In April 1940, aged 20, I received notification from the War Office that I was to report to Bedford Army Barracks to start Army service. I duly reported, did my square bashing etc, I was then in the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment, Number 5954640, and we had at that time to stand to attention to old soldiers. After training we were put on to road blocks for a few weeks, we were then called back to camp and told we were being transferred to another Regiment, it was the Buffs.
The BUFFS (The Royal East Kent Regiment) had just come from Dunkirk, having lost half the Regiment either killed or wounded, we were replacements. We joined them in Sheffield and were put up in civvy billets, role call was out in the street, but my landlady would not let me go out until I had my breakfast. I think the sergeant major was a bit scared of her, she used to open the door and shout "they're not coming out until they have had their breakfasts”. After a few weeks in Sheffield we had to go to Wales to get toughened up. Up and down them hills in the middle of summer did not make it a happy place. We were then stationed at Kington where we had to guard the water dam at Rhyador.
We were then informed that we were going abroad to the Middle East, so they gave us a week's holiday. When we returned we were told to pack our kit ready to go to Swansea to catch a boat. After 2 days it was cancelled, 2 weeks later we were told to pack our kit as we're going. So off we went to Liverpool Docks and got onboard a large pleasure boat called the Pasteur (which we had pinched from the French), so off we went to Scotland to pick up a convoy which was going to Gibraltar. Before we set off we had to change boats, as our boat was too big to carry on. We were transferred to the battleship HMS Barham, where we were not allowed on the upper deck unless we could get a sailor to lend us a hat or sailor's uniform, I didn't manage to get on the upper deck! I was sent amidships on to the 6" guns where I assisted the gunners shifting cordite. We arrived at Malta and we found that this was our destination.
I was in Malta for three years, where we lived in tents most of the time. When I wasn't filling bomb craters on Luqa airport, I was unloading ships at Valleta harbour. In 1942 they transferred me for six months to the RAF where I became a rigger's mate on Wellington bombers. It was an Australian squadron and they were going to Sicily and mainland Italy twice a night and a rigger's job was to check the aircraft for holes in the fabric. Wellington bombers were just a steel frame covered with fabric, our job was to repair the fabric with a tin of red dope, cut a piece of material and stick it over the hole. After repairing the planes it was back to the docks unloading.
In about April 1943 I was down the docks and when I got back my mates told me that a couple of officers had been around asking for volunteers to form a parachute battalion in Palestine. They told me that they had put my name down along with their own names, after a few weeks we were asked to go for a medical etc and out of our group only my old mucker Doug Stares and myself passed. We were put on a boat for Palestine and arrived there with no problems and were stationed at a small Kibbutz called Ramat David. It had a small aerodrome which we used, the planes we had were Lockheed Hudsons, eight to ten seaters, we did our eight jumps and with me on my stick was a war correspondent who was training with us, a nice guy called Leonard Moseley who worked for the Daily Express. On one of our training jumps the weather was lovely and we had all landed, we thought, and then we looked up and there was Wilkinson still hanging up. He had been caught in a hot air current, it took him a good ten minutes to land, only weighing about nine stone didn't help of course. While we were in Palestine our c.o. decided we were getting too soft and so we were going to a place in Trans Jordan called Mafrax. The main objective was to train us to blow up bridges, however, there were no bridges to practise on so we used trees. I think we blew down every tree in that area. On our way back to Palestine we had to cross the Trans Jordan desert and the CO told us this would be on foot, but he was going to be kind and let us go half way by lorry. What he didn't say, was the lorry wouldn't be stopping and we would have to jump out while it travelled at twenty five miles an hour, then walk to the River Jordan and cross it (the water came up to my chin), and this was the CO being kind to us. We finished our jumps and we were then given a week's leave, we all went to Tel Aviv, we had only been there a few days when we were told the redcaps were looking for all parachutists. We were told that we had to go back to camp A.S.A.P., so we found the lorry to take us back.( I should point out that at this time the Battalion consisted of only 100 men, we were called' A' company but that was the full Battalion strength. (The Battalion was increased to 571 men when we returned). When we arrived back at camp we were told we had to take an airport on the island of Cos, there would be a section of the SBS on the island to direct the pilots to the DZ as it was a night jump . We landed at about midnight, a few of the lads landed in the sea, most of the chutes hung over power lines, sparks everywhere. The sergeant major told my mate and myself to run down to the town and get the electricity turned off. We found the man we wanted and got him to turn all the electric lights off. We had no trouble taking the airport, there was about five thousand Italians there but they caused no trouble. We stayed about seven days until the seaborne forces took over from us, they had come from Malta and consisted of my old regiment the Buffs and the rest of that brigade. So we left by plane, but two days later the Germans dropped a load of paratroopers onto the island and took it back, killing or capturing all my old mates, so that operation was a dead loss.
