I was born on June 12th 1920 at Chiseldon nr. Swindon Wiltshire youngest of eleven, I had a normal village C of E school education, left in 1934, and was employed as a apprentice gardener.
Febuary 1939 I joined the Swindon Territorial Army age 18, Royal Field Artillery as a Gunner,No. 890390, we were called up on the first September 1939 with very little equipment,one 4.5 Howitzer Gun,[ the regiment had to wait nine months before we got full complement of 24.no Rifle,s, we had to stand on guard with groom sticks handle,s, slept on bare boards and no blankets, just our overcoats and keep our clothes on for a week.
However when we were equipt most of our time was spent on the Kent coast awaiting for the German invasion,
In 1941 I was promoted to Lance Bombardier[one strip] followed by full Bombardier[two stripes] in 1942 to Lance Sergeant ]three stripes] followed by full Sergeant [gun above my stripes] and placed in charge of a 25 pounder gun with a Quad Towing vehicle and a crew of six men.[at that time i was the youngest Sergeant in the Regiment.
In early May 1944 we waterproofed our guns and vehicle,s, we knew in 1943 at sometime in the near future that the invasion of Europe,[France] but where and when was unknown,
On the morning of the 6th of June 1944 we were inform that the invasion had started in Normandy, on the twelve of June the Regiment moved to Tilbury Dock,s Essex, [It was the night of the 12/13that the first Flying Bomb [Doodle Bug] fell on London,] we went under Canvas[Tent] in a field and was not allowed out or talk to anyone,The Guns and vehicle,s were taken down to the Dock,s and loaded on to boat[unable to remember the name],
The docker,s went on strike, they wanted danger money for loading live ammunition, and our own engineers loaded the equipment which put us two days behind of schedule,
We sailed out into the Chanel on the 15th and waited in a area known as Piccadilly Circus, for our Escourt Destroyer,s we eventually arrived off the Normandy beachead, on the 19th
June but was then held up by Gale force wind,s and heavy rain for four days, it was,nt until the 24th when we were transferred to Landing craft, and taken to Gold beach, I think i should tell a little funny story that happen, After climbing down rope ladder into the craft [a American] a marine came up to me asking what sort of ice cream we would like, ICE CREAM, here we were going to fight the Germans and we were being offered Ice Cream, this must be a joke, any way along he came back with a tray of Vinnila ice cream, this is something that could only be done by the American,s so we were licking and enjoying it when i heard the ramp going down we had reach the beach,i stuffed as much in my mouth as i could and started running to get off with the Gun and Quad following me, now our orders were, that the no One, Sergeant, [Me,]was go first to see how deep the water was, also if there were mines there, my life was expendable, the gun and vehicle was more important, and the driver was informed that under no circumstance was he to stop until he was on firm ground,
I could not swim so when i got to the edge of the ramp i held my nose and jumped, never felt such a fool in my life as i landed in water that just covered the soil,s of my boots,
We landed on the beach there was no enemy fire it was just like a picknick, the only person was the beach Master shouting and swearing get off the beach,i thought to myself if this is war, i can put up with this, i soon changed my mind when we went into action as news came back from the front of our first casualty, Signaler killed.
We carried up the road from Gold beach and went into a field around about dinner time de/water proved our guns and vehicle,s and had a meal Bully Beef, Biscuits,and a mess tin of tea,it was three weeks before we see any bread,one of the most wonderful sights,was when the Salvation Army vehicle came up behind my gun when in action we were [normaly three miles behind the front line] with all sorts of goodies,sweets,chocolate,Tea,ever since then i have always great respect for them,
My first gun position on the night of the 24th was behind Bayeux Railway station,My Division 43rd Wessex was in reserve to the 15th Scottish in operation Epsom from the 25th to 30th June the first attack to cross the river Odon and capture what was known as Hill 112,at that time i had no idea of where it was or the importance of it,when we landed the beachead was ten miles inland on a fifty mile front including the American,s, together with the 15th Scottish and the 43rd two more Division landed 11th Armour, 53rd Welsh, and two Brigade,s of tanks a total of apprx. 70000 men all who were Territorial units, we were known as the breakout division,s under command of 8Corp.our job was to move forward and capture Normandy and surge forward with the Americans.
It was the first time any of us had been in battle and we were all excited to get going and knock hell out of the Germans, and of course, none ever thought we might get killed or wounded, our vision of excitement soon evaporated when the enemy fired on to us, being field gunners we were in comparative safety three miles behind the front line we were known by the infantry as[five mile snipers].it was the Infantry, signaler,s, forward observation officers, and Tank crews who took the blunt of the fighting,they are the ones who was the real hero,s for every one of our who was killed there was 500 of the front line troops who perished.
