command Training Unit (OCTU) on a part-time basis. It involved elocution, general knowledge, speeches, drill, assault courses etc. Goodness knows how many interviews I had and how many testimonials I had to produce, but on the final War Office selection board, I was turned down as ‘unsuitable for the present’. And so went my hopes of a Commission. It is perhaps just as well.
One of the best-spirited ‘entertainment parties’ it has ever been my privilege to be associated with was the 53rd Valentines, a male-voice choir concert, partly directed by Lance-Corporal Roy Darby. Versatility was their keynote, both in terms of acting and singing. As my drums had been forwarded from home, I was asked to play in a small band to support a musical comedy they were giving at Christmas. See Figure 2 for the programme of the performance. The band combination was piano, drums, alto-sax and clarinet, doubling-accordion. The show ran for three successive nights and, after the last performance, we had a party at the NAAFI’s expense. Two high spots of the show were swing reveille and drill to the bongos.


Figure 2: The programme for ‘Trooper in Wonderland’ listing the author as one of the musicians. He was on the drums (Christmas 1942).
Christmas in the snow on the moors at Catterick was cheered up immensely by Dorothy’s visit to Richmond. She stayed with a Mrs Waggett, a distant relative who dished up an excellent Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, on the morning of Dorothy’s return, I was on church parade and, consequently, I was unable to see her to the train. In late February, Dorothy was operated on for appendicitis and, in early March, I went on leave. Dorothy had only been out of hospital just over a week, yet was able to get around marvellously well. I spent the usual enjoyable day at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Steeton where I used to work. There was nothing spectacular about this leave, but it was exceedingly enjoyable for its leisureliness all the same.


[1] The terms ‘schemes’ and ‘exercises’ are employed throughout as synonyms.
[2] The Besa is a machine gun. A ‘six-pounder’ is the main tank gun. The Browning in question is a machine gun. The Tommy gun is a 45-calibre submachine gun.
[3] The miniature range was the range used for practicing with small arms.
[4] R.Y.P.A. stood for: ‘Roll, Yaw, Pitch, Alteration’. It was related to instructional apparatus.
[5] The old school in question was Ermysted’s Grammar School.




