Private Gordon Brennan
Unit : Motor Transport Section, 7th Parachute Battalion.
Diary of Gordon Brennan - Spring 1943 to Fall 1952
After my parachute training at Hardwick Hall and Ringway, where I earned my Para Wings I joined the 7th (Light Infantry) battalion of the Parachute Regiment in the Spring of 1943 and was placed in 7 platoon, C Company for a start and then into M.T. Section as a driver/dispatch rider, but I still had to participate in all the training routines beside driving/riding when required so didn't have much time to think about upcoming operations, only time to bless the powers that be when we went on a night march or some crazy scheme, or to attend a mine clearing lecture or a course on how to dig a regulation slit trench, though I must admit all were later to be put to good use, and of course there were more training jumps.
I always remember one in particular on 13th December 1943 from Hurn Aerodrome using Fleet Air Arm Albemarle's. The D.Z. (Dropping Zone), was at Netheravon and we were the lead aircraft. The jump was cancelled because of high winds, but somehow the message never got through to our pilot and we jumped from our aircraft and when we landed we were dragged at a good rate of knots until we had control of our 'chutes. Unfortunately one man was dragged into a stone wall and was killed.
Prior to "D" Day we went into a concentration camp where we were wired in and no one without a special pass was allowed out, here we made sure that all our equipment and arms were in top shape, especially our fighting knives which we all had concealed in a pocket in or Battle Dress slacks. I did manage to get out once, I was detailed to take the Assistant Adjutant Lieutenant Richard Todd (later a famous film star), to Oxford to pick up the sand table map showing the area we were to jump into. One thing which I have never mentioned to a soul before because what we did was highly forbidden, and we were even under orders not to talk to anyone other than the members of the unit we were being sent to, was that during the trip to Oxford we stopped at Lt Todd's Aunt's house for a few minutes.
The following day we were all showed the sand table model which was a very exact three dimensional model of the terrain we were going to land on and were briefed on the exact jobs we were each expected to do when we arrived. On the afternoon of the 5th June we marched to a small field had our evening meal which was brought to us a little early and then the Padre held a short service of dedication and the Colonel addressed us, stressing how important our job was. Then we were loaded onto trucks and driven to Fairford aerodrome where we fitted on our equipment and 'chutes. I personally a young man of 19 years weighing at 150 lbs. tipped the scale at near 300 lbs. with all my gear and parachute on., thank goodness we only carried one 'chute, unlike our American counterparts who jumped with a reserve 'chute. The second 'chute would not have been any use anyway because we dropped below 500 feet and there would not have been time enough to use it.
Also at the airfield we were given tea and light snacks to eat whilst we were waiting around and then we boarded the aircraft, with a little help climbing in because of all the equipment we were carrying. Once we were airborne we started singing all the old war songs from ,"Pity the poor Parachutist" to "Roll Out the Barrel". In a fairly short while we received the order to stand up and check each others parachute hook up and equipment, then looking out we were able to see all the fireworks, anti-aircraft tracer shells, being fired at us, then it was red light on - green light - and Go; and out we went, each with his little clicker to identify friend or foe. We didn't have much time to orient ourselves on the way down, just a quick glance at the departing aircraft and then bump onto the ground, with machinegun fire all around. Our rendezvous was to one side of the D.Z. and the Colonel had a hunting horn, which we had heard on numerous occasions in the past, so off I went, using my clicker when I encountered anyone in the dark, when I reached the rendezvous and the Colonel had gathered enough men there we all set off at the double down the escarpment to the bridges which had already been secured by Major Howard and his detachment of Oxf & Bucks Light Infantry and Sappers.
We then crossed over the bridges into Benouville and deployed all around the village, meeting resistance and eliminating it as we went. Snipers were a problem for a while, particularly from the church at Le Port until Cpl Killeen took out the belfry with a PIAT anti-tank round where we found twelve dead German riflemen. We were moved around a bit to meet any German counter attacks as they developed, then shortly after Noon we heard the sound of the Pipes of the Commando's led by Brigadier the Lord Lovat who marched through our lines as cool as a cucumber and led his men across the bridges to his own objectives.
At times two or three of us had to help with the stretcher cases from near the Chateau, (at some time during the day Jerry broke into the village and shot up or R.A.P (Regimental Aid Post), killing wounded on stretchers, medical orderlies and the Padre), and then rush back to our positions where it was give and take all afternoon until about 2100 hrs when the Glider-borne Brigade came in, most of it landing behind us, on our former D.Z. but the rest of the Oxf & Bucks battalion landed to our front, which they cleared of any of immediate attack, giving us a short respite, and then crossed over the bridges re-absorbing Major Howard's Company.
Just before midnight we received the word that we were being relieved by one of the seaborne infantry battalions, the Royal Warwick's, I believe and at midnight I was able to make my way back to the bridge. I think of the original 660 men there were maybe 200 of us able to walk away. Once across both bridges we dug our little hole in the ground and got a few hours sleep, the following morning we marched up the escarpment to a small orchard by Ranville where we dug in and sort of regrouped. The weather was not very favourable but didn't bother us too much, then after we had been there a couple of days a Spitfire with its cockpit cover open circled us and when we waved the pilot waved back at us, then he took a wide swing round and came back with all his guns blazing, fortunately no one was hit. We heard later it may have been a captured Spitfire piloted by a German.
The following day I asked if I could go back to the D.Z. and see if I could find the 125 cc James motor cycle that had been dropped for my use, so Jack Chambers and I went and searched among the gliders and containers and luckily found the motor cycle. We also found a jeep that needed a little fixing also one that had been hit by a shell, we were able to cannibalise this and get the other jeep running so the Bn now had a transport section again. We loaded the m/cycle onto the jeep and then we spotted a German half track near the place where the Royal Marine Commando's were, I asked around and was told that they had been unable to start it, but I did, and drove it back to our unit thinking it would save the machine gunners and mortar men from having to carry such heavy loads. Very well received by them but in a little while the C.O. sent for me and said that the Marines were not happy to see what they regarded as their prize disappear down the road, they had spoken to the General about this and it had come down the line that it was to be returned, so I was instructed to take it back, which I did.
