This page contains information on with those who served abroad in World War Two. More information can be obtained through the links at the end of each individual's piece. Read about the 5th Beds and Herts in the Far East in Bernard Lamb's article on this site.
(Interview by Alex Brook, November 2008.)
Ken Blake was in action from very early in the war, in France, as part of the 4th Battalion of the Royal East Kent Regiment. This was part of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) which was sent as part of the effort to hold back the advancing German army. As the British army fought the Germans, it was eventually forced back to the beaches at Dunkirk. Here, they waited for ships to rescue them to take them back to England. But some soldiers had to defend those on the beaches. Ken Blake was one of those and says:
My squad was one of the last out of France. As the troops came into Dunkirk some were appointed to the defensive shield round the outer perimeter of Dunkirk and I was one of them. This was to allow the troops to escape from the beaches. When the signal came for us to leave it was too late to get on the boats and we were told to get out the best way we could. We decided to go up the coast and came across a Renault car. We managed to get it going and all piled in. We finally escaped from the port of Le Havre on the last destroyer leaving occupied France. Only a quarter out of the 800 in my battalion got away.
Having escaped from France, Ken Blake was sent to Malta. It was crucial for the Allies to hold this island as it helped them to control shipping in the Mediterranean. Ken Blake had a job servicing Spitfires and received the George Cross.
After serving in Malta, Ken became part of 234 Commando Brigade in North Africa. They had a target of capturing the Aegean Islands just off the coast of Turkey. Ken says that he was on HMS Eclipse on the way there when it hit a mine which blew up the front end of the ship. He remembers,
Hundreds of the lads were drowned but I had had a tip that there were lots of mines in the sea and it was safest to stay at the stern of the boat so I survived. I took my heavy clothing off, climbed onto the railings and managed to get hold of a cork life belt. There was a young fellow sitting on the railings and he was screaming. He’d been blinded by the blast and I could do nothing for him. That haunts me even today. In those circumstances the golden rule is every man for himself; so I jumped. I didn’t realise it was 60 feet above the water. I hit the sea with a wallop. There were hundreds and hundreds of lads around me badly burned. The whole sea was on fire. I had a bit of common sense and realised I had to get out of there as quick as I could so I swam and swam for 5 hours and was finally picked up just as dawn was breaking. I was in hospital for a bit and then rejoined my own unit.
When he was next in action, Ken was captured by the Germans and put on a ship headed for Athens with other PoWs. He eventually reached a prison camp in Leipzig. He describes this as a hard labour camp, which meant that prisoners had to carry out very hard work, often lifting or digging, with little food and rest. The work involved tasks that the Germans needed done to help their war effort. In such a situation, many men decided to try to escape. Ken decided to do this with four others. The men chose their moment carefully:
It was a terrible night and the German guards didn’t like standing out in the pouring rain. We got under the wire and made a run for it. The objective was to make it to the American 8th Army at Gera which was south of Leipzig. We travelled only at night sleeping during the day. Half way, we lost one of the fellows. He was so ill we had to leave him. We were almost at the end of our tethers. We had no food and our clothes were in rags, but then we came to a road and saw an American tank. A couple of G.I.s [American soldiers] came racing out thinking we were Germans so we put our hands up and started shouting that we were British POWs. They took us in charge. I was in a terrible state. I had tuberculosis and weighed 3½ stone. They were so kind to us. They moved us to another American base and I was flown straight back to England.
Ken took a long time to recover from his experiences. He says that it was only when he met a girl called Ruby, whom he married within three months of meeting her, that he was nursed back to full health.
Read more about Ken Blake by clicking here.
David Denchfield was interviewed by Pippa Carr and Laura Dowse in October 2011, and has also provided written material on his experiences. His wartime service was marked at a ceremony at The Hemel Hempstead School on 2nd October 2011, when a plaque from the Battle of Britain Historical Society was unveiled.
David's interview and written accounts provide an engaging account of his wartime service. David died on 5th December 2012 at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Huntingdon, aged 93.
When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st I was at work and we watched as various people were called up to their units, but not the RAFVR. Eventually after work dad and I drove across from Hemel to Luton. It was absolutely tremendous. The town centre was jam packed with 17-20 year olds, all as happy as Larry, each with a pint pot in his hand. My father, who had been in the First World War, was a bit upset about it and the war hadn’t even started yet. They didn’t want us yet, so we were all sent home.