Monday, 6 October 2008

Chapter 3 - Joining the Royal Hussars

On March 21st, I left Catterick to join the 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars (KRH), then stationed in Helmsley, Yorkshire.[1] We were billeted in Nissen huts [2] in a wood in Duncombe Park, about a mile from the village of Helmsley, notorious for its lack of cinemas or, indeed, entertainment of any description. The squadron washhouse consisted of a table with a few bowls on it, in a rough shelter and the WCs were open to nature. On the second day, I was posted to A Squadron. One Saturday afternoon, in May, my right eye gradually closed up and on the Wednesday, the medical officer (MO) sent me by ambulance to York Military hospital. Here, oddly enough, I spent a very enjoyable fortnight with excellent food and plenty of free time. The abscess on my eye eventually burst, with the persuasion of hourly hot poultices and on my fourteenth day in Ward 7, I was sent to a rest home outside York for a week’s recuperation. The house was in magnificent surroundings and, to say the least, I had a marvellous time there. Thus, my first experience of military hospitals was a very favourable one, made even more enjoyable by Dorothy visiting me there one afternoon.
After three weeks of leisure, I returned to the Regiment at Helmsley and went into the newly formed 5th Troop.[3] Soon after that, I started wireless classes under Sergeant Davies. Actually, we discussed dance bands more than we studied wireless theory. We moved under canvas at Sledmere, near Driffield, Yorkshire in early June and there I continued my wireless course. On completing it, I gained a Class II pass. For some unknown reason, there are only Class II and Class III at fifteen words per minute in Morse.
By this time, I was installed as (unofficial) drummer in the Regimental Band and played at several dances in the village. So-called passion trucks used to run every Saturday to Scarborough and Bridlington and I had some very enjoyable days there. I bought my first pipe in Scarborough.
Training at Sledmere, after the wireless course, consisted of two-day schemes, involving Squadron, Regimental and Brigade manoeuvres. The weather was consistently glorious and made life under canvas quite tolerable.On July 1st came my second leave in the Army. Dorothy got the week off as her summer holidays and we tried to get lodgings at Blackpool and Morecambe, but without success. We spent the usual day in Leeds, but there were no good theatre shows on. We spent one day in Morecambe, but we couldn’t see any variety shows as the last train went at 6:40pm. Another enjoyable day was spent at my old office. Like all good things, it soon came to an end and Dorothy saw me off at the station at 3:30pm on the Sunday express to London.
On July 11th I met my cousin, Ken, by arrangement on St Pancras Station and we had supper before going by tube to Victoria Station, where I caught my train to Crowborough. I was nineteen and this was my first adult visit to London, although I had been before with a party from Brougham Street Council School. I was surprised to see that St Pancras and Kings Cross were so near to one another. As I had to wait until 6.00am for my train, the Rail Transport Officer (RTO) directed me to the Gordon Services Club [4] and gave me a free chitty. There I met several other fellows from A Squadron who were returning from leave and we had a very enjoyable evening. Next morning, we were given a free and plentiful breakfast, before departing to catch our train.
Our first impressions of Crowborough and Crowborough West Camp were favourable, and this isn’t the case with most camps. The billets were stone built bungalows with adjacent washhouses. Crowborough itself was approximately twenty minutes walk from camp and a very pleasant little town. It sported a cinema and a Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) canteen, both of which were always full. Its proximity and easy access to London made our short stay there a little brighter. One weekend I went to London on a thirty-six hour pass and stayed at the RAC Club, in Grovenor Square. I paid a surprise visit to Ken in Notting Hill Gate, but as he had to see Hannah, his fiancée, that night, I went to the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus to see Bob Hope in ‘They’ve got me covered’ and I also visited Petticoat Lane. The afternoon was spent watching a baseball game in Hyde Park and looking round the well-known places – Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s, Piccadilly, Park Lane etc.On July 13th, I started a gunnery course. It consisted mainly of revision of what we had learnt at the training regiment. After gunnery classes, several of us used to go swimming in a large, natural pool behind the camp and we had some great times there. On July 31st, after three weeks of gunnery, we moved by rail, via Kings Cross to the armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) ranges at Warcon, near Appleby, Westmoreland. En route, we actually stopped in Skipton Station. It was a very unpleasant sensation to see one’s home in the twilight and yet be unable to visit it. At Appleby, we were under canvas and the weather was none too clement. We fired almost every conceivable weapon, from pistols to six-pounder tank guns. The latter were fired into the side of a mountain at moving targets, giving the impression of a fun fair on a large scale. The family came to Ravonstondale to stay with Mrs Coates (a relative), but I was on duty and unable to see them.


[1] In the Hussars privates are called troopers.
[2] The Nissen hut was invented and built as housing for troops in the Great War. Due to its
semi-circular, corrugated-iron shape, the Nissen hut deflects shrapnel and bomb blast, making it a perfect bomb shelter.
[3] A Troop is the subdivision of a cavalry or armoured cavalry squadron. A squadron consists of two or more troops, HQ and supporting arms.
[4] The Gordon Services Club is a canteen of members of the armed forces. It was named after General Gordon

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Chapter 4 - Training in the Lake District

On July 25th, we set out in troops on a four-days hardship march in the Lake District. The basis of this was that we had reporting centres twelve to fifteen miles apart where we were to sleep each night and we had to march to them during the day. Iron rations [1] were supplied, so we had to rely mainly on scrounging as much as we could. The first day, we trudged over the moors from Lake Ullswater to Hawes Water and, at night, we slept in a hostel originally built for the dam workers. An excellent meal was cooked by Jack Imeson. The farmer’s wife gave us the use of her sitting room and Jock Baillie made the piano function. That evening Arthur Harratt drew the sketch of me shown Figure3..







Figure 3: A sketch of the author by Trooper Arthur Harratt (Dated 18th August 1943).





