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


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


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


An introduction to the diaries

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation and timing of the blog version

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

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

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

Patrick Murphy
Editor

Frontispiece

Frontispiece
Doug Mayman, aged 21, in Brussels 1944

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Saturday 21st April

It’s 6.00am. We left Gennup Transit Camp at 4.00pm yesterday and travelled by 3rd class train to Calais where we arrived at 4:30am, some one and a half hours ago. The twelve-hour journey wasn’t as bad this time, even though there were hard, wooden seats, which we counteracted by sitting on our blankets. At least the train hadn’t got square wheels and there was no dust. We spent the twelve hours reading and dozing alternately. At Tilburg Station, a crowd of civvies gave us terrific welcome. It was almost like being in England. The people of Brussels turned out to wave to the ‘leave train’. A halt of twenty minutes at Lille at midnight provided a very welcome break for chars and wads, which were ready waiting for us on the station. It felt grand to be on a train again, rattling towards home. On arriving in Calais, we were paid out in English money and changed our foreign currency. Let’s see, how does this British monetary system work? Twenty shillings to the pound I believe. It’s much easier to work things out in francs where everything goes up in tens and hundred. Nevertheless, the feel of an English pound note is good. So was the chance to have a wash and shave before breakfast at 5:15am. We now sit in Nissen huts; awaiting the loudspeakers to announce which boats we have to catch.
Everyone is allocated a coloured ticket according to his home district. The North and East Ridings of Yorkshire come under a different zone from the West Riding. This arrangement is to my advantage because I’m allowed to go through London and will be able to catch a London- Leeds express. It is now 6:30am. The first boat doesn’t leave until 9:30am and, depending on what boat I can catch, I should stand a fair chance of being home before midnight. Home tonight. I can hardly express my thoughts on the subject. 3:45pm. England. England. At last! We left Calais at 9:30am and the white cliffs of Dover hove into sight about 11.00am. There was indeed cheering, but I didn’t see any bluebirds. So this is really England. As one of the Canadians said: ‘It sure looks swell.’ One’s feelings on the joy of being home again simply cannot be conveyed. When we disembarked instead of the cheering, which I expected, there was an unbelievable silence as each of us was left to his own thoughts. One fellow, every so often, is subjected to a customs search and I kept my fingers crossed for my binoculars and other things, which are classed as loot. I need have had no fear, however, since the customs official didn’t even glance at me. An express with a NAAFI canteen on board took us non-stop to Victoria Station where special buses were waiting to take us to Kings Cross and St Pancreas. I am now writing this last entry on the train in Kings Cross Station. In a few minutes, it will be pulling out and I shall be on the next to the last stage of my journey home.

So ends my diary.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Friday 20th April

This morning, we were sorted out into zones and now await the loudspeakers in the camp to announce which train we catch for Calais. There are no trains until after dinner, so we have no alternative but to lie here in the sun until the time of the train for our particular zone is announced. It is a glorious day again and I hope that it keeps like this for Monday. This camp deals with quite a large number of leave personnel. The queue for breakfast was four hundred yards long and four deep. We joined it at 7:30am and were served at 8:30am. I hope that no one says to me: ‘Did you have a good journey?’ Still, no one cares how long it is because we are going on leave and every mile is a mile further from the frontline, and a mile nearer home. I wonder what Dorothy will say when we first meet? Certainly not: ‘What, You here again?’

Monday, 19 April 2010

Thursday 19th April

Leave started today with a twelve-hour journey over hot, dusty roads with no food and only one stop of ten minutes. Good roads in Germany are a myth; most of them are nothing more than glorified cart tracks. The few good ones there are pitted with bomb and shell craters. It is just like riding in an ox-cart with square wheels.
Corporal McConnell, Vick Guest, Jack Brownlee and myself constituted the Regiment’s leave party and we were up at 5:30am, although I concede it was no effort as excitement made it difficult to sleep. We left the Regiment at 6:30am in a B Squadron lorry and did the thirty miles to the Divisional UK ‘Leave Embussing Point’ by 7:45am. At 8.00am, we boarded Service Corps lorries and set off on a two hundred mile journey through Germany to Gennup Transit Camp in Holland. We crossed the Aller, the Seine, the Dortmund-Ems Canal, the Weser and the Rhine in that order. We noticed that most of the villages, just inside the border, were completely in ruins, but well inside Germany there is only occasional village, which had been flattened. It makes things much easier for us when the village is taken without firing a shot, but the Germans get off too lightly. We arrived at Gennup at 8:30pm absolutely covered with dust, but a wash and shave and mug of tea soon remedied our travel worn condition. That is two hundred miles done and only another seven hundred to go.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Wednesday 18th April

Have re-read this diary up to here and added a few comments in the margin. I find several of my entries rather ridiculous now. This is the last day we shall be with the Regiment before going on leave as we depart at 6:30am tomorrow morning. I am packed-up ready and can go at a moments notice. We shall leave in a spick and span condition, but by the time we arrive home, we shall be anything but that, as we have a two hundred mile journey in the back of a lorry before we even board the train to take us to Calais.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Tuesday 17th April

We are now at a place called Hermansburg, due north of Hanover and are moving further into Germany. The Yanks are now only thirty-eight miles from Berlin and are attacking Nuremberg and Leipzig, two important centres of Nazism. Things are certainly moving rapidly. A prisoner-of-war camp near here has been liberated and British and American soldiers stream down the roads, waving and cheering. The worst resistance that is met comes from groups of SS fanatics. I imagine that they will keep fighting for ages yet, even when the main body of the Army surrenders. Leave is very near now and it gives me the greatest of pleasure to get my kit packed. It will be grand to see home again, dirty old familiar Skipton station, scene of glorious re-unions and not so glorious partings, Dewhirsts Mill, with her aloof yet warm greeting, familiar streets and places and the smiles of people I know saying: ‘Hello, you here again’. When do you go back?’ I wonder how much Dennis and Sylvia have grown up and whether or not they will still know me? I long for Sunday when I shall once again be home and with all those dear to me.
Moving further into Germany, we passed a Russian prisoner-of-war camp, which had just been liberated. They were dressed in all kinds of patched up clothing and cheered us wildly. One could see the gratitude and joy written on their faces. They waved at every single lorry and tank that passed and when we threw them cigarettes, they dived after them as though they were diamonds. Many of them had started the long trek back to Venlo and from there they would to be taken back to Russia. But first they have a two hundred mile walk in front of them. Some have bicycles, some farm tractors, but most of them have to walk. It is a hot dusty road and all that most of them have is a blanket and a water bottle. When we gave them biscuits and our cookhouse dished them up soup, the way they gobbled it down showed that they hadn’t had a good meal for days, perhaps weeks. It was a glorious sight to see and yet, in some ways, a piteous one. We passed old fellows in rags who could hardly stumble along, yet they were doggedly dragging themselves along in the desperate effort to get to the repatriation point and back to Russia. I have never seen such expressions of joy as there were on some of their faces. I know absolutely no Russian, but one fellow made me understand that he came from Moscow and that their German guards used to smoke cigarettes to half length then throw them on the ground where all the prisoners could see them and crush them with their heels, so that they couldn’t pick them up. Consequently, he was overjoyed with the packet of twenty cigarettes, which we gave him. We also passed a lorry load of liberated British prisoners-of-war. They were all looking well and very pleased with life. It’s still marvellous weather here. Hope it’s like this on Monday.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Monday 16th April

‘%*&&^%£! and *%^$!’ My leave has been put back one day owing to bad sailing weather. This means that I shall have to get married on the Monday instead of the Saturday. It will mean a lot of chasing around for Dorothy to get everything altered in time, but there is nothing I can do about it and, as it is a wartime wedding, we must expect this sort of thing. I don’t grumble too much because I know that it is only by the grace of God that I am alive to go on leave at all. All the same, it is very annoying for those at home.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sunday 15th April

My idea of yesterday would certainly be a good one, especially after last night’s episode. Bud Concannon and I were sleeping in the wagon when we were awakened by the deathly whine of a shell coming in our direction. I thought: ‘There goes this wagon and my leave with it’, but it landed nine yards in front of us and although a few bits of shrapnel flew around, we were perfectly okay. By the time we had found our socks, pants and boots the shelling had stopped, but after that we slept in the front room of a nearby house, just in case.