On the 7th July hundreds of heavy bomber,s open their bomb doors and over the head of us and bomb Caen, killing apprx 6000 civilians, to me it looked as though the bomb,s were going to drop on us, it certainly put the wind up me, that is when i realized this is not a game,it was going to be them or us, we kill them or they will kill us.
We had dug Gun pits in a position just below Carpiquet Airdrome, It was on July the 10th we had three hundred brought to our gun,s the day before so we knew there was big going to happen,we were called to the command and given our orders, we had to stand by at 4.15 in the morning ready to start firing at 4.30 we given our range and angle,s of firing, each Regiment was given a sector and we would fire non stop for fifteen minutes,that was 90 shells multiply by 24 guns =2160 HE shells per Regiment, three to a division three division,s =21,625 pounder shells, plus the heavy and medium guns and the warships all this explosive was aimed at the enemy just in front of our Infantry to start their advance to capture Hill112 in operation Jupiter,this was the first time i realized the importance of Hill 112 all of us thought it named after our Regiment 112 Field Regiment, a nice thought, but of course it it is the height above sea level,and that is where interest came to me many years later, See www.hill112.com also comments in the book by my friend Tim Saunders, Hill112.[Enclosed] i might mention that during operation Jupiter my Regiment of 24 guns fired 60,000 he shells in the 14 days of battle,there were times when we had to stop and pour water over the barrels to cool them down.
After Jupiter the division had to be reinforced. the infantry casualties were 7000, [ two thousand killed five thousand wounded, several hundred tank lost with most crew,s burnt to death.
Our next Division operation was named Bluecoat, to captured another hill, Mount Pincon, another hard battle, more replacements.
with the American,s on our right,with operation Cobra they were pushing the enemy back fast most of this was due to General Patten,[Blood, Gut, and Thunder his nick name,]
On the 9th July the Canadians captured Caen, and the 11th Armoured Division started operation Goodwood unfortunate it turn out a disaster many many tanks were lost,
The next operation for the Division was the crossing of the river Seine, it seem,s we were for every hard battle in the war,[see profile of 43rd Wessex web.]
at the time of the battle for Mount Pincon the American,s was making good progress on our right, the Poles, Canadians, and with reinforced the 11th Armour was sweeping around our left which eventuly form what was known as the Falaise Gap, it was near the end of August when the 43rd was ordered to move through the American line,s and make our way to Vernon on the bank of the Seine a distance of apprx. 120 miles at top speed,stopping only to fill up with petrol, but our speed was reduced by the amount German Tank,s, guns,vehicles,Dead horses, also men for miles along the road side, it was the most gruesome sight which will never leave my mind,the weather very hot which did,nt help, the smell nearly made me vomit,I had to put a wet hankerchief around my nose and mouth, As. No,one, my job was to stand up in the port hole of the Quad all times when we are on the move,i remember dropping off to sleep on more than one or two occasion,s.
On reaching Vernon we parked under tree,s for camouflage, we had moved so fast the Germans were unaware of our present,we waited until night before going into action, the Bridge had been blown but Infantry on foot could cross, my gun position was on the side of a railway leading to the Bata Shoe factory, and were making camouflage German uniform,s,
early hours of the following morning inflatable Boats was brought to the banks, the Wiltshire Regiment on the right hand side of the Bridge but the water was to rough so they had to move down river to find another suitable place, the time it took them find another place it was getting light and the Germans spotted them and they suffered severe casualties may of them drowned, we were unable to support with Artillery fire because of to many tree,s and it would have caused more casualties from shrapnel, The Somerset light infantry made the crossing on the left hand side of the bridge and very quickly got on dry land with no casualties, unfortunately when day light came they found they were on a island in the middle of the Seine, and had to make the rest of the crossing in daylight, more casualties, the Worcestershire infantry crossed over via the bridge dodging behind the steel girders, by evening Engineers built a Baily Bridge also a larger one where by Tanks could cross, and the enemy was pushed back and made a hastily retreat to Paris and Brussel,s. as promise my Montgomery Normandy was Liberated by August.it was at this time when a Worcester stretcher bearer with red cross armlet was shot by the Germans whilst trying to rescue British and German troop who had been wounded,such is the horrors, of War.
