‘HOSTILITIES ONLY’ SOLDIERING – 1942 ONWARDS
By Frank Symons
(Driver/Operator and member of counter-mortar section, 92nd LAA)
WE were 18; it was 1942 and Phase Two of the war was underway. The Armed Forces required us (sounds better than we were conscripted); it was the Army that issued the invitations.
We were welcomed into their care and advised on the way they liked things done. Our own ways were amended; and when those rudiments had been absorbed to their satisfaction, we were assigned to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, in Folkestone.
So ... “Get fell-in”... our introduction to what was going to be our eating, sleeping and working surroundings for the next three or four years, or more, was an awakening – to put it in a subdued manner.
We freshly-polished driver / operators, had just left the company and comfort of the exacting but tolerant infantry and artillery training regiments and had now entered the world of men who had been army indoctrinated for two years (some much more than that, as there were quite a few “regulars”) and who had absorbed the way of life in its entirety – with all pros and cons.
The picture; it was dark and wet and we were “ushered” into the cookhouse (not dining room!) for some supper after our journey from Congleton, Cheshire.
The tables had not been cleared and we could tell that the previous diners had eaten well, having left, on the tables, remnants of meat and bread, tea, custard and what could have been gravy-saturated potato. Of course, that may have been the result of a surfeit of good fare. And I have to say that it did not take us long to enter into this bon vivant atmosphere, too – and I willingly certify that we became proud to be part of, and accepted by, our new “team”.
On parade the next morning, the OC gave us the advice that we were in the 3rd British Infantry Division, an assault division, but omitted to say what we were going to assault and when. Obviously!
Wherever it was to be, required that the Londoners amongst us could forget any thought of a quick leave from East Kent as almost immediately, orders were issued – “Mount up” (we heard that a few times later); it will be realised that that order remained from days when artillery was drawn by horses.
This historical connection was made by a comrade when we ourselves were manhandling a gun to re-site it. He very ably, but purely verbally, reminded us of the mannerisms of a working horse. (Not much had changed!) And so we set off for Scotland. But we, the “foot soldiers”, were not aware of that until we passed Gretna! I was paired up with another driver / operator, and as it happened, did most of the driving – possibly because of the process known as “signing for” and I had “signed for” the vehicle.
On day one, we had been issued with brand new vehicles (Bedford 15cwts) and I think the gearboxes had been filled with liquid cement, because it needed, almost, two hands to engage any gear. Off we went in convoy, at a steady twenty mph, with the Troop Commander beside the driver, possibly reading the map – but I just concentrated on following the truck in front, at the regulation sixty yards – no more, no less!
After one or two overnight stops (one was at Stevenage, but I do not remember where else – it might have been Doncaster racecourse, or possibly Catterick Camp, as we did stop there on one of our journeys) – we rolled into Castle Douglas and stayed there for training, with several excursions over other parts of Scotland, until 1944.
Going back to our reception in Folkestone; there is not much to be said about the accommodation except that it was in a brick-built property, in what was probably a fairly expensive Victorian area; taken over for defensive reasons – maybe used for holiday boarders in peacetime. I should think it would need “doing up” when returned to private ownership! All the rooms! Definitely.
No such comfort was available in Scotland at the time: January and onwards was not regarded as the holiday season, so shelter from the sun was not required just then – from everything else, yes. I should explain that the group of us from Congleton had been attached to 318 Battery of the regiment – two to a troop and two to Battery HQ, and a Battery consisted of three troops.
I and one other were in B troop (later to become E troop) and our little family (a troop comprised about 60/70 men) found ourselves down by the lochside, in five Nissen huts. These huts were assembled on concrete platforms, at a guess, eight to ten inches thick, which took us above loch level – while we stayed on the concrete.
Everything had been provided – sufficient space for a small parade ground, surfaced with boiler-ash, which absorbed light rain – heavy rain induced the need for more nimbleness of foot. I am sure that there was the intention to provide hot and cold running water to the one, detached, wash house (there was the expectation that the “hot” would be connected – after the war) but we were content to have the “cold” – it encouraged speed in the washing procedure!
