The Second World War Diaries of a Royal Hussar
‘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.
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).
Thursday, 9 October 2008
November 5th 1943
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
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  gun mechanism, rifle drill, security lectures and gas training were but part of the extensive curriculum. Altogether, we had five inoculations and vaccinations.
 Web equipment refers to the various belts, straps, holsters and haversacks carried by soldiers.
 A Bren gun is a submachine gun operated by gas pressure.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
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  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  and Mills Grenade. The miniature range  was a great attraction and the RYPA  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.  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.
 The terms ‘schemes’ and ‘exercises’ are employed throughout as synonyms.
 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.
 The miniature range was the range used for practicing with small arms.
 The old school in question was Ermysted’s Grammar School.
Monday, 6 October 2008
After three weeks of leisure, I returned to the Regiment at Helmsley and went into the newly formed 5th Troop. 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  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.
 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.
 A Troop is the subdivision of a cavalry or armoured cavalry squadron. A squadron consists of two or more troops, HQ and supporting arms.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
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.  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.  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. 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.  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.
. Iron rations are basic survival rations.
. A sand table is a device used to demonstrate theatres of war, both historical and theoretical battles.
. Exercise Spartan was the name given to the earlier exercise in the Lake District.
. The author later helps John Sutcliffe out of a tank when he is badly burnt. He also met up with him after the war.
. 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
Andrew, my other son-in-law, for sharing the proof-reading burden.
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.