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

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Tuesday 5th September

The British 2ndArmy, pushing on from Brussels, has liberated Antwerp. Montreuil, General Haigh’s [1] HQ in the last war, has also been taken. Continuing their whirlwind advance, General Dempsey’s [2] troops have crossed the Scheldt into Holland. In southern France the Americans have liberated Bourg, thirty-five miles northeast of Lyons. This cuts one of the enemy’s main escape routes to the Belfort Gap into Germany. As far as I can gather, our Regiment will now be somewhere near Antwerp, one hundred and fifty miles from here. To catch them up we shall have to go through part of France, right across Belgium and a considerable distance into Holland.
This afternoon the five of us went to the barber in Halloy. ‘ Le coiffeur’ turned out to be a woman and she was no amateur. It cost us six francs each: approximately six pence. When we returned to the farm we found that three French women were waiting for us to invite us out to tea. We needed no second bidding. These three Frenchwomen of about twenty-six to thirty come from Boulogne, but were evacuated soon after the invasion. As soon as Boulogne is liberated they want to return home and they come here every night to listen to the French news on our tank radio in the hope that Boulogne has been liberated. For tea they gave us toast, cakes and tea with rum instead of milk. It certainly makes a difference. This completes our fourth day on the farm, but still no sign of being recovered. Wrote a letter to Major Pearson, our Squadron leader, telling him that we were still here and that REME had not arrived and we were getting short of rations. [3]
[1]. Field Marshall Douglas Haigh was Britain’s Commander-in-Chief during the Battle of the Somme. He took much criticism for the enormous loss of life suffered by his forces.
[2]. General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey was Commander of the British 2ndArmy.
[3] Such letters were delivered by passing despatch riders.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Monday 4th September

Still at the farm and no sign of LAD. Today’s entry could well be called ‘The Epic of Violette Brown’. This afternoon, Dave Dewar, Bud Marshall and myself walked over the fields to the village of Grouches- Lucheul which we liberated on Friday. There we met a woman called Violette Brown who had lived with her aunt in Norfolk from 1932 to 1939 and who speaks good English. She insisted that we went into the house and shared the meal they were just about to have. Over the meal, I heard the truest story of life under German occupation that I am ever likely to hear. First, let me explain that this woman is 26 years of age and loves England very much. She is an ardent believer in the victory of truth over evil and one of the most sincere people that it has ever been my privilege to meet. Consequently, everything she told us can be taken to be the un-garnished truth and completely unbiased.
She had many stories to tell of the hard life under German occupation. Her father had been taken to Paris to work for the Germans and now that Paris was liberated, they expected him home any day. Her brother was taken to a concentration camp in Germany in 1941 for refusing to work for the Germans, but they had heard from him regularly every three months until recently. They were allowed four ounces of meat per week if the butcher had any in stock and often he didn’t. Tinned goods were practically non-existent. There was no coal or coke, except for the Germans, and in winter they had to have wood fires and go to bed early. The price of certain foodstuffs was astronomical – pure coffee was twelve pounds for a kilo (2.2 pounds) and tea was five pounds for the same amount. If anybody refused to work long hours for little money for the Germans they were beaten until they complied.
Her experiences of the British retreat in 1940 were very vivid. On the Doulons Road, she had seen a British Tommy, realising that his situation was hopeless, put up his hands to be taken prisoner. But the Germans tied him down in his seat, poured petrol over him and the lorry and set fire to the lot. She was a Roman Catholic and swore before God that it was true. In the boiling hot summer, the British prisoners who were tired and parched with thirst were marched through the village and the Germans put buckets of water at the side of the road and kicked them over when the prisoners tried to reach them. She gave water to a wounded Tommy and the Germans thrashed her for it. Only nine months ago, five boys, aged nineteen, had found some rifles and decided to start a resistance movement of their own and they wounded one German officer. The Germans caught them and chopped their arms off, before putting them all in a shell hole and shooting them. These and many other stories of Nazi atrocities she told us, but the British are here now and the Germans will never return. I only hope that the British people and Government realise what inhuman fiends we are dealing with and take vengeance accordingly. The next time I see Germans squealing for mercy, I shall shoot first and ask questions afterwards.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Sunday 3rd September

This is the fifth anniversary of the declaration of war and the second anniversary of my joining the Army. And thus, we enter our sixth year of war. But it will not go on for long. Germany is collapsing on all fronts. In France their retreat has become a rout and the RAF is taking a heavy toll of their transport. On the Eastern Front the Russians are pushing on through Romania and Bulgaria and the 8thArmy is still pushing on in Italy. The Americans have crossed the Mosselle and have taken Metz and Nancy. The Canadians are hammering away at Le Havre and eliminating the Germans who are making a stand at Alville. The British 2ndArmy, to which we belong, has crossed the Belgian border and is not far from Brussels. If our tank had not broken down, we would have been with them. Germany is beginning to discover the real meaning of a blitzkrieg war. She is having a taste of her own medicine and doesn’t like it. If Germany lasts more than three months I shall be surprised. Even if Hitler makes a stand at the Seigfried Line [1], he will not have sufficient men to man it properly. There is still no sign of LAD recovering our tank. Went for a Sunday night stroll to the village of Halloy and the villagers turned out to greet us. My French vocabulary gradually enlarges.
[1]. The original Siegfried Line was a line of defensive forts and tanks built by Germany as a section of the Hindenburg Line in northern France during the First World War. The Germans built a similar defensive line during the 1930s, opposite the French Maginot Line. They call it the Westwall, but the Allies commonly referred to it as the Siegfried Line.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Saturday 2nd September

