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The stories behind the story

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Podcast show notes WWII

50/51 "Episode Fifty" Special! Dunkirk 80 & more

Celebrate Dunkirk 80 with this special episode 50. Take a trip down the Second World War memory lane of Dunkirk,

D-Day, Lancasters, tanks, the Blitz, POW’s, the WW1 battle of Gallipoli and much more. Old stories, new stories and bloopers.

 

NEW Wilf Shaw story: Halt! – Fall in!” I fell in alongside Jefferies, “Now Shaw! Take a good look at me.” His face came up close; loathing, hatred and venom seemed to jut out at every angle.

The Aussies were holding the forward defence line on a track up the coast from Balikpapan in Borneo. As was usual, we had standing-patrols in no-man’s-land to warn of any approaching enemy parties.

Fighting Through Podcast – Episode 50, Dunkirk 80 - WW2

More great unpublished history! WWII

Up on Point 85, the 2nd Cheshires, our machine gun battalion, had by now set up their Vickers and they let fly. It was the signal for every Spandau, Fiat and Breda to open up on us. Bullets cracked only inches above our heads and I saw the barley heads chopped off and falling, so close were the bullets.

Halt! – Fall in!” I fell in alongside Jefferies, “Now Shaw! Take a good look at me.” His face came up close; loathing, hatred and venom seemed to jut out at every angle.

The Aussies were holding the forward defence line on a track up the coast from Balikpapan in Borneo. As was usual, we had standing-patrols in no-man’s-land to warn of any approaching enemy parties.  Sections took turns in manning our post, which was about 400 metres forward of the main position.

The large oil containers were still belching out their large columns of smoke and the hospital ship 'Paris' was just arriving.  I looked to the wounds of a soldier's leg and whilst engaged looked up into the sky.  Coming straight after us were 20 dive bombers.

 

German planes were coming over, their bombs dropping the other side of the pier about 40 yards from us and we had seven holes made in the starboard bow close to the water line, also three lifeboats holed by flying shrapnel from the shells.

The ship was a ferry ship called The Lady of Mann (how could I forget that name?). How lucky we considered ourselves to be; out of all those thousands of men, we were being given the opportunity to be evacuated."

 

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival"

 

 

OMG - Hello again and a very warm WW2 welcome to you

I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall, whose WWII memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH. The aim of these podcasts is to give you the stories behind the story. You’ll hear first-hand memoirs and memories of veterans connected to Dad’s war in some way – and much more.  

Many thanks indeed to Miss Savannah Harris from Idaho USA for kindly recording that intro to the show. And of course you also heard part of the inspirational speech which Churchill made to Parliament on 13 May 1940.  This was soon after he had formed a government to lead the country during the war. And shortly after the German invasion of France on 10 May.  His speech must surely have helped to set the mood of the country and forge what became known as the Dunkirk spirit, when everyone pulled together to do what needed to be done to save our troops stranded in France. And of course Dunkirk is pretty much where it all started for the FTP.

And of course it’s gone on from strength to strength and here’s a short snippet of soundbites I’ve used a few times now to promote the show on Facebook and other places …

Promo medley

I am so delighted to be bringing you this special 50th second world war episode of the show. It seems like an absolute age since I began and I can’t believe episode one went out in 2013. It’s been an absolute joy to produce the show and I feel very humbled by the efforts you’ve made to contact me and in some cases to send me the most incredible memoirs from your brave relatives. So thanks from the very bottom of my heart to everyone who’s done that – you know who you are.

Before I start to cry, I’ll crack on with what I hope is going to be a great show, with lots of new stories, some old stories, everyone’s favourites and altogether some great listening which will help you pass the time at your work, leisure, driving and some of the other pursuits you admitted to in the Survey I’ve been carrying out for some time. I’ll be giving you a bit of feedback on the results of the survey later. And it’s … veeery interesting.

 

So, In this special episode 50, coincidentally around the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation, take a trip down the Second World War memory lane of Dunkirk, D-Day, Lancasters, tanks, the Blitz, POW’s and – wow – the brutal WW1 battle of Gallipoli with Sgt Fred Reynard which I’ll say now is one of your top three favourite stories.

The other top two are the stunning adventures of the ships at Dunkirk and … well, what else but the late veteran Wilf Shaw.

And I’ve got some brand new trials and tribulations of veteran Wilf Shaw who’s regaled us with so many twists, turns and titters in his adventures in the Green Howards regiment.

So I’m going to be feeding in a few passages from all the above and much more, in the Fighting Through Podcast 50th episode Special. Second world war and much more!

So don your life jackets, oil yer gun barrels and keep an eye open for the nearest Carley float because, even though I say it myself, I have got some excellent stories lined up for you.

 

And Today’s PS is especially for those people who are interested in learning who the better fighting force was amongst the Canadians, Brits or Yanks. Tune into the PS because all will be revealed – and much more in a positively pulsating postscript.

 

 

TR

 

To get the ball rolling in the who’s best debate, here’s the latest bit of feedback which turned up literally yesterday, by amazing coincidence, because I’d already started to script out a debate about the fascination of the Brits with cups of tea:

Review in Apple Podcasts by $$$ok$$$ {AKA Brett Bryer in Lincoln Nebraska]

There are plenty of military history podcasts but this one hits the spot. The stories put you right alongside the soldiers throughout their struggles. Although we can never know the pain, discomfort and smells of war, this podcast gets you as close as possible to the front lines. I appreciate the insights and the knowledge.

And why is it that the British seem so casual about sacrifice in war? Maybe not casual ... stoic!! As long as they have a cup of tea first then it’s a good day to die. I thought I knew they preferred not to! I absolutely love it! We Americans are a bit more dramatic about it to be sure! Please continue to put out more podcasts whenever possible. History is a precious thing.

Thanks Brett – and you added that you’ve suddenly discovered from your Mum about a stack of military history that your family has, so good luck with your research on it and keep us informed.

It’s uncanny how right on cue you have just been about cups of tea, because before you wrote I’d prepared  a topic so very close to what you’ve just talked about so, ever in anticipation of your needs,  I’m just going to Re-read an extract from the book “Do march in step girls” by Wren, Audrey Johnson. She was a wireless Telegraphist based in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, when it was an American naval base in the second world war. She’s going out with an American and is always having a joust of words with her distant cousins.

 

“All the members of his mess had already accepted me as Rick’s Limey gal, making me feel welcome and rather special. They were surprised that however much they ragged me about dear old England they never got me rattled. I just came back at them, turning their insults to England’s benefit, enjoying a twist of words.

 

“You goddamned limeys stop even In the middle of battle to brew your precious cups of tea” and a little finger was crooked in mid air.

 

“And that of course is why we win most of our battles. Perhaps you should try it. Coca-Cola is pop for children, you know, in this country”.

 

They thrived on the comeback …

 

“You’re all still living in Nelson’s time, over here, why the men on your ships have no room at all. You put your guns on first, then your poor damn sailors are crammed into whatever space is left. We don’t work that way on our fighting ships.”

 

“I know,” I told them, “Ice cream machines and Coca-Cola fountains first, then men, then guns. We’ve noticed the results of this attitude.  You were no doubt having the soda fountains repaired when the japs flew in, over honolulu!”

 

If you want to hear more of this wit and repartee, check out episode 33, women at war or better still start with episode 32 which is the first in the women at war trilogy in which my late mum, Ann Cheall, recalls what it was like being a young civilian in the Second World War.

 

And here’s just a few snippets from my Mum on how the Dunkirk spirit raised the country’s spirits after the troops had got back home, together with an insight into how the American troops were accommodated all over Britain.

>>>>>

 

For the final word on the who’s best debate, tune into the PS because all will be revealed with some quite interesting research on this front.

 

 

 

TR

Have I mentioned before that my Dad’s memoirs have been published in hard back by Pen and Sword? Thank you so very much to those who’ve bought a copy already. For anyone else, supplies of the book are actually limited but if you look on Amazon you will still find some copies for sale and if you pick mine, you’ll get it signed and I’ll be including my exclusive souvenir gift pack of a Fighting Through bookmark, photos and a smile. There are links in the show notes. There are also electronic editions available, such as Kindle. And with more than 100 five star reviews on Amazon, it’s one to read. But it’s no longer available through the publishers Pen and Sword, so I’d recommend if you want a first edition hardback, get stuck in now.

 

TR

Anecdote time

 

Andrew Newson: of Facebook France and Flanders fame has a great Twitter account - @Dunkirk_1940

Andrew’s a keen historian and puts a stack of interesting material up on his Facebook page and Twitter. This is a perfect example of how digging around knee high in the weeds of history, as Andrew so obviously does, can produce the most poignant results.

This is a short story about a British soldier who was awarded the MM for his actions in the North African desert around the time of the 1942 battle of Gazala, near Tobruk. It involves a troop of armoured cars, which were particularly used for reconnaissance. There are two actions involved in the citation, one would have been during the battle of Gazala and the other sometime after that, just before the first battle of Alamein.

This is the citation:

On 31 May 1942 near Bir Hachiem, B squadron HQ was heavily attacked by five enemy fighters. Sergeant Lee had his armoured car there at the time and whilst under heavy fire shot down one Italian G50 and severely damaged another with his machine gun. This resulted in the remaining fighters breaking off the attack.

 

On June 24 near Oxford Circus, [the codename for a desert location] Sergeant Lee, while in command of a troop of armoured cars, was cut off from his squadron by an enemy column. He attacked the rear of the column and destroyed two lorries, taking one German prisoner and rescuing a British officer who was a prisoner on the one of the lorries.

 

One of his armoured cars was then knocked out by anti-tank gun fire and he picked up the crew of this car whilst under heavy fire. He finally returned to his squadron, towing his remaining armoured car. Both cars had been badly shot up. It was entirely due to his bold leadership and disregard for his personal safety that he was able to return safely with all personnel and two of the three [cars] of his troop to his squadron.

Sergeant Lee has always shown great devotion to duty, courage and disregard of personal safety on these and other occasions during the period under review.

 

And this was Andrew’s tweet about the citation:

I just told an elderly lady how her father won the military medal for bravery in WW2. She had no idea why he got it or how brave he was and burst into tears.

Reading that citation he sounds pretty nails to me.

https://twitter.com/dunkirk_1940/status/1199657316074872837?s=11

And anyone who wants to know more about the desert war can’t go far wrong by listening in to the several interview episodes with the late Wilf Shaw.

TR

Talking about Wilf, here’s an unpublished, unheard story from his forthcoming second world war memoirs, Bright Burns the Memory, currently being edited by me:

The spuds

“The Provost Sergeant I remember well, Sergeant Rowney. Jefferies and I ran foul of him the very first day. We were at Marston House, [shortly after our training had started?], after our group of 10 had been allocated a room on the landing at the top of the stairs. We were settling in generally, sorting out the beds.

 

We had managed to get the fire lit in the old fashioned grate and after the days travelling down from Richmond, Yorkshire, and all the general army mucking about we were tired, we were hungry and it was winter, January I think. Jeff and I decided something ought to be done about being hungry, so we sallied forth into the cold night and found the cookhouse; the door didn’t present much of a problem, but the only thing we could find were potatoes, which we proceeded to stuff into our battle dress blouses and after pulling tight the waist buckle we made our way back as casually as possible to the billet, only to be confronted at the house entrance by Sergeant Rowney the Provost Sergeant.

 

“You men! Come here!”

“Name?” – “Shaw Sergeant”

“Stand to attention!” He screamed at us.

His silver knobbed cane flicked at Jefferies blouse collar, lifting it up gingerly as if he expected maggots to start crawling out.

“What company are you from Jefferies?”

His face was about two inches from that of Jefferies.

“H.Q. Coy Sergeant!”

“I’ve not seen you in H.Q. Coy before Jefferies.”

“No Sergeant – New intake today, Sergeant.”

The mention of new intake seemed to add a new dimension to his already obvious sense of importance, his face became even more granite like. He stalked around, cane prodding whenever he thought it necessary to stress a point. The potatoes in my blouse were working their way perilously close to the bottom. I took a chance and pulled the belt buckle tight whilst he was concentrating his attention on Jefferies.

“Stand to attention!” he screamed at me. His face was about an inch away and his mouth had opened so wide I could have shoved my fist in it.

“Thumbs in line with the seams of the trousers! Heels together! Stand at ease! Attention! Stand at ease! Attention!” This, about six times – the spuds were jumping and rolling around to the back of my blouse, Jefferies had a half smile beginning to take shape around the corners of his mouth. Rowney leaped to confront him “Stand at ease! Attention! --- Stand at ease! Attention!”

 

I could hear the spuds in Jeff’s blouse, thud thudding around and contorted my face in an effort to suppress a laugh that was bursting to explode, I was fighting a losing battle – my face cracked open with mirth. “Right Shaw! Double up that road until I tell you to stop.” – I doubled, the spuds bumped and wobbled, I held on to the waist band with one hand. For the first time in my life I felt a twinge of sympathy for those ladies of the fulsome breasts, whereas previously I had only had other feelings (of sexual desire). How far up the road was he going to double me yet? I had visions of the spuds spewing out and cascading all over the road as I loped in my own peculiar style, a sort of rolling semi bow legged gait. I was beginning to pant “About...Turn!” I turned and doubled back to where Jefferies was still stood to attention and towards Rowney – feet spread apart wide and arms akimbo. “Haaaaalt!” he screamed as I reached him. “Double mark time. Up! – Up! – Up! – Up! – Up! – Halt! – Fall in!” I fell in alongside Jefferies, “Now Shaw! Take a good look at me.” His face came up close; loathing, hatred and venom seemed to jut out at every angle. Hadn’t I seen something like it over the doorway of a building in York once? Yes! That was it – a gargoyle.

“My-name-is-Sergeant-Rowney, Shaw! – I-don’t-ever-forget-faces, and I’m-going-to-be-watching-you!” Little droplets of spit sprayed out of his mouth with those words he wished to make the greatest impact.

 

His head suddenly spun sideways at Jefferies, who had relaxed whilst I had been taking all this stick, “Got that Jefferies?” “Yes Sergeant.” “Right! Double away then.” – We doubled away without so much as a backward glance, I felt that to have done so would have invited the fate that befell Lot, except that what I would have been turned into would have been, not so much a pillar of salt – more a blob of jelly.

We reached the top of the stairs; spuds still secure – though perhaps by now a little bruised; we entered the comparative safety of our billet – the fire by now glowing red in the grate – we opened up our battle dress blouses and let the spuds spew out. For the first time since our encounter with Rowney, Jefferies and I stood and looked at each other. It was a mutual look of satisfaction, like we had just jointly outwitted the entire British Army, then we burst out laughing. When the spuds had been roasted on the fire we all relaxed in our bunks [with a feast fit for a King]

TR

You know I’m in awe of that piece from Wilf. What a magnificent piece of writing. And Wilf left school when he was 14, like most boys in those days.

And here’s another totally unseen passage – this time from Wilf’s precious musings from his time in the desert. It’s about how a couple of soldiers wander into a minefield. Wilf is talking about minefields having to be patrolled:

I remember an incident which occurred when the section of which I was a member was carrying out a routine patrol of a part of the Knightsbridge box defending our part of the front line.

The perimeter of the minefield was bordered by a trip wire which was about six to eight inches off the ground. This did not follow a straight line but would at intervals turn sharp right or left; the section patrolling this used the following method. Two members of the section were selected to lead some 25 yards or so in front of the main body; this was just in case of a surprise attack by an enemy patrol, so there would be enough time for the main body to deploy into defensive positions.

It also had the advantage of being a safety measure, by which I mean that if by some mischance the leading two missed the trip wire and wandered into the minefield; in the event of a mine being detonated, only part of the patrol was likely to be seriously affected. As far as I can recollect, the Royal Engineers did not employ the use of anti personnel mines like the Germans, but only the anti tank or vehicle mines, which would only detonate under considerable pressure.

On this occasion, the trip wire had either sagged to ground level or had snapped off from its fixing post, or as sometimes happened been cut by shell splinters; for whatever reason, the two leading men had strayed into the minefield; the mistake was discovered by the following group who proceeded to try and attract the attention of the leading two; strict silence had to be observed on all these patrols, and it was a somewhat comical spectacle to see the rest of us hissing and gesticulating and what I can only describe as trying to shout in a whisper; it seemed ages before the two in front realized that the rest of the patrol were not following.

When they finally did so, they made their way back in a gingerly and tiptoeing sort of fashion, with the rest of us flattened to the ground”.

TR

 

And one final little treat for you that I’ve been holding back for months, just for this occasion. It’s another story from Wilf that, again, I’ve never used in the podcast before:

The second world war Bayonet from WW2

If anyone wants to see a pic of my Dad’s bayonet that he brought back from Dunkirk, there’s one in the shownotes. It looks like it’s the longer version that Wilf referred to.

Talking about Wilf, one of my favourite epsiodes, 26, featured his pal Fred Zilken’s letters which will prove in time to be classics in my view. Essentially for the poignancy of so many of the comments.

Fred and Wilf used to reminisce between them for years after the war, exchanging occasional letters remembering stories.

Here’s just a few words from one of Fred’s letters:

“What were we doing up there in Iraq? We motored down from Iraq through Syria etc, God knows where we were and arrived in the Gazala line [in N Africa] around 2 Feb 1942. It was here that Ginger Wright had a do with a Sgt Major, can’t remember his name, we were digging a hole for a cookhouse and the Sgt Major had a pick and was able to pull down lots of earth, much more than Wright could shovel out.

