Guardsman George Maurice Wyatt
Unit : 3rd Battalion The Grenadier Guards.
Served : France (captured)
Army No. : 2616236
POW No. : 6074
Camps : Stalag VIIIB / 344
I grew up in Reading and joined the Berkshire Constabulary as a clerk when I left school at 15. One Friday evening, early in 1939, I took a train to London and went Wellington Barracks, with the idea of joining the Guards. I was told to come back in the morning and stayed overnight at a Church Army Hostel. I gave my age as 17 the next morning, only to discover that I needed a letter of consent from my parents. They didn't approve and I was frog-marched back to Reading.
Uncle Alf was a veteran of the Great War and on hearing about the escapade in London took me to sign up at Brock Barracks, home of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. "Give your age as 18," he advised. On 16th February 1939 I signed up for 4 years with colours and 8 on reserve. Basic training was completed at Caterham, and I was on parade as Guardsman 2616236 Wyatt G. of the Third Battalion Grenadier Guards at Barossa Barracks, Aldershot when war was declared on 3rd September 1939
The Battalion sailed to Le Havre on 15th March 1940 before moving to Le Mans, Arras and Rouen. On 10th April my platoon joined the Vick Force, c/o the Davis Rifles, Vick Brigade, B.E.F. We combined with platoons from other regiments behind the 51st Highland Division, and had no idea we were to defend the evacuation to Dunkirk.
The German aerial bombardment continued relentlessly and then one day we noticed there was no reply from the ground. Nothing! We were called together and told that "The Battle of France' was over, France had signed an Armistice and the B.E.F. had been evacuated from Dunkirk. We felt that it was important to stay together, but were told that, 'It was every man for himself'; something that I still regard this as an abdication of responsibility.
Seven of us managed to reach Le Havre harbour, only to be greeted by a hail of machine gun bullets. I heard the rumbling of a tank as I took cover. It came to a halt and a young German officer climbed down from the turret. "Gentleman," he declared in perfect English. "Throw your weapons into the water. For you the war is over." It was 15th June.
He gave us each an English cigarette and ordered us onto a half-tracked vehicle. After ten days travelling about with the "cock-a-hoop" Germans, we were dropped at a church which was overflowing with French troops. They were given food, while we had to wait. I wasn't having this and tried to join the queue, only to suffer a beating from the French. I found a French cape. It stretched to my feet, and thus disguised I filled a basket with bread, cheese, sausages and drink. Our 'banquet' tasted the better for having beaten off the French, whose dismal showing in defense of their country rankled with us.
When we began marching eastwards, village folk left tubs of cider and wine for us on the roadsides; much safer to drink than water. I kept my eyes peeled for small shops and would set off in search of bread while my comrades, Johnny Gee and George Gracian, held my gear. I would grab a loaf and run back at top speed before being missed by the Germans escorts. They sometimes threatened us with gestures but never took away the food. On 22nd June, we halted in a chalk quarry. The French troops were told they were going home and as they drifted away, the dislike which had been festering for days, grew to hatred.
We reached Ostend and drove through the city on a tram. Local people threw us parcels of pork and jam sandwiches, which was a godsend. We were accompanied by a group of French North Africans awaiting liberation. As devout Muslims, they scraped pork from their bread and offered it to us, refusing to accept any jam in exchange. These men stuck to their religion in the face of the fiercest adversity.
We marched to Ghent, and travelled on by barge to Dortmund where we were billeted in the Olympic village for the Berlin Games of 1936. I took off my shirt for a wash and realized I was infested with lice. There were no powders to kill them and no means of boiling clothes, so I set about squashing each louse between my thumbs - a personal battle between my will to destroy and their ability to multiply that continued for five years. Needless to say who won!
