Eric Lord, 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards, NWE

Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by dbf, Apr 6, 2015.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Catalogue number: 19911
    Production date: 1999-12-06
    Subject period: Second World War
    Alternative Names: object category: IWM interview
    Creator: IWM (Production company), LORD, ERIC (interviewee/speaker), Wood, Conrad (recorder)
    Category: sound

    This item is available to share and reuse under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence.


    For reference, the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards War Diary for 1944 can be found by clicking this link.
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  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Object description: British NCO served with Bren Gun Platoon, Support Coy, 5th Bn Coldstream Guards in GB and North West Europe, 1943-1945

    Content description:

    REEL 1
    Background in Hull, 1925-1939:
    reaction to declaration of Second World War, 3/9/1939.

    Aspects of period as civilian in Hull, 1939-1943:
    return to Hull after evacuation of school to Askerne;
    German bombing;
    membership of Home Guard;
    public morale;
    air raid warnings on cinema screens.

    Period of training with Coldstream Guards in GB, 1943-1944:
    call up, early 1943;
    reaction to arrival at Guards Depot, Caterham;
    contracting impetigo;
    height of guardsmen;
    role of trained soldier;
    training on Bren gun carrier at Pirbright;
    posting to 5th Bn Coldstream Guards at Scarborough;
    waiting for invasion of France at Eastbourne, 6/1944;
    passing through London for embarkation to France.


    REEL 2 Continues:
    Recollections of operations with Bren Gun Platoon, Support Coy, 5th Bn Coldstream Guards in Normandy, 1944:
    crossing English Channel;
    move to transit area, Bayeux;
    impression of French civilians;
    incident of being presented with rose by child;
    attempt of chaplain to raise morale;
    move to Carpiquet Airfield;
    first casualties to unit;
    reaction to German Nebelwerfer mortars;
    case of self inflicted wound;
    German shelling of Carpiquet Airfield;
    failure of Canadian attempt to capture Carpiquet;
    memories of Operation Goodwood;
    casualties from battle exhaustion.


    REEL 3 Continues:
    sight of dead bodies in crater;
    improvised cooking in field;
    move to Giberville;
    trip into Caen;
    attitude to rear echelon troops;
    move to St Martin des Besaces;
    destruction of Sherman tank by German artillery fire;
    reaction to showing fear;
    opinion of Sherman tank;
    an interlude of peace during fighting;
    attitude towards German POWs;
    attempt to have bath in an animal trough;
    advancing in column and panorama of battle;
    sight of dead British soldier during foot patrol, 8/1944;
    contact with Germans during patrol;
    accidental killing of British officer.

    Recollections of operations with Bren Carrier Platoon, Support Coy, 5th Bn Coldstream Guards in North West Europe, 8/1944-5/1945:
    pursuit of Germans beyond River Seine, 8/1944;
    liberation of Brussels, 3/9/1944.


    REEL 4 Continues:
    how soldier whose nerve had gone was dealt with, 9/1944;
    advance towards Bourg Leopold;
    reaction to criticism of Irish Guards in failing to breakthrough to Arnhem;
    reception in Eindhoven, 9/1944;
    crossing German border;
    attempt to shoot German aircraft with Bren gun;
    occupying positions on 'The Island';
    leave in GB and Brussels, 1/1945;
    anxiety of Belgian civilian to Ardennes offensive;
    attitude of German civilians to British troops, 4/1945;
    behaviour of British troops in Germany;
    narrow escape from friendly fire incident, 4/1945;
    taking surrender of German paratroopers at Cuxhaven;
    attitude of German troops, 5/1945.


    REEL 5 Continues:
    VE Day in Cuxhaven.
    Attitude to having served with Coldstream Guards in Second World War.
    Question of effects of service.
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 1

    I was born in Hull, Hessle Road, Kingston upon Hull.


    Yes I started off at ?Sober Street West and then moved on to higher education the Riley High School in Hull.

    15 years I think.

    The War had already started.

    Yes I did.

    It was a fine Sunday morning, I remember it well. I listened to the speak and what peculiar thoughts runs through a young lad's mind. it's difficult to remember at this time. I think it was awesome to a degree but yet I wasn't old enough to realise the implications. I remember that after that speech, it was such a lovely day, I jumped on my bike and had a ride round the immediate countryside.

    Yes. Yes, because the school eventually moved out to a different part, out to near Doncaster and for a limited time I was there. So, eh, yes very much and of course my family was very much involved: my two brothers were in the Army and they were away.

    The little mining village called Askern and we were billeted - billeted, if that's the word - stayed with various people, very nice people too.

    Oh, there was no difficulty there. No difficulty at all. There was none of the awful things which happen today where you get this clash between different personalities.

    To a degree, to a degree, but I think that one had a feeling of uncertainty at that time and with being away from home, that impermanence, that degree of uncertainty was very much paramount.

    Yes I came back to Hull, decided I would go to work instead and there again, although our particular house was never bombed, our particular street was never bombed, nevertheless bombs did drop near and one had the experience, like thousands of others, of sheltering in the Anderson shelter.

    I think I was too young, too young to realise how awful it all was. Perhaps even when I went into the middle of Hull and saw the damage, it was awful and yet of course at that time I wasn't seeing the bodies, the results of the German air raids. I did after a time by the way, after - as soon as I could - I joined Dad's Army, the Home Guard, as soon as I was able to and I found that rather an interesting experience.

    I can't remember the exact number but I know we wore East Yorkshire cap badge which is something which I'm rather proud that at one time I did wear the East Yorkshire cap badge, So anyway I could say to people afterwards that not only did I serve in the Home Guard but I also served in the Coldstream Guards during the war.

    Oh they met - this is rather funny in as much as that the Battle Headquarters was the Three Tuns Hotel on Boothferry Road and the Battle Stations were the Hull City Football Ground. We were sworn to defend the Battle headquarters to the last pint.

    Oh yes. We had Browning machine guns, water cooled, and also rifles and an awful thing called a Blacker Bombard which was a suicidal weapon where we had to be within a few feet of a German tank.

    Can I tell a story?

    Not in my Home Guard unit but a chap who was in the Kirk Ella - which is the area going toward the countryside, the suburbs - he said that when they assembled a road block by farm carts across the road, then the Platoon commander said to them all: Well what do you think now if the Germans come?
    This young lad who was telling me, he said: What about if the German tanks,if they just avoid the road block and go around on the golf course?
    And the Platoon Commander said: The Golf course! They wouldn't dare!
    Which I still find awfully funny - They wouldn't dare!

    Yes I must pay them their due. Of course there were a lot of Old Sweats from the 14-18 War and they knew what it was all about. I think whether to this day, how effective would have been if the crunch would have come, I have my doubts. But nevertheless there were some good hearty people there, from all walks of life - Company Directors, to Labourers; quite a cross section and some very, very nice people

    Just about all gone now. All the names have faded, I'm sorry to say.

    We lived at Anlaby Common which is towards the suburbs of - part of the suburbs of Hull.

    Bernadette Avenue, I think, Anlaby Common, Hull.

    They did drop some land mines just in the next area. I do remember that, but of course nothing to eh, awful devastation which took in Hull itself, in the centre.

    I remember mostly the - Hessle Road, part of Hessle Road of course - and then of course the the centre of town, when I saw that. Yes, the centre of Hull I do remember.

    I think it was mixed. People were pretty tough, I think. There was some people who went - my father, who was a First World War soldier, was awfully impatient with anyone who showed the slightest sign of cowardice. He was a bit of a tough old stick there. Eventually - he worked for the Post Office, the Trunk Operator. He was on nights there on the Telephone Exchange and of course the Telephone Exchange was at the top of the Post Office building. He used to send his staff down to the basement while he carried on maintaining what communications there were to be maintained. For that he was awarded the BEM but again he - I don't know what to say about this because - he was proud to win the BEM, but he hated the publicity that came with it.

    I don't think he would be rude to those people. I don't think he would be rude to them but certainly he would have the utmost disregard for their particular ideas. He was tough, he was a tough fella. Certainly as far as the effort was concerned, he was convinced there was only one way and probably there was only one good German and that was a dead one.

    Naturally there was that enmity. I was very interested that a lot of people listened to the radio, to Lord Haw-Haw and of course silly rumours were spread about. Lots of things were attributed to Lord Haw-Haw which weren't true.

    SUCH AS?
    Well saying that a certain place was going to be bombed and so on - which was ridiculous really. Lord Haw-Haw certainly had the ear of some people on the radio. Of course i think in Germany it would have been an offence to listen to foreign broadcasts.

    Apart from the Home Guard which - the Home Guard experience meant that I was with some young fellas of my own age and it was rather good. We had rather a good time, as good a time as it was possible under the circumstances. So I rather looked on that period rather with pleasure.