At 6:50pm we crossed the River Aller, at a place called Essel, due north of Hanover and not very far from Hamburg. Each time we move makes it further for me to go on leave and I already have about eight hundred miles to travel. The country we are in at present has not been fully cleared. Our armour has only gone up the main roads and, for all we know, there may still be large pockets of enemy infantry hiding in the woods to disrupt our communication and supply links. Also, now that we are well inside Germany, a few German planes are appearing and strafing the convoys. Consequently, it was with misgivings that we harboured for the night in a clearing between two large woods. For a while, there was indecision as to where was the best place to sleep. Some preferred slit trenches away from the lorries and possible shelling and bombing and others preferred slit trenches near the lorries and away from possible patrols. In the end, Bud Concannon and I got so cheesed off that we slept in the lorry. As I went to sleep, I comforted myself with the thought that next week at this time, I wouldn’t be sleeping in a dirty old lorry, wondering if I’ll still be in this world when I wake up in the morning. What a contrast the luxuries of home will be.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Saturday 14th April

Taffy Thomas arrived back at the echelon today with battle exhaustion and the sad news that five of my friends have been killed. A sniper killed Corporal Len Stone, but the rest of his crew are all right. Sergeant Sam Dibble’s tank was ‘bazooka’d’ and burst into flames and killing him. The other four members of the crew managed to get out, but as they did so, snipers picked off three of them - Eric Hayhoe, Ted Martin and Tropper (Garnet) Hide. The co-driver was the only one in the crew who wasn’t killed and he had a nasty gash in his thigh and had to lie under the tank for over an hour before anyone could get to him. Eric Hayhoe has only been back off leave four days, Ted Martin was a pal of mine from Leeds and Tropper Hide should have gone on leave with me next Wednesday. Two more days and he would have been out of the fighting. Why should all this have to happen? It is all very well for people in England to talk about the war being over. Maybe it is for them, but over here, it is still a horrible reality. Besides the above, Sergeant Jack Burton was hit in the face by a sniper’s bullet, but, as far as I can gather, it’s not too serious. Jack Boag was hit in the foot by a sniper’s bullet, but he’ll be all right in time I imagine. The tank that I was in, up to a few days ago, was hit twice, but all the crew got out okay. As I go on leave on Wednesday, the fellows advise me to dig a hole and bury myself until then. Not a bad idea either.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Friday 13th April

The death of President Roosevelt was announced today and the world mourns. I suppose that Dewey will take over now. It seems a pity that this should happen when Anglo-American relations were so secure with the Churchill-Roosevelt friendship. However, there is no reason why they should not continue in this way. Leave is drawing near now and I am getting listless and impatient waiting for it. After eight months away from home, who wouldn’t feel this way?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Thursday 12th April

Armoured units of the American Army are reported to be on the Elbe, only seventy miles from Berlin, and one hundred miles from the Russians. Groups of SS are being left behind and, occasionally, they do a bit of sniping and nuisance raiding, but they’re not a major danger.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Wednesday 11th April

Quiet night last night, although the SS raided the next village. Hanover has now fallen to the Yanks and we have established a bridgehead over the Aller; two major events. In Vienna the Russians have captured three railway stations and the arsenal. However, the British 2ndArmy was encountering stiffening German resistance.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Tuesday 10th April

It’s still marvellous weather. Moved up into an area southwest of the River Liner. SS men [1] are reported to be hiding in the woods nearby. One of our search parties found two German ack-ack soldiers in a nearby house. Hope that there isn’t any SS prowling around tonight because I’m guard commander.
[1]. SS stood for the Schutzstaffel. It meant ‘protective squadron’ and it was a large security and paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers Party

Friday, 9 April 2010

Monday 9th April

Crossed the River Weser at 10.00am. It is a fairly wide river. Germans have been attempting to bomb our bridge, but so far without success. A few fighters could play havoc with our columns, but we usually only see the odd one or two. If we see more than three planes together, it can generally be guaranteed that they are ours. A burial party was sent to bury Fred Crump’s crew today. The bazooka had landed on top of the turret at the gunner’s side and blew half the gunner’s head off before entering the commander’s stomach. The blast had also taken the top of the operator’s head off. Such is war.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sunday 8th April

It’s a glorious day; one that makes me long all the more for England and leave. Germany is quite a beautiful country. It’s is a pity that this beauty is marred by its barbaric inhabitants. Yet there are pretty German girls, well dressed too. We were fools to believe all the dope that was pumped into us about the poor standard of living of the Germans. For the past few years, they have been living off the fat of the land, not their own, but that of the occupied countries. Certainly none of the civilians here looked ill-fed or badly clothed. The old farmer, at the farm where we are sleeping the night, had the cheek to ask me for cigarettes. They have been told that we would raze their farms to the ground, shoot all their little children and rape their daughters and when they find out that we are amicable, docile harmless sort of people, they try to take advantage of it. They profess to be violently anti-Nazi and then you find pictures that strongly suggest otherwise. For example, I came across a photograph of Hitler in a deserted bomb-damaged house. See Figure below. What can one do with a race like that? I have a good suggestion, but it is not fit to print here.



Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Saturday 7th April

Roll on a fortnight today. Rollo Riley came back to the echelon today with the distressing news that Sergeant Fred Crump’s tank has been ‘bazookad’ and all three in the turret have been killed - Fred Crump, Powell and Beard. Fred Crump had just returned from leave and the other two were new fellows who had not been over here long. It certainly is time that this war was finished and this needless waste of good lives ceases. Rollo Riley got out from the tank to collect some prisoners and was marching them back, when one of them picked up a rifle and shot him through the thigh. He saw the Jerry who did it and splattered him with his Sten gun. Luckily, Rollo only received a minor wound, two clean holes where the bullet had gone in and out.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Friday 6th April

We are now only a few miles west of the River Weser and our tanks are actually up to it. There is an infantry bridgehead over the river and our tanks are to go over at 7.00am tomorrow. Thank God, for the fact that this once, I am not with them. The war in general seems to be going very well and most people say that it will all be over in a fortnight. Allied forces are now twenty miles from Hanover and ten from Berlin. He obviously cannot last long at this rate. Jerry planes do occasionally engage in a bit of strafing, causing us to dive for the ditch, but apart from that, everything is quiet back here.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Thursday 5th April

We seem to be pushing on again now. The war cannot last very long at this rate. The Yanks are only seventy-five miles from the Czech border and, in one place, they are only one hundred and forty miles from Berlin. The Russians have almost encircled Vienna and British troops have taken Munster and Osnabruck, so there isn’t a lot of Germany left. He cannot have much war material left to leave places like the gorge we were in undefended. Capitulation is expected to come from a group of high-ranking army officials who will have to be recognised as the official government. Our Division has pushed on into the Hanover sector and we followed up behind them until midnight, then we pulled in for the night by the side of a railway station. The place was littered with Nazi flags. Good job we never got to the stage of having passports to travel in England; fancy applying for a permit to travel from Skipton to Leeds.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Wednesday 4th April

Arrived back at A2 Echelon with Glasspool and Chatfield who are going on leave. Boogie Watson and Dave Dewar, both former members of my crew, are already back here with battle exhaustion. Life is quite pleasant away from the fighting. Moving further into Germany behind the tanks, enemy planes made us dive for the ditch once or twice, but we were not actually attacked. Slept on the technical stores wagon. [1]
[1]. While the author didn’t record it at the time, these planes were so low and he was so annoyed that they were attacking a defenceless column that he stood on the cab of a lorry and fired his Sten gun at them ‘ineffectively’.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Tuesday 3rd April

I saw the Squadron Leader and pleaded ‘battle exhaustion’, so I was sent back to the A1 Echelon [1] and my place in the tank was taken by Charlie Hills who has just returned from leave. Life is very much safer in the non-combatant echelon. The only worry is from the air.
[1]. The term echelon was the name given to the follow-up support for the tanks.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Monday 2nd April

It’s Easter Monday and Grandma’s birthday. For me it was a fairly hard day in action, at least it was a nerve-racking one. We awoke to find ourselves at the neck of a long valley, no doubt picturesque in peacetime, but a grim military objective now. Our line of advance lay down the centre of the valley and on our left was a high range of hills, overlooking all the way we had to go. It was thickly wooded with hundreds of perfect hiding places for anti-tank guns. It was our Squadron’s turn to lead too. I went down that road, literally expecting that the next time I woke up, I would be playing drums in a harp band in the heavens. Or perhaps I would just have an arm or a leg off. Much to my surprise, all went well until we came to a village - in the excitement, I’ve forgotten its name. There, we were held up by bazookas and small arms fire coming from houses in the village. The bazookas were a deadly nuisance, but the infantry in the village were dealt with easily. Whenever we saw anything move, we just blasted a hole in the house with our big guns or splattered the whole area with machine gun fire. It is much easier in Germany because one doesn’t have to worry about civilians. After a pretty good plastering, quite a few Jerries came out and gave themselves up. The odd bazooka-men still lurked about though and we had several anxious moments before they all came out. Unfortunately, not many were killed. Most of them were taken prisoner and seemed glad to be out of it. They were mainly lads of seventeen or so from a Luftwaffe Training Regiment. In the afternoon, C Squadron came through us and probed the gorge. At the top they ran into a heap of trouble, mainly from bazooka-men. They had the choice of staying on the edge of the gorge for the night, with enemy infantry crawling all over the place, or fighting their way back down again by a different route. They chose the latter and were extremely lucky to get away with only one casualty. Meanwhile, we had cleared the village and harboured for the night, just northeast of it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sunday 1st April

It’s April at last and I now have the satisfaction of knowing that I go on leave this month, another eighteen days to be precise. There is so much to arrange, yet these blasted Jerries don’t give me any opportunity. It is a full-time job keeping myself alive. We returned to Wettringen about 7:30am and pushed on past there. We were the leading troop and didn’t know what lay ahead of us, so it was a big strain on our nerves. We were under orders to clear the enemy from a crossroads, but when we arrived the enemy had already retreated. The strain of battle is not so much in the battle itself, but in the expectation of it. Our nerves were put on additional edge when there was a terrific explosion under Jock Baillie’s tank. We wondered how many had been hurt and whose turn it would be next. I alternately scanned the countryside with my binoculars for anti-tank guns and the woods nearby for lurking bazooka-men. There was a horrible silence when we tried to get Jock’s tank on the air. We thought that the commander and operator must have had it and wondered if the same anti-tank gun or bazooka-man would get us next. After an agonising five minutes of receiving no reply, Sergeant Jack Burton, who is acting as Troop leader in the absence of an officer, went on foot to find out what had happened. We were very much relieved to hear him report over the air that it wasn’t an anti tank gun or bazooka at all, but the tank had run over a mine and sustained damage to the track and road wheels. The crew were a little shaken up, but otherwise unhurt. Having thus discovered what we wanted to know, namely, that the road was clear of enemy, but had a few mines, we pulled back a little way and cooked breakfast, or rather dinner and breakfast combined. On the way back, a scout car ran over one of the mines. The front wheel was thrown into the air in little pieces and the driver and commander were thrown right out of the vehicle, but were unhurt. As the rest of the Division were a good distance away, we thought that the day’s excitement was over, but we thought wrongly. The 23rd Hussars were having a sticky time in a gorge over the Dortmund-Ems Canal and we had to do a road march and take up their positions for the night. We crossed the canal in the pitch-black darkness. The Bailey bridge had only been built just over twenty-four hours ago. That fellow Bailey can claim a good share of the credit in helping to win the war. They certainly are marvellous bridges and can be erected in a few hours. We harboured and filled up with petrol in the dark, then crept into our blankets and slept like logs. Physical exhaustion overcomes mental exhaustion.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Saturday 31st March