We were told that we could pack in our day time jobs. That was the (best) day of my life. On the day that war was declared, mother phoned to say it was on. I started packing up my desk and my boss was suddenly all excited. He said, “Mr Denchfield, what are you doing?” “I’m packing my desk up.” You can’t do that until I tell you to.” I said, “If you stand there in 5 minutes time and you still see me it will be a miracle. I’m off home and I’m now under the control of the RAF.”
A week later the call-up came.
David's plane is attacked over France
Over the next few minutes the radiator and oil temps showed a gradual but steady rise, and I found the cause of the petrol smell, nearly 20 gallons of fuel were sloshing about in the belly of the fuselage under my feet. I now knew why my lower legs were so cold -on the ground I later found the insides of my flying boot and my trouser legs were absolutely saturated with the damn stuff. On checking the fuel gauge the top tank was empty so that had clearly been hit, as had the glycol tank or piping.
My thought was that she'd never reach the Channel and I wasn't about to try to put her down -not with all that petrol washing around, ... I decided to stand on the seat and then kick the stick forward to throw me out, but my planning came to naught. A most expensive sounding noise came from up front, accompanied by darkish smoke and jets of flame, and as I started to stand, letting go of the stick, dear old 'P' helped me to the last. She threw her nose violently down and I shot up and out like the cork from a bottle! And then there was only a flickering jumble of sky and snow as I obviously somersaulted, until I yanked the ripcord. What a relief to be right way up, and even greater to look up and check the beautiful white canopy fully open. My right boot had disappeared as I was launched from the a/c, so the landing itself -on one foot to save my unbooted one was a bit of a thud, but there I was in the middle of a snow-covered stubble field - iron hard!
The only cover in sight was a clump of bushes maybe 100 yards away up a slight slope. They were not leafed and even a mouse would have laughed at them, but I couldn't be a chooser so I dragged myself and chute up there, where there was snow about 18ins deep into which I pushed the chute and the mike etc from my helmet. I then attempted to 'shoe' my right foot by tying the oxygen tube in such a fashion as to hold the helmet around my foot; this worked reasonably well.
I was now aware I hadn't had a pee since early in the morning, and I was thus engaged, crouched behind these silly little bushes, when two uniforms walked through a field entrance some 250yards away. I finished my pee lying down! It was to no avail -they walked straight up to me, and as I stood up the one with the gun said ‘For you the war is over' (and I thought they only said that in things like the 'Hotspur' and 'Magnet', we live and learn).
It was all very friendly, and we walked as a small group down to the opening they'd come through....
The march out of Germany
....by early March we began to look for warmer weather and the liberation, and when news of the Rhine crossing was afterwards accompanied by rumours of an evacuation, “Flip” Jones and myself each made a haversack from odds and ends and stuffed in our evacuation kit – one each underpants, vest, shirt, wash bag, towel, eating irons, tin plate and a tin mug made from a Tate & Lyle syrup tin – so that, when in mid-March the Hun began to roust us out, with the addition of a 5’ x 3’ cloth laughingly called a blanket, any fags we still had plus whatever non-essentials we could manage, we were ready for the off. Our party of 250 – just one of many – strolled out at about 16.00 and walked until near 01.00. It was great to be out and relatively unfettered by the guards – who by this time were the old, the infirm and the very young.... the whole universe seemed on the move – civilians, service people, men, women and children all going every which way to get home or get to the Western Allies before Uncle Joe (Stalin) could catch them – this was when Joe was still in East Prussia or thereabouts and Monty (Field Marshall Montgomery) a mere forty odd miles away! Quite late we dropped to the floor. Outside – at our camping site next to a small stream I, who had started out empty-handed was by this time carrying kit for Flip and Tex (by this time our third member), and we were all cold, hungry and completely clapped (worn out). But there was straw to find, food to heat and firewood to get. We were wet, the ground was wet, the firewood was wet, there was no straw to be found to go under our blanket and we were undoubtedly p----d off and weary.
