from October 1930
Taken from his freehand notes.
When his wife Marjorie died,
Norman said that he felt he had given her a good life.
They had travelled all around the world over the years.
He returned to England one last time
To take Marjorie’s ashes home.
He then took a trip, to Vietnam
Not knowing that he was already ill with the cancer
That took his life.
After reading this partial life story
It is easy to understand why travel was so important to Norman,
When it all started
And his wish to write it all down.
The story starts late October, 1930. I was 14 years old now, we were well into the depression. Father was a “Passed Fireman”, on the London and North Eastern Railway, wages were not high, never having caught up after the six month 1926 General Strike. Four children, myself the oldest, Gladys, Walter, and Freda. Assisted by father’s ‘allotment’, and mother’s excellent housekeeping- we managed- but nothing to throw away.
At school, (Beachfield Boys, in Cheques Road, Doncaster) I had passed all tests for the Doncaster Grammer School, but insufficient family funds meant NO. I obtained a scholarship to the County Grammer School at Wakefield, but the family could not afford it. I obtained an apprenticeship at the local railway engine plant- no go- it was a premium apprenticeship. That was to be a draughtsman. Next was the same- exactly- as an electrical engineer, but that also was a premium apprenticeship. So – early in 1931, I was painting the under carriages of coal trucks for the princely sum of 14/- per week, at the Lincoln Wagon Works depot in Doncaster. Within 6 months the firm no longer existed. No one could afford to have their railway carriages painted.
Work of any kind was virtually unobtainable, but at long last I found a position with T.W.Downs and Sons, wholesale and retail butchers. I became what is forever a ‘back man.’ You do all the donkey work, prepare the wholesale orders, supply the front shop with whatever they want, as they want it, on the dot!! It was a happy firm to work for, even if you did do 60 hours a week, and took in turns to go in on Sundays to make certain the fridges were all in working order. Give the dog a run, (he was there to keep the rats down), and all this was for 15/- per week. The adults received between 25/- and 30/- per week, but we could all have a reasonable amount of meat each week- so long as we did not overdo it.
When I would have been 17, I was sent to manage their shop in a small mining town- Thuerscoe- all on my own. I was there for a few weeks, and enjoyed the challenge. Up very early, catch the ‘Yorkshire Tractor’ bus- do the days work- close at 6 PM, scrub up- check the takings, drop them in the night safe at the bank just down the street- bus back home, and go to bed. Sunday’s were glorious then, could meet my pals!!
My 18th birthday arrived, and I approached Henry Downs seeking a rise in my pay. Things were bad and getting worse, wholesale orders were most definitely slowing down, more people were losing their jobs, and were buying less, and they would possibly have to reduce staff, never mind more pay!! We only worked till mid-day on Mondays, so I popped in to the local recruiting office and had a talk with the sergeant there about possibilities. Went home, talked with father and mother, at length, obtained their approval, and signed on the dotted line, pro tem, as a butcher. Went to work the next day, and gave a weeks notice.
The following Monday, picked up a travel warrant, and proceeded to Sheffield. There I met Ronald Foers (54663) while I became (54664). We were friends all over the Middle East, and East Africa, until he suffered a heart attack down the coal mine at Wombarell in 1950. Ron was a great scout- a gentleman- and he had a great influence on my military career- such as it was. He was rock steady even under the greatest stress, and in all the 14 years that I knew him, never once did I see him lose his temper. No man ever had a better friend and guide. That 9 years difference in age made a significant difference.
We trained at Aldershot, in the capable hands of Sgt. ‘Tommy’ Trotter, affectionately known as ‘Twinkletoes’, while we were called the ‘Greyhound Squad’. Practically everything was done at the double!! We were, by the way, in the R.A.S.C., and this was in Bullen Barracks.
We had at this time, a German Officer in exchange duties, named Captain KERR, he was the Adjutant, and on this particular Saturday morning Adjutant’s parade, he dismounted from his horse, knelt, and prayed to God to send him some soldiers!!! The Company Sergent Major, after the parade, went into Aldershot Town, bought o box of toy soldiers, and posted it to him!!!! He threatened a court martial if he ever found out who had the gall to do this to him, an officer of the Imperial German Army. A voice, from an unknown source told him to get back to B…..y Germany. Two or three weeks and he disappeared.
I was then transferred to Service Companies. All the heavy transport operated from there. The huge bakeries were there, and I can still smell that bread, baked in Coburg style. The main food stores were there, and so were the slaughterhouses. I did not fancy slaughtering cattle 5 days a week, so remustered as a Storeman. As it turned out, it was a good move.
I was sent to the Cavalry Lines, still within the Aldershot Cantonment, where I had the dubious honour of supplying the forage and bedding for the last Cavalry squadrons of the British Army. The 4th Hussars—The Queens Boys—and I think I am correct- The 3rd Carbineers. A period of 60 years have passed since these days, I am certain of the first two units- but a little hesitant over the third. The 4th Hussars, for the Duke of Gloucester was a Major in that unit. He was heartily disliked by everyone he came into contact with. The Queens Boys, for they were the first Unit to trial the now famous World War 2 L.M.G.- The bren. I had my first lessons on the Bren in their stables, early in 1935!! The Queens Own Yorkshire Dragoons were used during WW2 and were still a Tentorial Unit as late as 1950 in Doncaster. UK.
My next assignment was delivering bread to ‘Stanhope Lines’. I remember asking a Grenadier Guardsman- about 7 foot- where the bread store was, he sprang to attention- pointed and said ‘Over there – trained soldier’. Was I surprised. My next port of call, that day, was the Military Detention Barracks (Military Prison). No body warns you, or gives you a lead on what to do in certain circumstances!!! I demounted- rang the bell- stated what I was there for, to deliver bread, and was civilly invited in. My feet never touched the deck- I was moved so fast all the short time I was in there. The Warder apologised to me when I was outside, but he had his duty to perform. Next time- stay in your lorry, and let the driver toot his horn. You soon learn.
Next move was to outlying areas. This time the Royal Artillery areas in the, I think, Blackdown area. This is where I had the accident that virtually crushed my right ankle. This put me into the Cambridge Hospital at Aldershot for a couple of weeks, I was a then granted two weeks leave and on return to Aldershot was off overseas, and arrived in Cairo on the 20th December 1935.
We sailed from Southampton, and disembarked at Port Said. Train down to Cairo, to Gym Barracks, part of the old Turkish Citadel at Albassea, and just a short walk to the Dead City, (where they laid the dead bodies on the gratings, and allowed the kite hawks to pick the bones clean). An uncanny place, for nothing living was there. Now, I understand, there are about 3 million squatters there, living in abject misery. The Quartermasters Store for me. Ron Foers, myself, and a couple more ‘rookies’, were given a conducted tour of the C.B.D. of Cairo, and the infamous ‘Burka’. Made one feel sick. Christmas eve, we took a tram to the Giza area, and viewed the Pyramids and Sphinx. We also crossed the old Arabs palm with silver, and had our fortunes told. Christmas dinner gave me my first view of that old custom, where the officers waited on the enlisted men. Many of them had already emptied a few glasses before that, and it showed! Shortly afterwards, Ron Foers and I went to the Dead City, spent a couple of hours exploring the area. It left one with a real uncanny feeling. Ron, incidentally, was on an earlier ‘trooper’ to Egypt, for he was a special reinforcement when Britain built up its forces at the time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, whilst I was part of the normal yearly exchange of personnel serving in the outposts of the empire. It was now 1936-just- and at this time I had the pleasure of meeting the R.A.S.C. Driver, who was reputed to be ‘round the bend’, for at every opportunity he hired a vehicle in Cairo and disappeared into the western desert!!! When war was declared in 1939, there were no maps of that area- but he knew virtually every stick and stone there. The only person who did, and within 6 months he was Brigadier i/c Transport in that area.
