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


Doug Mayman, aged 21, in Brussels 1944

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Sunday 31st December

Churchill assures us of full and final victory in 1945. Hitler says victory for Germany in six months. They ought to get together and thrash it out. It is reported that Major Glenn Miller and his whole band are missing after the sudden German push into Belgium. Figure 47 is a newspaper story reporting on one of the many Nazi atrocities.

God! When we go into action again, I will not be taking any prisoners. They all ought to be exterminated. That is a rather extreme statement for a Sunday, but it is in the cause of Christianity.
It’s New Year’s Eve. The people here, being devout Catholics, stayed up until midnight and chanted in the New Year. We felt ourselves in the way, so we retired at 10:30pm.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Saturday 30th December

There’s a photograph of Germany’s new Tiger Tank in today’s Daily Express.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Friday 29th December

Because the Bailey bridge over the Escaut Canal was insecure, we had to go by a circuitous route for thirty miles to get to the ranges, only five miles away. It seems rather ridiculous pulling us out of the frontline to go practice on a range sixty miles away when we could advance a few miles and lob shells into German occupied territory. However, we fired our shells and the results were quite good. At 6.00pm we set off back to Leverooi on a Squadron lorry. We slid most of the way, but arrived safely.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Thursday 28th December

I commanded the tank to the ranges near Lommel in Belgium, about sixty miles away. It was terribly misty and one could hardly see the tank in front. To make matters more complicated the road was covered with ice and the tanks slithered all over the place. Once they started slipping, they were uncontrollable and it was surprising that we didn’t pulp any lorries. We went via the main roads so map reading was quite easy. A twenty-minute halt in Bree provided an opportunity for dinner. We reached our destination near Lommel at 4:30pm, filled up with petrol - a mere sixty gallons, cooked ourselves a meal and found ourselves billets. Luckily, I knew the Dutch phrase for: ‘Can we sleep in your barn please?’ In the event, we found ourselves sleeping in the house. For a photograph of the tank crew

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Wednesday 27th December

Today, Boogie Watson and I took a truck to the park for derelict tanks near Eindhoven. All the canals and, indeed, almost everything is frozen solid and we saw many couples on their way to the skating areas. They dress up for the occasion and all carry their skates slung round their necks, fastened together by a piece of string. Most of them are good skaters. The winters here seem much more severe than in England. When I get up in the morning, my towel and toothbrush are usually frozen and we go to breakfast over fields covered in frost as thick as snow. When I came to fill my pen, I almost broke the nib - the ink was frozen solid. Half a mug of the cold tea left by my bed one night came out in one piece the next morning.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Tuesday 26th December

Boxing Day. It’s a normal working day for us, although we are not doing much at the moment. In the evening I was one of five fellows in the Squadron privileged to go to the Phillips Concert Hall in Eindhoven and hear the Halle Orchestra. It was a marvellous performance and I sat enthralled throughout. The orchestra of seventy players was led by Lawrence Turner and conducted by John Barbirolli with Mr Arthur Grumiaux as violin soloist. He gave a marvellous performance in the E minor concerto. The full programme was as follows:
Overture Leonora no 3 Beethoven
Violin Concerto in E Minor Mendelssohn
Unfinished Symphony Schubert
Valse Triste Sibelius
Cappriccio Espagnol Rimsky Korsakov
Londonderry Air
Radetzky March Johann Strauss
Overture Die Fleidermaus " "
Tales from the Vienna Woods " "

After the advertised programme, the audience clapped the conductor back for three bows and an encore. After the first encore, they simply would not let him leave and the applause was so terrific after each piece that he played four encores. It really was appreciated and I more than appreciated and enjoyed it. For once I felt myself lifted by the sheer beauty of the music and I left greatly exhilarated.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Monday 25th December

Christmas Day. Last year on this day, I wrote up this diary in the comfort of home, wondering where I would be this Christmas. Unfortunately, now I know. Even on this day of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, shells are whining across the skies on their errands of destruction. And, not very far from here, two large armies of men are trying desperately to kill each other. I thank God sincerely that on his day I am not in action. The Hermans family were at Kirk this morning by 8.00am. I attended a church service at RHQ at the less strenuous hour of 11.00am. We sang carols lustily and it was an excellent service.
Christmas dinner was quite an elaborate affair, dished up by the corporals. We had pork chops, tinned turkey, roast spuds, mashed spuds and peas, followed by plum pudding with rum sauce and mince pies and cheese. Quite well cooked too, for a change. I wonder what they are having for dinner at home? No doubt Dennis and Sylvia will be dashing around the house wildly excited about what Father Christmas has brought them. If only I could see them. I hope that all at home are having a good Christmas. Considering that I am on active service, I am having an excellent one. At Christmas one automatically looks forward and back. Last Christmas I believe I said in this diary that the war should just about be over by this Christmas. Since then, I have seen quite a bit of action and know more about the various elements controlling the progress of the war. Now I give the war with Germany until the end of August. Thus, next Christmas should definitely see the end of the war, but I do not expect to be demobilized by then. Christmas comes but once a year - pity it doesn’t come more often.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Sunday 24th December

It’s Christmas Eve -1944. What a contrast from last year when I was home on leave. This year, I am spending it in the front room of a Dutch farmhouse. The family gave us an excellent Christmas Eve supper of custard and fruit pie with delicious drinking chocolate. They make us really at home and there is no awkwardness about the situation. It is surprising how easily the language difficulties are overcome. I would not mind visiting these people again after the war. Our two troop sergeants turned up in rather a happy state at about 9.00pm with a bottle of brandy. We joined the rest of the fellows in the other billet, so the brandy did not go far, but we had quite an enjoyable singsong.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Saturday 23rd December

I received nine letters and I sent Dorothy her present from Brussels by registered letter. New auxiliary motor fitted in the tank.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Friday 22nd December

The position of the German break-through is a bit clearer now. They have made an advance of forty miles to Leige in Belgium, apparently with Brussels as their objective. The main German Army has been used and it rather looks as though it is a last determined attempt. Several Panzer and SS Divisions have been used. The Americans appear to have got over their initial confusion and are now holding most sectors. This is one of the occasions when time is going to be a deciding factor and, with careful strategy, this attack can be turned against the Germans. On the one hand, if the attack cannot be repulsed it will mean serious consequences for us. But if we can stem it and cut it off, it will be a great advantage for us because, for once, the German Army has come out into the open where we can get at it. We await further news with interest. In the meantime, we have been warned to keep a sharp look out for enemy paratroops. Many of them have been reported to be wearing American uniforms. Also we are at an hour’s notice to move into action if needed.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Thursday 21st December

It’s Sahagun Day. It’s held in honour of the Battle of Sahagun, won by the Regiment in Spain in eighteen hundred and something. In England the anniversary is usually an occasion for great rejoicing and celebrating and it was still celebrated on the frontline this year. Regimental sports were held and we spent quite an enjoyable morning watching them. The officers’ tug of war was especially interesting. Sahagun Dinner was of quite good quality and quantity. Moreover, the officers and sergeants served the dinner, as custom would have it. We had pork chops a l’Argentan, braised steak a l’Amiens, creamed potatoes a l’Antwerp and pudding a l’Amerika with rum sauce a the ‘good old Angleterre’: Quite a good stuff (good meal). The afternoon was utilised to sleep the dinner off. The dinner was followed by a jerger, but we didn’t go because we didn’t want to leave the warmth of the farmhouse front room.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Wednesday 20th December

The situation in Greece gets no better. No one seems to know exactly who-is-fighting-who and our soldiers are having a rough time. In Italy the fighting is exceedingly slow, but with progress on our side all the time. On the Russian front there is also steady progress, the main drive being around Bucharest. Our activities, as reserve regiment, are confined to tank and physical maintenance.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Tuesday 19th December

Today came the disconcerting news that the Germans have advanced thirty miles into Belgium and that the Americans have had to give way, but the Yanks are now holding them. The strategic importance of this new German thrust cannot be seen yet, and news of it is being kept back. The Germans are giving us no trouble in our sector and we had a route march for exercise this afternoon. What a war!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Monday 18th December

There is quite a lot of enemy air activity over this sector. This morning, several ME-109s [1] flew over here quite low. A fairly good ack-ack barrage was put up, but with no result. Jerry is using quite a few jet-propelled planes in this sector as well. It was great to see our fighters patrolling the sky. Apart from air activity and shelling, we are not likely to see any action for a while yet.
[1]. ME-109s were Messerschmitts; German fighter planes.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sunday 17th December

We moved from the Horst sector to the Roermond sector, but we’re still only holding the front and not pushing on. Our billets are very much better and the people much more sociable. As orderly corporal today, I had to find RHQ in the dark with a message for the adjutant. By the time I had finished detailing guard, transport etc., it was bedtime.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Saturday 16th December

It was a day to settle down, after Brussels, otherwise, free of incident. The situation in Greece is very sticky at the moment. British tanks and paratroops have attacked the EAM [1] headquarters in Athens. The rebels hold nearly all the heights in Athens and the RAF have been strafing concentrations of them on the outskirts. The Fascist-minded civilians make this their way of objecting to our occupation and the new Government. It is estimated that there are fifteen thousand rebels inside the city and ten thousand outside. Field Marshall Alexander has been brought in to take command of the situation.
[1]. The EAM was the largest and most militant Greek resistance movement. The initials stood for National Liberation Front.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Friday 15th December