Our Bofors guns were parked around the perimeter of the parade ground, as were all the other vehicles of the troop, so we did not need to walk far to work. There was also, a rudimentary two-man toilet (now there was a euphemism, if ever I saw one) – a forerunner of the modern “open plan, wet floor luxury en suite bathroom”.
Those six words are accurately descriptive, apart from “luxury” and “en suite” and “bathroom”. The facility exercised the minds of those who concerned themselves with the efficient use of time and ... logistics.
Morning troop parade, with roll-call, was after breakfast, but we were required to march, in some sort of formation, up into the town to the cookhouse for the meal – and all meals – a distance of about half a mile.
So that we all should recognise the Battery Commander when we met, there was a regular Battery parade, which was a grander affair than the usual morning troop parade and all three troops would join together on the nearby much larger parade ground, and which housed the other two troops and their guns and vehicles.
We did not have a band – but to enhance the occasion, the view was superb, right across the loch; and when the wind blew and the rain rained, it was most uplifting – and caused everyone to express joy and gladness and to go about their daily tasks in the same spirit.
The normal military order of things applied and Reveille was either 0600 or 0630 – possibly it varied with the availability of natural light periods of the year – and Lights Out was 2200. We had duties to perform; Guard duty, Billet Orderly, Fire watching – which were, of course, over and above the daily training schedule – and if you earned the privileges attached to being “on jankers” (that is “Confined to Barracks”) your award was a potato peeler and a hundredweight sack of the vegetable to peel in your free time – after 1800 hours. The advantage to that, if any, was that this was a service you provided in the cookhouse, which was warm, and sometimes refreshment was forthcoming in the shape of a mug of tea.
Bearing in mind that we were stationed in a rural part of Scotland, and not in a targeted port or a city, the call on the Firewatchers was minimal, but having assembled them, all two or three, waste not want not, they too, were given potato peelers – and thereby our dinner next day arrived on the tables, unblemished. To this day, I do not know where the officers’, nor sergeants’, messes were situated, so they must have been quiet and well behaved.
The entertainment in Castle Douglas was rather limited, and during the evenings, you could usually get a drink – there were a few public houses – or you could visit the NAAFI, which was housed in a large dismal featureless hall, and buy a currant bun; or there was another canteen run by the Church of Scotland in a large property, and again, if you were early enough, you could buy a similar currant bun – or read a magazine, or play table tennis if the ball had not been squashed.
Criticism would be improper and ungrateful as this facility was “manned” by local volunteers and was the only nonmilitary contact we had – so, thank you, residents of CD.
When back at base, the weekends tended to drag a bit. It seems strange to me now, but very few football matches were arranged; and unless you happened to be on duty, Sunday was “free”, after the occasional Church parade. I think I am right, too, in saying that the bars were closed all day on Sundays; and anything else that might have been lighthearted – until our Padre persuaded the local hierarchy to open the cinema on Sunday evenings.
After an exhausting day, it was pleasant to return to our nice warm centrally-heated Nissen hut – well, it had a cast-iron upright stove in the middle ... glowing … (sorry, I have been dreaming) ... and my picture has gone blank; because I just cannot believe that coal, coke, or wood was supplied. Our beds were made of wood, but we needed those – so give the benefit of the doubt and say that some combustible material came from somewhere.
Our exercises were to fit us for a “landing”: and we certainly splashed about in plenty of wet terrain, but only once, I think, did we board a seagoing vessel – in this instance an LCT. The landing took place on the shores of a sea loch, close by Inveraray, where it rained without ceasing for three whole weeks.
The Nissen huts which were our “bedrooms” let in as much water as they kept out – and I cannot recall what the eating area was like. For this night unloading exercise, a “ reserve” driver had to take the wheel. He was unused to the headstrong 15cwt and managed to steer the truck partly off the ramp and partly into the loch. Whereupon he delegated the recovery to me.
This was accomplished – I can’t say with aplomb – that would not be truly descriptive – by the spreading of a little verbal oil on the verbally troubled waters (the oil did not appear to have come from the sump of the vehicle). No doubt this was good experience – although that was not the view expressed at the time.