I was posted to Palestine, as I was surplus to establishment. I travelled on Egyptian Railways to El Kantara, which is the ferry crossing over the Suez Canal. The crossing cost me 15 piastres (1 shilling/ sixpence), which incidentally the Army never repaid!! Overnight on the Palestine Railway to Lydda, where I was collected by L.A.C. Taffy Powell in a sugar van, and taken to C.S.D. Sarefand.
Palestine was in those days an Royal Air Force Compound, and the C.S.D., or to give it it’s correct name, Combined Supply Depot, i.e. half R.A.F. and half Army. The commanding Officer was F/Lt. Horsfield, who had been grounded after a series of mishaps, and the 2i/c was Lieut. R.A. Dunlop (A Brigadier before the end of W.W.2) He was replaced by Captain A.F.Deverset. Bastard both by name and nature. He was later shot by an Egyptian soldier for refusing to stop, when challenged, on the Sweetwater Canal, in Cairo. A small unit, only 16 of us including the 2 Officers, 2 Warrant Officers (I Army, 1 RAF), 6 Army and 6 R.A.F. The aim of the service didn’t count at all- we all did our own jobs to the best of our ability- and enjoyed life in general.
Trouble broke out on the 12th April 1936, between the Jews and Arabs, unfortunately we did get involved- as the meat in the sandwich- and life quickly changed from a tranquil peace time setting to a virtual war time zone. I was involved in a couple of skirmishes, one at Tulkaram quickly disappeared when our escort of Seaforth Highlanders fixed bayonets and charged.
Shortly after that episode, I was involved, as a witness, in a couple of murder charges levelled by the Arabs against a R.A.F. wireless operator, who was billeted with us at the time. These were held at the R.A.F. Station Ramleh (no. 6 Squadron, R.A.F.) I am happy to relate a verdict of Not Guilty!!
Quite close to Sarafand, which incidentally, had the Palestine General Hospital, (RAF) and the no.2 Wireless Transmitting Station (army), which directed traffic to the Far East, was the small Jewish township of Richan le Zion. This was the first settlement of Russian Jews in Palestine, and was also the home of the famous Jaffa Orange. The residents of ‘Richan’ were very good to us, and we made many friends there, visited their cinema and frequented their café’s. It was through them that we were enabled to use the huge concrete reservoirs that fed water to the orange groves, and the grapes at Bar-es-Salem, a short distance down the road to Gaza. I suppose, really, we had the best of two worlds at Sarafand, for the Army personnel acted as guards on the Air Force journeys, and the Air Force on Army journeys.
My first big journey was escorting Aero Engines (2) on a Crossby flat top to Armein in Trans Jordon, the road was so twisted, and curves so tight we had to make a complete circuit in the cave town of Es. Solt. It broke down near Es.Swale (the last of the old urassion race mentioned in the Bible). The area was notorious, as being infested with brigands, and night was falling. The Police Post at Allamby Bridge over the Palestine side had radioed to 14 Squadron in Ammon our departure time and E.T.A. there. (The temperature was 125 degrees when we came trough, and reported in). They sent out a 1914, 3 ton Leyland, solid tyres to tow us in. We arrived in time to go to bed.
I am afraid I caused a certain amount of confusion at the Air Base, and also in Ammon itself, for it appeared that apart from Glubb Pashe’s, Arab Legion, I was possibly the first British Soldier to be seen in that area, after the end of the 1914-1918 war. (I mean in uniform complete with rifle and bayonet, 1150 rounds of ball ammunition, tin hat, and etc that was usually carried.) We had a few days there while the vehicle was being repaired. ‘Dai’ Echolls, tacked onto an R.A.F. Armoured Car Column, bound for Ramteh, and I was flown there in a ‘fairy’ Gordon.
My next trip, some months later was with No.1 Section, No.2 R.A.F. Armoured Car Squadron, joining them at Ramteh- destination Iraq. The British forces in Iraq, an R.A.F. Command, were there ostensibly to guard the oil pipe lines running to the Port of Haifa. These by the way were the property of the Iraq Petroleum Company. (British.) One line was via Maan- Rutbah Wells-Wasul. The other via Maan-Rutbah Wells-Basrah-Hinaidr. Orders were, keep out of trouble, but if attacked, you know what to do. Everyone was issued with a ‘goolie chit’ in case you were captured, and handed back entire!, then a goodly sum of piastres would be handed over. I was given to understand we were half way between Maan & Rutbah Wells when we met a column of armoured cars from Huiraidi to Ramtech, and I was on my way back
Shortly after this, I was promoted to Corporal, with more responsibilities, and my only other trip was a few days leave in Beyroath.7 pound 5 shillings to the Palestine pound.
Another experience whilst there was to witness a public hanging. I think the photo of this would have been disposed of when my father passed away in 1963. The only other real auspicious occasion I remember, and I remember the consequences well, was when I was with a Platoon of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Battalion, at a notorious hot spot – even today as I write this- at Tulkarem, certain things happened, and the Mufti was within a ring of bayonets. A high ranking person- The Governor of Palestine- gave the order, ‘About turn- About turn’. The Mufti was no longer there. That person was General Sir. Arthur Wauchope.
Gradually, the situation eased. We were able, once again, to sit on the veranda of the Hotel George in Tel-Aviv, and wave a pork sandwich at the Jewish passers-by. We were able to go down to the Dead Sea –1295’ below sea level for a swim in water that one could NOT sink in, then pay 3.d. for a fresh water shower!!!! We explored Jericho, Elisha’s Well, the River Jordan, Jaffa (now there’s an interesting place), Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the sea (or lake) of Gallilea. We visited the houses of Arab labourers, visited the Mosque, being careful not to offend their religion. Meeting their Muktah (or priest). We were always well received, for we treated them, as we would like to be treated. They worked well for us, and we appreciated their efforts. It would by now have been about 1938, and my tour of duty was coming to a close. The Army replacement was available for me, so the powers that be selected a young Christian Arab, who had failed to qualify as a Catholic Priest. He was keen, exceptionally well read, neat and tidy in his work, and we got on famously together. I feel I passed on to him all that I could, and even visited his home in the village of Saffria.
On my return to the U.K. we communicated by letter, until one day, the Security Forces warned me off, and threatened me with jail unless I stopped immediately. (My first contact with MI Bravoes. MI5).
I embarked in the T.S.S. California, at Haifa to return to the U.K. I forget the exact date, but it was in March 1938. We arrived at Malta, to embark a number of Royal Navy personnel, a few hours only, but we hit a gale as far as Gibraltar. She was a 28,000 tonnes, capable of 28 knots, and at times was barely moving. What a trip. Once we hit the Atlantic it was almost a pleasure cruise, as far as ‘troopers’ can be. We arrived safe at Southampton- too late for customs to work, and disembarked early next morning. Home to Doncaster on Disembarkation Leave.
I knew that the R.A.F. Warrant Officer at Sarafond, had preceded me to England. W/O Bastin, and just before my leave had expired, met F/O Bastin, stationed at Finningley RAF Station. He said he had the necessary authority from the powers that be, due to an extreme shortage of trained personnel, to put me to work, for I was fully conversant with Air Ministry and War Office documentation and procedures. So I went to Finningley, but the Regular Army held control over me, by making me a ‘B’ Class Reserve, whilst ever I was there.