… Mid morning on 3 May we set off across the Elbe on a Bailey bridge to reach the large barracks in Luneburg awash with kriegies (POWs). And the sheer delight of reasonably cooked hot food and the sheer bliss of HOT water. And then to sleep on a bed with full-size, proper blankets. The next morning we were off again – ten to the back of an army lorry to stop the night at a little village – Solingen – ..... And then the next day off on the last drive through Germany. The following day, 7 May, was spent just walking around Emsdetten until near 16.00 when we visited a recreation centre set up in a part of the municipal offices and for some three hours immersed ourselves in magazines and drank lots of tea/coffee. I was stuck into a mass of “Illustrated London News” and from the pictures of ordinary life realising what we had missed for 4½ years.
(Interview by Zoe Farrell and Aaron Sparrow, February 2009.)
Eric was just 20 when he took part in an event that was to become one of the turning points of the Second World War. On 6th June 1944 he found himself on board a ship heading for the Normandy coast as part of the D-day invasion force.
They passed around anti-seasickness pills. The further we went the rougher it became, and we all soon found out that the pills didn't work. I was so seasick that I think that if the Germans said, 'Come this way sonny,' I would have said, 'Yes, OK'.
Eric, who was in the 22nd Dragoons Tank Corps, landed at Juno beach with the Canadian forces. His Sherman tank was specially adapted to explode mines as it drove along and its task was to clear a route for the Winnipeg Rifles who would follow behind.
The commander gave an order, a lever was pressed and we moved forward onto the beach. We were only gone a few yards when there was a blinding flash and the turret filled with smoke. I thought that was the end of us but the commander had given orders to blow the cordite to remove the waterproofing on the tank. If it had stayed on, the engine would have overheated. We saw a church in the distance and thought there may be Germans in it, which we later found out there was. I was ordered to hit it, which I did and got several direct hits.
The tank commander was badly wounded in the face, probably by a piece of shrapnel and went to get medical aid.
We came to a steep ridge, the front end of the tank went up in the air and we came straight down on a mine. The track was shattered and we couldn't move. We were stuck there under fire. So there we were in a crippled tank, no commander, just the wireless operator, the driver and me.
After a while things quietened down and evening came.
We made our way to the beach. What a sight of burning vehicles everywhere, the dead and wounded lying around, wrecked ships stranded on the beach. The darkness fell and the Luftwaffe, which we hadn't seen all day, came down and bombed the beaches at night.
Eric had an extraordinary experience many years later. He met a man called Roland Lemasson, who as a young boy had been sheltering in the church that Eric had hit on D-day. They became friends. Even more strange, a little girl called Marcelle had given him a photograph of herself which he had kept. He met her 40 years later at a D-day anniversary celebration. She had forgotten the incident and could not understand why Eric had a photograph of her as a small child.
Read more about Eric's story by clicking here
(Information provided by family, September 2010.)
Frederick and Ernest Foskett were brothers who were both taken prisoner, one in France, the other in the Far East. One survived, the other did not, reflecting the very different conditions under which British prisoners of the Germans and Japanese lived. Their father, Charles Foskett, had served in the Boer War and First World War.
Frederick Robert Foskett, served in the Royal Signal Corps as a regular soldier having enlisted before the war. He was captured at Calais in June 1940, as part of a force which was trying to hold off the Germans while Dunkirk was evacuated. He was held prisoner in Stalag VIIIB for the duration of the war and retreated into Germany with German troops at the end.
Frederick Foskett was from Berkhamsted but information has been provided by his grand-daughter Caroline, who lives in Hemel Hempstead. Frederick’s brother Ernest served in the 2nd battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment which was part of the force in Singapore when the Japanese attacked. Ernest was taken prisoner and died in Burma in June 1944 while working on the infamous Burma-Siam railway.
Ernest Foskett’s service medals: left to right,
Pacific Medal, 1939-45 Star and War Medal
Caroline also told us that in years after the war, her grandfather sometimes went to Austria for holidays with one of the prisons guards with whom he had become friendly.
These are the service medals Frederick was awarded for 1939-45.
The silver coloured medal is the War Medal, awarded for service anywhere,
while the bronze coloured 1939-45 Star marks operational service overseas.
Below is Frederick’s identity tag from Stalag VIIIB.
Frederick Foskett later served in the Korean War, see here.
(Interview by Ed Gardner and Nicola Price, March 2009.)
Douglas was on holiday in north Wales with his cousin in February 1942 when he had to register for military service.
I had to go to a little church hall to register. I stated a preference for the navy. I chose the navy because I liked the sea. It was very popular, the navy; it was the senior service and they were a bit more fussy about who they took! You could get into the navy if you had been in the Boy Scouts and knew semaphore because they were desperately short of signallers.