I had just returned when we were told that we were going to attack and take a wooded area that had a German unit in it. We were detailed off with the sub-machine gunners slightly in front of the grenade throwers and when the sub-machine gunners had let fly they were to drop to the ground and the grenade throwers were to lob their grenades into the enemy position so we cleared the woods. The following day we moved up the ridge a piece into a farm building and we immediately came under fairly heavy fire and had a tough time holding onto the position. Six Sherman tanks came up behind us to take the pressure of us but unfortunately they were all soon damaged and put out of action.
Next the Black Watch from the 51st Highland Division attacked through us, making far too much noise for our liking, but assuring us that things would soon be taken care of, anyway at daylight the attack went in and they received a severe mauling. Next day another 51st HD unit came and relieved us and we moved to the village of Herouvillette where we dug in, in and around the village and were mortared and shelled frequently, at one point the C.O. sent for me and said he could not get through on the radio and I was to take a message to Bde H.Q. that German tanks were massing at a given map reference and I was to deliver the message to the Brigadier personally. On the way to Bde I was subjected to a fairly intensive mortaring, I guess my little two stroke m/cycle made too much noise. On the way back because of the mortaring I crashed into the ditch and the m/cycle was destroyed, as I made my way back on foot I came across a German BMW m/cycle with a wrecked sidecar attached to it so the following day I went back with Jack Chambers, we removed the sidecar and rescued the m/cycle, once again bringing the transport section up to full strength. I asked for and received an authorisation from no less than 7 Corps HQ to use the German machine (this certificate from 7 Corps HQ is now in the Regimental Museum).
Whilst we were in Herouvillette we were able to sample good French Bread and Camembert cheese, these tasted so good after days on Bully Beef , and hard Cheddar cheese and hard tack biscuits and we were able to brew a good cup of tea, Generally it was not too bad here, occasional mortaring and shelling and we fought off a few attacks. One time there was a farm house across some open fields from us and a German tank would poke its nose around the corner and take a few pot shots at us and then pull back, well we came across a damaged 17 pounder ant-tank gun, with just one wheel missing, so that night we hauled it into position, blocked up where the missing wheel should have been and then trained it on the corner of the far house. When the tank next put its nose round the corner we had a good surprise for it, we got our shot off first and one shot did the job, one dead Jerry tank.
After about a week we were instructed to move up the ridge again past the brickworks and then a few miles into the Bois de Bavent, a thickly wooded forest with small clearings with farms on them dotted here and there. Here we relieved the 8th battalion for a rest and this was to be our home for several weeks, because of the constant shelling and mortaring we dug deep and scrounged doors and timbers and roofed our slit trenches in, not only making them safer from overhead shell bursts which rained shrapnel down, but also made them a bit more comfortable to live in. At first we took a few casualties but then we got used to the mortars and listened for the "Pop" when they were being fired, also there were the "Moaning Minnie's", 6 barrelled rocket mortars which ,made an awful screeching sound as they came over, making it feel like they were heading directly at one, whereas in fact they probably landed hundreds of yards away, but other than that they were not too effective a load bang and that was it.
There was an occupied farm (we named Bob's farm), in front of us on the left flank and we tried on several occasions to take it but failed and this only served to aggravate the enemy which meant more shelling and of course we had more wounded. Then came the rains and it didn't seem to stop and we were in trenches knee deep in water and sometimes deeper. I had extra duties being the dispatch rider and I was detailed nightly to take the days situation report to Bde H.Q. Jerry must have had directional listening posts because he tried to mortar the road. Some nights I would go faster and try and outrun them and at other times I would flip a fast "U" turn and run back, anyway I'm here to tell the tale which always means a happy ending. When I got back the Capt Quartermaster always poured me out a double tot of rum.
People I remember being taken away wounded at this period were Joe Westby, Pat Reason, a young fellow from Yorkshire, Pat Pearson and John Butler. The routine was pretty well set by this time, stand to one hour before first light and until one hour after, that is unless we were going to put in an attack such as on Bob's farm, which we did again and this time lost one of our officers, a Scottish chap, his batman tried to help him but to no avail. The farm was too well fortified and Jerry too well dug in around it, back to routine, on a normal day we would then get breakfast sent up, often tea and porridge and sometimes fried bacon, from the ration packs, all chased down with hard tack biscuits and margarine and jam and cheese, of which there always seemed to be plenty about, then we would clean our weapons and check ammo and grenades and then try to get a little sleep for which we would take turns with out partner in the same slit trench.
We fed well on what were called 14 men packs, these had canned rations for 14 men for one day or 14 days for one man. These were brought up daily by Rear Echelon trucks along with the ammo and any other supplies we might need. The packs had seven different varieties so that in theory we could have different meals each day for seven days, but it very rarely worked out like that because it was broken down by the cooks at Bn HQ and the main meal was dumped into Dixie's with water and heated up and this stew was distributed to the companies in "Hay Boxes" (These were insulated carriers which kept the food hot for hours), so that we had a hot meal at least once a day every day. Sometimes we managed to get an untouched tin and in them we had Bacon, Steak and Kidney Pudding, Irish Stew, Beef and vegetables and also Fruit Cocktail, delicious rice pudding and even Xmas cake. They also had seven cigarettes a day per man, toilet paper, note paper and sweets. The ration lacked bulk but was very high calorie and we could always make up for the bulk by soaking hard tack biscuit in the daily hot stew. If these rations failed to come up we had to fall back on to a can of bully and biscuits.
The weather improved and became dryer, but then we had another enemy, mosquitoes, they were big and so bad that we had to wear Balaclava helmets at night, and they would even bite through our heavy serge pants where they were stretched tight over the flesh beneath.