I had not been there long, when the R.A.F. Corporal in charge of the Ration Store passed away. I was whipped on quick smart. The butcher had no idea what to do, properly, married quarters were not receiving their entitlements, nobody was satisfied, so I was promptly told, go and sort the butchers shop out. I did, and enjoyed it. I therefore became the Butcher, the Ration Store N.C.O, plus the Department of Receipts and Despatch. This went on quite nicely thank you, until the 10th August 1939, when I was recalled to the Army, and mobilized.
I was sent down to Devonport, to open and stock the four prisoner of war camps; Davlish, Teignmouth, Paigaton, and Marton Abbott? Then to open & stock a huge Supply Depot at Topsham Barracks, Exeter. This, I and my co-workers had completed and handed over to a supplementary Reserve Lieutenant, when war was declared against Germany.
Off by train to my Bulford Mob Centre. 3/9/39.
We all received more jabs than a pin-cushion, collected all our impressed vehicles on the 4/9/39,
embarked at Southampton on the L.N.E.R. Ship, ‘Amsterdam’ on the5/9/39,
arrived at Cherourg in France on the morning of the 6/9/39,
and the painters were still painting the ship= Battleship Grey= as we disembarked.
We were eventually loaded into the usual French Army rail trucks- 6 horses or 40 men- 8 horses or 60 men, and proceeded on the slowest rail journey of my life- to the Brittany Seaport and Naval Depot of Brest. It was so slow, going through the ovehard area of Normandy that fellows in the front few trucks jumped off the train, filled their packs with apples, and jumped back on the train, which did not stop. On arrival at Brest, nobody wanted us, and I and 5 men, together with young F/Lt. Sibthorp, were left there with instructions to supply everything on wheels with sufficient petrol for 200 miles, as fast as the vehicles were unloaded. But nobody owned us. We were stationed in a Victurers yard, at the bottom of the hill, underneath the American War Memorial. Neither the French Army nor Navy would supply us with food; Lt. Sibthorp was on a ‘pension’, with no money, and NO Field Paymaster available!! Now for an Officer to borrow money from an O.R. is almost a Court Martial offence- but what can you do? I had money, and consequently paid all bills. The Harbour Master’s wife ran a café on the waterfront, and I fed all ranks for two weeks. Our temporary job completed, we were taken to the small village of St.Theggorie, where our Depot was almost in operation. My duties were varied. We had a number of University graduates- with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of military life, but who were destined for Officer Rank, and various technical appointments. They were also in civilian clothes!! I taught them drill, weapon training, passive air defence. At the same time I assisted Captain Smith, the analyst and censor. (He came from Leeds.) I did local purchases, mail for other units in the area, and acted as Liason with Army Area Headquarters at Brest. I was sent off on a gas course, with instructions from Portas Gas School, and completed the course whilst snow bound, and living in bell tents. In between times, I acted as barman in the Officers Mess, (an 18 x 12 marque.) I then completed an anti parachute course, together with Lt. Sibthorp, with 21st Infantry Brigade at a place called Mulsaan, on the Le Mans Grand Prix Circuit. In between times I fitted the whole of the respirators in our area with an additional devise, in the centre of the corrugated air tube, against the new German gas that we named ‘Arthur’. This we now know to be sarical.?
Later, I was brought before Col. Goldney, who informed me I had been recommended for a Commission. In due course I appeared before the Brigadier, whose name I cannot recall, and was informed I would be on the next O.C.T.U. Course in England. I felt very proud indeed, and I know my parents were.
As a first aider, my services were often in demand for minor injuries, and I feel I assisted our M.O. and made his life much easier, for his little surgery was about half a mile away from the main camp.
And then the Germans had to go and invade Poland.
Then the big push through the Siegfried Line, and then the Maginot Line!!
Then the British and some of their allies were trapped at Dunkerque (Dunkirk). As the opportunity arose, we listened in on our ‘Lord Nuffield’ radios, until the 19th June, I think, when the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, told the world that the B.E.F. had been successfully evacuated, and were all home, and there we were, ‘muggins’ still feeding retreating Belgium’s, French, British, and Canadians, admittedly, not quite on the same scale though. We abandoned our Depot, and under orders to do so, were picked up by Canadian lorries, and moved off to Brest, where the Strathaird would be waiting for us. One man, I remember was missing as we left, and marched the last twenty miles to Brest, after burning all wheeled and tracked vehicles at Landeoneau.
The Straithaird had been bombed while crossing the channel, but we all arrived safely, with no escort at all, at Plymouth. Surprise, surprise. The missing man was waiting for us on the quay. Morlaix, had a river that widened into an estuary, and he had collected a number of people who did not relish being in German hands, selected a large motor boat, fuelled it, and sailed it at high speed across the Channel, with only a compass to help him, and made Plymouth dead on target. The boat was confiscated!!! We were taken by rail to Devizes, and occupied the Royal Artillery gymnasium there, and from there to Chesterfield, where we were all billeted out with the local residents. Looking back, they were fantastic, how they coped with us all, I do not know. NOBODY would allow us to spend not even a penny. From there we were all granted 3 days disembarkation leave, and I went home to Doncaster.
We were then moved from Chesterfield, to Wencoe, halfway between Cardiff and Barry Island, in a tented camp, and were allocated the defence of Cardiff Airport. I don’t think any of us knew much about airport defence, but we did what we felt was best.
It was at this time that I, and three other Corporals were ordered to report to our Commanding Officer, Col. Goldney. We were all marched into him, he stood us easy, and told us “we were all candidates for Officer training, but as of now, we have a glut of Officers for the positions you have been selected for, and all OCTU’s have temporarily been closed down. I am authorised to offer you a Commission in the field, in the Infantry Bn. Of your choice. Two weeks training, and then into the 8th Army in Eygpt.” No person can, in two weeks, learn all the intricacies of a Platoon Commander. Two of us declined the honour, and walked out as Corporals. Two accepted, and walked out as 2nd Lieutenants. Both of them were killed within 6 months. Some people may think I am telling a good story, but if in doubt, contact Military Records in England. My Army number was S/54664, RASC. It’s all down in my record, for I checked in the course of my duties whilst RASC records were kept at Hastings, (in 1941)
I was then sent to The Isle of Wight, but did not fancy the long swim to the mainland, if Germany ever invaded, nor the working conditions. An office crowded with civilians, and me the only army person!! So off to Portsmouth, to Colewart Barracks, separated by only a brick wall from the Power Station. I went to O.C. RASC Companies as Chief Clerk, and was promoted to Sergeant. My O.C. was a gentleman, and he was Major Coulson. His home was in the Channel Islands. We were bombed at intervals. The Barrack block was burned out, and for Offices, and accommodation we took over empty houses in High Street, Portsea. One of the transport companies, No. 207, had a very interesting C.O. Captain Lord the Earl of Cardigan. He was taken prisoner at Dunkerque (Dunkirk), moved to the Austrian border, and escaped from the P.O.W. camp. Dressed himself as a deaf and dumb Belgium farm labourer, and walked NEARLY all the way through Germany, France, and Spain, to Gibraltar. He wrote a book of his exploits, entitled “ I stood alone”, which was banned for a minimum period of 50 years. He now rests with his ancestors. A most interesting man to talk to. As a result of losing a number of our detachment through bombing, and narrowly escaping myself, we all moved to Roche Court, an old priory, even when mentioned in Doomsday Book, which is incidentally now, a junior boys boarding school, on the Winchester Road, on the outskirts of Fareham.