Gosh! What a way to spend Easter. We set off after breakfast to take the village Wettringen. We didn’t know what enemy resistance we would encounter, but we soon found out. I suppose it wasn’t very heavy really, but they certainly gave us a hectic time. The worst thing is the suspense. One’s stomach feels empty, yet one doesn’t feel like anything to eat. If you let your imagination run riot you would soon become a nervous wreck. I have to keep a firm hold on myself. 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 snipers, 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. I like to see what is happening and look out for these horrible chaps with bazookas. One continuously hears of tanks who have been knocked out and fellows who have been wounded and it doesn’t cheer one up at all. My only consolations are that the war is definitively nearing its end and I go on leave on April 18th. After several skirmishes with infantry, we entered the village of Wettringen. We were the first British troops to enter the village and we had to fight our way in. After we had cleared it, we sat on the outskirts, looking out to the east by the side of a church. When the civvies realized that the shooting was all over, they came timidly out of their cellars waving white flags. We were the first English they had seen and they peered at us as though we were curiosities, no doubt wondering what was going to happen to them. They seem quite willing to fraternize and gave us beef sandwiches and cheese. We were even offered German sausage. They all say that the war will be over in eight days and gesticulate wildly trying to show the horrible things they are going to do to Hitler. No doubt yesterday, they were going to do the same to us. Most of them do seem to be glad that it’s all over, though some of them wave and cheer almost as though it were an occupied country we had liberated. One old German, however, spat contemptuously on the ground as we passed. We could have shot him I suppose, but we are far too lenient. The Volksstrum (German Home Guard) is quite a problem. They wear all kinds of uniform and one cannot tell whether they are neutral or civvies or as hostile as the Army. As they are not in the army proper, they cannot be taken prisoner and, therefore, have to be disarmed and sent back home. There are plenty of these Volksstrum in German uniform wandering up and down the roads and it seems strange to just ignore them. I suppose several of members of the regular German Army get back home that way.
Most of the German civvies were scared stiff that there would be more bombing and shelling and Tiny, who speaks fluent German, told them that they could definitely stop worrying because there wouldn’t be any more, unless the German soldiers came back during the night. In which case the village would be blown to bits. I don’t know whether any did come back, but if they did, they would be pleaded with by the civvies to go away and save them from being shelled again. There certainly weren’t any there when we came back early next morning.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Friday 30th March

It’s Good Friday, but as a day of celebration it means nothing to us, as we are well inside Germany. We set out this morning to take a certain place only to find that units ahead of us had taken it already and pushed on another fifteen miles. On the way there we passed quite a few dead Jerries: the only good ones. One or two were rather mangled, but no one has time to bury them. Prisoners keep coming down the road in large groups, happy to be out of it by the looks of it. They know that the war will be over soon and they want to make sure that they live through it. The only way of making sure of that is by becoming a prisoner. It is rather annoying. At least they are safe until the end of the war, which is more than we can say.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Thursday 29th March

We unloaded the tanks near Issum in Germany and were cooking breakfast by the side of the road when Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery pulled up in his jeep. He wished us good hunting and dished out the daily newspapers. The Daily Mail states in bold headlines: ‘This is the collapse!’ The world is agog with excitement. The end of the war is at last within sight. There is a security blackout on our movement in the north, but we are at least fifty miles over the Rhine and, in the south, the Americans are eighty-five miles east of it. Another month should see it over. It may even be finished by the time I go on leave. I hope so, but I don’t think so. At 11:30am we crossed the Rhine. It is a very wide river with a moderately fast current. We crossed it on a single-track pontoon bridge, keeping ninety feet apart, so that the rubber pontoon boats supporting the bridge would not sink too far. As we crossed it - listening, incidentally, to the BBC - I thought: ‘So this is the Rhine; the river that all the fuss has been about. I never thought that I would be crossing it. Neither did the Germans I should think. Hope the bridge doesn’t collapse. Wonder if it’s deep? This is quite an historic moment. Note the time and date: 11:30am March 29th 1945. The next time I cross it will be to go on leave on April 18th, I hope’. Such were the thoughts of a tank Lance-Corporal on crossing the Rhine. Might be of interest to the Daily Mail under the heading: ‘What I felt like when crossing the Rhine, by one who was there’.
On the east bank of the Rhine, we passed through Wesel, or the remains of it. I didn’t see many corpses, so most of the civvies must have cleared out. We slept the night by the side of the tank, not far from there. A very good sleep I had too.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Wednesday 28th March

Germany here we come. We were loaded onto transporters at 3.00pm and moved off at 5:30pm. The news is very encouraging. Main headlines are: ‘The Allied Armies push into Germany against rapidly disintegrating resistance’. Four major generals and one hundred members of the German general staff have given themselves up. Prisoners are rolling in. They now realise that it is too near the end of the war to throw away their lives needlessly. It certainly looks as though the end of the war is very near. Frank Gillard of the BBC gives it three weeks. I hope he is right. With the comfort of this news, I had a pleasant sleep, in spite of the jolting of the tank as we travelled on through the darkness into Belgium and Holland and then into Germany.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Tuesday 27th March

The news is even better. Things seem to be happening rather quickly. All the British bridgeheads have linked up and resistance is reported to be weakening. I am glad to hear this news because that’s where we’re going and it’s too near leave and the end of the war to be wounded or killed. Took over Comet No. 347 and worked till dark to get it ready for action. The crew is now - Tiny Finlinson, commander, with me as wireless operator, Ken Kirkley as gunner, Boogie Watson as driver and Ken Slack as co-driver.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Monday 26th March

There are now eight bridgeheads over the Rhine and Allied forces are already thirty miles east of it. German opposition seems to be weakening. A thousand bomber raids are still going on every night and Germany must be feeling it. There are signs that this will be the final campaign of the war. Certainly everyone is optimistic about it. It looks as though we are going to be in at the kill too, as we are working all hours to get these tanks ready.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sunday 25th March

Returned to the Regiment and the good news that my leave has been put forward to Wednesday April 18th - just three weeks on Wednesday. Roll on that date. Spent all day getting two brand new Comet tanks out of grease. I wonder what the rush is? The attack to the east of the Rhine is going extremely well and I should not be surprised if we go back to Germany.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Saturday 24th March

It is another glorious day. Saw Pygmalion for the first time. Never knew what Pygmalion stood for. Apparently he was a fifteenth century sculptor who created a woman so beautiful that he willed her to life. In the evening, we saw a film: Le Couple Invisible. On the streets, we were caught for a twenty-franc donation to some religious organisation. And, thus, our second glorious visit to that gay wide-awake city - the capital of Belgium - comes to an end. We have had a marvellous time and leaving here is like returning from leave at home.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Friday 23rd March

It is really glorious weather and really too hot at times. It is surprising how the weather affects one’s spirits. The weather today gives one a sense of exhilaration, appreciation of the sweetness of life and desire to live. So much so that action seems so remote and one longs for a continuation of this glorious life. Were it not for the fact that we have been in action on days like this, it would be hard to realize that men are being mutilated and are dying on the battlefield not so far away. It seems too glorious for that. However, here we are in Brussels and we really do appreciate it. Bette Davies and Miriam Hopkins in the film ‘Old Acquaintances’ occupied the afternoon. Brussels seems to be even gayer than ever in the bright sunlight. As a women’s fashion centre, I should say it almost equals Paris. The women are certainly well dressed and made up and most of them are very attractive too. I should think that a woman who isn’t well dressed in Brussels would not stand a chance of getting on. Food is still rather scarce, but if one is willing to pay for it, one can get cream cakes galore. Even before the war, one could not get such stuff in milk bars in England.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Tuesday 22nd March

Ah Brussels! Another three days leave in that glorious city. Arrived at 10:30am with Dave Dewar and went to the ‘Blue Pool’, a Canadian club, where we had a leisurely shower, followed by my first swim of the year. It was a gloriously hot day and it was grand to relax in the clear blue water. We emerged two new men, and did full justice to the excellent meal. We were supposed to sleep at the Hotel De Sermonde, but it turned out to be a dirty, drab brothel. However, in the afternoon we visited the people whom Dave was billeted with the last time he was here and they insisted that we stayed with them and we gladly accepted. They are exceedingly nice people and could not do enough for us. We found ourselves in a civvy bed with real white sheets and an eiderdown and after seeing the film: ‘Up in Arms’ at the U.S. Army Theatre, and a supper provided by the family, we made good use of it.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Wednesday 21st March

The first day of spring and it is true to type. It is a truly glorious day and the trees are bursting into bud and all that sort of thing. Oh to spend spring in England.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Tuesday 20th March

