Reflections of WW1

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06 Aug 2009 00:00 by Roger Davis Star rating in Balsicas , COSTA C.... 92 posts Send private message

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I thought it would be appropriate today , after watching the funeral of Harry Patch , that perhaps everyone who reads this could spend a few moments to reflect on the enormous sacrifice made by all those who fought for Britain and for the cause of peace everywhere . Just think of all the conflicts where our service personel have given their lives so that we may live in peace , regardless of Politics - they had no choice .

        WW1

         WW2

         Korea

         Malaya

         Suez

         Northern Ireland

         The Falkland Islands

          Iraq

          Afghanistan

Sorry if I have missed any out . The red text by the way is chosen to match the colour of Poppies which Harry was so fond of.

My personal reflections of WW1 have been passed down to me by my dear Mother , who is still going strong at the age of 91 , and refer to my Grandfather , William George Wain who was a Private in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He served somewhere in France ( whereabouts unknown ) around 1916 /17 until he was found wounded in a shell hole , having lain there for two days . He was then shipped home to a hospital ( I guess he must have had some leave or my Mother would not have been born ). After this he was sent to Messopotania ( Now Iraq ) where he fought against the Turks , who used to throw boulders down onto our boys . He did not return home until 1920 by which time my Mother was 2 years old and who he had never seen. My Mother has always said how scared my Granfather was for the rest of his life whenever there was Lightning and Thunder  , his mind must immediately have  gone back to the hell of the trenches . He finally died in his sleep in his favourite chair in 1968 , aged 80.

So , you can see, my Grandfather was just an ordinary soldier , just like Harry Patch , and millions of others.

If other members of EOS have stories to relate to any conflicts/wars it would be interesting if they would post them on here as I am sure many people would be interested in reading them.

Kind Regards to all ,

Roger Davis

 

 


 



This message was last edited by Roger Davis on 06/08/2009.



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06 Aug 2009 19:39 by Marksfish Star rating in Sandy, Bedfordshire/.... 2413 posts Send private message

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I wasn't able to watch the service today and I have no stories from WWI, but plenty from WWII from my grandfather. Harry Patch was the last of the soldiers of WWI in living memory, it will all be memories from the history books from now on. We would all like to think that WW! and WWII were the wars to end all wars, but sadly not, they are ongoing in all parts of the World at the moment.

Too many soldiers, airmen and sailors are losing their lives at the moment due to a conflict that is going on far away, for political reasons. These young men and women should also never be forgotten, no matter what people may think of the reasons they are there, for "doing their bit for Queen and country"

Mark



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07 Aug 2009 00:19 by Roger Davis Star rating in Balsicas , COSTA C.... 92 posts Send private message

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Mark,

your reflections can be from any conflict , not just WW1 , so please go ahead and tell us of your Grandfather's  experiences.

regards,

Roger





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07 Aug 2009 08:44 by Marksfish Star rating in Sandy, Bedfordshire/.... 2413 posts Send private message

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My paternal Grandfather was conscripted to the RAF the same day his twin brother was conscripted to the Army. My Grandfather was to help in the design and testing of radar navigation and also worked with the Sunderland flying boats. His brother wrote some memoirs a few years ago which I kept on disc as they relate to my maternal Grandfather in Burma too. It is very long as I am copying it in its' entirety.