I should mention a little incident that demonstrates the futility of war. We had a sniper, "Ticker" Owen who made his way out to his hide in "No man's land" and just as he got there a German soldier stepped out from behind a tree, both completely surprised at the others presence, but Ticker reacted quickly, whipped out his cigarettes and offered one to his opposite number, the Jerry took one and both of them being lit up, they sat down and had a smoke together and the each went his separate way.
Shortly after this incident we were relieved by the 8th Bn again and went for seven days rest on the banks of the Orne river. We were still within shellfire range and occasional bombing by the odd Jerry plane so we started digging in there and then we came across the body of a German Soldier who had been buried, we thought he must have died at the hands of the Resistance, so we informed the Graves Registration people and they came along and took him away. A job I would not have liked doing.
During the break we spent time lying up and sleeping, regaining strength and morale and had visits to a cinema in Luc sur Mer and trips to the merchant ships lying offshore, where we got a real treat, white bread, cooked fresh on the ship that day. We managed to get out to the ships by scrounging rides on the DUKW's that were unloading stores from the ships and bringing them to dumps ashore, I also managed to visit the floating docks at Arromanches, what a piece of engineering and British ingenuity that was.
All good things must come to an end so at the end of the seven days we were rotated back to the gloomy Bois de Bavent, and back into our old slit trenches where we once again settled into our daily routine which was broken one morning when we saw a very large number of RAF bombers flying overhead, it was a thousand bomber raid on Caen and even though we were several miles from the raid the ground shook and it must have made the local Jerries nervous for they rained down mortar fire and Nebelwherfers (Moaning Minnie's) on us. They hit our Regimental Aid Post, (RAP), which was in a ditch at Bn HQ just a little ways back from me. I remember the Cpl medic had his stomach ripped open and he stitched it together with safety pins and shell dressings and then helped the other injured until he would allow himself to be evacuated, so Jack Chambers and I were very busy for a while using our one and only jeep to take wounded to the Field Dressing Station, just back a short way from the line.
Bob's farm was still the fly in the ointment and we were still unable to crack it, and another attack took a few more or our men, but we kept up our night patrols, some of which were a little scary, by now our senses had become so acute that we could smell the German sausage and the body odour of the enemy, and we could skirt around them, if we wished, or, as we did on many an occasion grab one and head back with him for interrogation.
I still rode out with my nightly Sitreps and got chased by the mortars, I threw a cure into things at times and threw grenades behind me into the ditch while travelling at 60/70 mph, seemed to work for a while and the they smartened up and blanketed an area that I had to travel through. The REME people did a really good job of servicing my machine and getting me new tires whenever I had a flat, they were just across the road from Bde HQ.
Then came the day when the breakout started, we had to advance towards Troarn and then Pont Le'Veque, where there was strong resistance for a while until the Bn managed to cross the river. At one point the C.O. told me to drive south down the side of the river and see if I could find a bridge intact and if I was able to cross and there seemed to be no enemy about to ride up north until I met up again with the Bn. So off I went as fast as my 1100 cc BMW would travel, expecting the worst , but the man said have a go so have a go I did and I was able to report back as instructed that the area was clear.
After Pont Le'Veque we met some of the Free French fighters who promised to do a little scouting for us, but things changed in a hurry, we had to dump our big packs and make a forced march to Pont Audemaur. We were given to understand that the German's would try and make a kind of sideways break out of the Falaise Gap and if they did we were to defend and hold Pont Audemaur. We got into position and made ready for what ever might come along. I personally was in the Bishop's quarters, on the third floor with a very good view of the town from that height. Once settled in and advised where the other fellows were we waited, but fortunately nothing happened and about dusk some transport arrived and took us to a farm a few miles from Deauville.
Luckily also nearby was a bath and delousing station. One went in at one end, dropped all ones clothing was sprayed with DDT then into a nice hot shower, then we were issued clothing and came out the other end with clean uniforms and underwear. Felt great too. The next day we were allowed to go into Deauville, for some to buy a good meal or a couple of souvenirs, and for others a drink at the local estaminet. A couple of days later we embussed on transport and were taken all the way to Arromanches and shipped back to England, and to Bulford Barracks from whence we had departed several months before. After being kitted out with whatever gear we needed we received leave passes and I was off home to Yorkshire, where I surprised my family who thought I was still in France.
What I should mention here is that when we finished leave and got back to barracks we then really noticed all the guys that were missing, some in hospital and of course others we left behind in France. One man in particular Pat Pearson, who was my friend was in Basingstoke Military Hospital (BMH), so I borrowed an open 15 cwt truck and went to see him. His leg was pretty well banged up and still in plaster so we got him onto the truck and lashed his bad leg to the fender mounted headlight and off we went to Salisbury to celebrate. Got him back later to the BMH in good shape, not that the Matron really agreed but she did comment, "Boy's will be Boy's".
The next interesting job was that Lt Archdale and I were detailed to visit the 2nd Para Battalion to exchange stories of our operations, needless to say we got far more involved than we expected to, but we survived and returned to our unit in time to take part in some exercises and a couple of balloon drops, at this time we were promised Xmas leave to be with our families, so the night before we were due to go we held a dance in the big gymnasium, then about 2200 hours the C.O. got onto the stage and said that everyone was to return to barracks immediately. We had no options but to obey as already there was a ring of Redcaps - Military Police - around the building.
Back in the barrack room the Platoon Commander came in and ordered us to get our kit together for a movement as we were going back to France, our destination being the Ardennes Forest where an army commanded by Field Marshall von Runstedt had broken through the American army lines and was heading for Antwerp. The following day we were bussed to Tilbury docks and were loaded onto a Tank Landing Craft and were shipped to France. I was on a motor cycle riding "shotgun" on a convoy of troop carrying trucks. The first night we were billeted in a school at Menin Gate, the next day we saw and heard the new German Jet aircraft as we travelled well into the night up through Namur to a little Village Hour Avenne where we debussed and had our first contact with the enemy, from then it was the usual, dig in and stop the attacks.