After a week we were consigned to cattle trucks and transported by rail to Rogenfeld, Poland. The area lay in ruins and food was becoming a problem. We seized any opportunity to supplement our rations. A German woman regularly filled a trough with freshly boiled potatoes for her pig, so we waited until the coast was clear, pushed the pig aside and ate ravenously. The arrival of my first Red Cross parcel was greeted like manna from heaven; tea, chocolate, and soap. The German guards would readily exchange a whole loaf of bread for one bar of soap, so the items became valuable for barter. Letters began to arrive, and though they were few in number, we passed them round and shared each other's news.
In the bitter winter of 1940/41 we moved to Schubin and slept in a huge marquee, accommodating over a thousand men. Fifteen men were assigned to squares of straw, and each issued was with two blankets. Luckily I still had my cape for extra warmth, for which I was mightily thankful. Sheets of ice had to be removed from the roof each morning for the frozen breath of the men formed into dangerous icicles. Food was limited to a ladle of stew or soup daily and a German loaf, usually shared between six, sometimes seven or — on a good day — five. During the day we levelled the ground in preparation for the erection of wooden huts. Once complete, the camp was designated a Stalag Luft, and became the scene for a mass break-out of RAF officers, immortalized in the story, "The Great Escape". My stay was short-lived, as I was soon shipped to Fort Rauch near the city of Poznan.
This was one of many circular forts constructed in the nineteenth century to defend the city. Forty five men, sleeping on three tiers of bunks, occupied each of the former gunrooms. There was a table, benches and a wood-burning stove which also served as a cooker. I joined a grand set of lads who were mostly drawn from north-country and Scottish regiments.
Soon after arrival I was placed in charge of party of 12 men and taken by lorry to a church in the city centre. Thousands of horseshoes were piled in the centre of the nave. They varied in size and some had been sorted and tied in bundles of four, together with the correct number of nails. We were ordered to continue sorting. When I asked how the horseshoes were to be used and was told they were bound for the Eastern Front, I declared that this would constitute war work and contravene the conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. We could not follow the order. "Very well," announced the officer in charge. "We will return to camp, but you will be held to account for refusing my orders."
I was summoned to appear before the Camp Commandant and work was suspended pending an investigation by the International Red Cross. A delegation arrived the next week and I was called to meet them, repeating my objections to the task. They were incredulous when they saw the stack of horseshoes for themselves and had no doubt that it constituted war work. On the other hand, I was asked to consider that the horses would have to work without shoes if we maintained our objection. This seemed reasonable and I conceded the point. It was a wise decision. The job was indoors and we gained access to a store of first aid equipment. This gave rise to an enterprising business. Triangular bandages were transformed into shorts and shirts and exchanged for tins of meat or jam, and these were used as barter with the German guards. They also made excellent double-jockstraps which ad a valuable purpose.
supply of dried peas could be obtained by the railway work party. We would open
the tops of our trousers and sweep a handful of peas into the awaiting
jockstrap. Each day yielded three or four pounds per person, which was a welcome
addition to our rations.
By sharing our resources, especially the Red Cross parcels, we had a little surplus to barter with the guards. I was never let down in a deal. They were absolutely honest! Our communal approach meant that our billet lived in relative comfort.
The Germans were constantly amazed by our industry, while we were puzzled by the Germans. They could treat us with civility and respect, yet treated people, who we saw as their fellow countrymen with utter depravity. I was assigned to a party at the sand and gravel pits and would pass hundreds of Jews shuffling to work. Dressed in striped uniforms adorned with the Star of David, they were barely recognizable as human beings. At the end of the day, their numbers were always reduced from those that set off in the morning. We could look out from Fort Rauch to the Jewish camp sited in a former sports stadium. One weekend I noticed three tripods had been erected in the centre and that a body hung from each one The Jews had to walk round and witness this as their comrades died in anguish. We sometimes tried to pass food to them. Discovery would result in fearful reprisals, so we were forced to avoid contact.