    Well, don’t forget the pubs didn't run out of beer altogether - got a bit short at times - but certainly we could go out and have a drink. We could go to a dance. Go to a cinema and you might see a flashy on the screen that the air raid warning was now being sounded but you didn’t come out of the pictures, you stayed there.

    I was too young and inexperienced. Probably - if I had have experienced it after I’d had my experiences in the actual war, in the battalion, then I probably would have been awfully frightened.

    I was called up and I went along - I remember going for the interview and the Officer in charge said, you know: ‘What's your family? Father in the First World War, two brothers in the Army, you're in the Home Guard. Oh well you are a good type.’ Good type! Put me down. But when I got my call-up saying Coldstream Guards, I thought: ‘Mmm fancy, well, I’m not so sure about that.’

    This would be early 1943.

    Well the next step was going down to Caterham, to the Guards Depot at Caterham, and joining that elite Regiment, the Coldstream. It was a shock to the system. If I ever thought that being in the Home Guard had something to do with being in the military training - no, I’m being unfair to the Home Guard. Certainly, I’d learned so much there but there was an awful shock waiting for me at the Guards’Depot.

    It was a complete change of lifestyle it was to that your every waking moment was dictated to. Well, I’m not telling the truth there, you did get some leisure time. But all of a sudden you're under a Trained Soldier, a Squad Instructor - every day, all through the day your time was spoken for. And shouted at, screamed at - it certainly was - what would you use, the word - traumatic to any to anybody who was of a sensitive disposition. Was I of a sensitive disposition? I’m not sure.

    The usual Barrack room style - clean, kept absolutely clean - you had to keep it clean. Can’t complain about that at all. You got the usual eh, was it - I’m trying to remember what the beds were - they were possibly three of these biscuits, what they called biscuits, three mat pieces that you put down and of course no sheets, of course, no sheets. Just the ordinary blankets.

    I picked up impetigo, nasty thing, while I was at the Guards Depot and went around - of course you had your hair absolutely short, shaved - and I had this awful patch of this blue stuff which they put on at the back of the head. I felt really bad about that.

    They didn’t have sheets, no one had sheets, it was all blankets in the Army.

    I presume it had come off some pillow, a pillow that hadn’t been properly cleaned. Of course infection could spread very easily amongst people in a Barrack room.

    It was the usual army fair. We used to fill up when we could in the NAAFI, if we had any money, or else if you were out - when we were allowed to go out. When we were allowed out of Barracks, they we’d pay a visit to some cafe or other, fill up on, I don’t know, sausages and chips or something.

    About the same, 5 foot 10.

    They were a bit choosey at the beginning, then they started to take anybody like me. I think they still had - yes, they did look for someone who fulfilled the health factor and the height factor. I think. I’m not absolutely sure. There certainly were no, shall I say, undersized men being inducted into the Guards at that time. Later on, later on when casualties became heavy, you found that they were transferring people from other services like the R.A.F. Some from the R.A.F. were eventually transferred to the Guards. They would go through training of course.

    Oh, I think it was six in the winter, was it, or six thirty in the summer, I’m not absolutely sure.
    Six o’clock I would think - I don’t know if I’ve got it right, six and six-thirty or six-thirty and seven. I can’t remember.

    By the Trained Soldier: Trained Soldier saying ‘Wakey, wakey.’

    Chap called Tavener, Trained Soldier Tavener and he’d obviously been in the Guards in peacetime, before the war. Not a bad fellow, not a bad fellow.

    A Platoon - I shall have to count them on my photograph. How many would there be...

    Thirty, about thirty, I would think.

    He was responsible for the Barrack room and of course, it was the Squad Instructor who was responsible for your training, part of your training.

    I think that - depends on the personality doesn’t it? A lot of them adapted very quickly. I certainly was a little bit flummoxed, a little bit unhappy, possibly because I was not the most suitable material for military training. I don’t mean I was a scare-away or anything like this. I was perhaps being cushioned in civilian life so much - and apart from the home Guard training which had had its odd moment of roughness - I think the Army was a shock to me. Nevertheless, nevertheless, no, I didn't cry. Some did, by the way. Some did. Not many, the odd person did. And some were weeded - the odd ones were weeded out, of course, as being unsuitable.


    Reasonably and unreasonably. Mix those together. They had a job to do did the staff there: they had to turn out cannon fodder, they had to turn out men in the best traditions also to try and weld them into a fighting force. They - and here they were confronted with all these different types! So, they had their problems.

    Oh we went through the usual, I think it was twelve - was it twelve weeks? Maybe fifteen, maybe twelve, fifteen, I can’t be too exact on that.

    Then onto the Training Battalion where I was given the option of joining the - training on
    Bren Gun Carriers which are those infantry fighting vehicles, armour plating - the armour plating wouldn’t have stopped very much, but they were on tracks. Like a tank but like an
    like an open top biscuit tin with tracks, would carry a crew of four.

    Trained on those...

    ...TO DO WHAT?... drive. trained to drive, trained to operate on exercise and that was a really interesting period was that. I really liked that.

    This too place at Pirbright and we went out into the countryside under instruction but the best part of course was when you pulled up at and filed out for what we called ‘Tea and Wads’. Yes, I remember it well.

    After a time there as a move to the 5th Battalion Coldstream. The 5th Battalion was stationed at Scarborough which was familiar territory to me of course. I was rather pleased about that. But they’d been training for years had the 5th Battalion. I forget what date they were - was it 1941, the 5th Battalion was inaugurated? But they’d been training for years in preparation for the day when they would return to the Continent.

    Went into the Bren Gun Carrier Platoon of the Support Company and there, funnily enough, I met a fellow there who had been living just - when I lived on Hessle Road in Hull, he lived just round the corner at another street and I knew him well. He was a Corporal. George Cobby, Corporal George Cobby.

    Joined them in Scarborough, yes.

    Well here again there was something far different from the Training Battalion. The fellows in the platoon, in the Bren Gun Platoon, had also been serving - some of them - for three, four years. Some had even been peace time soldiers. I found it a much different - it was a more practical, a much more practical - the fellows there were - they knew the ropes. I was looked upon as a newcomer but nevertheless you were accepted. And of course it didn’t have somebody shouting and bullying you all - I don't like to use the word bullying. There wasn’t that orchestration of shouting and so on. That had all fallen away after the Training Battalion. So here was a much more practical exercise.

    They were billeted in the hotels on the north side, above the Marine Drive. I can’t remember the exact one - was it Dean’s or Swift’s or one of those - that we were billeted in. Of course there was no furniture, the rooms were empty: you had your bed bunks in there. Spartan but nevertheless adequate

    Yes, we went out on manoeuvres from there. We did the usual Drill Parades. In actual fact - and of course the odd time I could nip home to Hull at a weekend. So I found it quite a good spot to be, Scarborough.

    On the train.

    It was the Guards Armoured Division of course that the - 5th Battalion was part of the Division.

    Going out onto the Yorkshire Wolds, doing some exercises and - what strikes me as funny now, trying to get chaps to dig-in there in the positions on these exercises. They weren't very happy about digging in but my goodness, when we got across to Normandy, he who got the biggest shovel, he was the happiest to dig in.

    Time passed, didn’t it. The Battalion moved to Eastbourne and from there it was just a matter of waiting for D-Day to commence.

    We were in private houses, houses which had been emptied, a whole street I think. The sun shone. We did some marching, marching and getting fit, little bit of swimming when you could. It wasn’t too bad at all.

    No, we were late on Parade. Just after D Day - I’m not sure on dates here - after D-Day the Battalion moved to a different area, in London, and then we went to the eh - I’m trying to think here - whether it was all of the Battalion. Part of the Battalion went by one route, another part of the Battalion went by another route. We went down to the Docks, we were ferried in buses. The notes that I wrote, I started them off by saying: “I went to the war by bus.” And that’s how the journey started. I always remember these London buses going through the streets of London. It was a Sunday and looking out on the people walking about, and girls in pretty dresses. And looking out of the window and I’m thinking ‘It's all right for you, you’re probably be wondering whereabouts you’re going in for a drink somewhere, or having quite a nice time.’ And here were we on our first stage of - cos I had quite an idea what was waiting for us. Just an idea.

    The Londoners - I must be honest - had been having an awful time obviously because there were the V1 Rockets - Flying Bombs had started to drop. So they were still under pressure, the Londoners. So, perhaps my thoughts were unfair there. I always remember that peaceful scene because apart from the bomb damage, on a beautiful Sunday you looked and you were just a little bit envious of those civilians.

    And then on a ship and then we cast off. Well, before we cast off - this is one of those things which come to mind. Here we were aboard the ship: we’d been assembled, boarded the ship and found where we could go down into the hold of the ship and have a berth, which was just a matter of some sort of mattress laid on the floor.