Douglas had to report to Skegness and the unlikely site of Butlins Holiday Camp that had been turned into a naval training camp where he was to begin training as a signalman. On the afternoon of his passing-out parade, “we were dived -bombed by some Germans. We’d planned to go to a pub for a meal but some of the instructors and other people planning to come had been killed. It was our first experience of death and the meal had a cloud over it.”
After training, via Portsmouth, Douglas was sent to Freetown in Sierra Leone. He remembers:
There was nothing at Freetown, just a few corrugated iron huts and a jetty. For accommodation we had an old Union Castle liner called the Edinburgh Castle. It had been converted into barracks…. The engine had been taken out and it was just a hulk. The food was pretty grim and there were rats. Going ashore was interesting. It was so hot that shore leave was only from about 12 until 5 o’clock.
After 2 or 3 weeks in Freetown Douglas was given an interesting job. Some of the Frenchmen who had been rescued from Dunkirk had formed a Free French Navy. He was about to join them.
I was told I would be drafted to the Commandant Drogou. I asked an officer what that was and he said it was a Free French ship - a flower class corvette – and the best of bloody luck! I thought, ‘Oh, crikey. What have they done now?’ It was a boat specially designed to escort convoys – not a big boat. The crew were all French with about 6 Brits on board. One of these was the liaison officer and he spoke fluent French. The idea was that the French could work with English ships because they had English signalmen on board. It was so unusual. Discipline was nil and the French didn’t really like us. The first day I was on board there was a knife fight. I asked this English chap who was helping me with my baggage what was going on and he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about them. Their bark is worse than their bite.’ They had 3 sailors from New Caledonia on board. That was an island in the Pacific and they were Polynesian. They took a shine to us. They were our bodyguard!
Douglas with his British crew on the Commandant Drogou. He is on the front row, second from the right.
In 1943 Douglas came back to England after convoying for about 15 months plying from Gibraltar and south to Pointe Noire on the west coast of Africa.
The ship was returning for a re-fit. It was British built by Harland Wolfe in Northern Ireland. A re-fit was usually done every year or so to bring it up to date with the latest equipment that had been developed during the war.
Douglas says it was exciting arriving back in the UK, meeting family and friends again but he was upset to hear about various friends who had been killed whilst in the forces or in air-raids. He remarks that his time abroad was very interesting, being on a French ship and learning how the Allies could cooperate in times of war.
The ship was due for a fairly lengthy re-fit so the most of the French and British crew were drafted for disposal to other ships and establishments. Douglas was drafted to combined operations. This unit was to establish signal stations when assault troops landed during an invasion. He was posted to India and Burma and took part in the re-capture of Rangoon in May 1944. He eventually retuned to the UK and was de-mobbed in May 1946.
Above left: Douglas is pictured with his British colleagues and the Polynesian members of the crew. Douglas is on the far right holding a large bunch of bananas.
Above right: This is the ship, largely crewed by a Free French naval force, on which Douglas Goulborn served in 1942-43
Read more about Douglas Goulborn's story on this site here.
His case is cited in an article in the Journal of Military History, which places the story in the broad context of the experiences of Royal Navy Liaison Personnel: Mark C. Jones, “Not Just Along for the Ride: The Role of Royal Navy Liaison Personnel in Multinational Naval Operations during World War II,” Journal of Military History 76, 1 (January 2012): 127-158. See, p. 142, note 29.
(Interview by Zoe Wills, January 2009.)
Tony Horton left Hemel Hempstead Grammar School at the age of 16 and volunteered to join the Royal Navy. He says, “I went to every continent in the world except America. I didn’t really understand anything about life but I was so keen and wanted to see the world.”
After initial service at sea, “I got taken off a ship because the Navy discovered that I had matriculated with distinctions in German, French and English. After D-day, they were taking so many prisoners they needed people to do interrogation of German prisoners of war (PoWs).”
He was later sent on a course to learn Japanese, and joined an aircraft carrier, but by the time it reached the Pacific the war was over. He says, “When I’m talking to my grandchildren about their university careers, I tell them that the navy was my university, the University of Life. You saw the world and met so many new people.”