Then it was move and dig in again, stop an attack, sometimes clear a minefield, sometimes we were billeted in a house but generally in our holes where we tried to keep warm in this extremely cold winter weather. I do not remember the name of the place but I spent my twentieth birthday in one of the little towns where we happened to be in a shoe shop and one of my buddies made mention of it to the owners and in a short time they had arranged a small party, very short, but never to be forgotten. That was Jan 16th. The following day we moved to another small village from which we had to chase some German troops. This time I guess we upset them because they came back with several tanks. Corporal Killeen the crack shot with his PIAT disabled three of them and then it was time to attack and clean out the houses which took a little time as we discovered that Jerries was trying a new trick, they had built little sandbagged corners in the rooms and when we threw a grenade in they would duck down and then come up shooting when we carried out the usual procedure and followed up the grenade by jumping in with Sten guns blazing. Once we realised this we gave them two grenade treatment, throw one in, wait a little and then throw in a second one, it was generally effective.
From then on it was a continuous push, some of it at night, but the biggest problem was the weather, it was very very cold and extremely hard to keep warm. There was a lot of snow so we were issued with white coveralls to blend into the background, these also help a little to keep us warm. There were a lot of mines to lift, the worst ones being Shu mines, virtually undetectable by the mine detectors because they were made mostly of wood. The favourite place for Jerries to place mines was on metal bridges or near metal, this confused the mine detectors and so we just had to prod through the snow with bayonets to find the little devils. I think it was late January when the German resistance collapsed, until then we had been kept busy under fire and mortar attacks, sleep snatched whenever possible, then stumble through the forest, clearing it as we went along. Then it ended and one fine day we were loaded onto transport trucks and driven to a place in Holland close to the river Maas where we had to hold a section of the west bank.
On arrival battalion HQ settled in a village which if I remember rightly was named Panigen. It was still very cold and we had to be careful and watch out for Jerry night patrols with which he was very active. Also if they suspected we were occupying a particular building they would use one of their Panzerfaust anti tank weapons on it. This was their version of our PIAT and very effective. Of course we also sent patrols across the river and captured the occasional Jerry for interrogation. Then came the day when we were returned to England for more training, refresher jumps and re-kitting plus a spot of leave and then briefing on the upcoming operation, Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine. On a personal note, I had been engaged to a young lady from my home town but when my leave was up she gave me back the ring, she told me the strain of not knowing if I was going to survive or not was too great.
On Operation Varsity we were dropped near the hamlet of Haminkeln, the dropping zone was fairly heavily defended and we took a few casualties, but took our objectives and handed over to the infantry when they arrived from the river crossing but towards evening we formed up and marched out, the start of a long march that took us through Osnabruk, Hanover and all the way to the Baltic, with some awful revelations along the way. The worst being the Lein River bridge at Neustadt where we lost 26 or 28 men from B coy who were crossing over the bridge when Jerry blew it up. After crossing the river we were carried in trucks and we were going one way and it seemed like the whole German army was going in the opposite direction. We were heading for the Baltic and Jerry was heading for the POW cages.
In Celle we were billeted for a while in houses, at the one I entered the lady of the house was busy doing something with a pan of boiling water, but I smiled at her and she smiled back, stopped, put it down, and welcomed me into her home and made me comfortable, she even darned my socks when she saw what a lousy job I was making of it. The following morning I was detailed as escort to the Commanding Officer and we drove to Bergen Belsen. It was horrible to see with the piles of corpses, and the walking skeletons all very close to death, and to realise the depths that man can sink to. We next stopped at Osnabruk where I was placed into a house at the edge of the town, as I went in I heard a rifle being fired from upstairs so I stitched the ceiling with two full magazines from the Bren Gun, that put paid to that little bit of nonsense and left us in sole possession.
Our next stop was Hanover, here we acquired a Fire truck for the mortar platoon and I acquired an Arial 1000 cc motor cycle (a Squarial, as it was known as) and there was a burial detail. At Wunsdorf airfield Private Stephenson was standing right next to me when he was hit in the head, he took a round right under the right eye and it lifted part of his skull, I was sure that he was dead (It wasn't until 28 years later in 1973 when I was visiting the CO Colonel Pine-Coffin when I mentioned what rotten luck it was for Stephenson to be killed that late in the war when the Colonel assured me that he was still alive and in Leeds hospital. I just had to leave Portsmouth and go straight to Leeds and see for myself that Steve had survived). Crossing the Elbe in our trucks we were prepared to meet and hold the Russians, which we did midway between Wismar and Rostock on the Baltic. We had quite a gay old time pouring drinks and celebrating with the Russians, until their Commanders stopped any further fraternisation. Sad to see at the time how despondent the majority of German troops were, in fact several committed suicide. Talking to some, they thought we might form an alliance with them re-arm them and take on the Russians. Fat chance!
The following morning it was May 8th and we were informed that the war was officially over. I was detailed to go to a Displaced Persons (DP) camp and inform them that the war was over, on arrival we found that they already knew and were having a little celebration the camp leader insisted that I join him in drinks, this meant that they lined up, in front of each of us various glasses of liquor, starting with a small one up to the size of a water glass. The camp leader and I sat on each side of a table and when he lifted his glass and downed it in one gulp I had to follow. We got to the fifth or sixth glass when he fell of the bench and I'd had enough so made for the door and stepped out and that was the last I remembered until the following morning. When my chaps came and shook me they could not wake me up so the leader's wife rather large German wife said she could fix it. Her method was to get two large tin tubs, one with really hot water in it and the other with very cold water from the well, then I was stripped, dunked in one until I hollered and then dinked in the other until I hollered again. Midway through the treatment she gave me a large glass and told me to drink the contents, which turned out to be a glass of milk with two raw goose eggs stirred into it and some salt. I not only managed to drink it, but also managed to keep it down. The net result was that I survived the treatment and was soon able to report back to the CO that all was well in the DP Camp
The European war being finished we were placed in a transit camp at a place called Kalian for a while and next were transported to a ship and found we were destined for the Far East - Malaya to be precise. When we arrived off Malay we did a beach landing at Morib, got a bit wet and after a short stay were reloaded onto the ship and headed to Singapore. Our duties in Singapore were many and varied, from helping to unload the constant stream of ships to guarding the Japanese POW's, including females who were being sent straight back to Korea and the Philippines. Singapore was great, it was so wonderful to have the bright lights in the streets and shops again and the freedom to be able to move around and go to the shops and restaurants or a show or the local wrestling matches. Also there were fine beaches where one could go for a swim and also we gave help in clearing up at the old British POW camps, but it all came to a halt just before Christmas when we were boarded on a ship bound for Batavia.