    The Quartermaster Sergeant of the Company said to me: ‘Lord, will you..’ - not will you - ‘Lord, we’ve left some dixies’ - those are the cooking vessels - ‘we've left some in the sheds ashore there.’ He said ‘Go and get them.’
    So I said ‘Yes.’
    So I went down into the sheds and these dixies were right at the far end of the darkened recesses of the sheds. As I got to them, I noticed there was a a door partly opened at the rear of the sheds and I thought to myself: ‘This'll be just a wonderful time to desert now and float away.’ Then I could say, I could nip back and as the ship slowly sailed out the lock pits, I could say ‘Give 'em hell chaps, give ‘em hell.’ You know I could just imagine. But no. The thought crossed but no, I didn’t. I thought: ‘Well, I’ll continue to serve my King and Country.’
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 2

    The ship sailed and anchored in the mouth of the Thames and there we were stuck for a whole week. The idleness was interrupted with bouts of physical training; one or two impromptu shows. The sun blazed down. I read and read what books I had - I always managed to keep one or two paperbacks with me because I always have been an avid reader. And so it went on until the end of the week. One Sunday - I think it was the following Sunday then, or was it Saturday, I can’t remember - but anyway a week there we were. Then we set sail one evening and the next morning we found ourselves along the shores of Normandy. Of course we were escorted in a convoy and I couldn’t help but admire these Destroyers as they dashed backwards and forwards: ‘Keep station, keep station!’ They were quite a sight, quite a sight.

    We'd been waterproofing out vehicles for a long while, for weeks before the move to the transit camp in London and we expected to be rolling ashore from the landing craft in about three or four - three feet, two feet of water. As it was, we rolled ashore in about two inches of water and there on the beach was one solitary person, the beachmaster, a naval fellow, a naval officer, in shorts believe it or not. And there he was he just calmly waved us ashore and directed us off the beach and we were assembled on the cliff top. I saw some of the shattered buildings there. By the way, we had had an air raid during the night while we’d been anchored, when we arrived off Normandy but all was quiet when we rolled ashore. A little bit uncanny: the beaches were deserted and of course all the blood and gore had gone by then.

    We moved to a Staging Area, with the rest of the Battalion, we moved to this Staging Area near Bayeux and there amidst the trees, the orchard, the apple trees and so on, we settled in for two or three days. We bargained with some natives for some milk and cheese and cider. In the distance were the, of course, was the rumble of the guns, the constant rumble of the guns. We were just enough distant from the front line to be quiet safe.

    Quite pleasant: there was no animosity there, no animosity. We didn’t have a lot of contact of course, but what little we did, that was fine. What sort of amazed me was how well off they were, how well they were living: very rich in the agriculture, plenty of milking cows - doing very well.

    Well it was only a matter of, I don’t know, only a matter of two or three days as far as I recollect. Here we did all the necessary - don’t forget this was where we were living rough we just had our - having to live - do our own cooking and so on. It was a matter of getting ourselves shipshape again after being transported from England.

    Yes, I remember. Again, I use that phrase ‘I remember it well’. We went off on a beautiful day - I can see it now - the whole Battalion in trucks of course - we were in our Bren gun Carriers. We left Bayeux.

    I must tell you this, I thought it was rather nice. As we came through Bayeux. there was a family sat in a little front garden: mother, father and two little girls. As our column sort of came to a stop, one of the little girls at the motion of her father, brought a rose, came down the steps of the garden to the road and handed me this rose. And I thought that was awfully nice, it was a gesture there which would have graced any picture, any cinema picture.

    Anyway we moved on and going - the whole Battalion going down this road, the main road out of Bayeux and then we came to a side road and there stood a Military Policeman, waving us to go down this side-road and I thought to myself: ‘It's all right for you mate, you know, it’s all right for you waving us there.’ I thought there should have been a sign there saying: ‘This way to the War’. So off we go up this side road and then all of a sudden, we passed a row of 25-pounder guns, with the artillery men blasting away and I noticed we gradually took our berets off and put our tin helmets on.Yes. And then of course we - all of a sudden there seemed to be that some of the vehicles had disappeared and we were on our own, and our section was on its own and there we were in a ruined village. There was a sort of ‘Whee-whee-whee’ over our heads. I thought ‘It is ours or is it theirs?’ No immediate explosions. This village was covered in dust and so on. It hadn’t happened long, it had had a stonk.

    as we were looking sort of what to do next and what would our next orders be, the Battalion Padre rolled dup and he said: ‘Are you alright here? What price Scarborough,’ and all that. He tried to crack one or two jokes, but I don’t think at that particular juncture were were in any mood for sort of jokes. We were just uneasy; we were absolutely wondering what's going to happen next.


    Our section and I quote here a name - Billy Wrigglesworth was the section commander. The Section consisted of 3 Bren Gun Carriers, 4 men in each carrier. Billy Wrigglesworth was of course the Section Commander and also, of course, he was the commander on the carrier I was on. Billy was an unflappable sort of a fellow and a very, very nice bloke. Anyway, he told us that our section, ‘We’re going to do a recce, a reconnaissance.’ So off we trundled, leaving this ruined village, this section of three carriers and there we trundled on till we came to this vast airfield: Carpiquet Aerodrome.

    And we rolled on to this aerodrome and we paddled along and there was these runaways there the concrete runways, and we go on and on, and I’m sat in the back of the carrier and I’m looking around me and I’m thinking: ‘This can't be true!’ Although there was this rumble of the guns all the time as a backcloth, well, there was nothing happening. I could see for miles, I could see for miles. The Carpiquet aerodrome is also on a plateau and from that you could see such a distance. Of course, it was a beautiful clear day and eventually after trundling right on to the middle of this aerodrome, I tapped Billy on the shoulder and I said ‘Bill’ - we could use first names with him - ‘Bill, these bloody runways can be mined, you know.’
    He said, ‘You’re right Eric.’
    So he gave the orders for the Section to withdraw. But not a thing happened! We came all the way back out of the perimeter of the Aerodrome and there we put the Carriers behind a hangar.
    He said to me: ‘Eric, will you go on stag there. Just keep your eye open.’
    So they were behind the hangar and I went out into the open ground and lay down on the grass with my rifle and looked out on to the Aerodrome. As much as I could see from where I was, through all the wisps of grass and so on. I lay there. It was hot, the rumble of the guns, that backcloth ever present, and then there was a couple of cracks above my head. ‘What the hell?’
    So I shuffled back, crawled to the hangar where I said, ‘Billy some bastard is firing at me.’
    So indignant!! Of course this is warfare and I was so indignant.
    And he said: ‘Oh you better stay here then.’
    So we stayed there and managed to get some soup - McConaghy’s or something like that - down us and there we stayed until we were able to go over to a Company, another Company, which was dug-in on the perimeter of the aerodrome. We made ourselves known the them and we stayed there for the night.

    Very quiet apart from some - a couple of French Canadians who were from the Canadian troops in the area, who were going to do a recce and going out, and they said they were going to use - a couple of Indian types - and said they were going to use their knives if necessary to do this recce. So that was the only thing I remember bout the night. I didn’t get any sleep of course. The next morning we spoke to some of the people who were in the company near us who were dug-in and eventually we got the order to go back to the village of St Mauvieu, which was very near, very near at hand. We left that area on the edge of the Aerodrome, right on the perimeter, and moved back the front, to the ... St Mauvieu. Here, we established ourselves and tried to get some sleep.

    At first - well the first distressing thing that morning, after we tried to get some sleep, was the knowledge that immediately we left - by the way I should have said we were relieved by another section of carriers, three carriers, from our own platoon. Unfortunately immediately we left, the Germans opened up with mortar bombs and three of our - three of that section were killed immediately. So that was the first casualties of our platoon, which upset us no end.

    Where we were, at St Mauvieu, we moved about quite freely and I even remember writing a writing a letter home and it was, apart from as I say the constant banging away of the Artillery, it was a peaceable enough spot. But it wasn’t going to last very long.

    Obviously the Germans had St Mauvieu well-marked on their map and they knew we were occupying it. Before you know you hear that awful, terrible sound of the Nebelwefer, the German multi-barreled mortar, opening up and this terrible noise out of hell, the eh - sort of like an organ out of tune and then the screeching of the bombs as they come over and then the explosions as the form a pattern.


    After this introduction to being mortar-bombed, we were very much inclined to stick to our own slit trenches so that actually going to perform ones duties - ones toiletries - became a matter of doing it as hurriedly as one could and then dashing back again, before the next salvo came over. But there wasn’t a salvo coming over every two minutes or anything like that. It got so that a period would go and then there would be nothing and then suddenly there would be this terrific bombing - the mortar bombs opening up. This Nebelwerfer, or a series of them, had our position marked well.