Wright got mad because he couldn’t shovel quickly enough and threatened to hit the SM with his shovel – and he did. The SM turned around and asked if anyone had seen Wright do this but nobody said a word! It’s sad to learn that Ginger Wright is dead now – and Woods.

Thirst in the desert

About the desert Wilf.  At night, listening to the tins of petrol in the dumps when on guard - contracting and ping-ponging and making that noise and when on guard getting dug in under the tarpaulin covering the emergency rations and drinking the tins of 'Carnation' milk.  

Also - I think some of us - I know I did - drank the rusty water from the radiators of the Bren Gun carriers.  Laying on my back - mouth under the drain plug of the Carrier!  Some blokes used the hollow aerials of their 18 sets to syphon the water from the 44 gal drums in the emergency dumps.  I could have got shot for that!

What about the Khamseen - that great cloud of sand and wind that engulfed us from ground to sky and the mirages we saw.  

Where is all my kit - somewhere in the desert on that retreat from Gazala.

All those knocked out tanks.  The lorries, the armoured cars, the graves - the mines, thousands we laid.  I often think, out there now, all is quiet, the spirits of all the gallant men who were killed there.  I wonder if all the tanks and trucks etc. were collected up - all the mines lifted?

By the way Wilf, I’ve still got that Italian Bayonet you gave me – you got it off an Italian prisoner. I think you used it for an earth pin for the phones we used, remember?

Perhaps I could tell you of France 1940.  How as just a Labour Btn. we had to fight with the Germans etc.  How I was found asleep on guard by the second in command of the Btn.  And was put on 'Coy Office' the next morning!  

How we had our first baptism of fire and how we, with only rifles and 50 rounds of ammo, fired on the Germans at a range of 400 yards!  

We had no mortars, no Brens - no anti-tank rifles - we did have a Lewis Gun - a 1914 18 one - it used to jam up after a few rounds!  One time I was left with a Lewis Gun on my own, as a rear guard action out in the middle of nowhere - Jerry didn’t turn up - thank goodness!  

I was on my own once or twice up the desert - but way out in front of our positions in a 'sanger' - a listening post.  All I had was a bloody rifle and 50 rounds - all on my own - listening for Germans!!  I was bricking it!

 

One of Fred’s most mundane yet memorable comments can only really be appreciated with the backdrop of the torrid time the BEF troops went through in 1940’s Dunkirk.

After all the troops had been through at Dunkirk, underweight, starving, haggard, in many cases shell-shocked or wounded, he says in a letter to Wilf Shaw …

I just thought Wilf - another boat I was on - the Lady of Mann a cross channel steamer.  We (George Suzuki and yours truly) went on it, with the rest of the Green Howards from Dover to Calais sunning ourselves on deck in early May '40

and blow me after our hasty withdrawal, down to the beaches at Dunkirk we got onto - after much bombing, strafing and shelling - we staggered aboard - yes, the Lady of Mann! This time we kept off the deck and got ourselves - George and me and Arthur Garner down below.  The boat rolling from side to side as the bombs kept straddling the ship

- didn’t worry George though, he went and had a wash and brush up!”

Listener I LOVE that last comment, given that my own Dad had deliberately stayed on Deck so he wouldn't get caught out if the ship sank!  Indeed, he had his eye on the nearest lifebelt in case that very worst happened, because he couldn't swim. Funny but when I was a kid, one of the very first things my parents did with me was to teach me to swim – I now know part of the reason for that – thanks Mr Hitler!

I wonder what you would have done in these circumstances, listener? Stayed upside and risked the bombs and bullets for a chance to abandon ship first? Or down in the hold for a jam butty and a bit of warmth like they did in the Dunkirk movie?

One of Fred’s last musings in his letter was this one:

I'm settled in now Wilf and hoping that you can get some golf in in spite of this weather - it's raining hard now outside - Sun 12 noon.  I'm about to go out for my usual pint on a Sunday.  Long gone days Wilf - Exmoor, Western Desert, Loch Fyne, Normandy, Marston House … Ah those good old days - ouch!  

I wonder whatever happened to our pal Dibble?

 

 

TR

Captain Stanley Perry

Capt Stanley Perry was in the British tank regiment the Sherwood Rangers and saw a lot of action in Normandy and Germany. He survived battles, bombs and booby traps to tell of his amazing exploits some 75 years later!

As a quick preview, here’s the audio track of the interview that I used to promote episode 36 in social media:  >>>>>>

 

Thanks you Stan and I just want to say how sporting these old soldiers are to help me out with the show intros and outros. And I can tell you we’ve had some great fun doing them because it’s harder than you might think – I’ve got some bloopers recorded but I’m going to save that for another episode I think.

 

For the interview, I travelled from Norfolk to Stan’s home near Grimsby in England for cake, coffee and accounts of combat which at times left me breathless.

Stan was in British Tank regiment the Sherwood Rangers and saw a lot of action.

 

Here’s just one of Stans’ stories …

Shot one -

Geneva Convention!!

>>>>>>

 

 

TR

 

A very patient Jewels Renee from America wrote to me absolutely ages ago, maybe a year, saying

 

I just discovered your podcast last week. I haul horses and I drive at least 12 hours a day two to four times a week. I love World War II history. I love World War 2 airplanes! I have made it to episode 35 and I’ve only been listening a week. Keep doing what you do I think it's amazing! Thank you

 

My grandpa Maj Robert Reavis was a test pilot U.S Military Army Air Corp. I was so young his stories I heard a million times I can only recall a few.

 

I was 16 when he passed.  I do know he got shot in the leg while flying. I’m guessing from a guy on the ground. Came up through the fuselage and hit him in the leg. They tried to give him A purple Heart medal but he would not accept it said he didn't do anything to deserve it. He has a great collection of medals.

In episode 37 when Capt Stanley talks about back slang. Grandpa called it Pig Latin and spoke it well. I would get a kick out of it. He always spoke it. I think mainly to pester! He was a character.

 

Dawane Harris - Pig Latin

By the way, we call that language spoken by Stanley's crew Pig Latin...

You reverse the order of the letters and put an A on the end.

You always say the ending A as a long A

So do you speak pig Latin? Would be Oda ouya keapsa gipa nitala?

 

And here’s Captain Stan Perry, Tank Commander, who entertained us with over three hours of stories from scary to side-splitting. Here he is talking about Back Slang:

>>>> Backslang extract

And here’s a passage from Jewel’s grandfather’s memoirs from his wartime exploits delivering planes to the war zones. :

So this is a Memoir from Bob Reavis to his military magazine I think:

Charlie, I have my doubts this can be published? However, it is a true experience that happened to me on my way from Tunisia in North Africa to Italy, while ferrying a P-51D across the Mediterranean Sea during the recent unpleasantness.

I had spent the night at the majestic hotel in Tunis and whatever I had eaten the evening before just didn’t agree with me. About 20 to 30 minutes out on the Mediterranean, I suddenly had an urgent, urgent call from mother nature. I knew it would be quite some time before our flight of four or

five planes could reach san severo And I knew there was no doubt, a delay of that length of time was impossible. I did what I had to do… I eased out of the rather loose formation, unhooked my seatbelt and shoulder harness, skinnied out of the parachute straps, disconnected my throat mic, unzipped my one piece flying suit and pulled it way down. I lowered the seat to its limit Of travel and got both of my heels Back up off the rudders and onto the front of the Lowered seat. I then got my head up over the computing gun site and with one hand trying to hold onto the stick and my back up against the inside of the canopy I did what had to be done. The Mustangs track was a little erratic; we wallowed a bit. While all of this was ongoing, one of the other P-51 drivers came over to take a closer look and see what in the world was going on! After gaining a brief visual determination he pretty quickly moved his Mustang away. After all was said and done, I got myself pulled back together and we continued our flight. If necessary, I can have one of the other Mustang pilots legitimise the story. I might add, I weighed about 150 lb at that time and was quite thin and agile.

The considered reply from Charlie was as follows:

Thanks but no thanks Bob, we won’t ask anyone to confirm your story… We have heard more than we want to hear. By any count, you have just set general Aviation and the US states Army Air Corps back about 100 years. All of the things we’ve accomplished of the last 98 years have now been lost in the few short moments it has taken to read your letter. Where are your parents? Where are your teachers, where are your instructors?

It’s back to finishing school for you and we really need to get this one “behind us “.

And thanks, Bob, but I wish to respectfully decline your invitation to being your ground crew chief.!

Moving on quickly…!

 

Survey Feedback time

Over the months I’ve asked you to complete a survey of your listening habits. I’ve had just over 100 replies to the survey so thank you so much to you if you replied

From the analysis, I know that pretty much everybody is well engaged with the show, listening to episodes multiple times and binge listening, so I’m pleased about that. I’ve had lots of compliments but I’m not going to wallow in them, well, maybe just a bit but I’ve got a few positives and negatives to share with you.

 

Listening habits … a third of respondents listen at work and a similar proportion are doing household chores or gardening. A good half of you tune in whilst driving and around 15% take the podcast to the gym or other exercise activities. A third of you will sometimes listen whilst sitting or relaxing and just over one in 10 people very sportingly ticked the box for “okay, yes, there too!”

 

Pretty much everyone rated every feature of the show as good or excellent, though there were some issues with audio quality which I do hope I’ve now fixed.

 

Amazingly, everyone said they’d likely or definitely recommend the show to a friend or relative – in fact 8 out of 10 were definite on that. Sorry if that sounds a bit like an old cat food advert!

 

Just about every episode or subject got a like but I could pretty much predict that the top two would be Dunkirk and Gallipoli. Quite a few people just said “all of them”, and the runners up included Wilf, Women at War and Tank Commander Stan Perry’s gargantuan two-episode epic and, of course, D-Day.

And here’s a few of the written comments I pulled from the survey …

 

I really enjoy all stories and how you tie them together - the related stories - like pull ing a thread and seeing where it goes. i.e. how Bill C related to M Petch stories, one story leading to relatives sending in their stories, etc.

Love the podcast and the effort you make to produce and deliver it. My only slight “niggle” is when you pronounce Leftenant as Loo-tenant when referring to The rank of British troops. Oh crikey yes, I’ll try and correct my habit there. I can only think I’ve either watched too many American movies or I’ve had Wilf Shaw’s latrine story too much on my mind. Loo-tenant – get it? Boom boom.

I did look up the history of the subject, lieutenants that is, not latrines, and there seems to be a lot of different theories on the cause of the different pronunciation but I’m not going to bore you with them other than to say that in one forum an american bloke called Jon, I think pronounced Jay-on, simply announced “The Brits are weird”. So I think we’ll go with that.

A few people thought the German side was most interesting.  

And one said

“I would like to hear more stories from American and Canadian soldiers, and more coverage on women - So would I – please send em in folks!

I just bought your Dad's book for my grandpa. He served in Germany post-WWII as a corporal in an American artillery regiment. Keep up the good work and kind regards, Kirby Minnesota, USA. Kirby let me have your address and I’ll post you out a FT bookmark and souvenir photos.

“Production values are fine. It's not a hollywood style million dollar operation; which is good, it makes it real. Very direct clear sound. Excellent stuff, don't change a thing :)

 

Another comment:

“I love how genuine Fighting Through is, please keep up all the little touches. One slight critique, try not to say "right" quite so much when you're doing interviews. You know this comment was absolutely valid. I’ve recently re-listened to myself interviewing wilf Shaw and it is a habit of mine. In fact my dear old mum used to tell me off sometimes “You’re always saying right”, she’d say, after lecturing me like mothers do.  So I have no defence here. I must say though that the context I use it in is not one of approving what someone has said, it’s really “Yes I understand” as in my Mum nagging me about having my hair cut too short or putting too much milk in her coffee! It’s just one of those hateful crutch phrases that we all possess in our personal vocabulary. Right, moving on ….!

 

Maybe some background sound effects would add colour to recounts of battles, beach landings etc or interpose news reels from the time. You’re right about sound effects, but I just haven’t enough people on my production team (ie me) to do that sort of work. But there are also copyright and cost issues with all this stuff. You can’t just use it. Even with Churchill’s beaches speech I got a shot across the bows when youtube picked up on it. I have tried to make good use of the half dozen or so show tracks like Mighty Hearts as my intro In Victory for my outro but even they cost around fifty quid a pop to buy. But the real limit is really the extra time it takes to overlay all these sound effects and if it’s not done well, I think it can sound rather amateurish and even corny

 

Interview authors of biographies and read some selected parts of their books. I have now started reading some book extracts and will continue. I’m hoping to interview an author soon. But, my niche is unpublished war memoirs so I still see that being my main thing.

The diaries and interviews are top notch. Ideas for you. 1. A french perspective 2. The dirty war (tricks and traps each side played) 3. Compassion and aid (how soldiers or medical staff of other sides help the wounded enemy) 4. Homefront (homeguard and warden activities).

Well I have now done some stuff on the French and the Home Guard, but if I stick to my knitting I have to wait till I get hold of some memoirs on those subjects before I can wade in too deep. I do have a wish to cover compassion and I actually have a folder for it. It does keep cropping up occasionally, and here’s a gentle reminder with one of my very favourite d-Day clips from Brian Moss.

“We took one prisoner, a Panzer grenadier, and Billy Balfour sat him blindfolded upon the back of our carrier. He seemed certain he was going to be shot. I filled my pint pot with tea and held it to his lips. He jerked back in panic. Then he realised what it was, and drank thirstily.

 

A tear came from under his blindfold, and rolled down his dust-covered cheek. Then he sobbed. He couldn't have been more than seventeen.

Brian Moss, Sergeant, Royal Engineers, Normandy 1944

 

Victoria

I now want to nip over to my Normandy visit a while back where I met some fantastic war re-enactors. They were young French men and women and I want to remind you what they said.

I’ve always been impressed by the French people’s hospitality on numerous visits to their country and this comment from Victoria rather sums things up for me.

 

TR

Seaman Ernest Clark

Moving to D-Day with Seaman Ernest Clark from episode 42 in the second world war  

 

Vicky Zarajewski (Zarooski?) Hewitt from Wisbech in Cambs kindly sent me a story from her Dad. He wrote his memoir based upon his experiences on board a Landing Craft transporting troops and tanks to the Normandy beaches - not just once but eight times!!!

 

It is jaw dropping and I feel so very proud that we got it for the show. Here goes. Eric was a leading wireman in the Royal Navy,

Here is an extract from that episode.

 

I volunteered for the Royal Navy near my 18th birthday.

However, after six weeks training some of us went to a former Butlins holiday camp at Skegness which had been taken over by the Royal Navy and known as HMS Royal Arthur (Listener hold that thought in your mind about Butlins holiday camp at Skegness because I’m going to come back to it later.

There followed another 8 weeks training on electrical wiring and equipment aboard a landing craft, followed by some months worth of additional training.

Come 4 June 1944 we all sailed to New Haven, Sussex where concrete ramps (hards) had been constructed, leading down to the sea. Each of our flotilla loaded up in turn and took aboard tanks and Tommy trucks and met up again with the lads of the Royal Artillery whom we had spent many months training with up in Scotland.

 

Come early sixth of June, we received orders to sail to Normandy.

 

By the time we neared the Normandy coast, most of our soldiers aboard were showing signs of fatigue due to lack of sleep and seasickness, but they put on a brave front.

 

 

All around the sea was littered with ships of all types, coming and going in all directions. Big warships were shelling over the coastline, smaller warships buzzing around them with loudhailers blasting away and numerous assault craft everywhere. The noise from the big Navy guns and machine guns and the stench from smoke and cordite was overpowering.

 

As we neared the beach, we had to break formation and each craft was left to its own salvation. I believe we should have beached on Sword beach, but because of obstructions on the shore, we actually beached on Juno near Courseulles.

 

It was difficult getting in because we had to allow enough distance to drop our kedge anchor before beaching in order to pull ourselves off. And apart from the obstructions and damaged craft, there were also rows of constructed obstacles on the beach line, some of which exploded on impact.

 

 

However, we managed to drop our seven ton loading ramp (or door) and the soldiers started to disembark with their armour.

 

The first Tommy truck sank up to its front axles in shingle and sand - because in the confusion they had forgotten to lay out the rolls of wire mesh, so it was all hands to drag it back aboard.

 

Meanwhile, all sorts of missiles were flying about. The beach masters were shouting, our barrage balloon deflated and the cable dropped and tangled on the vehicles in the well deck.

 

It was a shambles and our captain was shouting at me to cut the cable free and stand by the capstan which was our aid for winding in the kedge anchor in order to pull us off the beach.

 

When the six tanks and Tommy trucks were finally unloaded, we waved our RA soldiers and tank crews lots of good luck, then fortunately managed to pull our craft off the beach (our kedge anchor had gripped well).

 

 

We turned about and headed back to Newhaven to reload with more army units.

 

We did this journey three times to near enough the same area of the Normandy beach and each time there was more and more obstruction on the beach shoreline - damaged landing craft, tanks, lorries, piled up enemy metal [fences] structures, which we learnt later were called Belgian gates. Also, quite a lot of the damaged and abandoned vehicles were Canadian.

 

During the third beaching, we were hailed back to the beach and took aboard around 150– 200 German prisoners which we unloaded at Portsmouth. They gave us quite a problem because there was nowhere they could sleep except in the well deck. They had no buckets for their necessaries [toilets] and we had no food to offer them since we ourselves were eating stale bread with mouldy green, baked beans.

 

We managed another five trips back and forth but on these occasions we unloaded on Gold beach, Arromanches. The last couple of journeys inside or on the Mulberry harbour.

 

On the eighth trip we were ordered to leave the Mulberry and seek shelter elsewhere because of the bad weather and the danger of the harbour breaking up.