On arrival we were billeted in the old Dutch Naval barracks, very comfortable and with a nice big swimming pool. The first job we had was to arrest a Dr Sukarno and place him under house arrest; also we had to watch out for snipers from amongst the local population. We just seemed to be settled in when off we went to Semerang where the locals were acting up. We didn't have enough people to maintain a perimeter around the place so we re-armed a Japanese POW unit to help out. We found that they were good soldiers and worked well under our command. At one time we came under attack from some local guerrillas who had found some abandoned Japanese artillery pieces and started using them on us. In no time the Japanese had them surrounded and captured them and saved the day. Apart from incidents like that the daily routine wasn't bad. In fact Semarang was quite a pleasant stay, there were movies we could go to, places where we could eat out and plenty of swimming in the sea, also the CO saw to it that we did lots of training and were kept physically fit and warlike.
It was not long before the Dutch troops arrived and took over from us and we were shipped on the SS City of Canterbury back to Singapore. I don't know if the weather that we sailed trough was a typhoon, but nearly everybody on board was seasick. For those of us with cast iron stomachs there was plenty of food to eat. I remember polishing of 14 kippers one morning for breakfast. On arrival at Singapore we went straight onto trucks and up country into Malay where we were deposited at Kuala Kangsa, near Ipoh. This was rubber plantation country where we had to fend for ourselves, building Basha's (huts) from palm fronds with the help of one or two natives Malays. The Communists (CT's or bandits they were called) were very active besieging plantation compounds and often killing Planters and Staff. The Planters fortified their headquarters and defended themselves as best they could calling the army in when attacked., we would answer the calls and then go into the jungle on patrol trying to catch up with the CT's.
We were moved around quite a bit during this time and finally ended up in Sungei Patani just south of the Siam/Malay border. Two sad things happened at this time, one of our trucks rushing troops out had an accident and was wrecked with several fatal casualties and the other was that there was a mutiny in the 13th Battalion which had a dampening effect on everybody's morale. It was dirty unpleasant work ploughing through the jungle, there were leeches and mosquitoes and all sorts of other bugs to cope with and we were all too often soaking wet or at least damp and life there was one patrol after another, but we were quite lucky and caught and killed quite a few of them. Then suddenly it was all over, we were pulled out of the jungle trucked to Singapore and put on a ship to where? We sailed away from Singapore with mixed feelings sorry to leave behind those people who had died of dengue fever and various accidents, not sorry to leave the jungle, but quite sorry to be leaving the pleasures and comforts of Singapore, and not knowing where we were headed for.
A day or two later however we were told that we were on our way to Palestine, not home as some had hoped. It was really smooth sailing over a calm blue sea until we reached the harbour of Colombo in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). Here we were moored onto a buoy in the harbour and of course the water was too tempting so off the ship we dove, just to swim around and get away from the sticky heat in the confined quarters of the troop decks. Shortly after the ships Admin Officer got on the PA system and told us the harbour was a good place for sharks and barracuda and also a lot of ships effluent so we hightailed it out of the water. Later that day we were ferried ashore and marched to some public swimming places along the beach, unfortunately the one we were in wasn't very full and one of the men dove in with out looking and broke his neck, fatally. End of swim for all of us. Back on board we sailed away and after a few days we were told that we had entered the Red Sea and were going to travel through the Suez Canal to Port Said.
When we arrived those of us with low demob numbers were ordered to stay aboard well the rest of us disembarked and were loaded into railway vans, no comforts like seats, we just had to sit on the floor or our kitbags. The vans were marked, "Transport for 8 horses or 40 men". and thus we were moved across the Sinai desert to Palestine and to a camp near Biet Lid, a crossroads just a short distance from Nathanya. It had a large searchlight mounted on a tall tower in the centre of the camp and the Jews would snipe at the lamp, so out we would go in either a White armoured Scout cars or just plain old 3 ton trucks with the floors heavily sandbagged. A couple of times when we sent a Liberty truck into Haifa it was shot at so we decided to retaliate, that is Fritz Lawson the RQMS, Cpl Rennie Roberts and myself, I being MT Sgt at the time. It so happened that the Jews had a pillbox mounted on stilts above a pumping station for their water supply, so to pass the buzz we talked about going out and blowing up the pumping station, in the hearing of some Jewish civilian labour, if they didn't stop shooting at our Liberty trucks. It happened again so a few night later four Beehive charges, (an explosive demolition device), dropped the pillbox onto the pumping station - which still left the pumps operational - and behold the pot shots at night and at the liberty truck ceased, it just needed a little persuasion.
Beit Lid was a hot dusty place and from there we were doing a lot of night patrols keeping communications open and preventing either side, Jews or Arabs, using the roads for illegal activities after dark. We also, on information received, search settlements for arms caches and put up surprise road blocks and searched all personnel and vehicles, we used to have a female Arab police woman with us for searching females at the road blocks, and it was not above either side to hide a grenade or documents in their Bra. One night a surprise road block stopped a civilian car and we found ourselves involved in a little fire fight that ended when their vehicle was immobilised and they surrendered with one of them killed and another wounded. We then found that one of the occupants we had apprehended was a notorious member of the Stern Gang named Dov Groener. He was tried for murder and terrorist activities, found guilty and later hanged. Shortly after this incident we were moved to Rosh Pina, which is north of Lake Tiberius, close to the border of Lebanon.