The fan belt on the lorry having been replaced, we bade our farewells to the gay city at 11.00am and set off on our return journey. Reaching Burgleopold without incident, we dined in the NAAFI there and were on our way again. On arrival back at the Regiment, I found to my astonishment that I had been a Lance Corporal for two days. The main advantage is that I get an extra one shilling and three pence a day. This puts me on six shillings a day, forty-two shillings a week with no income tax.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Thursday 14th December

Spent the morning sampling more ice cream and visiting historic places. We climbed the two hundred steps of the Congress Column and had an excellent view of the city; that is after we had recovered from the dizziness of a spiral ascent that seemed interminable. We saluted the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and noticed that civilians raised their hats as they passed. The Botanical Gardens - Les Jardins Botanique - provided some amusing settings for snaps. We returned to our billets for dinner and were ready for the return journey when, more by design than accident, I suspect, the fan belt of the lorry broke and could not be repaired until tomorrow morning, much to our joy. This gave us the opportunity to see a Harry James film at the ENSA Cinema.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Wednesday 13th December

Up early this morning, we clung onto tram-27 and found ourselves in the shopping centre - veritably, a woman’s paradise - rows and rows of well laid out shops displaying their wares invitingly. Watches of good Swiss makes are in abundance at reasonable prices - fifteen jewel Pontiac watches could be bought for one thousand, six hundred francs - approximately nine pounds. Unfortunately, I hadn’t enough Belgian currency. There were plenty of good makes of English pens, which seemed strange because they are so scarce in England. I bought Dorothy a gold crucifix, a few toys for Dennis and Sylvia and several odds and ends as souvenirs.
Another thing unobtainable in England, but plentiful in Brussels, is ice cream. We had it in large quantities - vanilla, raspberry, chocolate with peaches and pears, apples and cherries - lots of them. There were cakes too - cream puffs, meringues, éclairs and all kinds of fluffy delicacies. We made short work of them all. Brussels is a gay city. Everyone is well dressed and gads around on trams in a carefree way. Nearly all women have fur coats and fully-fashioned silk stockings and know how to use their make up to the best effect. They are invariably good looking too. In spite of the fact that nearly all cafes have an ‘upstairs’ business, one would not call Brussels an immoral city. The people are just broadminded in a happy sort of way. For them life seems to be a carefree, happy go-lucky thing and they make the most of it.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Tuesday 12th December

It was a crisp, clear sunny morning when we set out in the back of a three-ton lorry on the one hundred and fifty mile journey to Brussels. By we, I mean five men from each of four squadrons. Our own particular party consisted of Jack Arkley, Taffy Hughes, Boogie Watson and myself, with Sergeant George Buxton of Bradford in charge. The journey down was uneventful. We passed through Deurne, Helmond, Eindhoven, Burg Leopold and Louvain, watching the road signs and advertisements change from Dutch into French. A few miles inside the Belgian border we actually saw a hill, which is a very rare occurrence in this part of the world. The number of kilometres to Brussels - or Brussel or Bruxelles - on the signposts gradually dwindled and at 4.00pm we found ourselves in the centre of the city. With each of the four parties being billeted at different places, it was almost 6.00pm by the time we found our place.We were billeted in what had been an institute for the deaf and dumb. It was a truly magnificent place, consisting of tiled, well windowed, modern buildings facing on to a tiled courtyard. There is no official blackout in Brussels and the light streaming through the thin silk curtains of the large windows onto the courtyard presented a glorious spectacle. It was a truly impressive building. In spite of the fact that it was pitch dark and with us not knowing the layout of the city, we jumped on a tram and found the high spots. In the Trocadero (club-cum-café) we had an egg-flip each, and in various other cafés we sampled various kinds of wines. I have not yet visited Paris, but it cannot be any worse than Brussels for immorality. We had quite a lively evening and returned to our billets by 11:30pm. A good supper was waiting for us and we did full justice to it. For a photograph of me outside our accommodation in Brussels

Friday, 11 December 2009

Monday 11th December

Tomorrow we visit Brussels. That is the only important thing about today. See Figure 42 for the Brussels Leave document which included the advice on ‘Do’s and Don’ts’

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Sunday 10th December

Cheers! We are going to Brussels for 48-hours leave on Tuesday. Preparations are in full swing. Played cards and won three guilders.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Saturday 9th December

This morning my tank was hit by an 88-mm German tank gun, we ran over mines, were under heavy shellfire and took 35 prisoners – all in theory on a sand table. It is much easier than in actual action. Pity our politicians cannot fight all wars out on sand tables. It would save a deuce of a lot of misery and unhappiness. This afternoon I took part in a practice game of rugger and, in spite of the fact that I hadn’t played for ages I still thoroughly enjoyed it. There was some controversy about whether we played Rugby League or Union. It ended with the Unionists winning.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Friday 8th December

Our principal job at the moment is road-making which sometimes provides an opportunity for finding collectable things among the rubble. So far, nothing has materialised.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Thursday 7th December

It has now been announced that we shall be in these billets for another six weeks, unless the Germans counter-attack. This is the first time we have had static billets since leaving England. Consequently, preparations are going ahead for a good time on Sahagun Day. Last year we had turkey and chicken. This year I suppose we will have looted pigs and chickens. This period of inactivity gives me very little to report, but it is better that way.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Wednesday 6th December

Usual maintenance. It is officially announced that leave for the forces on the Western Front starts on January 1st and must be finished by April. It is at least something to look forward to, although I don’t suppose we shall get it for two or three months yet. A newspaper account of these arrangements is presented in Figure

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Tuesday 5th December

It was another uneventful day. Finished reading Ragged Banners by Ethel Mannin, a very intellectual book about the futility of thought and the absolute in poetry: an extremely good book.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Monday 4th December

Guard last night was not exactly exciting, but it is not so bad when you know that the enemy is five miles away as opposed to only five hundred yards, as it often is. In the afternoon four men per troop went to the cinema in Horst to see ‘Four Jills in a Jeep’. By luck of the cards, I was one of the four. Wrote to Tommy Holden.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Sunday 3rd December

Late reveille at 7:30am was appreciated. So was having the afternoon off. The people at the farm where we are billeted gave us a cup of hot milk each this morning. At nights we monopolise their table and paraffin lamp, while the family sits round the room just watching us. They laughed when we laughed and showed considerable interest in my typewriter.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Saturday 2nd December

A considerable part of the countryside here is under water and only the main arterial roads can take heavy traffic. The secondary roads, which are nothing but mere tracks in most cases, are one mass of mud. The main roads in Holland are exceptionally good, usually long and straight but they are very scarce. Today, I found myself on road-making fatigues, which meant collecting a load of bricks from the remains of bombed houses in Horst and dumping them on the muddy track. It was a slow and tedious process. The form now is that we sit here in case of a German counter-attack across the Maas, which is quite a good job, unless the counter-attack comes off.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Friday 1st December

We went out to recover our tank with a B squadron recovery vehicle. It was slow work as we were under shellfire most of the time, but we eventually managed it and got a half-tracked ambulance out too. Nearly all our MO’s vehicles were busy collecting our dead. War is a horrible thing when you see it like that. On October 19th Sergeant Jackson was killed, the same day that our tank was hit, and today was the first day that we could get to his tank. A party went out to bury him and they found that he was unrecognisable with no eyes and very little flesh left on his face. Yet the Jerries had lifted him out of the tank and taken everything out of his pockets, leaving him to rot in the mud. Two C squadron fellows were buried too and they were in a pretty bad state, one mass of putridity after six weeks in the open. I certainly didn’t envy the gravediggers’ their job.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Thursday 30th November

We thought that things would be quiet here, but today’s activities were far from it. The worst incident of the day was when my friend, Dave Dewar, who has been in the same crew as me since we left England, was hit by shrapnel and had a piece taken out of his lip and nose. It bled considerably, but it is not as serious as it could have been. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t disfigure him, as he is a very good-looking fellow. Still, plastic surgery does marvels these days.
Today, B and C Squadrons put in an attack with the Monmouthshire Infantry Regiment on a castle in order to clear all the Germans from this side of the Maas. Opposition must have been stronger than expected as our Squadron was called in to give assistance in the afternoon. Enemy shelling was considerable and Sergeant Major Lara was wounded. Taffy Hughes and I were standing on top of the turret when there was the terrible whiz of a sniper’s bullet. Taffy and I were in the turret much faster than the proverbial greased lightening. We took quite a few prisoners, which we handed on to the Infantry to march back to base. The Monmouth’s lost a considerable number of men and the medical orderlies were working all night. I don’t mind seeing dead Jerries, but a dead Tommy is always a distressing sight. At 4.00pm we shed a track, after firing smoke across the river, and after several unsuccessful attempts to replace it, we thought we would have to spend the night out there in no-man’s land with Jerry patrols prowling about. But on the Squadron Leader’s orders, we abandoned the tank and rode back on the back of his tank with five prisoners.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Wednesday 29th November

Moved from Zilburg to Horst, only a mile or so from the River Maas and the remaining German pockets. The form at present seems to be five-weeks of static warfare, with us probably returning to the same billets every night. We are billeted in a farm a few kilometres to the east of Horst. We park our tank in the farmyard.

