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


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


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


An introduction to the diaries

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation and timing of the blog version

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

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

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

Patrick Murphy
Editor

Frontispiece

Frontispiece
Doug Mayman, aged 21, in Brussels 1944

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Monday 31st January

Big scrounge (easy duties) in the officers’ mess. One of the servants is on leave, so I am taking his place for a few days. I certainly had my eyes opened today. The officers certainly do live with a capital ‘L’. They get up at 8:30am, their brasses and boots having already been cleaned for them by their batmen and they leave their bed and room just as it is. Rolling into the mess at about 8:40am, their breakfast is brought to them on dainty warm plates. And when I say breakfast, I mean breakfast, not the stuff we get. They finish off their marmalade, toast and coffee and just manage to get to Squadron Parade at 9.00am. The trouble is that the officers get so much done for them that they forget that the troopers have to do it all for themselves. Most of them haven’t the faintest idea how long it takes to blanco a full kit, fold blankets and polish brasses. Mac Balmain, the Squadron Leader, goes out riding every morning after breakfast.
At lunch at 12:30pm, the officers invariably have beer or gin, but this comes out of their mess fees. Being an ex-cavalry regiment, most of our officers are country gentlemen who think mainly of guns, horse and hounds. Recently, however, our complement has been made up of second lieutenants straight from the OCTU: Goldsmith, Eggerton, Fellows, Van Greisen and Gent etc. These are all young fellows of about twenty-one, and most of them have never been employed. They went straight from university into OCTU. Their main fault is that they are too wary of the Squadron Leader. The politicians tell us that we are fighting for freedom, equality and a true democracy, yet we are fighting for it with an army which is the extreme opposite of democracy. Officers wear collar and tie to give us a feeling of inferiority. Mixing with the troopers is considered degrading. The corporals sleep in separate huts and even the sergeant majors are segregated. There is more class distinction in the Army than anywhere else. The whole principle of the Army is aristocratic and ruined by tradition. Lance-corporals do orderly corporal, full corporals do orderly sergeant, sergeants do orderly sergeant majors and sergeant majors do orderly officers: all so that the officers don’t have to do orderly officers so often. I agree that small menial tasks should not be done by officers to give them more time for the responsible job of leadership, but not to the extent where they do nothing for themselves. A very unfair ruling is that in outlandish places, and we are in them most of the time, officers who use their own blankets and camp bed receive a hardship allowance of three shillings per day. The troopers have to use awkward double-tier beds and receive no hardship allowance. Let’s hope that when we have won the fight for democracy, we will start by making the Army democratic.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Sunday 30th January

Thank goodness the AFV inspection is tomorrow. Everyone, including myself, is cheesed off with the maintenance, which consists mainly of beezing [1] the tanks up. Working this afternoon did not go down so well either. Lance-Corporal Probin was transferred to the 3rd Troop. We are all sorry to lose Eric as he’s a likeable fellow and very good at his job. Bill Briggs and Andy Taylor were also transferred to the new Reconnaisance (Recce) Squadron, attached to the HQ, and Trooper Lowe leaves the Troop to work in the pay office. Thus, today, 5th Troop has changed considerably. One gets used to these changes in the Army and soon makes new friends.


[1]. Beezing or beeze was slang for spit and polish or cleaning and shinning.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Saturday 29th January

It’s a full day’s maintenance, because of the AFV inspection on Monday morning. Of course, there was the usual tick (complaint) about having to work on Saturday afternoon, but it doesn’t do much good, as we have to work all the same. However, we managed to catch a truck to Ashington at 6.00pm. Tropper Hide, Ken Slack and I spent the evening scoffing and going to the pictures.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Friday 28th January

It was a very quiet day as room orderly. Something on the radio today reminded me of John, Dorothy’s sister Marian’s boyfriend in the RAF, who has been reported missing. As I thought back over Tuesday’s lecture, I realized that there is a very good chance that he was still alive. One can hardly tabulate one’s thoughts on such a subject, but one can at least work things out logically, as far as possible, and then base one’s opinion on them. As I see it, this is the situation. John is reported missing, believed killed, yet there are no details regarding his service number or burial ground. His Squadron Leader says that their radio went ‘dis’ twenty minutes after leaving the base, so it looks very much as though they were shot down over occupied coastal territory. The chances of remaining in hiding in an occupied country are fairly good, and many airmen escape to neutral countries. The rest, one can only theorise.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Thursday 27th January