We had a rest period for apprx. ten days, and more re inforcements,i have been given to understand that only 5% of the original 43rd Division finish at the end of the War,
Now back to strength we left Vernon stopping only to fill up with petrel 14th September 44, to where we had no idea, eventually reaching our gun position at a place called Neerpelt on the Belgium Dutch borders,on the 16th we traveled all night we were in a field with large chimney,s apparently it was known to the Belgium,s as the Factory, now at every new gun position we went into, the first thing i made my gun crew do, was to dig slit trenches for protection against shrapnel,no matter day or night, as soon as the gun was in action that is what i made do even before feeding, I always told my men that they would come back alive and no injuries, i am proud to say that is exactly what happen with the exception of my second driver, Eric River,s he shot and killed my what is known as friendly fire,another person dropped his Sten gun and the bullet hit Eric in the head.
The following day Sunday September 17th we were called to the command post to be given our order,s, this is a day i shall never forget, it was the start of operation Market Garden
Our 43rd infantry Division was to be in the thick of it again,spearheading the attack on one single road with Guards Armour Brigade leading, we were told at apprx. 13hrs. troops of the 101 U.S,would be landing apprx. 4 mile in front of us to capture the bridge at Son, and Graves. further on the 84th U,S. would be landing at Eindhoven, and Nijmegen and 64 miles further on the British 1st Division would land at Arnhem to capture the bridge over the Rhine, with the Polish Division landing at Elst just this side of the river, for our flank protection we had the 15th Scottish on our right 53rd Welsh on our left with the Canadians coming up to try and clear the Sheldt Estury our instruction was to drive the 64miles in two days and relieve the Pra,s at Arnhem, we all now what happen, [see film Bridge To Far] and it was not until the 24th before we reach the banks of the Rhine, 7days,at that time the order had been given to the Para,s to pull back,during that seven days we only went into action twice once near Graves Bridge, where i was lucky not have been killed together with my crew,we had what was known as a premature,a shell exploding in the breach of the gun, however mine exploded just out side of the gun, one second earlier,and i would not be writing this,
that was the third time i had missed being killed or wounded, the first was when a German Morter bomb exploded one fifty yards from my gun, another when a sniper tried to get me three times he fired , each time i was moving around and heard the bullet whistle past my ear, he was hiding in the corn field just behind me,eventually he was captured, another time was when we was at Neerpelt The Germans shelled, machine gun, and dropped anti personal Bomb,s on our position killing three of our Battery one was a great friend Sergeant Harold Porter and two Gunners, very sad.
At aprox.13 00hrs on the 17th the sky was full of Paratroops, planes, and gliders, the sight was unbelievable,I do,nt think anyone will ever see a sight like again, as we all know we were to late in arriving and the Arnhem bridge remain in German hands, I finish up with my Gun apprx. 600yards from the bank of the Rhine, and fired all night in the pouring rain of the 24th September to help the Para,s come back, they came back through my gun position looking upset with us for failing to reach them in time,but the proudest moment of my life for being British was when the Para,s reach the road they sat down and from out of the blue they were given a cup of tea,[British Soldier must have his cup of tea] and then afterwards they were called into line and march off as though they were on the parade ground.
During the withdraw of the Para,s the 4th Dorset went over the Rhine to help the withdrawal and and three of my Regiment were killed including my Troop Commander Captain Zeke Rose, they are in Oosterbeck cemetary.
In October we move to an area near Groesbeek, and in November we drove 110miles to to an area near Geilenkirchen operation Clipper,early December the Division went into rest and reinforce at a place called Wavel, Belgium, but was only there for two night,s when we were called back due to the breakthrough by the Germans near Achen [Battle of the Bulge]
I was in a gun position near a place called Huy,to protect the Bridge over the river Meuse, Operation Blackcock.this carried on from 16th December to 26th January.
Another little story here, It was Christmas day very frosty and cold we slept on a tarpaulin and pulled it over us nice and warm until we go on the gun snow and ice every where, Christmas dinner came up and we would go and collect three of us at a time, I have a soft spot when it comes to children, whilst we were getting our food a number of children collected around us all looking eagerly at our Xmas pudding, chocolates, sweets, now how in Hell could we eat these with them never seen sweet,s Chocolates, for years, we had to give it all to them, you should have seen their faces,it brought tears to my eyes, A ll the Gunners were given a bottle of beer, Sergeant,s and above whisky, it was about a hour after wards a young man from the farm just below us came to my gun asking me if i would go to his house and have dinner with them, my Sgt. Major agreed that i could, so off i go carrying the Whisky, i di,nt drink so i thought the house hold should have it, of course they had never seen Whisky during the War, so it was warmly welcome, we hard a good dinner, all the veg,Beef etc,They shot one their Cow,s, but the most unusual thing was that we had cooked Green plumbs place in the centre dinner never seen that in England, i was surprised how tasty it was, but when i came home my Wife never caught on to the idea, when i had left all the Whisky was gone, i bet they had a heavy head in the morning.