The famous Remagen Bridge over which many of our troops crossed the Rhine has collapsed. The eastern upstream support had been cut in several places by enemy shells and this was being repaired when the bridge collapsed. Because of these repairs, the bridge was closed to traffic. The only casualties were the engineers who were working on the bridge. The Allied air forces are doing great work in cutting enemy supply lines.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Monday 19th March

Yesterday, Berlin was subjected to the heaviest day’s assault of the war when two thousand seven hundred tons of bombs were dropped in one raid. It is estimated that a ton of bombs every second hit rail and industrial targets in and around Berlin. One thousand three hundred U.S heavy bombers were used. A minor crisis is being caused in England by the meat shortage. Most of Britain’s meat is being sent to feed the occupied countries. America is rather short as well and, consequently, is cutting down on her shipments of Lend-Lease meat. John Llewellin, Minister of Food, and Mr Oliver Lyttleon, Minister of Production may go to Washington to discuss the situation.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Sunday 18th March

The Gough case, involving Dennis O’ Neill, an evacuee, aged thirteen, being beaten to death by Reginald Gough, a Shropshire farm labourer, is still in session and occupies considerable space in all the newspapers. That and the Cleft Chin murder case have caused quite a distraction from war news. The Russians have taken Stettin and the American bridgehead over the Rhine is now five miles deep and fifteen miles wide. The British and Canadian bridgehead further north is steadily expanding.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Saturday 17th March

Visited Louvain and saw the film: ‘After the Thin Man’. ‘Tiny’ Finlinson and I were on guard at 7.00pm and had to get back for then. We hopped on one of the rickety trains that often run alongside the roads on the continent. They are very crude and primitive affairs, but serve the purpose of delivering milk etc., to the various villages. They also act as a tram service for the villagers to and from town. Well, to return, we hopped on board this train affair at 5:15pm, giving us an hour and three quarters to do the six-mile journey back to Lubbeek. At 5:45pm we were two miles out of Louvain. At 6:15pm we were just half way and the train had stopped at the bottom of a gradient to get up steam and wait for another engine to help it up the ascent. If we had waited for the train, the guard would have mounted minus one man and one commander, so we abandoned the train and hitchhiked back, arriving just in time to dash on guard.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Friday 16th March

I had quite a busy day on both the Comet course and as orderly Corporal. Discovered that George Bell has lost my typewriter, which is very annoying. I could have sold it for 100 guilders. Still, such are the hazards of war. Easy come. Easy go, I suppose.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Thursday 15th March

Started a two-day Comet course under Sergeant Nicholls. Otherwise, things are very quiet. We took some trucks to Louvain. It is good to be out on rest, but it makes my diary rather uninteresting. However, I prefer it that way.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Wednesday 14th March

Had the long awaited bath this morning. It feels grand to have a change of clothing too. In the afternoon, a Belgian ENSA show proved to be very good entertainment.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Tuesday 13th March

Len Stone and myself, together with two drivers, went to Louvain at 7:30am this morning to collect two new Comet tanks. As the train bringing them from Ypres did not arrive until 12.00-noon, we had a good look round the town. It is a fair sized place and quite pretty in parts. Trams run from there to Brussels. It makes me long for leave to see all the cinemas and other luxuries of civilisation. Trains are running again from here and it is the main departure point for leave in this area. In Lubbeek, eight kilometres from Louvain, where we are billeted, nearly everyone speaks Flemish, but in Louvain French is the most spoken language.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Monday 12th March

The pocket of German troops at Wesel has now been eliminated and the Rhine is cleared from north of Nijmegan to Coblenz. The American bridgeheads over the Rhine have linked up and trapped twenty thousand Germans. Essen has been shelled and bombed so much that it is said to be absolutely flat. This rest is just what we needed and is appreciated very much, but I am dreading the time when we have to go into action again. I want to go on leave and I hope that it will be in about five weeks time with me in one piece. I don’t fancy life without a limb. Poor old Taffy lost his leg. Dave Dewar is off tanks because he’s battle weary. So, out of the original crew that I came over to France with, I am the only one left on the fighting echelon. God knows how those fellows, who have been in the fighting since the beginning of the war, go on. I have had my fair share of it now. I should go home in five weeks’ time and for two weeks of that time we should be on rest. It’s what can happen in those other three weeks that worries me.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sunday 11th March

We loaded the tanks onto the transporters at 1.00pm and arrived Hertogenbosch at 6.00pm. Our original intention was to stay here for the night, but owing to the danger of shelling, it was decided that we should push right on through the night to our destination, four miles from Louvain. We tried to sleep under the canvas of the transporter, but we were cramped and our mouths were filled with dust and our stomachs with diesel oil fumes, so we just lay there in a dazed state. At 1:30am we arrived at our destination and with our eyes bunged-up with sleep and dust, we tumbled out and unloaded the tank. We left the tanks by the side of the road outside the billet for the night and had a welcome cup of char from the cookhouse, before crawling into our blankets and sleeping until 8.00am.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Saturday 10th March

Transporters are not arriving until tomorrow, so we took advantage of it to take a look at Nijmegen. Not a very exciting place, although Nijmegen Bridge is rather an impressive sight.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Friday 9th March

After a breakfast of bacon and beans, bread and marmalade, we set off in a regimental column for Nijmegen where we are to await transporters to take us to near Louvain in Belgium for our rest. As we halted in Nijmegen before dark, we were able to procure civvy billets for ourselves.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Thursday 8th March

Boogie Watson arrived at the workshop with a 4th Troop tank. Captain Bentley told him to take the ruddy thing back, but Ernie Main took it instead. Heard the glorious news that the Regiment is pulling back to Louvain in Belgium for three weeks rest. Not wishing to be left behind, we fixed the track in our tank and I acted as commander, while Boogie drove it at breakneck speed back to the Squadron. It involved a good bit of map reading on my part too, if I may say so. We arrived back at the Squadron in time to cook tea just before dark. For want of a better place, we slept in the tank.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Wednesday 7th March

It’s quite a novel experience being in workshops with a tank. The REMEs start work at 8.00am and finish at 5.00pm, but where they work, I really don’t know. One can never find them when one wants one. I had a look at the tanks in the tank ‘graveyard’ this morning. They present a gruesome sight and tell an even more gruesome tale. By the position of the holes in the turret, one can almost tell how many people were killed or injured in it. Those 88-mm shells seem to be able to tear through almost any thickness of solid tempered steel.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Tuesday 6th March

My isolation on the tank did not prove to be too long because, at 2.00pm today, a Sherman recovery vehicle towed it away, to one hundred and fifty-nine Brigade Workshop in Udem. The workshops are actually in what appears to have been a bomb factory and I am billeted in what remains of a fine German house. Huge family albums indicate that it was the home of a well-known German family. The silverware and ornaments, still in the cupboards, go to show that it was a fairly rich family. Well, they’ve had it now. Udem itself is in a terrible state. I didn’t see one house untouched by the bombing and shelling. Three civvies were still living in a very badly battered house, which they had patched up with tarpaulins etc. They didn’t seem too happy about it either.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Monday 5th March

The Regiment moved off today, leaving me in charge of the damaged tank, which is now minus a track and has a terrific water leak. I have plenty of rations, tobacco, writing paper and books, so am not worried how long it is before REME recover me. I remember once before in France… A tank can be made quite comfortable really. I am thoroughly settled down here. With my bed in the driver’s compartment, I can eat, sleep, read and write at will. By this time the Germans are three miles away, so I needn’t worry about them, but if some low-down German civvy comes snooping around the tank, I have my Sten gun ready to put a stop to his inquisitiveness.
This operation seems to be going quite well, in fact, much better than expected. We have linked up with the Yanks and a fair portion of the German Army is likely to be trapped. The Americans are already in Cologne and the pocket of Germans this side of the Rhine is dwindling. Whether the Americans will carry on and cross the Rhine remains to be seen. If the Americans are not up to strength and, therefore, not prepared to cross the Rhine, I think that we shall do the same as we did on the River Maas, namely, take-up our positions, re-group and re-fit.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Sunday 4th March

At last: a day of rest. We took full advantage of it to have a much needed wash and shave, turning from something resembling dirty gorillas into more or less recognisable human shapes. A good scoff (meal) did not go amiss too.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Saturday 3rd March

The rest of the Squadron went into action again today, so since I had no tank, I took shelter in a B Squadron tank. Sergeant Gibson saw a farmhouse door open and two jars of fruit standing on the table inside. When he went in to get them, he noticed that two German civvies were sitting in the corner. He remarked: ‘Good morning. Heil Churchill. I’ve come for the fruit’. He gathered it up off the table and went out. A and B Squadron recovery vehicles were un-bogging tanks, when several shells landed right in amongst them. Corporal Howard received a nasty cut on the head and Chatfield was slightly injured. Mr Eyles caught shrapnel in both legs and had to be carried away. Apart from that, it was an uneventful day.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Friday 2nd March