We settled down once again to the routine of road blocks, night patrols and searches. We were now in very hilly fertile country, just a little way down the road was a Jewish fish farm where we would go now and then to buy fish and sometimes we were able to help with machinery that had broken down, and I got my welder, named "Baggy" Shaw, to do quite a lot of repair jobs for them, but once sundown came all bets were off. There was also a small store a few yards south of the camp and we would at times go in an discuss the situation with the Jewish proprietor over a coffee, and then back again behind the wire, that separated them from us. During the day we also had recreational parties visit Capernium, Tiberius and sometimes as far away as Nazareth. There was not too much hostile activity in the area. I also did a trip right across the Sinai desert to the Canal Zone in Egypt to a massive Royal Army Ordnance Corp supply depot at a place called Tel-el-Kebir. Originally famous as the place of a battle between the British and Egyptian armies. Guess who won!! I really enjoyed the trip down and back again through places like Bir Sheeba and lots of other biblical sites.
Just when things seem to have settled down the Jews hung a young school teacher in an orchard near Nathanya and then ambushed and massacred about 25 men from one of the other Para battalions who had been bivouacked in a square in Tel Aviv, as a result we were moved again to this time to Lydda airport where we had increased search and night patrol activity. During this time one of the trucks ran over a mine and the driver, Taylor I believe received a medal for rescuing the people in the back of the vehicle. About now I got detailed for a very scary job. I was ordered to deliver the car, an old De Soto that Dov Gruner had been in when he was captured, to a garage in Tel Aviv. I had my motor cycle fastened on the back for the return journey. Needless to say I made it there and back safely. I was never told why I had to do this trip without an escort, it was just a case of "orders is orders", and so I did it.
At this time, just before Christmas, I decided I wanted to make the army my career and so signed on for the Regular Army, also about then I wound up in hospital with yellow jaundice, not a very good time in hospital and was glad to get back to the unit where I found the MT drivers talking mutiny, they were fed up with being on the road night after night being shot at and then some idiot insisting that they took part in the regular training routines during the day, also about this time we were amalgamated with the 17th battalion and renamed 3rd Bn The Parachute Regiment, this didn't sit too well with a lot of us who had been with the 7th from day one. I talked to them like a "Dutch Uncle", and also spoke to the CO, the result being that their duties were relaxed and they in turn got on with the job. I think they also had in mind how severely punished and humiliated were the 13th battalion men who mutinied, and they didn't want any of that dumped on them.
Then in June 1947 my time was up and I was posted home to the Parachute Regiment Training Depot at Aldershot and after a couple of weeks leave I took over the duties of MT Sergeant at the depot. The first thing to do was check the inventory of fuel and oils, spares and the vehicles. I started with the main petrol tank and found that there were several hundred gallons short of the accounts figure. I reported this to the CO, which didn't seem to sit too well with him, but after some investigation my predecessor was awarded a Court Martial for theft and was convicted and punished with loss of rank and detention. The remainder of the fuel and oils and the spares inventory were correct so I next turned my attention to the vehicles, they were all there as per inventory, but I was not happy with their condition so I took an unusual step, and took the maintenance temporarily out of the hands of the drivers and formed a maintenance team; then my mechanic Pte Harry Pranket and I did what was known as an AB 406 inspection ( a very comprehensive check on maintenance, and mechanical condition), on each vehicle, those that required maintenance were brought up to scratch by the team I had formed, others were repaired by the unit mechanic and others were sent into REME base workshops for repair, once they were all fixed up to my liking the job of maintenance was returned to the drivers with warnings of dire consequences if they did not keep the vehicles in good condition.
I did have a little problem with the Brigadier and his staff car, I wanted it in shops so that I could have a brake job done on it, but the Brigadier insisted that he wanted it to go to the War Office that day and off he went, it was a rainy wet day and they go into a situation where the poor brakes nearly landed them in trouble, fortunately the driver phoned me up and so I made sure the required parts would be available when the car returned. That evening Pranket and I went to the cinema, and were comfortably ensconced watching a movie when at about 2130 hours a notice flashed on the screen that we were required in the foyer, there we found the RSM Reg Alcock waiting for us who told us the Brigadier wanted his car fixed and ready for first thing the following morning, so off we went and worked until 0200 hrs the following morning hand riveting, fitting and road testing the new brake shoes, everything being fine we rolled into bed and had a bit of a lay in next morning. Later the Brigadier came to the MT office and thanked me.
Soon after this job the CO sent for me, wondering what I had done wrong now I went to his office and he told me he had a Hudson Terraplane that need work on it to get it on the road, could I do this in my spare time, this was a sort of a "nod and a wink" job. I agreed and Pranket and I cut out the rusted floor panel and welded in new metal, took the gear box out and replaced an idler gear and the job was done. Just about now I received a phone call it was the 22nd of October 1947, from a young lady I had met whilst on leave, the call was about marriage and the upshot was that I said yes we could get married and on 29th October, or not at all. Off I went to se the CO and got his permission and a few days leave, then I went up to Bradford and brought back my future wife to Aldershot and we were married in the Garrison church on the 29th October 1947 with most of the Sergeant's mess in attendance, we had a few days in London and took in a few shows and then back to Aldershot where I had a Married Quarter waiting for me. ( It just so happened that the man who controlled the quarters was my old RSM from the 7th Bn now Capt M Johnston. MC).
The next few months were very good, married bliss and Pranket and I worked on several officers cars. A Singer Le Mans that had to be stripped of all of its wiring and have it renewed, a Riley that needed new brake cables that went to all four wheels, a Bentley and even a Rolls Railton. Unfortunately this all came to an end when the powers that be decided to close down the Training Depot and I was posted to the Airborne Transport Training Centre at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. I had to leave my wife at Aldershot but managed to get down every other weekend. This was a very busy time because the Berlin Air Lift was on and we had to devise ways of getting the heavier equipment onto different types of aircraft and how to package stuff that it was intended to drop free fall and even parachute; a lot of effort and where hard work went into all of this, but we managed to accommodate every load we were asked to work on.