Early Febuary we moved to the area around Celle,and the Reichwood Forest,very heavy fighting, more casualties, it was in Febuary we were given leave to go home for 8 days,so many at a time from each Regiment, a very welcome relieve,It was at this time my second driver was killed, His wife had given birth to twins in September whilst he was away and he was so looking forward to see them and always showing picture,s his wife had sent,it was two days when standing on top of loading his vehicle with our kit when one of our own men dropped his sten gun and it discharged a bullet into his head.
When i returned after leave i found out that a German shell had landed in our Gun pit but failed to explode, i have often thought afterwards that the Lord must had blessed my gun,and crew, the 43rd suffered whilst going through the Forest, we are now getting near the Rhine,
MARCH 22=26TH was the start of operation Plunder,crossing of the Rhine, barrows of oil was set fire to create a smoke screen to block the view of the Germans during our preparation for the crossing,on the 22/23 some 422 guns opened fire over the Rhine, heavy bombing, followed by Paratroops, pontoon bridges were laid by the Engineers, were near a place called Ree,s, crossing over a pontoon bridge with a Vehicle connected to a ammunition trailer plus Gun and over a river twice it,s normal width due to heavy rain and fast running corrent is something i would never want to do again,the bridge was only 6ins [150mm] wider than the vehicle and me standing up looking down on the fast flowing water and the bridge moving up and down is not for the faint hearted.
By 30March the bridgehead was secure and we advanced 6miles,
Here is another little story as wrote in our Regimental Book,by Captain Eric Rankin= With the capture of Millingen still flooded, opposite dykes were manned by the British and German infantry and fighting ceased for short time except for night time raiding boats, My only view as a F.O.O. was from the top of the Millingen church tower, From a vent on the German side i looked across the mirror of water through my Binoculars, There was a German held dyke with the floods stretching behind it to a distant smudge of land, the enemy was thoroughly dug in, they always spent more time making themselves safer than the English,with more home comforts, i detected a real smart Lav.down the far side of the dyke near the water edge =a four seater from the look of it -where one could have a social chat with friends while protected from the icy blast by a tatty piece of hessian.
There before my very eyes was an actual enemy, Heavy in his grey blue greatcoat he was picking his way, a trifle unsteady to the Bog,[Latrine], after slithering down the slope of the dyke he reach his goal and sat down visibly relieved, put his helmet carefully by his side, across the entire German line as far as i could see all was tranquil, I never forgave myself afterwards for having an irresistible urge to make him jump,
I ordered a Troop target and fire order, the message relayed from my little boat below me went back across the water to the four guns on the edge of the sea . Ready came the reply i said fire, there was a short pause then a faint noise as the shell went overhead and then surprisingly about three hundred yards beyond the Bog a distinctive splash of the ranging shot.
The target came sharply upright from his contemplations, i ordered Drop 300 [Yards] one round gunfire two landed on the dyke and two in the water behind, Jerry, a bundle of loose trousers and great coat scuttled like a scarecrow to the safety of his hole leaving the steel helmet quietly abandoned on the seat, I remember diving for my life into a Normandy latrine with Mortar burst all around, "That paid the buggers back" i thought, barely two minutes later came the retribution as something nasty and fast crashed through the Belfry wall and sent me hurtling down nto the boat below where signaler untied the rope and rowed across the nave as another packet of burst hit the roof.
Ammunition expended from the regiments 24 gun,s H.E. 26,052 SMOKE 3,980 IN OPERATION PLUNDER.
30th March -5th May, operation Forrard-On and the pursuit into Northtern Germany with a personal Message from Field Marshal Montgomery his directive was, "We will crack about the plains of northern Germany, chasing the enemy from pillar to post.... Every Officer and man must have his personal weapon to hand ; in nth event of attack or treachery, will shoot to kill. the operation will be conducted with speed and violence by the armd columns ; foremost commanders must always be quick to by pass resistance with leading troops and to push on deep into enemy rear areas. This is a time to take risks and go flat out for the river Elbe, if we reach the Elbe quickly, we win the war.
By the first of April we had advanced 25miles and liberated Enschede, and then 2nd/3 we liberated the large town of Hengelo,[Holland], then there was brief respite from the chase during which the troops were let loose on the very ecstatically happy Hengelo population who had suffered so much in the five and half years of Nazi domination. The town was practically undamaged and the troops found themselfs in Billets which were of surpassing luxury after the harsh conditions they had endured for so long,
In complete contrast to the festive atmosphere there was a depressing darker side to the liberation.
