L/Cpl Percy Andrews life story

My Story

Percy Williams Andrews.

This is the life story of Percy William Andrews, born on the 5th April 1922, born to Medora and Daniel Andrews at the Old Barracks Sellindge near Ashford Kent.

Being the youngest of 3 brothers and 2 sisters my early days were spent playing with the other children that lived nearby, there was 5 other families that lived at the same place. Living in the country we had to make our own play which was usually around the country lanes.

My school days were at Sellindge Village School and the church school on Sundays were I learnt to ring the bells. My father had a small holding and was also a chimney sweep, and to make more money to help keep the family he cut up wood, and on a Saturday morning I would go with him round the houses with the pony and cart to sell the logs.

My mother as well as looking after the house had to look after the animals, we had some farm animals, a pony and a donkey, and they were used to pull the carts and the donkey we used to ride on. The donkey was brought from someone that used it for rides on Margate sands.

In the spring when it was hay making time the grass was cut by hand with a sythe. Being a boy I along with my family had to help turn the grass for it to dry into hay and then make stacks which was then turned into animal feed for the winter months.

Christmas day was always a quiet time and the old fashion house we lived in was decorated with paper chains holly and ivy, this custom I still follow in my own home 80 years on. On Boxing morning the men and boys with the ferrets and nets made their way to the woods to try to catch some rabbits, this would take us until dinner time when my mother with my sisters would have a lovely dinner cooked waiting for us when we returned.

Sadly my dad died when I was 11 years old so things became very hard but having older brothers it was easier for me, at the age of 14 I left school and my mother found me a job in a poultry farm which was quite near.

I had to be at the farm by 7 o'clock each morning, first thing was to go round and let the poultry out and to take the food round to the houses, that would take us till about 9 o'clock which meant it was time for a break. There was another chap called Fred that worked there but I didn't really get on well with him. Twice a day we had to collect the eggs and late afternoon we had to clean them for the day, this was done using just a damp cloth, we had no machines in those days. The rest of the day was spent cleaning the poultry houses out.

Later on through that year Fred was called up for the forces so I had to take on the plucking of the birds for the table, this was a busy time at Christmas as there was geese and turkeys as well, after being there for 4 years I myself was called up for the forces.

Being called to the army was a strange new life and a hard time, I was sent to Arundel which is in Sussex for infantry training for 6 weeks with the Sussex Regiment, billeted at the old school. Whilst there some of the group went down with some disease so the school had to be cleaned out. Those of us that were still fit had to go down to the castle for another 6 weeks. Our training took place in the grounds of the castle. From the Sussex Regiment I was transferred to the 10th Essex who were on coastal defence.

This was to protect the coast, the main object was to reach some coast guard cottages it was very weird at night to leave our billet as these houses were about 4 miles down a farm track with mines each side of the road. One house was taken over, one room for observation over the sea, the other for a rest room. One night when I was on guard with a mate we thought the invasion had started as there was some sort of battle going on, it was a marvellous site with the shells and flashes from the guns, by the morning it was all quiet so we were stood down and sent back to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire.

The next day we had to go and help to pick up potatoes on one of the Fen farms. We were there for one day. I think we were suppose to work like slaves or that's what the farmer thought, the sergeant in charge of the party reported to the officer that he would not be taking us back there again. For the rest of the time we were sent to the sugar factory taking the young plants of the old sugar beets, these young plants were then replanted and then when old enough would run to seed and this would make the next crop.

The 10th Essex was disbanded and reformed into an airborne Para unit, I stayed with the new unit to learn to jump but it was found I was to light and was given back to the Essex Regiment in the 2nd Battalion on the Isle of Wight. I was there for a short stay and was moved into the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This move was to Ilfracombe, Devon, this was where the new regiment was learning to scale the rocky coast by ropes. Not knowing at the time this was in preparation for the Normandy landings. Being part of the new company we left Ilfracombe by lorries, these had the kit and supplies aboard, the rest of the main party had to march with exercise on the way to Bulford Camp, Wiltshire. As the main party neared the barracks we in the new party who had returned by lorries had to defend the barracks.

This is the start of being in the airborne which meant this was the way of being taken to war. The training was very heavy with long route marches, sometimes 3 or 4 days away from the barracks, the cooks with the field kitchens supplies us with food but only short rations when we rested before moving on.

To stay with the Ox and Bucks, I had to do 3 flights in a small glider each flight longer than the other, the reason was if you were ill on take-off or landing you was moved out of the airborne.