The Regiment spent time around Inverness and Nairn, and on the Island of Bute. I was ordered to deliver some reserve supplies to the main body, on the island, and happily drove my truck on to the ferry from the mainland – I had a level run from the pier to the deck of the ship. On the Rothesay side, however, the deck was four or five feet higher than the pier.
Two railway sleepers materialised (so some difficulty must have been expected) and were rested on the deck and on the pier, and I was told to have faith in Archie. (lesson; faith can overcome doubt – when there is no option). Archie was he who had control of the sleepers and he was hauled out of the fo’c’stle. I was re-reassured that he was well used to guiding vehicles down this “railway”.
I closely watched Archie’s semaphoring guiding hands because I couldn’t see the sleepers from the driving seat – rather like an aircraft launching from an aircraft carrier – and true enough, we made a good landing.
Something that I have not mentioned is the Morse code. We practised for hours at Congleton, and achieved good speeds, but I never had to send a message, nor received one, for the rest of the war. Just as well, really, we would have caused all Enigma machines to go on the blink as it is a method of transmission of messages liable to error – we found!
To further confuse the Germans, extra to the trips up to the north of Scotland, the Regiment was sent back to Kent, of all places; and I have read that this may have been to make the enemy think that large armies were on the move and assembling on the eastern side of the country – I believe this would have been part of the general troop movements plan. My troop’s headquarters was close by Sandwich, a town I was to get to know very well after the war.
It should be borne in mind, that amidst all of these joyrides around the UK, the actual gunners were undergoing ever more intense training – on gun drill. They had, in earlier years, been in some actions and they actually got to fire the Bofors, again, in a trip to the Cumbrian coast; and we driver / operators were also put in firing positions in case the professionals were out of action.
The target was a pedal-driven aircraft flying at about 1,000 feet, pulling a “sleeve” – and although, later on, the gunners gave an excellent account of themselves in real action, a tame aeroplane does not induce the same reaction as an ME 109 pointing straight at you.
Gradually, we were being edged towards the south coast assembly areas, psychologically at least, and sure enough, our turn came. You will have read many accounts of the constraints put upon us – but I must say that, somehow, I managed to make a trip into Portsmouth, through the various check points, to visit my Aunt, who lived at that time, in a property on the waterside, right in the mouth of the harbour (I have described this in an earlier account of life at that time) – a very restricted area.
The preparations went ahead and to the best of our knowledge at that time, we could have been going to assault the Isle of Wight – except that somewhere along the line, we were issued with Francs. The betting boys reduced the odds then.
My 15cwt had been taken off me now, but at some stage I was press-ganged into driving an SP Bofors, which I took up to the East London assembly area of Wanstead Flats, to be near the docks. (My memory leads me to think that some “official” drivers had been sent in a separate party and would rejoin “their” vehicles at a later date – as I was not, normally, a “gun” driver). I assisted the troop 3 tonner driver on my second trip to London, but more will be revealed later.
I shall always remember the Cameronians (or Cameron Highlanders?) marching into the area, led by their pipers. Truly a stirring sight – especially when you learn, later, of their part in the assault over the beaches.
After a few days of sunbathing on the Flats, we, ourselves, were taken to join our ship – a Liberty ship named SS Sambut – shoehorned into hammocks or any recess that held blankets, and we sailed out into the Thames, to anchor somewhere between Tilbury and Southend (Liberty ships were about 10,000 tons and constructed in America – I won’t say on the hour every hour, but extremely rapidly).
At our level, we did not seem to be informed of our timetable but eventually, we noticed craft aiming out into the North Sea and so we thought that we had better follow – and our part in the D-Day battle commenced. We sailed past Sheppey, Margate and round the North Foreland, past Deal seafront and I could see Dover quite clearly. I think my memory is correct when I say that we were entertained by an amplified radio on an escorting corvette.
Aft – and between decks, the space is called – was where we slept and kept our personal gear, but the cooks operated on the top deck and at meal times we would line up with our knives, forks, mess-tins and tea-mugs for the day’s menu.