    I was in my slit trench and I thought - I remember a Corporal had told me that he had a bottle of Calvados - a water bottle full of Calvados - down in one of the carriers which we sort of put in a sort of a depression in the ground and he said” ‘Go on. Help yourself Eric if you want a drink.’ So I nipped down to the carriers where they were; wasn’t too happy to be leaving the comfort and safety of my slit trench. I found his water bottle full of Calvados and I was taking a nice swig and then the Nebelwerfer, the multi - Moaning Minnie, that’s what we used to call them, Moaning Minnie - opened up.

    Well I knew I didn’t have a chance to get back to my own slit trench. So I dropped flat on the ground and there was a fellow from another company, who for some reason decided to dig a slit trench into the side of the bank of this depression. He was only a matter of about 5 feet away from me. I say I dropped flat and of course there was this terrific crash and the smell of cordite. Then there was somewhere far distant a cry of ‘Stretcher bearers’ and I looked down at this fellow who was digging this slit trench. He’d jumped into his slit trench, his half-dug he’d jumped in it and he was laid flat there when I saw him obviously and he was dead. And funny enough he came from my home town, Hull. I didn’t find out that till after. So there was an introduction to the realities of war and the Home Guard was way behind me.

    It was a period where Billy Wrigglesworth and another sergeant - I think it was Tommy Whitton - they were heroes; they did most of the cooking. We would nip back with our mess tins - they were good fellows - then back again to our slit trenches.

    One morning there, there was a big bang from the next slit trench and I thought ‘What the hell’s that?’
    So I went over and there he was this fellow groaning. He said, ‘I was cleaning my Sten gun and it went off.’
    I said ‘You lying bugger! Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well there’s only one thing for it.’
    I hated the idea - I got someone to help me, we got a stretcher - I hated leaving my own slit trench and I took him to the Regimental - with the aid of others - carried him on the stretcher to the Regimental Aid Post. I might be unfair, he might have been cleaning his Sten gun but - it happened! Those things did go off, you know. He said - he maintained that it was an accident. But anyway, then again they carted him away

    In the foot, in the foot which was a handy thing, he could’ve shot himself in a worse place, couldn’t he?

    And so the story goes. After a few days we were invited - not invited - told to do another reconnaissance on that Aerodrome. Now, we’d been lucky the first time and we had an awful feeling about this. So off we go, in Billy Wrigglesworth’s carrier, of course, of which I was a member. Off we were leading the way, onto the Aerodrome again, and again you could see for miles and miles and I thought: ‘Something’s gonna happen here.’

    We stopped the carriers and Billy said ‘Just a moment’ and he tried to investigate in the middle of this aerodrome just a sort of a small - not exactly a copse - a few stunted bushes. ‘I just want have a [?] here.’
    I said: ‘Hurry up Bill, for Christ’s sake.’

    The next moment the Germans opened up their artillery and we hurriedly did a retreat. Billy jumped aboard and we went hell for leather back to our own lines again. I had some smoke bombs in the back of the carrier so I thought, to cover our retreat, I’ll throw these smoke bombs. So I was haring these smoke bombs out and I thought: ‘Wow I’m making a hell of a lot of smoke’ and the artillery was very kindly putting a screen for us ourselves. So as we approached our own lines, I noticed there were some tanks in an orchard again on the perimeter of the airfield - they were not far from the perimeter of the airfield - and they were looking at us. I could see they were laughing at us as we came - this pattern of shells pursuing us as we went hell for leather. They were actually laughing. But as we got nearer and the shells came near them, I noticed that they all battened down and got back to our own lines - and got back to our own positions - and said ‘Thank God for that’.

    So the Canadians put in an attack, through us, obviously to capture Carpiquet Aerodrome. I always remember the Canadians filing by and there was one lad, he was sat by the roadside and he was crying and the sergeant of his section, he was trying to urge him on. But how he went on I don’t know. I felt sorry for them. They put the attack in on the aerodrome but they didn’t capture it. Their casualties were very, very heavy.

    We were withdrawn from those positions after a few days and back to the area of Bayeux and there of course the people who hadn’t been up the front line - we felt a bit cocky you know, we’d experienced action. The Platoon Officer. he gathered us round him and he said: ‘Now look’ he said, ‘all the Battalion has done is maintain the defensive position.’ He said, ‘You’ve got a lot more things to come.’ And he was quite right.

    Operation Goodwood was supposed to be - we were told - something of a momentous nature. That the whole armour of the British Second Army after a huge bombing effort by the R.A.F., would make a breakout through a corridor - the corridor having been bombed heavily - would make a breakout and anything was possible from that date.

    Later I read that no such thing had been envisaged but I do remember being told that all things were possible from this employment of the whole armour: that was the 1st Guards Armoured Division, the Desert Rats, the 11th Armoured Division also the 79th - I don’t know if I got the number right there - the assault division. Is it the 79th Assault Division? They had all sorts of things like flail tanks and flamethrowers and all sorts of weird contraptions. Anyway, the whole thing started off, Operation Goodwood and we followed on behind the tanks. We crossed over the River Orne, across the famous bridge captured by the Paratroopers.

    It was another one of those hot, very hot summer days. I remember the bombing, the bombing from the aircraft ahead of us in the early morning hours. Then came the advance, very, very slowly and looking all round me as we trundled along in column, there was other columns also advancing and a huge traffic jam was building up. When that huge traffic jam came to a stop and we were stuck there, I was thinking to myself: ‘Stuck here like this, something’s going to happen soon.’

    And of course it did. The German big guns opened up, the shells started to fall. One of our - don’t forget some of our rifle company chaps were in lorries and they were sat there like sitting ducks and one actually did catch it - a shell burst there and caused quite a few casualties.

    That day is in my mind as being, as I say, hot, exhausting, shells falling, houses burning, tanks firing - a whole - such a confused picture and although I didn’t know it at the time, neither did my comrades, the armour up upfront was taking a hell of a punishment. The German tanks and the 88mms, which hadn’t been knocked out by the terrific air raid, they were causing a tremendous amount of damage, inflicting a hell of a lot of casualties.

    We finished up somewhere in the middle of nowhere, some trampled down field or other, and night began to fall and we were feeling pretty grim. Then an ammunition truck was hit just near us and gave a terrific firework display - the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life.

    The Battalion put an attack in, to the village of Frenouville to clear the line. I remember we were following one of the companies, the rifle companies, and very few German prisoners coming out - and we advanced up to the railway line, a railway line which ran - I think, I’m not sure about this - whether it ran to Caen or not I can’t remember, from Caen to Paris, I can’t remember. A main railway line, we crossed over that on foot, we’d left the carriers, crossed over this railway line on foot and started to dig in. We’d no sooner got our trenches half-dug and the artillery - the German artillery opened up.

    Here we were caught out in the open and the terrific crashes and the metal - the searing metal spinning above our heads. Fortunately there were no casualties and our section, we hurriedly dashed back across the railway line and dug in at the other side. And here we were dug-in and all sorts of mysterious bangs and crashes were going on; one or two tank crews limping by and the odd sniper - German sniper - firing at us. Here we dug in and tried to accommodate ourselves as best we could.

    Here again, like being at St. Mauvieu, we weren’t shelled all the time. I don’t want to give that impression but certainly we were never quite sure when it would happen. Of course when it did happen, it was heads down in the slit trenches.

    There was a story emanating which was told us that just behind our lines where we were dug in, a Sergeant, a certain Sergeant of our platoon - he’d been left behind as a reinforcement - he’d joined the platoon, as I say, they were dug-in a bit further back - some of them - and this sergeant evidently, he hadn’t been there very long before he started to scream ‘Take me out of it.’ He was one of these fellows who was a real - what I describe as a very nasty fellow and he started to scream and shout: ‘Take me out of it.’

    Now there had been over the period of Carpiquet there had been - one or two people had suffered from what they called Battle Exhaustion but they were very, very few in number. Here again though, I suppose, anybody’s nerve could go but the fact that this fellow was such a nasty, nasty piece of work, well we certainly didn’t have any sympathy for him at all.
    It got to be - one quiet stretch when we were there and i noticed - we weren’t on sentry or anything - but it was raining and the rain came down, not the gentle rain from heaven no - this continual sort of downpour, so our slit trenches slowly filled with water. I wasn’t on sentry duty and so me and an associate of mine, a colleague, one from the same carrier, he was designated Tupler Buff, believe it or not.

    Tommy Cope was his actual name and Tupler Buff said to me: ‘There’s a German trench over there that’s got some sleepers over it.’ He said ‘We’re OK we can nip across there and get a bit of shelter.’
    ‘Fine; says I.