Dawn brought a clear morning and lots of AP fire. Boogie Watson, Dave Dewar, Taffy Hughes and I made a lightening move and took cover in a nearby wood with the infantry. Much to our surprise, we found that the Squadron was harboured there too. We did without breakfast, because our rations were on the tank and it was under sniper fire. And after all this, came yet another nasty experience. At about 3.00pm, the wood was heavily shelled and mortared. It seems as though Jerry had concentrated all his artillery on that one small wood. Boogie, Taffy and myself were lying, shivering in a slit-trench, thinking that it is only needs one to land in the trench and we’ve all had it. Sure enough, one landed right by its edge and Taffy yelled out: ‘my leg. I’m bleeding horribly. Stop it or I’ll bleed to death’. By now the bottom of the trench covered with blood. Luckily, Sergeant Gibson and Lance Corporal Tumblety realised that something was wrong and they came over to give assistance. It was a horrible job getting Taffy out of the trench, as both his legs were shattered and he was in very great pain. However, we gave him chloroform and got him out of the trench as best we could. As we carried him over to the Squadron Leader’s tank, more shellfire came down and we had to drop him and dive for cover. After a second dose of chloroform, we eventually got him on the back of the tank and he was taken straight back to a field hospital. The tot of whisky that Sergeant Gibson offered me immediately afterwards was very welcome indeed. We laagered [1] for the night well clear of the wood, but I didn’t sleep much.
[1]. The term laager means camp. Laagered is a synonym for harboured.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Thursday 1st March

Whilst holding the high ground, which was our objective, a C Squadron, Challenger tank was hit by a shell from a Panther tank and blew up immediately. One fellow was rather badly hurt, but the other four were lucky. We pulled back to replenish our ammunition and petrol and were shelled while doing so. Two jeeps and an ammunition lorry were hit and ammunition was flying all over the place. At 6.00pm we picked up the Herefords [1] and, as soon as it was dark, we moved into action with them, this time with C Squadron leading. Good Lord! More night fighting and as yet no signs of getting any sleep. It’s one hell of a life isn’t it? Still, I suppose it is helping the war effort.
Soon we encountered the enemy. We experienced heavy mortar fire and the infantry sustained a good few casualties. However, we pushed on with the few infantry that we had left and a terrible anticipation of the deadly bazooka [2] awaited us. None came. But as we neared the village, which was our objective, armour piercing (AP) tracing shots started whistling across our front. There were several horrible seconds of suspense as I saw one coming straight towards the tank. I didn’t know whether to bale out or stay put. I was sure our end had come. However, it passed several yards to our left and we reversed out of the arc of fire. With Dave Dewar suffering from battle weariness, Taffy Hughes took his place. We were then sent to chase an SP gun [3] and, in doing so, the tank shed a track and got bogged. Mr Ridding took charge of another tank and left us to wait for assistance when it came light. Incidentally, the SP we were supposed to go after was found by a B Squadron tank that fired an HE at it by mistake. The HE didn’t even scratch the heavy armour of the SP but the crew of the SP must have thought that the shot had penetrated and they bailed out, leaving the tank intact.
[1]. The Herefords were an infantry regiment.
[2]. The bazooka was one of the first anti-tank weapons. It was nicknamed a ‘bazooka’ because of its vague resemblance to the musical instrument.
[3]. SPs were self-propelled guns. In effect they were mobile gun platforms that were used for defending transport columns against air attack.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Wednesday 28th February

Last night still seems one horrible nightmare. At 8.00pm, we were ordered to push on in the moonlight, straight down the main road through the enemy’s lines and A Squadron was to be the leading Squadron with first Troop the leading troop. This made Sergeant Gibson leading tank and mine second. The infantry were to support us and vice versa. Tanks are almost useless in the dark. You cannot hear a blasted thing because of the engine and you cannot see anything until you are twenty yards from it, so it is a matter of who gets the first shot in. You seem to be fighting an invisible enemy, an unknown horror bent upon your destruction, and you have a sickly feeling in your stomach because you know that, at any moment, you may be lying on the floor of the tank with a gaping hole in your guts or, if you’re lucky, just with a limb hanging off. The first casualties were Jack Danby and Bob Banfield who were both killed by a shell that landed on top of their turret. It’s a hell of a pity as they were both good blokes. By this time the roof of my mouth was like a block of salt and my hands warm and moist. Round a corner, by a group of farmhouses, we ran into a group of Jerries in slit trenches. One of them fired a bazooka at us. For the uninitiated, a bazooka is a horrible anti-tank weapon, which pierces the armour and explodes inside the tank making a mess of everything including the crew. If that bazooka had hit us, I should not be here to write this. Luckily it hit the ground just in front of us and we sprayed the slit trenches with machine gun fire as we reversed out of a horrible predicament. Out of range of the bazookas, we came under heavy shellfire and many of the infantry who were with us were hit. Sergeant Gibson advanced a little further and found that there was an anti-tank obstacle and mines across the road, so it was decided to send an infantry attack to the right flank. The infantry were so shaken up by the shelling and spandaus [1] that they took a lot of organising, but they eventually set off and we supported them with our big guns and machine guns. They must have had heavy casualties in the wood. It seemed like mass suicide to me, but perhaps they caught some of the Jerries sleeping. Even then, I was not in a happy state, peering into the darkness expecting a Jerry to creep up on us with a bazooka. By this time it was 4:30am and it would soon be light. We had to get out of the valley before dawn or risk being picked off by the German anti-tank gun, which we knew was on the opposite ridge. We just sneaked out as it was coming light. This sounds like one of those war tales that one reads about in fiction: a group of tanks creeping several miles behind the enemy’s lines in the moonlight and have to get out again before dawn. Yet here I am writing it and still alive to tell the tale. Yes, truth is often stranger than fiction. It was a horrible experience and I would not like to have to go through it again.
[1]. Spandaus were German quick firing machine guns.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Tuesday 27th February

Up at 4.00am under notice to move into action, which did not come until 4.00pm. With some men from the Monmouthshire Regiment - an infantry regiment - on the back of our tank, we pushed on through the village of Udem, which the Canadians had taken just a few hours before, and Germans were still hanging around in cellars and attics. It was a horrible sensation going through the town, expecting a Jerry to lob a grenade from a window or blast you into eternity with a bazooka. I became all clammy with sweat, but worse was to follow.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Monday 26th February

We are under an hour’s notice to move into action. Had a look at the knocked out German tank near here. The tank had brewed up [1] and the crew of five had all been killed. There were three graves nearby and two charred bodies inside the turret. One was almost unrecognisable as a human body - just a black mess with a few charred bones. The shape of the other body was recognisable, charred black with the knee bone protruding. All it needed was a notice: ‘This might happen to you - Take Care’.
[1]. The term ‘brewed up’ was Army lingo for ‘hit and on fire’.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Sunday 25th February

We arrived at our destination at 1.00am and took up temporary positions in a small orchard near a couple of houses. Dave and I are on guard. In France, Belgium and Holland I had sympathy for the refugees and their war-shattered houses, but here, I just don’t give a damn. The Germans started this war and if it hadn’t been for them, I would be in a comfortable condition, so they can jolly well pay for it. If I want a fire, I shall not think twice about using German furniture. When a Canadian tank was knocked out near here, the civvies dashed out with sticks and started beating the dazed crew as they baled out, so they deserve everything that’s coming to them. Received a letter from Dorothy saying that she will marry me next leave, which makes me very happy. Details too intimate to record here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Saturday 24th February

From here on, my diary becomes rather dirty and brief as we are in action again. We undertake a long tedious route march through the night to two-thirds of the way to our destination. By route march I obviously mean in the tanks. The gunner and co-driver slept on the back. As soon as it came light, we harboured in a wood and after camouflaging up, got under way cooking breakfast of bacon and eggs, which we had scrounged. The afternoon was fairly warm and we made up for our loss of sleep by going to sleep in the open. As soon as darkness descended, or ascended as pilots would have it, we moved off again. At 8:45pm I entered Germany. If a year ago anyone had told me that I would be in Germany today, I would not have believed him, but here I am. Small world isn’t it? At midnight we passed through Cleve, which was won from the Germans less than a week ago.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Friday 23rd February

We move up to the battle area at midnight tonight. The newspapers aren’t at all encouraging. They tell of stiff fighting against Panzer divisions in the area where we are going. So this is goodbye to Holland. I shall be inside Germany itself soon. At one time that would have been quite a thrill, but going into action again isn’t at all pleasant. We shall have to watch the German civilians too.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Thursday 22nd February

At last, we have some definite news about leave. Out of one hundred and twenty-three eligible for leave I came out a number thirty-five on the Squadron ballot at 4.00pm tonight. The Squadron allocation for March is fifteen and so numbers one to fifteen will go. The allocation for April is bound to be at least thirty, so I should be on leave about April 22nd, I hope. That good news was followed by bad. We go into action again in a few days time.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Wednesday 21st February

I set out in the evening for Hertogenbosch with Tony Booth and Tumble Tumblety. A fairly large proportion of the town is damaged, presumably mainly by bombing. We had heard rumours that Germans shelled the town at night, but we didn’t take much notice. That was until a shell landed close by and proved the rumour to be correct. Civvies dashed for shelter, but very little happened. Nightlife is very quiet with a curfew at 8.00pm.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tuesday 20th February

The buzz bombs [1] still rattle the windows as they pass over and one or two have dropped fairly near here. When it’s clear, as it is today, one can see them tearing across the sky on their terrible mission. By their direction, I should say that they were heading for Antwerp. The Nilmegen push, Konev’s push towards Dresden and the Cleft Chin murder case [2] occupy equal portions of the newspaper space.
[1]. As mentioned in a previous footnote ‘buzz bombs’ was a popular name given to V1s. They were also called doodlebugs.
[2]. The cleft chin murder occurred in 1944. It was so-called because the victim, a taxi driver, had a cleft chin. Elizabeth Jones and Gustav Hulten, a GI, were tried for the murder at the Old Bailey in January 1945 and found guilty. Hulten was hanged in March 1945, but two days before she was due to be executed, Jones received a reprieve.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Monday 19th February