Another side of German character revealed itself one evening when we were given a day's holiday. On assembling for roll call at 10.30 the next morning we noticed that a platform had been erected in the courtyard. Three staff cars drove up and several Germans officers stepped out to take up position on the platform. They announced that they had come to honour British troops. This was greeted with jeers and catcalls, until we realized that a citation was being read. The name of Grenadier Guardsman, Corporal Nichols was called and he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Other men were called to receive awards and notice of their military medals. It was hardly credible; the Germans had come to honour brave men.
At 1.30 one morning, I was ordered out of bed, issued with old clothes and taken by lorry to a barbed wire enclosure next to a railway siding outside Poznan. It was guarded by heavily armed troops and SS. When a train pulled in guards pushed open the boxcar doors and Russian prisoners of war, were forced out. They were in a desperate condition, mostly either crawling or sliding out of the filthy truck. We were given grappling hooks and told to rake out the trucks. We pulled bodies out and laid them on the ground, like bundles of blankets. Once each truck was clear, the train moved forward, the Russians climbed back in and the process repeated itself. A pile of dead began to mount up, but we noticed a sign of life in one man and laid his body away from the rest. An SS officer moved across and asked, "Why have you placed this body here?" "He's not dead", we replied. He pulled out a revolver and shot him in the head. "He is now. Put him with the others."
Our nightmare did not end when the train was eventually cleared. The bodies were loaded onto lorries, taken to the outskirts of the town and placed in a mass grave. We washed down with disinfectant back at camp and were given an extra ration of food. When I reflect on this and the spectacle within the Jewish camp, I can easily understand the horrors of the concentration camps.
We were determined to maintain our dignity and would march out on work parties with as much pride as we could muster. One day we marched to a Luftwaffe training station to repair a parade ground. The marching was so impressive that a German sergeant major halted his recruits to watch us. "Look," he shouted, "these men are prisoners of war, yet they march better than you." We found ourselves marching up and down the square so the recruits could see how it should be done and then rewarded with a meal at the canteen. That was our day's work!
Rigby, cheerful Yorkshireman, epitomized our spirit. He strode about whistling and ordinarily this was tolerated by the Germans. But the mood changed one day and the whistling was interpreted as insulting. He was ordered to stop. This made him even more determined and he whistled even louder. The guard shouted, "If you don't stop, I will shoot!" Undaunted, he carried on. The guard shot him in cold blood. Rigby's closest friend became a lonely and sad figure after this. He survived the war but was tragically killed in a plane crash at Hindhead whilst flying home. Both had been jolly fellows, but never lived to enjoy the freedom they so richly deserved.
There were lots of homemade crystal sets round the camp, but we needed something more powerful to pick up the BBC World Service. Piece by piece the equipment was obtained from the Poles in exchange for chocolate and tea, and once complete the radio was stored in specially shaped spaces cut out in the underside of our billet table. Access was strictly limited, so the transcribed notes of each broadcast were read in specified places. The Germans constantly searched for the illicit radio, but never uncovered the hiding place. In fact, in the process of a search, clothes and blankets were often tossed onto the table, adding to the radio's concealment. Sometimes a crystal set would be deliberately planted in the heap and the Germans would leave thinking they had scored a great success.
The exchange of goods between prisoners of war and Germans or native Poles was a thriving business, but it was important never to forget the risks involved, especially for the Poles. At one period, we worked at a saw mill, cutting timber for rough hewn furniture. The Poles exchanged white bread and eggs, normally only available to Germans, for coffee or cigarettes. Perhaps the barter became too lively, for the Gestapo became suspicious and mounted a spot-check as we finished work. This revealed a cache of forbidden goods, which were confiscated and dumped beside the road. A lorry was then called to run over the precious items. This was the least of our worries; we were more anxious about the Poles in the mill. Fortunately, the spot-check gave them time to hide the chocolate and tea. There was no sign of contraband when the mill was later searched, and the brave Poles were saved from punishment.
