Title CHARLES PRICE - INTERVIEW Description
I was born in Leavesden on 8th December1920. I left the village church school at 14 and got a job with an upholsterer in Abbotts Langley. I had various jobs after that including working for a public works contractor in Hemel Hempstead. We were in at the beginning of the new town and did quite a bit of work for the New Town Commission. I finally went to work as a gardener for Chiltern-Hunts and stayed there until I was 65 and then worked part time for another 10 years at their place in Shendish.
You would like to know about my experiences in the war? Well, I wasn?t a fighting man, I was a transport man. I was called up in early 1940 and was one of the last 20 year olds to be called up and then they dropped it back to 18. I went to St Albans for a medical and they said I was fit and that I?d better go and see the officer to see which regiment I should go into. I went to his office and I?d already been doing a bit of driving and who should I meet but this colonel from a Scottish regiment. He said, ?You can drive? ? *RASC ? and that was me into it. We started congregating on the train and eventually we came to Porton Down and there was this big sergeant shouting and hollering. We went to the barracks and we was given a uniform and kit and 2 sheets and then we were marched to where the barrack room was. Well, the uniforms! ? the man behind the counter eyed you up and decided what size you needed and chucked them at you. We had quite a laugh because those who had a uniform that didn?t fit you had to go round and find someone who had something that did fit you.
We started. The idea was to have a month?s drill to make us into soldiers and we spent this month marching backwards and forwards and saluting and one-thing-and-another. I remember the first pay day ? if you didn?t salute right, it was ?stand over there? or if you didn?t know your number. Then we was told to parade outside after tea and we had an hour?s drill. I?ll always remember the chap next to me kept saying, ?We?ll never get out of here with that corporal? and I said, ?He keeps looking at his watch as well?. We then went to a driving school. They had what was called ?mounting drill?. You had to stand next to your vehicle and at a command you had to see if there were 4 wheels on and if the tyres were blown up and then you stood in front of the vehicle and then you?d get in. We had about a month there and when we left, we?d done with that and it was get in the lorry and let?s get going.
We was eventually posted to Camelford in north Cornwall. The porter was very insistent that we got in the right carriage on the train. Well, when we got to Camelford the rest of the train has disappeared. The system they had on the Great Western of slipping coaches meant they?d unhooked, then all away! When we got to this place we found they had no vehicles and not enough rifles to go round so you had to borrow one if you were on guard. We had quite a reasonable summer there because we was quite near the coast and we could go there on the weekend.
Eventually we got some vehicles and moved up to Wimbourne where we had ?luxurious billets?. It was a racing stables and we had 6 men to a horse box!
Then 6 of us were posted to a unit in Chard and soon as we got there we could see they was going overseas and we was last minute reinforcements. We was billeted at Christmas in a horrible old glove factory that was filthy dirty. We had no beds and we couldn?t sleep on the floor because it was too dirty so we all slept on barrack room tables. Anyway, eventually they had a platoon of non-drivers who went overseas and we were disbanded and sent to Exeter and attached to the Southern Command and the 7th East Yorks. Later we got some English made tank transporters and did quite a bit of experimental work. We took the first lot of experimental amphibious tanks from Castle Bromwich to the coast in Lincolnshire. They had a canvas side and airbags that pumped up and pulled them up. They was watertight ? they hoped! We saw them floating about in the lake. It was ideal. They could come in on a landing craft and go into the water and then out (onto dry land).
Sometime after that we went into billets at Enfield and began to get the American Diamond Ts ? big 6 wheeled vehicles. And we had a trailer that was made by the Dyson Company in England. At the back of the vehicle was a great big ballast box and they had the idea of filling it with old tank treads but they wasn?t heavy enough. Then they tried sand. If you happened to be going along the road years ago they used to get sticky in summer. You wouldn?t be able to get up the hills. They was too light. Eventually they got it right. They put 10 tons of pig iron in the box and that seemed to do it alright!
We were known as War Office Transport then and we moved tanks about England. The Americans were bringing in their tanks that we picked up from Bristol or the South Wales ports and took them to the old training place at Tidsworth. There was a picture in Picture Post one time that showed American tanks as far as you could see and that was Tidsworth.
One experience I had was in Doncaster. The corporal in charge of our section liked to drive the lorries. He said to me one morning, ?Ere, let me have a drive?. We came to this big crossroads so he said, ?Get out and when the others come, tell them this way.? Well, I never saw no others. I knew they were going to Wetherby so I tried to get a lift but there was a big convoy going up and you couldn?t get near a private vehicle. I eventually got there and didn?t know where to go so I thought I?d better report to somebody so I went to the local police station. I only had a boiler suit on, not a uniform. The policeman there said, ?Ah yes. I think you?d better go York ? that was Northern Command Headquarters. He took me to the York road and stopped a car and so I got to Northern HQ. I went up the steps and there was a big blue cap on the door. They took me to the officer in charge of transport and I thought, ?I?m for it now?, but he said ?Ah, I?ve been wanting to meet one of you? and arranged for his staff to get me a meal and then take me to the YMCA. I got a train to somewhere on the moors and met up with a company there. All the officer said when he came along was ?Well, you?ll want 2 days subsistence, won?t you??
Eventually we had to hand our vehicles over to another company and we went to Chalkwell near Southend-on-Sea. They didn?t know where to send us and we sat on our kit all one day and on Sunday afternoon they said we were going to march to Southend station. Well, either they didn?t get the message right or they got the wrong station. We went to one station and there we were ? rows and rows of us standing outside the station and the officer went in and came out and we had to march to the other station.
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. We got organised and moved towards London. We were in houses that was partly built ? they hadn?t been plastered inside and it seemed like there was a man riding up and down the road on a motorbike without a silencer, but we soon found we was wrong. They were doodle bugs going over.
We were sent to France following the D-day landings but spent quite a lot of time in the New Forest first because our vehicles were too big and there wasn?t enough room to use them until they took Caen. 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.
Eventually I come back and I was going to be on a draft to India. Fortunately I was a driver mechanic and they only wanted drivers. I was posted to Bicester garrison and drove the officer in charge of transport until I was demobbed in the late summer of 1946. We went to Guildford and Burtons was there and we all had these suits. For some reason or other everybody knew it was a demob suit. You could have trilby hats and all sorts. And that?s when I finished.
*RASC ? Royal Army Service Corps
Read information about the Diamond T tank transporter driven by Charles and see a photograph of it in a seperate file.
Interview by James Price and Glen Taylor
Keywords Royal Army Service Corps; War Office Transport; D-day, Normandy; Belgium; the Rhine Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place UK; Normandy; Belgium; Germany Year 1939 - 1946 Conflict World War Two File type html Record ID number 183
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