I have received no mail for six days. Wake your ideas up Army Post Office. Saw Bill Kavanagh. He is number sixty-six on the HQ Squadron Leave Roll. A-Squadron has not drawn up its leave roll yet. Hope we can manage to go together. June seems most likely.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Sunday 18th February

The barracks have been left in a terrible state by the Canadians who were here before us and we spent today cleaning it up.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Saturday 17th February

Moved off at 7:15am in the grey morning mist under wireless silence. The Regiment must have stretched for at least a couple of miles. We covered the sixty-odd miles north westwards to Hertogenbosch in record time and arrived at our concentration point four kilometres from Hertogenbosch just before 12.00-noon. The first thing that struck us about the place was that flying bombs were passing dangerously low overhead at regular intervals. They must be launched from German occupied Holland and are only just gaining height as they pass over here. I hope that none of them have faulty mechanisms. The rumour of action seems untrue for a while at least. The whole Regiment is billeted in a monastery or school of some sort, which has been a German barracks. There are drawings of Jerries in action on the walls and numerous swastikas and slogans like: ‘The Führer’s will is our command’ all over the place. The artist knew his job too. It was strange to be in barrack rooms again. The order of the day is spit and polish. Are we getting ready for a change in status to an army of occupation?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Friday 16th February

Rumour hath it that we may be going into action in a few days. Flap on. Queer feeling in stomach again. Hope rumour hath it wrong. In a war area anything can happen. I am sorry to be leaving Leverii and the Herman family as we have spent a very comfortable seven weeks here. For a photograph of the Herman family and the crew taken outside the family’s front door

Monday, 15 February 2010

Thursday 15th February

The decisions of the ‘ Big Three’ in the Crimea Pact have been announced. See pictures for a photograph of the Allied war leaders and the picture below for an account of their meeting.


Sunday, 14 February 2010

Friday 14th February

We had an enjoyable morning popping off bottles on the rifle range. The weather has improved greatly recently. Today has been almost like summer and the ground dries up quickly. In the British and Canadian push from Nijmegen, Cleve and Gennep have been captured. Resistance appears to have been fairly stiff, although Germans have been giving themselves up in large numbers. Russia continues to make progress. General Konev [1] is now only forty miles from Dresden and Marshall Zhukov [2] eighteen miles from Stettin. Push on Joe.
[1]. General Konev was the Commander of the 1st Ukrainian Forces and later of the 2nd Ukrainian Forces. He played a particularly prominent part in the Soviet offensive of 1943-1944.
[2]. Marshall Zhukov played a central part in the defence of Leningrad and Stalingrad. He commanded the Russian Army in the offensive against German forces and accepted the Nazi surrender in Berlin on May 8, 1945.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Tuesday 13th February

Pancake Tuesday doesn’t means much to us stuck here. I sincerely wish that I could write as yesterday - nothing to report. Unfortunately, there is something to report. We were working on the tank this afternoon and 4th Troop were being instructed on PIAT anti-tank gun nearby. [1] There was a blinding flash and men scattered in all directions. We realised that an accident had occurred and I grabbed the first-aid box from the tank. The PIAT shell had exploded in the gun barrel, making a horrible mess of the gun and the three fellows standing by it. Mr Cruickshank, who fired the gun, was laid on his back with blood oozing from his shoulder and the back of his head. His left arm was lying by his side with a huge piece ripped out of it just above the wrist. Tommy Sutton, from Leeds, had a nasty stomach wound. It was pretty painful. The instructor from the Monmouthshire Regiment was in a bad way too. His legs were peppered with shrapnel and he had nasty wounds in the stomach and face. There was plenty of assistance and we soon had them all bandaged up. By the time we had finished dressing Mr Cruickshank’s arms, we had to change the dressing on his head because it was saturated with blood. All three men had to be given morphine and a tourniquet had to be applied to Mr Cruickshank’s arm. All three are seriously injured and it seems a shame that it happened on training. This time it was a pure accident. The shell exploded prematurely and it is just dammed bad luck that it should have done such damage.
[1]. PIAT stood for ‘Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank’.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Monday 12th February

I had a routine day as orderly corporal. There is nothing of interest to report, which is perhaps just as well.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Sunday 11th February

A glorious lazy day spent just writing and writing and writing. Being some sort of Dutch celebration today, the landlady provided us with an excellent supper of oatcakes, biscuits and coffee.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Saturday 10th February

An attack has been launched from Nijmegen, pushing eastwards, and an advance of ten miles has been made. South of here, the Americans have taken Schmitt and are trying to capture two important dams near there. The Russians are now menacing Frankfurt on the River Oder. A message to all troops from the Commander-in-Chief, 21stArmy Group, wishes us all the best in our last round to knock out Germany, so it looks as though we will be in again soon.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Friday 9th February

A very unfortunate accident occurred on the ranges at Lommel today. The full details are not yet known, but this is what I gather happened. Armour piercing shells are usually solid steel with a tracer [1], but a few experimental ones were made with high frequency (H.F) charges inside. However, these are now obsolete and are supposed to have been returned. Regardless of the fact that there might still have been one of these left, to prove that a trace in a solid shot wouldn’t go off without being fired, one stupid fellow threw it into the fire. Nothing happened for half an hour and the fellows who knew about it went away to fire the guns. Meanwhile, the party that had finished firing came and sat round the fire of old ammunition boxes, planks etc., to get warm. Seeing the round in the fire, Sergeant Angel tried to get it out with his stick and the thing went off, hurling nails and shrapnel all over the place. Strangely enough, Sergeant Angel wasn’t hurt at all. Carrington of our troop was hit in the wrist and leg by shrapnel, but not at all seriously, and Curley Rae was hit by a couple of nails and had his hand and face slightly burnt. The worst injured was Lewis of 2nd Troop. He had half of his foot blown off and was hit in the leg by so many nails and shrapnel that his leg had to be taken off below the knee joint. It is bad enough for that to happen in action, but when it is entirely due to someone’s utter stupidity one could remain bitter for the rest of one life. Taffy Lewis had got through five months action without a scratch, only to lose his leg through someone else’s stupidity. Still, these things happen and at least he is safe back in England, which is more than I can say.
[1]. A tracer was a flare marking the trajectory of the shell’s flight.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Thursday 8th February

We were wallowing in the mud again at 9.00am this morning. But this time it wasn’t raining and dark, so it produced results. All the tanks were un-bogged by 1.00pm. We were the first away and managed to get over all the difficult country only to get bogged twenty yards from the tank park. That was soon remedied, however. The news from the Eastern Front is good as usual. On Tuesday and Wednesday the Russians knocked out one hundred and forty-nine German tanks and took eighteen thousand prisoners. They are now only thirty-three miles from the suburbs of Berlin and have a strong bridgehead over the Oder near Breslau. Last night, seven hundred Mosquitos [1] bombed German positions not very far from here.
[1]. Mosquitos were RAF planes constructed of heat-formed plywood over a wooden frame, with sections glued and screwed for extra strength. They were built of Ecuadorian balsawood sandwiched between Canadian birch, a particularly strong and lightweight grade of plywood.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Wednesday 7th February

I acted as troop corporal commander on a troop scheme this afternoon. Holland! Gosh! What a country. One cannot dig down more than two feet without finding water and it is almost impossible country for tanks. So much so that the troop schemes today turned out to be de-bogging schemes. Several tanks of the troops that started before us were bogged, but we managed to finish the scheme with only one tank out of the four bogged. We were pleased with this and I was ready to take my crew and tank home, when we were called on to tow out one of the bogged tanks. That did it. First the Squadron Leader’s tank got bogged and then ours suffered the same fate. We got ourselves un-bogged and used the tank to anchor a second tank, which had appeared on the scene, while we gave a hand with the proceedings. There were six tanks all bogged in one little valley and small wonder. If one stood still for a couple of minutes, one got stuck in the mud. One fellow got so badly stuck in his gumboots that the only way he could get out was to step out of his gumboots and pull them out quickly before he sunk in again. But the situation soon lost its humorous touch, when we were wallowing around in the mud after dark in the pouring rain. It is not very funny when you are soaked to the skin and the mud and water squelches over your boots. We managed to un-bog three of the tanks and then the situation became so hopeless that the Squadron Leader put a guard on the tanks and we returned to our billets and a very welcome rum ration.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Tuesday 6th February

The Army Welfare Centre has presented the Squadron with a radio. As each troop is in different billets, it goes round in turn and it is now our privileged possession for three days. Needless to say, it is on all day. At last we are up-to-date with our news. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin are in conference near the Black Sea. This seems to signify that we will be pushing on soon, since every time the ‘Big Three’ meet, there is a big push shortly afterwards.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Monday 5th February

The confusion of the communiqués from the Russian front is obvious by the fact that today’s Daily Herald says that the Russians have reached the line of the River Oder, but have not crossed it, while the Daily Mirror states in block letters: MANY GAPS IN ODER LINE. However, one thing is confirmed by all this coverage, namely, that the Russians are now only thirty-six miles from the outskirts of Berlin. On the Western Front, Boogie Watson and I changed the tank idler in the pouring rain.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Sunday 4th February

A torrent of rain today turned all the tracks into three inches of mud. We wade through it to meals and stand in it while we consume them. When it is raining, we endure the stench of the pigsty. We bring spare bread back to the house and toast it. The farmhouse is quite snug and with sixteen people in the front room every night it gets quite warm. When the ‘civvies’ dash out for the evening meal we dash to the fire and toast our supper. We can always tell when they are finishing by the long monotonous chant they have for grace and by the time they re-enter the front room from the kitchen, we have monopolized the table for reading and writing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Saturday 3rd February