Gosh! What a gale. Northumberland seems to abound in them: not just odd days but every day. The tanks have to be chained down to keep them from blowing away and each man is issued with two one-ton weights to shackle each ankle. Even then, every so often, a man is whisked off into the unknown by the wind. The others cling grimly to boulders and pity old Smith. He was a light sort of fellow. Every morning men are detailed to retrieve Nissen huts from neighbouring fields. It is not really as bad as all that, but Northumberland weather never is very clement. In today’s paper there’s a story on Army pay
It’s about time that someone took up this question of Army pay, not only in the various armies, but RAF pay as compared to Army pay, especially that of the Tank Corps. An RAF fitter gets about seven shillings and six pence per day, whilst a tank fitter receives only five shillings and a tank is as intricate as a plane, if not more so. One has to be in the Army for a year to earn four shillings a day, whereas, for the same period in the RAF, one becomes a leading aircraftsman on seven shillings and three pence a day. Also, the RAF has a better uniform, and they usually get much better billets. It all seems so unfair, especially when there are fellows in the Army who could easily do harder jobs. Had I been a wireless operator in the RAF instead of the Army, I would have been doing almost the same job, yet receiving much more pay for it and probably living in better billets.
The low rate of pay in the Army tends to make the Army appear as the scum of all the services. Soldiers are to be pitied; comfort funds are organised for them and cakes sold cheaply to them. It’s no wonder that American soldiers are popular with UK girls. They can afford to be on nine shillings a day. Why should Australians get ten shillings and six a day and us a basic three shillings and six pence? After all, we cannot choose which country to be born in. I suggest that all Army pay should be nationalized and the armies of each country should receive equal pay. There should not be three services, but one large fighting force, with three branches on equal pay, and the walking out uniforms should be similar; all with a collar and tie.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Wednesday 26th January

Maintenance in preparation for the forthcoming AFV inspection. In the afternoon the Troop went for baths in the dye vats at the mill. We clambered into the vats, six at a time, and splashed away to our hearts content. We made quite a funny sight, stood in a circle, washing each other’s backs. The bath ended up in a free fight, seeing who could be ducked the most.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Tuesday 25th January

This morning I was chosen to represent the Troop at a lecture in Morpeth. We arrived early and had a spare half hour. Jack Imeson is going on a course on Thursday and is taking his wireless with him, so I take the opportunity to looked round Morpeth to see if I can buy one. I have been looking for one for some time now, but without success. Therefore, I was rather surprised when the shop had the model I was after –‘a K.B. (all mains, 195 to 255v) superhet receiver’. I had a good look at it and tuned into several stations before eventually paying eight pounds and ten shillings cash for it.
The lecture was entitled ‘In the event of capture’ and was delivered in a very secret way, as if we were going abroad any time now. Our pay books had to be shown as we went in. The lecture was very interesting and vital material was put over in a very interesting way. We were told several ways of making our escape and what and what not to do in the first few hours of capture. The first few hours or days of capture are always the easiest period in which to effect an escape. There is a tendency to become overwhelmed by the situation and make no attempt to escape at this time, but one rues the lost opportunities. A very great advantage in our favour is that we will be fighting in occupied countries where people are only too glad to shelter escaped allied servicemen. We were warned to keep off the French coast at all costs and to make for the Norwegian coast. When crossing a neutral border, always throw away your arms, then you are classified as a non-combatant and you can demand to see the British Consul and, eventually, be returned to England. If you are carrying arms, however, you can be interned as an alien.

List of Abbreviations


ABCA: Army Bureau of Current Affairs

AEC: Army Education Corps

AFV: Armoured Fighting Vehicle

AP: Armour piercing

ARV: Armoured Recovery Vehicle

ATEA: Amphibious Tank Escape Apparatus

BLA: British Liberation Army

ENSA: Entertainments National Service Association

FFI: French Forces of the Interior

FHQ: Forward Headquarters

HE: High Explosive

HF: High frequency

KRH: The Kings Royal Hussars

KRR: Kings Royal Rifles

KSLI: King’s Surrey Light Infantry

LAD: Light Aid Detachment

MI: Medical Inspection Room

MO: Medical officer

MP: Military policeman

NAAFI: National Army Air Force Institute

NFS: National Fire Service

NCO: Non-commissioned officer

OCTU: Officer Command Training Unit

RAC: Royal Armoured Corps

RAMC: Royal Army Medical Corps

RASC: Royal Army Service Corps

RE: Royal Engineers

REME: Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

RHQ: Regimental Headquarters

ROF: Royal Ordnance Factory

RSM: Regimental Sergeant Major

RTO: Rail Transport Officer

R/T: Radio Telephone

SQMS: Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant

USAAF: United States Army Air Force

WAAF: Women's Auxiliary Air Force

WVS: Women’s Voluntary Services

YMCA: Young Men’s Christian Association

Acknowledgements

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

Dedication

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