 

Our skipper decided to return to England. We were close to our shores when we pancaked down so hard in the sea that we broke our craft’s back. The forward half (Well deck) wanted to float away.

 

We made many attempts to carry out temporary repairs using rope and steel springs from bow to stern, but to no avail, so the engine crew stayed with the stern [the rear] and the rest of us stayed on the focsle (the forward upper deck) but still moored to the stern.

 

To find out what happened next, catch up with the action in episode 42, D-Day 75.

 

 

So, did you pick up on the comment about Eric’s training stint at Butlins in Skegness? Well the first time I covered this episode I completely missed it and then suddenly this time something clicked and I checked Dad’s memoir for something he said about Butlins whilst he was stationed in England at one point:

 

“For a while, we ended up at a small village called Mareham-le-Fen,

in Lincolnshire, but a few miles from the sea. From Mareham, different platoons

were posted for short periods on the coast and every platoon was on duty for two

periods guarding Skegness pier, which was very exposed to rough seas and a bitterly

cold wind. There is nothing less rewarding than doing a twenty-four hour guard,

especially during the night periods, two hours on and four hours off – time seemed

endless and of course, in those days, the blackout was strictly enforced. Whilst I

was at Skegness, we were billeted in requisitioned private hotels on the sea front,

sleeping on the floor. On two occasions I was sent on duty to the Butlins Holiday

Camp and found that the place had been taken over by the Royal Navy for training

would-be matelots and it was spotlessly clean. Here, we had a concrete pillbox and

had to keep a lookout to sea but there was no way that this routine was preparing us

for active service. It was getting a bit boring.

Then training then started to take on more significance. At last, somebody seemed

to have awakened to the fact that one day, not so far off, these lads would have to go

to battalions to replace battle casualties, and that at present something was missing

from the training schedules. Route marches of around fifteen miles were undertaken

to start with, including such things as walking up to our chests in water and letting

our clothes dry on us while we walked. The intensity of weapon training, which

was lacking up to now, was speeded up and the firing range came on to the agenda

along with map reading and the use of the compass. Most of the lads had only ever

fired rifles on a firing range. Now, they were going to learn all there was to know

about any weapon which they were likely to come into contact with and to respond

instinctively to commands.

Weapon training involved the lads stripping down a Bren machine gun and reassembling

it, and I would time them. In this way we found future Bren gunners.

At last, the lads were beginning to realize that there was more to soldiering than

guard duties, and more important training started to be done on section and platoon

tactical exercises, with more emphasis on deployment under any given circumstance

which could possibly arise during battle. One night, we were taken twenty miles

away in transport where section leaders were given a compass and compass bearing,

then we had to find our way back across country, and through a thick wood, without

cheating – it was a challenge accepted in good heart by us all. As a matter of fact,

most of this sort of training had not been undertaken by the 6th. I am certain that

the lads in the 11th were not as fit as I was when I joined them, but it would come.

In the middle of all this activity, my platoon commander proposed to put my name

forward for a stripe, which I took, and I was then section leader (Lance Corporal). I

had never sought promotion because I did not want to drift away from the friendship

of the lads; this was always very important to me, but they all knew me well enough

now to know that I would do my best for the section. My responsibilities increased

accordingly; I enjoyed the routine and I had good lads in my section, which was

number two. I took my promotion seriously and I still have my notebook containing

the names of the lads in my section and platoon.

Mareham was only a village and we didn’t have a NAAFI or even a canteen, so

during off-duty hours the opportunity for outside activity was non-existent apart,

that is, from going to the local pub, where our constant problem was money. Many

of our evenings were passed by talking or playing cards on our beds (we didn’t have

a table or chairs) writing letters, or having a singsong. Bear in mind that we didn’t

even have a radio in those days. I remember one incident vividly. One evening, some

of us were writing letters and a boy wrote to his mother; two days afterwards he

received a letter – he had only put his own name and address on the envelope and

we didn’t half pull his leg!

Well, that’s the end of that passage but I hoped you picked up that my Dad was actually on guard at the same place as Ernest Clark was being trained. To be fair, the coincidence ends there because Dad was there in 1942 and Ernest arrived much later in 1944 but who cares.

 

TR

Gallipoli

One of my favourite survey comments was this one  :

“The WW1 account made me almost feel like I was there - hearing the Turks yell Allah”

 

This memoir of the battle of Gallipoli, was written by Sergeant Fred Reynard from the Isle of Wight. He landed at Suvla Bay in August 1915, to continue the fight for the strategic waters of the Dardanelles and the Turkish capital city of Constantinople …

Here’s the scary passage on the battle of Chunuk Farm.

The Turks were getting reinforcements and we knew something was going to happen and it did.  We’d straightened our line and had good reserves and the Australians came in the front line with us.   It was estimated that the Turks had been reinforced by fifteen thousand men but this time we were on the hill and in fairly good trenches.

The next day he struck.  He came on in a dense black screaming mass almost shoulder to shoulder six to eight deep.  We sprayed them with machine gun bullets and threw bombs in that packed mass. The riflemen tore gaps with volley after volley of rifle fire, and his first wave broke.  

On came a second wave and this met the same fate and yet another wave, which got through.  The din of battle was deafening, the cry of men the screech of mules, the whine of shells and the explosion of bombs.  Knives, bayonets, entrenching tools were used to rip them to pieces.  But the weight of numbers told and we were driven back to our second line of trenches.  

I had to leave my gun but I had the lock so it was useless to him.  The second line held and we rallied and poured a hail of musketry into that charging wall of men, wounding and killing hundreds.  Still we could not hold them and we were forced to give way again.  But we were not beaten, for men formed groups of resistance and charged forcing him to waver, forcing him to stand and fight man to man and that is where he failed.  We used stones, knives, clubs and even fists as we hurled ourselves upon one another with a fury that afterwards we could not understand - and in the end - Johnny was beaten to a standstill.  

 

He went back to where he came from; a vantage point at the top of his hill - and us to ours.  He left thousands of dead and wounded.  His stragglers were clubbed to death or had a bayonet in them.  Men wielded rifles as clubs, foaming at the mouth as they killed every Turk or Arab that had breath.

If Johnny could give, then he must be prepared to receive - for there were no rules of war on Gallipoli after that, even, if there were before.

 

I found my gun again under a pile of dead Turks but anyone who survived Chunuk Farm will have it engraved on his memory for ever.

 

This next passage is absolutely one of my favourites – it’s about a Turk infiltrating British lines. The troops have fought many battles already and are holding a position …

“I had to crawl out to a small ridge and I saw an opening from the wood.  I saw also over the crest and about a quarter of a mile off, a sunken road, along which a convoy of traffic was moving towards where the Australian and New Zealand line were attacking.

I returned to my position and set my gun for the gap in the wood and then I met Capt Holmes Gore.  He’d rounded up stragglers and had collected the ammunition boxes the men of my section were carrying when they fell, and this was to prove very useful in the near future.  I asked how the battalion had fared and he said badly, in fact no contact could be made with any who had entered the wood, also the 4th and 5th Norfolks had simply disappeared. These were men from the Sandringham Estate and a fine lot of lads they were. I reported what I had seen and he said it would reach the right quarters.

Capt Holmes Gore also told me that Capt Loader was killed and that there were only seven officers at Headquarters that could be accounted for.  He said, “My definite orders to you, Sergeant, are to hold on whatever happens, for there must be no retirement.” I knew what I had to do, and I intended to do it, but it meant that every round fired would have to count.  

 

The night pressed on and there was a strange quiet.  No one could afford to relax their watch, and then I heard a movement and saw the outline of a figure coming down the line towards our position.  He stopped and spoke to the lads on the way and this was followed by a movement of the men.  When he reached my position he said, “Are you with the Hampshires?” I said, "No" (a lie).  He then said, I am Capt Loader of the Hampshires, the only officer left. Prepare to retire at once.  I knew Capt Loader. I knew he was dead, and I knew there must be no retirement.  He guessed my thoughts and his hand flew to his side, but he was too late, I fired and he was dead.

We dragged him into the gun position and looked him over.  There was nothing in the dress or even features to say he wasn’t British and I began to wonder.  Then Dink said, nice watch Sergeant, and it was, a gold watch inscribed within ….  with words I could not read. Yes, he was a Turk.

 

I sent a runner down the lane to stop those who were thinking of retirement and contacted H.Q.  Then we dragged Johnny Turk clear of our emplacement and left him there to rot.  The morning broke and still no sign of a counter attack.  The sniping was resumed and claimed many lads.  We dug still deeper and sappered off the position.

If you want to hear the whole caboodle, take a listen to epsiode 16 – Quite frankly if you’re not very familiar with this battle, you couldn’t find a better way to educate yourself. Go on, I dare you!

TR

Gurkhas - ? save for sniper

A long-deserved shout out for the famed Gurkhas now.

Of course we all know right now who the most feared fighting force was during WW2 – and that was the highly respected Gurkhas from Nepal.

With a battle cry, "Ayo Gorkhali" - meaning "the Gurkhas are here"

And the motto: "It's better to die than to be a coward,"

these kukri (a long-curved knife) wielding warriors earned a fearsome reputation and my Dad was certainly aware of their unrivalled support during the battle of Wadi Akarit in Tunisia.

So they've featured several times during the show and I just want to share this one story with you from just one former British veteran. This story comes from the Gurkha Welfare Trust website.

It’s from veteran Malcolm Vernone: “One Gurkha is responsible for me being alive”

“Malcolm served during WW2 first with the East Surreys then in the 110th Railway Survey Company Royal Engineers in Assam and Burma. It was during his time in India that his unit had a platoon of Gurkhas attached to them on protection duty and protect them they did. While out on jungle patrols the Gurkhas would often give the sign to hide up and then they would vanish few a while only to return later totally unfazed after very quietly dispatching an enemy patrol.

One Gurkha is responsible for me being alive as his super quick reaction to hearing a hardly audible click a long way off and shoving my dad sideways meant that a snipers bullet went through his right shoulder blade instead of his heart. To me and my family the selfless men of the Himalayas are the greatest. Ayo Gorkhali!!” [sic]

This year The Gurkha Welfare Trust is 50 years old. At the heart of their anniversary celebration is the very simple question – what makes the Gurkhas special to you?  Their supporters have been telling the heroic, heart-warming and honourable stories behind why the Gurkhas are so important to them and they’re posted on the GWT web site.

Link … https://www.gwt.org.uk/news/stories-about-gurkhas-that-will-make-you-smile/

Needless to say, Dad’s own tale is up there!

Did I say I was only going to share one story with you about the Gurkhas? Well, I’m a little fibber, because I’ve found just one more wading through the Gallipoli memoirs crafted by Fred Reynard …

This is just one of the many battle descriptions crafted by Fred …

For over an hour, the enemy sent everything he had, large and small, and the very earth seemed to rock with explosions.  We had a few near misses and a few were hit where we were but it was the wood that had it.  Suddenly, the shelling stopped and there was a great yell as the Turks charged from behind the barrage.  They came in swarms shouting and cursing us in broken English calling us infidels from the South Seas and from the accursed Britain.  

They called to their Allah and shouted that they would drive us all into the sea, as they swarmed through that gap in the wood.  Belt after belt I put through that gun.

His dead piled up but over the bodies they still came. Shouting and cursing. Still nearer they came. We fired point blank and they reach our trenches, piling up their dead on the parapets and then they were amongst us and a free for all followed.  

We fought with everything we had, butts, bayonets, entrenching tools, kill or be killed was again the order.  We drove him into the saps we’d dug and a mills bomb sorted them out.  Then a welcome cry from behind us and the little Gurkhas came.  We didn’t not know they were around but we heard they’d come over from Lola Baba to our left. Their knives flashed out as they got among the Turks and the slaughter began.  Slowly Johnny was forced back leaving only behind his dead and wounded.

Breathe – there’s more of that to come later.

If you’re stopping for a touch of tiffin, take a shufty at The Gurkha Welfare Trust web site. Link.

TR

 

While we’re just about still on the first world war, and talking about amazing, even spooky happenings, here’s a clip from the memoirs of Captain Hovell from episode 48:

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday, April 9th, 1917

From our billets at Carency we went into the line each day to carry shells etc. and prepare for our part in the coming battle.  Our way led us through trenches, on duck boards, called the Arras Lines until we came to an open part at the foot of the ridge called "Death Valley".

The first objective was a tunnel burrowed under the Ridge called "The Ding wall Tunnel".  This was situated, at the foot of the highest part of the ridge called "The Pimple".  The Pimple was held by the Germans at the time - once it was captured, but lost again later.

Our guns were placed in different positions on the ridge, in emplacements. Large holes dug and filled with sand bags.  Most of the Sunday the day before the battle started, we carried boxes containing our shells, two in each box, slung over our rifles which we had on our shoulders.  The boxes had rope handles on each end. We carried them from the tunnel along a trench called Wilbour Walk to a part of the ridge called Charing Cross.  Wilbour Walk was mud nearly half way up our knees.  I was third in the file at one time when my right boot came off.  I had to stop for a few moments and feel for it in the mud, empty the mud out of it and put it on again for the time being.  By doing this I lost my place and then was about ninth in line.

Before the first man reached Charing Cross, Jerry dropped a five-nine shell in front of the line.  The first man had part of his right arm blown off as he held the box of shells on his rifle.  The second man escaped, but the third lost the top of his head, napoo [finished].

He was a little fellow, his first real touch of the line, and he came from the North-East of England.  It was very sad later when, what was left of us, got back to Carency a parcel was waiting for him containing, among a lot

 

It’s strange how a quirk of fate can lead to some people dying when others survive. That story another reminds me of another from the shores of Dunkirk when my Dad, Maj Petch and the rest of the battalion had arrived at the beach at Bray Dunes, just up the coast. Major Petch’s memoirs from Episode 9 record:

“[Capt] Carmichael later reported that all the men dug out holes in the sand to hide from the bombing of the German planes. They dug one for him but when he arrived two young frightened soldiers from another Battalion were hiding in it. He said that they could stay there and he would go over the dune.

Sadly [within minutes] a mortar landed in the hole and both soldiers were killed.”

 

Tea break

 

A few Feedback and shout outs

Talking about Grandfathers, I’ve just been watching My grandfather’s war. It’s a UK Channel Four TV series. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, four celebrated actors explore their grandparents' extraordinary wartime stories. I just want to highlight a couple of the episodes …

In one of them, Actor Kristin Scott Thomas uncovers the story of how her grandfather William saved thousands of lives at Dunkirk while serving as a commanding officer in the Royal Navy – definite shades of Lady of Mann.

And probably my favourite episode Actress Carey Mulligan explores how her naval grandfather travelled thousands of miles to fight the Japanese in the final months of World War II, and lost his closest friends from a kamikaze attack at sea. It’s Nov 44 – Carey’s GF is a ships gunnery officer on board HMS Indefatigable.

There’s a then and now video of the ship being attacked in the Pacific war. It’s brilliant footage of the first kamikaze strike on a British ship – Track it down on catch up because the whole series is worth watching. That’s My grandfather’s war, UK channel 4.

 

One of my best five star reviews for some time on apple.

Hello

in Apple Podcasts by Roundeye1 from Australia on February 25, 2020

 

Where are ya mate?

And at this point I’d like to say thanks Roundeye, and I’ll apologise sincerely to you and everyone who’s been waiting patiently for this episode to come out. Truth is that I’ve had so much material to handle it’s just taken a long time. With a bit of luck you’re actually about to get two epsiodes so I do hope they’ll be worth the wait. More news on forthcoming projects later.

Thanks Danny Fontenot from USA for his recent support via Patreon. Much appreciated Danny as well as your contribution to the various Facebook postings.

And just to catch up on a few messages of support via Facebook page messages:

Josh Rose – GF was in the war.

Kaylan Wade – loves the first hand accounts of the British Perspective. Kaylan loves Stan Perry and Wilf – Would love to hear about Aussies on D-Day, of which I believe there were around 3000 involved. So if anyone has any stories from their relatives, do send them in. I’ve opened a file Kaylan!

 

Facebook

Kind comments about the show from:

Mark Buch from Trafalgar, Victoria Australia.

Dek Whittle listening from Tenerife – at least he was when he wrote to me. Likes Claude Reynolds. Hey I hope Mark got out of Tenerife before the Corona virus struck. Take care Mark

Richard Lord, praise indeed for the show – and listening on the Pandora App. Helloo! - to anyone else using Pandora!

 

Another contact ..

My name is Mike Papilli.  I am a 35 year old Yank Network Engineer here in sunny California.  I have been an avid World War 2 student for my entire adult life.  I have very much enjoyed listening to your podcast these past few years.  I supplement it with audiobooks every month, as i cannot seem to get enough information, always wanting more and more.

 

I have been listening to James Holland's The Rise of Germany (The War in the West Series Part 1) as I hike along the hilltops on the central coast of California.  

You should have seen the smile on my face when Mr. Holland referenced a young Englishman who joined the Green Howards just before the battle of France.  His name was Bill Cheall.

 

He referenced him again in the section covering Dunkirk.  It felt like hearing the names of old friends.  A direct quote from your father mentions Major Petch, and the book even tells of his escape on the Lady of Mann.  I would recommend the book to my fellow podcast listeners.

 

I enjoy your podcast so much because it makes me feel connected to my Dad's War in ways I have not experienced before.  What a treasure your father was, and he lives on in his memoirs.  And this makes me doubly appreciative of your efforts to make sure that Dad's War is remembered by future generations, the bravery and the sacrifice cannot be forgotten.