At this moment, there was a loud thump, which someone suggested “ might have been a torpedo or possibly a mine”, to be followed immediately by a second thump; causing all appetite to vanish, together with most of the knives and forks, mess-tins and tea-mugs, which disappeared into the hold, as the hatch cover had disappeared, too.
The orderly dinner queue to get to the top deck remained in place, but not for dinner now, and those at the back requested more haste from those in front. Some poor “squaddie” had been blown down into the hold and two or three of his buddies were climbing down the ladder to try to administer aid. Unfortunately, he looked to be beyond it.
By the time the top deck was reached, there were several bodies laying there, also apparently beyond aid; and those still active were discussing the events, until the captain of the ship passed amongst us, giving the order “abandon ship, lads, every man for himself”. I reckoned that would be the best offer I would get in the circumstances and took it as encouragement to join the many others who were already in the sea and who had perhaps anticipated the order; or had followed the instruction with greater alacrity.
After inflating my Mae West (this was a tube which, when inflated, provided some buoyancy to that part of the body to which it was attached – not always helpful) and after removing my army boots and gaiters – as being of absolutely no help in deep water – I climbed down one of the many ropes hanging over the side.
Near the bottom of the ropes were festoons of men who presumably hoped to be taken off dry-shod – so consequently I had to jump for it. As soon as possible, I commandeered a passing petrol jerry-can to help my personal buoyancy and tried to put as much distance between me and the flaming ship as I could – in case it went bang or turned over.
I had one or two conversations with soldiers who wanted my jerry-can (in fact, I gave it up to one man who was a bit wild eyed, and I thought the can would be better looked after in his hands than I would be – if he got his hands on me!)
My approach to a Carley float was viewed with alarm by a comrade sitting safely in the middle of it when he perceived that I had a not unreasonable wish to join a number of other survivors already attached to the float. His voiced assessment was that there were too many attached to it already. And I only wanted to put my hand on it before setting off over the horizon (on such occasions you soon learn who your friends are).
Although not being a very good swimmer, I was using my best breast-stroke to try to reach Dover or Ramsgate, or even Zeebrugge if the tide was right, when a Navy launch came alongside me, complete with scrambling net in position.
Having relinquished my first jerry-can, I had managed to acquire a replacement which I held – very firmly – until close – very close – to the launch, which had kindly slowed down for my benefit and I was just about to climb up the scrambling net when I felt a hand on my back. The owner of the hand, strictly obeying the order “every man for himself” used my shoulders to board the rescue craft, rather than the net. And being unprepared for this – we hadn’t practised this in Scotland – I rather foolishly let go of the net.
When I resurfaced, the rescue launch, the net and the beneficiary of the service, were racing off down Channel, my jerry-can was away to Belgium – and I was left contemplating, seriously, putting my hands up and sinking beneath the waves. I was well astern of the “Sambut” by this time (It is not perhaps realised that in what to me as a swimmer were big waves, from eye-level-sea-level there is little or no land visible, let alone a launch).
However, before I had taken any irrevocable step or stroke, another launch did appear, with a sailor on the foredeck. He was holding a coiled heaving line and uttering the words “hold on, mate”. A marvellous long cast of the line brought it across my arms, and I am “holding on” before the words left his lips! (and to this day, I very much regret being unable to remember the identification number of the launch in order to thank the sailor).
This launch picked up one or two more and took us back into Dover Harbour – where the Harbour WR(e)NS looked disdainfully, but caringly, on these scruffy bedraggled army types, without shoes or socks, who were dripping water all over their harbour. We were lorried up to a barracks at the top of Dover, and subjected to a medical examination – or, “are you alright, good, go and get some new kit”. After becoming reacquainted with a few other survivors, there was time for a rest before bed, and whatever was to follow.
At some point it became known that we had been hit by two long-range shells from the French coast (Cap Gris Nez) and that of the six hundred personnel on board, one hundred and fifty had been killed. So ended our D-Day.