Dutch farms are very different from English ones. Most of the bourgeoisie or peasant farmers are fairly poor and invariably wear cheap wooden clogs. Their clothes are usually simple, well worn and smell of the good earth. By nature they are slow and inquisitive and seem amused because we wash so often, although they never look very dirty themselves. They are not as excitable as the French and have less spirit and joie de vivre. As in the rest of the continent, the children start smoking at the age of ten. An average number for a family is eight. [1]
Some families keep their farmhouses scrupulously clean and the others simply stink. The one we are in at present is a cross between the two. Their barns are all part of the farm house and it is not uncommon to find a pigsty next to the living room. Water is supplied by pump or well and bucket and very few farms have electric light. Bicycles are an essential part of the homestead and are kept in the front room.
Sanitation is generally bad. The WC’s are often open ones and no one seems to mind if the rest of the family look on. I have yet to see a coal fire in Holland. Peat is plentiful and they burn it in stoves and it throws out a fairly decent heat. Angora rabbits, with their queer pink eyes, are an integral part of their livestock. Entertainment beyond family life seems non-existent and the standard of living is very much lower than on English farms. For a photograph of the crew in a light-hearted mood in the Dutch farm see Figure.
[1]. The author doesn’t remember how he acquired this information.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tuesday 28th November

Baths in Helmond provided the day’s highlight. They were followed by tea in the Divisional Club and a visit to the News Theatre. Compared with the number of British troops in Helmond, the British entertainment there is insufficient. All one seems to do is queue. Still, one can spend quite an enjoyable evening there.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Monday 27th November

We are still static and so we have more opportunity to write letters, but nothing interesting to record.

Sunday 26th November

After a day in the mud, with the aid of two Sherman Armed Recovery Vehicles (ARV) and a Scamel, we managed to un-bog our tanks and returned at dusk up the railway line to our billets. It was a glorious night and I really appreciated the beauty of it - the soft wanness of the moon and the falling mist combined to make the most beautiful picture I have seen so far in Holland. It’s strange that in the ugliness of war, one should notice these things.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Saturday 25th November

Once again, we spent the whole day trying to recover our tanks, but without success. We floundered around in the mud and the rain and at the end of the day had moved the tanks at least a yard further. The Squadron moved back from Amerika to Zilburg on the railway lines. The roads are so bad that the railway lines have been filled in. It is rather bumpy in a lorry and a tricky business driving between the lines. On the side of the railway were two dead Germans whom we had seen three days ago. They stunk to high heaven, but someone had turned them over and looted them. One of them was badly mangled too. We arrived in Zilburg just before dark and managed to get the same billets as we had last time.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Friday 24th November

In daylight this morning, it became obvious that the infantry had rummaged through the houses and, therefore, they were clear of mines. We found ourselves a civvy bed to sleep in then had to walk out to the tanks to try to get them un-bogged once again. Needless to say, it was to no avail. We returned to a double rum ration and it sure was appreciated.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Thursday 23rd November

Oh to see a hill. The countryside here is one long, boring roll of flat, bare land, the main product of which is peat. The trees have lost all their leaves now, giving the landscape an even, more desolate appearance. Because of the heavy rains there are bogs and huge pools of water everywhere. It really is impossible country for tanks and I have great hopes that we may be taken out of action soon. We spent all day playing at draughts with the tanks. One tank would get stuck and in the process of pulling it out another one would get stuck. Sometimes we would have three tanks stuck and one out and other times three would be out and one stuck. So the game went on all day, making no progress at all. In fact, it got so bad that when it came dark, we abandoned our tanks and went on the Squadron Leader’s tank to Amerika, which by this time had been taken by the infantry. There in the dark we tumbled into houses, which had not been tested for mines or booby traps and laid down exhausted and slept. [1]
[1]. At this point the author acquires some German photographs and inserts them in his diary. However, at this distance in time he can’t remember how he came by them. See Figures 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Wednesday 22nd November

Moving off before dawn and in a gale, we arrived at our assembly point at 7:30am. The REs, who were to have laid the scissor bridge [1] across the dyke for us to advance, had not arrived so the infantry went on without us. After many technical hitches the bridge was eventually laid and we trundled across to the unknown beyond. Usually the rain and mud are our enemies, but today they were our friends. Instead of pushing on into battle, most of our tanks got bogged down and we stayed behind in the mud and safety. It didn’t just rain, it poured down. We got soaked from head to foot, water squelching in our boots, shirts and vests damp. What a life! If only my mother could see me now. We slept in our wet clothes and did a couple of hours on guard into the bargain.
[1] A scissor bridge was a temporary structure that was capable of being erected quickly. It was so-called because of the way in which it expanded to bridge a river or chasm.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Tuesday 21st November

Most of the day was spent recovering after last night’s guard. The weather is still terrible. Tomorrow at dawn, we go into action again. We are to go down the main road towards Amerika, a small town held by the Germans. The position is made trebly dangerous by the fact that there is no way of getting off the road or turning round. As things have been static for quite a while, the Germans have laid mines all over the place. Ah well, we’ll worry about that tomorrow. In the meanwhile, a precious nights sleep will be appreciated.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Monday 20th November

We camouflaged our tank to look like a Christmas tree. Christmas is only five weeks off. Tumblety has bet us ten shillings each that we will be on leave in England before Christmas. I am afraid that he will be out of pocket, but I hope I will be paying him. Started twenty-four hour guard at 12-noon. Roll on 12.00 tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sunday 19th November

It’s been a very quiet day writing letters. In the American Presidential Elections Roosevelt has been returned for his fourth term by a large majority. Hitler has not been seen in public or heard on the radio since the attempt on his life a few months ago. Himmler has deputised for him and read out his speeches. The rest is clouded in rumour. Different newspapers have various opinions on what has happened to him. The most popular one seems to be that he has had a throat operation. Let’s hope it was unsuccessful.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Saturday 18th November

After a morning’s maintenance, it was back to Helmond again in search of food and entertainment. We found them at the Divisional Club and Flora Hall respectively. The latter was a ‘Stars in Battledress’ show featuring Sid Millward and his Band.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Friday 17th November

Feeling civilized once more after a bath in Helmond, I mixed with the crowds in search of presents and ‘souvenirs of Holland 1944’. Most things are of inferior quality to British goods, though toys are very much cheaper here. Our 11thArmoured Divisional Club provided some excellent scoff for tea and a cinema show finished off quite an enjoyable day.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Thursday 16th November

Guard from 3:30am to 6:30am this morning was a pretty ghastly affair, especially as a white frost formed. We had to walk round all the tanks in ten-minute reliefs, just to keep warm. We were glad when daylight came and we could light a fire and sit on top of it. B Squadron relieved us this morning and we moved back to Deurne. All our crew went to an ENSA show before proceeding to the Squadron jerger. English beer had been saved for the occasion and everyone had a triple rum ration. Entertainment was provided as usual by us. Jock Baillie and I played a boogie-woogie piano piece and an enjoyable evening was had by all.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Wednesday 15th November

It’s been another easy day out of action. Most of the time seems to be occupied by preparing meals. I never get enough time to write letters.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Tuesday 14th November

It’s been quite an easy day in harbour. Taffy dished up some excellent meals and I managed to write a few essential letters. The 51st Highland Division has put in an attack just south of here and it’s going well.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Monday 13th November

It’s Dorothy’s twenty-second birthday. Her surprise present will have to wait until I get back to England, when she will get an engagement ring. But that is between this book and me for the moment. [1] Hitler’s new ‘secret weapon’ - the V2 - is causing quite a sensation in England and commands most of the space in the newspapers. Several of them fell on London a few days ago. They are reputed to travel at three thousand mph and reach a height of seventy miles. Because of their vertical descent, they have not as much blast effect as the V1, but they give no warning noise. We moved back to our position in the Venlo sector this afternoon and for once, got really organised.
[1]. On April 18th 1945 the author added the following entry in the margin: ‘She’ll get a wedding ring too.’