In August 1943, I was allowed leave to attend my brother’s wedding in Brabourne near Ashford in Kent, I had to have special permission to go as it was a protected army. At the wedding I met a young lady by the name of Margaret Mills she was also a guest and a distant cousin of the bride, I being the best man had to see that everything went well, after the reception was a short affray. Before I left with my mother and another brother on the local bus back to Sellendge, I got talking to this young lady and was getting friendly but I wasn't the only person that was keen on her as love goes, so we went round behind a hay stack so others couldn't see us so we could talk and that was the start of being together..

On my next leave we went to Hastings, that's me and the young lady, I proposed to her to get married, the ring had to be cheap as I only had my army money, it came from a pawn brokers, I paid about £15. After we were married a local jeweller said he would give me £200 for it. Our engagement was in the September of that same year, this my mother didn't agree with saying we hadn't known each other long enough. My next leave was to be a Christmas the same year, my wife-to-be agreed that we would get married at Christmas and I had to get special permission from the colonel for it, but Christmas came and the regiment was on standby with no leave and Christmas eve we were shipped to Calais were we stayed overnight. On Christmas day we started to move up to the Ardennes passing through the 1914 battle fields, the only food that day was one cheese sandwich, our Christmas dinner was still back at barracks in Bulford. I finally managed to get weekend leave and special permission in January and we were finally married on the 22nd January 1944.

The Ardennes Campaign March took place in the winter; it was very cold with heavy falls of snow. We moved from Calais. The reason the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry were sent there was the fact the advanced party of the Para’s were held up and could not move as there was a German Field Gun firing on them. My regiment at the time wasn't in reserve so we had the job to go around the hill to divert the guns attention of, off the Para party.

The Ardennes was very hilly and woody with the river running through, a story I can tell about how cold it was, a chap from another unit was sent on guard and when he was relieved he was frozen stiff but by luck he was thawed out and brought back to life. When in the Ardennes the regiment had a week’s rest, my unit was put up with the local people in Flohimont Givet just over the border in France, myself with another corporal. The lady of the place was making black pudding she offered some of it, we said no that was her family’s food and we had our own. Her husband worked in the local iron foundry; before he went to work he always came out and called to tell us it was 6 o'clock and time for us to get back to the unit.

I have been back to the Ardennes and have seen much of the area and also parts of the old machine line which was one of the German defences.

Normandy 6th June 1944.

As I have said before I was at Bulford Barracks in training for the Normandy landings on the French coast. We were taken on long marches in full battle order, which was rifle, armour and other gear a very heavy load. The time had come for the need to move to France, being airborne groups we were put in quarantine under armed guard which meant we was not allowed to leave the array. On the 5th June the eve before D Day we were taken by trucks to an airfield in the South of England to where the gliders were. A glider which I was in held 28 people plus a hand cart with the extra supplies, there was 2 pilots to each glider, the time came for us to take off and form up in the air with the rest of the show. The glider I was in was towed across the aerodrome but for some reason would not lift so was towed back to the start again, by that time the Armanda was formed up and it wasn't safe for us to go, as on the 2nd attempt the glider still wouldn't lift and was stopped at the church wall and it was found that the chocks in the wings had not been taken out.

My unit then was taken down to Southampton to get a boat to take us across to France, the old boat was fuelled by coal carried up in baskets. We got to France and landed at the handmade Marlborough Harbour, and then we went to shore on a flat boat. We were lucky, the small unit which was 28 persons were still together, our object was to get to Pegasus Bridge to where our airborne party should have been.

From the harbour to Pegasus Bridge was about 40 miles, most of the time we were moving in German lines. When we got there, the bridge had been taken by those that came by air, we left the bridge and moved to higher ground in the woods, this is where I got wounded with 5 others of my mates who didn't make it.

I was taken to the coast and back to England to a hospital where it was found I had a bullet in my shoulder. After leaving hospital I was sent to a battalion at Colchester, then to Dover on coastal defence. Next I was sent back to my old regiment again, same room same company, back in Bulford, this was to get ready for the next trip; I did not know where I was going.

All leave was stopped again and we were sent to a trans camp and then onto an aerodrome, somewhere in the south again. We were put in Horsa gliders, this time the glider took off and we were on our way to the last crossing of the Rhine. I was in the air for 4 hours 20 minutes the glider was one of the few that landed safe with no one hurt. Our job was to take the road bridge over a canal at Hamminkeln, this we took. I was in luck of not getting hurt, the bridge was taken within 48 hours. After that the airborne was flown back to England but the few of us that were still ok was reformed and moved up to the Baltic coast to help to control the German people still on the move.