Some Memories of the World War 11 years by R.E.Burningham
 
I started work at Runwell Hospital in September 1937. The hospital had only been open a few months. Many of the wards had not been finished and they were put into operation as and when they were finished. There was quite a lot to do getting the place organised but everything was new and seemed to go well. 1 used to cycle to Chigwell on my days off. At the time of Munich, when Mr. Chamberlain, the prime minister, returned from meeting Hitler with his message of “peace in our time", things were very uncertain and the workmen were very busy making shutters for alternative windows. These were made of hardboard from Sweden, the first time we had seen or heard of hardboard. The shutters were very elaborate and had ventilators top and bottom and were framed in 2 x 1 inch battening, making them rather heavy to lift and put into place at the window. The alternate windows were blacked out with dark blue paint. Brick walls to stop blast were erected outside each window and door. A year later, war was declared and caused quite a few problems. Some wards were emptied of patients; making the other wards overcrowded and the emptied wards were fitted out with beds and emergency equipment for civilians who might be injured in air raids, etc. When the air raids did start, they began as soon as darkness fell and perhaps went on most of the night. Everybody had gas masks, which we had to carry at all times. During air raids, we had to get the patients dressed and bring them downstairs; this went on for sometime and then it was decided to bring all the beds downstairs. This caused serious problems, as we had to carry all the food upstairs and bring all the crockery downstairs to the kitchen to wash up. Zigzag trenches were dug outside the wards to be used during air raids but these soon filled with water and were useless. Bombs and parachute mines were dropped around Wickford mainly to cause indiscriminate damage and to demoralise everyone. 1 was called up in October 1940 and had to report to Boyce barracks at Fleet and 1 joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). We commenced a 3 months intensive course of training, which consisted of square bashing and hours of lectures each day and also plenty of physical training at the gym. Conditions were very good; the place was recently built and was mainly of wooden construction.
 
After a while, I managed to find somewhere for Vera to stay and we were able to see something of one another. we had only been married a few months but it was too, good to last for at the end of a few months, I was posted to Belfast, which was rather a disappointment for us both and I went by troop train to Stranraer in Scotland and by boat across to Larne. When we disembarked, we had a wonderful breakfast on the dockside provide by the local women' s' organisations; my, what a welcome we had. I was posted to Palace barracks at Holywood on the outskirts of Belfast by the side of Belfast Lough. We had a large Royal Ordnance Depot on one side of us and the Shorts aircraft factory and the Harland and Wolfe dockyard close by. It was January 1941.After a few weeks there, 1 was sent to work at a big old workhouse place, taken over by the army, in Donegal Rd. in the centre of Belfast. 1 soon found myself on night work with a large ward of 5O patients in 4 rows and there were four huge coal fires to keep going and it was a continual job stoking them up; it was extremely cold weather. After a few weeks, I was sent to Purdysburn, a large old hospital up in the hills outside Belfast. We took over a recently built wing, which had not even been opened and filled it with army beds and furniture and soon had the place filled with patients. It was lovely countryside around and during spare time, I enjoyed long walks.
 