Singapore and Sydney
Tony was in Singapore a few days after it was liberated and the suffering he saw was a dreadful experience. His aircraft carrier then sailed to Australia where he was angered by the destruction of brand new planes that had been destined for Britain under the American ‘Lend-Lease Scheme’.
It was Christmas Day 1945 in Sydney and we took on board a host of brand new fighter aircraft and our Fleet Air Arm members would be armed with crow bars and would bash holes in the aircraft. We’d go 20 miles out of Sydney and ditch them in the sea. Florescent lights would come on the planes (the lights were there in case the planes had come down in the sea and the crew needed to be rescued). You could see these dots of lights all over the sea. For 4 months we ditched American made aircraft that were made under the Lend-Lease scheme and were brand new. Under the terms of the agreement they couldn’t be given back to the Americans or used in peacetime.
Read more from Tony Horton here.
(Interview by Fiona Wright, Ed Gardner and Sarah Kay, November 2008.)
Maurice Maslen joined up in 1942 and after basic training went to the Central Gunnery School for the RAF “where they were training pilots to fire their guns and hit things.” He was later sent to India for two years, going out on the Nevassa, an old cruise liner. Those travelling tended to sleep on deck because they had been allocated quarters four decks below the waterline and were worried about submarine attack. Maurice remembers that on deck, “It was hot but it wasn’t so far to get in the water. Down below you had no chance at all.”
Maurice was an electrician, servicing Spitfires and later on Lancasters. In India, Maurice was based in Ambala. He remembers the food given to servicemen as being very good, although they were always given English food in barracks: “We went out and bought curry, you know, if you wanted to have something different, but it was always just English food.”
Above left: Christmas Day 1945 in Ambala, India.
Above right: This was the Christams dinner enjoyed by Maurice Maslen and fellow members of the RAF stationed at Ambala.
A disturbing incident took place on the journey home:
We were in the Red Sea I think and we were all lying about on the deck with nothing to do and this guy came up from the sick bay still in his pyjamas and stood on the rail and said something and jumped over the side. So it was “man overboard”, of course and they stopped the ship and lowered a life boat and went out for him and couldn’t find him. But as they lifted the boat out of the water these sharks were underneath, so he had no chance. When it was in the paper when we landed – we found a newspaper – they said he fell overboard. But he didn’t fall, he jumped overboard. I suppose they told his family that he fell.
When asked why he thought the man jumped, Maurice said, “I think it’s meant to be called “sun-happy” and he got too much and that’s why they had him in the sickbay – he was going a bit funny. The sun got very very hot and you couldn’t stand it, you know. I’ll never forget that.”
Maurice’s final role in the war came at RAF Benson. He was fitting cameras to Lancasters which were being used to take pictures of the countryside for Town and Country Planning. He says, “I expect they did Hemel Hempstead. They were getting information for building the new estates so I expect Hemel was on the list.”
Above left: A Spitfire being refuelled on the airfield at Ambala. Source: Maurice Maslen.
Above right: The airfield at Ambala. Hugh Gaitskell, a member of the government and later leader of the Labour Party, is visiting the RAF station. He is pictured with his hat in his hand about to get into one of the cars. The plane in the photograph is a Douglas Dakota.
Read more from Maurice Maslen here.
(Interview by Sophie Horwood, November 2008.)
Norman Skeates volunteered to join the Parachute Regiment in December 1944. After rigorous training, he took part in Operation Varsity, the largest single airborne operation on one day of the war. His battalion’s task was to clear and hold ground. After they crossed the Rhine, they went up to Osnabruck and the Elbe. They were then ordered to push up to the Baltic in an attempt to limit the amount of Germany which the advancing Russian allies took control off. He remembers, “We thought they wanted occupation of Germany because they wanted the machinery of Germany in the Ruhr and everything – the factories which, I believe after the war they stripped and shipped back to Russia. And our orders were to get up to the Baltic and occupy the land and we did it but myself, I got dysentery – I must have had some dirty water or something.”
On the advance, very young German volunteers were encountered. Norman Skeates recalls, “The Doctor and the Padre encountered German opposition – an anti-tank gun – it was manned by these youngsters. But luckily the Doctor and the Padre went forth and they talked them into surrender. The war ended as we met the Russians. As we went up three German generals surrendered to our Headquarters. They were retreating from the Russians.”