You're doing a fantastic job sir, please keep going.

Mike Papilli

 

PS (I know how much you enjoy PS's) I thought i would share one more little tidbit.  The Rise of Germany is narrated by Paul Boehmer (Bo-emmer?), and he does an admirable job on pronouncing names and places, much better than i would be able to do.  But he did pronounce your last name "Ch-ay-l" every time.  But i would correct him in my head every time, knowing from your podcast that it's "Ch ee-l".  How good is that?

 

Mike thanks for that. I did struggle over how best to pronounce Mr Bo-emmer’s name so I hope me stab was somewhere near the mark. I just went out and bought the book you recommended -The Rise of Germany by James Holland - because I couldn’t resist not seeing my Dad’s name in print in another book and there are indeed several great references to him, particularly about Dunkirk. And Major Petch and the Lady of Mann get a reference too! I have to say I’m looking forward to reading James book because he’s one of the hosts of the We Have ways of making you talk podcast and his knowledge of WW2 is just staggering and I can see how he’s positioned Dad’s own story in the wider context of what’s going on. So should be good. I’ll try and report back when I’ve read it. There’s a suggested link in the show notes.

LINK

 

I’m seriously pleased that James Holland has included some of Dad’s story in his book and he’s got an excellent index in the back so things are easy to find. What a history god that man is!

Whisper: Hey James - do you actually listen to the FTP? Just give me a sign if you do

 

 

BOOM!

 

Oooh thank you James. And bloomin heck Jon Dady has just emailed me to say you also mentioned Dad in the Dunkirk to Sicily episode of we have ways so I look forward to hearing more of the book you’re working on now which is about the battle for Sicily, Operation Husky. Oof my word!

 

 

 

PART TWO 2

Over to Apple Podcasts now by Porkydanjou from United Kingdom on January 6, 2020

This is truly one of the most amazing, informative and fascinating collections of accounts and stories from both World Wars. I cannot stop listening. Please keep it going - really impressive stuff.

I think that pretty well sums up the general feelings of all the SURVEY FEEDBACK I’ve had – thx Porky.

Talking of Pork, I’ve just got to slip in one of my favourite anecdotes from the show:

John Dady’s Dad was in the Irish Guards near the end of the war in Germany. John told us:

“My Dad told me a funny story about going wild boar hunting with the officers who were armed with shotguns only. When they got charged by a boar they couldn’t stop it so ….  my dad fired all 30 rounds from his Bren gun into it, much to the officers’ disgust!

 

This was in episode 29 about POW’s and I must say that one of the most poignant points, in this podcast series has been how brave, kind, and supportive the enemy-occupied Polish population were to the Allied POW’s – slipping them sandwiches, cigarettes and even helping them to escape, at the risk of their own lives.

 

I’d strongly recommend listening to the POW episode about Brian Asquith, who was a Rifleman in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He was captured at Dunkirk in 1940. And if you’re Polish – good on you and thank you for your country’s support throughout the second world war.

 

Here’s a short clip from Brian’s self-published book, Long Time No WC. I found it in a car boot sale a few years ago now. Little did I realise how much precious history was in it.

 

“At one point in this POW camp I had to visit the English dentist in a nearby town for treatment. My German escort had toothache himself and asked if I thought our dentist would be willing to extract a tooth. The dentist laughed and agreed but asked me how much I wanted the guard to be hurt! I told him the guard was the best we’d ever had so he said he’d treat him gently and I think he must have done so because when the guard came out he was absolutely delighted and couldn’t thank me enough. ‘Marvellous’, he kept saying, ‘Never felt a thing’.”

This next passage from the book is a perfect illustration of compassion from Brian’s book and it’s set in the period in early 1945 and the Russians are entering Poland. The POW camp has been emptied in an every man for himself scramble to avoid the advancing army. Brian and his pals have chosen a country side route.

Passage p 108

 

>>>>>>

 

So, another heart-warming passage from a self-published book well worth the read if you can get hold of a copy – Long time no WC.

 

 

TR

 

I've recently discovered your Podcast and I wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying it. Your narration is spot on and I can almost hear the tanks and planes. It's interesting to hear stories solely about the fighting British Army. Paul you should be proud of your Father. He served his country admirably with distinction and honor. I can't begin to tell you how much I admire him for writing his book. He and his fellow soldiers were the greatest generation. Thank you again from here in Michigan, U.S.A. Joe Frawley – Facebook messenger

 

Anecdote time, again!

Operation Manna.

A bit of input from Ruud Schermer from the Netherlands in relation to something Wilf Shaw mentioned very briefly in an interview ages ago …

“Lesley asked Wilf about Operation Manna. This was a food supply operation carried out by Bomber Command. Manna was carried out by British RAF units, as well as squadrons from the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Polish air forces, and the 8th USAAF (“Operation Chowhound”).

The winter of 1944-1945 had left the Dutch starved and many died of cold and lack of food, especially in the cities.

The operation took place May 1945, with permission from the German occupiers and resulted in many consecutive days of food droppings in the Western part of NL, which had by then been sealed off by the Allies from the rest of the (liberated) country.

Ruud explained further

The spectacular part of the op was obviously the food supply by air (my mum (Ruud’s) told me how utterly astonished she was by the size of the bombers as they flew in at low altitudes) it was a super moral uplift for the people. But the majority of the food supply came by lorry and by barge. My in-laws both lived on a barge and went through the war as kids. Both families were involved in shipping food through the lines to the sealed off parts of Holland.

Interestingly, the operation continued for days after the capitulation of the Germans, since it took time for the Canadians to move into the zone of occupation and get things organized there. Even after that quite a few people died from months of starvation, which actually started when the Dutch railways started their strike on 17-Sep-1944 in support of operation Market-Garden.

The Germans retaliated by shooting railway personnel and by not allowing food transports. When winter came lots of stocked food was gone, which led to mass starvation and people from the cities going out to the farmers to get food. Local food distribution petered out to starvation level.

The situation seriously deteriorated and Dutch resistance tried to negotiate food supply to the sealed off area as early as March, but the Germans would not budge. Only when the war actually appeared to be lost they consented – The German Reichskommissar (Arthur Seyss Inquart), but we’ll call him Rolf for short, apparently used this (late) consent as a proof of humanity during his Nuremberg trial a year later.

Here a picture of a Dutch youth scraping food from what look like trash cans, not too long before capitulation.

A posting on Joel Stoppels battlefield tours explains further:

Video at https://www.facebook.com/1519869474949014/posts/2281838175418803?s=591396934&v=e&sfns=mo

That FB page is a nice one. I met Joel Stoppels years ago when I joined a battlefield tour about the liberation of the town of Groningen by the Canadian army, delivered by him. Groningen is where Joel lives, and like so many, he started his hobby with small finds, after which it completely went out of control. He is growing more and more active, and he’s full of (unpublished) stories too

https://www.rafbf.org/news-and-blogs/operation-manna

29 April 2020, 75th anniversary

 

From a Brit - The lost airmen of Buchenwald

A bit of history from Wikipedia

As allied air forces took control of the skies over Europe in the summer of 1944, Adolf Hitler ordered the immediate execution of allied flyers captured in civilian clothing. These airmen had been shot down mainly over France, and whilst attempting to reach England along certain escape routes were turned over to the Gestapo by traitors within the French Resistance –

The captured airmen were given the name "Terrorflieger" (terror flyers), and were not given a trial. 168 airmen from Great Britain, United  States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica were taken by train – in overcrowded cattle boxcars – from a Prison outside Paris, to Buchenwald concentration camp.

UK Keith Farquarson has written in:

I was doing the security for the opening of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park and met a Canadian veteran.  He had been shot down outside Paris in 1944 just after D-day, taken in by the resistance, sent along the escape route into Paris, betrayed by a collaborator and arrested by the Gestapo, tortured by them, sent to a concentration camp, released by the Luftwaffe, and finally liberated by the Americans.

 

A short time later I was watching a history type channel and blow me there was a documentary which echoed his story called ‘The lost airmen of Buchenwald ‘. Apparently there were about sixty odd of these blokes. Well worth a watch if you can find it.

 

Keith – thanks so much for that – you wrote to me absolutely ages ago and it was a snippet I felt was well overdue for sharing. I love these little potted histories of veterans where in just one sentence and 30 seconds, some epic piece of war history just opens up. Anyway, in this case, it’s The lost airmen of Buchenwald – Find it on a digital download or DVD near you!

It’s actually all over Google and I’ve put just one free online link in the show notes.

https://vimeo.com/344432090

And coincidentally Buchenwald was featured in the new controversial Amazon drama, Hunters, about a Jewish band of Nazi hunters in the 1970’s, starring Al Pacino. I’ve only watched the first episode so I’m not going to comment further other than to say I will be watching the next instalment.

 

DUNKIRK 1

The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo was the dramatic escape of Allied soldiers from France during World War 2.

No anniversary episode would be complete without a mention of the part played in the Dunkirk evacuation by the ship the Lady of Mann led by Captain Tom Woods who was not a young man in 1940; he was in his sixties and almost about to retire when the war broke out and his ship, the Lady of Mann, was requisitioned.

The Lady of Mann was a passenger ship, built by Vickers Shipbuilders for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company at Barrow-in-Furness in 1930, at a cost of some £249,000. The Steam Packet company owned several sister ships and a number of these were used in the Dunkirk evacuation (in fact 8 in all). But this is the story of just one of them …..

So, here’s the scene – it’s 31 May 1940. We’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of hungry and exhausted French, British and Belgian soldiers stranded, slowly being surrounded by the advancing German forces.

There’ve already been a lot of embarkations from the port of Dunkirk, mainly from the harbour's protective East pier, known as the East Mole. Also there are many small boats which have come over from England to lift troops directly from the beaches and ferry them to larger ships

And all this time there are German planes bombing and machine gunning the ships and beaches.

My Dad describes the scene in his memoirs:

“We could see ships out at sea making their way from Dunkirk to England and could also see the dive-bombers after the ships. To our horror, many other ships had been sunk, their funnels and superstructures sticking out of the water – it was a ships’ graveyard and it looked dreadful.

Eventually, our column reached the East Mole and we waited in a long queue until it was possible for us to board a ship. Really, it is almost unbelievable, but even when we were attacked by planes we didn’t move in case we lost our place in the column. The Mole was a wooden jetty only about five feet wide and one thousand four hundred yards long.

I’m going to continue with Captain Tom Wood’s report to his management when he got back from Dunkirk because it provides a good backdrop to the letters to his wife which he also wrote when he got back.

Interestingly, the first day the Lady was involved was the very day she rescued my Dad.

Report to R W Cannell Esq General Manager IOM Steam Packet Line

Dear Sir

You asked me to write a short account of our experiences in the Lady of Mann evacuation at the various ports.

Friday 31st May 1940

We arrived at Dunkirk about 11.30am and had to wait outside the pier heads for orders to enter, which we got about noon. All the time we were waiting there were continuous waves of German planes coming over 40 at a time. The anti-aircraft barrage from all the ships about … and our fighter planes going up and intercepting them, kept them from dropping any bombs close to the shipping.

About 1.30 pm we got a birth at the pier and commenced embarking French casualties from the French hospital. We took 1500 casualties on board of which 300 were stretcher cases, also 500 other French troops and 1000 British.

All the time we were at the pier, the German planes were coming over, their bombs dropping the other side of the pier about 40 yards from us and we had seven holes made in the starboard bow close to the water line, also three lifeboats holed by flying shrapnel from the shells, several soldiers marching down were killed about 30 yards ahead of us in the wharf from the shellfire.

All the time [from] entering Dunkirk, for over five hours, we were under bomb and shell attack. We sailed about 5pm for Folkestone, berthing there at midnight …  and disembarked all the [uninjured] troops, leaving Folkestone at 4.30am for Dover, arriving about 6am where the casualties were disembarked.

Listener the bit you’ve just heard related to my Dad’s evacuation. Until I read this I had no idea, and I don’t think Dad had, that the ship had been hit by shrapnel and some soldiers had been killed trying to board the ship.

This is a passage from my Dad’s account of this particular period

“There by the side of the jetty, a ship was waiting to be loaded with human cargo. We walked along the wooden pier and back came the planes – it seemed never-ending – trying to bomb our ship but without success.

We walked along for about a half-mile to the ship we would be boarding. Miraculously, the Mole was still intact, but there was a six-foot gap in the planking where a bomb had gone through without exploding - and loose planks had been put across…. Some lads, in their desperate hurry, chose to jump the gap with their full kit on

------- luckily, none fell through into the water.

 

Another thirty yards and we came to our ship. At the top end of a gangway stood an officer, counting soldiers as they went aboard.

The ship was a ferry ship called The Lady of Mann (how could I forget that name?). How lucky we considered ourselves to be; out of all those thousands of men, we were being given the opportunity to be evacuated.

The ferry was fast becoming packed with grateful lads. The Captain would know how many men the ship could carry, but God alone knows what would have happened had a bomb hit us! I was lucky enough to be on deck to see what was happening and it must have been very claustrophobic down below deck

At last, packed like sardines, the ship started to tremble and, so very slowly, we pulled away from the Mole – it was 6pm, 31 May 1940.

Being a little taller than many of the lads enabled me to have a panoramic view of the whole length of the beach. I wondered how many of those boys would get back to England and how many would be killed or taken prisoner?

The beach was as crowded as ever; then suddenly I saw a German fighter plane skimming above them, firing cannons – it reminded me of a row of dominoes being knocked down from one end.

The dense black smoke from the blazing oil storage tanks reached far into the sky. There was another loaded ship about one mile ahead of us, and suddenly I heard the Stukas returning, diving almost vertically.

I saw bombs leaving one of the planes and was certain our time had come, and that this was the end. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, my whole body braced for the inevitable impact. Then, ‘Sploosh!’ and nothing else. I looked out in surprised relief to find that, miraculously, the bombs had hit the sea about twenty yards away, so God was watching over us. Then we all gave a massive cheer when

one of our destroyers hit one of the planes, knocking a wing off with the inevitable result.

Pause, quiet …

 

As we drew away from the coast on 31 May 1940, I wondered how many of the soldiers left on the beach would get away. That night and all I saw will always be imprinted upon my memory.

After another mile or so we felt safer; we were going to be lucky. Everybody became so quiet that only the passage of the ship could be heard, and that noise was bliss to our ears. I don’t believe that anybody who had endured the past weeks, witnessed such tragic events and lived to remember it all could be anything but thankful – there must be a God above looking after us.

Early morning, after it had become light, somebody shouted, ‘Hey, look across there!’ We saw the White Cliffs of Dover, and it was a beautiful sight. In a little while, the ship slowed down and soon edged its way to the dockside at Folkestone.

The wounded were taken off at Dover and my Dad Bill Cheall disembarked at Folkstone and taken by train to Cardiff.

The Lady of Mann carried on fighting bravely throughout the rest of the war

After the war, Captain Tom Woods was to be honoured with an award of the OBE (order of the british empire).

Sadly the valiant ship was taken out of ferry service in the 1970’s and scrapped. What a shame she’s not around today to be visited and admired.

 

How Good is That

One of the special features that have crept into the show has been the how good is that award. And here is just a sample of just some of my many favourites.

 

The Four Brits and a Frenchmen - Episode 40

Frenchman Maurice Bourel was evacuated from Dunkirk aboard the Lady of Mann after being wounded near Dunkirk.

He was treated at nearby Zuydcoote (Zweetcote) Hospital but driven away by bombing. He then boarded the Lady of Man on the East Mole jetty at Dunkirk.

I was gobsmacked when his grandson Benjamin wrote in and I realised that the date his GF was evacuated from Dunkirk on the Lady of Mann was the same date as Dad, 31 May. And as there was only the one sailing that day, it meant that Maurice Bourel was on the ship at the same time as Dad!

Not only that, but other people featured in this show were witness to the same incident.

They might have been standing next to each other, my Dad and Maurice both eyeing up the same Carley float in case the ship was sunk, both watching the same scenes unfold at the same time as ship’s Captain Tom Woods and Dad’s company commander Major Petch were – we’ve got podcast episodes on both their memoirs. So they all saw the enemy bombs falling towards the ship, the soldiers being knocked down like dominoes on the beach, the burning oil tanks.

They’d have seen the holes in the wooden flooring of the Mole where an unexploded bomb had gone through, the soldiers with full kit daring to jump across in haste.

 

Further along the beaches, at the same time, Fred Reynard was an absolute hero on little ship the Bee at Dunkirk. He later wrote his memoir about it - but only because he’d heroically survived Gallipoli in the first world war.

We now know that even before WW1, Fred Reynard had already diced with death:

In 1912, he’d left his home on the Isle of Wight to start a new job

— as stoker on a passenger ship.

But evidently heavy fog in the waters of the Solent held up the journey from his island home to Southampton and the ill-fated ship left without him.

So Fred Reynard, hero of Gallipoli and engineer on board the valiant Dunkirk ship Bee, only did those things because he escaped what would have been the first, fateful and final voyage of the Titanic!

How Good were those stories?!

 

UXB

This next passage from one of your favourite episodes is a fascinating insight into the dangers of the war at home in Britain in the 1940s, after Dunkirk and during the time of the London Blitz, when Germany was bombing the heck out of our civilians. We are going to hear about the totally mundane life led by engineer Brian Moss when he’s off duty, eating hot deserts and custard and how that compares with the tense, on-duty, blood pumping experience of sitting astride a bomb whilst trying to disarm it! I’m going to double up by including a classic how good is that – about a Polish bomb factory worker. Here’s Brian:

“On non-cinema evenings, I would go to ‘Jack’s Place’, a dingy café with a fruit machine. I gave Jack, the bald owner, instructions to bake blackberry suet puddings for me. I would sit in the corner and eat my pudding, while thinking about what would have to be done the following day.