After a few more weeks, I was farmed out to a general hospital overlooking the Lough. I was on night duty, looking after a patient who was showing mental symptoms; he had a nice bedroom overlooking the Lough. In the early hours one morning, 1 saw a badly damaged aircraft carrier; the front of it seemed to be missing and it was making its way very slowly towards the docks. It proved to be the Illustrious, which had been torpedoed. Next morning, it passed down the Lough at dawn and we heard later that it had gone to the US for repairs. The night the Illustrious arrived, we had the first air raid on Belfast and there seemed to be very few anti-aircraft guns but the Illustrious must have been well equipped with them and sent up quite a barrage of fire. The air raids on Belfast were very intense and with all the hills around the city, the noise was amplified; a lot of damage was done to the residential part of the town. Gallaher Cigarettes factory and the largest rope factory in the world went up in flames and smoked for days. The aircraft factory, ordnance depot and docks were hot targets. It was an amazing sight to see the barrage balloons, which were a silver colour, just like flaming oranges in the sky. We always had about 1 hours warning before an air raid on Belfast. One night, we had an air raid warning and heard the planes pass over but no bombs were dropped. Next morning, we heard that Dublin had been bombed - one of the mysteries of the war. I spent about 10 months in Ireland and then obtained a transfer to W ales to a mental hospital in Talgarth, mid Wales, right out in the sticks and one could almost forget that there was a war on- I had my cycle sent down by train and I spent a lot of time exploring the lovely countryside. After a while, I managed to find somewhere for Vera to stay and we enjoyed a few months near each other. Women were recruited to work and Vera managed to get a job at a sanatorium nearby. We used to go for long walks up in to the hills and the Black Mountains. Wilf came down to stay for a week when he was on leave from his unit in the Shetlands and we had a grand time together, it was a lovely summer. I was on night work for quite a while and had plenty of time off during the daytime. It was all too good to last and many of the lads got posted abroad and eventually my turn came. I was sent to Ormskirk in Lancashire at short notice and to my dismay, found on my arrival that everyone had been on 14 days embarkation leave and 1 had been sent to replace someone who had been sick and could not go. 1 was given the weekend off and made my way back to W ales for a few days with V era before going back to Ormskirk. W e were kitted out with tropical gear but had no idea where we were going. Eventually, we were put on a special train and were on our way to Liverpool docks where we embarked on an Orient liner, SS Orontes. We had 80 nursing sisters with us and 35 medical officers and about 250 men in our outfit but of course there were many other units, making about 2000 altogether. The officers, NCO'S and sisters had cabins, which were very posh, and the rest of us were down in the holds, which were fitted out with large tables for 18men and this was your place to eat, sleep, etc. We had hammocks, which we slung on hooks and we were like sardines in a tin. We were on G deck, top deck was A, so we were well below the water line. It was so hot down there and unbearable so we only went down for meals and then back on deck as soon as possible. The food was good but not enough but the seas were rough and most were seasick so we that remained all right had a good tuck in at each meal. We joined many other ships and met another batch, which must have left the Clyde; there must have been about 35-troop ships and merchant ships spread out as far as one could see. In the centre of the convoy, we had two battleships, Nelson and Rodney. ,sister ships with 15in guns and also an aircraft carrier, which was a converted merchant ship. And it had a squadron of Gladiators on board. The Rodney had a Walrus amphibian aircraft, which was catapulted off at times while at sea and then patrolled the convoy. It was winched out of the water after landing with a large crane; the Gladiators never went up.
 