Though exempt from war work our labour could be used for civil projects, so for six months I laid a mains sewer in Poznan... The German engineers supervising the work, made sure the trenches were properly shored-up but never examined the base of the trench. This provided the opportunity for a little sabotage. We always left a gap underneath the pipes, so that while they looked perfectly placed from inspection above, they would collapse once the trench was back-filled. We appeared to be working for the Germans, but the work was of no use to anyone.
For a while I worked as a medical orderly under the supervision of the MO, Captain Lansdale, who came from Henley, and the Dental Officer, Captain Crab. One day a fellow arrived with a bad case of pyorrhea; he would have lose all his teeth. A gauze mask was placed over his face and he was anaesthetized with chloroform. As his teeth were pulled they scattered over the floor. When the patient woke up he announced that he had changed his mind and wanted his teeth back. Then he collapsed. Captain Crab picked up the teeth and set them in a plaster cast, which he presented to the patient as an ashtray when he came round.
It was obvious that most of my years as an enlisted man would be spent in captivity and that when freedom arrived I would need a new career. The Church had always interested me since I had served at the altar in my local Anglican Church, so I began to study religion. The Red Cross supplied books on divinity and a primer on Greek and Latin. Thus prepared I led an act of worship every Sunday morning for nearly two and a half years. They were always attended by about forty men, who sang the hymn with great gusto, relying on memory for tunes because we didn't have any musical instruments.
Regrettably, this changed, when a Scottish Presbyterian minister arrived and took over services. His interpretation of Christian life was far removed from mine and though I went to services, I withdrew from participation. Others shared my feelings and attendances fell away. I shared a billet with Jack Naish, a veteran of the Great War, who also came from Reading. He fell ill with consumption and was moved to the Fort Acht sanatorium. He was given a full military funeral when he died. Years later, I was able to visit his widow and presented her with photographs of the funeral taken by the Red Cross. It was a moment of deep emotion.
I was transferred with thirty other men, from Fort Rauch to Camp 21Dd14 at Krotoszyn, 100 kilometres from Poznan. It was sited in the countryside, next to a hospital and consisted of wooden huts. We were not made welcome; the rest of the camp kept its distance, and we were labelled "the Poznan Crowd".
We were set to work on a land reclamation project, about 2.5 km from the camp and soon found that the amount of work specified for a day could easily be completed in half that time, giving us time to play football in the afternoons. This arrangement seemed to suit the German authorities and the contractors. Before long, lightly wounded soldiers from the hospital gathered on the touchlines to support the matches, while others cheered from the hospital windows overlooking the field. It became very competitive; "The Poznan Crowd" played the rest of the camp and there was even an "England v Scotland" international. The principle of 'agreed work' continued to everyone's mutual advantage until the project was inspected by a party of SS officers. They announced there was no such thing as 'agreed work' and that we would work for a full day under their supervision. We therefore resolved to work as slowly as possible. The more they ranted and raved at our lack of progress, the more we slowed down. They were furious and kept us working until late at night, but it didn't make any difference. Eventually they gave in. We resumed 'agreed work' and the task was finished in no time at all.
Unlike other prisoners in the camp, who shared their Red Cross parcels in pairs or possibly groups of three, our group shared between the entire group of thirty, and after a while we saved up stocks of tea, coffee and biscuits. Quite a social atmosphere developed within our rooms, and games of cards and dominoes became popular. Rounds sawn-off rounds from fir trees served as dartboards and darts were improvised from spent cartridge shells scrounged from the guards. As confidence and proficiency grew, we issued a challenge to the rest of the camp.
The 'Grand Tournament' proved hugely successful and as a final flourish we produced refreshments and everyone shared our carefully conserved cache of luxuries. It helped to break the frosty atmosphere between ourselves and the rest of the camp and other activities sprung up round the camp. Harry Tossel and a chap named Stonier, had a background in amateur dramatics and set about organising a concert party in our hut. A colourful poster advertised the event and included an invitation to the German Commandant. I accompanied an evening of songs, monologues and one-act plays at the piano to everyone’s enjoyment. It was a grand evening and once again, refreshments were served at the finale.