The night of 14-15th November was one of significance. At around midnight, the whole company was in a state of anger and excitement. Telephone calls had revealed that Coventry was under attack. Coventry was the home of many of our men. Quite a few had already gone to the North Circular Road and hitched a ride home, wholly without authority, of course.

When morning came, we were about 20 men short. Others knew that their families had been killed and their homes destroyed. I cannot recall any action being taken against the absentees, except in the case of Wyatt, who kept absenting himself, eventually breaking out of the guardroom at the rear of Torkington House.

My personal collection of fuses grew. The fuse number indicated what the bomb would or should do after striking the ground. Delay before detonation is most important in a demolition or anti-shipping bomb. Instantaneous detonation is desirable in a high capacity land-mine type of weapon; a land mine could wipe a whole street off the map.

Penetration would vary with the soil. It was the least in gravel or non-homogeneous material. In London clay, penetration was maximal. Upon digging about six feet deep, we would usually find the fins that had been torn off.

The manner in which they came off was one of the factors that guided the path of the bomb below ground. Most bombs seemed to be fairly stable in their path until something, probably loss of velocity, made them tumble, much like the 0.223 bullet does in flesh.

A typical bomb pattern would be a hole in the ground, below which the bomb would penetrate reasonably vertically for about twenty feet, and then it would shoot off sideways for another ten feet or so before coming to rest.

Our first problem was where to sink our shaft. For the sake of speed and efficiency, we obviously sank shafts of minimum diameter. However, small shafts could easily miss the bomb. It might seem logical to follow the bomb hole. Some teams did this, but finished up with an extremely dangerous shaft that wandered all over the place.

Much judgement was required in deciding where to place the shaft. Even divining was tried, such as used in searching for underground watercourses. I recall that the Deputy Borough Engineer of Tottenham became involved in this mysterious art. Sometimes a squad would dig for weeks and not find the bomb.

One of our teams removed a stick of bombs from Wall’s meat factory. After this, for the rest of our stay in London, we were sent a daily supply of free meat pies.

The detonator was screwed into the base of the fuse. One day, I took off a detonator that did not contain the all-important penthrite wax. All it held was a folded piece of paper bearing a note written in a language I didn’t understand. I handed it in, and was later told that it was a message from a Polish worker, apparently enslaved in a munitions factory.

On October 26th, I visited 36 Northfield Avenue, Ealing. We were now just able to deal with a 250 kg bomb that had fallen there on Oct 1st. The bomb had hit something really solid and had scarcely penetrated at all. On the following day, we defused it and removed the black plug.

The main filling was not TNT. It was a greyish white powder, which smelled of mothballs. This was ‘hexamite’, the ultimate explosive. We were told not to touch it or we would get a dreadful skin disease. So, with that, we wore heavy gloves, and tipped the stuff into a dustbin for the experts to deal with.

All this time we were expecting to hear that the enemy had landed in Kent and Sussex. As the weeks went by, the view was expressed that he was waiting for the spring. Some of the local families in Twyford Avenue, who had stayed rather than evacuate themselves, offered to provide baths for servicemen. L/Cpl. Cotton of HQ and I were told to report to No. 115 Twyford Avenue.

Alternate nights were arranged for the pair of us to bathe, and so I arrived one evening and introduced myself to Mr and Mrs Townsend. They were a very pleasant and hospitable couple, and my invitation extended not only to baths, but also to dine with them for suppers.

Cpl. W. Fern of my Section once borrowed 50 shillings from me and then went sick. I never saw him again. I suppose at 5% interest, he would now owe me more than £19.40!

In the first week of October, I was instructed by Lt. Ewart to take the men to Wood Green. On September 10th, a stick of five 250-kg bombs had fallen, four in or near Wolves Lane, and one in W  hite Hart Lane. We set about working on all of them.

After having spent days and days digging down and finding nothing, imagine the shock when your pick clangs against steel. You wonder if you have started the clock ticking. On your knees, you use a trowel to carefully uncover the bomb. You expose its end and can see it is a 250. You kneel beside it and you whisper to it, man to man. You try to persuade it that it only has a 15 fuse because, very often, it does.

We defused the bomb in White Hart Lane on October 9th. It had a No. 15 fuse. The bomb itself was removed to Hackney Marshes for demolition. At this time, following a series of disasters encountered while transporting bombs, we received orders that henceforth, all bombs were to be blown in situ. With this in mind, we worked on the remaining four bombs until all was ready on the morning of October 20th.

I clearly recall J Dixon, a small, scruffy chap, continually shouting to me from the bottom of the hole in the Recreation Ground that he could hear his bomb ticking. Every time I went down to listen, I heard nothing. Not a sound. One can well understand how a lively imagination can run riot at a time like that.

On this occasion, we laid a circular wall of sandbags around each hole to contain the blast. On average, the bombs lay at a depth of twenty feet. Each bomb was prepared for blowing with a one-pound slab of guncotton (6” x 3” x 13/8”), complete with guncotton primer, detonator and 4 minutes of safety fuse. I lit the first fuse. Crouching down with a Special Constable behind the roadblock (to stop traffic from entering the road), we saw sandbags and black smoke rocketing skyward and felt the ground kick under our feet. The landlord of the pub on the corner was pathetically grateful that his premises could open again even though we had just blown the front off it!

I dashed from one bomb to another in my 15 cwt. Guy truck, detonating each one in sequence.

There you go. Loving the bit about the polish worker and that exquisite detail about the processes in disarming a bomb. I think we’re very lucky that Brian Moss wrote his memoirs. Hear it all in episode 13, Danger UXB – a fine vintage episode!

 

For me at the moment, leading the how good is that award by a country mile is this one, which came on the back of Savannah Harris listening to all the Dunkirk stuff:

Dawane Harris from Idaho wrote in – “My young daughter Savannah comes home from school, slams a test on Dunkirk on the table and says "BOOM! 96% THANKS TO THAT ENGLISH GUY!" Then SHE goes on to say, "HOW GOOD IS THAT?!" HA HA HA! THANKS PAUL, for helping my daughter with her test!

And right on cue our good friend wolfie wolf from the USA just sent in a comment on the Christmas show, which also refers to Savannah. “Another one of many great shows. Loved to hear the young lady from US give you such a nice review. And so happy to hear she’s studying WW2. Good to hear the young are learning the history of the world. I hope in the future years your father’s memories are listened to and learned from.

Thank you so much for that Wolfie. I just know little Savannah will be pleased to bits hearing your comments on her Dunkirk interest.

TR

Dunkirk 2

I guess that’s a Cue for more Dunkirk then

 

Yet another Anecdote

Found on France and Flanders Facebook page

Two brothers were killed one day apart during 1940 heading on separate paths to Dunkirk. Captain James Cartland, D Coy, 2/Lincs and Major John Cartland, 209 Bty, 53 AT Regt. Killed one day apart at Ypres and Cassel.

James Cartland was killed when he remained behind to cover the withdrawal of his company. After repulsing several German attacks he found himself surrounded. Refusing to surrender, he picked up a Bren gun and fought on until he was eventually killed.

Two POWs from D Coy later told the story of how Pte J Stanger, also a POW, was sent forward by the Germans to get James Cartland to surrender. Cartland, now the sole survivor fighting from a slit trench, replied that he would never surrender to a German and continued to fire his Bren gun. During this parley a group of Germans managed to manoeuvre behind Cartland and shot him dead in the back.

Sadly, James never received any gallantry decoration or recognition for sacrificing his own life so his men could get away.

His brother, John Cartland, was one of the few Members of Parliament to be serving in the army in 1940. He broke out of Cassel for Dunkirk with approx 50 other ranks in the early morning mist. Around 20 miles outside of Cassel at 8am the column was spotted by three German tanks which converged on the lightly armed men. Cornered in a road side ditch, with no anti-tank weapons, the column started to scatter still trying to reach Dunkirk. Major John Cartland rose from a drainage ditch lining the road and was instantly shot and killed.

The two brothers had a famous sister - the novelist Barbara Cartland.

 

Bee

No anniversary episode would be complete without an extract from the adventures of little ship the Bee at Dunkirk. Here’s a passage from episode 20. It recounts the last day of the Bee’s service at Dunkirk before her return to England, and it’s very a stark reminder of how awful the scenes must have been in France:

“The dawn of another day broke.  Three thirty a.m. the first of June.  The glory of June they say, but what did it hold for us?  We saw the dawn, but would we see its dusk?

 

One thing was certain - there were hundreds of men on those shores and on the boats who would never see the close of this day.  That was fate and we had no right to expect to be favoured than another person.

 

We were weary but we carried on still adding slowly to our numbers.  The ever increasing light saw the S.S. Scotia loading French troops at the pier, the 'Lady of Mann' having left during the hours of darkness. And the Ryde to Portsmouth paddle steamer 'Whippingham' was also getting a large number of British troops from the pier.  

 

The destroyers have had good hauls during the night, and were leaving for home, as were scores of small craft with their tens and twenties.  Other destroyers were arriving and let go their anchor offshore.  

 

He saw the movements and started heavy shelling and seemed to be getting the range more accurate.  The morning took shape and the Scotia left with over 2000 men from France.  

 

The Whippingham also left with her sponsons awash with approx. 2000 aboard.  The S.S. Scotia was a double funnelled cross-channel boat and very fast.  

 

We watched them clear the harbour and carried on loading again. Then things began to happen.  The sun seemed to darken as shadows came over the hills towards the shores.  What was about to happen?

 

We all looked to the sky.  He had come before in 15s and 20s but this time - well - formations of 50 or more came over, wave after wave of bombing planes screamed out of the sky.  The noise was really frightening as they dived down to the sea.  

 

It seemed as if he was determined to end it all, and blow everything off the earth and sea.  That next hour at Dunkirk will always be with me, if I live to a hundred years.  Hell can have no comparison to that unleashed fury.  

 

Destroyers twisted and turned in an effort to escape the screaming bombs he threw at them.  A destroyer was hit and steamed round in circles as if her steering was damaged.  Another was badly damaged.  Tugs took her in tow.  But the tow wire was cut with another stick of bombs.  

 

Yet another destroyer was hit and a large tug rushed to her, then the tug received a direct hit and went down with all hands.  

 

The minesweeper 'Skipjack' with 270 troops on board was sunk with all hands.  They must have perished like rats in a trap.  

 

A French destroyer stopped a stick of bombs and turned turtle.  Men were swimming everywhere.  The planes dived to sea level.  A burst of machine gun fire crashed into the upright on our wheelhouse.  A bomb splinter tore a hole in our sail aft.  A soldier's face was split open full length.  

 

Another explosion rolled us on our beam end everyone hung on like grim death.  The rush of air from another bomb almost choked us as it seemed to draw all the air from our lungs.  The paddle wheel minesweeper 'Brighton Queen' steamed past us making for the open sea.  She was loaded with black French troops and packed like sardines. A plane dived straight for her and the bombs landed right in the middle of her troops aft.  

 

Men went into the air like a cascade of lava and limbs and bodies hit the water close to us while some of our lads were splashed with brains and blood.  The sea ran red for a while and seemed to boil with explosions.  

 

We rolled and tumbled on the disturbed waters.  A ship was hit, now a miss - the noise, the cries, men jumped free as their ship foundered, yes into water thick with oil.  I watched with others expecting my turn. How can he miss - he is bombing to a pattern!

 

Another near miss, and we nearly capsized.  Those Stuka pilots were past masters at their game.  We saw them sitting in their machines as they swooped past us.  A terrible toll in ships and in life.  The destroyers were fighting back with all they had.  One had to admire the cool way the officers directed the fire. They blew hell out of him as he dived and more than one Jerry made his last raid that morning.  

 

Explosion followed explosion as a ship was hit, the noise of battle was truly on, one could scarcely hear one speak.

Wave after wave they came, sometimes along the shore, and sometimes further out to sea.  Ships were set on fire, small craft blown into the air men maimed and torn, blown into the sea with them.  One was helpless, one just had to wait, hope and pray.  

 

The destroyer 'Esk' was warming him up, the officers cooly conducting operations from the bridge.  How proud I felt at that moment to belong to the same race.  Then we had a breathing space, a welcome respite.  

 

The planes went and we had time to look around. Our young officer caught my eye and he beckoned me.  I never saw a man so cool and composed and he just said to me "Spiteful swine, the Boche, Fred" and I could not have agreed with him more.  

 

He then pointed to a destroyer which was about to take the final plunge.  As her ensign disappeared beneath the sea, he came smartly to the salute.  She had gone to her grave, taking some of her gallant crew with her.  I watched with him and removed my cap, and paid my solemn tribute.  

 

Such was the tradition of the British Navy.  Such was the tradition that enabled those lads to endure.  The little fleet of French and Belgian boats had been almost wiped out.  There seemed but one that was not either sunk or in flames.

 

We tried to reconstruct.  Four British destroyers had gone down plus one French destroyer.  A British sloop, two minesweepers, scores of tugs large and small and dozens of small craft had been blown up and in addition three destroyers and a score of other craft badly damaged.  

 

And the men ashore – they’d taken a severe pounding.  Bombed shelled and machine gunned no one will ever know to what extent they suffered that day for the remains of some will never be found.

 

What a sight confronted us, crippled ships, broken spars, maimed men, oil and wreckage everywhere.  The cries of the wounded and the appeals of the drowning made me feel ill.  

 

Small boats still afloat were picking up all they could - a very difficult job.  Men slipped back into the water and drowned, when help seemed near them.  Choked with thick black oil, they had a terrible death.  

 

The bombers came again, but went further out to sea.  It mattered little to us, then, for we were all beyond caring.  But why had they come so near without destroying us?  

 

Was it fate, or luck or was it the answers to the lad who knelt at my engine room hatch and said the Lord's Prayer finishing with the words 'Deliver us from evil'.  It was times like these that made men think.  This was indeed a tragic day for the Royal Navy and those who survived were like us, fortunate.

 

We resumed loading, for movement on the beaches had begun again.  A very slow process now, dog tired, but determined.  A fast launch with a high ranking naval officer was getting in touch with the little craft further up the beach and some were moving out to sea.  

 

Now a convoy of lorries arrived from somewhere and was being driven into the sea end-on to form a pier as the tide came in.  

 

Then we got a message "Clear out what you have and proceed to Ramsgate - Route Y".  We knew what that meant - the other passage was strewn with magnetic mines, and to us that was not a happy thought us being a steel ship.  Well orders were orders and with 291 aboard we prepared to leave.

 

It may seem selfish when I say that I was not sorry to hear that order, but with men still on the shore, we nearly refused to carry out those orders.  We were in it with those lads and we had room for a few more but someone had to be in charge and therefore we must leave.  

 

But lack of rest food drink and the continued bombing was beginning to have a marked effect upon us all.  There was a limit even to our endurance, for we were only human beings.  We steamed slowly out and into the channel.  

 

 

The large oil containers were still belching out their large columns of smoke and the hospital ship 'Paris' was just arriving.  I looked to the wounds of a soldier's leg and whilst engaged looked up into the sky.  Coming straight after us were 20 dive bombers.

 

Is this the end I thought.  It might have been fear, I don’t know, but standing near my engine room hatch I seemed powerless to move.  I could only watch.  Then one left the pack and came straight for us.  I saw the four egg shaped bombs sailing as it seemed right on to us, then a deafening crash and they landed about 25 yards away.  

 

The old ship twisted and rolled and water came aboard us but the depth of water had saved us for had we been in the shallows, we should most likely have been holed.  

 

We steamed slowly on because of the wreckage and what a sight of destruction it was.  The remains of once fine ships were everywhere as were the remains of humans. Masts and spurs just showing out of the water told the size of the ship sunk.  It was a pitiful sight.

 

As we cleared the harbour we saw another tragic sight.  We had seen the S.S. Scotia with over 2000 French troops about to leave just prior to the raid, and we saw her now.  She had been hit and was on her beam end with her funnel nearly level with the water.  

 

Troops were walking upright on her side and a destroyer was alongside picking off all she could and at the same time fighting off an aircraft which was doing its best to sink them both.

 

Ahead of us we saw a ship’s lifeboat and proceeded to it.  Huddled up on the bottom were five French soldiers.  We took them aboard, for they were in bad shape and we got them round.  One spoke good English having once worked at the 'Ocean Hotel' at Sandown.  He said they were escaping and were caught up in the raids and had laid flat hoping for the best.  

 

He saw the French destroyer sink and said her name was the 'Foudrayant' and he said the crew sang in the water but that to me didn't seem right.  One of our destroyers sunk was H.M.S. Keith and he said a number of her crew was picked up.  

 

We steamed south a little for there was less traffic that way.  Soon we passed over the grave of an unknown ship.  Thick patches of black oil coming to the surface marked the spot where she rested.  

 

Among the wreckage was a number of sailors' hats, the ribbons bearing first three letters H.M.S. Face downward in the black oil. And their bodies supported with their life jackets were some of the sons of Britain who had served in her.  

 

We clipped our little red ensign as our mark of respect and steamed on.  A mist was beginning to come down over the Channel and the sound of battle more distant.  I went into the wheel house and looked down on those lads those part remnants of the B.E.F.  Weary, tired, bedraggled and unshaven, hungry and thirsty, they were a sorry sight.  

 

 

We had nothing to offer them and because of that we had nothing ourselves.  Nothing had passed my lips since we went to the beaches the previous morning, and they were stuck together as if with gum.