Fareham was where the Rev. Basil Daniels married Marjorie and I. She was a Sergeant ATS in charge of Radar, in the Second (Mixed) Heavy Anti- Aircraft, No. 485 Battery, Royal Artillery.
It was whilst I was at Roche Court, where Major Coates was now my C.O., and Lieut. T.A. Inglis, was my O.C. that two interesting events took place. Pte. Wolfe, a dedicated communist, who served in the International Brigade, during the Spanish Civil War, started talking about a new bomb that the Germans were working on. This would be about the time that ‘Heavy Water’ installations in occupied Norway were being raided. Pte. Wolfe was telling all and sundry of the ‘Atom Bomb’. A piece of this explosive- the size of the exposed lead, in a newly sharpened pencil, he stated, to be equivalent of 1000 tons of TNT!!! One day, a huge, unescorted car drove into camp- I announced the Sergeants to Major Coates, was told to ‘make myself scarce’. Pte. Wolfe was picked up, into the car, and never seen, or heard of, again. Next, Lieut. I.A.Inglis had a talk to me, behind closed doors, about secrecy and security matters, and I was enlisted into the previously mentioned security organization. Admittedly, into a very low category, and Lieut. I.A.Inglis became my control. I can mention this now, 54 years afterwards, for Lieut. Inglis (a distant relative of our now Queen Mother), was, even in those days in his late 50s or early 60s.
Incidentally, he was a connoisseur of 5 Star Old Beer, and I can still see him in High Street, Portsmouth, when we were rescuing belongings from a bombed, small pub, when the Publican said, save my belongings, you can have all that’s left downstairs, and there he was, tin hat on, wheeling a barrel of 5 Star down the road, whilst bombs, incendiaries, and shrapnel from the A.A. fire, were falling all around us.
I was shortly after this, promoted to Sergeant, and obviously much more responsibility was placed on my shoulders.
Commando style raids were being made on both sides of the Channel, and the powers that be, considering that Germany could invade, initiated the I.S.S. (International security scheme), which all district C.O.’s had to produce as soon as possible. I was involved, in a small way, as the taker of notes, suggestions, and selected defence positions, i.e. the basis for written orders. Most of the Officers of field rank had served in the Great war, 14/18, and were by and large still thinking in terms of trench warfare. Suffice it to say, that when one officer suggest a HAYSTACK as a good machine gun position, because it had a clear view down the Solsut, I had to whisper to Major Coates that it was the one salient feature in the area, that would be subject to artillery fire, or bombing, as a primary target. Sanity ruled the day. As an observation post in the early stages of an invasion- yes, but never a M.G. position- on top of a haystack. That was when they took rifles away from us, and gave them to the Home Guard. Ours went to the H.G. Unit at a little village named Fontley- not far from us, and in exchange issued us with pikes, (a length of 1inch steel piping with an 18in bayonet blade welded on at one end.), and in the ratio of 1 per 3 men. Damn good job nobody invaded the South of England.
Routine orders arrived from Southern Command, informing that certain procedures had been made redundant, and the new ones promulgated, would be followed out- to the letter. Major Coates was out, as was Cpl. Cook. I answered the telephone. The voice, so obviously, an Officer, demanded a certain thing be done- in the old manner. I pointed out that I did not know who was countermanding orders only just received by us. He requested my name and rank, these were given, and he then told me he expected his orders to be complied with. I answered that the task would be done, as per the orders still in my hand. Did I know who was speaking, I answered no, but with the respect usually given to an officer. He told me he was Colonel …… D.D.S.T. Southern Command. I answered ‘Sir, you should be ashamed of yourself- sight unseen- trying to countermand orders you have just signed. The job will be done, Sir.’ His nickname was ‘The Elephant’, because he never forgot. I met him in Africa when he was a Major General, and that meeting changed my life temporarily.
I must acknowledge the fact that Germany did NOT mount an invasion of England, but DID mount, shall we call it a mini invasion- in great strength. I cannot give you the exact dates- for so much happened- in so short a time. Navy, Army and Air Force personnel in Portsmouth; when the Code word was shouted by Police Patrols and Naval Dicquets re-acted immediately. The Destroyer Squadron sailed even without full compliments of men while we went to our appointed stations. We lost 3 destroyers- and the Gas Works on Hayling Island worked non stop for many hours- disposing of countless drowned and killed German servicemen. And that is all the information I dare tell you- even after all these years have gone by.
We all began to notice, over a period of time, that much older men were slowly taking over the positions of younger persons, who were being despatched overseas to reinforce Armies in different parts of the world. My turn duly came along, naturally, when least expected, for I had been recommended for S.Q.M.S. (W.O.2), but so fast did the wheels turn, a few days embarkation leave, with Marjorie also granted leave, a couple of days at Guildford, then kitted out with tropical gear, at Morley, in Yorkshire. Once this happened, you did not know, were you going to the Tropics, or was it a blind in case an enemy agent was watching? Draft RHHOO, was a draft of 24 Sergeants, medically examined, ‘Drop your trousers11’. All OK. ‘Fit for service in a tropical climate with native troops.’ Just where were we going? We never did find out till we got there!! Security was excellent. We embarked on the Holland America Line ‘Volendaur’, 36,000 tons, at Liverpool. Up to Gowrock for a week. Over to South America; Over to Freetown- Sierra Leone; when half way across the torpedo missed our stern by about 10 feet. (In the middle of the night.) The convoy split. ½ to Capetown, ½ to Durban. 3 of us were waiting our turn at the W.V.S. counter, when an elderly lady, escorted by many police officers, stopped and talked to us. We found out she was ‘Dowa’ Smuts, the wife of General Smuts. A very nice person indeed. It was while travelling north, in the Mozambique Channel, that we realized how well we were being escorted. The R.N. cruiser ‘Hawkins’ was all the escort we could see, until flag signals were set by her, and 2, as we thought liberty ships, but Q ships as they were, opened the ‘throttles’, and steamed ahead like gun boats! In due course we arrived at Mombassa, Killindini Harbour, to be exact. A harbour you cannot see at all, to all intents and purpose you are running aground. A very sharp saving to the right, and you are in the channel, and then the harbour. It was one mass of warships of all categories, shapes, and sizes. Large ships were unloading supplies at the numerous berths, and also via fighters where berths were not available. A truly formidable sight.
After we disembarked, and were chivvied into the train, destination unknown, by the usual Red Caps (military police), we received the usual ‘unexpired days rations.’ We certainly ate better on the old Volendaur!! We found we were on the K.U.R. i.e. the Keya and Uganda Railway, bound for Nairobi. Mombassa Station is 31ft above sea level- the train- pulled by a Garrat locomotive, climbs so sharply that before you are clear of Mombassa itself, the front of the train actually crosses OVER the rear coaches. We all remarked that on the run to Nairobi, 5260 ft, the K.U.R. never once used the brakes, they just simply threw the anchor overboard!! And the smell at Athi River was shocking. This was were they killed, dressed, cooked all the cattle, 24 hours a day. Bully beef for Burma and the East African Forces in Somalia (Italian, British- and the French, i.e. Djibuti)
Abysinnia and Eritrea. Eventually- Nairobi. 5235 ft above sea level, and to us, used to a much lower altitude, almost breathless. Vehicles were waiting to deliver us to Mbagerthi, a huge staging- transit- and training camp, anything from 7,000 to 10,000 Askari’s and Europeans, depending on various circumstances. The ONLY snag there was the Commanding Officer, Lt.Col. Scegg. He was the peacetime C.O. of the ‘Glasshouse’, or military prison at Aldershot. We were all in shorts, and he took a delight in keeping ALL newcomers, irrespective of rank, with your backs to the sun for a couple of hours, whilst the backs of your knees were sunburnt.