We had many destroyers, which spent most of their time well ahead of the convoy, patrolling the waters around the convoy. They looked so small in the rough seas we encountered and it was interesting to see them refuel at sea from battleships. W e often had "action stations" when we had to all go down below and you would hear a lot of explosions. When the depth charges went off, the ship seemed to almost jump out of the water. All the merchant ships, including the troop ships, had a 25-pounder gun on the stern and when that was used, it made a hell of a row. The convoy would be sailing along and all of a sudden, there would be three blasts on the horns of all the ships and they would receive signals from the battleships using Morse code with signal lamps and the convoy would change direction all together-a magnificent sight to see! With two blasts on the horns, the convoy would change direction left. W e went on like this day after day and week after week. The seas were very heavy at times and the battleships seemed to plough through the waves and then re-emerge before repeating the performance. Some of the merchant ships were loaded to the hilt with deck cargo. As soon as the weather improved a bit, most of us slept up on deck, as it was unbearable down below. After floundering around in the Atlantic, we reached F Freetown harbour; a tug at the entrance towed a large submarine boom, like a large gateway, open and we were able to sail in. There had been several ships sunk around the entrance and their superstructures were sticking out of the water. Several large liners, the Aquitania with four funnels and the Mauritania left us and went on at high speed to Dakar. The inland waterway was able to take all the convoy and we anchored off shore and nobody was allowed ashore. It was very hot and close. Thick cloud prevailed for the 8 days we spent there and we never saw the sun. It took all the 8 days to replenish the water from water tankers and refuel, etc. before we were able to make our way out to sea again. We had a lot of illness during our stay and at times the top deck was completely covered with prostrate figures. We were glad to get to sea once more and it took another 14 days before we reached Cape Town. The battleships and aircraft carrier left us and the Dorsetshire, a large frigate, escorted us. The convoy split up into two, one group went on to Durban and we went into Cape T own. It was great to see all the lights on shore after being used to blackout all the way and at home. We went into Table Bay in the early hours of the morning and it was a wonderful sight with the Table Mountains dominating the bay. (Incidentally, we heard that the Dorsetshire was sunk after it left us, by a Japanese submarine.) There was a lot of activity when the convoy reached port. We stayed there for 3 days only; Rommel was advancing and had reached Mersamatru. We were taken for a route march around the town each morning as a morale booster; it was a massive array of troops. In the afternoons, we were allowed ashore and 1 went and found Son in his office at Garlicks. He was rather taken back and packed up work and took me home where 1 had a nice bath which was very necessary after a month at sea with very little water! Edna and John were there and of course they were only young children. We had a wonderful time together with trips out in the car each day, and each night when returning to the ship, 1t Was loaded up with pineapples, oranges, etc. When we finally left, the sea was very rough and 1 quite thought the ship would turn over in the Cape rollers. We sailed up the East Coast of Madagascar and it seemed to take days; the terrain was very mountainous. We eventually reached Aden at the entrance to the Red Sea and anchored offshore for a while; it seemed a barren and very mountainous place, stifling hot and we were glad to get moving again. All the ships were fitted with a large barrage balloon to stop low altitude attacks from aircraft while we were sailing up the Red Sea. The heat was unbearable and there was not a breath of air. We eventually reached Port Tewfick, our destination, and anchored off shore (it had taken 2 months since leaving Liverpool). W e were taken ashore by tenders and then taken by troop carriers to a place called Quassasin where we were put up in a large transit camp. We had Indian tents, which were made of thick cotton material and stopped the sun from baking us. The transit area was massive and covered a large area-there were outdoor cinemas, etc. All our hospital equipment for a 2000 bed hospital arrived at Port Tewfick and some of us were sent down to help unload it and load it on to trains. It was amazing the amount of stuff we had to move and we had camel carts to help take some of the stuff. Everything was packed well and each package had a code number so that only the quartermaster knew