As an addendum; Having re-read this account of our approach to Normandy, I feel that it may be regarded as a description of a “day out on the river”, but be assured that our situation was serious. This was no trial-run. We were in convoy and that could not be delayed, so I doubt if any time could have been spared to pick up survivors – we just happened to be within the close proximity of Dover. I have added these words to emphasise the respect due to those of my comrades who lost their lives or were wounded in this shelling – and, of course, the many others on board who suffered similarly.
Since writing my own recollections of our D-Day voyage, I came across a book, the author of which had been on a ship just two ahead of us in the convoy, who relates that the “Sambut “ blew up with an enormous pillar of flame that plunged over 200 feet into the sky”. No wonder that there was a general willingness to leave it – assuredly we had a fair amount of explosives on board!
And I have wondered what the Cap Gris Nez Germans thought of their marksmanship. It seems that from 1940 to 1944 they had fired off a thousand shells or so, and hadn’t sunk anything! Hitler and a few of his Generals expected that the invasion would really take place at Calais, Normandy being a deception, so sinking the Sambut just there would have opened a bottle or two of schnapps no doubt. I also remember thinking at the time that perhaps a German fast patrol boat might whizz across to scoop up some sodden, or wet, prisoners.
In a short space of time – twenty-four hours or so – the army realised that some of us were back, soaking wet, and in need of fresh clothing, and fitted us with whatever they could find in the Dover barracks. Their own local troops had been attired in clothing of normal size: what remained was given to us. Consequently, a short man was given an item too long and a tall man, an item too short. Boots were standard.
Thus dressed, we survivors were then placed in a train, in a tunnel – because the persistent Germans were shelling us again – and later in the day, we found that we were in Oxford, marching into one of the Colleges of the University. This College had been taken over as a quartermaster’s store and had a much better fitting room than Dover, and our extra-dimensional clothing was replaced by some that more nearly followed our bodies.
It should be remarked that on our march from the station to the college, we had attracted a certain amount of derogatory comment, and suggestions that we “should be over the other side”. Our replies would not have assured us of entry to the University – but were “Universally” understood. After this short elevation to the centre of intelligent thought, we were quickly removed to the alternative – Aldershot army barracks – the centre, in those days, of painted coal and the automatic salute of “pips”.
It should be explained that our unit, before boarding our transport to “the beaches”, had had to be split into three echelons, to try to ensure that at least part of the fighting force arrived in reasonable condition. The bit that I was with was not, and now required re-equipping and therefore joined the third echelon (mainly administrative) in Aldershot.
This was a very busy period for us, but I did manage to sneak home for about twenty hours – improperly – which reassured my mother that I was still in the UK, although my father probably guessed the situation – possibly because my watch was not working.
After what seemed to be very few days, we collected new lorries, guns, and supplies and off we went again for the dispersal areas around the London docks – harassed, I think I am right, by the doodlebugs. I would have preferred to look forward to a different route to meet up with our comrades, but was not given the choice. Those of us who had been before ..?
This time we reached the Normandy coast; and when they realised that we were waiting to come ashore, we were welcomed by the Germans with a modest night bombing run, which is more or less what we expected.
Next day was a business day and we started to disembark. During the short stay in Aldershot, my vehicle, which I had “signed for” was by now at the bottom of the Channel, and I had been directed to assist the troop three-tonner driver, and we had waterproofed his vehicle together.
I have not mentioned waterproofing before – it is something you don’t want to know about – as it involves smearing a putty-like substance over every electrical and petrol connection visible and invisible, plus ensuring that the exhaust is, hopefully, above water level.
Electricity sits on the opposite end of the see-saw to ducks, in its liking of water – and the idea of landing on the sands of France was to almost ensure that our vehicles, and sometimes us, would have to “swim for it”. The substance that will keep water out of the system also sticks to everything else as well and it requires two treatments – putting on: and taking off.
There were two ways of disembarking. We could climb down scrambling nets into the LCT, or (using our own initiative) we could hide in the vehicle cab and be craned down. I felt I had already gained sufficient experience of scrambling nets and opted for the “in cab” technique. (You get a much better overview from forty feet or so up, than from the ship’s side).