All the local quislings and collaborators were rounded up and made to walk through the streets singly,with men of the resistance movement with rifles behind them, followed by a large crowed singing national songs that had been forbidden during the Nazi regime, The women collaborators had their hair shaved off, heads painted red and the photographed_-
a sordid and sobering sight.
6-7 April in action supporting the Division to capture Lingen, 8-9 Hasselunne, we now had advanced about 70 miles in ten days, went into action on the bank of the Dormund-Ems Canal, we moved another ten miles, 12-13 our advance took us through Loningen, Oldendorf,we made 6 mile advance, another ten mile to Cloppenburg, 14th,
Gun position ambushe by enemy equipped with 4 88 SP guns, 3 machine guns and a Bazooka, we had several Casualties including my great friend B.S.M, Bert Ramsden killed.Here is the story as to how it happened,
Bert instructed me to deploy my gun in No 1 position and i was puzzled at this, my normal position was No2, until it became plain that a Tank attack was expected, [ my Gun Layer, Reg Radford was top anti tank layer at practice camp and this had not been forgotten] We were on top of a hill brow with a clear view of the woods in front, It was only a matter of minutes before Jerry to Air burst us and virtually all of my crews Helmets were hit with Shrapnel plus the gun, It was then we noticed our Infantry moving up under the hedgerow through the gun position, Bert Ramsden realised the situation and jumped on the tail end of the truck to find another us new gun position, Signaler Bdr, Fisher and Bdr Beech was with him, they started off when a 88mm shell landed right behind them killing Ramsden and Beech wounding Fisher for the second time, Not only was Bert Ramsden a fine Sgt Major but also a great Friend who was always thinking of his duty to others to the last, he had completed 21 years service, [even today it brings tears to my eyes when i think about him I know the Lord is looking after him. God bless you Bert. 17-27we had advanced over 120 miles since crossing the Rhine.
We had now reach the outskirts of Bremen the second largest port in Germany and its main naval base, It was to be our last set piece battle of the War,on the 29th 400 shells was fired into the heart of the city with a leaflet giving the German Garrison 24hrs.to send a envoy under white flag to surrender the city and save it from further destruction and unnecessary bloodshed, There was no response, in the next six days the city was systematically bombed and attacked by three Divisions including the 43rd Wessex.
By the 26th the enemy had been driven back to the Centre of the city known as Burger Park which contained the main defence bunkers for German H.Q. every available gun was used to bombard the main Bunkers, by nightfall all resistance had ceased with some 4,000 prisoners including Lt.Gen.Friz Becker and Maj.Gen Sieber had been captured.
While this was going on news arrived on the 25th that the Americans and the Russian,s had linked together on the River Elbe.
On the 28th April-5th the final phase of the war by my regiment 112 Field, and the 43rd Division was the capture of Bremerhaven, News came in of the capitulation of Italy, that gives you an idea how slow reach us , we knew very little of what was going on we were never told anything only if it effected in the field, nothing at all about the attempted killing of Hitler in July 1944 or his death in April 1945,it was not until when the war finished on May 7th,that we heard,all we knew was the job in hand day by day.
I was in Action, and we had not been firing for whole day, unusual, it was sometime in the afternoon that a message came over the Tennoy speaker saying cease firing, limber up, its all Over,I was unable to understand what this order meant, so i ask for it to repeated,and in no uncertain a voice came back, The Bloody war is over, Jerry has capitulated.Get To hell out of it there is a drink waiting for when you get back to the Waggon Lines [A field where we would all meet up.
Now comes the ironic side, The Quad came and we hooked up and started to pull away and then my gun and Quad got stuck, un/beknown to me we were in a wet spot, and had to winch ourself out it two hours, the rest of the guns had gone and of course was drinking all the booze, however when i got out on to road trying to figure out which way to go the other guns came back into action, i was told to stay where i was, i would not be needed,it appears that Jerry in front of us would not lay down his Arms, so we were going to give him 30mins.to do so if not we will shell them, it did,nt take long for them to agree, they were in a hopeless position, when we got back to the Waggon lines all the Booze had gone, Officer,s had taken it, all i had was a cup of cold tea,
The War now over, we now become known as the Army of occupation, during the two days in the Waggon Lines we had to clean our guns, make them smart and shining.Blanco our webbing etc,just like we would in England,the reason this was orderwe were now going through the German Lines with the Germans lined up along the road with hats off and collars unfastened, this is the sign defeat,and that they had lost the war,For me it was a very nervy experience standing up in the Quad with a Sten gun at the ready and watching the Germans sullen faces, i was so uptight if one of them had put his hand up in Nazi salute i would have shot him.