Early next morning, we set off for Patterdale, on the shore of Lake Windermere. Here, we were lucky again because we were allowed to sleep on the floor of the village hall and use the kitchen range, on which Jack again performed cooking miracles. The third day was the longest march of all consisting of some fifteen miles from Patterdale to Ladgill over rough, open moorland. On this journey we had the remarkable experience of walking into the clouds at two thousand four hundred feet for three miles. It was a remarkable sensation, not being able to see more than five yards ahead and being blanketed by a thick damp, clammy mist. Rounding one corner, we met a gale head-on and it actually blew one fellow off his feet. When we eventually arrived at Ladgill, tired and hungry, we found that the rations and blankets hadn’t arrived, so we slept in a barn, covering ourselves with sacks. In the morning, the farmer’s wife provided us with porridge, sandwiches and tea for breakfast. Thus sustained, we walked on. Sergeant Morgan commandeered some Home Guard rations and we wrapped ourselves round them before returning to camp.On August 24th, we returned to Crowborough on a special troop train. After two days stowing the tanks and generally striking camp, once again, we moved to Shakers Wood Camp, Brandon in Norfolk. This seemed to be our month for moves, as after only two days in Shakers Wood, we moved to troop camps. The most enjoyable thing about troop camps was that we were away from regimental discipline. Our particular camp was situated in a wood, not far from Swaffham, near the main road. Training consisted entirely of troop manoeuvres and troops were open to attack by other troops. Each morning at 8.00am, orders were received over the A-set (the wireless) from the Squadron Leader at Forward Headquarters (FHQ) camp about three miles away. One day, Corporal Wheatley and I constructed a sand table to demonstrate troop tactics. [2] We got quite settled down to the troop camp and in a way we were quite sorry to leave after three weeks.
After one night back in Shakers Wood, we moved again. This time it was to Squadron camp, near Thetford. Once again, this meant living under canvas, but the weather was good to us and it was quite enjoyable. There we did a week’s gunnery revision course under Sergeant Lara, before taking our trade test back at camp. I gained a Class I pass and was appointed as a Class II wireless operator with nine pence a day increase in pay. This gave me one pound, eleven shillings and six pence per week clear. Of this, I drew one pound a week for myself, sent seven shillings home with four shillings and six pence remaining in credit. One night, Mossford and I visited an American Army canteen just down the road and we were amazed at the excellent food on sale. It was far superior to ours. In fact, living conditions in general in the American Army are superior to ours. Perhaps that is why quite a few British Tommies have a dislike for the Yanks.
On September 18th we went on the Squadron’s passion wagon to the St Ledger at Newmarket. The town of Thetford was only twenty minutes walk from the camp and we also spent several pleasant evenings there. On September 29th we struck camp and returned to Shakers Wood. October was occupied mainly by assisting the local farmers with the sugar beet harvest. Parties went out daily from the camp to the neighbouring farms and working hours were from 9.00am to 4.00pm. The sugar beet is picked two rows at a time. These are then placed in one row. Each alternate row faces the opposite way to facilitate chopping. The farmer pays the Government one shilling per hour per man and he usually gives us a little bonus as an incentive. This is generally about five shillings a day. Sugar beet picking was supposed to be a rest from training. It was a break all right, but there wasn’t much rest attached to it.
Exercise Bridoon, a five-day scheme, started on October 31st. This was the biggest scheme since Exercise Spartan. [3] The whole of our Division was fighting the Canadian Armoured Division and we had to paint yellow crosses on all the tanks. We beat the Canadians easily and on November 4th, there came over the air those magic words ‘Cease fire Bridoon’.