We drove up the beach without trouble and on into the green pastures of Normandy and when the right word was given, i.e. “Halt”, (hopefully in English, not German) we did. Whilst the driver ungunged his truck and gunged himself, I prepared tea on our heating equipment – a solidified methylated spirit tablet and a mess tin. This was not an “instant” method and as soon as I had built up enough heat, without fail would come the order “Mount up” (these words have a certain resonance?)
This went on a few times until we arrived at our accommodation for the night, and set up troop headquarters. My driver colleague and I dug slit trenches on the leeward side of a haystack, away from the Germans, and counted the shells the Royal Navy was sending over our heads into the enemy positions!
Having “got established on dry land” as it were, I thought of abbreviating the rest of the story, and accordingly I was going to “shorten the war” and start a new chronicle from my return to “civvies”. However, it might be of interest to see the middle of the picture.
So, a few words of explanation. The 92nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment more or less landed as a complete unit, but after a short number of weeks in France, army manpower, generally, had become a bit short and as the German air force was largely grounded by our air force, the need for anti-aircraft fire was greatly reduced (although our gunners would not agree with that assessment) – except against the occasional raid by Allied aircraft unable to tell right from wrong.
Therefore, one of our artillery troops (as it happened, mine) was disbanded, and the personnel dispersed as reinforcements to other units. Some went to the infantry. However, our infantry regiments were, obviously, the targets for harassing bombardment by German mortars (particularly) and artillery and the Division required squads to be Counter Mortar / Artillery Observers. So six of us from my troop were retained (which included me), to form one OP for that purpose.
The idea was to “live” in close company with the infantry; from your slit trench or similar point of vantage, take a bearing on the sound of the German mortars and guns being fired, radio it back to Brigade HQ, who would then order our local artillery unit to “stonk” the offenders.
You can see that three or four of these bearings from different angles (and there were other OPs from other sources) would cross and provide an accurate siting of the villains’ lair. From our point of view, there were one or two drawbacks to this arrangement, but we won’t go into those.
Our defensive weaponry consisted of our personal arms, a quantity of hand grenades, a Bren gun and ammunition, and a prismatic compass – and, of course, the inevitable spade / shovel, for the slit trench, digging of. This went on through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany – and of the six of us who opened the show, three greeted the capitulation, as the others had left for one reason or another (but we did receive replacements to fill the vacancies).
I hope that it was a successful operation – I don’t remember any words of praise coming our way, directly; I make another mention of this later, although I have since read a military historian saying that the “Counter Mortar OPs played an effective role” (rather like Second violins in a symphony orchestra).
We had commenced our journeys with a 15cwt truck and a jeep, went down to just the truck, and as the game was getting rougher, we were allocated an armoured half-track – which we kept to the end. Throughout the autumn of 1944 and into the early winter months of 1945 (when snow and severe ice made any movement risky) – from memory again, and rarely, if ever, having sight of a map, my impression is of occupying a number of outposts up and down the banks of the River Maas, interspersed with one or two lesser battles (so regarded by those who were not there at the time!).
It is worth a note, too, about possibilities. Our sometimes rather isolated outpost situations were, of course, allocated by Brigade because, from the direction-finding point of view, the planners there had to be sure from where we were giving bearings. But Brigade was the only agency that knew where we were, or was at all interested to be honest – apart from, perhaps, the not too distant German gunners. So there was always the possibility that a German patrol might call - to make the acquaintanceship more personal.
We had been part of the queue attempting to link up with Arnhem, and later, a part of the potential defensive requirements after the German attack through the Ardennes. In the run-up towards Arnhem, our OP joined up with the American 82nd Airborne Division on what was probably the Groesbeek Ridge, where we shared the same hedge with some of them; this was one of the Landing Zones where the American Airborne force dropped in for their assaults on the Nijmegen and Grave Bridges.
Just beyond their gliders was the Reichswald Forest (a vital battle area indeed – never spoken of as a lesser battle) – which during February, became an area of mud, splintered trees, mud, ruins, and mud. And that was where we went – and where the half-track came into its own! Oh yeah!
As an OP, we were kept pretty busy right through to the end of hostilities – although our method of detection of enemy fire was badly affected at the Rhine Crossing, by the prolonged intensity of our own artillery – I am glad to say.