The arrival of Red Cross parcels each week was a moment of particular joy. It was like delving into a box of precious treasure - l/2lb of tea, tins of powdered milk, egg, corned beef or meat loaf, stew, bacon, fruit, vegetables, salmon or sardines, cubes of Marmite, a bar of chocolate, and a bar of soap.
Families and friends could write to us as often as they liked and could send a parcel of clothing every quarter. Woollen jumpers, gloves, socks and balaclava helmets were always most welcome. Thanks to my relatives, I received a supply of cigarettes each month. They were much better than the foul German Junmac cigarettes available at the camp shop. They were nothing more than a cardboard tube filled with blackcurrant leaves. But, best of all, English cigarettes were the nearest thing we had to hard currency.
The Germans only interfered with the parcels on one occasion, and that followed an escape attempt from another camp when items were found on the escapees. For a while, tins had to be pierced and the contents used straightaway, but a sensible arrangement was eventually reached, whereby parcels were held in a central store and withdrawn as required under the supervision of a guard who pierced the tins on issue. The contents diminished as the war progressed and we were thankful for supplementary parcels from the Canadian Red Cross. The packets of pure coffee they sent us could demand almost anything in barter from the Germans.
Dried raisins and prunes were used to make wine. We fermented a mixture of fruit, sugar and yeast in some churns which we had scrounged and strained the contents were into screwtop bottles obtained from the hospital. These were laid in a hiding place underneath the floorboards and left to brew. At roll call one night, a guard was startled by a frightful bang, followed by a succession of explosions. He began shouting and reached for his revolver. Fortunately, we were able to calm him and explain that there wasn’t an air raid attack, just exploding pop bottles. So ended our venture in wine making.
After fourteen months at Krotoszyn, we returned to Fort Rauch and were assigned to clearing up damage caused by recent bombing raids on Poznan. A German civilian took charge. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and as broad as a barn door, typifying one's idea of a Prussian officer, but as long as we got on with our work he didn't harass us. One morning we found him crying on his office steps. His wife had been bombed out of her home in Germany and was coming to join him at Poznan. The man was in despair because he had nowhere for her to stay.
He was a decent fellow, so we decided to help him. In the next three days we gathered enough timber for a room to built on the side of his office and to be furnished with rough-hewn furniture. The lady burst into tears when she discovered what we had done and adopted our work party as if we were lost orphans; mending tears in shirts and darning holes in our socks. This reminded us that common humanity still existed in the hearts of ordinary people even in the midst of war
In August 1944, the camp was ordered to pack and assemble in the courtyard. No destination was given but it was clear we would not be returning to Fort Rauch. As a final ceremony we allowed the guards to share the secret of the camp radio and placed the upturned table on trestles on the parade ground to reveal the hiding place. Luckily, they accepted this in good spirit.
We marched to the railway station, boarded cattle trucks and in insufferable heat travelled south to Lamsdorf, near the Carpathian Mountains. It was more of a staging centre than the work camps we were used to. Sergeant Major Lord, the Senior British Officer, put me in touch with two fellow prisoners from Reading; Les Joyce, who was soon repatriated to England, having been wounded in the leg, and Alan Chittenden, with whom I’d been at school. Then I made a strange encounter, for walking towards me one morning was Tommy White, whose family owned a garage in the town. He looked straight through me, and denied he was Tommy White when I greeted him. He relaxed after a while and in the course of a walk away from buildings and possible eaves-droppers, explained he had assumed the identity of Flying Officer Monk, who was making an attempt to escape. The subterfuge worked. Monk reached England and wrote to Tommy, who retained his new identity until the end of the war.