It was there again that I met Ron Foers, who enlisted with me, like myself, also a Sergeant. Ron was the Chief Clerk- African Section- I became Chief clerk- European Section. Ron was a good friend to me, and we helped each other in any way we could. I worked under a Captain J.S.S.Rogers, Rhodesian Army, until his family in Bulwago was involved in a horrific car accident. With 5 minutes notice, I a 3 striper took over from a 3 pipper, and ran the section. That’s what military service was like in the East African Command. A maximum of 20% of European establishment only- if you were lucky!! The 14th Army in Burma, who we reinforced, took preference. In fact, later on in this episode, you will note that I refer to P.S.M. i.e. Platoon Sergeant Major. These were experienced and very capable black soldiers, who due to lack of Junior Officers, i.e. 2nd Lieut. And Lieut. Became Platoon Commanders, and good ones too. Before anyone, irrespective of rank- could have either leave (that is local leave) or promotion; you had to be capable of reading- writing and/or holding, a simple conversation in ‘KiSwahili’. Once you had the basics, you all improved as time and circumstances dictated. I learned very quickly!!! I had to. I was given 40 Askaris, and transport, ordered to collect tentage from Ordinance for an Infantry Brigade, a detailed map, and given FIVE days to have the area ready for occupation. We did it, and in doing so, I learned a lot of Swahili words – and including their particular swear word. All this business of learning Swahili was done in your own very limited time. The officer, who taught Swahili, was a Captain in the Leicestershire Regiment, and later on in the War, I met him again. This time I was a Captain, and he was a Lieutenant. The fortunes of war.
Life at Mbagarthi was a never ending grind, and you never knew what was going to happen next. The telephone rang one day, and someone wanted to speak to me, by name!!! A Major General Fowkes, as far as I can recall, anyway a name something like that. He was short in Burma of certain important specialists. We had none, ont even in transit. Not very often is one able to tell such a high ranking officer-‘Sorry Sir, none available’. You had to try to help of course, that’s what we were there for. Things do happen though.
Another occasion, I was detailed, to pick up a Cpl. Ali- an Indian- necessary transport, to go to Nairobi Station, and collect a Draft returning from Burma- all East African natives. I reported to the R.T.O. that I was to collect the incoming draft and take them to Mbogarthi. The train duly arrived; the D.C.O. (Draft Commanding Officer) enquired who was picking them up. I said, ‘I was’. He was a L/Col. He pushed all the documents into my hands, said,’ I’ve had enough, they’re all yours now.’ All the other officers ‘shot off’, and there we were. A train full of black soldiers skipping off in every direction!!! They were home!! With the aid of Cpl. Ali, and his drivers, all the R.T.O. staff, Red Caps, local policemen and most of the station staff, we got them all back, and then delivered to the staging and transit camp. By this time it was fairly late in the evening. Col. Scegg was angry, and when he ascertained why we were so late, ordered me to write a report then and there, which I did. The end result was the D.C.O. and some of his assisting officers were court martialled. The L/Col. Was reduced to the ranks, and posted to an Infantry Battalion in the Western Desert. Other officers received minor punishments, and down grading. My name stank for some considerable time, as you can well imagine. I merely did my duty, and completed the report as ordered by my commanding officer.
From time to time, one could hire a 15 cwt. Vehicle for the princely sum of 6d. per mile, and when aided by a coup[le of tins of petrol, and disconnecting the speedometer, you could explore out of your immediate area. One such trip was to Lake Magadi, the major source of SODA in the world. Through the game reserve, over the Ngung Hills, down the three escarpments. I.e. from 5300ft up to 8500 ft, then down to 600ft above sea level. The lake formed a crust, over which a light rail ran. It was this crust, which was the soda. As the crust was collected, the light rail was moved, and so on. This crust kept replenishing itself, just like the lake of pitch in, if I remember correctly- Jamaica. There is, in that part of Africa, the Rhinoceros!!!! They weigh anything up to two ton, are virtually armour plated, have the poorest eyesight of any wild animal, and the acutest sense of smell, and if the breeze takes your scent to him/her, will always attack. On that trip back from Lake Magadi, whilst climbing an escarpment - three rhino’s in front of us. A cliff on our right, on our left a drop of 100’s of feet, but the wind was blowing FROM them to us!!! Whew!!! By the time they realized what was happening, we were past them, and we were faster than they were. Lions were another problem. We had permission to use the pool of a beautiful home not too far from our depot, owned by a Lt.Col. Cowie, an East African, who was in ordinance corps. He had been held back by the powers that be, because every day, he went out in the games reserve, shot an antelope of some type or other, slung it over his shoulder, and WALKED up to a pride of lions, dropped it in front of them, turned and WALKED home. He had done this for years, and this pride waited for him to provide dinner. ( A future tourist attraction.) His pool was a godsend to us, until we found we were getting peculiar little nips on different parts of our anatomy. It was where he kept his stock of fresh fish, AND, it was overstocked. They were a very nice family, and were very good indeed to any one, irrespective of rank, you were just simply one of them, and they were pleased for your company and friendship. I remember also, the time an Askavi was missing. Searches were made for two or three days, when an Army boot, with a black foot on which was an Army sock, was found near by. A hungry lion had found him. His parents were informed, sorry, but a lion ate him. His parents arrived in due course, and demanded payment, for the son was helping to keep them, and if the army had not conscripted him, he would not be dead. To cut a long story short, an Ex Gratia payment of 50 pound was agreed upon!!!! Doesn’t sound much, but that sum represented ten years income for the old couple. Things that go bang in the night! One night after a cinema show at a neighbour unit, on the football field very near the Depot entrance, we sighted a pride of lions. The native sentry challenged us, with,’ Halt, where come I’. Our driver in Ki Swahili, answered, ‘Never mind that, there’s lions here. Open the gate.’ The sentry was missing for three days, then returned, unharmed.
We had an outbreak of rat borne bubonic plague, one time. Acres and acres of grass were burned, two rings of fire drawn together so that no rats escaped. Everybody had to be inoculated. Terrible- ALL were confined to their beds, with the exception of those in hospital who had a massive dose of malaria!!
One day a fire broke out in the orderly room block of buildings. The building was made of timber! Water containers were made from 4 gallon Petrol Tins!! We had saved all the office equipment, and furniture, and were bringing the fire under control, when some bright characters, all unwittingly, using the afore mentioned 4 gallon tins, threw half a dozen tins of petrol into the fire. End of building!! By the nature of my duties I was well known by the staff at 2nd Echalan, and also at military records, was in a position to help people who had problems, both personal, domestic, and military, but found I could not really help myself; Funny situation indeed. 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week. A half day off, was like heaven. The only light we had was a hurricane lamp to work with, and mistakes were a no no. I decided to obtain a move, so wrote an application for a transfer. Promptly rejected. I waited a spell, and re- applied. At the same time friends in 2nd Echalan already had me posted- on paper- and I knew the unit!! Second application rejected, with a warning- the same application three times constitutes an offence, and would have repercussions!! I was ‘well in’ with the Ass/Adjt, wrote out my new posting, sealed the envelope, and requested he seal it over his signature, place it in another envelope, and place it in his safe. He did so, and I handed him another application for a transfer. He read it, said I would be in the poo and passed it in to Lt/Col. Scegg. The Ass/Adjt, perused my copies of the applications, and agreed with me, none of them were alike. Lt/Col. Scegg said he had fixed me, and when the Adjt. Opened the sealed envelopes, he chuckled to himself, for I had told him, well in advance what the Col. Had just informed him. Diredowa, in Abyssinia. And so it came to pass. Shortly after, my replacement came along, an S.S.M. (Staff Sergeant Major), i.e. W.O.I.