what the box contained. There were marquees with massive tent poles, each able to take 22 beds, x-ray equipment and everything that a hospital required; the organisation by the ordnance supply department back home was fantastic. We hung about at this transit camp for some weeks and had to guard our equipment day and night, as the natives would help themselves to everything. Eventually, we were on our way again to Port Tewfick where we embarked on an Indian ship, SS Takliwa (British Indian Steam Navigation) which took us up the Persian Gulf to Basra, calling again at Aden on the way. This took another 14 days. Things were pretty bad on this ship as we were in an open hold, which was full of flies when we got aboard. We were unable to get rid of them even though we all had swatting attempts. The Indian crew gave us very good food and the trip was very interesting. The crew had to constantly check the depth of the water under the ship by swinging the lead". Where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers join up, they continue as one large river for 100 miles to the Sea and this is called the Shatt-el-Arab. The banks were covered with date palms and as far as we could see, there were many pink coloured Flamingos. We passed the massive oil terminal and fuel production plant at Abadan.Eventually, we reached Basra, a large town, and we disembarked and to our dismay, the lovely greenery and palm trees were only along the shore of the river and as far as one could see, the terrain was just dried up earth like fine dust, not sand. When the wind blew, it was just like the old fogs we used to have in London when every house had a coal fire. W e were taken to a place called Asher; it was not a very hospitable place and everyone looked at us with hate in their eyes and we were not welcome guests for we had invaded them. The place stank something awful and took a bit of getting used to. W e were back in our Indian tents, it was hot and sticky and the flies were a constant torment; at meal times, it was a job to keep the flies away from the food while you ate. There was no bread available except for officers so we had to eat army biscuits, which were something like dog biscuits! There were no potatoes and all our meals were boiled rice. They had sheep, which were 2. cross between a sheep and a goat. They were bred like this to give them the ability to cope with the hills and rugged terrain. They used to kill the sheep at Sam and we would have them for dinner the same day-it was just like trying to eat Rhinoceros and was tasteless. The water supply came through large pipes laid on the surface of the ground and during the day, you could almost brew tea straight out of this pipe. We stayed there some weeks, we did PT route marches in the baking sun and other units thought we were mad. Eventually, we were on the move once more and were taken in open lorries to a place called Awaz. There was a massive steel bridge over a river, which looked recently built and covered a vast span with huge arches towering above. It was there that we boarded a train, which was to be our home for several days. The carriages were almost new, they had no padded seats but wooden slatted seats-very comfortable. The back of the seat hinged from the top and could be lifted up to make bunks, which we found very useful. The engine was an old steam train with large cowcatchers on the front just like you see on old American films and had a large headlight and wailed like the old film trains. W e went on hour after hour and day after day through the most rugged country. We seemed to be travelling on the flat for about 100miles and in the distance you could see a range of mountains. When we reached them, it was like a huge wall and the train zigzagged up that wall, turning into a tunnel and then back up the wall. This was repeated until we reached the top and then we had another expanse of flat country and yet another range of mountains to c1imb. We were warned not to eat any fruit without washing it well. However, we pulled in a station at Saltanallad and an Arab woman was selling grapes; they looked very appetising and we were dying of thirst. 