The weekends that we stayed in camp we generally worked on the Saturdays and on Sundays a Dakota was laid onto take us to Hetheravon where we could draw 'chutes and get in a couple of practice jumps. The last time we were able to do this we noticed on the way to Netheravon that one of the engines had caught fire, the pilot feathered the propeller set off the fire extinguisher system and it seemed to go out and he then told us all to line up and get ready to jump out onto the grass when the aircraft touched down and slowed down. He would give us a red and green light to let us know when to go, and as soon as he was ready to land he gave us a red, landed and braked hard and when his speed had dropped sufficiently gave us a green and out we tumbled onto the grass, fortunately nobody was hurt, a couple of sprained ankles and that was it. The plane carried on toward the fire truck and we thought that everything would be alright, but the fire truck foam did not seem to be able to reach the engine which flared up again and the aircraft went up in flames and we had to get a truck to come down from Brize and take us back and that was the ending of our Sunday jumps.
Then who turns up but wing Commander Scragg with a flying box car which he wanted to experiment with so we got in a few more weekend jumps, then came the bigger version, the CT119 and he wanted to see how many men it could carry so he loaded up with 40 of us aboard and we jumped back to camp and then he asked to load up with 20 more for his next trip so we loaded 60 men and off he went, tore down the runway and just cleared the perimeter fence and were dropped back at camp. Wingco Scragg was still not satisfied and managed to round up another eight men and off we went again, tearing down the runway watching sparks flying from the tail as it dragged along the runway and we all cheered like mad as he just cleared the perimeter fence. The aircraft was finally certified for fifty fully armed paratroops.
The other interesting project was fitting out a D10 tractor to go to the Artic, which we did and later learned that it was a success. On a different note I had to return a vehicle and some equipment back to Ordnance. I had a 6x6 Albion and the Engineers had hooked up one of those earth scrapers, that had to go back, behind me, so off I went down the road to Oxford on a freshly paved road, hit a bump, the lip of the scraper dropped, I nearly went through the windscreen and about three yards of freshly laid road surface was scraped up. I was not very popular with the Oxford County Council Public Works department.
My next adventure began on a railroad flat parked on the siding at the far side of the 'drome. There was a CT20 tracked armoured personnel carrier on the flat car but no offloading ramp, it was the first time I had seen one of these vehicle so I looked around for an instruction manual , but, none to be found so I looked over the instruments and finding what I was looking for got it running, I then tried the tiller steering very carefully, it seemed to work Ok so I swing the thing round through 90 degrees and gradually nosed it over the side of the flat deck, the carrier went down with a bit of a bump, not too bad and no damage appeared to have been done, so I set off back to camp learning as I went along. I handed the carrier over to the Air Landing people who had a project to do with it and then a couple of weeks later I was given instructions to take it to Woolwich Arsenal, so off I went, through Oxford, Reading and then into London Traffic, fine until we got in a traffic jam at Marble Arch and I was sitting rubbernecking waiting for the traffic to move, with a London bus up my tail, well he tooted and in a knee jerk reaction I grabbed a tiller and lo and behold I was staring at this guy right at his eye level. I don't know who was the more surprised, him or me, anyway, with the help of an understanding policeman we got straightened out and I completed the Journey with a police escort.
My next problematic job was to go to Christchurch and collect a Hercules mock up for which I was to take the Albion with an articulated trailer about 50 foot long and on four centred wheels, of the type that the RAF called a "Queen Mary" attached. So taking a couple of personnel with me we set off not having the faintest idea of the size of a Hercules aircraft fuselage, when I arrived at destination I found it was 86 feet long and 13-1/2 feet wide, so the Sappers loaded it on the trailer and we set of for Brize Norton, everything went fine until we reached Salisbury, and in those days one had to make a left turn and then a right turn and then a further left turn and this last manoeuvre put the tail of the fuselage right into Woolworth's doorway and the side of it against Burton' window. We had to jack up the axle to lever the thing over then and move it a couple of inches at a time, this would not have been too bad on any other day, except that today was market day and what a lot of irritable people and motorists there were, anyway after much sweat and more than a little cursing, from both us and the onlookers we were on our way again without breaking any windows and soon safely arrived back at base.
Shortly after our trip with the Hercules fuselage I had to go and pick up an International Armoured half track which was loaded with communications equipment and had a great big antenna mounted on the back, all went well until we got into Reading and they had trolley buses there and when we were travelling at a reasonable speed the antenna swayed back and missed the overhead cables, but we had to slow down at an intersection, the antenna came upright and shorted out on the overhead wires, this took a couple of feet off the top of the antenna, however it didn't seem to effect the radio reception so we didn't say a thing about it when we got to camp, but when it came time to take it back to Bournemouth we made sure that the antenna was pulled down. That however was not the last of our problems, we were travelling in a fairly dense fog and all of a sudden some poor guy in a mini hadn't seen us and ripped the side of his vehicle off and we didn't even get a scratch on the half track, anyway a local copper came and asked a few questions and we were allowed to go on our way.
It was decided that the unit would move to Abingdon in Berkshire, because the Americans had a need for Brize Norton for their B 52 bombers and Brize had a very long runway which they needed when taking off with a full load. So we moved the unit and its equipment which took many days trucking, but eventually everything was moved and we started to settle into our new home. and we soon came to like Abingdon, for a start it was easy to get to London, also we were able to take glider flying lessons on a winch launched glider, which several of us took up. Still lots to do parachuting, us, and all types of equipment, goods and vehicles from aircraft and challenged to drop crates of eggs without breakage - which we did - and full jerricans of petrol without loss of content. You name it we dropped it or arranged airlift for it. I was enjoying life at Abingdon and then my wife had a fall and broke her hip, which had previously been a problem. The powers that be were very good and posted me back to Aldershot and gave me some compassionate leave in order for me to be with the wife after her surgery and whilst she needed help at home, afterwards. I was given the job of Sgt's Mess caterer and we move into a quarter immediately behind the Mess. Margaret got better pretty quickly and then we found that she was pregnant with what was our son Eric.
