The stories behind the story
When Company Sergeant Major Gray wasn't fighting for the Green Howards, sometime in 1944 he found time to compose some war poems:
Yes! It's four years today since we left France
In a very undignified way.
But four years has made a big difference to us
And now our debts we can pay.
We made a vow then, that we'd come back again
It has taken that long to get ready
But 'tis said Britain wins the last lap
And for that, we are now sitting steady.
We have left the shores of England behind
Said a sharp farewell to all
And the largest amphibious force in the world
Is set for the Western Wall.
A long time we've waited for D-Day
All preliminary work been done
And once more the task, is more than plain
Clear Europe and banish the Hun.
The bow of the boat is pointing due south
Our morale is high, you can bet
Though we've done it before and everyone knows
The kind of reception we'll get.
For guidance and safety in coming days
We pray to the unseen powers
We don't know if we're on God’s side
But we're praying that he is on ours.
ON THE WAY
In Southampton bay, at peace we lay,
On this the third of June
And to fore and aft, there are thousands of craft
We'll be heading for France very soon
The heart and soul of movement control
Lay in getting us down to the shore
While the organisation and administration
Is better than ever before
Here a Naval Commander, our welfare takes over
And gives us our landing orders
While high in the sky the RAF boys fly
And guard us from Jerry marauders
The vehicles are stored, the troops are on board
And the bridge orders, 'Anchors aweigh'
Then gently we glide, on the outgoing tide
To take up our place in the bay
Now our orders we know,
We just wait the word 'GO'
Then the world's biggest battle begins
It is not all in vain, France must live again
And the Nazis must pay for their sins
L.S.T. [Landing Ship Tank]
Who longs for the sea? I can tell you not me
My experience has not just begun
I have done many trips, on various ships
As a soldier, it isn't much fun
Now sailor, be frank, on a Landing Ship Tank
As far as the Tommy's concerned
Things are a bit flat, you'll agree about that
And I think something better we've earned
As a typical example, take this for a sample
More than five hundred people on board
The proverbial cat? There's no room to swing that.
You can't say that one lives like a Lord
The accommodation and bed situation
is six to one bed, Yes! it is
And the food that they rig
isn't fit for a pig
but they promise to get some that is.
At the signal to rally, we dash to the galley
for biscuits and bully beef stew.
Diced carrots and spuds with a dash of soap suds
and sloppy from yesterday's brew
At the next meal we get, the sloppy is wet
our spirits are too, but why worry?
We oft wait for hours, in hail, snow, and showers
but what of it? We ain't in a hurry
The NAAFI? There's none, ships library? No bon
they haven't a book in the place
Understand why I'm blue, I've nothing to do
I'd lay down, but I can't find the space
But we'll probably grumble, as on shores we tumble
and wish we could move in reverse
For we landing in France, and there's every chance
that conditions out there will be worse
The going may be tough, but we're made of the stuff
that real British Tommies are made of
Though we grumble and rile
in the true British style
there's not a damn thing we're afraid of (much)
So let's get at the Hun and get the job done
and get back to our loved ones at home
Let's forget about war,
Let’s have peace evermore,
so that never again need we roam
A LETTER HOME
Dear Mum and Dad, as you probably know
I'm in France in the fighting line.
But you've no need to worry about me at all
For I'm having a marvellous time.
We journey across on a Landing Ship Tank,
You know, those flat bottomed craft.
And our large sized bags vomit, were frequently used
And then thrown overboard aft.
About life on board, you will know quite a lot,
If you read those five verses of mine.
There's no room to move and nothing to do
I'll say, 'twas a marvellous time.
The landing was wet, I'll never forget
How we scrambled down ladders of rope
And there four miles out we proceeded to have
a bath, but we didn't use soap.
We were soaked to the skin by the time we got in
Hands and face had lost all of their grime
As we dodged shot and shell, one would think it was hell
But we thought it a marvellous time
Of the fighting on land I will not say a lot
I would say a bit if I could.
But as Jerry got tougher, the weather got rougher
And now the place is in flood
In the bottom of trench, there is mud inches thick
We just sit there and wallow in slime
We can't sleep a wink and we haven't for days
But we're having a marvellous time.
Our spirits are wet, clothes, blankets, you bet
But the battle goes on just the same
Each day we attack and each day we're thrown back
Then get ready to go in again
Still it won't be long now till the battle is won
Very soon, the sun's going to shine
In the meantime, best wishes from your only son
He's having a marvellous time!
D E Gray 1944
Second world war and WWII History podcast