Mr Skeates was then transferred to the Far East, where he served in Singapore and Java. He remembers that in Java, “We had to leave there to come back to Singapore because the Dutch were coming back. The natives were literally crying to see us go. They didn’t want a return to Dutch colonialism. The 13th were the last out and as we went we heard a battle going on behind us.”
Mr Skeates recalls how his time in the military ended:
Then they told us we had to go to fight the communists in Siam (Thailand) but we never did. I got Malaria and when I went back to the East Yorks in June 1948 I was sent to the Millbank military hospital; then I was put in Richmond Park for rehabilitation. Then the camp was being prepared for the 1948 London Olympics and I volunteered for a PE display and that kept me going until I was demobbed.
Read more from Norman Skeates here.
(Interview by Lynda Abbott, November 2011.)
Hemel Hempstead Grammar School pupil Cyril Smith enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1941 after serving in the Home Guard.
I volunteered to be a pilot in the RAF. America was not in the war at that time but they had volunteered to train pilots and I was one of those called over to Georgia for flying training. Our (UK) facilities for training were hard- pressed and couldn't cope with the numbers who had to be trained to replace those who'd been killed. It seemed a good idea to have them trained in a safe place. Because they were still on a peacetime basis they set much higher standards than the RAF had and that was a bone of contention. It was a bit of a disaster. Out of a class of 90 they failed 50 odd for various reasons. I was one of them because I got airsick when spinning which was something the RAF trainees didn't do. I always intended to be a bomber pilot not a fighter (so would have been unlikely to have been involved in spinning anyway). I was very disappointed. I was sent back via Canada to the UK and trained as a radar mechanic which I then was throughout the war.
As a radar mechanic, Cyril served in India and Burma. He remembers:
Radar was quite new in those days and it was a question of looking after equipment, mending it and setting it up for the radar stations in the UK. Radar operators used to man the machines all day long and mechanics were there if things went wrong, which they did. There was a fair bit of mechanical training and I was mostly in East Anglia which was where most of the stations were. The radar job was interesting but I would much rather have been flying planes. However, I know I was safer and I'm sure my parents were very relieved. You had no choice anyway. You had to do what they told you!
They were short of people overseas and the Burma war was one of the outstanding centres so I got sent to India and then on to Burma where I remained until after the war finished. I was discharged in 1946. It was easy to work there in some ways because the local Indian staff tended to do all the manual jobs and it was much the same in Burma. So in some ways we were quite privileged.
We didn't see a lot of real action because the radar stations tended to be back a bit, not right on the front line. We didn't know the intimate details of what was going on (on the front line) but we were aware of the horrors that some of our colleagues were going through, especially the army. We were very aware of the Burma railway and the way PoWs were being treated. I thought the Japanese were dreadful at that time. I knew someone at school, Bob Bowers, who was a Prisoner of War in Japanese hands. He told a story of PoWs being lined up and executed. The executioners were getting along the road towards him and then they suddenly stopped and he survived. But I didn't have any direct contact with the Japanese.
I stood the heat fairly well. It wasn't much of a problem. I didn't really enjoy my time there but I was aware that certain people in the family and around me were having a much worse time than I was. I was in the Far East for 3 years. That was the length of an overseas tour. We didn't have any leave during that time and letters from home were terribly important.
Read more about Cyril Smith here.
(Interview by Rosie Hoskins, Ashley Needs-Mayos and John Ross, June 2011.)
Eric Summers joined the Royal Navy in 1943. He told us, “I didn’t see any action.… The ship I was on was HMS Venerable – an aircraft carrier- and we were doing sorties – just patrols. We never fired in anger at all.”
He remembered life on board as being fairly comfortable:
We had all the facilities. We had Chinese people on board and they did our washing and ironing and aircraft carriers were the only ships that had bakers aboard and we used to bake our own bread. We always had a destroyer with us and we used to supply them with bread and we had white bread. You civilians only had brown bread and wheat meal bread. Aboard an aircraft carrier it was more like a hotel really. The only thing was we didn’t have beds – we had hammocks. We had a hammock every night and in the morning we had to lash it down and store it.
Asked about the enemy, he said:
We didn’t like to know that we had to kill someone but we knew it had to be done. We never had to fire in anger but we would have done it if it needed to be done. What amazes me now is that I was out in the Pacific fighting the Japanese and I’m driving a Japanese car. Doesn’t make sense does it?