As the scheme finished before schedule, we went on home leave two days in advance and this is where my diary proper starts. But first of all, a few words about the lads in the Troop. At present, the Troop roll is as follows: Banfield, Baillie, Brown, Carrington, Dawson, Dewar, Harratt, Hide, Imeson, Jackson, Lowe, Slack, Symes, Taylor, Thomas, Tongrak and Watson and Lance-Corporals Probin and Sutcliffe. Banfield is a tall chap, an ex-lorry driver about eighteen, a volunteer and only a recent addition to the Troop. Jock Baillie is my greatest friend, a fellow of marvellous temperament who will do anyone a good turn. A more good-hearted person would be hard to find. An ex-butcher, he is about two months older than me and lives at 32 Elm Row, Leith Walk in Edinburgh. I first met him in Helmsley and we have been firm friends ever since. We were both in the Troop officer’s tank. He was the gunner. Quiet and deliberate by nature, he does things in a slow, definitely Scottish manner and is very conscientious. Gunners of his calibre and efficiency are very rare. If there were more Jock Baillies, the world would be a far more pleasant place. Brown is a nineteen-year-old, ex-National Fire Service (NFS) despatch rider. He is rather boyish, but quite a witty and decent sort. Carrington is another volunteer and came to the Troop recently with Banfield. Dawson, an ex-engineering student, is yet another volunteer whose father was a captain in the last war. Dave Dewar is another good one, a very sociable chap with a sensible outlook. Arthur Harratt was a commercial artist in civvy-street and, consequently, he does all the painting in the Troop. One of his pastimes is colouring photos which he does expertly. Hide is a good-looking fellow and, on the whole, he is a sensible, well-meaning sort. His Christian name is Garnet, but he always goes by the nickname ‘Tropper’. This originated from the time he miss-spelt ‘trooper’ on his locker. The oldest member of the Troop is Imeson. He is twenty-nine, married and a father to be. A native of Bradford, Yorkshire, he was conscripted in 1940 and served with the Duke of Wellington’s Infantry Regiment before being transferred here. He was one of the original troop tank drivers. In spite of his superior years, he is ‘one of the lads’. Frank Jackson, ex-clerk, is another driver. His ambition seems always to be the last to be on parade, but he is not slow intellectually. Lowe is a fairly tall, moderately good-looking chap who is noted for his laziness and supposedly superior manner. He was the original wireless operator in the Troop and was rather annoyed when I became Troop officer’s operator. He is now the Sergeant Major’s operator and Hide is Corporal Wheatley’s. Lance-Corporal Probin is the Troop officer’s driver. He’s aged about twenty-seven. A very likeable fellow in the Troop is jive fan, Ken Slack, of Warrington. Ken, ‘Boogie’ Watson and myself form the ‘Jive Trio’ of the 5th Troop. Every weekend we buy jive records between us and play them on Boogie’s gramophone. He is very sociable and obliging and as good as they come. The other Lance-Corporal in the Troop is John Sutcliffe of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. He has kept a daily diary throughout his two and a half years army service. Single, aged twenty-eight, he is very methodical and works everything out logically and conscientiously. His unique characteristic is that he never says anything critical about the Army.[4] As Scottish as they make them is Andy Taylor. He still delights in the Wizard and Rover (comics). His trade is gunner mechanic. Taffy Thomas, needless to say, is a Welshman. Normally quiet, he gets really annoyed when he is roused, but that isn’t often. He enjoys his pints, but very seldom gets really drunk and is comical at all times. [5] A fellow Yorkshire man in the Troop is Tom Tongrak of Hull who enlisted at Beverley. Boogie Watson is so-called because of his liking of jazz and ‘boogie woogie’. An ex-milk man of 49 Arnott Road, Blackpool, he is a humorous fellow of twenty who is at present engrossed in the intricacies of swing. We have had some good times in record shops together.
That completes the troopers so let’s have a go at the non-commissioned officers (NCOs). They number three: Sergeant Morgan, Corporal Wheatley and Corporal Hancock. Sergeant Morgan, aged about thirty, ex-sales accounts manager, is a very aristocratic looking fellow, very efficient and well mannered. Bill Wheatley, who had previously been a clerk in a Japanese bank, is a hefty piece of goods and at present he is after his third stripe. Corporal Hancock is a recent addition to the Troop and I daresay I shall have more to say about him later. Our Troop officer is Lieutenant Terence Goldsmith. He is twenty-one years old and joined us at Sledmere. A Canadian, educated at Cambridge, he is the very essence of conscientiousness. His eagerness is sometimes carried to the point of ridiculousness, but that is his only great fault. As his wireless operator, we get on well together and, although he is often called by the Troop, I think he is liked on the whole. His excessive use of smoke screens earned him the name of ‘Smokey Joe’. He is rather scared of the Squadron Leader, but is efficient all the same. And, so you see, on the whole, we have got a very good Troop and are quite happy and contented together. Perhaps we shall go into action together. This diary will tell. For a photograph of A Squadron, 5th Troop some four months earlier, see Figure 4.