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sunday 12th November

Baths this morning were very much appreciated. So too was the spare time to write letters. In the afternoon a ‘passion truck ‘ was run to Helmond and once again we visited the Divisional Club, this time having three helpings of food. Electricity in certain sectors of the town had failed, so we had to spend the evening in the Club and wandering around cafés. One café provided entertainment in the form of piano and drums. I tipped the drummer ten cigarettes and he let me play for quite a while. We certainly hit the high spots. [1]
[1]. Since the Army gave everybody who was on active service a cigarette ration and the author smokes a pipe, he used his ration as currency with which to buy a range of items.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Saturday 11th November

Thank goodness we are out of this sea of mud and shells. We pulled back this morning to Deurne for two days rest. As Deurne is only a small village several of us hitchhiked into Helmond, a medium sized town eleven kilometres away. There, we had tea at our own Divisional Club served by Dutch debutantes who could speak a little English. The meal cost us twenty-five cents, which is approximately six pence. The cinema provided the next two hours entertainment; the film being ‘Stage Door Canteen’. The cinema has been commandeered by the Army and is only open to civilians on Sundays. In most continental cinemas, smoking is not allowed because there is no suitable method of ventilation and the smoke spoils the film. Altogether it was a very pleasant day out and a complete change from yesterday.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Friday 10th November

I shall be exceedingly glad when our stay in this sector is over. Things are much too hot for my liking. This afternoon, I ventured forth from my hole in the ground to collect the mail. On my return journey two shells fell so close that they covered me in mud. I regained the safety of the dugout under the tank, only to find that a moment later, a shell, fell right in front of it and blew the idler rubbers off. There were many shrapnel holes in the bins and mudguard of the tank, but none of us lying underneath it felt the least effect, except perhaps for a slight shaking of our nerves. After that, we kept as close to the good earth as we could. Received my camera from home and letter from Bill Baybutt saying that he is in Swansea Hospital and has his left side and arm in a plaster cast. As I thought, when Dave and I lifted him out of the tank on that fateful day, his left upper arm was broken. The cut on his chin must have been much worse than we thought, as he had not been able to use his jaws to eat for a fortnight. Even then, I wonder if he is luckier than I am. A nice clean ‘Blighty’ wound [1] seems all there is to live for these days. Corporal Webster got hit by shrapnel today when a shell fell a few yards away from him and a piece of shrapnel went up through his chin, severing his lips and tongue, and then into his nose. It is a rather horrible wound that will probably affect his speech. I only hope that it’s not as bad as it looks.
[1]. A ‘Blightly wound’ was Army lingo for a wound that was serious enough to ensure hospitalisation in the UK, but not serious enough to inflict a lasting disability.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Thursday 9th November

We moved up this morning into the Vaulen sector and we are to remain here for two days. That is two days too long. We have taken up positions two or three hundred yards from the enemy and are shelled and mortared all day long. Occasionally, a sniper takes a few shots at us and, in retaliation, one of our snipers from the Welsh Guards pots at them through telescopic sights. We picked off one yesterday and one today. Looking at the enemy positions through binoculars from the observation post in the attic of the shelled farmhouse, they look terrifyingly near. We live in a hole dug in the mud under the tank and only move out of it when absolutely necessary. It is extremely awkward cooking under there, but it has to be done. It is too cold to sleep and too cramped to read or write so we just talk. [1] Dave Dewar, our gunner, has been transferred from our crew to 4th Troop, which is being re- formed. A fellow named Jack Arkley has replaced him. Glynn Hughes -Taffy to us - is now gunner and Jack is the co-driver. Boogie Watson still keeps us entertained by his mimicking and blunt wit. At night we moved back three hundred yards into what was originally an orchard, but it is now a sea of mud a foot deep. Two shells fell within fifteen yards of us, but no one was hurt. Once again, we dug a hole under the tank and crawled under the blankets in our muddy clothes. However, at midnight I was hauled out for wireless watch. I am on until 2.00am and it’s getting towards that now, for which I am truly thankful.
[1]. One of the reasons the author felt it necessary to venture out from under the tank was to make his diary entries.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Wednesday 8th November

We have now two enemies – the cold and the Germans and I hardly know which is the worst, although it is easier to get away from the latter than the former. The newspapers report that Christmas leave will be granted for certain frontline regiments in Holland, unless the ‘big offensive’ comes off. Leave will be ten days from the time of arriving in England to the time of departure. I’m pessimistic about our prospects for leave. Even so, it is something to look forward to. It is surprising that even the mere possibility, but improbability, of such a thing cheers one up. Walcharen Island, controlling the Scheldt Estuary, is now almost completely in our hands and the port of Antwerp, which we captured almost intact, is working again and will relieve our supply columns immediately.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Tuesday 7th November

C Squadron was shelled this morning and one of their fellows got two shrapnel wounds in the back. It is terribly cold getting up in the morning now. We crawl out of our hole at 6.00am in our underpants and dress in the gale outside. This morning, it was moonlight when we got up and freezing hard. The first diversion is breakfast where we can dash around and fill up the petrol stoves in a frantic effort to get warm. When it grows light, we are allowed to light a fire. Breakfast, like all other meals, is a rather a grubby affair because we haven’t got time to wash beforehand. However, Taffy usually makes something very tasty out of our only just ample rations and we all declare it to be the best meal we have ever had. Washing up is always a problem. We usually wipe the plates over with an old rag, on the principle that: ‘a bit of clean dirt does nobody any harm’. Washing clothes is also another difficult problem, but recently a mobile laundry that visits the bathhouse at Helmond has solved the problem. There we can get a complete change of clothing. I actually managed to see a cinema show in Deurne tonight. Five men per troop were taken back behind the lines to see the show. The film was ‘The Uninvited’, starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey and Patrick Gale. It was an exceptionally good thriller with excellent acting by all three. It relied mainly on psychological effects rather than horror scenes. One of the most startling coincidences I have ever experienced happened while we were in the cinema. The news film was showing the bombing of Duisberg and a bomb being released from a plane. Simultaneously, a bomb fell outside the cinema and blew all the doors open as well as causing plaster to fall from the ceiling. I couldn’t resist turning to Jock Baillie and saying: ‘Very realistic film. Isn’t it?’ On the way back we had to go over a crossroads that is usually shelled by the enemy at that time of night, but we managed it safely and, gratefully, crawled into our blankets under the tank.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Monday 6th November

Life is still quite easy and, although we were up at the front today, everything was quiet. We did a bit of long-range shelling, but when Jerry started shelling back, we cleared out of it. Once again, I implore any reader to excuse the dirty condition of this book and the atrocious handwriting, but it is almost impossible to keep one’s hands clean and, at the moment, it’s so cold that writing is a complicated job. This morning, the Squadron scout car hit a mine and the driver was badly wounded, but the officer got off with bruises and shock. Needless to say, the scout car doesn’t work any more. Now back to our palace, our haven of refuge - the hole in the ground under the tank.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Sunday 5th November

It’s Guy Fawkes Day. I only hope that Jerry does not put on a firework display. As from today, we only have to cook our own breakfasts. A cold meal is supplied for mid-day and a hot meal is brought up on a Divisional lorry at the end of the day when we have finished fighting. This experiment will be a good idea if the cooks play their part, as it’s very awkward for us to cook our own meals in the dark when we come in. We had an excellent fire today of peat. It is very smoky at first, but throws off a good heat afterwards. [1]
[1]. On April 8th 1945 the author added a note in the margin of his diary to the effect that this meal system only worked for six days.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sunday 4th November

It was yet another day taking it easy in harbour. The civilians in the area have been evacuated because there had been too much fifth column work. There have been several pigs wandering around here with no one to feed them, so we were merciful and killed one outright instead of letting it die slowly of hunger. Taffy Hughes once worked in a slaughterhouse, and he made an excellent job of killing the pig and slicing it up. Now we have pork for dinner for several days to come.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Friday 3rd November

We seem to be taking things much easier than before, as we had another day in harbour today. No one really seems to know what is happening. Actually, I am not worried. This position of reserve suits me fine. Received some toffee from Dorothy. My typewriter is going great guns now and facilitates letter writing tremendously. Antwerp has fallen and so has the first lot of snow. The attack on the Philippine Islands is progressing satisfactorily. Guard duty at night was a very tense affair. Dave and I stood out there in the machine-gun pit expecting a mass German infantry attack at any moment. The rustle of grass made by a stray sheep was enough to set our nerves on edge.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tuesday 2nd November

Having successfully repulsed the German counter-attack at Leisel, we returned to the Venlo sector and spent the day doing odd jobs on the tanks. We were promised a cinema show at night, but it never came off. At about 4:30pm we saw a considerable number of our bombers returning from a daylight raid on Germany. Jerry put up a lot of flak and one of our planes, a Lancaster or a Liberator, I could not quite distinguish which, was hit. We saw it come diving steeply to earth and burst into flames with a terrific roar as it crashed about one thousand yards away, just inside our lines. We saw six parachutes come gracefully down and for a while it was touch and go whether they would land in our lines or in German territory. I believe they all landed in ours. I think a Lancaster or a Liberator has a seven-man crew, so what happened to the seventh man we can only surmise. His end would be instantaneous, if he was in the plane when it crashed. At about 9.00pm, when we were in our blankets under the tank, Jerry started to shell us with 105-mm shells. Some of them fell unpleasantly close and we grovelled closer to Mother Earth as they whined overhead.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Wednesday 1st November

Went out fighting as Mr Ridding’s wireless operator. The last time I operated for a troop officer, he got killed, but I haven’t told him that yet. The infantry put in an attack on Leisel and we gave them covering machine gun fire. They managed to advance much further than had been anticipated and, in fact, it was quite a good day. For a photograph of the tank crew

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Tuesday 31st October

Received a terrific birthday cake from home. The crew and I had a big chunk each for supper. We are at present on flank protection to the infantry attack on Leisel. It is not at all bad. As the weather deteriorates, tank warfare will become more and more static, and therefore, much easier for us, but will slow down the progress of the war. Whilst I am not at all keen to be involved in the fierce fighting, I would like the war to be over pretty soon. It has gone on five years too long already. The newspapers are still very optimistic, but a two or three mile advance makes headlines these days. Mr Churchill said in the House today that the war against Japan is expected to continue for eighteen months after the war with Germany. Good Lord! I hope he’s misinformed.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Monday 30th October