1 thought, here goes, and went towards her but was stopped in my tracks by a hornet which stung the side of my neck and 1 was pleased to crawl back to my seat without any grapes. W ell, we eventually reached Tehran, a large modern and recently built city. Most of the people in the streets wore European clothes and appeared well off-from the oil, 1 suppose. The railway station was huge and was also recently built, as was the railway. The Germans had built it and we noticed that the ceiling of the station incorporated hundreds of swastikas in the design. We were taken to a large new building, which had also been built by the Germans but was not finished. It was a fantastic place and all the doors and frames were made out of steel with rubber seals all around. It was several stories high and had electric lifts. The kitchens were on the top floor, positioned to avoid the smell of cooking. This was to be our hospital but there was a lot more work to be done to complete the place. Consequently, we had to put up our marquees, which we found rather a job as the ground was full of large stones and it was practically impossible to get our large wooden tent pegs to penetrate the ground without smashing them. At this time, the Germans were breaking through the Caucasus and were already ~t Baku on the Caspian Sea. They were hoping to link up with the Japs in the north of India and the lOth Army was sent up to halt the advance and we were part of this task. Fortunately, they did not get any further than Baku and we were not involved. At this time, the allies were sending enormous amounts of supplies to Russia via the railway ~ and road through Iraq and Iran so it was an important part of the war effort. W e did not get any casualties to look after but the hospital became full of medical cases-there was a lot of disease and illness among the troops, Diphtheria was rife and we were kept busy. 1 was sent to a smallpox ward, which was in tents up away from the rest of the hospital-we had to live away from everyone else. We had many cases during the winter and most of them died for there was nothing we could do for them. Fortunately, we were safe because we had been vaccinated. 1 was unable to find any vaccination scars on any of the victims; they were mainly RAF personnel and had obviously evaded vaccination. As smallpox was more infectious after a patient died, we wrapped the body in a creosote disinfectant soaked sheet, then a blanket and then a heavy wooden box and buried them very deep almost as soon as they had died-it seemed a hopeless situation as there was no cure. After many months here, we were on the move once more and it was just like packing up a travelling circus. We went by train to Baghdad where we stopped for a few days before continuing our journey on a narrow gauge train. This was quite an experience; the old steam engine had a high funnel and emitted clouds of smoke. There was no coal available and all the trains had been converted to use oil fires to create steam. Water was the main problem and our tongues were hanging out. The train stopped and some of the lads were crowding around the cook wagon and were coming away with mugs of tea so naturally we all joined the queue. After a while, the train gave a few blasts on its whistle and began to move off, leaving a load of us behind. W e stood there with our mouths wide open and the train gathered speed and disappeared from view. W e were miles away from anywhere and were wondering what our fate would be when we saw the train coming back for us. The company officer had steam coming out of both ears and he got off the train and really tore us off a strip. W e were allowed to board the train and continued on our way. We then transferred to open trucks, large American jobs designed to carry troops; we had Indian drivers though and were not very happy with them. We crossed Transjordan, taking about 7 days. When we stopped for the night, we laid our bedding out in three rows just like being on parade. At these water points, we were able to have a drink and fill up our water bottles for the next day but not until the Colonel had his bath filled-this was a folding canvas affair. We reached Jordan after about a week; it was very hilly with terrible roads and hairpin bends with tremendous drops at the side. One of our trucks turned over and caused quite a few casualties. We reached the River Jordan and crossed the Allenby bridge-everywhere was so green and lush after months away in barren parts. We reached Benjamina in Palestine and when we slept out on the grass, the dew at night soaked us. W e carried on into Egypt where we put up camp. Those of us who had been sick while in Iran were sent for a convalescent holiday in Cairo for a week. W e had quite a nice time and visited the Citadel and the Pyramids at Gaza. Then, we moved on to Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast where we were issued with tropical green kit, ready we thought, for Burma. W e boarded an old ship called the Almanzora (British Steam Navigation) and to my amazement, we were sailing West, which was the direction of home. W e kept in sight of the North African coast for many days and then called in at St. Augusta in Sicily and had a good view of Mount Etna, towering into the sky. We thought, perhaps we were going to Italy where there was still a lot of fighting going on. We had quite a few alarms through the Med. and when we went through the straits of Gibraltar, paravanes were put out to cut loose the mines if any were encountered; these made a lot of vibration through the ship.
 