That draws the basic picture, but I’ll fill in a few incidentals, such as – at first, only two of the six could set up and operate the radio, which meant either two very long shifts or several quite short shifts. Two of us (the radio operators) were trained as drivers, and one other (the Sergeant i/c), was able to drive, if necessary. This occasionally created a “skill” and number shortage when one of the drivers / operators was sent to fetch the rations, or a fresh battery, or to acquire a new radio when the old one had been hit. But we coped – thankfully, we were on the winning side!
Our particular deployment had not provided many opportunities for entertainment, but on one occasion, in Eindhoven, Holland, there was an ENSA concert – Joe Loss and his band. And very good it was, too. Two of the OPs were allowed to go – each in its own 15cwt truck, five or six men in each.
The drill, always, was to immobilise your vehicle when leaving it, usually by removing the rotor arm from the distributor and keeping it in your pocket. This we did, and as an extra, I also removed and hid the battery lead. When we returned to the vehicles after the concert, where there had been two, there was only one. The enemy (they just might have been German??) but more likely, Dutch, or even British – had made off with one of them.
I was glad that I had also removed the battery lead from my truck – and we were able to drive back to Divisional HQ, rather than march back across Holland, even if it is flat. So I had a full load – nine in the back and three in the front – the centre one of the three sitting on the “between the seats” battery box. From this situation, he assumed the manhandling of the gear lever, which was now between his legs.
Gear changing took place by numbers and by third party control. I, as the driver, would say “One, gear change, NOW” and depress the clutch: the man on the box would put the gear lever into neutral: I would say “Two, clutch DOWN”, and the middle-man would put us into the next appropriate gear. Simplistic double-declutching! There were not many chances for concerts after Holland!
Later, much later … cricket, in the army, had been non-existent. Apart from one occasion, when peace was being established, one of the officers “suggested” that his batman and I should set up a trial match at Battery level, which we did and there being no cricket pitches in Germany, we commandeered a fairly flat field together with a lawn mower, and on the arranged day, a satisfactory number of us entered this field from one corner – as from the opposite corner there came a German fair or circus, who were going to perform there for a few days!
We claimed the ground (after all, we had the bats, stumps AND ball) and played our match to an audience that was totally bewildered! Our officer, very modestly (or, perhaps sagaciously) didn’t pull rank, and his batman and I shared the honours (?) of being captains. I regard this experience as being rather akin to the Empire-building of old, but as far as I know, cricket has never caught on in Germany.
This has been a personal recollection of a variety of incidents which occurred during my Army “career”, and are slightly more “irregular” than the formality of normal regular peacetime service. I have read the very interesting “History of the Loyals” and naturally, this dealt most adequately with the gunnery side of the Regiment – but I have been disappointed by the brevity of the mention (obviously no fault of the author of “The History” – purely lack of record) of the contribution made by the men who became detached from the guns, and who – I hope I am right in this – formed the “Counter-Mortar Observers for the 3rd British Infantry Division”.
I do not remember that, at that time, we were ever regarded as, nor assembled as, a “formation”. I say this with some trepidation, but I did not see any CMOPs with men from units other than the 92nd LAA, on the occasions that we were able to meet together, informally, at Div. HQ.
This low-level recognition may have been inevitable – given that we and other local attractions, although often targeted by our mutual enemy; had as our main weapon of retaliation, a prismatic compass. (I am bound to say that now, many years later, I have discovered that there was, in fact, a properly-formed unit (of HQRA), incorporating more sophisicated methodology, under the command of a major, as a section of Divisional HQ: it materialised during the winter 1944 / 5. I honestly do not remember that our OP was ever invited to join (it might be that they didn’t have our address on their Christmas card list!) – our point of contact with Higher Authority being Brigade!)
Despite our periods of “separation” we were always welcomed back to the Regiment and at the end of hostilities, the OP personnel were re-merged with our original Batteries / Troops and became involved in Military Government. Gradually, demobilisation had its obvious effect – the older long service hands went home; personally, I was transferred to another unit but eventually we all followed the many times heard order ““Fall Out”.