I moved out of the camp area. Into the games reserve, and a tented camp whilst the convoy was being formed. I forget how many vehicles were involved, for we carried numerous Askares, together with water, petrol’s and oils, and 14 days supply of foodstuffs. You shot your own meat, mainly gazelles, which you had to ‘hang’ for 2 days before you could get your teeth anywhere near it. Now and then you could buy a bantam for 6d. which the cooks plucked alive, and when we reached Italian Somaliland- bantam eggs, one rupee each. Namyuki 8250ft ASL, running along the foothills of Mt. Kenya, and crossing the equator into the Northern Hemisphere. Then to Wafir, where we replenished our water, but only about enough for about 3 days. Wafir water was notorious, for if you drank it for more than a week- you were a hospital case, and the treatment was for gonorrhoea!! Nobody wanted to be a guard on the well- you did nothing wrong- but certain chemicals caused the discharge. IF you could find any other water- even pools after heavy rain, it was used instead. We all carried the means of water purification.
Thence on to Bardara, where we crossed the River Juba. A few hand grenades in the river drove the crocodiles away from the crossing, and from the Askaris, in the river , filling up the 44 gallon drums with water ready for the next move, on to the Capital City of Italian Somaliland, Magadishu. This was a staging camp by the sea shore, where one could wash, wash clothes, enjoy a gentle sloping beach, get a haircut etc. The Africans, by and large, had never seen such a large stretch of water, such as this, in their whole life. ‘Ok,’ we said, ‘In you go’, and in they went, beautiful, until they started drinking it!!!!! They were all shouting, (Chuavi)- i.e. Salt, unfit for drinking. We replenished our supplies, and proceeded onwards, via Beledweyne, where we crossed the Wadi Shebeh, nothing much there, a couple of Ndukas (native shops), and some scattered native habitations, then on to Hargasia, the capital of British Somaliland. Quite a sizable township, and full of camels and donkeys. It was also the military headquarters of the Northern Frontier District, of the East Africa Command. From there we proceeded to Dire Dawa, via a tiny place called, if my memory serves me right, Jigjiga, situated almost at the base of a range of hills called the Warda Range of hills. Very steep climb to the top, but the Ford F60L’s we were equipped with, the tougher the climb, the faster they went!!! We stopped at the top, looked down where we were going- nothing but green. Turning round and looking as far as the eye could see- desert!!! We continued down the range, and to our surprise, where having to change down to get down to the bottom. It was explained to us afterwards, the different amounts of oxygen in the air was what caused us to wonder what on earth was happening to us. We were informed that these hills constituted the border between British Somaliland and Abyssinia, but now , although disputed, it is much further east, in the Ogaden District. Between the Marda Range, and the township of Harrar, agriculture was the predominant occupation of the Habash Tribe, and during the major drought of 1943, fed Kenya, Tanganyika, British, Italian and French Somaliland’s, Eritrea, Yemen, Aden, and the Arabian Emirates, with various types of grain. Harron had been modernised by the Italians, and was the first staging point on the ‘Strada Imperiala’ between Mogaducio and Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, the ‘shifta’ destroyed much of the modernization including the finest hospital in southern Abyssinia; Harron down to Dire Daua!
Down the escarpment, 5000 ft to 1100 ft in fifteen miles, on a road carved out of the mountain side. No rails to check a slide. A valley so deep you cannot see the bottom. Lorries etc, that have gone over never reach the bottom- trees stop them. To add insult to injury the Shifta have a nasty habit of cutting the rear of the canopy, and helping themselves as the transport labours on. We quickly settled that. An Askari in the back with a ‘panga’ (machete or jungle knife). A few fingers or a hand chopped off quietened things down quickly!!! Dire Dawa was on the Franks/Ethiopian railway from Djiboati to Addis Abbaba, and was the ‘halfway’ house, where the engines paused for breath. The town was in a ‘horseshoe’ of reasonably high hills, and was HOT. The prevailing winds blow over the town- hit the hills- and blow back over us. Water was a problem there, the ONE big deep well belonged to the Duke of Harrar, as well as everything else in the area. It was delivered once a day, the quantity depending on the size of the unit. He tried to even run the Army units there, but met his match when the Sgt. In charge of the slaughter house found he was being threatened by a small hunch back of a man, who was going to take one beast for himself, come what may!!!! The Sgt. frogmarched him back to his ‘palace’ and told him if he EVER saw him again, he would neuter him, before cutting his throat! There was never any more trouble!!
I was now a Staff Sergeant, and was involved in many activities. A junior officer whose name I cannot remember was appointed Defending Officer on an Askari in the 3rd Kyassaland Btn, of the K.A.R., on a murder charge. We worked together, and he was found not guilty. He got a reputation as a good D/O, and we were successful in other Court Martials.
I had the privilege of carrying Haile Selassies 500,000 pound last payment from England. Then U.R.D.U. (Ethiopian Rubber Development Unit) turned up. There was a large amount of natural rubber in the country, and people were brought in from the Middle East to man the unit. Vehicle, seals, money, food, indoor games, a section of Abyssinian Infantry, two soldiers, and away they went. Apart from the disease problem, it was quite a successful operation. The next thing was U.K.C.C. (United Kingdom Commercial Corporation), formed with the capital of 5,000,000 pounds. The local representative was a New Zealand Lt.Colonel, who had been severely wounded in battle; A terrific fellow to work with.
As previously mentioned, that part of Abyssinia we were in was very rich agriculturally. U.K.C.E. bought again- Jowari, millet, and a kind of corn and it was dispatched to Djibouti by rail. On to the docks- onto Dhows (large Arab sailing ships), then over to Aden, Yemen, The Arabian Emirates, parts of Somailland, Eritea etc. Wherever the famine was bad. It was found the bags of grain were being ‘milked’ on almost every dhow, but how to stop it? Agents were discretely put on all vessels (not Europeans). They virtually were all never seen again, and it was afterwards discovered we had been feeding Japanese submarines that were covering the entrance to the Red Sea, and Aden!!!!!
By this time, I had been interviewed by Col. Leland, who came from Blantyse in Nyassaland, and accepted as a candidate for O.C.T.U. That was at Njoro, in Kenya. The interview was held at Hargeisha. Col Leland, in civilian life was a tobacco farmer, and was one of nature’s gentlemen, I never heard any one say a bad word against him. As all cadets had to be proficient with infantry weapons, I was detatched to the 5/6 Bn K.A.R. until I had reached that standard.
I was back with my unit, when it was discovered that no action had been taken to reconcile transactions pertaining to the U.K.C.C. Some bright character, I never found out whom, told the powers to be that I was the person to sort it out. All the documents were at Dobato, an ex Italian fighter drome, now a maintenance unit, about 20 miles south of Berbera, the third hottest place in the world. I was given a 15cwt vehicle, a personal servant, an escort, a rifle, a Beretta .38 pistol, and my bed roll. I had to call into H.Q. at Hargisha for instructions, and on arrival at Dogato, settled in, and started sorting out all documents that had been dumped into a huge timber box. The ‘kamseum’ was blowing. I was in a small hanger- all galvanised iron- no table or seat available, but made do with what I could find. We had food and water, bantam eggs were obtained from the locals (one rupee or 1/6 each.) It was so hot, I wore only a pair of shorts. The grain losses were worked out, and costed, as to the local supply office-then- local headquarters- then East Africa Command, and finally, what the War Office in England had to strike off.