 

Some slept as they stood, others cursed as a shell from Calais exploded. Some swore and some prayed.  I heard a voice singing the hymn 'Though the night of doubt and sorrow' and I wondered, “Did the author of that hymn ever visualize a Dunkirk?” For those lads had passed through nights of doubt and sorrow - but they had come on, as a band of brothers, the stronger - taking the arm of the weaker down to the shore, and the promised land of Britain.  

 

 

We reached Ramsgate and tied up at the outer mole.  We’d steamed into hell and had returned safely and we were thankful for our deliverance.

 

A soldier came up to me with tears in his eyes.  As he shook my hand he said 'Thanks old man'.  I never thought I would see my wife and kiddies again.  Those simple words, sincere as they were spoken, had for me made the journey worthwhile.  

 

I watched those lads stagger up the gangway.  

 

As on the beaches, the stronger helped the weaker and those with wounds.  Red Cross personnel took charge of the wounded and hurried them away. And ladies with cups of tea, cigs and cakes attended the needs of the fit.

 

We steamed into the Inner Harbour and moored up and the bells rang 'finished with engines'.  I closed down, sat down and fell fast asleep.

 

 

2020 is the 80th Anniversary of Dunkirk and there are commemorative events aplenty down on the South coast and in France. Ramsgate was mentioned in that story as the place where a lot of little ships returned so it’ll be no surprise that there’s a celebratory period there when a number of the little ships will be in dock. You’ll be able to visit the Medway Queen and see all the little ships return from a trip over to Dunkirk. There’s a military vehicle display with WWII re-enactments, live music and a family funfair and church service. That’s 23-25th May 2020 at Ramsgate.

https://www.facebook.com/429495577114557/posts/2924575067606583/?d=n

 

I produced a short video of the East Mole as it is today and it’s posted on my youTube channel. And in a poignant PS to this episode, one visitor commented as follows:

 

Paul, Thank you .. My Grandfather Edward (Ted) Parker (RASC) was also evacuated on the Lady Of Mann Ship,.. he too Jumped across the Bombed Gap in the Mole. I will be returning to Dunkirk with my Dad, in May 2020 for the 80th Anniversary of the Dunkirk Evacuation. I’ll have my Grandads Medals with me including the Dunkirk Medal. Gary Parker.

Gary thanks for posting that - awesome!

Bader

There are numerous anecdotes in the history books about the lack of RAF support around the beaches of Dunkirk but it’s been pretty well-established now that the RAF boys were actually doing us proud, but not always visible to the boys on the beaches.

Douglas Bader lost both legs in an aerial accident before the war but went back to fly and was credited with up to 26 aerial victories and seven probables. In later life he became Sir Douglas Bader for his services to the disabled community.

 

I stumbled across this story on the France and Flanders facebook page. It’s a ‪report by then Flt Leftenant Douglas Bader over Dunkirk recounting a possible kill on a Heinkel.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

So this is a combat report from flight Lieutenant Bader from 1940.

The summary at the top of the report includes the following details.

Length of burst. Two of three seconds and one of seven seconds.

Range closed. 50 yards on second.

Rounds fired per gun 297

HE 111 Probable

“As 222 and 41 squadrons were patrolling Dunkerque from east to west, below 10/10th’s Cloud at 3000 feet, I saw three Heinkel 111’s Flying inland from out to sea. Yellow two and three had both gone home for various reasons and I turned out from behind Red section to attack the nearest 111 which was not near to the other Heinkels I saw.

I found blue leader (Flight Lieutenant Robinson) and another Spitfire (Sergeant Johnson) also attacking this aeroplane which began by firing cannon from the rear top turret at a Spitfire on its tail (blue 1). As blue 1 closed the rear gunner ceased fire. I gave the Heinkel a 3 second burst from beam, passed over it and turned onto another three second beam attack without apparent result.

I carried straight on to an astern attack on a second unattended Heinkel 111 about quarter of a mile from the first and gave it a long burst (6 seconds) from astern.

The rear gunner began by firing at me with Canon and stopped when I had closed to about 100 yards. The Heinkel was very near the water with Starboard engine apparently idling, but I saw no other apparent result of my attack. The Heinkel took avoiding action by banking each way. I then turned for home with 15-20 Gallons of petrol and some ammunition left. Signed DRS Bader, F/Lt 222 Sqdn.

So There you go, that’s an example of the action which was taking place no doubt out of sight from the troops on the beaches. There is no date on the report so we can’t be sure what was happening around Dunkirk on the ground at this point.

Dad did remark in his memoirs that: “Our aircraft were significant by their absence, but we discovered the reason for

this later; the Royal Air Force had been about as prepared for war as the army. I am

sure that despite the meagre resources available to them, the RAF performed well

in other parts of the battlefront unseen by us.

 

https://www.facebook.com/FranceandFlanders1940/photos/a.862358840556753/2106837689442189/?type=3&eid=ARB522Dyss9NLiFpYqsu8QaRVXUWyxWSoVcK0-LUu2AcKeTiZBhxJzwygGLQPsdGk67adDTaGFzx2Daf&__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARAgjJDaPgnAHvzm8vDPE4KVmgJZiXaNQ-XFxItNoOczF4dNBL4nU8dlpK4LOJHORXeN9p05SAcJfst6RrC59qgutYXWjbPf5dFPi2oPdb8rHEIzkTb9jNlBJ_cloBmAFS5qX-_Xa-NrxKkC3f0ENhXuGxQWHQ-VTRzT-Q2p3iIURS4FdvOAXUpWWxSLTBqvYD_6fFc9Rft_0Uks-3XTdEThYMc6O77xQ-Jk8_xGmsaVHqE31IfSXEjbw9nnt3fBB_TPxVyD_hyaPjUu36wPWSFy7VfPHlwYQcjoJeiJ8fFPndsOFNbHkG1OdDrUsg_fWgUj0OPiiodFfBa4-9i081XNdw&__tn__=EEHH-R

 

Winston Churchill stoutly reinforced the notion that the RAF did pull their weight at Dunkirk. As he wrote of the battle after the war in 1949.

By intense effort Fighter Command maintained successive patrols over the scene, and fought the enemy at long odds. Hour after hour they bit into the German fighter and bomber squadrons, taking a heavy toll, scattering them and driving them away. Day after day this went on, till the glorious victory of the Royal Air Force was gained. Wherever German aircraft were encountered, sometimes in forties and fifties, they were instantly attacked, often by single squadrons or less, and shot down in scores, which presently added up in hundreds.

Unhappily, the troops on the beaches saw very little of this epic conflict in the air, often miles away or above the clouds. They knew nothing of the loss inflicted on the enemy. All they felt was the bombs scourging the beaches, cast by the foes who had got through, but did not perhaps return. There was even a bitter anger in the Army against the Air Force, and some of the troops landing at Dover or at Thames ports in their ignorance insulted men in Air Force uniform. They should have clasped their hands; but how could they know?

In Parliament I took pains to spread the truth.

 

Over the nine days of Operation Dynamo, the RAF flew 2,739 fighter sorties, 651 bombing raids and 171 reconnaissance flights. Fighter Command claimed 262 enemy aircraft, losing 106 of their own.https://www.rafbf.org/news-and-blogs/rafs-hard-battle-support-evacuation-troops-dunkirk

 

 

 

Doug Gray

In episode 7, Company Sergeant Major Douglas Gray saw some of the hardest grinding fighting in the war, the many months of the Normandy campaign.

His battalion, the 7 Green Howards landed on Gold Beach on D-Day and here’s a few entries from his excellent diary,

 

3 June 1944 WW2

Left Romsey camp at 17h00 for embarkation at Southampton. All the civilians seem to have known 'this is it' and are very enthusiastic about it all - more than I am! Christ, how I envy the blokes that are stopping behind.

Arrived at the hards at 22h00 and boarded onto a LCT(A) {Landing Craft Tank, Armoured}

Alfie Wright was on board an LST {landing ship tank} moored alongside our boat. 2 Centaur tanks and six carriers make up our load. Pulled out into the Solent among the rest of the invasion crafts and believe me, there's plenty of 'em.

 

5/6/44 Monday WW2

Well, it's definitely it this time; sink or swim. Pulled out at 07h15, weather hellish and big sea running. Christ, but it will be a miracle if this old tub makes it; the ways she's pitching and taking in water.

Felt very depressed as the coastline of old England disappeared over the horizon, but must study up my maps and photos no matter what else happens.

Ship's engine room starting to flood and had to start baling with buckets. Sea getting worse. Only two of us not sea sick.

Engines stop and we have to ask for assistance. Pump transferred from another LCT(A). Start to get water under control but we still have to bail. Soaked to the skin and cold but we must keep at it. Everybody about all-in. Boat in front of us sinks and two more of our flotilla in distress. Almost wish we were landed. Fell asleep about midnight worn out.

6/6/44 Tuesday [D-Day] [Gold Beach] WW2

Sea still rough and still baling at daybreak. Can see flashes on the horizon in the direction of France. That will be the bombers. We’re supposed to land at ‘H’ hour (07:25hrs), but we’ll be two hours late owing to the weather.

We are the only ship out of our flotilla left out of 8. Others either gone down or turned back, Coastline in sight, hello, there go the rockets, what a bloody row, tracers flying all over the place, the cruisers and destroyers are belting away like hell.

What a job getting ashore, my carrier and number two carrier failed to start, so only thing to do was to swim to shore and try and get a pull off by a bulldozer. Our ship derelict now on the beach, but after hell of a struggle managed to get a tow to shore. Terrible congestion on the beach and still under shellfire.

Boat next to ours got hit and a lot of lads killed and wounded and all for what? I had to get my carriers going somehow and get em out of this, so went forward on my own to look for Foster, the fitter, who must have landed by now.

Finally won through and caught up to Battalion at Vers-sur-Mer. The beach was absolutely covered with obstacles and mines but the Navy and RAF had certainly hammered it. [Enemy] Shore battery there out of action, but snipers giving a lot of trouble.

Troop carriers dried out so set forward to catch Battalion. They’ve certainly pushed on and caught them up at Cruelly. Johnnie Stoneman badly hit and later died, otherwise all the remainder of our lads there except Captain Murray and Bill Boulton’s carriers. Had to [stand in as] Platoon Commander.

Our tanks fighting it out with an 88; three go up in flames brewing up but we push on.

Quite a lot of prisoners, but our lads have had a lot of casualties. Can see our final objective as it goes dark but pull into a wood for the night. The Luftwaffe have a go at the beaches but our boys are ready for them. Must be eight mile inland by road. What a day.

7/6/44 Wednesday WW2 podcast

Lead coy is out on advance to contact. Enemy in strength at farm house about one mile in front. Bn puts in attack, we cover right flank. Four tanks in support. Taken after pretty stiff attack and a few casualties on mines.

About 70 Luftwaffe Artillery blokes captured and, boy, were they dug in. Still it’s our final objective for now so we consolidate. CO orders me to go forward on recce into Loucelles and as far as the railway embankment. Fired on just through Loucelles. Dismount and recce. What a scatter.

Tiger tank appears from south end of wood, about three hundred yards away. Beat it back like hell to the Bn’s position and report to CO but Corporal Colwill missing.

8/6/44 Thursday WW2 podcast

The tanks are starting to roll up now but can’t advance owing to snipers strong opposition. Quite a lot of ours knocked out. Canadians seem to be getting the hammer.

Orders that we have to go out after the snipers, a party of about 30 [of us went] and we found them OK. Nearly had it as one put a bullet through my Bren mag and hat, firing explosives, the B***s. We fired hell at them but couldn’t get the last few who later gave ‘emselves up. Must have knocked off a good dozen. Williamson killed. Rather an uncomfortable day. Saw my brother Albert for the first time.

9/6/44 Friday WW2 podcast

Rather a nasty shock this morning to find that Noel Walker has been killed by a sten gun whilst on guard. Knocked the wind out of everybody ‘cos he was well liked. Impossible to push on, but the 7th Commando have gone round to the right. Went up to Brouay wood to relieve Ike [Rawson], where he is in contact with the Canadians.

What an eerie joint, snipers everywhere. Spandaus had us pinned down to the deck all night long and would feel a lot happier out of it as it’s a ridiculous position.

One section of carriers, anti-tank gun and a platoon of ‘C’ company holding a mile and a half gap. Easiest thing in the world for Jerry to infiltrate through if he did but know our position.

10/6/44 Saturday

Glad when daylight came, everybody on edge and badly in need of sleep, averaging about 4 hours a day. Changed the position of two of my guns and was fired on by one of our own, but otherwise fairly quiet all morning. In the afternoon the mortars came up to have a shoot.

Oscar Topham set fire to a house in the village with one Spandau and eight Jerries in it.

Don Walkington’s section came up to relieve me at 18.00h and was more than glad to see him, and all the time there was a feeling of closeness [to the enemy] and yet you couldn’t see a damn thing. Pulled back to Battalion and could see by the stuff that was flying over that Don was having the same sort of night that I had.

11/6/44 Sunday WW2 podcast

We’re at it again. Bn putting in an attack on Brounay at 1400hrs to try and help out the “Canads” and what a bloody shambles, good lives being thrown away. Casualties heavy. Had to go down and get D coy and nearly had it again. Carrier broke down under heavy machine gun fire and had to strip carburettor down.

Carrier hit a number of times. D Coy lads all out Ok, but they’ve had it. We’ve been at it all this time without a break. Tiny Butler sniped. Battalion consolidated in wood as I go out with my section and Westy’s anti-tank gun on outpost. Uneasy night as quite a number of bosch in the area.

12/6/44 Monday WW2 podcast

Still in the same position on the watch all day for Jerry patrols, which are trying to infiltrate us. Managed to get an hour or two sleep. Spandaus pretty active again otherwise things fairly quiet. Another uneasy night. Weather very much against us.

If you want to catch up on the rest of Company Sergeant Major Douglas Gray’s diary, take a shufty at episode 6

 

TR

I’ve just been to see the new first world war movie, 1917. It was at our local iMax theatre and what a great movie it is. It’s about two soldiers who have to get an urgent life-saving message across enemy territory to another unit. The screening offered one long blast of tense, immersive action - in and out of trenches, bomb craters and abandoned buildings with superbly created sets and action, and detail that is so close, if it was bully beef and rice you’d want to be eating that rather than yer popcorn. And the sound is to die for – literally – the first bullet that went across the auditorium had me ducking very nervously.

The scenes are shot almost continuously, stitched together to appear as if it is one long, unbroken film take. I think I breathed during the two hours. The movie has a great start, middle and end and worked for me. There have been a few condescending reviews on it by the critics, both professional and armchair, but for me it’s slap bang wallop at the top end of terrific. And even as this episode is under production, we’ve just heard that from a Tommy helmet full of nominations, BOOM, to use young Savannah’s terminology, the movie has won 7 awards at the BAFTAs, including best movie and best cinematography!

So that’s 1917, at a memory stick or cinema near you – but try to see it at your picture house if you want to get the most from it. Save the digital download till December. In the meantime, BOOM, I’m off to see it again - right now.

TR

 

I want to turn to a new feature for a bit of fun.

It’s called the “I’m sitting here with my jaw on my desk and my eyebrows touching the ceiling!” So it’s a bit like ‘How good is that’ on steroids.

It’ll only make an occasional appearance - when we hear something exceptional, something almost too good to be true yet we believe it is.

 

On this occasion I’m going to re-share one of my favourite stories, plus a truly awesome, gobsmacking new one about the discovery of a war relic on the South coast of England.

Firstly it’s Gotta be Private Joe Ryder of Spennymore …

One of the scariest bits in the entire series, taken from the Wadi akarit episode 2. The troops are casing the territory for enemy presence in the lead up to the big battle …

 

A patrol went out that night. L/Cpl. Joe Ryder of Spennymoor went with them. He was a long-term member of 2 Platoon and told us afterwards how they had penetrated the enemy positions and, encountering an enemy patrol, had lain doggo.

A member of the enemy patrol had put a foot on Joe's hand as he lay there.

Both men knew that if either of them raised the alarm they would be dead, so they ignored one another, and the moment passed. Brian Moss, Sergeant,

233 Field Company, Royal Engineers

 

Elsewhere in this same episode 2, Brian’s carrying out the crucial but dangerous job of blowing an anti-tank ditch to allow the allies to get at the enemy. This will always be one of my very favourite passages because of the exquisite way he dissects the task so you feel like you’re standing right behind him as he carries out his mission. It’s not just “We blew the tank ditch up” It’s more … well … listen to find out …

So if you can picture the scene – the enemy are holed up in some hills and between them and the allies is this blooming great ditch, built to stop tanks and indeed anything from crossing. Being an engineer, Brian has been volunteered to sort it out. Whilst everything around him is booms and bomb bursts, his mind quietly and competently sets about his task …

“I settled on a good place and decided to take out a shovel-width trench, ten feet back from the edge of the ditch on the enemy side. I set the lads digging with the picks and shovels that they had carried up there, and you should have seen them go at it. Their picks whirled and thudded, and their shovels hurled out the earth in fine style.

To the rear, I could see tiny figures back there, struggling up through shell bursts with heavy crates. I waved so that they could see where we were. The work was going well so I detached three men to help move up the explosives. We finished the trench to a depth of three feet and a length of eight yards, and we prepared everything for the explosives.

A shell burst suddenly obscured two carriers and we were sure they must have been killed. But, when the smoke cleared, they were still struggling towards us.