In January of 1944 the powers that be decided that we had been overseas long enough, so after nearly three and a half years they decided to send us home, hurrah. Before we got home we were told that while we were on leave, not to wear our red berets, because they didn't want the Germans to know we had moved from the Middle East, (bet the Germans knew before we did). We then had a month's leave at the end of which I went to Leicester, to join the regiment which was only a hundred men strong, the battalion was the Eleventh Parachute Battalion - Fourth Brigade - First Division, and we needed a lot of recruits. We were billeted in council houses just outside Leicester at Wigston Magna, we had a couple of refresher courses at Manchester Airport but I don't think they had many spare planes as they had us jumping out of a basket under a barrage balloon. We were then transferred to Melton Mowbray, where we didn't do a lot. The C.O. used to tell us, if we caused too much trouble we should not go to the second front. Anyway the second front arrived and we didn't go, it was the other division, so our lot were a bit peeved but we still did our training. Then around the fifth or sixth of September we were told to draw our chutes from stores and put them at the end of our beds and then go to a briefing in the canteen. We were told that our battalion was going to a town in Holland, where we had to take a bridge and hold it, the bridge was called Grave and my particular platoon was given the job of silencing a large gun on the high ground. A few days later we were debriefed and sent on seven days leave, which we enjoyed. On our return to camp we were told to draw our chutes out of stores again and go for another briefing, we were told the American airborne were going to hold the two bridges at Nijmegen and Grave and the whole first division was going to Amhem. So on Sunday the seventeenth of September the First Brigade left for Amhem, on Monday 18 of September the Fourth Brigade left for Amhem and that included myself. It was quite funny that the men who had been absent and in detention were not allowed to go to Amhem with us, as a further punishment? These soldiers were left to guard the camp and as we left by lorries they waved us goodbye, what a punishment!
We enplaned and took off at 11.00hrs, it was a lovely day, we got to the Dutch coast and we were fairly low, we could see the crowds of people below waving to us but then the ack ack started. Holes started appearing in the plane's fuselage, two of the boys had been hit, it was 14.30 hrs and nearly time to go. I was jumping at number 10 as I was the container man *, because I was at the door a bit longer I saw the plane at the side of us had been hit and was crashing in flames and the boys were trying to jump out but I'm afraid it was too low for their chutes to open. All of this made me feel a bit shaky and I was not sorry when the red light went on to go. Unfortunately it was one of my worst parachute landings as I hit the dirt rather hard and dislocated my shoulder. I managed to find my company OK and got bandaged up by Cpl Erikson our medic. Although I had damaged my left shoulder I could still use my right arm, the sergeant major took my rifle and gave me his revolver, sadly the sergeant major was later killed. On the same night we marched down towards Arnhem but two other boys who were wounded and myself could not keep up so we fell out and stayed that night in some woods. Next morning we made our way to the main road and the civilians gave us some tea and a bite to eat, we were then picked up by one of our jeeps and taken to 133 field hospital, where we got treatment. At first it was great and Gerry did not worry us much, but the next day was different he sent over everything he had got, mortars and 88mm guns were the worst. Two shells went through the hospital and caused quite a few casualties, the R.C. padre being one who lost his right arm. Water was very scarce as the mains water system had been blown up, food was also a problem, our planes came over and dropped plenty of supplies nearby, all of which dropped in Gerry lines. The only container the boys managed to get to contained red berets and cap badges over which a few lost their lives, (the padre brought our dinner round to us one day which was 1 square of chocolate and one boiled sweet).
Wednesday 20 September 1944
Gerry put an attack in and captured our hospital, he treated us pretty well, we had no cigs and Gerry came round giving us players cigs and other English brands which had been intended for us, but Gerry got them all.
Thursday 21 September 1944
We're all in good spirits again as our boys had put in a counter attack and once again we are free, but this is not to last long.
Friday 22 September 1944
Gerry was once more in charge, this time he had brought one of his armoured divisions, with tiger tanks and SP 88mm guns. He was then going around in armoured cars with loud speakers telling the boys to surrender, that they had done a good job of work and that he would treat them alright, but all he got was a burst of machinegun fire.