I never did finish the job. Someone replaced me, and the staff I had. I returned to Hargisha, and then travelled overland to Mobadieio. Here I reported to the local commander, and was told that I had to fly south, via Mombassa. Ron Foers (54663) was there as Chief Clerk, and we talked well past bedtime on our respective travels, happenings etc.
I was due to fly to Mombassa the next morning in a D.C. 2, but more bags of mail arrived. Mail being good for morale, I was shunted back to Ron Foers. I was then booked in as cargo on the next Air France flight to Mombassa. Ron and I went all over town, where he pointed out all the good spots and the bad ones as well. Very interesting. Air France, being a civilian company, and also flying civilian passengers, meant that NO ARMS could be taken on board. I handed them in, and obtained receipts. Luckily for me, as it turned out later. Approaching Mombassa, it appeared the pilot was slightly off course, but very quickly regained the correct approach, and out of anti aircraft fire. The Air France plane looked to my eyes, to be something like a civilian version of the Boston Bomber. Mogadicio airport reminded me of an aircraft carrier, for the runway ended on the edge of the cliff!!! At Mombassa, a little fight took place- the Army wanted me to travel by rail to Nairobi, and the R.T.O. had arranged a flight there in a fleet airbus ‘Fairy Fulner’. The R.T.O. eventually won! The plane was due in for a major overhaul, believe me, it needed it. I was placed in the transit camp, and the next day, taken to NJORO, just north of Nakuva, where the OCTU was situated, 7350 feet above sea level, where for the next 16 weeks we suffered. Initially, in that rarefied atmosphere, everything was damned hard work, mentally, and physically. Day, and night, it never stopped. What ever we did, at altitudes between 6500 ft, locally, and 12500 ft at Man Summit, it had to be done at speed, and timings that were used in England! Whilst we were well fed, I can assure you that none of us carried one once of excess fat!!! I think the whole purpose of the exercise was to get you to answer back, and then you were out- couldn’t take discipline. It was an ‘All Arms’ OCTU, and at the end of each particular period, there was a Bar Examination. You had virtually no time to expand on the lectures and/or précis given to you. You were supposed to have absorbed all the mass of military matters presented to you. You passed, or failed, to be sent back to your unit. Every member of the OCTU staff, from Lt. Colonel down to a private soldier, had to be called ‘STAFF’. We were merely cadets, (irrespective of rank.) Discipline was tight, but fair. Half way through the course I was called into the C.O.’s office, to be informed I had not handed in a .38 Beretta Automatic Pistol, and looked like facing a military court. I had handed it in, and had a receipt for it, and there the matter ended. The course ended, we became 2nd Lieuts, but NOT UNTIL WE WENT OUT OF THE CAMP. This was to avoid any recrimination there may be.
I must add, that at this stage, I already knew what unit I was bound for, and the position that awaited me, but on the selection panel, I fronted “The Elephant”. I will not give his name, but he was the D.D.S.T. of Southern Command in 1940/41. It was my turn to be in the office, all night duty, and my Major (Coates) had read S.C. Orders just received. This one, he told me must be strictly adhered to;Very, very, important. The phone rang, I answered, and a voice told me to do, what orders in front of me, and my officer, had only just instructed me not to do. I told him he was obviously an officer, by his manner and voice, but I could not tell, sight unseen, whether he was English or not. He told me he was the DDST, and my reply was to the effect he should be ashamed then, trying to countermand official orders, per telephone, without first stating who he was, or asking to speak to an officer. I could quickly have reached the Orderly Officer. I rang off.
As I have written, I fronted ‘The Elephant’ Major General_______. He never looked at me. ‘Your name Maxfield?’- ‘Yes, Sir’. ‘Where you ever a Sergeant?’. ‘Yes, Sir’. ‘Were you ever at Roche Court, Fareham?’ ‘Yes, Sir’. ‘Don’t want him.’ Left, right, left, right, out……… I was commissioned into the West Yorkshire Regiment. But never served with them.
I was seconded to the Kings African Rifles, in the East African Command. I should have been commissioned as a Lieutenant, by virtue of service. And this oversight was corrected, but not before I was posted to the 7/2 Somaliland Bn, of the K.A.R. Mention must be made here that virtually all available manpower was for the European threat. The 14th Army in Burma was restricted to 10% reinforcements, and we had to reinforce the 11th E.A. Division. European personnel were almost unobtainable, and on arrival at the 7/2 Btn, I was wheeled in front of the C.O, and he was delighted. ‘Another Officer!!!’ After a little talk, he told me to take over ‘C’ Company. I was a little non plussed about all this, but he said Officers were almost non existent. ‘You’ll be all right’, then on my way out, he said, ‘For the moment, take over ‘D’ Company as well.’ I tell you, never a dull moment, life is full of surprises! I spoke English, and Ki-Swahili. The Ascaris spoke only Somali, which was not a written language, being purely on the vernacular, all transactions being conducted in written Arabic. I had a smattering of Arabic, as per Palestine, but theirs was in a different dialect, and completely not understandable. No one in the battalion was under 6ft 2in, except me. Captain Andrew Macbeth was 6ft 3in, whilst I was 5ft7 ½ . We were known as ‘Mrefa’ Macbeth, and ‘Mfabi’, me. It was an interesting situation, but I dealt mainly through an African Sergeant, who spoke English, Swahili, and Somali. An ‘old soldier’ who had reached the pinnacle, Sergeant being the highest a nature could aspire to. I liked him, and I here must admit, he helped me enormously. We carried on with our jungle warfare training, until the 7/1 Somali Bn. KAR called for reinforcements. Officers were drafted in, and ‘C’ Company myself included was prepared for Burma. But the Somali’s revolted, refused to obey any orders at all. A composite Company of Officers from surrounding units were formed, the mutineers were court martialled, and were all sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
The situation returned to normal, and I was sent to the Signals Depot at Nanuki on a signals course. 12 weeks, and interesting ones they were too. I was a complete duffer with anything electrical, but I finished the course with a very high mark.
By this time the Somali Battalion had been disbanded, they were causing too much trouble, and even though they could, and did, take any position, they refused to hold it. The 3rd Myasaland Btn, KAR, always, were brought in to do that, and no one got through their positions.
I was then posted to the 9th Tanganyika Territory Btn. KAR, as Signals Officer. This was a very well organised battalion, under the command of Lt.Col. ‘Dickie’ Bray. He was an ex Aid de Camp to the Viceroy of India; A regular officer, and so easy to get on with, providing you did your job efficiently. I remember one incident, at Mashi, in Tanganyika, we received a Lieut. Medical Officer, which indicated a fairly recent enlistment. He was a Scottee, and in his early 30’s. ‘Dickie’ Bray, did not like the Scots for some unknown reason, and was ‘always at him’. It came to a head one evening when he was pointedly asked, as a Doctor, where had he been skulking all the years the war had been on. He left me at the table, went out to his tent, came back, threw his brevet, DFC & Bas and DFM in front of the Colonel, and said, ‘Flt Lieutenant, 27 evening fighters to my credit. I left university, with one year to qualify, volunteered as a pilot, was discharged to complete my medical degree, and then conscripted as a Doctor into the Army. Where the hell have you been hiding?’ He grabbed his decorations and sat down with me. The Col. Replied, ‘Doctors, couldn’t stop a cough’,(which he had.) The M.O. replied to the effect, he could stop anybody coughing. The Col.’s reply was, ‘Stop mine then.’ The M.O. asked the C.O. to please retire to his tent, then mixed up a concoction, which the C.O. swallowed. Two days later, he bellowed out for the M.O., and demanded to know what the………was in that concoction. His reply was 4onz of mag sulph in 2 onz of water, and I know that you daren’t cough. Nothing further was said by anyone!!!!! The Col. Was always very careful after that little episode.