 

We tore open the crates as they arrived, wrenching out the black tins of ammonal. Recalling an instructor's words, I laughed like a maniac and yelled, “Ammonal must not come into contact with naked steel!” as I ripped off the circular tin lids with a bayonet.

 

We placed the opened tins in the trench. I knotted primers onto lengths of primacord, burying a primer in the contents of each tin. I then taped each length of primacord to a main of the same material, arranging for the separate lengths to enter the main at a sweet curve, which the detonating wave could safely follow. A detonator and two minutes of safety fuse completed my arrangements. The lads had been backfilling the trench while I worked.

 

It was now time to blow the ditch. I sent all men into cover in the enemy bunkers. Then I did something that even now makes me laugh. I took out my whistle and blew a long blast signifying an imminent explosion. In view of what was dropping all around us, this was ludicrous and would not be heard anyway!

 

I placed a match head on the obliquely cut safety fuse. You always cut the fuse on the slant. I stroked the matchbox across the match head and the fuse started to burn! Then I too, found a bunker.

 

 

In due course, there was an earth shock and a rumble. Stones fell all around.

 

Then I peeped out. The blast had been remarkably successful. The sharp deep vee had gone! The ditch was more than three quarters filled, and the lip of the enemy side had disappeared!

 

And my own Dad crossed that ditch within the hour – the only way through to the hills where the enemy were!

 

Brian Moss marching story

Elsewhere in Brian’s excellent unpublished memoirs, here’s another passage that no-one has heard before. He’s just started officer training early on in the war:

“To my good luck or misfortune I was picked out as a potential NCO. The recruits were divided into squads of about twenty men and were being put through their paces by drill sergeants. I was instructed to stand next to a particular drill sergeant and watch carefully while he hurled the squad up and down and inside out.

After a while, like a flight instructor sending off a cadet on his first solo, he said, “You take them now, and don’t break them!” I got them going all right. My squad marched in a straight line [right] across the square, through all the other manoeuvering squads, and were becoming alarmingly close to the wall. I gave the preliminary command, “Squad,” and then the executive command, “Halt!” The only snag was that I did not yell, “Halt!” Instead, I yelled, “Halt, please!”

To bawl commands for obedience was utterly new to me. I nearly died of shame, but needn’t have bothered. No one had heard me, least of all the squad. They marched along steadily, their noses about to go through the wall when I screamed “Halt!” and that did it. I turned them about twice, and soon found I was enjoying myself. I found that I could give the commands on the correct foot (perhaps you can guess what this means), and I realised that sweet anticipation was the secret to it all. However, my voice was suffering, and by the next morning, it was barely a rusty croak.

I just wonder sometimes if any movie producers listen to this show, because the imagery thrown up by this – we’ll call it a sketch – is just so funny!

If you’ve stuck with the FTP since the start, then it’s 48 episodes since you heard the following passage yet again taken from Brian Moss’s account of the battle of Wadi Akarit. I love it because in just one short passage he sets the violence of war on a direct collision course with the out and out ridiculous comedy of it.

The taking of point 85:

“Later, a carrier engine burst into life. The vehicle moved and we heard an abbreviated scream. Apparently it had run over some poor devil asleep on the ground. We got to our feet, each thinking, that is not going to happen to me. We then received detailed orders.

 

Sgt. Betts, four sappers and I were to accompany the assaulting Company of 7GH. I never did know what Lt. Dudley and the rest of the platoon did. The selection of our little party seemed odd to me. I was to carry a section of Bangalore Torpedo while the others carried wire cutters. Obviously, we were expecting to encounter wire.

 

We were given to understand that the task of our assaulting Company was to secure the foremost defensive work, i.e., Point 85. The remainder of 7GH would then follow us in. We formed up and moved off. I marched alongside a Sgt. from 7GH, who was carrying a shovel over his shoulder. He explained, “The shovel blade protects my head, you see.”    

 

In front, a Howard officer was checking the distance marched and direction by compass. After having gone about two miles we were halted and told to lie flat. Within a minute, the NZ guns turned night into day and thousands of shells tore overhead and exploded all over Point 85 in little red flashes. This continued for perhaps two minutes, and then the shelling suddenly stopped. We sprung to our feet and ran like madmen for Point 85, which was now illuminated again by gun flashes as the NZ guns fired at different targets.

 

I do not recall much in the way of defensive fire from Point 85 but there must have been some. In no time at all, we were at the base of the hill and a platoon dashed up the slope with fixed bayonets. We were instructed to go with the remainder of the Company around the hill to the left and I wondered why we were doing this if our task was to get the ‘Pimple.’ At that moment, I was appalled to see that dawn light was flooding the scene. If only we had started just ten minutes earlier!

 

We left the sounds of battle behind us as we raced on into what appeared to be a smallish hollow used for the growing of barley. The crop was sparse and only two feet high. It was then that we saw that we were surrounded on three sides by enemy positions, some no more than 150 yards away!

 

We could even see the heads of the enemy in their trenches. They were evidently too astonished to fire at the sight of so many men putting themselves right in front of their sights, like targets in a shooting gallery.

 

Up on Point 85, the 2nd Cheshires, our machine gun battalion, had by now set up their Vickers and they let fly. It was the signal for every Spandau, Fiat and Breda to open up on us. Bullets cracked only inches above our heads and I saw the barley heads chopped off and falling, so close were the bullets. But the enemy was firing downhill and they had the usual problem of firing too high. Twice, I saw our leading infantry attempt to get forward and twice they were cut down before they moved even ten yards. I was lying directly behind Dick Betts. I placed my head right up against the soles of his size 11 boots for protection.

 

“Hey, Dick!” I called. He turned and grinned. “If we get out of this one,” I said, “I’ll buy you dinner at the Brasserie Kalotyphos!” This was a reference to a meal we had shared at a place in Alex. Dick grinned again and nodded. At that moment, the enemy started to fire small mountain guns at us. With these they could hit us over open sights and nasty explosions were now throwing bits of bodies into the air. There was no future in this at all.

 

Suddenly I felt a blow on my right buttock, followed by a sticky, spreading wetness. Putting down my hand … dot dot dot …”

 

 

You know I soooo wanted to give you a few more paragraphs from this and one quick press of the insert key and you’d have it, but no, I’m stopping here - If you want to find out what happens next, take a shufty all the way back to episode 2, another fine vintage episode - 2013! Just brilliant.

 

I know that as far back as WWII I've had family in the Service. 2 Uncle's in WWll,My dad Korea , 1 cousin Vietnam, myself DESERT Shield DESERT STORM sadly the tradition ends with my service.  My grown kid's aren't inclined to serve. That's their decision to make. I'm proud to have served as a Cannoneer , a tradition that goes back to the beginning of the United States of America. I Proudly Breathed the Smoke of a  round Sent Downrange. Cold Steel on Target

Jimmy Goins

USA

 

 

I've been listening to you avidly, alongside Angus Wallace's podcast and have greatly enjoyed your broadcasts. I find your style to be incredibly passionate about the subject but somehow deeply comforting at the same time! Whenever I'm listening, my stress levels go right down! I fully appreciate the amount of research and time you put in to the episodes and am truly grateful for your efforts. I hope for a new episode soon!

Kind regards.

Richard Nisbett Yorks

 

CLOSE

You’re listening to the Fighting Through Podcast, Episode xx Ray Fitchett – Great Unpublished History –

 

Thank you for your support and for making the time to listen to me.  And more thanks to you if you wrote, liked, rated, reviewed or shared the show - howsoever it pleased you.

There’s a PS coming up shortly with news of a startling war relic discovery, the results of research into who’s the nest fighting force and some new stories from Australia.

 

First, news of the Next episode and at the same time, a shout out for a new podcast in the camp:

Vor you Tommy, ze var is ofer ...  is an oft heard phrase in wartime. And it should be no surprise that this latest podcast– called for you the war is over - is about prisoners of war, and their trials and tribulations of capture and escape. It’s produced by two guys called Dave and Dave!

It’s well worth a listen and I’m not going to say any more about it because the next episode of the fighting through podcast, is going to deliver a special bonus guest episode, featuring the complete episode one of for you the war is over, commonly referred to as FYTWIO.

 

So you should find it appears automatically on your listening up, if you’re a fighting through subscriber.

 

And for anyone else planning a war time podcast and trying to think of a name, Fighting Through, FYTWIO and We have ways of making you talk have already been taken, but I understand that Hand Hoch, Achtung Spitfeur, I’ll be back and Nicht Schesen are still available as titles. For now, enjoy FYTWIO in episode 52 coming up on your player.

 

You’ve been listening to the Fighting Through Podcast, Episode xx Ray Fitchett – Great Unpublished History –

 

Thank you so much for listening. Please do hear me next time.

 

 

PS

“I’m sitting here with my jaw on my desk and my eyebrows touching the ceiling!” – Entry 2

Or to put it another way, ‘Wow... how freaking awesome!’ Said Ken Milligan on the FT facebook page.

I can’t let the many mentions of the lady of Mann pass by without sharing with you some unbelievable news about this well loved ship. The lady of man rescued some four thousand troops from Dunkirk and - wait for it – later in the war she went on to deliver 500 soldiers and six landing craft to Juno beach on D-Day.

Sadly, she was broken up for scrap back in 1971. Ever since I started on dad’s book and the podcast I’ve kept my ears sharply peeled for any news of the lady of mann. And now I want to share with you some absolutely amazing news

Someone is in possession of one of her lifeboats!

OMG! This is a lifeboat from the ship which rescued my dad from Dunkirk! To think that he could have been standing within 3 feet of her as he stood on deck. She saved the lives of several people mentioned in this podcast including Dad’s Major Petch and Frenchman Maurice Burrel! And Wilf Shaw’s chums went downstairs in her for a leisurely shave as she tried to out manoeuvre the bombs dropping around her.

The Lady of Mann was lifeboat number eight on board the RMS Lady of Mann. After the mother ship was broken up, the lifeboat was sold off and converted into a fishing boat which operated out of Maldon in Essex for many years.          

Then, Matt Cain from Surrey paid £3,000 for her in 2009 having found her rotting in a boatyard. He's has since been painstakingly restoring the boat and he's spent some 30k on her!

The serial numbers on the boat confirm its World War Two use. And The Lady of Mann has now been formally accepted by the Dunkirk Little Ships association.

Now, Matt is planning to take it back to Dunkirk in May for the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Dunkirk evacuation and I believe our very own Sarah Parry, great grand daughter of Captain Tom Woods OBE, is going to be sailing on her.

There's a link in the show notes if you want to read the full story and see all the fantastic photos of this restoration adventure on the Daily Mail web site. And listen to episode 10 to hear Capt Tom Woods amazing memoirs.

I think it’s just fantastic that some tangible memory of this lovely old ship still exists! Sarah do have a fab time sailing across the channel. You’ll be setting your foot back ashore at Ramsgate upon your return from France on Monday 25th May. And maybe you can find a way to slip your hero Grandfather's famous words into a sentence somewhere along the way,

"We must go back again - every one of those men in the water is someone's son!"

It’s bringing a lump to my throat just thinking of that!

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7905251/Lifeboat-saw-action-Dunkirk-painstakingly-restored.htm

A final reflection on this whole story.

Captain Tom in his report had said that three lifeboats had been holed by flying shrapnel from the shells. I wonder if lifeboat number 8 was one of them? I wonder if any repairs are visible on the inside of the hull. I guess it would have been repaired during or immediately after the war but I do wonder if there are any tell tale signs? If I find out, I’ll let you know.

 

 

WW2 and WWII, World War II and more

WW2 and WWII

http://www.Fightingthroughpodcast.co.uk

 

Medley

If you got lucky you might pick up some orange peel - or banana skin was good too. You couldn’t eat the whole lot but you could just scrape that white part out and that was luxury.

[The sinking of HMS Exeter - Ray Fitchet]

Pies have come

 

Jokes

De-mob happy?

A couple of soldierly jokes I’ve stumbled across …

Ken Mooch Milligan

https://www.facebook.com/Now-this-Shit-is-Funny-398822873537811/

A former Sergeant in the Marine Corps took a new job as a high school teacher.  Just before the school year started, he injured his back. He was required to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. Fortunately, the cast fit under his shirt and wasn't noticeable.

 

On the first day of class, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in the school. The smart-alec punks, having already heard the new teacher was a former Marine, were leery of him and he knew they would be testing his discipline in the classroom.

 

Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, the new teacher opened the window wide and sat down at his desk. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he picked up a stapler and

stapled the tie to his chest.

 

Dead silence.....

The rest of the year went very smoothly.

 

 

Turning to listener Tony Trobe

Australian listener, Shane Wesson recently wrote to me commenting on the comedy of war, “Being military, we all know where the dark humour comes from”. Shane’s told me quite a bit about his own family’s military history and I’m hoping to include that in a future epsiode soon, along with some other listener’s family histories – Danny Turnham’s and Canadian Doug Lecinski’s.

 

And I think I've tested the Patience of the Pope keeping Tony Trobe waiting for the next few stories and Kaylan from earlier you might be interested in this – it’s just a few tales taken from a most magnificent collection written by Tony’s father-in-law, Les Cook, who fought in Greece, Crete, Kokoda, Borneo and served in the occupation forces in Japan.

“He has written many stories of his war experiences, mostly on the lighter side. He is 96, still cycling everywhere and is still a very accurate and amusing raconteur.  Tony Trobe

 

I never cease to be amazed at how there seems to be more funny anecdotes around than serious ones, but I think as we’ve observed before in the FTP, soldiers sometimes turned to the humorous to keep themselves sane!

 

I'm planning a full episode based around Les Cook’s stories because they are so good.

So if you have any more Australian stories to add to this collection, please get in touch.

For now, here is the lighter side of things.

Background: The Borneo campaign of 1945 was the last major Allied campaign in the South West Pacific Area during World War II to liberate Japanese-held British Borneo. But there was always time for tea, even though the Brits weren’t part of this story!

Tea Break – Les Cook

We were holding the forward defence line on a track up the coast from Balikpapan in Borneo. As was usual, we had standing-patrols in no-man’s-land to warn of any approaching enemy parties.  Sections took turns in manning our post, which was about 400 metres forward of the main position.

Things had been relatively quiet for a few days and we were taking life a bit easily, protected by our outposts.  We had boiled the billy back in the Company lines one day, and, feeling some sympathy for the section manning the post, I said “I’ll take a drink up to Lynchy’s mob”.  The post was in an exposed position where it would not have been safe to light a fire.

Carrying the billy of tea in my right hand, and with an enamel mug hanging from each finger of my left hand, which also held upright an opened can of unsweetened condensed milk, I set off up the track.  For some inexplicable reason I did not carry a weapon, or even wear my steel helmet.  

This was the first and the only time during the whole war that I can remember being unarmed in a forward area.  Looking back now, I cannot imagine what possessed me to do such a foolish thing.  I was a Bren-gunner at the time, and it would not have been possible for me to carry the Bren, but I could and should have borrowed a rifle or Owen gun.  Strangely enough, nobody else seemed to notice my carelessness either.

I was about 20 metres from the standing-patrol when there was a burst of automatic fire from our people followed by a general exchange of fire.  I moved off the track and stood behind a large tree listening to the firing and trying to make up my mind whether it was the result of minor enemy patrol activity or whether it was the forerunner of an enemy attack.  If it was the latter, I was in real trouble.  I have never felt so exposed or so useless in my life.

The firing died down after a few minutes.  The ridiculousness of my situation was such that it would have been an embarrassment for me to go back, so I went forward until I could see our people, some of whom were still firing, and called in a stage-whisper “Hey Lynchy, do you feel like a cup of tea?”  His instant reply “My oath, I’m as dry as a chip” somehow made it all worth while.

I have often thought that if that situation was portrayed in a film, no-one would believe that it was realistic.

 

Good Clean Fun.

The army placed great importance on hygiene, and for a very good reason.  Armies have been decimated by disease since the dawn of time, much of it being caused or at least spread by the failure of people to understand the need for cleanliness.  For this reason, strict discipline was exercised in the A.I.F. to ensure that a satisfactory level of hygiene was maintained.  Every unit had a special section dedicated to this purpose.

For example, I think that this attention to cleanliness was behind the army rule that we must shave every day, even though many of us were so young that we really didn’t need to.  Beards were not permitted.  Experience had shown that if men stopped shaving it wasn’t long before they also stopped washing, and their standard of hygiene continued to slide thereafter with a marked drop both in health and morale.  I have seen it happen.

As can be imagined, the maintenance of a good standard of hygiene created some very unpleasant jobs and was sometimes irksome, but it was accepted as being absolutely essential for our well-being.  It was also the source of occasional humour.

Those of us who started our military service in the old first-war camps with their extremely primitive ablution and toilet facilities were particularly disadvantaged (or blessed, depending on how one looks at it) in comparison with those in the newer camps.  The camp I was in at Seymour didn’t have piped water.  Mobile iron-wheeled “Furphy” water-carts provided the only water at the toilet and ablution blocks.  As a matter of interest, it was the location of these water-carts, (made by the Furphy Brothers in Ballarat) next to the toilet blocks during the first war that led to the use of the word Furphy to mean a rumour.  Traditionally, rumours were started and spread at the toilets, or latrines as they were officially designated by the army.

There was no electric power to the camp; the only lighting being from hurricane lamps.  The toilet blocks were a long way from the tents.  To accommodate the needs of several hundred men during the hours of darkness, sanitary cans were placed at regular intervals throughout the lines.  These cans were about 40 cm high and 30 cm diameter with two D-shaped carrying-handles on the sides at the top.  They were made of galvanized steel coated with bitumen.