    So we looked at this trench that the Germans had dug and it was a wide trench, but so very shallow. It was only about, I don’t know, about 18 - 2 foot possibly deep but there was these huge sleepers which made it very safe of course. We burrowed underneath the entrance way and put a gas cape over the entrance to keep the rain out. So there we lay and I lay alongside him and he was very soon snoring away. I lay there, well as I said it was raining, it was oppressive, it was hot and I began to get this feeling of claustrophobia and I thought: ‘I can’t stick this any longer.’

    I tried as long as I could and so I left the sleeping Tupler Buff there snoring and wriggled out of the narrow entrance way. I pushed the gas cape to one side - which by this time had collected about a couple of gallons of water - and as I pushed my way out, the whole couple of gallons descended on the hapless Tupler Buff. Well, his language - his language was something appalling but I couldn’t help chortling on my way back to my slit trench.

    There weren’t many funny things happening at this part - Frenouville - no, there weren’t many happy things happening at all

    We did have occasion ...
    [continued on next reel]
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 3

    We did have occasion to go into the nearby village to load up with supplies for the platoon and it was night time. The ruins of the village lay there before us and there were these huge pits caused by the bombing - and I use the word pits, actually I should use the word craters, these huge craters - I noticed that in one huge crater there was about a dozen bodies lying on stretchers. So there as we waited I gazed at this long line of dead bodies, covered with blankets, and with the eerie light playing all around, it was a dreadful scene. I don't know what the delay was, it seemed an awful long time. I was getting impatient because I knew very well that come the first light there'd be a certain German gunnery outfit having us pinpointed. So I was a bit anxious to get back to the safety of our trenches.

    Come first light we got back to our trenches and put the breakfast on. You remember - at least most soldiers will remember - how we cooked and that was of course we used to have a biscuit tin with holes in, filled with earth, petrol was poured on this and then it was ignited with the dixie, or whatever it was, above. We had some very, very good rations: tinned bacon, tinned sausages, tinned plum duff, and biscuits of course, cigarettes, chocolate and even toilet paper. The Army really spoiled us.

    This particular morning - I say we'd come back to the trenches - got the breakfast on and then no sooner had we settled, ready to eat something than we heard the German artillery outfit opening up on us. There was just time to dash back to the trench. Well my trench was the nearest and as I got in with my mess tin with my breakfast, another three fellas followed me. Can you imagine four people trying to share a slit trench made for one. There was almighty crashes and bangs and one particular shell dropped so near the trench, showering us with earth that eh, I looked at my mess tin when the deluge finished and there was my breakfast gone forever. and I cursed the whole German nation. However, c'est la vie, c'est la Guerre.

    We were not disappointed in the least to be told that we were withdrawing from Frenouville and going to an area not very far away from Caen. It wasn't all that distant actually but the rain, incessant rain had churned up - least the tanks had churned up - the ground, awfully, awfully badly. As we pulled out at night time we were relieved by another regiment, but of course, I always remember that some of them were on the small side and when they got into our trenches, of course, they were far too deep. So there they were, some of them almost disappeared.

    However, on that, we pulled out at night time and the Germans were quiet and there we were riding on the carriers through all the thick slush, mud - mostly caused by the tanks churning it up, turning the ground up - and I looked at one or two columns of the Rifle Companies trudging by and of course, it was much harder for them. We were in luxury compared to them.

    We pulled back to a place called Gibbeville which is just outside of Caen. Here on a huge sort of hillside - I say hillside, it was quite a slope - we encamped and most of the Guards Armoured Division was in that same area. We were in view of the enemy there which seemed strange to me but it was evidently intended that we should do, so we could continue to pin down the German armour opposite to us. This area we thought it was - where we were encamped - we thought that it was pretty safe but the German Luftwaffe came over on night time and bombed us. Fortunately it was only one wounded in our Platoon, only one, one wounded.

    We settled in pretty well there for a day or two. I remember going into Caen to collect - with the people of the other carriers and going to collect some new vehicles. I saw some of the devastation of Caen. Afterwards of course I would read of the terrible casualties that happened there to the civilian population. At the time of course I looked around some of the - how shall I call it, I don't want to be disparaging - base troops, the chaps walking around who behind the lines were quite necessary, the supply people and all like that, But when realising it took about 10. 15 people maybe more to keep one man in the front line you think of what a debt is owed to the Infantry or any of the frontline troops.

    The next move came to another part of Normandy and here the Guards Armoured Division was involved with quite a number of other units of the British Second Army in trying to advance through Normandy. Now quote Normandy to anyone who took part in the battles there and their minds are filled with memories of tall hedgerows, of small fields, of continual fighting from one field to another field, of tanks grinding their way, of noise, of dust and all the desperation involved in it. Our casualties became very heavy in the Battalion.

    The Carrier Platoon was split up at this point and maintained support in various different roles. It was almost confusing was the number of moves which were made, from one map reference to another map reference, from one field to another wood and so on, all accompanied by various horrors and so on.

    When we arrived at the beginning it was at a particular point which I think is St. Martin des Besaces - we called it St. Martin - in Normandy. It was evening and we were detailed - our Section - to do a recce but on foot. So off we went up a huge hill to the side and as we trailed along in the darkness - don't forget we'd had a tiring day already - there again here we were at night time, on night patrol, and we covered quite a lot of ground without a trace of any of the enemy. We came to a cottage in the middle of a clearing, and the couple of the French people came out to us. Billy the Sergeant, Billy Wrigglesworth, our Sergeant he was asking about the nearness of any of the German troops. As he was interviewing them - if I can use the word interview seems a bit peculiar - there came a shot, and more shots, and then looking down into the valley cos the light at this time, the dawn was beginning to approach - motor bombs. I could see mortar booms exploding, very vividly and we said a hurried goodbye and we were off to join the rest of our Platoon and the rest of the Battalion down below in the valley.

    We got so far along and we saw then a Sherman tank coming towards us and with one or two other tanks behind it, and as we approached this Sherman tank there was this terrific bang and up went the tank in flames. Billy told me to keep an eye open by the side of the field we were in. It was almost impossible because alongside me was a huge hedgerow; I couldn't see through it. There was an awful din starting to arise from men, bangs, crashes, bullets flying and Billy and another Sergeant were trying to help one or two of the tank crew who had managed to get out of the burning tank. Billy shouted to me: You might as well go Eric, get you down to the rest of the Platoon. Where the rest of the Section had gone, I presume they'd already vanished.

    Anyway, off I goes, as I'm striding down the hill at a fairly fast pace, I see a Section of our Rifle Company coming up and there they were half-crouched - a fair amount of stuff flying around - and I was bouncing down the hill trying not to make it too hurried but at the same time making sure I was performing at a fair pace and of course they pulled me up. There was an Officer there, two or three Officers with a Section of the Rifle Company coming up the hill. They started to ask me what was going on up there. How the hell could I say anything and I felt such an idiot afterwards because yeah I was frightened as what the impression I was giving. So I felt ashamed of this and all I could them them was I knew nothing. One Sergeant looked at me suspiciously - from the Rifle Company - and he said: Where are you going? as though I was retreating. So I was going to make some wisecrack and I thought well I'd better not. I told them I had orders to go back to join the rest of the Platoon. So anyway I departed feeling a little bit ashamed of myself went down to join the rest of the Platoon, found Tupler Buff - my other colleague the Driver, found Tupler Buff - he'd already dug a slit trench or at least he were digging one and I said: Do you mind if I share it? He said: It's like Hellfire Corner around here, and I said: It's like Hellfire Corner up there. He reluctantly let me share his slit trench, miserable … miserable gentleman. I noticed that the Battalion Headquarters were nearby and they'd dug in all round defensively and I thought: It looks rather serious this.

    Anyway it started to quieten down, it quietened down all right, some of the tanks there - the Irish Guards tanks, I forgot to say that the Irish Guards tanks were part of the attack force and they suffered heavy casualties and I'm afraid that one of our Companies also - I'm afraid they caught some casualties there very sadly.

    So the whole thing sort of became quiet and then the next morning the Battalion started to advance again and so eh… It all looked so magnificent, the tanks lining up, the Sherman tanks, forming up behind and then off you go, and it all looks so invincible. But of course we knew by then - we began to realise by then the Sherman tanks were sitting targets for any German tank. The German tanks far outgunned the Sherman. As I say the column moved off and then down the road heading for goodness knows where and then the shelling starts and it's get off, you know, and then disperse and all the rest of it and so the story goes on.

    The odd thing about the fighting in Normandy was that in one field somebody could be winning a medal, two fields behind somebody could be listening to the Forces radio. Sometimes it was so desperate and then other times everything would go so quiet. I seem to remember an incident where the Commanding Officer with the Artillery Officer - Observation Officer - were wanting to do a recce for the next move for the Battalion. So with one or two other Officers we formed sort of a guard to do a patrol. it was a beautiful sunny day and somehow in our particular area - our part of the Front. Everything had - the Germans had retreated on that little sector and here we were strolling through the Normandy countryside and all of a sudden it became peaceful and one could hardly imagine all the terrible things which were going on all round us. Of course it didn't last very long.