One good thing about all the days being alike is that we don’t get that Monday morning feeling. The enemy have advanced two miles in this sector and have retaken the village of Liesel. Refugees are now streaming up the main road. We had quite an easy day as reserve to the Yanks, but we were shelled as usual. No casualties.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Sunday 29th October

The date sounds familiar. Ah, yes, it’s my 21st birthday. I spent the first three hours of it on guard, frozen silly. At the moment, we are being shelled, so it looks like being a jolly birthday. An infantryman has just been hit in the leg by a shell just up the road. Two hundred yards down the road another infantryman has trodden on a mine. There was a hell of a flash and explosion and the wounded are being carried back past us now. In a way it is a marvel how anyone lives in action. We have to contend with shelling, mortaring, machine gun fire, small arms fire, snipers, mines, anti-tank guns, bombing ‘Moaning Minnies’ [1] and hoards of other fatal weapons. At night, Jerry puts on a firework display especially for my birthday. Jolly sporting of him. Two bombs fell unpleasantly close, but apart from that it was quite a pretty picture. There are flares, star shells, pink and white parachute flares and all kinds of ack-ack tracers, criss-crossing in a variety of original designs: much better than Skipton Gala. Received several birthday cards - presents are waiting until I return home. What a party I will have then.
[1]. ‘Moaning Minnies’ were the nickname given to screaming shells.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Saturday 28th October

Moved into an orchard and stayed there all day as reserve regiment. Chicken for dinner again. The Russians are pushing slowly on in spite of stiff German resistance in East Prussia where the Germans are loosing an average of seventy-five tanks a day. Good show. Our bombers still hammer mercilessly at German industrial towns. On the home front, Eric Wiggan got married at Keighley today. I wish him and his new wife much happiness.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Friday 27th October

All our hopes for a four days rest were shattered today when we were ordered to move at two hours notice. This meant we could not have our badly needed baths and were not allowed out. Apparently, the enemy have put in a counter-attack in the Venlo area and have advanced four or five miles. Consequently, our rest is cancelled and we have to lend the Yanks a hand to help push Jerry back. Sergeant Gibson is returning to England for a course on the new Comet Tank and leaves this weekend. How we all envy him. Not only will he be out of the fighting for a while, but he’ll also get seven days leave after finishing the course. He had quite a lot of kit to take home, so I offered to buy his portable typewriter to save him carrying it. I got it for two pounds. It is quite small and handy to carry on the tank. At last, my friends will be able to read my letters.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Thursday 26th October

Four days rest behind the fighting line began today. We moved back to the village of Deurne and took up billets in a mill. It is grand to be static for a while; to put ones best suit on and ‘civvy’ shoes and stroll around the town. Once more we return to a semi-civilised state. At 7.00pm, we went to a cinema show in a civilian cinema run by the Army. The film was ‘A Yank at Eton’ starring Mickey Rooney and being a non-propaganda film, it took our minds temporarily away from war in all its forms. It is grand to be sleeping in a building and not under a tank.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Wednesday 25th October

Up to the frontline again this morning. We pulled in between two haystacks and camouflaged up. There was the usual shelling and mortaring and we had to dive spasmodically under the tank. That is rather a nuisance when you are halfway through dinner. A sniper took a few shots at us, but apart from that, everything was quiet. [1]
[1]. They also took some German prisoners.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Tuesday 24th October

I’m pleased with this - another day’s rest while B Squadron are up at the front. Saw Bill Kavanagh and had a chat with him. Received a letter from home saying that Ronnie Mayman has got engaged. [1] Things move fast these days. Taffy Hughes, our ex sergeant’s mess cook, made us a terrific meal today. Some of the food, we just found. We had potatoes, peas, carrots and fried chicken, covered with thick onion gravy followed by plums cherries and tinned milk. Then, we had tea, of course. Not bad for a tank crew in action.
[1]. Ronnie Mayman was a cousin of the author.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Monday 23rd October

Today was the first time that I have experienced static warfare or merely holding a position. I must say it is much better than continually pushing on. It is quite funny really. We take the position during the day and the Germans move in at night. They move out before we come up again in the morning. We just park our tank where they can see us. They shell us until we get fed up being shelled and they get fed up of shelling, so we both pack in for the night. We get sniped at when we are trying to make dinner out in the open, but it is all part of the fun of the game.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Sunday 22nd October

This morning, Major Pearson came to see me and shook me by offering to make me up to corporal and become a crew commander. I told him that at the moment, after being blasted out of my tank, my nerves couldn’t stand the responsibility of five men. Perhaps I will think differently if the chance of promotion comes again. Eric Probin and Tubby Nunns saw the Squadron Leader this morning and told him that their nerves were so bad that they could not stand going in another tank. Consequently, they were sent back to A2 Echelon for a rest and replaced by our old pal, Boogie Watson as driver, and Tumblety as commander. I now wish that I hadn’t refused promotion because I’ll have to go in as operator anyway. Several sergeants have reverted back to trooper because they cannot stick crew commanding any longer. The form now is that the Regiment have to hold this sector until November 8th. We are to be relieved for four days by the Fife and Forfar Regiment and we are to rest and make merry in Derne. That kind of warfare is not so bad.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Saturday 21st October

Knowing that all our crew had a pretty terrible experience, Major Pearson, the Squadron Leader left us in today, while the rest of the Squadron were in action. The day’s rest was very much appreciated.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Friday 20th October

I thought I would sleep last night, but the thoughts of the day’s experiences made it impossible. We are all very much shaken by the experience and none of us think ourselves capable of going into action in a tank again. In fact, the very thought of it turns my stomach over. This was not made any better when, at 3.00pm, orders came through for five of us to collect another tank from the Forward Delivery Squadron and this, less than twenty-four hours after we were lucky enough to get out of the other tank alive. Still, I suppose we are so short of men that it has to be done. We will be the most cautious crew in the Regiment as we are all still suffering from nerves and all hate the prospect of going back into action. Our crew is now Corporal Probin, commander, Dave Dewar, gunner, Taffy Hughes, co-driver, and Tubby Nunns, driver, with me as wireless operator. We arrived at the Squadron just before dark and bedded down for the night.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Thursday 19th October

A day I shall never forget. The fact that I am here to write this now seems nothing less than a miracle. Today’s happenings still seem an incredible nightmare involving a horrible succession of escapes from death and patching up wounded comrades. I will describe it as best my shattered nerves will allow. A-Squadron stood by until dinnertime and then we were called upon to attack a position north of Venlo. During a bout of heavy mortar fire, an 88-mm anti-tank gun hit Sergeant Jackson’s tank and he was killed. This shook us considerably as he was really one of the best, liked by all. A short while after, our Troop officer’s tank got stuck in a ditch and Mr Wilson came on to our tank, leaving Eric Probin, our tank commander, to get his tank out of the ditch. No sooner had they done this, then they were hit by an 88mm shell and the tank caught fire instantaneously. Luckily, no one was hurt and they all baled out. Only Keeler, the gunner was burnt, but not too seriously. All five made a dash for safety under mortar fire, but no one was hit.
Meanwhile, we had been ordered to advance on an orchard and clear it of infantry. Sergeant Gibson’s tank took up a position not far from a red-roofed farmhouse. He hadn’t been there long when an 88-mm shell hit his tank. Marshall, his wireless operator, was badly wounded in the neck and legs. Being an operator myself, this news didn’t help to cheer me up, especially as we were not far from him when he was hit. Seeing what happened, John Sutcliffe started to reverse his tank towards the orchard for cover only twenty yards to our right, but he too was hit by the same anti-tank gun and the tank caught fire. They baled out and I could see that several of them were wounded and badly burnt and I realised that our turn would come soon if we didn’t get out of it quickly. We reached the shelter of the few trees in the orchard and Corporal Sutcliffe’s crew crawled towards us. We stopped our tank and helped them on to its back to take them to safety. John had two very bad wounds on the back of his right leg and his face and hands were badly burnt. Bill Durham’s face was so badly burnt that he was almost unrecognisable. He was temporarily blind. We patched them up as best we could and laid them on the back of the tank to take them to the field dressing station. No sooner had we done this than there was a terrific ‘whoof’ and a blinding flash in the turret. Instantaneously, I realised that we had been hit and baled out of the turret, wondering if I had been wounded. I was very much relieved to see Dave Dewar and Mr Wilson bale out too. Our immediate concern on finding ourselves out of the tank and all right was for the wounded that were on the back of the tank. We got them on to the ground as quickly and as best we could in case the tank caught fire. The engine was still running and we tried to tell Bill Baybutt, our driver, through his visor to switch it off. He was slumped forward and his eyes were closed and, for a moment, I thought he was dead. Mr Wilson ordered me to make a dash to the nearest tank and ask for help. This I did, and found the Squadron Leader, Major Pearson. He pointed out that he could not send another tank to collect the wounded because it would probably be hit too. [1] Then we had to carry the wounded seventy-five yards to the comparative safety of a haystack. On returning to the tank for the second time I was astonished to find that Bill Baybutt had come round and managed to get his flaps open, and was standing there hoping for help. [2] Dave and I lifted him out and found that his left arm had been badly shattered above the elbow. Dave did an excellent job of first-aid and then he carried Bill to safety. In the meantime Taffy Hughes and I carried Bill Durham away. In spite of the fact that his face was so badly burnt and had no sense of feeling in it, he kept his spirits up wonderfully well and even made one or two attempts at jokes. All we could do for him was put cream on his face before lifting him on to the back of Mr Heathcote’s tank. That ride to the field dressing station must have been hell for them. We sat on the back of the tank and comforted them as best we could. On arrival at the dressing station the doctor quickly dealt with them and despatched them in ambulances to base hospitals.
We, the survivors, were sent back to A2 Echelon, issued with survivors kits and told that we would get a week’s rest. We certainly need it as we are all pretty badly shaken up. My nerves are not steady even yet. I definitely don’t want to go into another tank after that episode. All I can think about is the day’s experience and I didn’t get any sleep through it. But that is not all. On finding that our tank was still runable, Mr Wilson got another driver and decided to drive it away. He had not gone very far when a second 88-mm shell went straight through the turret and wounded him so badly that he died two hours later. If Dave and I had been in the turret with him, instead of going back with the wounded, we would have had it. Bud Marshall, our co-driver, is the luckiest person on earth. An hour before we were hit, he cut the end off one of his fingers when slamming his door and had to go to the MO. If this hadn’t happened, he would be dead now because the first shot went straight through the armour exactly where he would have been sitting.