Our Hygiene section was not able to attend to this service for the whole camp, so working parties of ordinary soldiers were detailed each day to distribute the empty cans before dark and to collect the full cans next morning.  The full cans were carried to a pit about 300 metres away from the tents where they were emptied and washed.  Those engaged on this duty worked in pairs.  The task had to be completed before breakfast.

It was winter and we wore woollen mittens or gloves at night because of the cold.  The cans would often be overflowing when we picked them up in the mornings.  As we carried them over the uneven ground in the half-light the contents would spill over the sides, saturate our gloves, and occasionally the sleeves of our coats.  It was not the most popular job in the camp, and we grumbled much when it was our turn, but it had to be done and looking back on it I suppose that it did have its moments of humour-particularly when someone else suffered a misfortunate accident.

We had not lived in tropical areas before we went to New Guinea after coming came back from the Middle East in 1942.  Prior to moving into the Owen Stanley mountains on the Kokoda track, we camped for a short period in open grassland at Bootless Inlet not far from Port Moresby.  The grass was about 60 cm high, and it was dry.

The risk of disease in the tropics was apparently much greater than elsewhere we had been, so special attention was being paid to hygiene.  One of the new rules was that all empty cans must be burned to remove any traces of food from them before they were dumped.  This was to make them unattractive to the many flies that abounded there, and were said to be responsible for spreading disease.

The important task of burning the cans had been assumed by the Hygiene corporal himself, and he made an entertaining three-act play out of it.  We would be eating our meal scattered in small groups sitting on the ground around the cookhouse when it was done.  The empty cans had been put in a 44 gallon drum with an open top outside the cookhouse.  Having obtained a large can of petrol from the transport lines, the corporal would tip most of the petrol over the cans in the drum, then, walking backwards, he would lay a trail of petrol on the ground to a point about 5 metres from the drum. On arrival at his predetermined position he would replace the screw-cap on the empty petrol-can and place it on the ground behind him.

Behind one ear he carried a cigarette rolled previously for the occasion.  Placing the cigarette in his mouth, he would strike a match and light the cigarette, then throw the lighted match onto the petrol trail in front of him.  This would ignite immediately and burn its way to the drum, which became engulfed in flames.  Having accomplished this, the corporal would stand back with arms folded and smoke his cigarette, very proud of his handiwork.

One day, either by mistake or because some wag had put it there, a full can of a green vegetable had got in with the empty cans.  This can exploded when it got hot, splattering the corporal with pieces of hot vegetable, and blowing out a shower of empty cans containing burning petrol, each of which started a fire in the long dry grass.

As can be imagined, there was great hilarity from everybody except the Hygiene corporal, who refused to believe that it had been an accident and made all sorts of defamatory remarks about us and our parents.  He wouldn’t even give us any credit for helping him extinguish the many resultant grass-fires.

 

A welcome event:

John explained that this story went the rounds of the A.I.F. when we arrived back from the Middle East early in 1942.  I cannot vouch for its authenticity.

“It had taken about two months for us to get from our positions in Syria to Australia, and we had not received any mail during that time.  Mail came aboard when we docked at Fremantle, and one young soldier, who had been married when he was on final leave, received a letter from his wife informing him that he had just become a father.

It had been more than eighteen months since we had left Australia, and it was obvious, even to the least experienced of the rest of us, that something was wrong.  The young soldier was ecstatic at the news, however, and almost drove everybody mad boasting of his prowess.  Anyone who stood still long enough was required not only to listen to the news, but also to read the letter.

It was decided among the platoon that somebody should put this young man straight on the facts of life.  The Platoon Sergeant was aquainted of the situation, and it was pointed out to him that, as senior N.C.O., it was his responsibility.

The sergeant went to the man saying “I hear that you have had a letter from your wife to let you know that she has just had a baby”.  The man answered “Yes, and its a boy too-isn’t it bonza?-I can’t wait till I get home.” at the same time reaching into his tunic pocket to produce the letter. Going through the motions of reading the letter, the sergeant said “Yes , that’s great, but its more than eighteen months since you left home; can’t you see that there is something wrong?”.

The man replied “No, people have been doing it for thousands of years-that’s the way the world keeps going”.  Not wanting to get into the details of gestation periods, the sergeant said “I know that, but eighteen months is a long time.  Don’t you think it strange that the baby has just been born?”

Looking puzzled at the repeated question, the man replied “No, I don’t see anything strange about that at all- there’s three years difference between me and my brother”.

Bless!

TR

 

In this season, if I can call it that, we’ve been treated to a history of epic proportions in my opinion and I’d just like to take two minutes to reflect on it.

We’ve had interviews and memoirs from so many quarters, mostly connected in some way to Dad’s war. We’ve had Dunkirk, with Dad’s Major Petch’s account of the fighting and the beaches. We’ve had a first hand account from the Captain of Lady of Mann which rescued my Dad from Dunkirk.  And further along the beach, Fred Reynard’s riveting little ship the Bee followed on from his early first world war at Gallipoli and what a stunning piece of history that was. We’ve heard from Brian Moss who could very nearly have fought the war single-handedly, what with his early brush with bombs during the London Blitz and then crucially destroying the anti-tank ditch which my Dad crossed at the battle of Wadi Akarit. He then went on to a stunning account of his landing on Gold Beach, about five yards up the sands from where my Dad landed. Then up pops veteran Wilf Shaw, in so many of the same battles as my Dad, both 6 Green Howards. And what a delight it’s been listening to Wilf. And Claude Reynolds, rear gunner in a Lancaster, shed so much light on the role that my dad’s best pre-war pal Don Savage would have played before he was killed in Lancaster Lily Mars. And CSM Doug Gray, another Green Howard, his memoirs surfaced directly as a result of this podcast, showing what an awful tough grind it was during the fighting after D-Day. We’ve been graced with an absolute ton of soldierly poetry that’s never before seen the light of day, all thanks to you the listener. And we’ve unearthed stories about the Queen Mary that Dad sailed on to Egypt before fighting in North Africa and teased out no small number of POW stories, each of which contained as much drama as any fighting action.  We’ve had an insight from various directions about women at war, not the least from my dear old departed Mum who offered her insights into Winston Churchill in no uncertain terms, as well as sharing her wartime recipes with us, like carrot and sawdust flan. We’ve had interviews with a Tank Captain, and a Lancaster pilot and topped it all off recently with a dramatic insight into the German side of things. And it was all rounded off recently with a first world war memoir from army Captain Harold Hovell in a very timely 1917-esque account of gas in the trenches and worse.

 

So, you might think, am I going to carry on with the podcast? You bet I am and I hope I’m going to keep knocking out the episodes as long as the material keeps presenting itself.

 

There are times when I just go out and find the stories or relatives of these old soldiers, but I’m always going to be dependent on you, the listener, to help me provide for my core material, which is great unpublished history. I do enjoy reading the odd chapter of a good history book out from time to time but I think the first hand accounts from these old warrists can’t be beaten. So if you are sitting on a dusty old hand written manuscript and thinking ‘oh, we can’t send that in’ please think again. Because you can. Whilst I’d prefer a typed electronic document, I’m happy to pick up the baton and get something typed which I can then smooth and edit and read back in the show, at no cost to you, so if you’ve got a story  memoir from your forebear, of his time in a POW camp, or manning the guns of a warship, or of her helping to decode enemy messages – anything – speak up sergeant and send it in. If you have an old grandparent who’d like to be interviewed, give me a shout on that as well.

 

I haven’t re-visited any of the military rhymes we’ve been treated to in this podcast, so in an attempt to jog your memory for the future, here’s my own that I made up just for the show.

 

Send me yer stories

Send me yer rhymes

Of Dunkirk or the beaches

Or other war times.

Middle East or Far East

Tanks or ship’s deck

Airplanes or Infantry?

Whatever the heck!

 

If anyone will sponsor me on Patreon, I promise I won’t do any more! There’s a link on the home page.

 

So what’s coming up in future epsiodes?

 

I’ll just share with you, at my peril, because sometimes these things never come off, but stuff I’m working on at the moment with some degree of certainty will come, loosely, under the following titles:

Sniper, Atlantic convoy, D-Day veteran …

And I’m also hoping to be covering a fascinating travel book written by a chap who has travelled in his uncle’s war time footsteps in North Africa.

So that’s books, people and memoirs, not necessarily in that order.

More info to follow as soon as I’ve firmed up on a few things, but I’m quite excited about these projects and more that are bubbling under. So more on that in due course.

 

PS

Here’s the news you’ve all been waiting for.

Amongst competing nations, who’s best?

Music Irish?

Firstly, I picked this story up somewhere - American soldier describing the British Army

Those Brits are a strange old race. They show affection by abusing each other. They will think nothing of stopping in the middle of a firefight for their brew up and eat food that I wouldn’t give to a dying dog. But f me I would rather have one British squaddy on side than an entire battalion of Spetnaz!

Why? Because the British are the only people in the world who, when the chips are down, and there seems no hope left, instead of getting sentimental or hysterical, will strap on their pack, charge their rifle, light up a smoke and calmly and wryly grin ‘Well, are we going then you w?’

 

Dontcha just love hearing about the tales of rivalry between the various friendly nations?

But someone recently drew my attention to a serious news article that would seem to settle once and for all, who’s best. So at the risk of breaching copyright, I’m prepared to share it with you only. Please don’t share it around because I think it was leaked from one of the British embassy staff - so it’s a bit hush hush.

The article’s headed up: How modern day archaeological digs have exposed the differences between the Americans, Canadians and Brits.

Having dug to a depth of 10 feet back in June 2019, Canadian scientists have found traces of old copper wire and proved the Canadian army had a telephone network more than 150 years ago.

 

And coincidentally just five weeks after that, some Americans dug to a depth of 20 feet …:

The press report said, "American archaeologists, finding traces of 200-year-old copper wire, have concluded that their ancient ancestors had a high-tech communications network 50 years before the Canadians".

 

And blast me, only one week later, the British authorities have reported the following:

"After digging as deep as 30 feet in North Yorkshire, former WW2 veteran Wilf Shaw, a self-taught amateur archaeologist and Oldham Football club supporter, reported that he’d found absolutely rock all.

Wilf concluded that 250 years ago, Britain had already gone wireless."

 

Doesn’t it just make you proud to be British?

 

TR

 

 

TR

 

To round up the episode, here’s just a couple more passages that are straightforward tales of bravery.

 

Rufty Hill is always popping up in this podcast. He was a well-respected tough soldier, a good scrapper and one of the lads, as my Dad described him. Sadly he died a tragic death on D-Day so to help bring this episode to a close, here’s a passage in tribute to Rufty from episode 25, when we hear the story behind the photo of Rufty and his pals plus Winston. This passage is taken from Operation Scipio about the battle of Wadi Akarit in Tunisia, North Africa, a great book by Barrie Barnes.

The story is told by another Hero, Bill Vickers, and There’s a little prelude to all this, because amazingly, only three weeks earlier, Bill Vickers had won the Military Medal during further fighting during an associated battle of Mareth and here’s the description of the action that led to it, taken from Synge, Story of the Green Howards:

 

“Pte F W Vickers, a No. l bren gunner, of B Company, behaved with great gallantry and was awarded the Military Medal. Most of his section had been wounded by a mortar bomb, and the enemy fire was intense.

Pte Vickers, on his own initiative, worked his way around the flank of a strong machine-gun post, and charged it by himself, killing or wounding most of the crew and capturing one prisoner.

By this action, the remainder of his platoon were enabled to capture the position. His courage and dash proved a great inspiration to his comrades.”

Listener, so that’s just another example of the breed of lad who was fighting this war for us – prepared to put their own lives in danger in order to help his comrades.

And here’s the Wadi Akarit tribute to Rufty, as told by Bill Vickers

 

17 PLATOON, D COY, The 6th Green Howards

We got along the top of the Wadi, a dried-up river bed, and our platoon was well forward. Our section was led by Sgt William Allan Hill who was my best mate: Rufty was his nick name. We came onto a German Spandau machine gun post and took all the crew prisoner in their slit trench. They were all Africa Corps men and one of the lads took them back the way we had come, the rest of us got into the slit trench.

Below us in the Wadi was a piece of high ground that could best be described as an island. On it was a 50mm Anti Aircraft gun and an anti tank gun: we opened fire on the crews with the captured German machine gun and my bren gun, killing or wounding both crews.

The [ww2] anti tank gun had a clear view of the entrance to the Wadi and, I believe, it was this gun that was responsible for the two knocked out tanks standing motionless at the entrance. On one, an officer was hanging out of the turret with his entrails blown out, his sergeant was dead on his hands and knees being killed by blast.

Someone on the island fired at us and I was hit on the left front of my steel helmet by a tracer bullet which dented my helmet. While we were in the slit trench a couple of vehicles came up to the island with ammunition for the guns and they were unaware we had got so far into the Wadi. We took the drivers prisoner and our men drove the vehicles out!

Our section opened fire on the island to give covering fire to our mates as they went into more covered slit trenches taking more prisoners. From our position we could see the 5lst Highland Division on the slopes of the high ground to our right — the enemy started to shell and mortar them and they took cover. Our fighter bombers roared over us and strafed and bombed the enemy on the open ground beyond the Wadi. At the same time, 25 pounder shells from our own artillery were flying over us and landing on the open ground.

Our ‘D’ Company moved forward and out of the protection of the Wadi - the enemy must have been waiting for us to come into view as we were shelled, mortared and machine gunned constantly. There were plenty of slit trenches to take cover in, but not before we had taken numerous casualties.

The men I saw hit were CSM Jim Oliver MM — he was an old regular soldier who had served in India with our 2nd Battalion before the war; the company runner who was a reinforcement from Devon, and a lad from the signal platoon

When there was a lull in the fighting, we buried them where they had been killed.

Listener, that’s the end of the passage, just one element of the bigger battle but such actions were being similarly played out right across the battle front as brave men did what had been asked of them.

Apparently, the battle of Wadi Akarit was one of the most successful fought by the Eighth Army, with the enemy defences broken through in 24 hours. Although allied casualties were high with several hundred dead or wounded, there were also several medals won.

 

There’s one final anecdote to come, from a young soldier about to land on Gold Beach, but first I want to underline the epic journey that we’ve all been on so far by reading from the last poignant chapter of Dad’s book. You’ve never heard this before on the podcast.

Dad’s been through the entire war and he’s writing his memoirs and reflecting on how it all came to an end and for me it’s one of the nicest passages in the book. A young girl called Sophie typed up the manuscript for the family because Dad hand wrote it, and she told us that when she got to the end she cried.  So here goes:

“At the age of twenty-eight, I handed in my uniform and kit in exchange for a suit

and it was all over. My roving had come to an end. What a tremendous impression

those six-and-a-half years had made upon my life. It was all a memory. But what a

memory; the recollections stored in my head were priceless gems.

 

I’d like to conclude my memoirs by saying that soldiers of the Second World

War were a rare breed of men. Boys of nineteen quickly became stout-hearted men

of great calibre, who fought without fear for survival against a ruthless enemy – not

only the enemy, but the trauma and depravation endured, particularly in the desert,

being in action time-after-time, not knowing if they would be blown to pieces. They

all came from the upper echelon of mankind. I would always remember them and

pray for the souls of the pals we all knew who fell by the wayside, giving their lives.

I must also pay tribute to the nurses and doctors who tended our every care when

we were wounded and not to forget the medical teams in the field hospitals. Sailors

and RAF boys, Waafs, Wrens and NAAFI girls and Red Cross – all of these people

were top drawer. I should also give praise to a group of people who were ‘heaven

sent’ to service people. The ladies of the Salvation Army and the Women’s Voluntary

Service were the backbone of a group of people who were always there if help or a

cup of tea were needed; they were great. Without all these people being mindful of

the other’s needs, the war would not have reached its successful conclusion. I feel

very proud to have served my country and to have lived through this generation of

men.

 

We’ve got the PPS coming up so before that there’s justa few people who are kindly helping to close the show …

 

 

Music? Yes!!!

 

Sweet adrenalin

 

This final clip is from Ep 45 – and the book D-Day, The Battle for Europe. By Dick Bowen and Molly Burkett – It’s one of the most impactful scenes you could come across, emotionally.

 

Dick Bowen was in the Fifth E. Yorks on D-Day. He was in the thick of it with the first wave landing on gold beach.

The scene is a calamitous D-Day atmosphere where sea-sick soldiers are piling off their transport ships such as the Landing Ships Empire Lance, Mace or Rapier. They’ve struggled down the netting onto their bobbing Landing Craft assault, with the likes of tough, seasoned soldiers Rufty Hill, Bill Vickers and Stan Hollis amongst them. The seas are the roughest they’ve been for forty years. And the young Dick Bowen finds himself on board waiting for the off, with a two hour journey to the beaches ahead, and a very uncertain outcome waiting on the landing beaches. And I just love what he says about his frame of mind at that point.

Suddenly aboard that LCA it seems he’s been swallowed up into a safe, silent, tranquil dimension somewhere else:

“We reached a landing craft and I was in a different world. All the men were wearing campaign ribbons and they were so calm.

They were real men

- real soldiers

- and I felt elated - to be amongst them.”

 

That was Dick Bowen

And I’m PC saying:

“Come on you absolute heros!

 

 

 

End

 

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Lady of Mann lifeboat 8 heads for restoration. Second world war hero!

The lifeboat of the Lady of Mann has been discovered by Matt Cain and restored. She was lifeboat number 8 on board the wonderful ferry ship which rescued thousands of soldiers from Dunkirk.

Daily Mail article

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Douglas Bader dogfight