Sunday 24 September 1944
I was taken with others to the main hospital in Arnhem and for the first time I had a piece of brown bread, which was given to us by the nuns, (all through this action the Dutch women helped us out wonderfully). On Sunday night as soon as it was dark Gerry put us into lorries and we remained in them all night, next morning we arrived at the border town of Apeldoorn and were put into a hospital, where we were fed with brown bread and jam.
Tuesday 26 September 1944
Moved to Apeldoorn station by ambulance and then put into cattle trucks, we hung around the station for 3 or 4 hours (during this time I met one of my old pals J.Ives). We were given 3 days rations consisting of a loaf of bread and a piece of meat, we were then locked in the truck and started off to our lives as POW's. But although Gerry locked the doors and had guards sitting on the trucks outside it did not stop 120 of the boys escaping.
Friday 29 September 1944
Arrived at POW camp Stalag XIB Fallingbostel, where we were searched and given a lecture by the camp commandant, and by all accounts we did not make a very good impression on him, as nearly every sentence he spoke he threatened us with death. His main talk was that we were the most insolent prisoners he had dealt with, as we had marched into camp singing and joking which didn't seem to go down too well with him. We were then given our first dinner which sort of dampened our spirits for dinner was a pint of swede water and two or three potatoes, the next day we were given a Red Cross issue of half a parcel and ten cigs, things were looking up then as a smoke certainly makes life sweeter.
Wednesday 11 October 1944
I was sent out on a working party some 70 kilos from Stalag, travelled there by motor lorry which took us twelve hours, when we arrived there we found we were to work in a sugar factory at a place called Dinklar. That same night we were given a work number and our jobs for the next day, J.Ives and myself put ourselves down as painters, thinking we would get a steady job. The first day we did but we were soon put on a heavier job on night work, our hours were from six at night till six in the morning and on night shift we got no extra food, and on 12 o'clock on Sunday making it an 18 hour shift. The only time we got off was half an hour for breakfast, when we got two slices of bread and a cup of coffee which was unsweetened (although it was a sugar factory). Also in the factory were quite a number of Polish and Russian women, forced labour.
Wednesday 20 December 1944
We were all sent back to Stalag, had three days journey in a cattle truck with no water.
Monday 25 December 1944
The Germans gave us a treat which was a small piece of meat called a steak, but it tasted quite good although it was a mule steak.
Monday 1 January 1945
We all received a treat which was a Xmas parcel from the Red Cross, so for a few days we lived well
Friday January 1 1945
Moved by cattle truck, 3 day journey to Luckenwalde Stalag IlIA, as usual the Germans gave us no water, it cost us one cigarette for a tinful of snow, which we found made marvellous ice cream when it had a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk and sugar added to it.
Monday January 15 1945
Arrived at Stalag IlIA, quite a few of the boys had frostbitten feet but got good treatment from the English MO, nearly all the old boys in Stalag111A were Irish. For the first 3 or 4 weeks we had no Red Cross issue and the Stalag rations were very poor, at nights we would talk about what we would have when we arrived home. Four of the boys caught a dog that was running about the camp, killed it and cooked it up, it looked very appetising in the pan and I fancied it myself at the time, but didn't get the chance.
Friday March 16 1945
Left Stalag111A for Altengrabow Stalag X1A, this time on the march, it felt good to be out in the open and not have barbed wire all the way round. We also fed better on the march as we could always scrounge potatoes and trade with the civilians with soap and coffee out of the Red Cross parcels, for a tin of coffee we could get two loaves.
Wednesday March 21 1945
Arrived at Altengrabow and put into tents the food was still bad here we had no bread or potatoes just a pint of soup. The Russians in the camp were treated really rough.
Thursday 29 March 1945
Received my first letter as a prisoner of war from Edna which also happened to be my last as a prisoner of war. Since I left home on the 15th September 1944 I have not heard from anyone at home.
Thursday 12 April 1945
We could hear the guns of the advancing British Army at Magderburg, next day we were rushed off on the march once again. On the first night 190 of the boys escaped and 27 of the guards went after them, my pal & I had made preparations to go, but we left it too late, as after another 4 of the boys had gone Gerry started to search the woods with dogs which spoilt our chances.