The wail of air-raid sirens interrupted our first meal at Lamsdorf. Instead of diving for cover, the inmates climbed onto roofs and pointed at the aircraft circling the camp thousands of feet above. It was as if the camp had chosen the camp as a rendezvous point. I could hardly believe this extraordinary sight. When the aircraft returned from the raid, camp veterans were able to calculate how many planes had been lost. Indeed, it was not unusual for airmen to join us a few days later, having been shot down. Just as I thought the last of the bombers had limped away, I heard the swish of a plane diving and dived underneath a hut. Two explosions followed in quick succession. I thought that a terrible mistake had been made and that the camp had been targeted. I was correct in one sense: a Mustang escort fighter had dropped a surplus fuel tank and blown a hole in the perimeter fence. The camp was frantic with activity when I emerged from shelter and a dog guarded the space in the fence. Raids became a matter of routine, but the first was both exhilarating and unnerving.
Lamsdorf was an enormous complex with separate compounds for Australian, New Zealand, African, French and Canadian prisoners, and these were sub-divided according to service and rank. Movement was permitted, though we had to return for evening roll call. Life was well organised and each day a list of activities was displayed in the orderly room. One notice caught my eye and I joined the camp choir, conducted by Bob Tullet.
He was an inspirational character and announced that we would present Handel's Messiah for at Christmas. There was no shortage of musical instruments, which had been acquired through the Red Cross, but the sheet music was in short supply. Bob divided us into our respective parts; first tenors, second tenors, etc, and dispatched us to transcribe our parts onto scraps of paper as the one person who had the music called out the notes. This took three days and then we started rehearsals, sometimes with a flute for accompaniment. When Christmas Day arrived, we had to perform it three times to meet the demand for tickets. For a while, it was possible to set aside thoughts of hunger and separation from home, and share the message of peace in the story of Christ's birth
The New Year brought news that we should pack and prepare to move. Temperature fell to below zero, and five feet of dry, powdery snow lay on the ground as Captain Gibbons, the Senior British Medical Officer, led a thousand-strong column of men out of Lamsdorf in a westward march to Germany in mid-January 1945. The Germans believed they were protecting us from Russians who were rapidly advancing from the east. Instead, we were obliged to take our chances with cold, hunger, sickness and exhaustion.
Towing my belongings on an improvised sledge, I helped supervise the sick, who were allowed to ride on a horse-drawn cart. Frostbite was the most immediate danger and I constantly searched around me for telltale signs, rubbing affected areas to revive circulation if the colour of a man's nose or ears changed. Blisters and sore feet also caused great discomfort and sometimes led to infection, which could only be treated with blue gentian.
The first night was spent in a barn large. On other occasions we took refuge in a network of small prison camps and hospitals that Gibbons located on an earlier to repatriate a group of prisoners. At each stop, he offered medical help to locals and in return they gave us food and took care of prisoners too weak with sickness to continue. The survival of so many was due largely to the leadership of Captain Gibbons.
Sadly, there were casualties along the way. At least one prisoner became crazed by the dazzle of the snow and monotony of the landscape that he ran off, to be shot down by a guard. Perhaps it was a release: he may have fallen by the roadside to freeze to death.
After three months, the column crossed the River Elbe, climbed a hill to Meizen barracks. After three days rest, we set off again, on what would be the final leg of a 500-mile journey. On 8th March, we reached Frankfurt am Main. The sound of gunfire seemed to draw closer every day, fuelling hopes that we would soon be liberated by the Americans. News was confirmed that Captain Gibbons accompanied the Camp Commandant into the city and that formal surrender had been arranged with representatives of Allied forces. The camp would be handed over to the Americans at 10 o'clock the next morning.
For many, the anticipation of release after years of privation, became too much to bear. One man beckoned me to his bedside in the makeshift hospital, drew a photograph from his pocket, and pressed it into my hand. 'My wife', he said. 'It won't be long before I see her now.' With that he took a deep breath and passed away in my arms. Eleven men died that night. It was one of the most distressing experiences I had encountered. I became so upset that in the end I could not respond to any more calls for help.