The Russians are now only forty-five to fifty miles from Berlin. Their terrific progress is shown in the map


We wait tentatively for each new bulletin. The Germans seem to have changed their propaganda. In France, they reported that we were at a certain place when we were in fact miles past it. In contrast, on the Eastern Front, they reported that the Russians had reached a town before they had. The only plausible reason for this seems to be that they can then say that they have retaken a town. Either that or the speed of the Russian advances is confusing their communiqués. In practice for our next push, we fired 75-mm and 17-pounders today. The shooting was fairly good with most of the targets being knocked down. We are back in Holland by 6.00pm.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Friday 2nd February

During the night we had our first thaw for two months and it was grand to see the countryside green again and feel the warm air as we went to breakfast. Instead of biting cold wind, the air was comparatively warm and still and we felt the thrill of life in nature once more. A breath of spring - how I long for summer in England. We’re back to Belgium, but only for two days this time. Left Leveroii at 2.00pm and arrived Hommel at 3:30pm. We passed a terrific convoy en route. There must be a push somewhere. Slept the night on the floor of someone’s front room.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Thursday 1st March

Whilst holding the high ground, which was our objective, a C Squadron, Challenger tank was hit by a shell from a Panther tank and blew up immediately. One fellow was rather badly hurt, but the other four were lucky. We pulled back to replenish our ammunition and petrol and were shelled while doing so. Two jeeps and an ammunition lorry were hit and ammunition was flying all over the place. At 6.00pm we picked up the Herefords [1] and, as soon as it was dark, we moved into action with them, this time with C Squadron leading. Good Lord! More night fighting and as yet no signs of getting any sleep. It’s one hell of a life isn’t it? Still, I suppose it is helping the war effort.
Soon we encountered the enemy. We experienced heavy mortar fire and the infantry sustained a good few casualties. However, we pushed on with the few infantry that we had left and a terrible anticipation of the deadly bazooka [2] awaited us. None came. But as we neared the village, which was our objective, armour piercing (AP) tracing shots started whistling across our front. There were several horrible seconds of suspense as I saw one coming straight towards the tank. I didn’t know whether to bale out or stay put. I was sure our end had come. However, it passed several yards to our left and we reversed out of the arc of fire. With Dave Dewar suffering from battle weariness, Taffy Hughes took his place. We were then sent to chase an SP gun [3] and, in doing so, the tank shed a track and got bogged. Mr Ridding took charge of another tank and left us to wait for assistance when it came light. Incidentally, the SP we were supposed to go after was found by a B Squadron tank that fired an HE at it by mistake. The HE didn’t even scratch the heavy armour of the SP but the crew of the SP must have thought that the shot had penetrated and they bailed out, leaving the tank intact.
[1]. The Herefords were an infantry regiment.
[2]. The bazooka was one of the first anti-tank weapons. It was nicknamed a ‘bazooka’ because of its vague resemblance to the musical instrument.
[3]. SPs were self-propelled guns. In effect they were mobile gun platforms that were used for defending transport columns against air attack.

Thursday 1st February

I start this month by wondering what the end of it will bring. The Russians are still advancing on Berlin and the situation at the end of this month should be very interesting. Unless the Russians are held up at the Oder, this month could possibly see the fall of Berlin. It is, of course, a debatable point whether Germany will collapse after the fall of Berlin. Hitler says that if Berlin falls he will take his armies into the Bavarian mountains and the Black Forest and hold out there indefinitely. This may be wishful thinking, although it’s obvious that a country is not beaten just because its capital falls; its army also has to be defeated.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Wednesday 31st January

I am commanding a tank on the Squadron Infantry co-operation scheme this afternoon. I tried to take it through a frozen stream, which only seemed to be shallow water. A wave of fifteen feet and pieces of ice, a foot thick, flew into the air as we plunged in up to the mudguards. Poor old Ginger Morrison, the driver got soaked. To an outsider, it may have looked funny, but to us it wasn’t. At the same time, we could see the humorous side of it. There we remained, nicely bogged down, until the recovery vehicle came to our rescue.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Tuesday 30th January

I’m orderly corporal again. A regimental advance party has gone into Belgium, so we must be moving back soon.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Monday 29th January

It’s Auntie Jessie’s birthday. I wish you all the best, Aunt. The Russians are still advancing and are now only one hundred miles from Berlin and forty-five miles from Stettin. Poznan has been encircled in this drive. The Volkssturm, [1] with only fourteen days training, are being used by the Germans to try to stem this Russian avalanche. South of Poznan, the Russians have a bridgehead across the River Oder and are pouring troops across it. And on the Western Front we are taking it easy. Unfortunately, our time will come later, although it would be grand to have the war finished without having to go into action again. Our troops are now doing extremely well in Burma and I am hoping that BLA means the British Liberation Army and not ‘Burma looms ahead’.
[1]. The Volksstrum consisted of all able-bodied men and some women between the ages of sixteen and sixty who were not already employed in defence of the Fatherland. In practice, it was an ad hoc and ill-equipped national militia.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Sunday 28th January

Farewell to Belgium - for a while at least. Our course finished, we arrived back with the Squadron in Holland in time for dinner. The little Belgian currency we had left we saved for our second visit to Brussels, which we hope will come soon. My watch is caput, so I hope to buy a new one there. A trip to Brussels is rather a drain on finance and several people are refusing to go the second time because they want to save all their cash for their leave in England.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Saturday 27th January

Our gunnery course finished today with a fairly stiff test. Pens and brains squeaked simultaneously. I managed 70%, which is average. On the whole the course was very interesting and I have enjoyed my week here. A visit to the town of Mol this afternoon provided a welcome diversion. An excellent jive band plays in the NAAFI there. Jack Arkley and I had five francs worth of civvy cinema. The films shown by most cinemas over here are in English or American. The sound tracks are in English with translations in French or Flemish printed at the bottom of the film. The film in this case was ‘The Heart of the North’ and we enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Friday 26th January

The news from the Eastern Front is really terrific. The Russians are now only one hundred and forty miles from Berlin. East Prussia is entirely cut-off and Konignsberg is expected to fall soon. Breslau and Poznam are menaced and they are as important to Germany as Sheffield and Coventry are to England. There is a direct menace to Berlin and each news bulletin brings details of further Russian advances. It seems as though the German’s last defence-line will be the River Oder, and that runs only twenty miles from Berlin. German morale must be fairly low now, with the Russians only one hundred and forty miles away and our air forces giving them a terrific pounding. There is no saying what next week’s news will bring. The end of the war is now definitely within sight. It seems quite probable that instead of waiting for a spring offensive, we shall now push in everything we’ve got in an attempt to finish the war quickly. The British 2ndArmy’s offensive in Roermand, which is only a few miles from here, is going well. The British 2ndArmy usually includes us, but they’re doing without us on this stint. We aren’t cribbing (complaining).

Monday, 25 January 2010

Thursday 25th January

Today came the exhilarating news that in approximately a week’s time, the Regiment is moving back to somewhere on the Belgian-French border for training and re- fitting with the new Comet tanks. These are the very latest British tanks and they are fitted with the new secret 77-mm gun. It incorporates all the best designs and gadgets of British tanks and the 77-mm gun is supposed to be as good as the 17-pounder, with high penetration power. It is about time we got a decent tank. We are always well behind the Germans in tank production, although our engines are by far the best. The Russians have the new Victor Tank, which is the equal of the dreaded German Tiger. For a photograph of this tank see picture.



However, we are now one up on the Germans in terms of anti-tank ammunition. The principle of our Sabot ammunition is a small exceedingly hard steel projectile with three sabots fitted around it to fit the size of the bore. When fired, the sabots fly off by centrifugal force and, therefore, the small projectile has the same power behind it as a shell twice its size and weight. [1]
[1]. In this context the term sabot doesn’t refer to a wooden shoe as earlier. It was a device that ensured the correct positioning of a bullet or shell in the barrel of a gun. It was attached either to the projectile or insider the barrel and fell away as it left the muzzle.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Wednesday 24th January

There is certainly plenty to learn here. We dash around from one lecture room to another, stripping guns, delving into the intricacies of ballistics, finer adjustments on sighting instruments and involved theories on testing and adjusting of gun sights.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Tuesday 23rd January

Made my first intimate association with the Bar and Stroud Range Finder. It is an ingenious device that gives you two convergent images that allow you to judge your distance from the target.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Monday 22nd January

Our course started in earnest this morning with an elaborate drill parade. Gunnery is an extensive subject and there is plenty to learn. In an all too short seven days, the course covers 75-mm, 95-mm, 17-pounders, Besa, Browning, testing and adjusting of sights, range finding, sight instruments, ammunition, indirect firing, observation post work and extensive mine instruction. The time between 1:15pm and 1:20pm is all our own.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sunday 21st January

We left Leverii at 9.00am for the Regimental Gunnery School at Lommel in Belgium. I am here to do a week’s crew commander gunnery course. To my surprise, I found that I was billeted where I stayed the night when we came down to the ranges. The occupants of the house, where four of us are billeted, are an old lady and her two daughters. A curious thing about the people here is that they have nothing to do and get up at 6:30am to start doing it. Nevertheless, they are very good to us.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Saturday 20th January

Our second infantry co-operation scheme proved much more exciting than the first. We went into attack through a smoke screen at full speed, thus livening things up a bit. Beyond that and receiving a letter from Dorothy, the day was uninteresting.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Friday 19th January