Eric was good news, but after he arrived I was posted back to 2 Para Bn as a Platoon Sergeant. At first I found it very strenuous, but I soon got back into shape as we were very soon on exercises on Dartmoor, much climbing of hills and rushing around attacking other troops, then exercise over we were back to Barracks, there it was more training, in the Gym and on the battle assault course at one part there was a daunting structure, a scaffolding about 50 feet high and at the top was a single plank spanning a fairly wide gap in the middle which we had to cross, the objective being to get as many people up and across the gap and down again as quickly as possible. Some trainees could just not cope with the plank across the gap and as a result they were Returned to Unit, (the dreaded RTU).
Later in the year we went on another exercise this time in Cambridgeshire, this was to be an airborne assault on a small abandoned village; the dropping zone was about 14 miles from the village which distance we had to cover at a forced march pace. Before we boarded the aircraft I gave a pep talk to one or two characters who always seemed to manage sprained ankles to order after a jump and therefore get out of the march and then we boarded and off we went. Red light, Green light and out we went unfortunately someone's kit bag fouled my chute and when he thought I was close enough to the ground he jettisoned his kit bag and I went down with a great bump and then the kit bag hit me with a wallop on the back of my head. I got out of my harness and stood up, I felt some pain but didn't want to appear to be a wimp, particularly after my reading the riot act to the troops before we emplaned so I pulled my pack straps tight and marched the 14 miles to the objective. The final phase of the attack was across a ditch probably only three feet wide, I jumped it collapsed, passed out and woke up in Bury St Edmunds hospital several days later, in fact on 29th October 1950. The Matron was a lovely lady and came round and asked me what I would like to eat and I asked for a nice steak. She smiled and disappeared only to return a while later with an orderly bringing me a steak and asked how I was going to eat this as I was lying in a Styker bed with a fractured spine I asked that the orderly cut it into small pieces and I would manage the rest, which I did, and really enjoyed the meal. Then came the time to place my body in a plaster cast. After being stretched and put in a plaster cast from neck to thighs I was put into a bed to dry off and harden.
The following morning, at about 0800 hours, firmly encased in my Plaster of Paris suit I was put into a military ambulance and transported to Colchester military hospital finally arriving at about 1600 hrs, a total of 8 hours on the road, and in all this time neither of the two attendants had opened a door and looked in to see if I was OK or in need of anything. To say the least I was ticked off by the time they opened the doors at the hospital, and then they refused to unload me and I was furious and let them know it in no uncertain terms, eventually I was moved by hospital attendants and taken to a ward, where to make matters worse a ward orderly told me that the evening meal was finished and I would have to wait until breakfast for a bite to eat. I was so angry I got onto my feet and demanded to see the Orderly Officer for the day, he finally came and when I explained the situation to him he had a meal brought in from the Officer's Mess kitchen. Once getting on to my feet I refused to lay down like a good boy, needless to say after a couple of weeks of me they removed the plaster cast and I was sent back to Aldershot to my unit.
When I reported in I was given a couple of weeks leave so I took my son Eric and we went up to Bradford, which was my home town. We enjoyed ourselves there, especially Eric as my Dad who had a bakery, gave him lots of goodies, much to his delight. Leave ended I reported back, was interviewed and told that I was to take over the job of Motor Transport platoon NCO (MT Sgt, for short), a job which I had done several times before. There was only one fly in the ointment the Lieutenant Motor Transport Officer ( MTO), insisted that I take the platoon on drill, and ride a motorcycle, when all this time I was supposed to be on Light Duty as my back was still healing.
Then the unit was ordered to Cyprus, as I was not 100% fit I need not have gone, but the CO asked me if I would go and I agreed to, another mistake; when we arrived at Southampton and got off the train the MTO insisted that I march with the platoon, carrying full pack and kit bag, it was quite a struggle but I made it, and after we were on board I had nothing to do which gave me a chance to recuperate, but not sufficiently, for when we landed at Famagusta the MTO insisted that I should march with the platoon to Nicosia, at this point I flatly refused, I could hardly stand up straight, I knew the damage had been done, and I demanded to be sent to hospital, well I was transport to the local Military and remained there for eight weeks, having treatment and physiotherapy to strengthen my back again and when I was finally discharged I was posted to the Brigade HQ as MT Sgt there, I had no sooner taken over and settled in when the unit was moved to Egypt to the Canal Zone, the only part of that country still occupied by British Troops.
The Brigades main responsibility was to keep open communications. An important part of this was to protect the communications cables that were buried along side the sweet water canal. The locals had a habit of stealing this for the copper in the cables, at night they would dig holes several yards apart, cut the cables and pull them out by towing them with a truck. as soon as the cable was cut the Signals were able to tell us exactly where and we would hare off out and try to intercept the thieves. Sometimes we were lucky and captured the criminals, and other times they made their getaway before we got there, but either way it meant driving flat out in the dark with no lights, and this was very often a bumpy ride.
To top it off we had to do a training scheme in the desert, I was detailed to drive the big recovery vehicle a Ward Le France, capable of hauling a tank out of trouble, anyway the MTO who was doing the map reading led us into a soft sand area, needless to say we got bogged down and had to get the sand channels out and do a lot of digging, eventually we got onto hard going, but by then I had wrenched my back again and had to go back into hospital at Faid, for another six weeks. When I was discharged it was considered that I was not fit enough any longer to be in an infantry unit so I was offered a transfer into either a Pest Control unit or the Royal Army Pay Corps I chose the latter of the two evils. I was the sent of a course which I passed easily and very soon after was given the job of supervising a fairly large team doing the income taxes for the whole theatre. Once this temporary detail had finished I was sent back to Bde HQ as their Pay Sgt. I quite enjoyed my stay with this unit, the job was easy and I was able to swim in the Suez canal every day which was good for my back, this was fine until in July 1952 I was informed that my wife had delivered a baby girl and was having some troubles so I was shipped home and after some compassionate leave given the choice of leaving the army and staying at home to look after my family, or returning to my unit. I chose to take my discharge and that ended my Army career.
My thanks to John Butler for sending me a copy of this story.
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