Victory achieved but little jubilation with the sombre fresh memory of of the thousands who died for the cause. to me those memories live on for ever.and over the years i am proud to say i served in the 43rd Wessex Division and done my bit for the Country i love.
Our next move as Army of occupation was to a place called Bomblize near Fallingbostle and Belson camp and most of us looking forward to get home and being a civilian again but for some of us this did not happen until Febuary 1946.
In August a friend and my self was posted back to England, the intention was that we were going out to the Far East to fight the Japs, we got back to the Artillery Barracks in Woolwich
And given a yellow fever inoculation and given ten days leave, but before we left Ostend Port the Americans dropped the Atom Bomb on Japan and the Japanees surrendered, in which case we were sent to Middle East, Egypt, To me it was like a Cooks Travel Tour, as though someone was saying well done Albert you done a good job so have a holiday at our expense.
Up to then the only traveling i had done was Normandy to Germany, the only real holiday i had was going to Weymouth with a Sunday school outing,in 1929.
We traveled from Woolwich to Newhaven docks, got on a boat to France, and then traveled by train to south of France, it took four days, i was in charge of 100 men as was my friend.
We were in Vineyard under canvas, open air cinema,hot sunny middle of October 1945, wearing shorts,and short sleeves shirts, all types of food and fresh fruit, Oranges, Bananas Grapefruit, all of which had not been available in England during the War,
Eventually a boat arrived, "the Batory" a Polish that had captured whilst in British Docks when the war started, Our first port of call was Gibralter, next was Malta,and Tarento [Italy]
This was were the Italian fleet was sunk, then to Alexander, Egypt, by this time there were apprx. 3,000 men on board, we boarded a train at Alexander and traveled down by the Nile to Cairo, we then got on an very fast Electric train,[i was told it was at that time the fastest in the world,it was then i started seeing how the other half of the world lived, as we were traveling along the line people [ they were known as Wogs in them days very much taboo today] they all wore that looked like dresses and now and again someone would lift up their cloths sqaut down, do their business, good job we had the windows shut, we arrived at a place called Helihopalis,and then got on coach to Camp B.D.R.A[ Base depot Royal Artillery]
Al Maza, and under canvas, before the war and after we had troops stationed Egypt, Palestine etc, it was part of the first W.W. Armistice agreement, and for years there was always trouble with the Arabs who wanted their own freedom,It was whilst there i began to see how much the Arab people hated the British, they would steal anything to earn a few Akers,[Egyption money,]the British troops was a gold mine to them,and when sleeping under canvas everything had to be put under your Palliasse[bed] or locked in your kit bag which you used as a pillow and even then they would try in the night, we had night guards, but the area was so vast the guard could not patrol all of it at once, we was also warned not go into any of the side streets and always keep to the main road and away from the Red light District, that was Never my desire although all of us were issued with Condoms,mine was thrown away in the Chanel,I was a married man and was true to my wife right up to the end i am proud to say,some others were not i am sorry to say.
Next morning we went on parade, appr 3000,we were divided into lots of 300, and names were being called out who then had to take one pace forward, this went on for about 45mins. in the end out of the 3000 only 200 was standing still which included My Friend Ted Ford [ just remembered his name, must be old age catching up with me] it turned out that we were all W.S.[ War Substantiated] that meant we had held our rank for more than two years, would could only be reduced to the ranks if we was proved guilty on a charge, which i was never,although i was put on five charges during my service all was dismissed, [how lucky can i be] all the rest 2,800 were reduced to the ranks Regimental Sgt. Majors down to Sgts,etc etc. the sad part of it was that most had been promoted in the Field of action taking the place those who had been killed or wounded, The British Government at that time, by doing this, it would reduce the payment of gratuity which was paid to all ranks according to there seniority, as a Sergeant i received £100,00, A shabby trick that was never disclosed to the public, this probable is the first time it has been published, whilst i am writing this another wicked thing that happen was when Bert Ramsden was killed his wife got the telegram and following that by post a Biil for £1,00 to cover the cost of the blanket that he was wrapped in for burial, I am please to say she never did pay it, it shows you the way Government Departments work, "Bugger you Jack IM all right".