Although we never fired in anger, we were always at action stations when we were on patrol. When the Japanese surrendered we were at sea and we were going in to Sydney Harbour and we had the radio on and we could hear the people in Sydney all going mad. We thought we would get ashore and we didn’t. They turned us round and we had to sail to Hong Kong because they thought the Japanese were going to shoot all the prisoners. We had to go up the Malayan Straits and that was all mined. We had minesweepers in front, sweeping, and the marines were on the flight deck popping the mines off and we were wearing our life jackets all the time.
Read more from Eric Summers here.
(Interview by Fiona Wright and Pippa Carr, June 2011.)
John Wright served in the Royal Navy at D-Day on a Landing Craft. He remembered:
In 1944, 6th June I went over to Normandy. I was on 503 Landing Craft. I landed on Juno beach with the Winnipeg Rifles at 8 o’ clock in the morning, having left our sister ship at about 7 am. I was in the first wave. I was a bit nervous because I was steering the boat. You go in very slowly and as soon as you feel the bottom you start putting it into reverse and that holds you just long enough to drop the ramp and get them ashore.
Juno beach was a very level straight beach; very sandy, but they had a lot of shore defences. There were lots of bangs. The navy was firing shells over our heads and there were big armaments on the beach head. We were fired on as we were going in. Even some of the bigger craft were turned over with the explosions and because they had mines on the beach. They had big ‘scaffold’ poles on the beach with mines attached, so if you touched one of these … ! The sea was very choppy so you had to be a bit careful. You didn’t want to end up on one of those scaffold poles.
All I had was a .38 Colt revolver – that was really small arms. I don’t think I would have been able to hit anything with it. We had a small Bren gun on the back of the LCA. The soldiers were all armed, however. The Canadians went in with fixed bayonets and knives. They meant business.
It was marvellous when I looked around. There were thousands of ships, all shapes and sizes, the invasion fleet, it was. Amazing sight! We went back and got more people. I can’t remember how many times, but quite a few. It was a big responsibility. I was responsible for the lives of all the people on the craft and I was only 19.
Later in the war, he was in Singapore on HMS Sussex. He told us:
Singapore was an experience. We had a kamikaze attack in the straits of Malaya. It was frightening but luckily he had unloaded all his bombs before he hit us so it was just structural damage he did. It was just on the port side. We had guns going to bring him down but he made a straight line for us.
HMS Sussex was the first ship into Singapore harbour after the surrender (of the Japanese) and we did the guard of honour for Lord Mountbatten when he accepted the surrender and the keys (of Singapore) from the Japanese. The Japanese were still there when we got to Singapore. In fact we had quite a few Japanese POWs that we used to help load up different things (on the ships).
Read more about John Wright here.
(Interview by James Price and Glen Taylor, December 2010.)
Charles Price served in the Royal Army Service Corps. He was called up in 1940. He said, “I wasn’t a fighting man, I was a transport man.” After service in various parts of England, he remembers preparations for D-Day:
We arrived in Hull and started getting new vehicles. I remember the night before D-day. We had a very pleasant journey through the Derbyshire Dales in brilliant moonlight and we got to a transit camp early in the morning and it came over the tannoy that they’d invaded.
Later, Charles was sent to France after D-Day:
We used to convoy reinforcements up but it was quite awkward because most of the bridges were not strong enough. Usually there were 2 bridges. So we had to pull up, unload the tanks, cross and then load again. We went nearly a mile up the road before we started loading again. We carried ducks. These were American amphibious troop carriers with very flimsy tracks that couldn’t run any distance on hard ground.
We followed the troops up and then stopped in Belgium and had various workshops there. We eventually moved into Germany and I drove a transporter across a pontoon bridge over the Rhine. The Dutch were very hard hit by the war. They had no fuel. They’d run a bicycle down the street. They might be lucky enough to have a blown up tyre at the front but they’d have a pram wheel at the back.
I left Germany on a stretcher. Workshop staff were standing round a fire in a goods yard. Well, they’d left demolition charges and there was one in a piece of wood. I don’t know why I should have been chosen but I was a casualty. I was taken by air to Brussels and was in hospital there and then I went to Ostend. Whilst I was in hospital in Ostend, the war finished. I can remember the aircraft flying over very low taking the prisoners (of war) home.
The Diamond T Tank Transporter was a heavy tank transporter, of the type drive by Charles Price.
Read more from Charles Price here.