    Just an incident which I remember about, which can play tribute to Billy Wrigglesworth, the Section Sergeant. Dug-in at one particular position, a couple of Germans came in, through some bushes with hands held high and one of our members of the Platoon said: Shoot the bastards. Billy Wrigglesworth turned round and he gave him such, the biggest dressing down that I've ever heard. He called him all the names under the sun for making such a stupid remark. Full marks to Billy he was a very, very cool, very resourceful leader, Billy Wrigglesworth.
    The odd - I say about the odd things, the odd times when it seemed to go quiet - and prior to the last big attack I remember that we were quartered in a field and there was a bath in the middle of this field, for the benefit for the animals to drink from. It was full of water, seemed very clean, so I thought: Here's a chance, cos you can imagine what we were like living rough all the time. But eh, Here's a chance, so I stripped off - much to the doings of my comrades, stripped off - and and got in this bath and started with a bit of soap to have a bath. At that time, just at that time when I was halfway through my bath, the Germans decided to put some air bursts just above us. Can you imagine the alacrity with which I jumped out of that bath and managed to you know, get dressed again.

    The next, as I say sort of, the next big thing I remember after all the tumult, all the dust, the smells, the corpses, the graves hurriedly dug and so on, the thing which I remember is the big attack which was put in on the Battalion and here instead of the Irish Guards we had Churchill tanks to support us. This was for the initial part of the attack. Now before us lay a huge valley. The attack was put in at dawn and the whole Carrier Platoon for once assembled, so going down this road with the Churchill tanks on either side. So there we were - and I said a prayer or two before we set off - we rolled down this huge valley, down where the morning mists hadn't yet evaporated and here we descended, rolled along, the Churchill tanks, huge lumbering monsters - mind they were no more use than the Shermans compared to the German tanks - and then the firing started of course.

    Here with the huge panorama before me it was possible to see both sides, shells exploding, the Churchill tanks firing as they started to slowly climb up the slope and then as the leading Carrier - we weren't leading, it was two or three carriers in front of us. As the leading Carrier - started to go up the road, go up the slope, he was hit and the crew managed to bail out. In the arms of one of the fellas from the Carrier, was a dog. They had a dog with them. I thought: Well that's odd having a dog with them in the middle of a battle. We dashed up the hill to where the German trenches were and fortunately ,on our little bit, the Germans had decided to retreat. I don't blame them but I did notice that the Germans had dug some very extensive fortifications, some very extensive deep trenches and dug-outs. However, then up came the Sherman tanks with some of our own men and they proceeded on to take over from there. So we we were rather fortunate on that particular occasion that the Germans had decided to withdraw. The Germans eventually were in full retreat of course. Eventually would be formed what they called the Falaise Gap when the Germans would be pressed in from all sides.

    The Battalion came to a stop at some particular peaceful part of the country side and there we were halted. Trenches were dug and we went up to join one of the Companies and dug in alongside them. It was decided that a Section from the Carrier Platoon would go out on foot and establish where the nearest Germans were. So it was Captain Fallon - Fanning - who was the Platoon Commander who assembled, took our Section, again - he seemed to be rather fond of using our Section - to do the Patrol and he led the way. When I say he led the way, he was in command. No, he wasn't in front, it was me who was in front, leading the way to do this Patrol, with a Bren gun strapped round my shoulders and this time as I say, it was all peaceful. There weren't even a - just the odd muffled explosion here and there but it was a a beautiful summer's day, a Sunday if I remember, peaceful, cornfields were there. We filed through a deserted farm, the door on the farmhouse was slowly swinging in the gentle breeze, everything deserted. There was a burnt out Sherman tank, on we went, slowly through the countryside, across fields and myself leading the way. We came to a sunken road and there lying in this sunken road was a figure, a British soldier. He had been killed and he formed a tragic picture, a lone figure. How he came to be there whether there'd been a Patrol and he'd been killed and the rest had been captured, goodness knows. Sadly he was dead and as we lay down there were waiting to dash across a gap which existed in the hedgerow, we could no more but gaze forlornly at this sad figure.

    We crossed the gap, carried on until we came to a road. Across on the other side of the road, the Germans - we heard the Germans, their half-tracks, we observed that they were dug-in there. They didn't see us though. Captain Fanning decided that we should open up on the Germans and then depart as quickly as we could. So very, very quietly and carefully Bren guns were put up beside the hedge and fired at the Germans who were dug in in this field unaware of our presence. The shattering of the Bren guns on the quiet Sunday afternoon made everybody much aware that this was - hurry up, get out if it, because we were going to be in trouble if we didn't. Immediately after firing he said: Come on and we all dashed away and hurtled back the way and continuing up a grassy field someone tripped - this is the silly things that happened - someone tripped and nearly brought the rest of them down. Then up again and charging along until Captain Fanning said: Look, look, slow down, slow down. There were a few mortar bombs hurled in our direction as we made our long way back to the Battalion lines. We were very thankful, very hot, very tired, very thankful to get back all in one piece. A rather bizarre, a rather bizarre exploit. Captain Fanning was probably very pleased that we'd shot up some Germans.
    Anyway, we get back to the Battalion position, the Company was there and we joined the rest of our Platoon. We'd no sooner got a mug of tea on - this was the thing, tea - we got the tea on and were settling down and one of our - one of the other Sections of our Platoon - a fella there, he opened up with his Bren gun at a figure ahead, which was no man's land I suppose. He'd seen a figure, lurking - he'd seen us come in pursued by mortar bombs - saw this figure and opened up. They went and brought figure in. It was one of our own Officers, it was an Officer from one of the Companies, only a young Officer who'd just joined. i looked at him, they'd brought him in on a stretcher, nothing could be done for him. The Company Officer who looked at him said: Oh well. He never upbraided the Guardsman who had shot one of his own Officers; not a word was said. I suppose, I suppose that by now he was that used of all the terrible of things of war because by this time the Battalion had lost an enormous number of killed and wounded.

    The Battalion in a rest area presented a picture of orderly lines of vehicles and a less disciplined array of bivouacs and shelters. It was peaceful, the sun shone and seemed to shine every day. It was just glorious to have no bashes, loud bangs, crashes and all the rest of it. It was something of a holiday. However that didn't prevent the authorities from having a Drill Parade on a sloping hill and you could imagine what a farce it was trying to do an orderly Parade on a steep side of a hill. However, we survived.

    I always remember that one of our Platoon, a chap called Tubby Evans, he should have been in the Welsh Guards, and I remember him just telling us that he joined the Guards because he thought that in war time, or any other time, all they did was guard Buckingham Palace. I'm afraid he was in for a shock when he got himself into an Infantry unit.

    The great advance came when the Germans were in full retreat and the Battalion set off with the tanks, in pursuit of the Germans. It was a very long protracted journey and I myself, sat in the back of a Bren gun Carrier was able to look out over French scene, the French countryside. The river Seine was crossed, we came to a hill just outside Arras and here we were - had a bit of a shock when we were attacked by a couple of aircraft which dived and machine gunned us. Then later we found out they were Spitfires which wasn't very happy.

    Arras itself was occupied by the enemy when first we first entered it and there was certainly opposition at one end of the town. As we entered the town the crowds were out in force, cheering us, shouting: VIve la Tommy. Vive l'Anglais - i'll get it right Vive L'Anglaises - and we shouted of course Vive Francais, what have you. It was an exhilarating experience. It wasn't exhilarating for everybody because on this great advance through France, and Belgium, some of the Battalion were involved in skirmishes and I'm afraid there were fatalities there, there were casualties. For the most part as we were concerned we followed the tanks and let them do all the hard work. Any opposition, they met ,and very successfully too. We followed on and this happened for day after day until finally there came the great advance through Belgium to Brussels.

    It was the 3rd September 1944 and it was evening when we entered Brussels. At first the suburbs were quiet and then gradually as we entered the city, the crowds grew in density and there they were cheering, cheering us on. Oh, we felt like conquering heroes. it was best part of war, the only part of war I suppose, which was enjoyable. We stopped at a particular avenue and then some sort of a garden placed middle of the suburbs and here we rendezvoused for the night. Then next morning we made our way through Brussels, a little more central position and there found billets in a school of all places. We were told that we had a couple of hours to go out and enjoy ourselves, a very limited time and so most of the members of the Platoon my Platoon set off in different directions. The little crowd I was with made for the nearest bar and in this bar the drinks were free. After so long of this indifferent beer I took a walk by myself. I walked out of the bar down this particular road, into another road looking about me and gradually … [continues on next reel]
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 4

    ... and as I was walking along, the crowd started to gather round me and asked for my autograph. It was something of an experience; possibly the only time in my life I've ever been asked for an autograph. We really felt like conquering heroes, as I said before and then, of course, it wasn't a case of staying in Brussels and enjoying all the spoils of the victors. No, nothing like that for this lot. We moved to the outskirts of Brussels and there we dug in, in a hill on the outskirts, and waited. We were only there a short time but here a little story which I do recall.