After about 6 weeks we were on way home again back to barracks. At that time I was made a full corporal and had section of men to look after. Back on camp I was called to the orderly room and was told by the officer that there was a vacant job to fill, I was then offered the job of post orderly, the only thing was it was a Lance Corporal job so was told if I took the job I would have to give up one stripe. I accepted it, this is one of the best jobs in the army. I would collect the mail at 9am and again at 2pm after doing that the time was my own.

My next move was to go to the Far East, we were sent up to Liverpool then on a boat to the Mediterranean arriving at Haifa and then down by road to Palestine. My job as post corporal was still the same. At Xmas I was hoping to go to Bethlehem but wasn't back in time and the party had gone. But I was lucky enough to go around the old town of Jerusalem in the Arab quarter, a young lad in a truck took 3 of us, although we did have to give him some money, it was worth it. Whilst we were camping in Palestine our camp had to be moved due to torrential rain which washed snakes down from the mountains.

My time out there was coming to an end, I had an order to get my things together as I was heading back to England, and I was being demobbed out of the army. I wrote to my wife to see if there were any jobs going on the farm where her parents worked, the reply came back yes, I would be given a month’s trial.

I stayed working on the Coleman farms at Goshall and Weddington in Ash for 17 years doing all sorts as it was a mixed farm with hops, farm animals and fruit. One of the first jobs was to go with the old horses, they worked in pairs, there were 3 full time Waggoner’s, in my early days there I had to go with one of them. There were no tractors in those days and everything had to be done by man and horse. The ploughing was done by a single plough it took a whole day to do one acre of land. To follow on to this, the ground was harrowed before the seed were sown again, the drills were all hand done. Going away from the horses I had to learn to walk on stilts in the hop gardens, I went with my brother-in-law Vic, as he had done this for many years. The hops were grown up strings, 18 feet of the ground to wire at the top, ladies then came to train the binds up the string.

By now we were getting tractors to replace the horses, in the hop garden the horse was still used to go up through the binds, this work was the same all year round. I had a small tractor as the large tractors were too wide to go through, so most of the ground work I had to do. There was spraying, pounding besides clearing the ground, when the hops were ripe they were handpicked into baskets where they were measured into larger baskets and taken into the farms oast house for drying. When there were fully dry they were pressed into large pockets and stored to the end of picking. Other work was hoeing and sorting out the small plants, pruning the fruit trees, as the year went on there was always other jobs to do with the sheep and cattle.

My life on the farm came to an end when I was ploughing and the tractor tipped over and the plough jammed and my back took the worst of it, I was going to the hospital for 7 months for treatment, I was told at the hospital I could not go back to work on the farm as I could only do light work so had to leave the job I had been on the same farm for 17 years. I was living in a farm cottage so it meant I had to get out, my boss Mr Coleman was very good and said I could stay until I got some other place so I went and saw the parish councillor to see if he could help, I knew him very well, he also ran a coach firm which I had hired from to take family and friends on a day to the seaside. He thought he could help as there were new places being built and one of those came my way. Here I have lived ever since. Getting the house I was able to look for other work, whilst I was out of work I learnt to drive and passed my test. I was lucky enough to get a driving job at Jacobs’ the local ironmongers delivering for them.

Sadly this is where Percy Andrews become unwell and never got to complete his story, so his youngest daughter Jeanne has continued on his behalf...

My father worked at Jacobs and with money he saved he brought a car for the family and took them on camping holiday until he retired. Once he had retired along with my mother they started going on annual pilgrimages with Jack Watson and other veterans form Second World War to Normandy for June 6th, and around 23rd March to the Rhine, Hamminkeln and the Ardennes to remember all those mates of his that never made it home from the Ox and Bucks Regiment. On these pilgrimages over the years they made many friends, which they always talked about.

My father lead a full and happy life always with my mother Margaret and there 5 children, 10 grand children and later on a number great grandchildren, he was always a happy man with a smile on his face.

They celebrated 65 years of marriage in January 2009 with a party of family and friends. He made one last trip the Rhine, Hamminkeln in March that year for the 64th anniversary but unfortunately was in hospital too ill to travel to Normandy for June 6th for the 65th anniversary of D Day.

He died 17 days later on the 23rd June 2009 at the age of 87.

Not until after my father’s death and after reading this story did anyone really know what he had been through in his life, he always spoke about bits, but never to the full extent of what he saw and went through and the many friends he lost. It was very important to him to go back on these pilgrimages over the past few years to the cemeteries to lay crosses on the ones he knew and lost.

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