We were part of the 11th East African Division, under the command of Major General Fowkes. His one pet aversion was telephones, and whilst every unit was in the same low scrub, which did not permit cables high enough to permit lorries to travel underneath them, he demanded perfection. We were using earth returns, which were not to the General’s liking- DO SOMETHING! ‘Dickie Bray’ called me in, was there any way we could satisfy the General? I remembered, having been in the area before, that in the Rau Forest a few miles away, was some fairly large bamboo. My orders were from him, get it! I despatched a Corporal and half a dozen Ascaris, with lorries, and a sketch map of the area, to collect as much LARGE bamboo as they could. Later that evening, as we were all starting to worry, fearing something had gone wrong, they returned into our camp area with bamboo so long, it was dragging on the road. Next day the bamboo was split, cut into lengths, cables attached, dug into the ground, and congratulations from the General. We did not worry about other units, that was their problem. Shortly afterwards the Colonel called for me. The Adjutant took me in to him, and left us alone. Dickie Bray told me he had received certain information, and that I should prepare myself for a General Court Martial!!!! I had committed a crime, by cutting down a grove of special bamboo, brought from China as an experiment at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. I told him I obeyed his order to ‘get it.’ ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘ but you cut it down’. My reply was to the effect HE ordered it cut down, and if anyone was to blame, it was on his shoulders. No, he was passing the buck back to me. I called for the African Corporal I had despatched to, as the Col. Said, reek destruction, put him in the picture, and ten minutes later he produced a note, in Ki Swahili, that, as the Forest Warden, in future, if we required further things, apply to the Government Offices, but in this one case only, no action would be taken for not asking permission. Whew!!!
V.E. Day had come, and gone. Now for the Japs and V.J. Day (not VP Day as it is now, in it’s American version.) There was a general feeling that the war was rapidly coming to an end, and we were all busy checking our age and service group number. Mine was 23. You beaut, I thought, won’t be long now!!!
We were still training the African’s, ready as reinforcements to the 14th Army in Burma, and Malaya, and even going so far as preparing drafts to go via India. Marjorie was in Pay Corps now, Anti Aircraft Artillery being no longer required, and was looking forward to her demobilisation, and us setting up home together.
Orders came through, Age and service groups 21, 22& 23 were to be sent back to England, and demobilised. Hooray!!! A farewell night in the Officers Mess was arranged- was duly held, and Lt.Col. ‘Dickie Bray’ wished us well. I was sent for by the Brigadier; where I was interviewed and thanked for all the undercover work I had performed during the war years. Nothing had been ever put in writing, from the day I was recruited, and nothing was put into writing now. My services with the organization were now terminated, but I had to remain silent for the stated period. All our kit had been packed, addressed to our respective home addresses, we had said all our farewells, when the Adjutant rushed to the vehicles on which our kit was being placed, breathless, and told us our releases had been held back for three months. (A & S Groups No’s 21-22-&23) to enable us to discharge the African Ascaris. ‘Dickie Bray’, Lt.Col. immediately ordered the Bar to be opened, so that we could drown our sorrows!!!!
The whole 9th (TT) Btn. KAR was transferred by rail and road to an outlandish place called Gill Gill in Kenya. Gill Gill in Swahili means windy corner, and it was! We each had to take a certain number of Ascaris, check military records in Nairobi, check on pay and gratuity position, and the next day, drive them to Nairobi Station, and send them off home. Having completed this task, and because the end of 1945 was fast approaching, the 3 of us were forced into a court martial board, with the addition of an old 14/18 Major, i/c. All cases having been dealt with, we were informed we would be repatriated on the Polish Vessel, SOBIESKI. She had just arrived in Mombassa Harbour. We handed in all ‘Red Hot’ military items. All our Officers Kits, plus personal property too big to carry would be forwarded to us, in due course.
It arrived in England about 2 months later, and my wife Marjorie, was very impressed with items I had filled my Officers Trunk with, mainly items for her personally, and for the home we both looked forward to having very soon.
We purchased a small house in the village of Fishlake, a very apt name, for after severe rains the main road out was completely impassable, under feet of water. I was employed on Production Control at the Kirtz Sandall Glass Works, one of the works owned by Pilkington Bothers. Not a bad place really, for the wages were much higher than in the surrounding districts. Glass, however is dangerous to handle, if not done properly. ¼ inch plate, 99inch x 175inch = ¼ ton, and if, perchance, it drops, shards of glass like razor blades, can, and on occasion did almost cut a man devilishly. Everybody in turn,were being cut, so I looked round for something different.
I met, in Doncaster, a RAF WO1 Jim West, whom I had worked with before, in Finningley. He asked what I was doing. I told him, and he in return told me I was wasting my time, come back to us. So, I went, was there for just over 4 years.
I had applied to migrate to Australia, had been accepted, told what ship we would travel on, arranged to sell our home, and THEN the job turned up that I had been aiming for. Damn!! Too late.
We sold up at West End- Hatfield Woodhouse, and sailed from Liverpool, on the Bibby Line Ship, the old HMT Dorsetshire- the slowest ship afloat. She never even kept to her contract of an average speed of knots. We sailed from Liverpool, after handing in our sweet coupons, clothes coupons, food coupons and all identity papers. We were no longer English citizens. We sailed via the Med, Port Said, Suez Canal, down the Red Seas to Aden! Marjorie saw the conditions there, enough said. Then down the Indian Ocean to Ceylon, ‘did’ the souk at Colombo, and thence down to Fremantle and Perth!! Enough said, it was Sunday, and the year 1952. The place has changed since then, thank goodness.
Then across the Bight to Port Phillip Bay, and Melbourne. It was the lousiest reception ever. You couldn’t see the harbour, the heaviest rain I have ever seen, the wind blew a gale for over two days, and the Captain would NOT attempt to berth his vessel!!!! He did so eventually and we were met by George Hobson, (now deceased), who was a pal of Marjorie’s brother Leonard (now deceased).
I looked around Melbourne for work, and eventually got eight jobs on the same day. The position I took, gave me the opportunity of eventually knowing intimately- both Melbourne & Geelong. We moved into a weatherboard house at Pascoe Vale. I changed jobs, and went with Neon Electric Signs,P/L. Marjorie was working two or three nights per week at the Austin Hospital, situated at Heidelberg, and it was there they appealed with her to complete her Nurses Certificate. It was incidentally, at this hospital where Jennifer completed her training, prior to meeting Bob Jager, in Hobart.
Time went by, I left Neon Signs, who were in South Melbourne, and commenced at International Harvesters, at Dandenong, where I became pay clerk.
We purchased (on very good terms), an eight acre place at Cranbourne, where we had a house cow (milk), kitchen garden, which kept us (and a neighbour) in fresh vegetables, and Marjorie had a poultry farm, and I in due course had a few hives of bees. An opening was advertised with the Cranbourne Shire Council, for which I applied, as did a number of locals, and I was the lucky one. I worked there just over twenty years, became the Assistant Shire Secretary, and eventually resigned from the Shire, due entirely to the two much younger people who took over when the Shire Secretary reached the age of 65 years, and became a Golf Addict.
Marjorie, by this time, was working at Containers P/L, where she was a leading hand on Quality Control, where they made the metal tins for Heinz, the Breweries, and fresh fruit and vegetable tins.