Figure 4: A photograph of 5th Troop, A Squadron. This photograph was taken in July 1943 and by October of that year many of these men had been transferred to other duties. At this distance in time the author cannot put a name to all the faces. Those he can remember are as follows: Front row: on the right, ‘Tropper’ Hide. Second row: second from left: Lance-Corporal Sutcliffe. On his right Sergeant Morgan. On his right Second Lieutenant Goldsmith. On his right Corporal Wheatley. Third row: first from left: Arthur Harrat. First from right: Jock Baillie. The author is first from the right on the back row.

[1]. Iron rations are basic survival rations.

[2]. A sand table is a device used to demonstrate theatres of war, both historical and theoretical battles.
[3]. Exercise Spartan was the name given to the earlier exercise in the Lake District.

[4]. The author later helps John Sutcliffe out of a tank when he is badly burnt. He also met up with him after the war.
[5]. Taffy Thomas later inadvertently saves the author’s life at the cost of his own leg.


List of Abbreviations


ABCA: Army Bureau of Current Affairs

AEC: Army Education Corps

AFV: Armoured Fighting Vehicle

AP: Armour piercing

ARV: Armoured Recovery Vehicle

ATEA: Amphibious Tank Escape Apparatus

BLA: British Liberation Army

ENSA: Entertainments National Service Association

FFI: French Forces of the Interior

FHQ: Forward Headquarters

HE: High Explosive

HF: High frequency

KRH: The Kings Royal Hussars

KRR: Kings Royal Rifles

KSLI: King’s Surrey Light Infantry

LAD: Light Aid Detachment

MI: Medical Inspection Room

MO: Medical officer

MP: Military policeman

NAAFI: National Army Air Force Institute

NFS: National Fire Service

NCO: Non-commissioned officer

OCTU: Officer Command Training Unit

RAC: Royal Armoured Corps

RAMC: Royal Army Medical Corps

RASC: Royal Army Service Corps

RE: Royal Engineers

REME: Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

RHQ: Regimental Headquarters

ROF: Royal Ordnance Factory

RSM: Regimental Sergeant Major

RTO: Rail Transport Officer

R/T: Radio Telephone

SQMS: Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant

USAAF: United States Army Air Force

WAAF: Women's Auxiliary Air Force

WVS: Women’s Voluntary Services

YMCA: Young Men’s Christian Association

Acknowledgements

I must begin by thanking my editor and son-in-law, Patrick Murphy. When he volunteered to perform the duties of editor, I must confess that I had little idea about the amount of work this task would involve. Thank you Patrick. I would also like to thank my daughter, Joy, for typing the manuscript; my grandson, Thomas, for his assistance with the scanning of the maps and photographs, Lisa Heggs for her processing and formatting skills, Richard Linnett for his general advice and assistance and Carly Hughes for her cover design. My final vote of thanks goes to Stephen Phillips, the Military Librarian of Aldershot Museum, for his help in locating Major Courage’s book The History of the 15/19 The King’s Royal Hussars: 1939-1945.
Andrew, my other son-in-law, for sharing the proof-reading burden.

Dedication

When Churchill said: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’ he was referring to the efforts of Battle of Britain fighter pilots. However, this statement could, with equal applicability, have been used to characterise Britain’s other frontline forces, fighting on land and sea. While good leadership was essential, behind the leaders was a solid core of men that was willing and able to be led; hence the title Led Soldiers. All the names that appear in these diaries are those of real people, many of them friends and colleagues. Over the sixty odd years that have past since the end of the war we have lost touch and, in truth I don’t know how many of them have passed away, but to me they will always be unsung heroes or, if you will ‘led soldiers’.
Finally, I would also like to dedicate this book to my wife, Dorothy. While her war wasn’t at the frontline, she, like so many loved ones, had to live with the ever-present fear that her husband-to-be would be one of the next victims of the war, a different, but equally fraught experience.