We reached home water without any further bother and landed at Gourock on the Clyde. How wonderful to be home after 3 years! We went by troop train down to Wales and finished up at the Waterloo Hotel in Betws-y-coed. We opened up a small hospital at the hotel and thought that we were home and dry. We had a lot of route marches and PT , getting us ready for the invasion of France. After a few months, we were on the move again and landed up at Goodwood House at Chichester where we stayed several weeks. Some of the lads got sent to Portsmouth to train on tank landing craft. The idea was to bring back wounded after landing the tanks. 1 was sent on a 6 weeks course at Fazakerley Fever Hospital, a civilian hospital near Aintree racecourse in Liverpool. We had very good accommodation and were well looked after. One evening, 1 was walking down the road with a couple of mates and we saw a soldier from a Scottish regiment coming towards us and 1 realised after a while that it was Wilf; 1 hadn't seen him for ages and it was a wonderful meeting. We walked back to the hospital and went to the kitchen and they fixed us both up with a smashing meal and we sat and talked and talked until he had to return to his unit, which was at the docks. After the 6 weeks at Fazakerley, 1 went back to Goodwood House, where we were prepared for going to France, but of course we did not know this at the time, because everything was hush-hush. When the time came, we were marched down to the railway station and we were taken to Havant station and we were marched with full marching order to Southsea, which seemed quite a distance. We came to a jetty, made up with metal scaffolding and there was a Canadian landing craft with stairways on the outside towards the front of the boat. We embarked and soon were on our way; it was only a small ship and had a low wire railing round the gunwales and 1 thought it might be easy to fall over the side if it got rough. W e were given a tin of smashing soup-one had to light the end with a cigarette after piercing it and in a few minutes, it was red hot-very enjoyable. 1 went down below, it was very confined but there were about 4 bunks, one above the other, with just room to get in. They were in long rows so 1 jumped into a top one and 1 was soon fast asleep. 1 woke in the early hours of the morning and went on deck and to my amazement, we were not far from the French coast; the sea was rough and all around, there were ships of all shapes and sizes. There was a continual stream of Ducks (these were quite large amphibious vehicles) taking equipment ashore from the boats and returning for more. There seemed to be hundreds of them and the place was alive with activity. There were a lot of ships which had been sunk purposely to form a breakwater and a concrete mulberry harbour which was made up of huge concrete pontoons, which had been towed out there from England; each had an anti-aircraft gun mounted on it. We went ashore without any action but could hear heavy gunfire. After marching some distance, we were taken further inland on troop carriers and just dumped on the side of the road, awaiting further instructions. We were rather hungry and had rations with us, complete with small portable solid fuel stoves each so we thought this would be a good chance to have a feed. We were busy with this when we heard aircraft overhead and the noise of cannon fire. There were signal troops working down the road at a level crossing and 1 saw them jump down into the ditch and instinctively did likewise. As 1 dropped down into the ditch, there was a terrific sharp explosion in the hedge, not far from me and almost deafened me. The chap next to me shouted "Oh! They have got me" and they had, for he had quite a bit of blood coming from a wound in his chest. Several others had small shrapnel wounds but nothing serious. We took this case to a first aid post and to our amazement, he returned to us some days later; it was not as serious as we thought. We were taken to a place near Bayeux and we had the job of putting up a hospital. The countryside around there is something like Cornwall with small lanes and a hell of a lot of cider apple trees. The area is known as Calvados and they produce a famous liqueur from the apples, known as Calvados; very potent stuff. We erected a lot of tents when they became available. Our tents slept 8 men and there were 250 men, 35 medical officers and 80 sisters and we took over about 7 fields from a farmer who was not at all happy. We put up no end of large five sector marquees for patients' beds, 22 in each. 1 was employed in the reception tent when the wounded were brought in by ambulance. The roads were very narrow and congested with large lorries, mostly American made and much larger than we had seen before. These were carrying large shells and other ammunition and loaded with jerry cans of fuel and these had priority over ambulances. Most of the apple orchards around us had petrol cans stacked round them, shells and ammunition using the trees as camouflage. As patients came in, they were sorted out at the reception tent. Those needing urgent operations were taken to the operations area. This was all done on portable operating tables which just took a stretcher, and patients were operated on the stretchers and all the operating staff and surgeons were still with boots and gaiters on but of course masks and gowns also. The doors of the operating tents were concerted. All our patients were either discharged or sent home in adapted Hampden bombers within 24hrs. The Germans were dug in at Caen, a few miles south, and there were always sounds of gunfire and sometimes it seemed to be getting nearer. On Sunday morning, we had a 1000 bomber raid on Caen. The clouds were low and visibility was very poor and the planes came over very low. It was an amazing sight with hundreds of planes passing over and filling the sky all round as far as one could see. They were mostly Lancasters. We stayed there from June to November, as it was a big task to move a 2000 bedded hospital. We were kept busy with wounded and when the Germans were trapped in the Fallais gap, we had no end of them to look after. It was a very wet summer and we were up to our ankles in mud for most of the time and it was impossible to keep our feet dry. In November, we were sent home, but we did not pack up our tents or any equipment; we just left it where it was, so 1 don't know what happened about it. We went to Gatton Park in Sussex, a large old country house belonging to Jeremiah Coleman of mustard fame. We were preparing once again to go to the Far East as the Japanese were still giving trouble. However, around Christmas time, the Germans attacked at the Ardennes and were making good headway. it was very wintry at the time. We, were given our marching orders and did not know where we were going. We went by train all around the outskirts of London and found ourselves at Tilbury, where we boarded a boat and early New Y ears Day, we sailed off in glorious weather with blue skies. W e passed Southend Pier and eventually found ourselves at Ostend. 