Now back to B.D.R.A. El Maza, we were two options we could either go to Palestine as foot Soldiers protecting the Jews and Arabs from fighting each other, yes it was going on even then as it is today,78 years after, or we could be transferred to the M.P.S.C, [Military Provost Staff Corp.] Military Prison Staff, Warders, with a rank of Staff Sgt, Ted and i opted for this, neither of us was really interested but we had to something until our time came around for being demobilized, as it turned out it was a good decision on my part, I was station at the Army prison in Nicasia, but before i go any further,i must tell you how we arrived there and what happen in between, we had to go on a three weeks course on self defence etc,apparently some of the prisoners can be very very aggressive,and we had to be the same to show who was boss, and i have never been an aggressive person i have always try to be the opposite,and this was not the attitude of the M.P.S.C, as i was to find out,
We were now ready to be dispatch to a prison in another country, now as i have said before i had never done any traveling accept in Europe, it was to be my first time in a airplane, how exciting could that be,our first plane was a American Decoter a ramshacle old machine no seats we had to sit on the floor,we flew across the Desert the sight was fantastic, and looking down i saw what i knew as a camel caravan,[ like we you to see in our books at school, it was something i shall never forget, there was a long line of Camels walking across the desert with their handlers, it was a sight to behold.
Our First stop was in Lydia [ Palestine] the last place i wanted to be at,it turned out there was no vacant position, so next day it was decided we should go to Bairut,, No we wasnt wanted there either, I often wonder how we won the war, it look like nobody in the defence department had any ides where to send us, In the end we finished up in Cyprus, Ted went to Famagusta, i was sent to Nicasia,however unknown at the time my good luck was running even better.
The prison was next to the civilian one, Sgt, Mess and living quarters opposite,well laid out almost like a hotel including Bar, I was due to go on parade early next morning,at six oclock,
On parade wondering what the day was going to produce, would i need to use my self defence Technique, however we lined up for inspection by the R.S.M and then given Truncheon I was reluctant to take asking what do with this,the R.S.M. looked at me in amazement saying you hit the prisoners with it, and as i said before i was not a aggressive person, and told i would refuse to do that, he went red in the face with rage,shouting are you refusing an order, "Yes Sir" with that he place me on a charge for refusing an order, At nine oclock i was taken into the C.O.and the charge read out by the R.S.M. now the Captain was writing at his desk but never look up and carried on writing,and saying at the same time, alright Sgt,Major, i will see to Sgt,Figg, you carry on with your duties, I could not understand, i had been on charges before and new the procedure,after the charging officer had read out the charge he would wait until the C,O.but with me being W .S. he could only order a Court Marshall, apparently he was reluctant to do, and the funny part was he still kept on writing and never looked up until the R.S.M had, i was thinking to myself we have a queer one here,and them another big shock, he looked up at me grinning and saying," What the Hell are you doing here Figgy, I think the look on my face would have made a good photograph,in all of my army life i had never been addressed like that by Officer,s, he stood up shook my hand saying dont you remember me, I was a Lt.in the same regiment and Battery as you when at Sandwich you was made up to Sergeant, his face was familial but no i didnt recall him,he told me who the Battery C,O.was, Major Steele Perkins, and the amount of talk in the Officers Mess when i was promoted, many of them thought, i was to young, after a lot of reminiscence, he ask me if i wanted this job, no not really, Good I want you to be the Sargent Mess Caterer providing you can get me a bottle of Whiskey every week, and two good Swits Watches [Black market was rife in Cyprus] goodness me my luck was in again,as Sargent Mess caterer it as a job made in Heaven,all i had to do was to make sure all the place was kept clean and tidy, look after and serve behind the Bar,where one could make a few extra £££s go to the NAFFI Stores for food, spirits.etc, the trick was to take someone with you tell him what you want him to do, then i would keep the attention of the person serving me and behind his back the other person would pick up extra supplies without him knowing,it could be anything Boxes of crisp,s Chocolate,etc anything that i could sell,including the whisky for the C.O, Naffi was wholesale prices, believe it or not the C.O.knew what was going on an he knew he would be getting his Whiskey for nothing, the same thing was happening by the previous Sgt.Mess caterer.There is tricks in every trade perhaps more so in the Forces during the War,Talk of the Black market in England, it wasnt a match to us.
body what ever they
Here vs another little story,there is so many of them i could fill a book,but i will only mention a few, at this moment i must mention that all Staff in the M.P.S.C had to sign the secret Acts form, and forbidden to tell anyone what happen in the Prison[Glasshouse],[ I dont think i will be prosecuted after all these years].