Tuesday 17 April 1945
We arrived at Annaberg / Stalag 1 VB which was the repatriation Stalag, we were at this for four days and we could now hear the guns from the Russian front. On the next day we were told to get ready to leave again, and the Germans allowed us to roam about the town, my pals and I managed to catch a fowl and we made quite a mess of plucking and cooking it. We could have stayed here and waited for the Russians, but we were told we were going to be handed over to our own troops as soon as we crossed the Elbe. So we took a chance of meeting up with our own troops, which we did on the morning of the 26th April.
Thursday 26 April 1945
We were situated in some woods near a small village, the guard was just changing when a big cheer went up and I found out that three Americans in a German car had disarmed the guards and taken us over, this was quite a feat as there was some hundred guards and about ten thousand of us. It took us about ten minutes to get ready and on the march again, at four o'clock we arrived in the American lines near Bitterfeld on the River Mulde, where we were given food and smokes, none of us slept much that night, fires were going all night and that was some sight, around 500 fires in one field.
Friday 27 April 1945 .
We were taken to Halle by truck to await transport to the UK.
During my time as a POW we tried to make it as pleasant as possible for ourselves and as unpleasant as we could for the Germans. We used most of our bed boards to make fires to brew tea, etc. We also used to fuse the lights two or three times a night, which did not go down too well, so to get their own back the Germans used to wake us up at about one or two in the morning and make us stand outside for an hour while they searched our huts.
There was nothing fancy about the way we were fed either, our swede soup used to arrive in dustbins and we used to line up to get our rations. I remember one of the lads used to hang about until everyone had been served and the dustbin was empty and then stand on his head in the dustbin to lick out anything that had been left.
One of the funniest things happened just before the war ended, early part of 1945, there was about ten thousand of us and we had been on the march three or four weeks , sleeping in fields at night. On this particular day a despatch rider rode up to the front of the column where the senior German officers were marching, and all of a sudden a big cheer went up from all the German guards. After a while we asked the guard nearest to us, what all the cheering was about and he said that the despatch rider had brought a message from the top German brass saying that Mr Churchill and Mr Hitler had agreed to work together and fight the Russians. They shook hands with us and called us their comrades, this lasted a while until they must have got further information somehow, because we were then told it wasn't true, I wonder who the despatch rider was?
So we were sent back to Blighty for leave, my old regiment was disbanded and they sent me to Yorkshire for a couple of months, they then transferred me too Ringway Airport where I was put in the cookhouse as a mess orderly* *, so I was serving all the new intake into the Paras. I got to know quite a few W.A.A.F’s who were there with us and I would love to know what happened to one of them called "Twink".
From Ringway we were all transferred to another training Airfield at Upper Heyford and I was demobbed from there.
I was demobbed in October 1946 and was given about six weeks leave with full pay and a new demob suit, a pair of shoes, a trilby hat and if I wanted I could buy my great coat, things haven't changed have they! Don't forget I wasn't a soldier, I was a conscript for nearly seven years.
p.s. But I enjoyed it, you can understand now why we joined the Parachute Regiment, it was the extra two shillings a day we were paid.
A container man jumps in the middle of the stick because underneath the plane there are two large canisters loaded with arms which cannot be carried in the plane. So when the container man jumps he has to press a green button over the door to release the canisters and you say "canister - canister" and then jump, if you jump too soon one of the canisters would probably hit you.
I was the only Para in the cookhouse the rest were RAF personnel.
Note 1 Pay for private soldiers in 1939 was fourteen shillings (70p) a week, married men received half this amount with the other half been paid to his wife. Out of that seven shillings he was stopped two shillings, the first shilling was for barrack room damage and the second shilling, so we were told, (I don't know if this was correct) was to pay for the blanket you was buried in if you got killed.
I was paid like a married man7 shillings (35p) a week as my mother was a widower and had half my wages stopped and the government also allowed my mother some money.
Note 2 While we were stationed at Malta, after a while we were not getting supply boats making it so we ran short of most things mainly items like petrol and of course food. So what happened in our regiment, we were all issued with push bikes. We were taken to our various jobs on our push bikes, but we had to learn horse drill so when we were all lined up in companies standing at attention with our push bikes the sergeant major would say, walk march. The next order would be, prepare to mount then it would be, mount, so all the legs went over together what a sight, better than the guards. The same orders were given when we had to stop, prepare to dismount, dismount. Quite a number of the boys could not ride bikes, it was fun teaching them, so if they learned else in the army at least they learned to ride a bike. I have no idea where they managed to get all the bikes from.
Compiled by Ted Short
Source: Ted ShortRead More