[1]. Major Pearson asked the author to get back into the tank, look through the hole where the armour piercing shell penetrated and try to get a line on where it may have come from. He did this on the assumption that lightening wouldn’t strike twice in the same place. He was able to give the Major a line on a copse not far away.
[2]. The author didn’t know how Baybutt managed to achieve this manoeuvre with only one arm and other injuries: lifting heavy tank flaps would be a challenge even for a very strong person.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Wednesday 18th October

Today, in a German prisoner’s kit, we found several items that he had obviously looted from a Dutch farmhouse – spoons, cigars and some women’s clothing. A-Squadron was in reserve most of the day. Clegg of B Squadron was killed. Jerry is not a very sociable sort of a guy. This morning we thought we would cook breakfast, but he thought differently and started to send mortar shells all round us. It was a case of eating breakfast in between diving under the tank a dozen times before we managed to finish it. Our nerves are in such a state now that someone has just to whistle softly under his breath and we all dive under the tank. I am becoming a veritable Jesse Owens and can cover the one hundred yards to the hole under the tank at a pace that has never yet been equalled. We ought to be issued with a flying suit and a diving suit, one to wear when flying to the tank and the other to wear when diving under it. Being shelled and mortared is not exactly a pleasant experience, but we have got so used to it that we can detect by the whistle whether or not it is coming our way. Towards dusk we were sent on a potentially dangerous mission around a parallelogram of roads that had not been cleared. Much to our relief, we found no opposition. Two German colonels gave themselves up to 2nd Troop today. It was found that they were Polish and willing to talk and considerable information was obtained from them. We also captured a German staff car, intact, full of maps. For once, it didn’t rain at night and we were able to dig our bed-pit in comfort, although we couldn’t light fires to cook with because there were enemy planes overhead.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Tuesday 17th October

Our immediate objective is to clear a German enclave on our side of the River Maas. For a map of the area and the nature of our task

We started on this task in earnest today. We were proceeding slowly down the main road when the enemy started to mortar and shell us. I have never closed those turret hatches so quickly. Several shells landed very close to the tank and we felt it shake. A whistle or a whining crescendo precedes the landing of all the mortar-shells. Therefore, one only has a few seconds warning to dive for cover. We inside the tank were comparatively safe, but the infantry had quite a few casualties and the wounded were taken to the rear on jeeps, one poor fellow was minus a leg. Further along the road, through the periscope, I saw a German mortar shell land right in the middle of a group of German prisoners. Too bad being killed by one’s own shells after being taken prisoner. We took quite a few prisoners. Some looked dejected, some worn out, some arrogant, some grinned like Cheshire cats, but all were dirty and unkempt. One group of about thirty men marched in with their officer leading. Contact with the enemy was slight, but grew fiercer towards dusk. It was pouring down again and pitch black when we pulled into harbour and once again, we spent the night between soaked blankets.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Monday 16th October

I was on guard last night. Two of us had to stay in the ditch and keep a listening watch, while the other two patrolled the tanks. It was eerie out there in the ditch in the pouring rain, expecting Jerry to pop up any minute. Two hours in a ditch in the pouring rain isn’t pleasant at any time, especially when you are soaked to begin with, but that was only a minor problem compared with looking out for Jerries wanting to do or die for Hitler. I don’t mind them dying. It’s when they try to take me with them that I don’t like. I was glad when our spell of guard was finished and I could crawl under the tank again. This morning, somebody accidentally put his foot on the Besa machine gun firing mechanism and seriously wounded Mr Seine of B Squadron. Yesterday he was pinned down by German machine gun fire and managed to escape only to be hit by his own guns the day after.
As I write this entry, a big infantry attack is going in on my right and is being supported by a terrific artillery barrage from the rear. The noise is deafening and one can hear the shells whining overhead. There are rockets, 25-pounders, and all kinds of heavy guns. I am certainly glad that I am at this end of the barrage and not the other. With shelling like this and bombing day and night, it is obvious that Jerry has had it. If only he would realise it and pack in. It will be grand when there is no more danger of being killed or mutilated for life and one doesn’t hear continually of friends who have suffered that fate.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Sunday 15th October

We were up at first light this morning and started preparing the other tank for action. We eventually rejoined the squadron at 10:30am and found that they had not moved off into action. It was a case of standing to all day. Just before dark, we moved up to the front and harboured for the night. In the pouring rain and semi-darkness we had to prepare a meal, dig a hole under the tank to sleep in, in case of mortar or shellfire, and fold our blankets into a sort of bed. By the time we had finished everything was soaked including ourselves, but we crept under the tank and lay there until 10.00pm when it was our turn to go on guard.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Saturday 14th October

Moved off at 3.00pm to the battle area. No sooner had we arrived there than the bolts on the gear selector level sheared off and we had to return to camp to take over another tank. We could only plod along in third gear and it was after dark when we arrived there, so we could not start preparing the new tank. We had a good night’s sleep in the barn in spite of the fact that a German fighter plane tried to keep us awake.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Friday 13th October

Thank goodness we are not going into action today – it’s Friday 13th. Still, I am not superstitious. We were supposed to go into action this afternoon at 3:30pm, but it has been postponed until tomorrow morning.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Thursday 12th October

We are still resting behind the lines. Our new – reconditioned - tank is now almost ready for action. The tank is, but the crew aren’t. It is getting too near to the end of the war to be killed in action. Several military strategists think that the Germans will fight on, even if Berlin is taken, but I don’t think so. In any case, by that time the Russians will be closing in on the eastern front of Germany. Once Arnhem has fallen there are no more towns to be taken to the northwest and we can cut off the Germans in Rotterdam. The Americans have surrounded Aachen and are approximately twenty-five miles from Cologne. When the push on Cologne begins, the RAF and artillery will bomb and shell the town into an unrecognisable mass if the German troops in it refuse to surrender. The civilians have been warned to clear out into the country. If they stay in the towns, it is literally their own funeral.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Wednesday 11th October

As I haven’t received any mail since our tank has been broken down and in workshops, there were forty-two letters waiting for me, and today, I settled down to answer a few of them. It took me three hours to read them all. Amongst them were several newspapers, dated the end of August, saying that the war would be over in five weeks. Some of them even said that it was a matter of days. They are still saying it. However, once the crust of the German defences is broken I don’t think it will be very long. The snag is that it is we who have to break the crust and by ‘we’ I don’t mean England, but ‘we’ personally. Today is the birthday of my mother and Tommy Holden. I wish them both many happy returns.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Tuesday 10th October

Spent the day preparing our tank for action. It has been knocked out before, but has now been reinforced by armour plating. The armament as usual is one 75-mm main gun and two Besa machine guns. At the moment our Regiment is resting in a wood four miles east of Gemert. The rest of the Brigade is still in action holding our positions, while all our forces are being consolidated for the Big Push. The German defences are said to constitute one big crust around the Seigfried Line and when that is broken, it is expected that there will be very little resistance inside. General Montgomery hopes to crack this crust before winter sets in. When the Big Push does come, it will be on a scale unprecedented in the annals of history.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Monday 9th October