As said before the Prison was next the civilian prison and we were divided by a eight ft. wall, but in the corner of the civilian Prison was a very tall building around about twenty ft. square,and some of our prison cells was built against it, i was on duty in the prison for a week before my new job,it was during that week there was some trouble with the S.U.S. [Soldier,s under Sentence] and at the weekend Sat/Sunday night one of the S.U.S,s was place in this cell, it turn out to be the Gallows for Civilian,s and every Monday morning there was somebody hung, the S.U.S, was kept in that cell until after it was over and of course the poor chap could hear every thing that was going on, the screaming of the sentenced person, i can tell you when he came out of the cell he never caused any more trouble, i felt the was the most wicked thing i ever knew, nobody should never go through an ordeal like that.
But before i come to the end of my stay in Cyprus, i had collected so much stuff that i needed a large case,to carry all the goodies i had accumulated, tin fruit,Chocolate,including a sheep skin coat for my wife also a small one for our baby which was due in June 1946,and black market Watches,which i sold for a handsome profit.Prisoner,s in the workshop made one for me out of wood, when it was filled it was so heavy i had a job to carry it, [another story] Febuary 1946 my Demobilization order came through, at last I was on my way home to Married life after 7 years service, which up to this day i never regret,it was a very exciting time including the fighting, the only thing i do regret is the loss of any of my friends and comrades at arms who gave their lives for the freedom for all of us and future generation,s to come, I think from them words. you will understand why i have kept on the fight to preserve the memories of all those who made the subpreme sacrifice.I see their names and young faces and i will do every thing possible to ensure everyone remember them/ Albert Figg www.hill112.com 01227 785227 albertfigg@hotmail,com
Traveling home was another experience, We boarded a boat at Famagusta [Cyprus] and disembarked Haifa[Palestine now Israel] traveled by train to Port Said Egypt, and boarded the boat Batory the same on that we went in early on.there were thousands of other troops from the Far East,it was on this boat i dont think i had ever been so angry as i was then or even since, it was the following morning, our sleeping quarters was very cramp and Hammocks apprx. 2ft apart very and with several hundred men in the same place with very little air, the place had a over whelming smell of sweaty men, i didnt sleep very well so i got up early, 5 oclock went on deck to get some fresh air sea was a bit rough, [i am never sea sick on a boat even going through the Bay of Biscay which is well know for gale force winds and rough sea] It whilst on deck about 5.30 i heard and saw the part of it moving and open and as stood watching it and wondering what was happening, then scores and scores of black American came out and started to walk around the deck as though they were on exercise,and eventually went back down into the hold[Belly of the ship] and after making inquires it appears that segregation was still in operation within the American forces and civilians population,I had always got on well with the American,s but this was in complete contrast to my thoughts of America,These men fought and died for their country and yet they were being treated third class citizen, that made me angry, [fortunatlly that has now all change thanks to Martin Luther King, American Clergyman, Activist, and prominet leader in the African-American Civil right movement,] The day we boarded the we had Stew for dinner not very good,there was a few complaints,and we hoping for something better during our journey home,remember we were still in the Army until we had our Demob papers, but we all considered our self,s as civilians and as far as Officers were concerned they were no better than our self,Next morning breakfast was ready, Stew again, lunch more stew,by this time all the troops were getting angry,and was getting out of control unless something was done, to make matters worse it was discovered that the Officers were living in luxury,sleeping in Cabins, a batman,restaurants,Egg and Bacon for Breakfast, cook lunch and evening meal, well this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. so twelve of us senior ranks called a meeting and told the rest of the troops we would go and see the Purser, [he controlled the internal working of the ship and was responsible for the food arrangements,] with the promise we would get things improved if not then we would all go on the rampage and destroy the officers mess, we met the Purser told him in no uncertain manner if we didnt get the same food as the officers, we make sure the Officer did not get theirs, about a hour after wards it was agreed, providing we did not discuse this to the press, It was coming up for a general election and there was no way the Members of Parliament wanted this news in the press.
From then on my Cooks Travel tour carried on, we Arrived in Scotland, ST Georges Dock, by train through to Aldershot Military Barracks, and there we were issued a civilian suit of clothes,two shirts, Socks, and shoe,s, we were allowed to keep our all of our army issued uniform,s including boots etc, given a month,s wages,together with our wife,s marriage allowance, this allowed us to make a fresh start in our civilian life, so in Febuary 1946 i returned to a completly different world to what it was in 1939, farm workers wages had gone up from £1-30 to £4.00 per hour,
June 6 2012, Albert Figg with NVAFRIENDS Harm (L) and Hans (R) Kuijper in Hans Koks' Veterans Museum in Arromanches.