There is nothing to do but wait until REME come, so we did not get up until 9.00am. It had been pouring down all night and we thought of the rest of the Regiment being hauled out of their bivouacs at 5:30am or some other unearthly hour. They probably think that we are out in the wilds suffering countless hardships, yet here we are in comparative luxury. In the middle of the battle area, we are in better billets than we were in England. Apart from the fact that there are still a few Germans hiding in a nearby wood, everything is calm and peaceful. Nevertheless, we sleep with our revolvers under our pillows. I have a Sten sub-machine gun and a Luger-P38 automatic pistol. [1]
The people at the farm look after us very well and have given us bread, eggs, milk and butter, so we had a collection and gave them two hundred and fifty francs. They have no means of getting any news so I listen in to the BBC and translate it for them. At 7.00pm they had visitors from the village so I got the wireless set out of the tank and tuned it into the French news for them. They were so pleased that they said that they would come again tomorrow night and listen. I don’t suppose LAD will have come for us by then anyway.
[1]. The author took the Luger from a dead German officer as a souvenir, but later, after consideration, he decided to dispose of it rather than bring it back into England.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Friday 1st September

From Amiens en route to Arras, we came across some one hundred and fifty Germans and several guns with ammunition in horse-drawn transport in the village of Gronches- Lucheul. From the high ground to the south of the village, we were able to fire down on them and we wiped out three ammunition wagons and scattered a few infantrymen. The rest retreated into the woods and we were able to report the village clear. As soon as all the Bosch had left the village, the inhabitants ran up to us cheering and shouting. They shook hands with each and every one of us in turn and gave us flowers and fruit. Vive La France!
Then came the order to move into harbour. We had not gone more than five hundred yards when the tank engine overheated and caught fire. [1] The Regiment had to go on without us and we were faced with the problem of spending the long cold night alone, less than a mile from the enemy. I went out as translator to liase with the locals and found a farm quite near. The inhabitants were only too glad for us to leave the tank in the farmyard. I asked the farmer’s wife if we could sleep in the barn and they insisted that we slept in a little attic in the farmhouse. When we got up there, we found that the good woman had made beds for the five of us – with real clean white sheets and an eiderdown. And this is the battle area. A full nights sleep in a civvy bed was something we had dreamed about for ages. Half an hour ago, we were fighting Jerry – now, we are in a civvy bed, and can stay there, as long we want. The REME tank recovery section is coming to collect our tank, but will not arrive until tomorrow dinnertime at the earliest. And so to bed, subject that is to taking turns keeping guard outside. We had given our map reference to the Squadron Leader, had it confirmed and believed that our tank would soon be recovered. Little did we know, the recovery team had many more tanks to recover before they got round to our one.
[1]. At first they thought that their tank had been hit and so they all baled out.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Thursday 31st August

The people of Amiens went to bed last night under German occupation and woke this morning to find that they had been liberated. Rather different from the last war when there was very heavy fighting here for several months. As I write this, Amiens Cathedral is approximately thousand yards to my left. We slept the night, expecting a big German counter-attack from the northeast, but it never came. [1] The map in Figure 27 shows our advance to Amiens. Figure 28 provides a newspaper account of our advance and helps to confirm the information contained in footnote 2.
[1]. Later they were informed that it was British Intelligence that had uncovered a secret German manoeuvre. Since both sides had been fighting at the slow pace of a field at a time, the Germans decided to withdraw a considerable distance on the assumption that the Allies would continue to tackle each short distance as though the Germans were still in occupation. The German’s reasoned that the Allied advance was likely to be cautious and this would give them time to dig in for a stronger defence further back. Without Intelligence’s anticipation of their plan, this is actually what would have happened. Since the author and his colleagues were not privy to this intelligence information at the time, it was amazing to them that they were ordered to drive at a fast speed down the main road to Amiens.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Wednesday 30th August

‘Push on. Push on’ is our colonel’s favourite phrase at the moment and we do push on at over forty miles today. Our colonel is A.D. Taylor. He uses a shepherd’s crook for recognition and is well respected. For photograph of Lieutenant Colonel Taylor see Figure 26.
Figure 26

Our tank has been misfiring badly and we got the fitters to look at it today. As a result of this, we found ourselves over twenty miles behind the Squadron and had to find our own way up to them. This is a bit tricky using simple French maps, but it was made more exciting by the fact that our advance had been so rapid that small pockets of Germans were left behind to be cleaned up by the infantry and we had to be careful which villages we entered. My French was useful to enquire the way: ‘Quel est le nom de cette village?’ and ‘Ou est la route a…’ being favourite phrases. We eventually found the Squadron north east of Neufmarche. Our next objective was the fairly large town of Gournay to the northeast of Neufmarche. A-Squadron was sent forward to take it. Ours was the first British troop to enter the town and we went straight down the main road. The Germans had withdrawn a few hours before. We have added it to our list of victories on the tank wall. Flers, Ecouche, Argentan, GarcĂ©, Vernon, Etrepagny, Gournay, and those are only the large towns.
But that is not all. At 9.00pm tonight, we got ready for a big midnight push to Amiens, forty miles away. The ride, in the dark, with pouring rain most of the time, was something of a nightmare. We were dead tired and hungry and only just managed to keep awake. The roads were so jammed with tanks and transport that we could only move slowly and snatched a few minutes every time we halted.

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.