Before we left the farmhouse, the old lady gave us some hot milk. We found our Regiment resting behind the lines not far from Gemert. We said our au revoirs to the two KSLI and the Fife and Forfar Regiment chaps who went on to find their regiments, and found our own Squadron Leader, Major Pearson. [1] He was more than pleased to see us and had a tank ready and waiting for us. Then the sad news began to pour in. Many of our friends have been killed: Mr Bryce, Hooky Walker, Arthur Harrat, Pete Clark, Bob Harris, Bill Wayne, Fred Harrison and Pete Ireland. In addition, many others have been wounded by shrapnel: Fred Sheldon, Pete Angel, Bert Peachey, Simmonds, Ashlee, Les Manning, Reg West and Corporal Kingston. This is only in A Squadron. The other squadrons only had five tanks out of eighteen in action. It shook us to hear of all these deaths at once. I have known most of the fellows for eighteen months and, in that time one becomes quite attached to one’s fellow troopers. [2]
Someone told us that when Mr Bryce’s tank was hit, the shot went right through the rear corner of the tank, blew one side and arm right off Mr Bryce and splattered poor Hooky’s head. Ashlee, the gunner, got away with shrapnel in his hand and side and remained conscious all the time. He had to remain with hatches closed down in the confined space of the turret with the two mangled bodies of his friends for three hours before he could get out because of machine gun fire. He and the driver and co-driver managed to get away then, but had to leave the tank in no-man’s land. It was four days before anyone could get back to the tank to remove the bodies. They were buried at 11.00pm in the middle of an air raid. When Sergeant Gadd’s tank was hit, the shot went right through Ken Harris, the gunner, and hit Pete Clark, the operator. Ken would have been killed instantaneously, but they say that Pete lived for three minutes. Corporal Nicholl’s tank was hit and his gunner killed, but he got out of the tank and wandered in a bomb-happy condition down the main road. Regardless of his state of mind, he then had to take over command of the tank containing the mangled remains of Mr Ireland. I bet it took some nerve to do that. Still, this is war I suppose and one must expect such things. It is said that George Horley won the Military Medal. [3] When his tank was hit and Mr McM-Winckley was wounded in the stomach, Horley lifted him out of the tank and dragged him one hundred and fifty yards to safety, all the time under machine gun fire. When B Echelon was bombed, ‘Blanco’ White drove three lorries away from a burning lorry full of exploding ammunition and petrol. Freddie Crump knocked out two Panther tanks in one day.
[1]. The author delivered a letter from the Transport Officer listing the reasons for the delay in recovering their tank.
[2]. The author also heard that on the last day in action before being pulled out for rest, Major Pearson’s brother had been killed.

[3]. The Military Medal is a medal that is awarded to ranks below that of officer.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sunday 8th October

The straw in the barn was so soft and warm that no one got up until 9.00am. After breakfast and a rough wash and shave, the seven of us from the 11thArmoured Division set off in the two King’s Surrey Light Infantry (KSLI) carriers to find our regiments - ‘somewhere in the front line’. [1] At 11:20am we crossed the Belgian border into Holland – a red and white striped barrier that is now permanently open - although some Belgian Maquis (the Belgian Resistance Movement) were hanging around. A few hundred yards inside Holland, we saw five burnt-out Sherman tanks. It was not a very pleasant welcome back into action. On either side of the road are groups of British graves with neat white crosses. Some of them have their owner’s caps and cap badges on them. There must have been fierce fighting round here.
Already, we have seen many windmills and people wearing the traditional wooden clogs, but as yet, no one with patches on their trousers. In the towns, most of the people wear shoes on Sundays, but on the farms they wear brightly coloured wooden clogs or sabots [2] and have plain ones for weekdays. Invariably, the children wear clogs. In the big towns, however, boots and shoes are the fashion. Passing through Eindhoven, we noticed that the people were quite well and fashionably dressed, but the women were not as attractive as in France. They are heftier and have better natural looks, but they don’t seem to bother about them. I haven’t seen many of the flaxen haired beauties that are supposed to live in Holland. In a way, Dutch sounds like a kind of pigeon English - drinkwater, warmwater are all the same except that the ‘W’s are pronounced as ‘Vs’ and warmwater sounds like ‘varrum vater’. The monetary system is different from those of France and Belgium. Both are based on the franc. There are two hundred French francs and one hundred and seventy-two Belgian francs to the pound. A guilder (een guilden) is worth about seventeen Belgian francs, which is roughly two shillings.
As the land is very flat, most people own bicycles and there are separate cycle tracks down either side of the road. Most of the roads in the Low Lands are long and straight. We found our new Divisional Head Quarters near Gemert and they gave us the location of our Regiment, but as it was hopeless trying to find them in the dark, we pulled in for the night at a Dutch farmhouse. None of us could speak Dutch, but we made them understand that we wanted somewhere to sleep and the farmer led us to an attic floor covered with straw and this was more than acceptable.

[1]. As the frontline kept moving they found themselves chasing moving targets. All they had to help them find their Regiment were newspaper cuttings of where the frontline was two days earlier. More contemporary guidance came from asking the drivers of passing ambulances and supply vehicles if they knew the location of the 15th/19th KRH.
[2]. The term ‘sabots’ is French for wooden shoes.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Saturday 7th October

We set out in the carriers this morning for Eindhoven, but hadn’t gone more than six or seven miles when we stopped for dinner. We stayed there all day and night too. The nineteen of us who were wending our way back to the frontline are now reduced to twelve because the other seven are making their liberty last yet another day. Dinner was cooked by digging a hole in the ground, filling it with sticks, pouring petrol on and igniting them. We opened one tin of each kind of food we had, emptied it all into an old biscuit tin with some onions that we had scrounged and stirred it up into one big stew. It was all right too. As we were sampling this concoction, literally hundreds of heavy bombers passed overhead and we thought that the big push had started. We heard later on the 6.00pm news that three thousand Lancasters and Liberators had attacked numerous targets in Germany. As we have not been able to get any French money changed into Belgian currency, we sold a few of our tinned goods and soap to a ‘civvy’ and this provided us with the means of spending an enjoyable evening in a café. The barmaid could speak French so I was official translator for the party. We slept the night in a nearby barn.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Friday 6th October

Under orders from the RTO, we unloaded our carriers from the train. It was decided that we should set off to find our different regiments on the frontline tomorrow, so we went into Bourgleopold to try to change our French money into Belgian, but it couldn’t be done. I was surprised to see ice-cream being sold in ‘large lumps’. It is a terrible feeling to have plenty of money in your pockets and yet not being able to spend it. At night we went to the cinema and asked if we could get in by paying with French money. They said no, but they would let us in for four cigarettes each. Thus, we saw Stanley Lupino and Sally Gray in ‘Cheer up’. It was in English with the Flemish and French translations appearing in print at the bottom of the screen. The two supporting films were in French and Flemish.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Thursday 5th October

We awoke this morning just before the train passed through Brussels. The electric trains and trams are running again. We are well inside Belgium now and some place names begin with ‘Z’ like Zolder. All notices are written in Flemish and French. For example ‘ Exit’ is written as Uitgang, Sortie.
We arrived at our destination Bourgleopold just before dark. It was too late to unload the carriers so we spent our third night in the cattle truck.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Wednesday 4th October

The train of (troop) carriers, some repaired tanks and our two cattle trucks with ten fellows in each, moved off at 2.00am, although I was hardly conscious of the fact. In spite of bad jolting and the cold, I slept until 5.00am and by that time we had passed through Arras and were at Douai, which is very much the worse for aerial bombardment. From there, we crawled along to Lille where we arrived about 2.00pm. French railways seem to be a very slaphappy affair. If the driver feels like something to eat, he just stops the train and sits on the embankment in peace. Once, when we stopped, I asked the driver if we had time to go for a drink and he said that it was quite okay. He held the train up until we came back. At Basieux we had to stop to have all the wagon numbers checked, as it is the last French station before entering Belgium. We stopped again to change engines at Tournay, several miles inside Belgium. As we had half an hour to spare we went into a café, forgetting that we still had French money. However, they accepted it as a favour. Very much to my surprise, I find that nearly all Belgians speak French as well as Flemish. Quite a few of them speak English too. The train pushed on from Tournay and we spent our second night on the train.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Tuesday 3rd October

Our kit was boarded onto a train at Amiens station by 11.00am this morning [1], but as we had to wait until midnight for an engine, we took full advantage of our last precious hours in civilization. In the evening we went into what appeared to be a normal café by the side of the station, but it turned out to be a café-cum-brothel. These are legal in France. Downstairs is a normal café, but I’ll not vouch for what goes on upstairs. We had a cognac and came out quickly. The floor of our cattle truck was not exactly soft, but I slept well all the same.
[1]. The author and his colleagues were informed that they were to leave their tank in the workshop to be fitted with a new engine and that they were to rejoin their Regiment without it. The author got a letter from a workshop officer to this effect.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Monday 2nd October

Spent the day under an hour’s notice to move, but nothing happened by tea-time, so the five of us went to the ENSA cinema to see ‘Broadway Rhythm’. The French civilians are willing to pay fantastic prices for cigarettes and food. I bought fifty cigarettes from the YMCA mobile canteen today. They cost me eighteen francs: I sold them for a hundred. In the same way, one can get twenty francs (two shillings) for a tin of bully beef. Also, if you want to be mean you can get ten francs (one shilling) for a two pence bar of chocolate or a bar of soap.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Sunday 1st October

This morning, a girl of about fourteen appeared at our window and invited two of us out to dinner at her home at 20 Rue de Levassier. Bud Marshall and I went and received an excellent welcome. The family consists of mother, father, daughter, son, aged ten, a cat and a dog. They gave us an excellent dinner – tomatoes, fish, roast beef, onions and gravy, cake and black coffee with rum. The usual red wine and beer was present in large quantities. We did justice to it all. The daughter, Anne- Marie, sang us a French song ‘Salut Tommy’ which was written to commemorate our liberation of Amiens on August 30th. Since we were the first British troops to enter the town they insisted that we gave them one of our divisional signs as a souvenir and so I tore the ‘bull’ off my left shoulder.
In the evening we met a captain from the Fife and Forfar Regiment in our Brigade [1] in a café. He had just come out of hospital. He told us that Mr Bryce, our troop officer, had been killed a fortnight ago. This rather shook us, as we knew him well. [2] We sincerely hope that our friends in his crew are all safe. It is going to shake us when we return to find that several of our friends have been killed. As far as we can gather, the Regiment is having a rough time. We shall know in about a week’s time. I hope my mail wasn’t on Mr Bryce’s tank.