The first tank arrived at precisely 10 a.m., 8th April, and came to a halt outside the hospital hut. A young officer greeted Captain Gibbons and announced that we were no longer prisoners of war. His eyes caught sight of a man lying in a pitiful state inside the hut. "Gee whiz!" he gasped as I scooped the lice from the hollows of the man's cheeks and eye sockets. The American stared in disbelief and pushed his helmet to the back of his head.
Ambulances began to arrive and men were gently lifted from their beds and taken to a nearby field-hospital. Fearful men would become ill from over-eating, Gibbons took charge of the ration boxes which had been distributed through the camp. The American officers were less strict with their own men, and many were sick as a result.
Evacuation got under way and after a few days only Captain Gibbons, Sergeant Knight, the Senior British Warrant Officer, an interpreter, 10 other men and myself, were left. Eventually we climbed aboard a lorry and drove to a nearby airfield. An army of black servicemen were on hand to swathe our bodies with soap under piping hot showers. We emerged as bright as shining pins, and free of lice for the first time in 5 years. More soldiers were on hand to rub us dry and then I joined a queue to be issued with uniform. I boarded a Dakota as a fully fledged GI., and was greeted by a full military band when I arrived at Orley, Paris.
We set off for England almost immediately, though not before stocking up with ring doughnuts, chewing gum, cigarettes, and steaming coffee at the canteen. The aircraft touched down at Oakley, Oxfordshire; setting foot on English soil for the first time in five years was an emotional moment. After a meal, we set off for Beaconsfield and picked up a hitchhiker on the way. When he realised we were liberated POWs, he insisted on stopping at a pub so that he could honour our homecoming with a pint.
The formalities were completed at Beaconsfield with multiple form-filling. I took my place in line before a parade of trestle tables, where a stack of 12 forms awaited my name, regimental number and signature. Once the final form had been signed, I exchanged my GI combat clothes for a brand-new uniform, already displaying my chevron and regimental and issued with money, ration vouchers and 6 weeks' issue of NAAFI chits.
My family imagined of course, that I was still in Poland. I could remember the telephone number of my cousin, Sid Slade, found a telephone box and gave him a call him, giving little thought to the lateness of the hour. He was so surprised by my voice that he dropped the phone. I told him that I was safe and well and hoped to be in Reading the next day. He promised to pass the news straight on to my parents. I slept well that night.
The next morning I was issued with a rail pass and took the train to Reading. It had changed little in my absence and I caught a bus home. 6, Gloucester Road was festooned with red and white bunting and Union flags. The front door was open, so stepped in without knocking, dropped my kitbag in the hall and walked through to the front room, where everyone was seated in a circle. "Hello, everybody", I announced boldly. The embarrassed silence was broken when my mother began to cry. My father soon followed her and then I joined in. They had so looked forward to this moment, but imagined I would arrive with style in a taxi. Instead I had taken them by surprise.
I spent my first days visiting friends and catching up on news. My former clergyman, Father Tappenden, suggested that I spend some time at Southbourne, but within a few days of arriving I was taken ill with jaundice and admitted to a Red Cross Hospital. My body weight had dropped to below 8 stone, and I had no strength or resistance to fight the illness. The next 6 weeks were spent on a diet alternating between, black tea and toast, and beef tea and toast. When I finally came to drink tea with milk and sugar, it was so insipid that I reverted to black tea, a taste which remained with me until I was 65.
On posting to Morpeth for medical examination, I was horrified to discover that I was classified C3; the lowest standard of fitness. I was sent at once to RAMC Barracks at Scarborough for convalescence. The gentle nursing and careful diet — each morning I was expected to drink a pint of milk on parade — gradually restored my health, and after one year I was declared Al. I was ready to resume civilian life and in September 1946 left the army and joined Reading Borough Police Force.
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