I regsitered for war service early 1940 wishing for a preference for the Navy. After two months I had a reply saying the Navy was not really in need of men, so I and a few othere from my group were directed to the Somerset Light Infantry. Our Sergeant Instructor was about the worst we could have so the was sent elsewhere. Our timing for Drill was supposed to be 140 to the minute, we were doing nearer to 180 to the minute. Our platoon put in a complaint to Company Office and one of the top Brass gave us a dressing down, however we had our instructor changed. After a while a few of us asked for a transfer to the Durham Light Infantry. They were a crack Regiment and the officers were very nice fellows, real mates.
I landed on D-Day at 29 years of age, June 6th with the 8th Battalion Durhams, 151 Brigade, 50th Division 231 Brigade landed in front of us and we followed them inland. The 50th Division had seen action in the Western Desert so we picked up valuable tips and hints from them.
From my point of view the landings were not as bad as I thought they would be as we had very good cover from Air and Sea. We left our big ships for the landing craft and got out nearer to the beach. The water was chest high. I don’t think anyone was afraid as we pushed further inland. The next few weeks were spent in pushing forward and then easing back until we made a good progress. The worst thing we found when we moved forward was digging a slit trench neas a dead cow, they smelled horrible.
It seemed a bit of a ding dong battle between our Artillery and the German 88’s. I think a lot of the German weapons were a lot better then ours especially the Tiger Tank, we had mostly the American Sherman, not a patch on the Tiger. I lost a lot of mates in the early weeks, two were only sixteen years of age who put their age on to 18 years to join the Durhams. Our Commanding Officer was a very nice fellow, Major English his batman followed him about wherever the went, if the 88’s were in action the was taking a compass bearing, with all of us diving in our slit trenches for cover. We lost a few chaps and officers in the few next weeks. And a replacement officer came to us. The was a Canadian, very nice fellow indeed. I said: “Welcome to our outfit Sir!” the replied: “Sir!?.. my name is Gus, stick to Gus and we are going to get along fine!” Anyway we started to advance from then on. The last patrol Gus made, he found out the Germans were withdrawing, he always asked me to go on these partrols with him.
Then there was the Falais Gap where we did quite well. We managed to get to Brussels and Montgomery promised us five days off, when we got there, not so...we were given but one day! We had a very nice dinner the next night and then had to make a crossing over the Albert Canal. Of course it had to be the D Company 8th Durham Light Infantry to make a feint crossing over the Canal while the main attack was going in further along. I believe it was on one of the worst positions I have been in.
I suppose the Germans thought we were the main attack and dropped Para’s on us, 16 Platoon on our left were all killed. The next day we advanced into Geel (Belgium) and the boss, Major English, asked where I was going. I said: “Into that loft in the house across the road Sir”. I forgot to mention that I was the P.I.A.T. Operator in 8th Platoon, very nice weapon, could destroy a tank or a house or of course a gang of Germans. Our position in Geel started to get heavily shelled and a dear old lady called us to come down in the cellar. We did as the lady said and directly the loft were we were took a direct hit. Another of the cats lived saved! I must have been on my second book of cats then! (Here in England we say that a cat has nine lives, I was way passed the first nine ones!)
At this point Gus had a nasty gash wound down the side of is face. We stayed in Geel for about 5 days with no supplies being delivered. The 15th Scottish came through us and they were surprised to see us there. We had a few days back over the Canal and a lovely feed when we met our Cooks again!
After a few arguments with some German Panzer we moved into Holland. We were scutling over Nijmegen Bridge when a German plane came over, the dropped a bomb but missed us. Then he came around again to machine gun us but one of our mates on the Bofors gun shot him down from the bank.
We finished up with a line North of Nijmegen and made many friends there giving what biscuits we had to give. We did not however get the chance to exchange any addresses for the Germans had broken through the Americans in the Ardennes, so Montgomery sent 3 British Divisions to plug the gap...of course one had to be the 50th Division!