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

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

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

An introduction to the diaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation and timing of the blog version

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

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

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

Patrick Murphy


Doug Mayman, aged 21, in Brussels 1944

Saturday, 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.

List of Abbreviations

ABCA: Army Bureau of Current Affairs

AEC: Army Education Corps

AFV: Armoured Fighting Vehicle

AP: Armour piercing

ARV: Armoured Recovery Vehicle

ATEA: Amphibious Tank Escape Apparatus

BLA: British Liberation Army

ENSA: Entertainments National Service Association

FFI: French Forces of the Interior

FHQ: Forward Headquarters

HE: High Explosive

HF: High frequency

KRH: The Kings Royal Hussars

KRR: Kings Royal Rifles

KSLI: King’s Surrey Light Infantry

LAD: Light Aid Detachment

MI: Medical Inspection Room

MO: Medical officer

MP: Military policeman

NAAFI: National Army Air Force Institute

NFS: National Fire Service

NCO: Non-commissioned officer

OCTU: Officer Command Training Unit

RAC: Royal Armoured Corps

RAMC: Royal Army Medical Corps

RASC: Royal Army Service Corps

RE: Royal Engineers

REME: Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

RHQ: Regimental Headquarters

ROF: Royal Ordnance Factory

RSM: Regimental Sergeant Major

RTO: Rail Transport Officer

R/T: Radio Telephone

SQMS: Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant

USAAF: United States Army Air Force

WAAF: Women's Auxiliary Air Force

WVS: Women’s Voluntary Services

YMCA: Young Men’s Christian Association


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


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