    In my slit trench, sharing it with me, was Alfie Cope. Alfie was a guardsman who had served in the Army in the time of Dunkirk and had a nasty wound on his head to prove it. He was in a state, pretty much in a bad state, his nerves had obviously gone. Now I always remember he was in this slit trench with me, nothing was happening because by that time the Germans were far away.

    He was shaking almost and I said: "Look Alfie, can I do anything for you? Do you want me to have a word with the Officer when he comes round?"
    And he said "Would you?" It wasn't my place of course to do anything like this.
    Anyway the Officer, Captain Fanning came round and inspected the positions and he ... "Everything alright here?"
    "Excuse me sir," I said. "Could I have a word with you?"
    "Yes Lord, what is it?"
    "Well, I said, “it's Cope sir, I'm afraid his nerve's gone and I'm sorry to say sir, he's having a bad effect on the rest of the Section."
    "Oh," he said, "Is he? I'll see about that."

    I've often thought about that little exchange and I realised I had omitted some very important words. I should've said: "And after you've taken him out of it, for Christ’s sake take me out of it as well, will you?" However, they did eventually take Alfie out of the thing altogether which is something they should have done some time before.

    He had endured the Dunkirk - the incident at Dunkirk 1940 and this possibly had quite an effect on him, quite an impact on him. He was nervous when we - before we landed in Normandy and certainly all through Normandy, I'm afraid he certainly showed his - how would you put it? - his fright. Of course we were all frightened but Alfie, his nerves had gone and really, he should've been taken out of the campaign altogether.

    That's a good point, is that. I'm not sure about this, not actually with my nerve, obviously there had been some very close calls in Normandy, some very near misses and so on, but I don't think the nerve was in any danger of going. Not that I was brave, I was absolutely - like most of the chaps I was with, they were frightened as well, everybody was frightened, I think. I think - I'm pretty sure they were.

    Well, from that position outside Brussels we took - formed into line again, with all the battalion vehicles and off we went in the direction of Bourg Leopold and here - I can always remember that day leaving Brussels, leaving the civilisation behind and travelling along, through the Belgium countryside, and the day was one of those grey, sullen days and even the landscape was threatening. We were apprehensive. It was such a contrast. We had an idea that the good times were over and that night when we got near Bourg Leopold, we were shelled.

    The whole episode of the area of Bourg Leopold becomes very hazy. It was being plunged back into almost like a Normandy scenario again. The Battalion did, I'm afraid, suffer quite a lot of casualties there. Eventually, the whole thing was abandoned - the attack on Bourg Leopold - and next came the advance for the whole Division - and the Corps, as far as that goes - to make progress towards Arnhem and where the 1st Airborne would be dropped.

    First of all, the journey came to something of a halt at the Escaut Canal, where we were dug-in and received some attention from the enemy, in attacks from both sides of the Centre Line. When the advance came across the Escaut Canal, I was rather apprehensive that it was going to be rather a terrible time for the main attacking force.

    The main attacking force to go across the bridge over the Escaut Canal were the Irish Guards tanks. There was a great delay before the whole ensemble moved off. Of course there was the original artillery barrage, smoke, what have you. The Irish Guards tanks suffered enormously in their dash to break through the bridgehead and I'm afraid it was like consigning the leading tanks - the men in the leading tanks - like consigning them to their deaths.

    Many years after, I was watching a television programme where one of the tourist parties in Arnhem were talking about the Arnhem campaign and about the Airborne Division being beleaguered there and saying: 'What where the Guards doing? Where they making toast?' I was very furious when I heard these remarks because the people, as I say the chaps in those tanks leading the charge across, had absolutely no chance at all. The burnt-out tanks were all there for us to see when we advanced and made our way through Holland.

    The first town of course we came to was the erm and I've forgotten... Sorry. Cut. I've forgotten which town it is.

    No, I’ve forgotten - sorry, Eindhoven. Eindhoven! Oh god. The memory! Are we still recording, we are? Are we still recording?

    Sorry about this. Eindhoven. And here again the Dutch citizens turned out and welcomed us with beer and acclamation and for their pains, after we'd gone, the Germans bombed them. Yes. And then of course it was on the long road leading to Nijmegen and here we came across the American airborne forces, parachutes scattered all over the place, and on towards Nijmegen itself.

    We rendezvoused just south of Nijmegen and here we managed to link up with some of the outlying units of the American airborne forces. In doing so, we sort of claimed - or at least the section, the Carrier Section I was in - we claimed that we were the first British troops across the German border.

    Eventually we rendezvoused again, laagered again, and here we set off one morning -
    I always remember this, this particular incident: The whole Battalion was lined up with the vehicles, all ready to move off, and it was one of those misty mornings, nothing happening, nothing happening at all, all quiet around where we were and then all of a sudden, swooping down from above, an aeroplane opened up on us. He swept the line, the long line of vehicles, his machine guns chattering away there and I dived on the ground and then got ready for his next attack. I managed to get my Bren gun - I even managed to get the correct ammunition - and got ready and in true style waited until he came. Then I opened up and some others had managed to grab their Bren guns too and opened up nicely. They say the aircraft came down later but whether it did, I don't know. It would be nice to think that I scored a target.

    I was a bit surprised when a sergeant near to me, a fellow called Sergeant Brown was shouting at me “Help me, help me!” and when I looked, his trousers were on fire. An incendiary bullet from the aircraft had set his trousers ablaze and I was able to help him and put it out. Another few centimetres and his whole leg would've been shattered.

    The move to what I call The Island came later. The 1st Airborne Division, of course, were in serious trouble. The Division couldn't make any progress to relieve them at Arnhem and so the scene was unfolded for a terrible tragedy. Behind us, the Centre Line was cut so that trucks, soft vehicles, traveling up and down there, were attacked by the Germans further back. So it was becoming an absolute fiasco.

    As I said - at least I didn't say this - some of the Airborne forces did manage to get back to our side and then it was our turn to take over defensive positions on what we called The Island. Over the river, the Irish Guards were holding the Line there. We took over on a night time, our positions, and I always remember that it was one of those horrible situations where you're not sure where the enemy is and we were detailed to take over a particular wood.

    Now our - I'm talking about our platoon - in the dead of night, taking over an unoccupied position, not knowing whether the Germans are there is rather, as they say, fraught with peril. I remember I was leading the section with my Bren gun in my hand, stealthily making my way through this wood, the leading man, thinking to myself: ‘What the hell am I doing here!' and I thought I'd better get ready to have one up the breach ready. So, I cocked the Bren gun and as I did so - I hadn't cocked it properly - the shot rang out through the air, in the stillness, and you can guess the effect on everybody else around.
    Captain Fanning, the Platoon officer came up and he said: “What's happening?”
    And I said: “I thought I saw a Jerry” I was lying, of course.
    “Oh” he said, "Don't fire unless you actually see anybody."

    So we dug in at night time, trying to get slit trenches, dug through tree roots and so on. Eventually we got some slits dug up in the wood and our Carriers were parked in the wood itself. Here we stayed for several days, and where we were, we had quite a charmed existence. We couldn't move very far because we knew we were under observation. At nighttime, when we occupied the slits at the edge of the wood, German patrols would come along and fire into us, and shout and bawl, trying to make us reveal our positions, but we kept quiet. In the rest of The Island - we called it The Island, actually it was the land between the two rivers - the rest of The Island was getting a pounding, absolute pounding from the German artillery. The Battalion Headquarters was under great siege.

    As I said, all was quiet with us and then one day, when ... we were gathered round our Bren gun carriers in the middle of the wood and ... We couldn't shave, we hadn't much water of course and it was rather awful just having to - we had to shave in what water we had and the rest went for making tea and drinking - not enough to wash with. I always remember this particular day we were gathered near our Bren gun carriers - we'd dug pits underneath, just in case we were shelled or mortared - and for some reason they decided, the Germans decided, to mortar us there. And over it came: Whizz, bang. Whizz, bang! Well I - there was a wholesale dive into these trenches underneath the Carriers and I felt a thwack on my posterior and I thought 'Oh Crikey!’ It was only a scratch actually but I’ve always smiled about it that the only time I was wounded was when I was in full retreat from the enemy.