1 was rather worried in case we were attacked by aircraft, as we were just sitting ducks with no escort, which was unusual. The decks of the boat were packed and we were unable to move. We had a lot of Canadians on board. When we landed, 1 was surprised to hear all the local kids talking in English. W e went inland, past Brussels, to a small town near Ghent called Eecleo and we were put up in a large convent. Here, we took over some of the large buildings and set up a hospital and took in wounded, many who were Canadians. The weather was bitter and the deep snow hung about for weeks. It was at this time that 1 heard the news that Colin had been born, but it was to be another 6 months before 1 should see him. Everybody over there seemed to be wearing clogs just cut out of wood, as there were no shoes available. We stayed there some while and our armies were advancing well into Germany. One day, 1 joined an advance party and raced up through Holland and into Germany in a 30cwt truck. We went to Belsen Camp, which we took control of The inmates were dying of Typhus and starvation at the rate of a hundred a day when we arrived. German army sisters from the eastern front were drafted in to look after the inmates and they carried out their work very efficiently and carried on until we were able to take over with our own personnel. We moved them all out of Belsen and into a German army barracks nearby. The camp, which was mainly wooden huts, was burnt down, using flame-throwers. Sweden agreed to take some of the victims but not Russians of whom there were many in Belsen. 1 was placed on a German ambulance train and we plied between Belsen and Lubeck on the Baltic where the victims were taken to Sweden by hospital ships. The Russians were all sent on trains to Russia; none of them wanted to go and all the railway stations had troops with fixed bayonets to keep them on the trains - we later learnt that Stalin had every one of them executed on return. When we had finished at Belsen, we moved on to Hanover and the whole town was a ruin as a result of all the bombing raids - it had to be seen to be believed. After being there for a few weeks, 1 was sent back home on another overseas posting and had 14 days embarkation leave. 1 was able to see Colin and he seemed to take to me straight away. He was a blighter in the mornings though, and there was no more sleep once he was awake! During my leave, the Atom Bomb was dropped on Japan. 1 was going to the 14th Army and was quite relieved that the Japs had capitulated and thought this would stop me going out east but this was not so.1 embarked on a Dutch liner called "Johan van Oldenbarnsfelt and we were soon on our way again. W e went through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal and finally landed in Bombay, India-my goodness, what a place. We went to the famous home base trooping depot at Deolali and spent several weeks there in transit. Then, one day, six of us were posted to Kandy, Ceylon, to the 14th Army Headquarters. We went by train to Madras and should have gone to Kandy by aircraft but during our journey, which took several days, the 14th Army Headquarters had moved to Singapore. This meant a few more weeks at Madras. Then, we got away on an Indian ship to Singapore and 1 finished up at the Alexandria Hospital. This was a large hospital, just built in time for the Japs to take over when they invaded. They killed all the Army personnel, including the sisters, and their graves were just outside where we had our sleeping quarters.1 was busy for some weeks, looking after mental patients - Indian, Dutch, Australian, etc, and our own. After being away from home for 9 months this time, 1 joined the SS Orontes again and went home. It took 21 days sailing Singapore to Southampton. Strangely enough, when we reached Southampton, 1 was busy dishing up the breakfast on the mess deck when one of the lads came and told me that he had seen me on the dockside. 1 went up on deck and found Stan with his cycle at the dockside (he was living in Southampton). However, 1 was unable to speak to him because of all the noise from the cranes, etc. 1 went to go down the gangway but was stopped by the Military Police so 1 did not get to see Stan for some weeks when we went down by train to see them. From Southampton, 1 went to Guildford where 1 was demobbed and 1 then made my way to Wickford and turned up one evening by surprise.


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08 Aug 2009 11:46 by Jet48 Star rating in Estepona / Great Yar.... 106 posts Send private message

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Markfish what an interesting detailed account  your grandfather wrote of his experiences in WW II.One can only admire the courage of people who took part and the hardships they endured with little complaint. I cannot help but wonder how todays generation would fare given the same conditions.

Bob



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08 Aug 2009 18:28 by Roger Davis Star rating in Balsicas , COSTA C.... 92 posts Send private message

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Mark,

That was a great story , I really enjoyed it . I wish some others on EOS would recount their or their relations experiences !

It's a small world isn't it , as we returned to Australia from the UK in 1960 on the very same " Johan van Oldenbarnevelt " ( not sure if Ihave spelt it correctly ) A number of years later it caught fire and sank with quite a large loss of life. I also remember seeing the old " Orontes" in the early 60's in Sydney Harbour at Circular Quay , where I used to go often to eat my lunch asI I worked just a short distance away. The "Orontes " was one of the ships used for £10 Poms. We had previously sailed back to the UK  in 1958 on another P&O ship "Strathnaver" which was also used as a troopship during WW2.





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