[1]. A brigade consists of two or more regiments.
[2]. Mr Bryce was an older officer around 32 years of age, not the normal 22 to 26.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Saturday 30th September

Russia has now taken the whole of Estonia. It has been decided that Eric, Dave, Bud and myself have to return to the Regiment with only Pete staying with the tank. We are to travel the first stage by train to somewhere in Belgium. I assume that we will get further orders there. We await orders to move and meanwhile, we continue our tour of Amiens.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Friday 29th September

The Luftwaffe has finally plucked up the courage to come up into the skies and fight. They appeared in strength for the first time over the Western Front last night. But that didn’t stop the RAF carrying on their concentrated bombing of Germany. Jerry is also bringing new divisions of artillery and self-propelled guns into action. We were paid five hundred francs each today and spent an enjoyable afternoon buying various minor comforts. Quite a number of shops have small cards in the window – ‘English spoken here’. Even if it isn’t, no one seems to have any difficulty buying anything. Our tank was inspected today, but it cannot go into the workshops yet. Sans faire rien.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Thursday 28th September

The Airborne Division, which landed in Holland, has been forced to retreat, after holding the main bridge at Nimegan. Their losses were exceedingly heavy and only two thousand out of the whole Division of approximately eight thousand came back safely. One thousand two hundred wounded were left behind under the care of members of the RAMC. The authorities say that they did their job satisfactorily and their sacrifice was not in vain. But I smell a slight blunder somewhere.
This afternoon, we looked round Amiens Cathedral, which is supposed to be one of the finest in Europe. The sculptures both inside and out involved excellent craftsmanship. The interior consists of several altars round the main high altar. It is a magnificent setting for the Ascension. In front of this, four priests chant all day long. Their sonorous tones faintly rumbled round the cathedral all the time we were there. On several of the massive, stately pillars are plaques in French and English to the memory of the British, Canadian, New Zealand and American troops who gave their lives in the defence of Amiens in 1918. There is also the flag of the Newfoundland Regiment. The altars are all superbly carved and decorated and everything combines to give a sense of reverence and beauty. In the evening, we saw an ENSA show at the Garrison theatre. The shows change every week. I haven’t seen much of frontline ENSA or the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Wednesday 27th September

Recovered at last. At 10:30am a Scamel lorry arrived to take us to Amiens. We spent an amusing hour manoeuvring the Scamel in order to tow the tank out of the farmyard and, after removing two fences we eventually got it out onto the road and loaded onto the transporter. Brief adieus and bonne chance to Madame Duprés and we were on our way. I found that it is not exactly warm on the back of a transporter. We arrived in Amiens in time to go to the ENSA Garrison Cinema to see Joel McRea in Buffalo Bill. Just to sit in a cinema is a treat. Our tank is parked on the main boulevard and we are sleeping in the Ecole Primaire de Filles, which, to the uninitiated, is - or rather was - a primary school.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Tuesday 26th September

All Frenchmen between the ages of eighteen and forty-seven years of age have to register for national service today. Madame Duprés told me this, as her son, who is twenty-eight, has to register and he is the only one who can work on the farm because her husband was wounded by the RAF and his right arm is temporarily useless. Still, I suppose it is only right that the French help to finish off Germany. We have freed their country for them and they should help us in return. They will no doubt share the army of occupation duties with us too. France is a queer country. The peasants work hard in the fields, while the citizens make merry in the cities. Most French peasants are good, simple folk who have always lived on the land and are content to work from dawn till dusk. Most of their pleasure is in their work. Their life has always been fairly hard and, consequently, under German occupation it was they who suffered the least.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Monday 25th September

A REME sergeant arrived and looked over our tank. He is sending a Scamel recovery lorry to take us to the Amiens workshops tomorrow. That means we shall probably be in the frontline again in another week. Ah well, Sans faire rien comme ci, comme ca. Finished reading Mr Priestley’s Problem, an exceedingly humorous book by Anthony Berkely,

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sunday 24th September

A beastly day, so we stopped in bed until 10:30am. This life of inactivity is beginning to tell on us a little and we are in need of exercise so we go out for walks. Today, Bud, Dave and I walked to Orville about five kilometres away. We saw an ox that was teamed up with a horse in a plough, but it was the horse that did all the work. My knowledge of farming is not very extensive, but it seems to me that spring is the right and proper time for off-springs, but here the cows have calves, the mares have foals, the ducks have ducklings and the hens have chickens as merrily as though it were May. Most of the French trains are running again, but they are not yet organised from Amiens to Paris. They have three classes - first, second and third - and their first class is about equal to our third class. Most of their third class carriages have bare wooden seats. The Germans have left quite a bit of rolling stock undamaged here, presumably because the lines were cut before they had chance to move it. More civilian vehicles are appearing on the roads, but the civilians tell me that as yet, food is not much easier to get, although the FFI have stopped the notorious ‘black market’ and prices are not quite so inflated.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Saturday 23rd September

In accordance with our council de guerre of yesterday, we hitchhiked the twenty-nine kilometres (eighteen miles) into Amiens by 1.00pm. We looked round the city until 2.00pm and then saw the REME officer. We had time to see the famous Amiens Cathedral. For postcard picture of the cathedral see Figure below. We also saw the Hotel de Ville, The Prefecture of Police, the Art School and several historical buildings.

In the REME workshops we saw a Sherman tank that had been hit by an 88-mm shell. Nothing remained of the turret, but a mass of scrap metal. The crew wouldn’t have stood a chance. We were told that we would be recovered within forty-eight hours. However, time will tell, as we have heard that story before. After two hours chasing round the town, periodically falling over red tape, we eventually got a chitty signed. It authorised us to draw three days rations. We got back to the farm just before dark.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Friday 22nd September

The British Government has issued proposals for demobilization after the war with Germany. As yet they are only proposals and not law. They propose partial demobilization after the war with Germany, mainly on the basis of ‘first in first out’. Releases will be awarded on a points scale and one’s number of points will be determined by dividing the months of army service by two and adding it to one’s age. In a month’s time, I shall be twenty-one and will have been in the army for twenty-six months so my points total will be thirty-four. Eric Probin is twenty-six and has been in the Army for fifty-one months so he will have fifty-four points. On this basis, I estimate that I shall be out of the Army in a year to eighteen months, which is a helluva long time.
Our forces are meeting stiffer resistance now that they are in Germany and we expect that when we return to the Regiment, we shall find that quite a few of our friends have been killed. We held a council of war and decided to go to the REME workshops in Amiens tomorrow to ask them to hurry up and repair our tank.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Thursday 21st September

This morning, Madame Duprés told us that she had heard that Germany had asked Russia for peace so we tuned into the 1.00pm news, but it wasn’t true. Calais was subjected to concentrated bombing last night and small pockets of resistance are being mopped up in Boulogne. The Germans are depending mainly on roadblocks for defences in several sectors. In Italy, the Germans are still clinging to their defended positions.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Wednesday 20th September

The British 2ndArmy has made a lightning thrust into Holland and has taken Nimegen. But for a burnt-out engine that is where we would have been too.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Tuesday 19th September

No one seems to be worrying about our tank or us. We are forgotten men. [1] The lady at the farm seems to be getting a little anxious as to when we are going. I am sure she thinks we are staying here until the war is over. We asked her if she could put us up for one night, but that was over a fortnight ago. However, she still gives us five eggs a day and milk morning and night. We give our mail to despatch riders to post. It is three weeks since I heard from home. I hope everything is all right. Met some of the Dorset Infantry Regiment retiring from the front line to Bayeux. They say that our Regiment will have had a pretty tough time. Perhaps it is fate or, rather predestination, as I do not believe that it was fate that has held us behind the enemy lines like this. Had we been with the Regiment we may have been ‘the late Tare-one-Charlie’. [2]

[1]. At this stage they are very worried about their position. Their last order from their Squadron Leader was: ‘we have reported your map reference position to tank recovery. Do not leave your tank.’ In spite of this, they had taken secondary action in reporting directly to a newly arrived local tank recovery unit. This is the only way they can get transport to the frontline some hundred miles away.
[2]. This was the code name of their tank on the day they broken down.

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


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.


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.