An exercise for A Squadron was supposed to start at 8.00am, so we got up an hour earlier than usual and trooped down to the cook house for an early breakfast only to find that the scheme had been cancelled last night and no-one had told us. Boy, did we curse. Since it was snowing heavily, all we could do was have map reading exercises in the billet.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Thursday 18th January

The majority of the infantry regiments in our Division have been so badly under strength and have been re-enforced by young soldiers that they are now doing extensive and intensive training. As part of this training, we went on an infantry-tank co-operation scheme today. Perfect co-ordination between the infantry and tanks would save many lives, but it tends to be neglected, mainly by the infantry. Infantry without tanks often means heavy casualties when a couple of tanks could easily silence the machine gun nests with HE’s and BESA fire. On the other hand, tanks without infantry support often means loss of tanks and the lives of the tank crews because they are unable to sort out enemy bazooka men in deep slit trenches. Bazookas are much more deadly than 75-mm or 88-mm because the second explosion takes place inside the tank. An 88-mm is a solid shot and rips the tank open, but there is more chance of surviving than with a bazooka.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Wednesday 17th January

As a sequel to the series of First Aid lectures we have had, this morning, in lieu of an examination, we had an inter-troop competition. We tied with FHQ for the prize of six hundred cigarettes. I’ve learnt more about First Aid in this series of informal lectures by an RAMC corporal than from all the MO’s lectures. I now consider myself fairly competent.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Tuesday 16th January

The Intelligence Officer’s lecture put us in the picture about the war situation. It is certainly much brighter than a fortnight ago when we were being pushed back in Belgium. The British 2ndArmy has put in an attack on Roermond near here, but the eyes of the world are upon Russia. The more tanks Joe knocks out, the less there are for us. Good old Joe. [1]
[1]. ‘Joe’ was the affectionate name by which the British public referred to Joseph Stalin. The USSR was an ally in the war and little was known in the West about his internal policies.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Monday 15th January

The REME captain peered down our big gun and just managed to see the other end. Verdict: it has to be de-coppered. The gauge would not even go in the barrel because the copper was so thick. Still, it is only to be expected, as it is one of the original tanks that we got in France.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sunday 14th January

Went to church at RHQ. We now have a new padre - an MA I believe. He talks good sense, not religious sentiment. He has thought about religion seriously. We could do with more fellows like him.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Saturday 13th January

Today’s paper gives the good news of a new Russian offensive towards Silesia. The attack is going well and Stalin declares that this will be the final campaign of the war. He intends to go right through to Germany. If he manages to capture the industrial district of upper Silesia, it will be a great strain on Germany’s war effort and the end of the war will be in sight. I should think the Russians will get a lot of support from the workers in the industrial areas as they are mainly Poles and Russians, imported as prisoners and doing forced labour for the Germans. I hope that they take retaliation for such atrocities as Lublen in Poland where the Nazis murdered two hundred civilians, including women and children, just before they evacuated the town. Incidentally a new Polish Government has been set up there.
The German advance into Belgium has been pushed back considerably now. Compare the present position with the one on December 30th. German losses are estimated at forty thousand prisoners and fifty thousand dead against the American losses of forty thousand and these are nearly all prisoners. In Athens hostilities will cease at one minute past midnight on Monday morning. Discussions between the Greek Government and the EAM-ELAS will then take place. [1]
[1]. ELAS was the army of EAM. It meant Liberating Greek People’s Army.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Friday 12th January

Re- visited Helmond; this time to see the film ‘Cover Girl’, and an enjoyable day was had by all.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Thursday 11th January

Last night was the coldest of the war - 16 degrees of frost. I had to thaw my toothbrush and shaving brush out before I could use them. The rest of the fellows are sleeping in the barn on top of a huge stack of straw. But as there was no room for me up there, I was sleeping on the floor until today. The ‘old lady’ has presented me with a room of my own, complete with ‘civvy bed’. Whether it was because she thought it was too cold for me in the barn, because she has ‘taken a fancy to me’ or because I am the Non-Commissioned Officer (N.C.O) I do not know. Training films at Weert made a fairly pleasant morning. A quiz programme occupied the afternoon.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Wednesday 10th January

Being orderly corporal today meant the usual dashing around detailing fellows on an ad-lib basis. Still, it is very much easier than doing guard duty. Troopers do guard and full corporals and sergeants guard commanders, but lance corporals, just do orderly corporal duty. This only applies when we are not in action. In action everyone does guard.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Tuesday 9th January

Activity here is very much curtailed by the heavy fall of snow. We seem to spend most of the time in our billets, which is quite a good thing. This afternoon, however, our troop officer took us on a compass march.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Monday 8th January

Today’s mail brought news that Mrs Davies passed away last Tuesday evening. Understandably, Vera is very upset. [1] Time will be a great healer. During the night several inches of snow fell and a miniature blizzard raged all day. It’s quite impossible weather for tanks. However, if it freezes I shouldn’t be surprised if we see action again in a few weeks time. The first leave party goes on February 15th. Roll on England.
[1]. Vera was the wife of Dorothy’s brother, Jack, and Mrs Davies was her mother.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Sunday 7th January

Attended church service at RHQ. The padre was rather a flop and would have done much better talking to little children than to frontline fighting men. The church proper will have to buck its ideas up if it is to play a vital part in world reconstruction. They talk about the Lord making the rich poor and the poor rich in a world where it’s anything but that. Such flowery language as: ‘The Lord make his countenance to shine upon you’ is hopelessly out of date. More practical language should be used. The world of business must be met on its own terms and the basis of religion explained in simple terminology so that it can be better understood. Less sentiment and more logic should be introduced. Religion is not a thing to be solemn and sad about, as is the popular opinion today, but something to rejoice about and that side of it should be stressed more. I could go on and on, but it is a minor form of hypocrisy. Anyone can suggest improvements when it means no inconvenience to them.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Saturday 6th January

It was a very quiet day that culminated in a game of chess with Tony Booth.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Friday 5th January

Today we heard surprising and sad news about Paddy Slattery, one of our fitters. Apparently, he and Jerry Selby set out to test a three-ton lorry and ended up taking a Dutch civilian to his home, near the frontline at Venlo. The civvy and Jerry Selby went upstairs to collect some clothing, leaving Paddy downstairs. When they came downstairs, Paddy wasn’t there, and, they presumed he had gone for a stroll somewhere outside. The civvy wanted something from the cellar and as he opened the door, he heard ‘hands up’ in German. He promptly slammed the door and beat it, followed by Jerry Selby, who had not bothered to take his personal arms. He hung around outside for a while shouting for Paddy. Getting no response, he got the aid of a platoon of our infantry who were some distance away. When they arrived they searched the house thoroughly, but found no trace of the German or Paddy. Therefore, it can only be presumed, that the German killed Paddy or knocked him unconscious or took him prisoner while the other two were upstairs and then, made good his escape, while they were fetching the infantry. Thus, Paddy is reported missing for the moment, but he could either dead or a prisoner-of-war.[1] We must now be on the lookout for German spies wearing our uniforms, speaking excellent English and knowing quite a bit of regimental history. One was captured in our Regimental clothing not long ago at a café near the ranges and if they have got Paddy, they have another uniform to masquerade in.
[1] Paddy Slattery is listed as having been a prisoner of war in Courage (1949, p 258).

Monday, 4 January 2010

Thursday 4th January

A sergeant from Bovington, the capital of ‘Tankland’, gave us an excellent lecture on tank recognition this morning. The details about the King Tiger are even more formidable than its picture. The Germans are always far ahead of us in tank design and production. We only beat them by sheer numbers. Germany brings out a new gun, so we decide to bring out something to equal it. As soon as the gun is produced, Germany brings out an even better gun and so we go on.
Today was a glorious day; one of those days that really makes you feel alive. It began with a clear, dry frost and when we trooped across the fields for breakfast, the sky was a clear deep blue with the moon still held there, as if reluctant to leave the sky’s refreshing beauty. The frost turned into myriads of multi-coloured lights as the new morning sun brought them to life. At noon, the sun was really warm, exceptionally so for December. Yet we turn this beautiful and peaceful world into a horrible inferno of war. Oh that man would see his folly.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Wednesday 3rd January

As Sergeant Nicholls is away at the moment, I have taken over command of the Challenger tank. This means very little at present because we are static, but it does mean more responsibility if I have to command it in action. We spent the morning on the Sten gun range and the afternoon playing basketball.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Tuesday 2nd January

Spent an uninteresting day on the Besa range. Saw an excellent ‘Stars in Battledress’ show in the town of Weert.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Monday 1st January 1945

New Years Day: the beginning of yet another year of war. At least this year should definitely see the end of it. We said that last New Year’s Day, but we hadn’t invaded the Continent then. I wonder just what this year will bring? A New Year means very little really. True, it can be a fresh starting point; for turning one’s back on the old and facing the future with a clean sheet, but one is irrevocably linked to the past and the old things must go on. A job left unfinished yesterday in 1944, still has to be finished in 1945. In reality, one cannot shut ones mind on the old year and start refreshed on the new. Life this year still has the same problems that afflicted the last one and what has been done in the past cannot be undone. I suppose one must have year-ends to wind up accounts and banks to pay interest etc., but they seem have little social importance beyond that, unless it is as an excuse for merry-making. As an old-Dutch custom, Mrs Hermans dished us up oatcakes today. Apparently they have them on New Year’s Day in the same way that we have pancakes on Pancake Tuesday.

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.