    Well, that position was a very, very difficult position as far as washing and being able to carry on life to any normal degree but eventually we were pulled out of the line on one dark night, stealthily pulled out, and quite happily made our way back across the bridge - the Nijmegen bridge - and back into relative safety. Here the Battalion set up a rendezvous and for a short spell, we were at rest.

    No, what surprised me that later on, there would be leave. Leave was started in January 1945. This always surprised me that in the middle of a war, that they could start granting leave to the Forces. Really was amazing.

    We were dug in a quiet part, just over the German border and we were dug in and my name was taken out of the hat. Yes, so I went, I got a weeks' leave back to England. Rather surprising, as I said.

    Came home and it was very welcome, I assure you.

    What was rather interesting - not only that but I also - my name came out of the hat to pay a short visit to Brussels, where as I say, we were in a quiet part of the line, just over the German border near a - and over on the other side, on the Dutch side the town of Sittard. I remember that. That was the area and from this quiet part of the line I remember this 48 hours leave I got to Brussels. And here, I got a tremendous surprise when life here was really being lived up: all the bars, the dance halls, even subdued lights in the street!

    I do remember talking to a Belgian civilian who was getting rather apprehensive from the reports in the Belgian papers, that the Germans had broken through in the Ardennes. And he was asking me what I thought to it: what would happen; would the Germans be able to break through altogether into Belgium? I really - I assured him that no such thing would happen and that the line would be held. I didn't realise, at that time, what a terrific onslaught the Germans were making in the Ardennes.

    I think everyone had their own troubles at that particular time. Of course rationing was everywhere. The only people, I think, who were having a good time were people who were operating the Black Market; farmers perhaps who perhaps didn’t want for much. Most people carried on their work in stoical fashion. They were of the sort of frame of mind: ‘We’ll leave it to you, that's your job, you're a soldier.’ Certainly there were lots of mothers and fathers very anxious about their offspring who were away in the Forces but the majority of civilians, I think, were thinking to themselves: ‘The war is hard for us too.’

    I don't think anyone can understand what it's like to be shelled and bombed frequently
    unless you actually take part. I remember on the railway journey home - when I came home on leave - being in a railway carriage and there was a Military Policeman, not the normal Military Policeman, he was what we called a VP policeman, a vulnerable point policeman, he wore a sort of a blue cap. There was a railwayman in the compartment
    that’s all, just the three of us and this railwayman on this last leg of the journey
    he said to this Military Policeman:
    “What's things like over there?”
    And the Military Policeman said: “Oh not bad at all.”
    And I thought: ‘It’s all right for you chum, guarding some bridge or other
    away back from the front line.”
    No, there’s a hell of a chasm between those who were up at the sharp end and those who were not.

    If I can remember Brussels - Brussels was absolutely teaming with base troops, having a whale of a time.

    I think that the - obviously the relations were very limited with any of the German population, as far as we were concerned.

    One incident which I remember - of course some of them were fleeing. We’d come across a convoy: horses and carts, horses pulling carts with all their possessions aboard. And I always remember this particular time, we were waiting to go forward and there was this long line of horses and carts coming along, this long line. I was stood by the roadside as this particular procession came along, there was a young girl sat up above, on top of the cart with all - behind her all their possessions, with I presume, her father, and she looked at me and I looked at her. If you ever witnessed hatred in anyone's eyes - how she looked at me

    Of course, I did know a little bit of German at the time
    so I shouted out: “Denken Sie an ...” and I started to ... Think you of Poland and France
    of all the other ... of Russia and so on, all the terrible things you’ve committed. But it didn't alter her gaze at all. But I couldn’t help getting it in - she was obviously hating me.

    But if I could just make a point that the - generally the British troops behaved impeccably towards the German civilians. Not always, I'm generalising, but compared with some of the rest of the Allies - the Americans and the French - the British behaved in wonderful style.

    There was of course the eh - This skips an awful in the approach to the Rhine, where the Battalion collected an enormous lot of casualties at that particular juncture.

    Once we got across the Rhine, it was a case of the tanks leading the way for so long; then the infantry would take over. There was points of resistance here, there and everywhere; it wasn't a gallop a lot through Germany at all. It was some very - there were some very strong points of resistance put up by the Germans. They were fighting for their homeland
    and I’m afraid, you know, it was just, just sort of a - so nagging the idea that you were so near and so far. I heard one or two of our chaps saying: ‘Why don't the silly bastards give up.’ They’d no intention of giving up! There were quite a lot of chaps coming in with their hands up and at the same time there were so many strongpoints.

    One German - I can just remember, just as a final flourish - I remember one incident when I nearly came to grief and this is where we were attacking a German town - the name escapes me now - and our platoon was detailed to make an attack from the flank. Here on foot we entered the town - small town - by the suburbs, and I found myself leading again, silly thing to do, wasn't it. Dashing across the road with my Sten gun in hand, I occupied the entrance to a house on the far side of the road. Of course, as I was not fired on, it was OK for the rest of the section, and the rest of the platoon, to come across. I decided to have a look upstairs in this house and see if I could get a vantage point form one of the windows. So, as I entered the house, there was some people who were downstairs in the cellar and an old man came up the stairs from the cellar and I said to him: ‘Any German soldiers here?’
    ‘Nein, nein, nein, nein.’
    So I thought: ‘Aye, alright.’
    So I went upstairs and looked out the window. I was going to smash the window and you know have a look through there, so I’d be able to fire and I couldn't get a good view at all. So I came out, downstairs, and went outside and there was another Guardsman there; he said the rest of the platoon had gone further up the street. I said ‘Alright, we’ll just see what happens here a minute.’

    There was a low wall, near the side of the house which covered the, I suppose, the windows of the cellar: a low brick wall, built for the purposes for preventing blasts. We stood by this wall, behind this wall and - just for a minute or two, while I thought we’d better go and look for the rest of the platoon. I saw some of our tanks starting to come in towards us, at a distance from the edge of the town, and they were slowly coming towards us. Then this sixth sense came into play and I said to this Guardsman: ‘Get down quick!’ and we ducked down behind this brick wall. The next second, and I mean a second, the whole masonry became alive, as a whole hail of bullets hit that. We’d have been neatly cut in half, if I hadn’t said ‘Get down’. And then of course they realised that it was friendly troops. Thankfully. But that was, you know, just one of those incidents that come to mind when it was very easy to be shot by one's own side.

    Well, eventually the end had to come and we finished up at the aerodrome at Cuxhaven and here we took the surrender of the German 7th Parachute Division. Now, here’s another memory that’ll stick in the mind forevermore. The German 7th Parachute Division who were - still had kept together as a unit, a fighting unit, marched down to Cuxhaven Aerodrome to surrender. And here one would have thought they would have crept in abjectly, dishevelled, a beaten foe. Where they a beaten foe? Were they, hell! They all came in, in platoons, marching smartly ‘Eins, zwei, drei’ going on, singing away there and I thought ‘By Christ. This lot, oh dear!’

    And just to - that night because it was the end of the war, of course it was VE Day, they issued us with some rum, that’s all. So there was no grand celebration, no grand celebration at all. It was, for me - I tried to think of some words that would equate the situation, that somebody might say something, an officer might say” ‘Well lads, you done well.’ Somebody to say...

    [continues on next reel]
  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    REEL 5

    Yes, em, it was one of those curious - it was a beautiful evening I do remember. I sat down on the grassy stretch of the aerodrome at Cuxhaven and tried to collect my thoughts. All I could think of was that's eh, that's the end of that. We don't anymore, we don't have to dig slit trenches, hear the awful sound of the Nebelwerfer, the multi-barrel mortar no more will we hear the shells screeching over and yes, there should have been a great sense of relief, but there we are. We should have somebody to organise something we should have all gathered round, raised our mugs, and said: Here's to the PBI, here's to the Poor Bloody Infantry. Yes that's what we should've done.

    I think it was eh - I think I have an enormous pride in having been in the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards, in wartime. I don't think I would ever make a soldier in peace time. I wasn't a particularly good soldier anyway. I did get two stripes, made up to a Corporal during the action, so therefore eh ... well the fact that I was frightened can't have shown very much. It's em, yes pride, definite pride of being a member of the 5th Battalion Coldstream.

    Strangely enough, the odd dream I've had where I'm back in a war time atmosphere. The odd dream but very very rarely have I pursued this path. It's mostly, no … one forgets all the ghastly horrible sights, not forgets puts them out of one's mind. You can't go on living with that, can you.

    I don't think there's - there's not a word that's untrue in the whole lot.

  8. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to transcribe this interview.

    I've found it very interesting.


  9. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Well done Diane, quite an achievement
    A really good interview

  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Steve, you're welcome.

    It was my intention to transcribe more Gds related ones, but I only managed to finish that one off - after starting on it last year!
    You posting up your recce one Lesley, made me ashamed of myself ;)

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